Friday, October 20, 2017

Review: Sweet Sweet Country by Anna Bronislavska


Genre: Thriller

Description:

This book’s elements comprise the Swedishness of the main protagonist, Linda Strand: a travelogue aspect as we visit the cities of Kiev and Stockholm and countryside in Ukraine and Sweden: a thriller element, which deals with exploitation of children.

Swedish Linda Strand comes to Kiev to see her brother but he is missing, although nobody seems very worried by this. Linda later returns to Kiev to look for him. On her second visit, she penetrates a more dangerous world than the one she found on her first visit and, later in the book, the story of the children being used by the pornographers is poignant indeed.

Author:

Anna Bronislavska is a Ukrainian living in Sweden. It is interesting that she has chosen to write as a Swede about her homeland. The results ring very true. She has a good eye and ear for cultural specifics and she is – as she says of herself – passionate about both countries.

Appraisal:

Most of the action takes place in Kiev, we are shown the city through the eyes of a stranger, we see inside the museums, we share the food (a lot of it sweet, hence the book’s title). Some of the book is set in Stockholm, where we get a glimpse of Swedish family, professional and city life. There are excursions into the Ukrainian and Swedish countryside.

The first half of the book proceeds at an unhurried pace, interesting characters live their lives; they enjoy meals, visit places and friends, taking Linda with them. It is a fine travelogue, juxtaposing the cool efficiency of Sweden and the Swedish with the passionate underground theatre and indie-film scene in vibrant Kiev.

Bronislavska’s writing from the points of view of the teenage boy and the little girl being abused is very fine. A don’t ask/don’t complain attitude comes through, which feels like a hangover from Communist days. In Ukraine, says one character, even today it is not wise to question a disappearance. The description of the squalor in which the children are kept is heart-breaking

Unfortunately the sum of the book is less than the interesting, individual parts. There is rather a lot of repetition which slows the already leisurely pace (eg ‘He made it his home. He lived here. It was his.’). Sometimes we slip outside Linda Strand’s viewpoint to get a global view, but the ‘voice’ remains Linda’s. I found this confusing when her ‘voice’ was applied to a villain wearing aviator shades. Organisation of the material occasionally misled. There is a scene in which a stranger insists on buying Linda a ticket for the theatre for no apparent reason. They sit side by side but do not exchange a word. We do not see him leave. It is a bizarre scene. It is explained later in the book, but makes no sense at the time. The prologue would have been more help at the end of the book.

At the end of the book the various strands are ably tied, but earlier in the book the dangling ends became a little frustrating, for this reader.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

One strand of this book is child pornography. However, apart from a graphic beating, all the abuse happens ‘offstage’.

Format/Typo Issues:

An editor’s input to this book would have improved the reader’s experience.

Rating: *** Three Stars

Reviewed by: Judi Moore

Approximate word count: 90-95,000 words

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Reprise Review: Mazie Baby by Julie Frayn


Genre: Women’s Fiction

Description:

“When Mazie Reynolds was a young girl, she believed monsters lived under her bed. Now a grown, married woman, she discovers one sleeps in her bed.
Mazie schemes to save herself and her daughter. Her plan will work, if she can out-maneuver the monster who is a master of manipulation and control. She’s got one thing going for her, the one thing she truly owns. Mazie has moxie to the bone. But will it be enough?”

Author:

The author of three novels and two short story collections, Julie Frayn lives in Calgary, Alberta where she’s a senior manager at a historical theme park. Her novel It isn’t Cheating if He’s Dead was the top vote getter in the Chick-Lit/Women’s Fiction category of the 2014 BigAl’s Books and Pals Readers’ Choice Awards.

For more, visit Frayn’s website, or catch Ms. Frayn on Facebook.

Appraisal:

I liked Mazie Baby for several very different reasons. The main one is the portrayal of living with an abusive husband. The family dynamics between Mazie, her daughter, and husband rang true and gave me insight into the difficulties someone in that situation has in surviving or getting out. It made for some intense drama as does the story of what Mazie finally does when she realizes the time has come for a change.

However, it isn’t all unrelenting drama and vicarious stress for the reader, Mazie goes through what I’ll describe as an adventure. Her next door neighbor, who helps Mazie along the way, also provides a bit of comic relief. Just as with It isn’t Cheating if He’s Dead, another of Frayn’s books I’ve read, I loved Frayn’s characters. They hit the right balance between being realistic (not unlike people you know), and unique, so you aren’t sure where they’re going to take the story. An excellent read.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Uses Canadian spelling conventions (a cross between the US and UK). Some adult language.

Added for Reprise Review: Mazie Baby by Julie Frayn was a nominee in the Women’s Fiction category for B&P 2015 Readers' Choice Awards. Original review ran September 26, 2014

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 75-80,000 words

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Review: The Downfall of a Belly Dancer by Kerrie Noor


Genre: Romantic Comedy

Description:

The Downfall of a Belly Dancer is a comedy for women who love to laugh, believe in romance but like it served with a bit of reality.

Nefertiti’s life is sinking into the Scottish sunset…

At one time she ran a troupe of belly dancers, now she has three reluctant pupils. Zumba has stormed into Argyll and taken all her gigs. Her diary is as empty as her class and Nefertiti can’t cope.

Disappointed, Nefertiti turns to Rodger her ‘rock’, mentor and partner, but he has other plans and has retreated into his shed. And Nefertiti is desperate to find out why.

The Downfall of a Belly Dancer is the second in the Belly dancing series- a satirical look at romantic comedy with whole new meaning to a happy ending.

Author:

“Kerrie was born in Melbourne Australia in 1960 but has spent most of her adult life in Scotland. She arriving in Argyll in 1980's on a working holiday and 'just ended up staying'. Kerrie works for Alzheimer Scotland. She is also a regular on Dunoon Community Radio practising her comedy and storytelling skills while learning about obscure bands and the hidden night life of Dunoon. She teaches and performs Belly dancing and is currently trying to develop her talents as a story teller. In the past she has 'done' a little stand up and appeared at the Edinburgh Festival. She writes under the name of Kerrie Noor”

To learn more about Ms. Noor please visit her website or follow her onFacebook.

Appraisal:

As Nefertiti’s egocentric life is falling apart at the seams, she is sent into a tailspin trying to figure out what has gone wrong. The story is full of quirky characters who are well-developed and unique. Each one adds their own flavor to Nefertiti’s dilemma. But when Roger builds his ‘man shed’ on the spot Nef had chosen for her pyramid she is devastated. To make things worse all of her belly dancing class, women she referred to as her Sisterhood, have abandoned her for the new Zumba class in town. It seems like the only friend she has is the town’s bag-lady who has taken up a spot in front of Roger’s book shop, where Nef and Roger trade working days.

I wish I could say the bag-lady was the quirkiest character in town, however she isn’t, despite feeding and herding the geese and swans around the lake behind the church. When the town starts a petition to report her to Social Services to find her a proper home, Nef comes to the rescue by offering her a place in her home. That doesn’t go quite as planned though. The bag-lady constructs a teepee in Nef’s backyard by the garden to live in along with a fire pit, which becomes an evening gathering place with many stories. Nefertiti’s journey is an interesting one that ends up involving practically the whole town.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

The Downfall of a Belly Dancer is book two in BELLY DANCING and BEYOND Series. This book also contains several F-bombs and adult subject matter. There is also a small glossary at the end of the book to help with the Scottish terms, which Ms. Noor uses, along with UK spelling.

Format/Typo Issues:

I came across several proofing misses such as: wrong words, missing, or extra words. Also, Kay was called Kate on the same page she had just been called Kay. Because of these issues I had to deduct a star.  

Rating: *** Three Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 55-60,000 words

Monday, October 16, 2017

Review: Dig Two Graves by Keith Nixon


Genre: Thriller/Noir/Police Procedural

Description:

“When teenager Nick Buckingham tumbles from the fifth floor of an apartment block, Detective Sergeant Solomon Gray answers the call with a sick feeling in his stomach. The victim was just a kid, sixteen years old. And the exact age the detective's son, Tom, would've been, had he not gone missing at a funfair ten years ago. Each case involving children haunts Gray with the reminder that his son may still be out there - or worse, dead. The seemingly open and shut case of suicide twists into a darker discovery. Buckingham and Gray have never met, so why is Gray's number on the dead teenager's mobile phone?

With his boss, Detective Inspector Yvonne Hamson, Gray begins to unravel a murky world of abuse, lies, and corruption. An investigator from the Met is called in to assist, setting the local police on edge. And when the body of Reverend David Hill is found shot to death in the vestry of Gray's old church, Gray wonders how far the depravity stretches and who might be next. Nothing seems connected, and yet there is one common thread: Detective Sergeant Solomon Gray, himself. As the bodies pile up, Gray must face his own demons. Crippled by loss but determined to find the truth, Gray takes the first step on the long road of redemption.

Set in the once grand town of Margate in the south of England, the now broken and depressed seaside resort becomes its own character in this dark detective thriller.”

Author:

During the day Keith Nixon is employed in a “senior sales role” by a high-tech company in the UK. But when he gets home you’ll find him working on this next book in one of two unrelated genres, either hard-boiled crime fiction or historical fiction.

Appraisal:

This is the first of the Solomon Gray series and I’m already a fan. Gray is a detective and the main story thread appears, at least at first, to be a straightforward (although certainly unique) murder case. I anticipated a straightforward police procedural. It might have been except for Solomon Gray’s past, which haunts him in many ways and I think tends to change the way he views and approaches crime solving. As the story alternates between the two threads, us learning about Gray’s past and observing his efforts to solve the current case (eventually cases) the two threads start getting tangled with each other. I never saw that coming.

The result can be viewed as a police procedural or noir crime fiction or a bit of both. But what struck me is that the underlying story has more depth than is typical of either.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Some adult language.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 55-60,000 words

Friday, October 13, 2017

Review: The Filled In Spaces by Michael Overa


Genre: Short Story Collection

Description:

“The stories in the Filled In Spaces investigate the intersecting lives of strangers and acquaintances, acknowledging that we are all a background character in someone else’s story. The stories investigate the nature of relationships and friendships.”

Author:

“Michael Overa was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. After completing his MFA at Hollins University Michael returned to Seattle where he currently works as a writing tutor and is a writer-in-residence with Seattle's Writers In The Schools Program.”

Appraisal:

The last few short story collections I’ve read have had stories that fell flat for me. The Filled in Spaces ended that streak. These stories were all interesting, entertaining, and didn’t leave me wondering why the author had bothered writing them. They tend to be on the darker side with characters living on the edges of society, so if you’re looking for inspirational stories or a certain kind of character that doesn’t fit that, these stories might not be for you. But if you like that sort of thing (I obviously do) then they’re very good stories.

Unfortunately, if you’re the kind of reader who gets thrown out of a story due to typos, missing or wrong words, obvious misspellings, or obvious grammar errors that didn’t get fixed in the final product, this book is ABSOLUTELY NOT for you. If it went through a copyediting or proofreading process, then that process fell well short of what it should have accomplished. In fact, if these stories were even run through a word processor’s spell check function, I’d be amazed.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Some adult language and situations.

Format/Typo Issues:

The copyediting and proofreading on this were … well, really, they weren’t.

Rating: *** Three Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 35-40,000 words

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Reprise Review: A Man Alone by David Siddall


Genre: Crime/Thriller/Noir

Description:

John Doyle is a quiet man, that is until local crime boss, Barry Wood, threatens his step-daughter, April. Doyle has a past, one he’d tried to bury but is forced to bring back to the surface to protect his family.

Author:

David Siddall writes his crime in his home city of Liverpool. He had a number of stories published in magazines before writing A Man Alone, his debut work.

Appraisal:

This is an excellent novella full of excellent characters and a situation that ramps up the pressure on the protagonist, John Doyle. The initial premise, man protects family from local thug, isn’t unusual, but there’s something intangible about Doyle that keeps the pages turning. It’s dark, brooding and violent.

Doyle the underdog up against a man who’s used to calling the shots and is caught off guard when someone fights back. For Doyle has a past, one that’s gradually revealed piece by piece as he turns up the heat on Wood. He moved to Liverpool for some peace, hoping he’d left his past behind, but he can’t help but draw on his experience.

There’s also several neat little twists that add to the story, I can’t say what for fear of ruining the surprise. If you like your crime hard boiled, I strongly recommend this novella. I’ve only one complaint – it’s too short (although the story is really well paced and balanced) in that I’d like to see more of Doyle. I really hope the author brings him back in a future story.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Nothing of note.

Added for Reprise Review: A Man Alone was a nominee in the Crime Fiction category for B&P 2015 Readers' Choice Awards. Original review ran July 28, 2014.

Format/Typo Issues:

A small number of issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: Keith Nixon

Approximate word count: 15-20,000 words

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Review: Eighteen by CJ Maughan


Genre: Contemporary Fiction/Supernatural Fiction

Description:

“Florence Dantes is a haunted woman. Loss, grief, regret – these are the ghosts that keep her company. Day after day she lives in her past, a continual loop with only one escape. Loosely based on Dante’s Inferno, this is the story of redemption that can only begin within the deepest circle of hell.”

Author:

“C.J. Maughan is a former chemist who realized she was much better at writing fiction than lab reports. She is oddly fascinated with melancholy and tends to prefer stories that are depressingly beautiful.”

Appraisal:

Life is hell. At least it is for Florence Dantes. But is what comes after life better?
This was an interesting and entertaining read. I don’t want to say much about the plot other than to say the concept was clever. The story should provoke some introspection about life, decisions we make, and maybe get the average reader to consider their approach to life’s setbacks.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

A small number of typos and other proofreading misses.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 50-55,000 words

Monday, October 9, 2017

Review: Mr. Pish's Woodland Adventure (A Mr. Pish Backyard Adventure Book 1) by K. S. Brooks


Genre: Children’s Adventure/Nature/Educational

Description:

“Mr. Pish, the adventurous Jack Russell Terrier, leads readers on an expedition into the forest in Mr. Pish's Woodland Adventure. With full color photographs and engaging text geared to promote outdoor learning, Mr. Pish shows how easy it is to experience nature no matter where you live. Mr. Pish even teaches kids how to make their own Great Explorer's scrapbook! Best viewed on a full-color reader.”

Author:

“K.S. Brooks has been writing for over thirty years. An award-winning author and photographer, she has written over 30 titles, is currently the administrator for the superblog IndiesUnlimited, and is founder of ‘Authors for Hurricane Sandy Library Recovery’ and the ‘Liberty Library’ for soldiers and veterans. Mr. Pish is a curly-haired Jack Russell terrier who has traveled the USA and Canada to spread the word about outdoor learning and literacy.”

To learn more about Mr. Pish you may visit is his website. To learn more about Ms. Brooks you may also visit her website.

Appraisal:

Mr. Pish has an infectious personality that readily draws the reader in and includes you in the dialogue as he explores. He also has rules to follow while exploring; take plenty of water and snacks, stay on the path, and always stay in sight of an adult. The adult is basically the pack mule to carry everything for you on your adventure. Never go on an exploring adventure alone. Also, pay attention to your surroundings. If you don’t think you see anything stop, look, and listen for a while. Check out the flora, fauna, and trees.

This book is loaded with gorgeous pictures of wildlife, critters, and Mr. Pish. I found this book a treasure trove of information written simply enough for children to understand and engage with. I think any of Mr. Pish’s series books would make a wonderful addition to any library, be it a primary school, public, or a child’s own personal library.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Best viewed on a full-color device. Mr. Pish's Woodland Adventure is book one in MR. PISH BACKYARD ADVENTURE SERIES. Book two is The Mighty Oak and Me.

Format/Typo Issues:

I came across no issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: Twenty-eight pages

Friday, October 6, 2017

Review: Life in Hyperspace by Chris Solaas


Genre: Nonfiction/Memoir

Description:

“Spray-painting the cat? What was he thinking??

With four year college degrees under our belts and a dab of training in Child Psychology, my wife and I thought we were ready for anything when it came to this parenting gig.

We had no idea we would be outnumbered and outgunned. From diet to riot, meds to charts, we've tried it all, to train up our ADHD kids in the way they should grow.

From the Home School of Hard Knocks, our four ADD and ADHD kids have taught us more about coping and planning ahead than any four year college degree could have, especially when it comes to understanding what goes on in the mind of a five year old in a Buzz Lightyear costume flying on a treadmill. To Infinity, and Beyond.

This is the chronicle of two adult ADD parents and their four ADD/ADHD kids living in a loving madhouse with four neurotic cats and a snow white bi-eyed monster dog that eats trees. Inside you will find more laughs and maybe some help and advice for what to do with the ADD kids in your own home, from someone who's Been There, Done That.”

Author:

“Chris Solaas was born in Memphis, TN a half-century ago, the fourth child in a happy Norwegian/Italian family. He began writing stories at the tender age of 8. He was sure he was going to be a science fiction/fantasy novelist.

He graduated from the University of Memphis in Electrical Engineering, and began a career in Computer Programming. Things don't always work out the way you plan...”

Appraisal:

Depending on your situation, the way you might approach reading Life in Hyperspace could vary. If you have kids with ADD and/or ADHD, you might pick up some hints or ideas on how to deal with this from someone with experience. Even those who don’t will recognize the commonality in some of the stories whether comparing to your own kids, grandkids, or yourself as a kid. I got a good laugh out of a mishap with the dishwasher that reminded me of a slightly less serious episode with my youngest granddaughter last week. Chris Solaas writes with an eye to the humor in his struggles which can be entertaining to anyone.

My only issue with Life in Hyperspace is one that will be a positive for some readers and a negative for others. This is the religious content which isn’t something I saw coming, the only possible clue being a line at the end of the author’s bio that he writes “stories with a Christian Worldview.” With the exception of the bible verse at the start of each chapter which you can skip past easily enough and a couple chapters near the end. this isn’t overwhelming. Given the apparent role religion has in the author’s life the book wouldn’t reflect reality without touching on his beliefs.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 40-45,000 words

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Reprise Review: Tales of Aldura: Phaedra by Susan Stuckey


Genre:  Epic Fantasy

Description:

“The call of duty can be a rough path to follow, and some paths are more difficult than others. Phaedra, a Njae Loremaster, must tread one of the more difficult ones. Along the way she confronts her fate as predicted by a Seeress, acquires the assistance of a dragon, and risks her husband, her child, and her life in order to save the peoples of the Twin Goddess.”

Author:

“Currently (mostly) retired, but 'back in the day' Susan was a meek, mild-mannered, self-effacing accountant/auditor by day but after 5:00 her imagination broke free. She either played with historical stories, or in the magical World of Aldura she created.

Besides playing in fantasy and/or historical times, Susan searches for dead people (otherwise known as researching her family's genealogy), crochets, loves to try new recipes, and is the servant of multiple fur-children (both feline and canine).”

For more, visit the author’s webside or Facebook page.

Appraisal:

This starts as a simple story of a group of newly confirmed Rangers heading out on their first mission to patrol the Barrier Wall. Phaedra is hoping to find a way to diffuse the other members’ hostility toward her. Their patrol is joined by Thaenad, whom we first met in Choices and Kaserie’s Choice.

Ms. Stuckey is an expert storyteller. Her prose is tight, it is hard to believe she can pack so much story in forty-six pages. Her fantasy world is well written, her characters are always interesting and unique, as is the magic they each possess. Phaedra has known her fate since the time she was born, she thought becoming a ranger would help prepare her for her task. This is an emotional story of honor, fortitude, strength, and destiny. I found it heart-wrenchingly well told.

The scope of Ms. Stuckey’s Tales of Aldura keeps growing and this one, in particular, weaves into Tales of Aldura: Choices. If you haven’t read it yet, you will want to now. I will be rereading it.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

The original review was posted here at BigAl’s Books and Pals on April 12, 2015.

Format/Typo Issues:

No editing or formatting issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 14-15,000 words