Saturday, June 30, 2012

Review: Stein, Stoned

Stein, Stoned
Stein, Stoned by Hal Ackerman

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Book Info: Genre: “Soft-boiled” mystery/Humorous Mystery Reading Level: Adult

Disclosure: I picked up a free copy on Amazon, then received the 2nd book in the series free from Amazon Vine in exchange for an honest review. As I result, I’ve decided to go ahead and review this book, too.

Synopsis: In the sixties, Harry Stein was the foremost authority on cannabis; writing the book on indoor cultivation, inventing thirteen different hybrids, and planting “Victory Gardens” across America behind police precincts, legislature courtyards, and legendarily in the rose garden of the Nixon White House.

Flash forward to the 20th anniversary of John Lennon’s death and Stein is now employed by a “product liability re-insurance firm” and spending his 50th birthday counting a warehouse full of shampoo bottles. Although not the revolutionary of the future he once imagined himself to be, staying on the path of the straight and narrow allows Stein to keep that which he holds most precious in his life: joint custody of his teenage daughter, Angie. When Stein comes up 1,000 shampoo bottles short in his count and his investigations lead him to stumble upon the body of a brutally murdered supermodel, he is forced down a trail littered with old friends, new enemies, and one final journey into the world he long since left behind

My Thoughts: I must mention that, if I had spoken to my parents when I was 15 like Angie speaks to her father, I’d have been grounded for months. If she seemed to have some redeeming traits, I’d be inclined to be a bit more forgiving, but she acts like a spoiled brat – getting the dog a present and ignoring her father’s birthday?? On the other hand, I don’t see as Stein has much of a leg to stand on about being upset upon finding a stash of ditch-weed in the house... One thing that bothers me is when parents act like they were perfect – for instance bragging up how wonderful they were when they were their age – when in fact they had the same sorts of problems you have had. I find it much more relateable if they admit they were less than perfect and that’s why they want better for their children. But that’s just a personal trigger that was pushed in the early part of this book...

Another trigger was brought about by Stein’s first murder scene. Instead of backing out, leaving stuff as it was, and calling the caps, he went in, cut down the victim, moved her, cleaned up the mess, went through her stuff, called a friend on her phone … Admittedly, there weren’t quite the plethora of crime-scene shows in 2000, but still, anyone with any common sense knows to leave stuff alone so the cops can solve the crime.

...And that was about the point where I realized I could not finish this book. This guy is Too Stupid To Live and I believe I would end up pulling out my hair if I read any more. Did not finish; did not toss across the room because I value my Kindle, but I do believe I’ll be skipping the sequel, too; never mind that it’s a Vine book; I can leave 20 percent unreviewed. Maybe some day I’ll be feeling tolerant and will try, but for now? Ugh – not recommended at all.

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Friday, June 29, 2012

Book review: "The Wowzer" by Frank Wheeler, Jr.

The Wowzer review
Author: Frank Wheeler, Jr.
5out of 5 stars

Book Info: Genre: “Country Noir”/Crime fiction Reading Level: Adult

Disclosure: I received a free paperback ARC galley from the Amazon Vine Last Harvest program in exchange for an honest review. This review may also be seen on my blog, Now is Gone, with formatting and other bits that can’t be translated into strictly alpha-numeric reviews.

Synopsis: In the Arkansas Ozarks, old-timers spin tales of the Wowzer, a giant panther-like creature that decapitates those who wander too far into the woods.

County sheriff's deputy Jerry was raised on Wowzer stories, but they aren’t enough to stop him from carrying out his own business in the remote hills. Jerry's more than a sheriff's deputy; he moonlights as muscle for local drug traffickers, who sometimes need people to get hurt – or get dead. Fortunately, Jerry's pretty good at his job. And since Tom Haskell runs the sheriff's office and the drug-protection racket, Jerry doesn’t see much of a moral dilemma. That is, until he starts thinking about getting out of the trade, and then things get complicated fast. For starters, Jerry's girl Maggie flees the state after learning about a disturbing diagnosis tucked inside Jerry's psych report. And now Sheriff Haskell is dragging his feet paying Jerry his cut of the drug money. Is Haskell just reluctant to lose his top muscle? Or is he plotting to take out the man who knows his dirtiest secrets? Fans of hardboiled, “country noir” fiction will love gnashing on Frank Wheeler's violent and darkly comic debut, sneaking a glimpse into the mind of a killer whose inner monster is about to be unleashed.

My Thoughts: Anticipating reading this, I was trying to decide whether the Wowzer would actually play a part – was there actually a strange creature? Or maybe we would have some shape-shifting fun! At any rate, it sounded like a pretty entertaining read, so I was pretty stoked to find it in Amazon Vine’s Last Harvest program.

The “voice” is wonderfully done; I can hear Jerry’s voice in my head clear as day, and Wheeler does a good job at giving each of his characters a slightly different, unique, and well-derived voice as well. It is impossible to read this story without hearing a strong, Arkansas drawl in your head whenever Jerry is narrating or talking. I’m even finding myself starting to talk with a drawl and bad grammar, something that 10 ½ years of living in Georgia hasn’t accomplished! I also liked how people are described; since Jerry has been in law enforcement for 10 years, he has a tendency toward “cop-speak” at times, including his descriptions. Each person is described by full name, race, age, height, weight, and eye and hair color. I found it rather refreshing.

Now, Jerry isn’t your typical hero, obviously – he’s a sociopath at best, psychopath at worst, with some serious psychological issues verging on OCD and a phobia of dogs (one that is quite justified); he’s involved in the drug trade and he’s a corrupt cop. But he’s not all bad – he truly adores Maggie and he has a little dachshund he calls Schnitzel, and he takes care of his grandma. Maggie is a hypocrite, and I don’t care much for hypocrites; you’ll understand once you read it, but I can safely say that one of the things she’s upset about with Jerry is that he’s involved with the drug trade, but she smokes a lot of that cannabis, so I’m having a hard time finding much sympathy for her thoughts on the matter. That’s not to say Jerry is an innocent in the matter, but I found her attitude distasteful.

So, you’re probably wondering about the question of the Wowzer; is it a myth? Is it an animal? Is it a shape-shifter? Well, I am certainly not going to tell you, because that would spoil all the fun, now, wouldn’t it? But let me tell you something: if you liked movies like Snatch or Hot Fuzz, where you had violence and dark humor in about equal quantities (and the great anti-hero, like in Snatch), then you will probably enjoy this book a great deal. Be sure to look it up and check it out.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Review: "Morgue Drawer Next Door" by Jutta Profijt

Morgue Drawer Next Door review
Author: Jutta Profijit
5 out of 5 stars

My Thoughts: I adored the first book in this series, Morgue Drawer Four (my review for that book can be seen here on my blog Now is Gone.), and was so excited to receive and read this second book in the series (which is slowly being translated and made available in the USA). Like the first book, this one is filled with amusing moments, starting right with the prologue, and continuing through the entire text. How about a quote to give you an idea about Pascha’s delightful “voice” in this book?

The most popular game [in the hospital] is Cholesterol Canasta, where the plague patients, vivisection victims, and ambulant biohazard bags try to one-up each other with their hellish blood panels and urine tests. For a long time, the undisputed winner was a two-hundred-and-fifty-kilo diabetic with renal insufficiency, fatty liver disease, and food poisoning. The only infection he didn’t have was HIV... by the way, 250 kilos is roughly equivalent to 400 lbs, for those who, like me, are metrically challenged.

Or how about this sterling example of a German poly-word used to describe an espresso maker with all the accoutrements built in? Espressobohnenmühlenmilchschäumerkaffeetassenvorglühvollautomat, to which I say Gesundheit!

Then there this is this amusing comment by Pascha: It was time for her to finally get that all of that sanctimonious drivel is just the opiate of the masses. Ha, even I was educated enough to know that quote. From Gandhi.

Also, Pascha’s constant self-conscious meta-comments about his editor really amused me, since I am, myself, an editor. I really enjoyed Pascha and Sister Marlene’s interactions – the unrepentant car thief and the nun. His explanation as to why stealing cars is good for the economy really cracked me up, as did this little interaction: Marlene’s praise went down like a cold beer after a greasy burger. She could sense this. “You’re not at all as bad as you pretend,” she said. Careful... Now she was talking crap, that much was clear. I needed to change the topic.

The book also dealt with more serious issues, such as that of prostitution and the abuse of, and danger to, the women who provide that service, usually by their procurers. Prostitution is legal in Germany, and Sister Marlene made a point that I think makes a lot of sense: It is a service that, as a devout Christian, I disapprove of. If I believed that prostitution could be done away with, I would fight for that. But that’s completely implausible. Her point was put this way: How do prostitutes make their living? From their customer. If there were no customers, there would be no prostitution. There are estimates that up to twenty percent (sic) of the adult male population has made use of sexual services. Sister Marlene is part of an order of nuns that specifically relate themselves to Mary Magdalene, so her ideas and attitude are not quite as surprising as they could be. I think it makes a lot of sense – the fact that prostitution is illegal in the USA is a ridiculous and hypocritical situation; the women who provide these services deserve the same sort of protection under the law as any person that works to provide a service. Also, as Pascha says, As long as women withhold sex as an instrument of power, there will be [prostitutes]. (alternate wording to avoid ToS issues on Amazon when posting this review). I think Sister Marlene said it best: Prostitution is indispensable in a society like ours. Even useful, because it prevents sexual violence [like rape] against women under certain circumstances. That’s why it’s one-sided and thus completely misguided to ostracize the women but not their customers.

All very good points, and ones that I hope someday will be taken to heart all around the world.

I had a pretty good idea as to “whodunit,” and I was right, but untangling the web was delightful. I particularly enjoyed how Pascha and Sister Marlene messed with the villain in crazy-making style. Beautifully done and very fun.

There are a few more books in this series already published in Germany, from my understanding, and I will definitely be watching for more books about Pascha and Martin from the delightful and entertaining Ms. Profijt. You should be too, if you enjoy forensic mysteries and ghost stories! Highly recommended.

Book Info: Genre: Paranormal Thriller
Reading Level: Adult
Expected publication: book available 7/17/12

Disclosure: I received a free ARC galley paperback copy of this book from the Amazon Vine program in exchange for an honest review. This review can also be seen on my blog, Now is Gone, part of blogspot.

Synopsis: Life and death are not so black and white at the city morgue in Cologne, Germany. There, Dr. Martin Gänsewein spends his days autopsying dead bodies—and conversing with a ghost named Pascha. They are an odd couple, to be sure: a shy, scrupulous forensic pathologist and a gregarious former car thief whose murder Martin reluctantly helped solve in Morgue Drawer Four.

As the second installment of Jutta Profijt’s popular series opens, a recently convalesced Martin returns to work anxious for a little peace and quiet and hoping that Pascha has finally gone into the light. Not only is the doctor out of luck, but the morgue soon welcomes Marlene, the spirit of a nun killed in the fire that ravaged her medieval convent and home.

Though disappointed that his new sidekick isn’t a leggy blonde, Pascha empathizes with the recently deceased holy sister—and suspects the fire that claimed her life was no accident. The ghosts are determined to uncover the truth, but they can’t do it without Martin’s help. Together with Martin’s girlfriend Birgit, the trio embarks upon a madcap (and frequently hilarious) adventure that will enchant readers from beginning to end.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Review: Tales of the Mossad: The Birth of Chrislam

Tales of the Mossad: The Birth of Chrislam
Tales of the Mossad: The Birth of Chrislam by D.J. Israel

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book Info: Genre: Religious Suspense/Thriller Reading Level: Adult

Disclosure: I received a free eBook copy of this text from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis: Rabbi Jacob Levy is a Widower who lives by himself on the shores of Eagle Mountain Lake in Fort Worth, Texas. Jacob Levy unknowingly has become the target of a rogue Cardinal inside the Vatican. Levy has an ancient document in his possession that has been passed down from generation to generation. This document comes from the time of King David and is a record of a land transaction between Avranah the Jebusite and the monarchy of Israel.

Cardinal Emilio Frachetti has a controversial peace plan that outlines his plans for the recognition of Muhammad as the last Prophet of God. Frachetti also wants to include the Quran as the last Testament in the Bible. Frachetti however has another agenda in his plan. He wants the Muslim world to guarantee oil and gas to the European Union for one hundred years at a stable price.

Frachetti becomes furious when he finds out that an obscure American Rabbi has the document that will forever destroy Islam's claims to the Temple Mount. Frachetti, a former member of Mussolini's Secret Police, decides to have Rabbi Levy assassinated and the ancient document destroyed.

David Levy is an analyst for the Mossad who discovers Frachetti's scheme to murder the old Rabbi. During the course of monitoring of Vatican-encrypted communications, David Levy also discovers that Jacob Levy is his paternal Grandfather. David Levy was told by his deceased parents that his paternal Grandparents died during the Holocaust. 

Cardinal Frachetti forms an alliance with Muslim extremists resulting in the hiring of a professional assassin to carry out the murder. David Levy knows that the time is short as he journeys to America to save the last member of his Father's Family.

My Thoughts: DJ Israel says this is his most controversial book. Right off the bat, I noticed that it is also rather epic, starting back around 1100 BC with a scene involving King David. I also noticed that the editing is much better than Starry Starry Night and The Mourning Man. Israel says his son did the editing on this one; the latest version is from sometime after April, 2012. There are still a few issues (names changing, the like), but nothing major.

Jacob Levy may be central to the plot, but we actually spend very little time with him in the book. The book revolves more around Frachetti and Capt. David Levy and the vicious cat-and-mouse game being played over, basically, access to oil (similar to Starry Starry Night in that aspect). There are lots of twists and turns in the book, and one has to pay attention to catch everything, although Israel does a good job of keeping secrets and not exposing the answer until the denouement. Then there are the twists within the turns and turns within the twists – it is a tangled mess, but somehow it all works out in the end.

If you enjoy espionage stories, then you will quite probably enjoy this one. I know I enjoyed it!

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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Review: Fluctuations: Book One of the Connemara Chronicles

Fluctuations: Book One of the Connemara Chronicles
Fluctuations: Book One of the Connemara Chronicles by Nancy M. Griffis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

See my review also at my blog, Now is Gone (

Book Info: Genre: Science Fiction Reading Level: Adult

Disclosure: I edited this book for the author; I am not paid a percentage of any sales, and I am happy to provide an honest review.

Synopsis: A state-of-the-art cruise ship with wealthy vacationers out for a thrill travels into The Fluctuation, a dangerous region of the galaxy where anything can happen. 

Rosaria, an heiress lacking a purpose in life; Ma’tha’skiyainashtra, a telepathic, feline alien on vacation before her diplomatic assignment to Earth; Bob, a sarcastic robot with a persecution complex; and Evan, a young stowaway genius in search of his parents. After a catastrophic event and mass evacuation, the four get left behind and trapped on the damaged ship with no lifepods.

Crisis after crisis strikes... shield failure, near-collisions, ruthless pirates, kleptomaniac aliens, sentient comets... bonding the new friends as they struggle to keep the ship running and themselves alive. When Evan reveals that he's there to find his parents who were lost thirteen years ago, they all decide to go deeper into The Fluctuation to find them. The danger increases, but so does the potential reward... reuniting a family.

My Thoughts: I first read and edited an early version of this book for Nancy last year, and then edited another version prior to her deciding to self-publish it. This is a really fun science-fiction tale, full of action, adventure, derring-do, mysterious anomalies, interesting aliens, and just a hint of romance. It is, absolutely, what science-fiction should be about. One of the thing I really like about Griffis’ work, based upon this book and her fascinating book Eternal Investigations, which I read and reviewed last year, is that she puts a lot of threads into her plot, weaving together an intricate and accessible storyline while providing great characterizations and plot twists. If you enjoy a fun science-fiction adventure, this is absolutely the book for you, and I highly recommend it.

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Review: The Mourning Man

The Mourning Man
The Mourning Man by D.J. Israel

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book Info: Genre: Espionage/Military fiction Reading Level: Adult

Disclosure: I received a free ebook copy of this text from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis: In March of 1952, the Korean War is raging with a series of setbacks dealt to the United Nations Command by the legendary Chinese General Dehaui. A controversial decision is made by MacArthur and the high command to go behind enemy lines and bring him to Allied Command for interrogation.

Lieutenant J. W. Cavanaugh, a promising young Marine officer, is selected to lead the clandestine mission behind enemy lines not knowing that he and his men have been betrayed to the North Koreans and the Chinese by a double agent. Cavanaugh and his men are lured into a trap and wind up as prisoners of the Chinese. The Chinese want to use Cavanaugh and his men for propaganda purposes.

The Chinese begin torturing Cavanaugh when he refuses to cooperate with them. As the torture intensifies with starvation and beatings the Chinese decide to summarily behead one member right after another of Cavanaugh's squad to force cooperation.

During an airstrike on the POW Camp by Allied planes, Cavanaugh and the remaining survivors of the mission get the upper hand and deal out justice to the Chinese Commander. The double agent, however, gets away during the confusion and escapes punishment.

Thirty five years later, retired Gunnery Sergeant Vanderwegh notices the traitor, Captain Chun, on the streets of San Francisco and attempts to notifiy Cavanaugh by mail that the traitor Chun is in America. V anderwegh journeys to East Texas to visit Cavanaugh and never arrives.

Sergeant Vanderwegh's severed head is accidentally hooked by Cavanaugh's son on a fishing line. The head is covered with what appears to be the residue of some sort of biological weapon designed to cause mass destruction by using the water supply.

It is soon determined that Chun is in America for the purpose of mass murder. Cavanaugh is a man on a mission as he tries to find Chun and prevent the biological contamination of the largest water reservoir in the State of Texas.

My Thoughts: My father was in the Korean war, so I was particularly interested in the beginning of the story. Dad doesn’t talk much about it, but has told some interesting stories the few times he has done so. The memories from Korea haunt Cavanaugh, just as they haunted his buddies, and I think this is made abundantly clear during the course of this book, which is also brutally authentic when it comes to the scenes in the POW camp, so the point where if that sort of thing would trigger something for the reader, I would suggest this wouldn’t be the best book for that reader.

There is one fairly major plot issue I came up upon – at one point, the survivors are listed as Cavanaugh, Vanderwegh, Miller and Holley; later Holley just disappears from the text and Conklin is named as the 4th survivor. Then later on, Holley is back. I’ve let the author know about this (and some other things I notice as I read, such as other changing names and the like), so I imagine a new edition will be put out once the appropriate changes can be made. I would point out that one of those errors shows up in the synopsis – it is not Vanderwegh’s head that shows signs of biological contamination, it is his body, discovered some days later.

Any potential faults due to editing aside, this is a very entertaining story, full of twists and turns. I had no idea who the collaborator was until the same time Cavanaugh figured it out – the deception was very neatly done. With some editing help, this story could be polished into something pretty amazing. If you like tales of espionage and won’t be triggered by the scenes in Korea, you should definitely check this story out.

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Monday, June 25, 2012

The Liebster Blog award

Thanks to Shawn at Errant Author for putting me on the spot selecting me for this honor.

The Rules (as I understand them):

1. Never talk about Liebster Blog (scratch that, wrong rule list)
2. Post 11 facts about yourself.
3. Answer the 11 questions that the blogger give you.
4. Tag 11 other bloggers that have under 200 followers.
5. Tell these bloggers that you tagged them.

11 Facts About Me:

1. I have, at various times, owned a number of any possible type of pets; at one point I had over 100 rats around here as pets, and every single one of them had a name.
2. I have amazingly eclectic tastes in music.
3. The first book I ever read was an ABC book when I was 5.
4. The first book I read that ever gave me nightmares was Dracula. It was decades before another gave me nightmares, and that was The Dracula Dossier by James Reese.
5. I hate having to fill out stuff like this 'cause I can never think of what to say.
6. I've been married 3 times for a total of over 20 years, but most of that has been to #3.
7. I do not want children, but am very happy to have a niece and two nephews.
8. I have always refused to bow to the whims of others and refused to conform.
9. I was named "the only one to have an opinion on anything" when I was a Senior in high school.
10. I have a tendency to always be early to appointments.
11. I agree with Scott that 11 is too many ...

11 Questions from Errant Author

1. What was the first book that made a lasting impression on you? Probably The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper. Not only did it make me fascinated with the fantasy genre, but it also gave rise to my fascination with Celtic myths and legends.
2. What was the most recent book that made a lasting impression on you? Oh, wow, I've read a lot of good ones lately. Probably Morgue Drawer Four by Jutta Profijit; I just picked up the 2nd book in that series from Vine and plan to read it ASAP.
3. Have you ever slammed a book closed and thrown it across the room like in "The Never Ending Story"? Oh yeah - the first one I did that to was Paul Levine's Solomon vs. Lord. Ugh, horrible!
4. Do you think trees are secretly behind the growing popularity of e-books? I wouldn't put it past them - shifty buggers...
5. What’s in my pocket? Its handses, my precious...
6. What author do you suspect is in the business just for the groupies? Anne Rice.
7. If Edward were tragically the Creature from the Black Lagoon instead of a vampire, do you think Jacob would have had a shot? Oh, I'm sure there are people out there who would find him dreamy any which way, but I find it hard to care.
8. Are you past the point of having to look words up in the dictionary when you’re reading a book? Nope, and I hope that I keep finding books that help me learn new words until the day I die.
9. Why do bookmarks have tassels on them? That's a very good question and deserves a good answer.
10. I have a really mean looking cat with your address here who wants to know “Are you a cat or dog person?” Answer carefully. Oh, cats, definitely - love their attitude! And having my three cats looking at me all squinty-eyed has nothing to do with my answer...
11. What’s your favorite time of day for curling up with a good book? When I'm awake, definitely!

11 Bloggers I have selected for torture tagged:
1 Lenore Wolfe
2 Jonathon Gould
3 Randy Attwood
4 Nick Wastnage
5 Scott Rhine
6 Sue Dent
7 Jenn
8 Weston Kincaide
9 Mark Matthews
10 CS Splitter
11 Barbara Tarn

11 Questions for Those Bloggers:
1. What is the weirdest thing you have ever done in public?
2. Why did you get into blogging?
3. Whose idea was all this, anyway?
4. What is your favorite genre to read?
5. What is your favorite genre to write, just for you?
6. What is your favorite book you wrote?
7. Do you have a favorite book? If so, what is it?
8. What kind of music do you like to listen to?
9. Favorite food?
10. (this is bloody exhausting) Will you still be friends with me after all this?
11. There is no question 11! You're welcome (hopefully this will relate to Question 10).

"Stray" Giveaway winners

The winners are in - and just to let you know, I use random number generator, 3 "spins" per name, choosing the 3rd number in each "spin" of the generator, so this is as random as I can make it!


I have emailed Mark, with all of you copied, and he'll get your ebooks to you.

Our next giveaway is coming up on next Monday, so stay tuned!

Review: Shifter

Shifter by Steven D Jackson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book Info: Genre: Urban Fantasy Reading Level: Adult , book available 7/1/12

Disclosure: I received a free eBook ARC from Rhemalda Publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis: John Davis might be going insane. Or he might be reshaping reality. He isn’t sure which.

When the world starts shifting around him, he’s the only one who seems to notice. The changes seem harmless at first—sunny skies, a nicer apartment, new furniture—but quickly turn sinister when his best friend vanishes without a trace. In his search for the truth behind his friend’s disappearance, John uncovers a mysterious organization dedicated to hunting down those who can shift reality—and they want John dead. If John isn’t the Shifter, he needs to find out who is before the organization catches up to him and his reality unravels completely

My Thoughts: What a fascinating premise! A Shifter is someone who can literally alter reality – and not just reality, but other people’s perception of reality, making others think that the new reality is completely normal and that there has, in fact, been no changes. Spooky! But consider the possibilities if you were in control!

I wonder if it was just me, but it seemed really obvious to me who was changing things. The why was the question. One thing I noticed – and I’m not sure if they’re all this way, but the examples we see appear to point in that direction – but the Recallers seem to mostly be sociopaths. They have a serious “find ‘em and kill ‘em” mentality that I don’t care for at all.

I was absolutely delighted by the ending, I must say – going into it, and through the denouement, I was a bit skeptical about how things were going, but the ending made it all worthwhile – marvelous! I would love to see a sequel – I’m not sure what it would be about, but I’d like to see what becomes of Davis. Highly recommended!

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Saturday, June 23, 2012

Free on Amazon "Starry Starry Night" by David (D.J.) Israel

Starry Starry Night by David (D.J.) Israel

See my 4-star review here. Now you can pick up your own copy, free!

In September of 1963, an elite group of famous Texas oilmen met in secret in North Dallas. Their agenda was to discuss how to get rid of President John F. Kennedy. The young charismatic President had proposed a new agenda that involved removing tax breaks for the oil industry to fund social programs for the poor. A surprise visit by Vice President Jackson accelerates a conspiracy that leads to the ultimate assassination of President Kennedy.

Forty seven years later, a new African American President, by the name of Everett Lincoln finds himself in the cross hairs of an organization called the International Petroleum Institute. Prices for gasoline are nearing the five and six dollar a gallon level. A ruthless man by the name of Gerald Smiley controls the oil industry and the price of oil. Smiley is very protective of the high price of oil and sees Everett Lincoln as a problem. Lincoln is popular with the public because he is questioning the high cost of a barrel of oil and distrusts the oil companies.

The world of Gerald Smiley is suddenly rocked to the hilt when it is accidentally discovered that oil is a reoccurring substance. The Oil companies have known this information for years and have deliberately created oil shortages to pump up the price of oil. Gerald Smiley will do anything to protect to his bottom line including murder, blackmail, slander and assassination. Smiley has Dr. Tom England and Marilyn Lassiter murdered to protect the secret of no oil shortage.

A. J. Lassiter is a former Homicide Detective with the Dallas County Sheriff's office. Lassiter is now a Messianic Rabbi in Tarrant County trying to forget the abduction disappearance of his younger sister, Marilyn and the untimely death of his parents. A phone call from his former partner, Paul Murphy plunges Lassiter into the midst of a conspiracy. Murphy informs Lassiter that the body of his sister Marilyn has been found in the Trinity River bottoms in a shallow grave.

Lassiter and Murphy investigate Marilyn's murder and discover who really killed President Kennedy. The two men must act fast or history will repeat itself as the current President Lincoln will meet the same fate as the former President Lincoln.

Also by David (D.J.) Israel:

The Mourning Man
The Sounds of Silence
All the Lonely People
Mustang Sally
Tales of the Mossad: The Birth of Chrislam

Friday, June 22, 2012

Review: Two-Fisted Tweets

Two-Fisted Tweets
Two-Fisted Tweets by James Hutchings

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book Info: Genre: Flash Fiction Reading Level: Adult

Disclosure: I picked up a free copy from Smashwords after reading Hutchings very funny The New Death and Others; I am happy to provide an honest review.

Synopsis: Thirty mostly humorous stories, including science fiction, fantasy, horror and romance. Each story is less than 140 characters long (the length of a Twitter tweet).

My Thoughts: The baby had its mother's eyes. In return for obedience, it promised to give them back. Just an example of the sort of silliness you can expect from these über-short flash-fiction stories. A very bizarre little book, but one I guarantee will make you laugh – and you do like to laugh, don’t you??

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Review: The New Death and others

The New Death and others
The New Death and others by James Hutchings

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This review can also be found on my blog, Now is Gone

Book Info: Genre: Short stories/Poetry; Fantasy/magical realism Reading Level: Adult

Disclosure: I received a free eBook copy of this text from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis: Death gets a roommate...

An electronic Pope faces a difficult theological question...

A wicked vizier makes a terrible bargain...

44 stories. 19 poems. No whiny vampires. There's a thin line between genius and insanity, and James Hutchings has just crossed it – but from which direction?

My Thoughts: These very enjoyable short stories and poems run the gambit from humorous – the demoness who inflicts ironic punishments – to Lovecraftian – the poem about Cairo – to thought-provoking - “The God of the Poor” among others. I found myself laughing (for example, at the Holmes satire), thinking and thoroughly enjoying myself throughout reading this book. There was not a single story or poem in this book that I did not enjoy. There are a lot of themes that show up time and again – the town of Telelee, the various gods and goddesses, puns galore, thought-provoking ideas...

If you like stories of any type, if you like reading at all, you will definitely find something in this little book to enjoy. I imagine that most people will enjoy them all, just like I did. If you don’t yet have this terrific little book, go grab a copy now!

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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Review: Starry, Starry Night

Starry, Starry Night
Starry, Starry Night by D.J. Israel

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book Info: Genre: Historical-based fiction/Mystery Suspense Reading Level: Adult

Disclosure: I received a free ebook copy of this text from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis: In September of 1963, a group of famous Texas oil legends met in a secret meeting in North Dallas. The purpose of the meeting was to formulate strategy for dealing with President John Kennedy. Kennedy had reneged on some campaign promises in order to finance a series of social programs that would benefit the extreme poor in our country. The President was prepared to remove several tax benefits for the Oil Companies and use the extra money to fund the War on Poverty. The oil legends did not like this idea. With the cooperation of the Vice President, a young marine sniper by the name of Gerald Smiley was engaged to assassinate the President in Dealey Plaza. Lee Harvey Oswald was blamed for the crime of the century.

Forty-seven years later in 2010, the man who murdered JFK has great influence and power which he uses to control the world oil cartel. Gerry Smiley is the head of IPI ( International Petroleum Institute and TAOS, Texas American Oil Services.) Smiley uses intimidation, threats, blackmail, murder, misinformation campaigns and bribery to accomplish his goals of keeping the price of oil extremely high.

A scientist by the name of Dr. Tom England makes a startling discovery which will turn Smiley's world upside down. England discovers that oil is not in short supply. In fact oil is a natural reoccurring substance which bubbles up from the earth's core. The oil industry has been lying to the American public for almost 50 years. Smiley decides to have Tom England murdered to protect the dark secret and he also has Marilyn Lassiter murdered. Marilyn Lassiter is the baby sister of A. J. Lassiter, a former Dallas County Homicide Detective. 

Lassiter is now a Messianic Rabbi who lives in relative peace, but he is haunted about the fact that his sister disappeared as a child. Lassiter suffers from the fact that his parents were killed in a terrorist attack. The body of Marilyn Lassiter is discovered in the Trinity River Bottoms of Dallas County buried in heavy mud. Lassiter is notified by his former partner, Lieutenant Paul Murphy about the recover of the body.

Lassiter and Murphy work together again and try to discover the reason for Marilyn's death. They find out that the new African American President of the United States, Everett Lincoln is being targeted by the Oil Industry. History may repeat itself, unless Gerry Smiley is stopped.

My Thoughts: D.J. Israel is a new voice in the scene, who has a number of books available (all of which I’ll be reading and reviewing, so watch for the reviews). Israel has a very interesting background and I hope the books will help show some of these interesting details to the reader.

Israel has had difficulty with this book, as many people are bothered by the inclusion of JFK’s murder. I, personally, found the idea of the conspiracy by the big-oil cartel in this matter to be quite interesting. The only real complaint I had about the story is the fact that all the characters sound pretty much the same, and, in fact, many of them sound a lot like Lt. Data – avoiding contractions and speaking in somewhat stilted and overly proper grammar. I suppose striving to use proper grammar is not a bad thing, but it is unlikely that a large cast of characters would all use carefully proper grammar – there are bound to be a few who split their infinitives and shorten their words, or use slang, or what have you. I’ve had a back-and-forth discussion with Israel about this while reading the book, and it has been interesting to learn some of the thought processes behind this characterization (apparently a reviewer on one of the other books by this author mentioned there were too many contractions and the characters were crude, so Israel strove to make this book more “sophisticated”).

I have to tell you, this book is absolutely full of scumbags – people who are willing to lie, cheat, steal and murder to get ahead no matter what the cost to anyone else. I guess that, unfortunately, that seems to be the way of the world these days. All I know is that reading it frequently made my blood pressure rise as I would become absolutely incensed over the way that people behave. It’s probably for the best that I tend to avoid keeping up with current events for just that reason. There are double-crosses, triple-crosses and a deep, underlying story that doesn’t come out to the fore until the epilogue. The story is absolutely full of twists and turns, and despite any flaws, it is a deeply satisfying read. While the writing style is a 3 out of 5 stars, I enjoyed it to the point I would give it 5 out of 5 for personal taste, which leaves me with a 4 out of 5 star overall review. If you’re willing to look beyond the dialogue, and you like a deeply twisty story, you will definitely enjoy Starry, Starry Night.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Book review: The Broken Ones by Stephen M. Irwin

The Broken Ones review

Author: Stephen M. Irwin
5 out of 5 stars

Book Info: Genre: Paranormal Horror/Thriller Suspense Noir Reading Level: Adult book available 8/7/12

Disclosure: I received a free paperback ARC from Doubleday in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis: Award-winning author Stephen M. Irwin returns with a thrilling, supernatural crime novel built around an intriguing question: What happens when every single person is haunted by a ghost only they can see?

Without warning, a boy in the middle of a city intersection sends Detective Oscar Mariani's car careening into a busy sidewalk. The scene is bedlam as every person becomes visited by something no one else can see. We are all haunted. Usually, the apparition is someone known: a lost relative, a lover, an enemy. But not always. For Oscar Mariani, the only secret that matters is the unknown ghost who now shares his every waking moment . . . and why.

The worldwide aftershock of what becomes known as "Gray Wednesday" is immediate and catastrophic, leaving governments barely functioning and economies devastated . . . but some things don't change. When Detective Mariani discovers the grisly remains of an anonymous murder victim in the city sewage system, his investigation will pit him against a corrupt police department and a murky cabal conspiring for power in the new world order. 

My Thoughts: I was absolutely thrilled when Doubleday contacted me about receiving an ARC of Stephen Irwin’s latest book! I loved his first book, The Dead Path, and have been excitedly awaiting another book by this wonderfully talented author.

A phrase haunts Mariani: I have parted the curtain of bone. He keeps hearing it in his head at odd times and in strange circumstances. Intricate is, I believe, a good word to use to describe the plot in this book – intricate, and twisting, and full of danger. The premise of this book is just fascinating – it is the 2nd book I’ve read within the past year that deals with the repercussions of a sudden flip in the magnetic poles, but the results of this one (other than the usual results of technological disarray and climatological changes) are particularly odd, with the appearance of a personal ghost for each person. The ghost is unable to speak (although some try), and they are always there, and this has led to an increase in mental-health issues. As a result, the Nine Ten department is formed in the police departments; they are responsible for evaluating cases where the suspect claims they did what they did due to their ghost.

There are a lot of arcane symbols described in this book, such as the fairy star

and the veve symbol used to call Baron Samedi in voudon.

I would have really liked to have seen illustrations, honestly; while I was obviously able to find images, they aren’t exactly the same as those described, and there is more to the image than I was able to find. Ereshkigal and Lilith are both mentioned; I was absolutely delighted that the author gave an accurate representation of Ereshkigal’s true nature toward the end of the book. It is so rare that authors go beyond the “approved” ideas of these Goddesses and find their true meaning.

While this book probably won’t be for everyone, I absolutely loved it. It fulfilled every expectation I had for Irwin’s follow-up to his first terrific novel, and I can’t recommend his books enough. If this sounds like the sort of book you like, do not hesitate to pick it up when it comes available.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Giveaway 7: "Stray" by Mark Matthews

I have another real treat for you this week! I'm giving away three copies of Mark Matthew's awesome book Stray!

This is a book that I edited last September, and one that should appeal to anyone who enjoys stories that include animals, and coming to terms with your own problems in order to become a better person.
Stray traces the harrowing paths of addicts at the West Oaks treatment center, the stray pets at the next door animal shelter, and the caregivers who serve them both.

After an alcohol-induced seizure during his father's funeral, Thomas Cleaves remains sober and becomes a therapist to help others just like him recover from their addiction. After trying to start a family, his wife has a miscarriage on the same day a client of his dies from an overdose, and he fears that the addicts he treats must have infected her womb.

When his wife becomes pregnant again, and the sickness and despair of his clients worsen, Tom becomes terrified and is in desperate need of a client to give him some hope.

James White is one such client. James is a newly orphaned alcoholic dead bent on drinking again until he finds a job at the Argos animal shelter. It is here that he meets the mystical Rachel who rescues strays, cleans cages, but has the unfortunate duty of putting some to sleep by lethal injection. Can James find a reason to live by helping her rescue the throw-away pets of the city?

The lives of Tom and James, along with some incredibly vivid characters from the streets of Detroit, are intricately woven together, creating a novel that has received excellent reviews and is certain to be remembered. A gritty novel with an edge yet surprisingly gentle and sweet, Stray illustrates the universal longing in all of us as we look for a safe place that feels like home.

Matthews is also offering a really neat deal where a person can have a picture of their own dog put on the cover of the ebook. Read about it here.

About the Author (in his own words):
I am a licensed professional counselor who has worked for many years as a therapist, but many more years as a writer. My first novel, Stray, is based on experiences working in a treatment center with an animal shelter right next door within barking distance. My second novel, The Jade Rabbit, is the story of woman, adopted from China as an infant, who now manages a runaway shelter in Detroit. I am a graduate of the University of Michigan, an avid hockey fan, and live near Detroit with my wife and two daughters. I blog about the running and writing life, with mass media reviews sprinkled in from time to time. You find find that blog here.

Details of the giveaway:
The author will be gifting 3 copies of this ebook from Amazon's Kindle book store to the winners of this giveaway. You must provide your e-dress so he is able to send you the ebook! If you don't have a Kindle, this is not a problem, because you can download a free app from Amazon to read Kindle-format books right on your PC, and it works just fabulously, as I have used it myself. Sign up for the giveaway by leaving a comment with your e-dress and I'll pick the three winners next Monday!

Review: Star Trek FAQ: Everything Left to Know about the First Voyages of the Starship Enterprise

Star Trek FAQ: Everything Left to Know about the First Voyages of the Starship Enterprise
Star Trek FAQ: Everything Left to Know about the First Voyages of the Starship Enterprise by Mark Clark

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book Info: Genre: Nonfiction/History of TV tie-in Reading Level: Adult

Disclosure: I received a free ebook eGalley from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis: Star Trek FAQ tells the complete story of Star Trek, from before the beginning (the books, films, and TV shows that inspired producer Gene Roddenberry to create Star Trek) until after the end (when the show emerged as a cultural phenomenon in syndication), and including dramatic behind-the-scenes stories (e.g., Leonard Nimoy's struggle with alcoholism and actress Grace Lee Whitney's controversial firing) often omitted from "authorized" histories of the program. Along with in-depth looks at the pre- and post-Trek careers of the show's iconic leads, Star Trek FAQ includes profiles of guest stars and "redshirt" extras alike, as well as the many writers, technicians, and artisans whose efforts enabled Star Trek to take flight. The book also explores the show's unprecedented resurgence in the 1970s with chapters devoted to early Star Trek fiction, merchandising, and the short-lived animated series. Combining a wealth of fascinating information about every facet of the show's production with original analysis of Star Trek's enduring appeal and cultural influence, Star Trek FAQ goes where no Star Trek book has gone before

My Thoughts: I came to Star Trek late in life. I had seen Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home in the theater, but still didn’t get into it until I was 19 and living with my first husband. Then I became addicted – from that point, I often made time to watch all the movies and started watching both the original Star Trek in syndication, as well as Star Trek: The Next Generation. When Deep Space Nine started up, I fell in love with it as well. I am what is called a Trekker; while not as obsessive about it as many, I love the show and the worlds that Gene Roddenberry created, and have been very excited to read this book.

My anticipation was rewarded; this is a fabulous and very interesting book. The author writes well, and a sly, subtle sense of humor permeates the text. Mr. Clark has managed to pull together an astounding amount of information about the show and the people connected to it.

Overall this seems to be a very well-researched and accurate book. However, I noticed one huge error: several times, in referring to the episode “I, Mudd,” the author refers to Mudd as being the leader of a planet completely populated by curvaceous female androids, and this is not accurate. This is one of my favorite episodes, which I have watched repeatedly, so I know for a fact that there are male androids, as well as the less-than-attractive android made to look like Mrs. Alice Mudd (which he had created just for the pleasure of being able to shut her up). But considering that Mr. Clark has filled 500 pages with details, information, and behind-the-scenes looks at Star Trek as well as the animated series and even some about the movies, that is a small piece indeed.

Clark claims he wrote this book for the Trekkers like me, those who aren’t frothing, die-hard obsessives, but instead enjoy the series and its sequels and enjoy learning about some of the little details and bits and pieces of information out of sheer enjoyment rather than mania. I think anyone who has found enjoyment in the Star Trek universe will love this book, so definitely check it out.

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Saturday, June 16, 2012

Review: Betty's (Little Basement) Garden

Betty's (Little Basement) Garden
Betty's (Little Basement) Garden by Laurel Dewey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book Info: Genre: Literary/Medical fiction Reading Level: Adult

Disclosure: I received a free paperback from the author’s publicist, as well as being approved for an eGalley from NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis: Betty Craven is the epitome of elegance, class, and perfection. Her prize-winning garden is the envy of her neighbors; her impeccable manners and epicurean skills have made her the "hostess with the most-est."

But all is not what it seems.

The truth is that this fifty-eight year old's seemingly idyllic world is quickly disintegrating. Widowed and left with a modest income, Betty's Colorado gourmet chocolate shop has gone belly up, leaving her floundering for purpose and meaning. Tied to a house in disrepair that she can't sell, and mired in unrelenting grief for her dead son, this patriotic former Texas pageant queen comes to the shocking and debilitating conclusion that her entire life has been wasted. As that realization hits her hard between her well-manicured brow, the rebellious spirit that Betty has silently kept under lock and key, explodes to the surface.

When that happens, her staunch conservative world changes drastically, causing Betty to question every belief and opinion she's ever had. The path she chooses is paved with secrecy, eccentric characters, toe-curling love, life-changing events, and a connection to her unconventional garden that she never could have imagined. No matter how hard she tries, Betty Craven will never be the same again.

My Thoughts: Thanks to Marian Brown, PR, and NetGalley for the opportunity to read this book! And I now know exactly how to process cannabis into oils; fascinating information. I also learned that, even if I were to live in a state which legalized the herb, there is no way I could grow it; I can’t keep cactus, aloe vera or geraniums alive, all of which are supposed to be exceptionally hardy plants, so I’m sure any attempt to grow it would end in disaster. I learned about all sorts of things related to medical cannabis, in short, and was absolutely fascinated by this book. Ms. Dewey obviously did a lot of very careful research on this book.

Watching Betty’s epiphany and growth was amazing – she is very similar to my late mother in a lot of ways. That is, very accommodating to her husband, always focused on working, pushing and taking care of others whilst ignoring herself and worried about what people would think all the time. Fortunately, my dad is not like Frank, Sr.! Anyway, the way Betty changes is how I like to think my own mother would have changed had she been given the opportunity. I found it particularly interesting that all these things take place in Betty’s life not long after her 2nd Saturn Return – the time in one’s life, occurring about every 28 years, when Saturn returns to the house in which it was when one was born. This frequently accompanies a sea change in a person’s life and thought processes.

One of the major themes in this book is about following your own path, breaking away from expectations, and finding your bliss. A quote from Peyton expresses this really well: “I’d rather live my life honestly, than spend it adapting to what others think I should be.. This is very much how I’ve always lived my own life (much to the chagrin of my mother while she was still alive). I think this is partially why I so enjoyed this story; that and having learned so many new things about medical cannabis use. This is a book everyone should read and think about, an issue I truly believe in, and something I believe more people should learn about. Read this book!

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Friday, June 15, 2012

Review: Northanger Abbey and Angels and Dragons

Northanger Abbey and Angels and Dragons
Northanger Abbey and Angels and Dragons by Vera Nazarian

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book Info: Genre: Classical Literary Parody Reading Level: Adult

Disclosure: I received a free ebook copy of this text from the author through the LibraryThing Members Giveaway program in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis: Gothic horrors collide with high satire in this elegant, hilarious, witty, insane, and unexpectedly romantic supernatural parody of Jane Austen's classic novel.

My Thoughts: I will start out by saying that, despite having been an English major, I have never read Northanger Abbey, the book being parodied. I am not sure if that will affect my understanding and appreciation of this text or not.

I had a fun time reading this book – while I have no idea how it held to the original plot and text, I found the writing style to be amusing and full of humor, and there is nothing I like more than to laugh. And laugh I did – a LOT – through about the first 40 percent of the book. Then it slowed down – there were still amusing moments, but not as many that made me laugh out loud as in the earlier parts. But it was still a fine story, beautifully written in the style of the time, with many amusing footnotes, asides and appendices.

Interestingly enough, the author in this text has also provided illustrations, just as in the last book I read, although these are much more life-like. I’m always impressed by the multiple talents that some people have – apparently they hog up all the talents and leave the rest of us with none ☺ I was also interested to learn that Ms. Nazarian immigrated to the US from the former USSR, which my husband also did, although he is from St. Petersburg whilst she is from Moscow.

All in all, an entertaining read, and one I highly recommend to those who enjoy parody and satire. Lots of fun!

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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Review: Lords of Dyscrasia

Lords of Dyscrasia
Lords of Dyscrasia by S.E. Lindberg

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book Info: Genre: Dark High Fantasy Reading Level: Adult

Disclosure: I received a free ebook copy of this text from the LibraryThing Members Giveaway program in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis: Dyscrasia plagues the insectan elders of the Underworld. Desperate to save them from extinction, the golem Doctor Grave infuses the soul of his dying Queen into the blood of a human artisan, Lord Ante Lysis. Her soul passes through Ante's blood into his offspring, thus the Lysis bloodline carries the diseased Queen's soul as the Doctor perfects the necromancy needed to resurrect her. But the last descendant of Ante is determined to quench the Queen's soul, and journeys to the Underworld to do so...

Lords of Dyscrasia explores the choices humans and their gods make as a disease corrupts their souls, shared blood and creative energies. Historically, dyscrasia referred to any imbalance of the four medicinal humors professed by the ancient Greeks to sustain life. Lords of Dyscrasia presents them as spiritual muses for artisans, sources of magical power, and contagions of a deadly disease. 

My Thoughts: Dyscrasia is a terrible disease in this book – one affecting mainly pregnant women who, if they survive their pregnancy, give birth to mutated creatures half-way between human and elder. The elders are either avian or insectile and they themselves are becoming extinct, leaving only a few, lesser members behind. The cult of people who worship the elders are called Picti, and Lord Endenken is the last of the Lysis clan, the only ones who can handle the power that is transmitted through their blood, only able to mate with those of the same blood or the dyscrasia takes them. It’s quite a dilemma, and Endenken wants nothing to do with it – he wants to make his own way.

Lindberg has a real way with words – the language washes over the reader, completely immersing one within the world being created. But this is a very dark world that has been created – while many scenes occur in the daylight, everything I see in my mind is dark – there is no light anywhere. Also the scope is very large – there are scenes, of course, but overall it feels like everything is taking place at a distance. Analyzing my reaction, I think the reason I felt this way is that there are no “good” sides; everyone is really sort of evil, and there is no hero – or antihero – for which to root. Endenken is the main focus of the story, and he started with good intentions, but he’s really not a nice man at all. Without someone to root for, I was left feeling sort of unmoored in the story. Dey was the only one I really felt any sympathy toward, and I much preferred Cypria and her quest for freedom over Haemarr.

All the art in this book – cover image and illustrations – are also done by the author. Amazing the amount of talent in one person! Also, amazing how much he overuses exclamation points... Every sentence that could possibly be emphatic ends with an exclamation point! I didn’t notice it at first, but eventually I started to see that there was indeed exclamation point abuse occurring. There was also a lot of very awkward and ungrammatical phrasing throughout the book, although since this was an ARC, that might have been corrected before the final publication.

So, I have mixed feelings about this book. The language is lovely and it is beautifully written in many ways, but there is an excess of exclamation points and awkward/ungrammatical phrasing. There is no real hero/antihero for whom to cheer – or at least there were none for whom I felt any connection – and the scope is so large it is sometimes hard to keep track of it. I am sure there are some fans of high fantasy, especially dark fantasy, who will quite enjoy this tale, but it really wasn’t for me.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Review: The Academy Defenders

The Academy Defenders
The Academy Defenders by T.J. Robinson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book Info: Genre: Fantasy Reading Level: Young Adult

Disclosure: I received a free ebook ARC from Rhemalda (the publishers) in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis: Lincoln Thomas is a typical teenager … or at least, he used to be. But then one day he awoke with the power to slow time, stop bullets mid-flight and turn his enemies into human popsicles. Now he’s a recruit at the Atlas Academy – a top-secret government training facility – learning to use his new powers to become a guardian and protect world leaders from dangerous assassins and evil conspiracies. There’s only one problem – someone’s out to destroy the guardians … and Lincoln. Lincoln and a few fellow recruits are the only ones who can stop him. If they fail, the power of the guardians will be used to crush the very people it now protects

My Thoughts: The main problem I had with the story was how Lincoln just walked away from his family, his life, all his things – everything – apparently without a second thought or concern. Atlas Academy must have major bucks – they provide clothing, food, shelter, computers, books, and each recruit has a private room with their own private bath. Having lived in college dorms, that’s unbelievable luxury! I have to wonder about how laundry is done, for instance; are the recruits responsible for their own laundry, or do they have someone to do that, too? It’s never really mentioned, but then I suppose most people don’t really care about those sorts of things. However, that said, I ended up loving the overall story.

Atlas Academy is very different from Hogwarts, but I still see some parallels with the Harry Potter world, especially the competition between the dorms at the annual Challenge. However, in Hogwarts no physical training is done at all – everything is by magic – whereas Atlas Academy heavily stresses physical training. I found the similarities and differences to be quite fascinating. I especially enjoyed the creatures, once they entered the story – I’d love to know what the panther-things were supposed to be; I’ve never heard of anything like what they are described to be.

There were a lot of characters, and I understand Robinson’s decision to keep things simple and just not get into some of them; at the same time, too often scenes felt unfinished because there were only one or two people mentioned by name or description and it felt like the rest of the crowd were store mannequins or something. I felt like either the scope should have been further diminished, to allow more of a focus on the people that were introduced, or further expanded to allow more information about some of the other people around them. But as that may be, the ones that were focused on were quite well-developed – plenty of mysteries and secrets yet to discover, but at least we had a feeling about who they were.

So, while my feelings on some aspects were mixed, overall I quite enjoyed the story and I think young adult and adult readers will both find something to love in this book. Fans of Harry Potter should like it, despite its differences; I personally liked it because of its differences. A great coming-of-age adventure fantasy.

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Review: Albino

Albino by E.J. Dabel

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book Info: Genre: Fantasy Reading Level: Middle Grade

Disclosure: I received a free ebook ARC eGalley from Sea Lion Books (the publisher) in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis: The white mouse Albino always believed that he would live with the old farmer William Springer forever, eating Cheddar cheese and enjoying life at the farm. But after he is kidnapped by the street urchin Darl and violently thrown into a raging river to drown, he wakes up in the middle of a strange and mysterious forest and his life is changed forever as he finds himself in a world unlike anything he could ever imagine.

Aided by an odd crow, he begins an adventure filled with action, danger, and ultimately a final confrontation against his worst nightmares. 

The ancient and cruel rats called the Ma’aldee are on the move, the Spiritual Guardians of the Land whisper in fear and dread of the coming of Emperor Loucura, Lord of the Ma'aldee.

Only Albino has the power to save the Land.

My Thoughts: I loved Dabel’s debut book, Pantheons and have been looking forward to reading this one ever since I first heard of it.

This is an ARC, so I’m not surprised there are a number of errors in the text, which I will assume were mostly fixed in the final copy. The story flows smoothly and the characters are all unique and given individual voices that are easy to differentiate.

Albino is apparently a very special mouse, since he’s at least 50 years old, and the average mouse’s lifespan is 2-3 years. When I raised rats, I sure would have loved to have had some of my favorite rats live that long! I’d love for my cats to live that long! I guess Dabel is going for a sort of anthropomorphized version of animal life that lives even longer than humans in this book, since Albino seems quite naïve. Albino is what we call a REW – red-eyed white – mouse. Their eyes can also be pink or burgundy, although the burgundy shade is more common in fawn or beige-colored rodents.

Darl is a nasty little kid – I’m just not fond of people who don’t like animals. It seems to me that people who don’t like animals lack some certain basic level of empathy. It’s no secret that many serial killers start out by torturing animals. I was glad he only appeared briefly in the beginning of the book – with luck, we won’t have to deal with him again.

The book ends on a cliffhanger, with many strands winding together to create a highly complex plot. I think younger readers might have some trouble with this book – probably 12-13 would be the youngest that would be able to keep track of all this easily. I’m interested to see where this story will go – I’m not certain how many books Dabel plans for this series, but as complex as the story is, I imagine there will be several.

This is a satisfying fantasy for those who enjoy a more complex plot. There are a lot of characters to keep straight, so I think a dramatis personae would be very useful. I’ve tried to add as many as I could to Shelfari as I went through the book, so hopefully that will help future readers who use that site. If you enjoy complex fantasy stories, especially those utilizing animal characters, you should check out Albino.

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Monday, June 11, 2012

Review: The Horror of Magic

The Horror of Magic
The Horror of Magic by Daniel Black

My rating: 0 of 5 stars

Book info GenreSci-fi/Horror Reading Level: Adult

Disclosure: I edited this book for the author. I do not receive a portion of sales.

Synopsis: The (unfortunately) long awaited sequel to the novel Be Careful What You Wish For, continues the story of Michelle, Adam, Chelsea, Blake, Brandon and Timothy, as they face new challenges in a world wracked by magic. In the course of these chapters, they will discover... the true horror of magic.

My Thoughts: I enjoyed the first book and liked this one even more. Watching the characters as they learn about their new powers and the effects they have on those around them is fascinating. Black is going to a lot of trouble to create a brave new world with these characters, and from what he's told me there is a lot of great stuff coming up. If you enjoyed gaming, if you like seeing good world-building, definitely check out the Saga of the New Gods series.

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Giveaway 6 winners!

OK, I'm actually getting to the winners pretty early this morning - the winners for giveaway #6 are:

Bev, Dana and Tabitha!

I'll be getting your Smashwords coupons to you momentarily.

Watch for our next giveaway next week!

Review: Exiled

Exiled by J.R. Wagner

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book Info: Genre: Fantasy Reading Level: Young Adult

Disclosure: I received a free ebook ARC from JKS Communications (the author’s publicist) in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis: James has never known an ordinary life. As long as he can remember, he and his family have been on the run—moving from place to place, never settling down, never growing roots. Now, just when he’s on the brink of manhood, the very thing his family has been trying to prevent tears him from all he has ever known and thrusts him into a place where he is powerless and alone. 

Bent on finding a way back, James must brave a place reserved for the worst of his kind. He quickly learns that the land itself poses a greater threat than its inhabitants and if he is to have any chance of returning, he must work with the very people he’s been raised to fear.

James has known magic since just after he was born. As a sorcerer, his skills are exceptional yet when he wakes in The Never, his abilities are gone. Armed with nothing but determination and the will to survive, he braves a land wrought with dangers, mysteries and temptations meant to ensnare both body and mind and prevent escape forever.

My Thoughts: This is book 1 in the Never Chronicles. It was released just this past week, although I’ve had a copy for a couple months now, which I had hoped to read before now; I just got bogged down.

Wow... just, simply … wow - I literally said that when I finished this book. The Never is a super-cool place. James is a very interesting boy, and the world of the faithful is a very interesting world. It is highly complex. This story is primarily giving us background – telling us about the magic users, showing us how James grew up, and his adventures in the Never. I’m not sure how many books will be in this series, but it is a series for which I will definitely be watching. Wagner is a talented story-teller, and I was captivated by this book. I think most people who enjoyed stories like the Chronicles of Prydain, the Harry Potter books, and even the tales of Narnia should enjoy this wonderful new fantasy adventure. Check it out - I highly recommend it!

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Sunday, June 10, 2012

Review: The Breakaway

The Breakaway
The Breakaway by Michelle Davidson Argyle

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book Info: Genre: Suspense Reading Level: Young Adult

Disclosure: I received a free ebook ARC from Rhemalda Publishing in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis: When Naomi Jensen is kidnapped, it takes her parents two days to realize she’s missing. Escape isn’t high on her list of priorities when all she has to return to is an abusive boyfriend and parents who never paid much attention to her. For the first time in her life she’s part of a family—even if it is a family of criminals. But she’s still a captive. In a desperate attempt to regain some control in her life, Naomi embarks on a dangerous plan to make one of her kidnappers think she’s falling in love with him. The plan works too well, and when faced with the chance to escape, Naomi isn’t sure she wants to take it.

My Thoughts: I loved Ms. Argyle’s book, Monarch, which I read last fall. So, after reading the Puzzle Lands books, I wanted to read something lighter, but the one I was thinking of reading had lots of illustrations and I would have needed to read it on my computer rather than my Kindle, and instead I end up reading this book about a girl who is kidnapped and her relationship with the kidnappers. Not exactly easy or light fare... but, so beautifully written and realistic! How Ms. Argyle got into these people’s heads like this is just amazing to me. The emotional depth to this book, watching Naomi grow into herself and become stronger over the time she spends with her captors; watching the way her parents grow and change over that time as well – it’s all very well-done. It’s hard to explain; you’ll just have to read it for yourself. I highly recommend it.

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Review: The Dread Hammer

The Dread Hammer
The Dread Hammer by Linda Nagata

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book Info: Genre: Fantasy Reading Level: Adult

Disclosure: I purchased this book for myself after winning the 2nd in an early reviewer’s giveaway in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis: Ketty is a pretty shepherdess with a contrary nature, who runs away from home to escape an unwanted marriage. As she flees along the forest road, she prays to the Dread Hammer for help—and to her astonishment help comes in the form of a charming and well-armed young murderer named Smoke. As Ketty soon discovers, Smoke is not entirely human.

Smoke, too, is taken by surprise at their encounter. He had lurked beside the forest road intending to pierce hearts and slit throats, not to fall in love. But love it is—or it would be—if only he can convince Ketty that marriage is better than death.

But just when happily-ever-after seems within reach, Smoke's past returns to claim him. A deserter from the Koráyos army, his supernatural skill at killing is still very much in demand. Now the army wants him back.

The Dread Hammer is an enthralling, dark tale of love, war, murder, marriage, and fate.

My Thoughts: This is Book 1 of the Tales of the Puzzle Lands; because I forgot I had this one, I read book 2 first oops. Though I didn’t love Hepen the Watcher, I liked it well enough to want to read this first book, which tells – among other things – about how Dismay AKA Smoke and Ketty first met.

I liked this book better than the 2nd book, just because there isn’t as much abuse of women as in the 2nd one, but I still spent a lot of this book furious – furious at Dehan, Smoke’s father, for being such a cruel jerk; furious at the treacherous Nedgalvin. I’d really like to read something less... extreme next, so I think I’ll be reading something lighter to up my mood. But if you are a fan of Dexter, I think you’ll enjoy Dismay as well – nothing like a murderous fiend who prefer to kill the guilty to make one sit up and take notice. Check this series out.

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Saturday, June 9, 2012

Review: Hepen the Watcher

Hepen the Watcher
Hepen the Watcher by Linda Nagata

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book Info: Genre: Fantasy Reading Level: Adult

Disclosure: I received a free ebook ARC from the Early Reviewer’s program at LibraryThing in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis: A tale of exile, rebellion, fidelity, and fire.

The demon Dismay’s murderous nature has earned him the ire of his beloved wife, who has sent him away in a fit of temper. In his exile he ventures south into the land of Lutawa, drawn there by the prayers of abused and desperate women who beg him to grant them vengeance against the men who cruelly rule their lives—and Dismay is pleased to do it.

Still, murder is hard and dirty work.

When an avid desire for a bath brings him to a fine Lutawan estate, he meets two beautiful young women. Ui and Eleanor are well-acquainted with the whispered tales of the demon Dismay, who slays men but never women, and they’re delighted to entertain their fearsome guest, but they warn him to beware.

Lutawa is ruled by an immortal king, who punishes treason with the terrible weapon of infernal fire. Believing this king to be the same cruel deity known in the north as Hepen the Watcher, Dismay resolves to kill him—and accidentally draws Ui and Eleanor into his schemes.

Those who help Dismay risk a fiery death, those who hinder him risk the demon’s bloody retribution, while Dismay, still yearning for his wife’s forgiveness, discovers that love can be as hazardous as the wrath of Hepen the Watcher.

My Thoughts: This is book 2 in Tales of the Puzzle Lands. I was assured I could read it without having read the first book in the series. Since the first book looked like romance, I decided to accept that ruling and go for it. However, after reading this book, now I’ve decided that maybe I want to read the first one after all... It probably would have helped if I had remembered that I do have the book and could have read it first. Oh, well...

I like Dismay – a lot. I especially like that he was busy killing the disgusting, misogynistic Lutwanas. I had hoped – like I always hope – for an interesting antagonist, hoping that the sheriff would be at least an honorable man caught in bad circumstances, not knowing any better, etc. Instead he was just as bad as most of the others. A terrible person. For all the talk of him, there is very little actual interaction with Hepen the Watcher, so no way to tell much about him, other than that he is a misogynist of the worst type.

Overall, I liked the book well enough – and I should say I liked it enough to want to immediately read the first one, so most fans of fantasy should enjoy this. However, please be aware there is a scene with terrible, graphic brutality against women, and other instances hinted at, so if that sort of thing enrages you like it did me, you might want to skip this and save yourself the aggravation.

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