Friday, April 20, 2018

Review: The Sapphire of Poseidon by Scott L. Collins



Genre: Middle Grade/Adventure/Epic Fantasy

Description:

“With the Emerald and Ruby now reunited with the Scepter of Harmony, the rebellious group of children intent on overthrowing the malevolent King Argyle must face a new challenge: recovering the Sapphire of Poseidon. In order for the full power of the Scepter to be restored, the jewel must be inserted back into the staff.

With Argyle now at war with Queen Kyrie, and his ships scouting the lake to locate her, as well as the realm of the Merfolk, the small band of insurgents must find a way to cross the Great Lake while avoiding not only Argyle's fleet, but the kraken he's released in an attempt to draw the Queen of the Lake into battle.

Time is running short as Argyle is sure to figure out their plans for bringing together all the pieces of the Scepter. Once he does, it'll be a race to recover the remaining gems, and if Argyle finds one first, the fight, and the kingdom, will be lost forever.”

Author:

“Scott Collins was born and raised in Southern California but relocated to the Denver area following the birth of the first of his two sons. Days' End was his debut novel but has since switched to Middle Grade Fantasy so he can share his writing with his young boys. In addition to writing, he enjoys spending his free time (with two kids that's not much time) running and cycling.”

You may visit Mr. Collins’ Amazon Author page or stalk him onFacebook.

Appraisal:

The Sapphire of Poseidon is packed with adventure, battles, and life transforming lessons. This small diverse band of rebels grow closer to each other than ever before, while their numbers increase as well. I think I can safely say they will all be friends for life.

Their quest is to restore the Scepter of Harmony to restore peace in the kingdom. At the beginning of this book the young rebels have recovered two gems for the scepter and are searching for the third. The last known location was the island of Lethe in the Great Lake. So the group has to figure out how to get a ship and sail it. Once the scepter is restored their goal is to overthrow the evil King Argyle and free his slave camps. Their biggest obstacle, by far, is that King Argyle is a sorcerer who conjures with spells.  

The storyline twists and turns as circumstances change and deadly risks are taken. I love the way that Daniel, the oldest, is their unassuming leader. No choice is made without consulting with the whole group before a decision is made, be it a path or an action taken. Except the one time when Daniel felt like he had to jump on an opportunity when it presented itself and in the process gained the questers some new allies. Daniel’s cool head helps him to keep focus where it belongs. At center stage through much of the novel is Aiden, Daniel’s younger brother, and his special abilities.

The Sapphire of Poseidon is jam-packed with adventure and all I can say about the ending is you better hold on tight! The tension runs high with drama when the kraken show up. Emotions and endurance are tested. Young teens will enjoy the action and adventure, while absorbing the best qualities from each character without realizing it. That’s what I enjoy most about reading quality novels with well identifiable characters. All ages will enjoy this addition to the Scepter series.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

The Sapphire of Poseidon is book four in the Scepter Series. The books are starting to build on each other. I would recommend starting with book one, Scepter.

Format/Typo Issues:

I found a small number of minor proofing errors. Such as missing words, wrong words, or an extra word.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 70-75,000 words

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Reprise Review: Return to Bryn Mairwyn by Jennifer Selzer and Daniel Huber



Genre: Fantasy/Short Story

Description:

Desmond McKenna returns home to England to finish out the final days of his life. He’s sad and lonely and his long years on the earth have only fueled his desperation. But a revelation could change all that as Desmond still learns something after all this time.

Authors:

Jennifer Selzer and Daniel Huber have written three books together. Selzer was born and raised in Los Angeles. She wrote her first book at 11 years old. Huber grew up in on the Central California coast and currently lives in an L.A. suburb with his wife.

You can learn more about them at their website.

Appraisal:

Return to Bryn Mairwyn read like a preview, or perhaps an epilogue, of a longer story. Perhaps that’s what the authors have in mind.

Immediately, there is a connection with Desmond McKenna. He’s returned home after a long time away with the feelings that it’s time to end things where they began. The desperation is there, the loss, the loneliness. He’s ready to end his long, long life that has been filled with heartache and struggle.

For Desmond, an issue is that no one understands his plight. He’s gone through his life with no one else like him – or so he thought.
When Desmond meets a similar person, it adds doubt to his decision. Instead of completely letting go, he turns into his true form of a dragon and feels the joy that he was originally intended to feel.

What does he ultimately decide? That question is unfulfilled with the story left open-ended for the reader to fill in the blanks.

The short story was compelling enough for me to want to know more and find out if Desmond is able to find peace. So, if there is a novel-length book to this short story, it’s likely I will read the rest of Desmond’s story whether the tale is about what came before or after this story.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Added for Reprise Review: Return to Bryn Mairwyn by Selzer and Huber was a nominee in the Short Story category for B&P 2015 Readers' Choice Awards. Original review ran May 19, 2014

Format/Typo Issues:

No issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: Sooz

Approximate word count: 3,000-4,000 words

Monday, April 16, 2018

Review: Pocketful of Bones by Julie Frayn



Genre: Psychological Suspense

Description:

“Finnegan MacGillivray, red-haired, freckle-faced social pariah, finds solace in his mother's garden while she entertains ‘dates’ in his home. When an accident takes the life of a friend, Finnegan buries the evidence amid the purple dead nettle and bougainvillea, and unearths a treasure trove of human remains. Did his house rest atop an ancient burial ground? Or was there a killer tucking him into bed at night?

His fascination with bones grows as fast as his obsession with his mother. She rejects his advances, and he escapes to the other side of the country. Years later, he returns to his childhood home, to the secrets and the guilt and the bones -- and to fulfill his destiny.”

Author:

“Julie Frayn is a multi-award-winning Canadian author of novels and short stories that pack a punch. And a few stabs. She is fluent in three languages — English, sarcasm, and profanity. Although she didn't invent swearing, Julie wields it like the visionary vulgarian who threw the first f#(k out into a crowd. She writes psychological suspense filled with a lot of death, a bit of sex, and sprinkled with the F-word (sometimes… not so sprinkled). Her favourite pastime is murder night (translation: watching crime drama and drinking beer with her daughter). Her least favourite pastime is writing author bios (translation: author bios — yuck).”

Appraisal:

They say there are only so many stories and, at a high level, I understand they’re right (whoever they are). But it’s the added detail that makes or breaks a story and gives it its unique flavor. In the case of Pocketful of Bones, I’m sure it fits one of those high-level templates, but it has so much in the details that isn’t like anything I can remember reading before that I can’t imagine what pattern it might fit. It’s a strange story that has me liking and pulling for characters that I could easily find repulsive, yet don’t, even when they do things that are … we’ll call them “not good.” Bad is going too far. (Okay, maybe I’m trying to cover for them here.) But I understand why they do what they do. I’m sure you would too.

In case it isn’t apparent, I liked this book, both the characters and the strange, out-of-left-field life that they lead. If you like slightly offbeat stories and psychological suspense, you should too.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Did you read the author’s bio? Obviously if a swear word or 50 are going to be an issue for you, this isn’t your kind of book.

Canadian spelling. You can deal with an extra ‘u’ heure aund there, riught?

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 75-80,000 words

Friday, April 13, 2018

Reprise Review: In the Sunshine by PJ Lincoln



Genre: Romance/Short Story

Description:

Regan is struggling to extract herself from a relationship with a possessive guy. Matt is trying get over his failed seven-year marriage. When they bump into each other on Cocoa Beach, FL, sparks fly.

Author:

I couldn’t find any information about PJ Lincoln. He/she doesn’t have an author page on Amazon or Goodreads. He/she should get one.

Appraisal:

Because I’m writing one, I’ve been reading a lot of romance novels lately. I’ve found the genre to be a mixed bag. In particular, I find ‘the middle’ often gets bogged down with repetitive concerns popping up in the main couple’s inner thoughts. Even when the romance portion of the story works well, I’m often frustrated by unlikely events or backstory being artificially inserted to drive the plot forward.

In The Sunshine avoided both of my pet peeves. This is a cozy romance, neatly told. The author’s writing style is light and easy on the eye. The main characters, Regan and Matt, both had believable back stories and logical reasons for being where they were, both geographically, and personally.

I read the story in one sitting and thoroughly enjoyed the tale. A nice, light romance with a feel good factor.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Added for Reprise Review: In the Sunshine by PJ Lincoln was a nominee in the Romance category for B&P 2015 Readers' Choice Awards. Original review ran March 24, 2014

Format/Typo Issues:

Too few to mention.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: Pete Barber

Approximate word count: 14-15,000 words

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Review: Tales from the Red Caboose by Joseph Erhardt



Genre: Short Story Collection/Science Fiction

Description:

“Why is that big cat smiling?

Booze shelf—second from right—that's not a bottle!

What is an alien doing in a book of train stories?

Stash is the Red Caboose's resident raconteur. He trades tales of his railroading adventures for beer and Caboose-owner Laughing Crow's occasional dinner ‘specials.’ When a stranger arrives and takes more than an ordinary interest in Stash's stories, it becomes a question as to which of the raconteur's tales are fable, and which—if any—are true.

Tales from the Red Caboose is a linked collection of five train stories, each of which goes off the rails just enough to make the SF reader want to come along for the ride.”

Author:

Short story author, editor, and writing instructor, Joseph Erhardt is at work on a novel.

Appraisal:

Five short stories that are “linked,” whatever that means. It appears that means that while each story could stand alone, they share a lot of things that matter (characters, setting, etc.) and possibly things that might not (the valuable skill of lock picking figures in to each story, the apparently-not-as-valuable skill of hotwiring a car gets a mention in each as well). The stories also, when taken as a whole, tell a more complete story.

This was an enjoyable read and unique, both in plot and structure. If you like clever short stories, this might be for you. If you like to mix shorter reads in between longer novels, even if you don’t usually go for short stories or collections, this might be a change of pace you’d enjoy too.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 25-30,000 words

Monday, April 9, 2018

Review: Dangerous Memories by Donna Fasano



Genre: Romance/Suspense/Psychological Thriller

Description:

“What kind of woman am I?

The question haunts Keira Rhodes when she awakens in the hospital with amnesia and learns that two men claim to be her baby’s father.

Logan claims he is her loving husband. Although Keira feels drawn to this quiet man, she senses that their marriage has been far from perfect. For Logan’s own brother, Kyle, staunchly maintains that Keira’s baby and her heart are his…

The truth lay hidden in Keira’s lost memory—and in the tender touch of one special man…”

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...”

To learn more about Ms. Fasano, check out her website or stalk her on Facebook. “She loves to hear from readers.”

Appraisal:

I was enthralled with Keira Rhodes predicament. She awakens in the hospital with no memory of her life before her fall from Simon’s Point in this psychological thriller. The story is mainly told through Keira’s eyes with the exception of getting enough of Logan’s thoughts to complicate and intrigue the reader. Right along with Logan’s younger brother Kyle, who both claim to be her baby’s father.  

I found the dialog realistic as Keira tries to put the pieces of her life back together. Logan is soft spoken as he tries to help Keira by giving her space and time to remember her past with him. Where Kyle is more insistent that she and the baby are his. Keira is not sure who to trust, to make matters worse, they all live in the same large house.  All she can do is trust her own feelings while searching for something familiar that may jog a memory.

The plot has a nice pace. The tension rises as Logan and Kyle both share pieces of their past with Keira. Ms. Fasano’s descriptive prose puts the reader right in the middle of each scene to share the experience along with Keira as pieces of her life are revealed from each brother. I was sure the story was going to take a turn for the worse, which kept me reading late into the night.

I like character studies like this. They give me a lot to think about and the suspense gets my heartrate up. I enjoyed this story, it’s different from the other books I have read by Donna Fasano. “If you enjoy the Hallmark Mystery movies, you will love Dangerous Memories.”

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

This is a clean romantic suspense with just the right amount of sexual heat.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 45-50,000 words

Friday, April 6, 2018

Reprise Review: The Deathtaker by S.L. Baum

Genre: New Adult/Paranormal Romance

Description:

“Krista can smell disease and decay. She walks through life being able to pinpoint what is wrong with the people around her, and can tell whether or not they have long to live. She’s spent the last few years moving from town to town, looking for someone to help, someone who needs a second chance at life. But she didn’t plan on staying in a small town, and she didn’t plan on finding someone to love… in fact, she didn’t plan for anything that Cedar Creek had in store for her.”

Author:

A former high school math teacher, S.L. Baum now works as a substitute elementary school teacher, chauffeur for her kids, and novelist. She lives with her family in the Southwestern United States. Her The Immortal Ones series has four books, thus far. She is the author of two series for the YA audience, The Immortal Ones and the Lush series (actually a serial with novel size installments). The Deathtaker is the first of what appears to be a new series aimed at a slightly older audience.

For more, visit the author’s website.

Appraisal:

I’ve read all of S.L. Baum’s books and liked most of them. The Deathtaker is my new favorite, taking over that position from Baum’s first book, A Chance for Charity. Part of that is I like being introduced to new characters, what makes them special, and the intricacies of the new story world. This book grabbed me immediately when the prologue gave us a sample of what makes Krista special and a glimpse of that quality at work. I quickly became invested in Krista, the difficulties her life’s work created for her, and saw what the main difficulty or conflict she was going to have to deal with in this story was going to be. How that played out was both satisfying and a setup for what I expect will be an ongoing series.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Some mild adult content.

Added for Reprise Review: The Deathtaker by S.L. Baum was a nominee in the Paranormal category for B&P 2015 Readers' Choice Awards. Original review ran February 7, 2015

Format/Typo Issues:

Review based on a pre-release beta version, so I can’t judge the final product in this area.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 75-80,000 words

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Review: Say Goodbye to Anger by Ondrej Hrdy


Genre: Non-fiction/Self-Help

Description:

“We live in a society that is swimming in anger. We can see it in news, politics and even at home. Anger can unconsciously ruin our health. It is one of the most powerful and dangerous emotions. Moreover, you probably don't see yourself as being an angry person. But your constant annoyance and impatience are all anger based.

And that’s exactly what this book is all about. It'll help you with not just the anger, but also with your irritation, annoyance and impatience problems. The book is laced with stories and step by step techniques. You’ll find there 3 powerful techniques which will surely help you to say goodbye to all your anger problems forever.”

Author:

The author specializes in what he calls “mindfulness.” The short explanation of this is realizing that the route to happiness is as much about your perception as it is about what happens to you. For a longer, more detailed, and probably more accurate explanation, visit his website.

Appraisal:

To say I have conflicting thoughts and opinions on this book would be an understatement.

I’ll start with the issue I had that is easiest to explain. That is there are a lot of issues with grammar. They’re all minor nitpicky things. Sentences that I felt had an extra or missing word or the wrong form of a word was used. Something like this … “To change your behavior, to be able to reprogram your subconscious mind, you have to change your perception of an anger.” What is “an anger”? Or saying, “They looks like …” rather than “they look like …” If this kind of thing bothers you, you might want to stay clear. There is enough of this here that I’d have noticed it in a book much longer, with an issue every couple page turns on a Kindle.

Assuming you can overlook or work through the grammar issues for good information, give it a read and see what you think. I’m torn on that as well. The author’s advice makes a lot of sense, to a point. I don’t want to say too much and steal his thunder (so this will be way more vague than you might like). I believe that adjusting our thinking in the ways that he proposes will, to a point, both improve our lives and focus our energies more productively.

However, I did say I was torn, right? I think at some point, applying his advice in every situation, you might be going too far. Allowing yourself to be taken advantage of to an extreme degree and then blaming yourself. I almost wonder if the term Stockholm Syndrome wouldn’t apply at some point. The trick is figuring out how far to take it and how to react when it goes too far.

Sorry for the vagueness. If you’re intrigued enough to grab yourself a copy and give it a read, I’d be interested in hearing other opinions.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

Way too many issues with grammar and proofing. Almost all are minor nitpicky things, but the number I saw were bad enough I’d find it unacceptable in a full-length novel many times longer than this short read.

Rating: *** Three Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 12-13,000 words

Monday, April 2, 2018

Review: My Life as a Bench: Jaq Hazell



Genre: Young adult

Description:

Ren Miller has died aged seventeen and yet her consciousness lives on, inhabiting her memorial bench by the River Thames in London. Ren longs to be reunited with her boyfriend Gabe, but soon discovers why he has failed to visit. Devastated, she must learn to break through and talk to the living so she can reveal the truth about her untimely end.”

Author:

Jaq Hazell won the Rubery Award (for indie and self-published books) in 2017 for this book. She has been knocking on the awards door for some time now, and this award is well deserved. She is a British writer, now living in London, who has an MA in Creative Writing.

Appraisal:

What a cracking title! It would be a pity indeed if such a funkily titled book should not prove to be fully funky throughout. So, let me assure you at once that it is excellent.

Like so much YA fiction, it can be enjoyed by adult readers as well as teenagers. (I’m 65 and I was blown away by it.)

The tension is ratchetted up constantly by the reveal happening like a striptease. It is two thirds of the way into the book when the reader discovers why Ren is now a bench. By that point I was wild to know what had happened!

Grownups might imagine that the concerns of a teenager could prove facile: I did not find that the case at all. The high-octane heartache over trivialities which might cause the world to end (I remember those) is so believable, and the pace of the book so good, that you tumble along with the protagonists as they fall in and out of love on Facebook and over fried chicken lunches.

The author draws older characters beautifully too – and gives them plausible things to do which are nicely observed, sometimes poignant and sometimes very funny. Getting inside the head of a teenager isn’t easy (I can hear parents sighing from here), but Hazell makes a lovely job of it. Ren’s take on the adults in her world feels fresh and accurate.

This oldster didn’t need the ‘slang definitions’ aid at the back. Which is not to say that I am down wiv da yoof, more than said slang, most of it, isn’t as ‘now’ as the author seems to think.

One of the puffs on Amazon (‘Nudge’) says of the book “This would be a good discussion aid to issues raised in schools and colleges, but equally book clubs would find it fascinating”. Couldn’t have put it better myself. Nag your book club to read this. Or just get on and read it yourself. It’s my best read of 2018 to date.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: Judi Moore

Approximate word count: 60-65,000 words

Friday, March 30, 2018

Review: Blood Walk by Melissa Bowersock



Genre: Mystery/Supernatural

Description:

“The paranormal investigation team of Lacey Fitzpatrick and medium Sam Firecloud is keeping tabs on a serial killer case that’s baffling the LAPD: four murders in a month, with no solid leads or suspects. When Sam and Lacey offer their assistance, the PD reluctantly agrees, but Sam gets more than he bargains for when he visits the crime scenes. In addition to picking up impressions from the victims, he’s also receiving feelings from the killer himself. Sam’s unusual connection to the murderer’s mind may help them catch the criminal, but it could also lead the murderer to them. In a deadly race against time, Sam and Lacey piece the clues together to catch the killer before he catches them.”

Author:

“Melissa Bowersock is an eclectic, award-winning author who writes in a variety of fiction and non-fiction genres: paranormal, biography, western, action, romance, fantasy, spiritual, and satire. She has been both traditionally and independently published and is a regular contributor to the superblog Indies Unlimited. She has a tattoo on the inside of her left wrist that says IMAGINE. In her next life, she plans to be an astronaut. She also writes under the pen name Amber Flame.”

Learn more about Ms. Bowersock and her other books on her website or stalkher on Facebook.

Appraisal:

I didn’t know what to expect in Blood Walk, I’ve gotten used to the way Sam and Lacey work. This time Ms. Bowersock throws the reader, along with Sam and Lacey, a curve ball that changes things up with unexpected consequences. Trying to catch a gruesome serial killer who seems to not have a discernable pattern besides the disposal of his victims. The police are perplexed and welcome Sam’s mediumistic assistance.

The plot moves at a nice pace as Sam and Lacey try to identify the elusive killer and plan their wedding. Lacey has amazing Google skillz that offer as much guidance as Sam’s readings. (Honestly, I don’t know if Lacey uses Google. I just wanted to say Google skillz.) Blood Walk is well written with fully rounded characters and intelligent dialogue. The end of the first storyline is full of suspense, tension, and heart stopping action. The end of the story is heartwarming and may leave you with happy tears. It did me. I can’t wait for the next book. Anyone who loves mysteries with a small dose of the supernatural will enjoy this book. And the whole series.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK
  
FYI:

Blood Walk is the eighth book in Ms. Bowersock’s A LACEY FITZPATRICK and SAM FIRECLOUD MYSYTERY SERIES. Each of these mysteries can be read as a standalone if you choose. However, I am enjoying the relationship developing between Lacey and Sam, so I would recommend reading from the beginning to get the full benefit of their storyline.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 30-35,000 words

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Reprise Review: Aversion by Kenechi Udogu



Genre: Paranormal/Fantasy

Description:

Gemma Green is an Averter whose job it is to stop people from making terrible choices. On her first assignment, she knows Russ, one of the most popular boys in school, will decide to drink and drive that weekend, maiming himself and killing the passenger in the car. Gemma successfully stops him with her powers, but something goes wrong and he feels drawn to her. That’s only the beginning of Gemma’s problems.

Author:
Kenechi Udogu lives in London and enjoys writing paranormal stories. You can read more about her at her website or follow her on Facebook.

Appraisal:

When I’m disappointed to put a book down because life gets in the way, I know a five-star book is in the making.

Recently, while I took the train into New York City, I started reading Aversion. After just 25 minutes, I was hooked on Aversion, but my train ride was also over … too quickly.

I loved the idea of this book where Gemma Green’s job in life is to stop people from doing things that could mess up their lives.

She’s been trained by her father, who is also an Averter. However, her first aversion doesn’t go as planned. Russ Tanner, a popular athlete, is about to make a horrible choice where he goes to a party, get drunk and gets into a car accident killing the passengers in his car. Gemma sees it before it happens and manages to push the thought into his mind that he shouldn’t go to the party.

It works. Crisis averted.

Except when Russ comes up to Gemma at school on Monday and says hello. Gemma is an outcast and keeps to herself. There is no reason for Russ to want to talk to her, but he tells her that he felt compelled to do so.

Something is clearly wrong. Turns out that Gemma is the first female Averter in a very, very long time, and she thinks that may have something to do with it.

The book turns into more than just a budding teenage romance by adding intrigue with a paranormal touch. Questions that immediately come into play such as ‘Why is Gemma the only female Averter’ and ‘What went wrong with her first aversion,’ are clearly answered during the course of Aversion. The best part, the answers were satisfying.

While the book doesn’t necessarily end with a cliffhanger, there is certainly room for more stories to come out of Kenechi Ugodu’s world.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Added for Reprise Review: Aversion by Kenechi Udogu was a nominee in the Paranormal category for B&P 2015 Readers' Choice Awards. Original review ran June 12, 2014

Format/Typo Issues:

No major issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: Sooz

Approximate word count: 40,000-45,000 words