Monday, January 31, 2011

REVIEW: "Backwoods" by Sara Reinke

After a mysterious creature pops out from the trees, Andrew Braddock, a self-claimed "tree counter," crashes his jeep in the midst of the Appalachian mountains. The day started out with a routine research assignment, but is quickly turning bizarre as he fends for his life in a creek. He is quickly pulled to safety by an Army reservist who takes him to a top-secret research facility deep in the Appalachian mountains. As Andrew gets to know these new surroundings, he becomes acquainted with an entrancing nurse, an autistic child, an eccentric scientist, a forceful Major, and a collection of the enlisted, including his very own hero, the alluring Dani. Things are not quite as they seem, and soon Andrew finds himself putting together the pieces to form a truly horrific whole. Will he survive? Will anyone?

This contemporary horror novel by Sara Reinke pulls you in from the beginning and doesn't let you go until the very last page. Along the way, you're given hints as to the big secret at this "top-secret" facility, but the truth is so much worse than you can even imagine. What starts out as a bit of a mystery quickly reveals a truly horrific experiment gone out of control. With nicely developed characters, the story is an easy and colorful read. Andrew finds himself in a few romantic trysts in this story, but the star relationship is the intriguing connection between Alice (the autistic child) and Andrew. The ending offers a nice sense of closure while still leaving the reader guessing as to what may happen- the perfect mix for this type of horror novel. There is suspense and intrigue, with a good dose of gore thrown in for good measure.

I loved the idea behind this story. I can imagine such an event actually taking place in some remote location, as terrifying as it is. I was really drawn in by Andrew's character as we both tried to figure out what was going on. Although the major characters were, for the most part, well-developed, I felt Suzette's character didn't quite have the depth that the storyline required. She was somewhat of a major player, but I didn't quite understand her motivation and why she would take the job that she did, with the history that she had. She felt a little unrealistic compared to the other characters. I think the suspense was nicely done, but the gory "finale" lasted a few too many pages for my taste. Overall, a compelling tale!

4/5 stars

Available at Smashwords, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble


Saturday, January 29, 2011

REVIEW: "Black Shadows" by Simon Swift

New Jersey- 1935. Errol Black finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, and something serious is going down. A powerful gangster is killed and this prompts Errol to make a choice that forever changes his relationship with Dyke Spanner, former friend and partner. A decade later, Dyke is found dead, and Errol is on a mission to discover the truth underneath it all. Set within a backdrop of gangsters, violence, and beautiful, conniving women, with many twist and turns along the way, the story mirrors the time period.

A first novel by Simon Swift, "Black Shadows" has all the makings of a good gangster movie. The author does a very nice job of evoking this era, and I could definitely picture the action as it happened. It reminded me of the grainy black and white films with fast-talking detectives, cunning women, and the threat of violence at every turn. For some reason, however, I just could not get into this story. I read the first 100 or so pages (out of 248), and I decided to stop. So instead of my "standard" review, I'm going to comment on the things I noted in the first part of the book, and decline to leave a star rating.

I think the biggest strength of this book was in the imagery and the feel of the narration. The characters fit well into this era- the quintessential models of the period. In spite of the well-developed characterization, I found I really didn't like Errol's character much, and that may have been part of my difficulty in immersing in the story. I just couldn't seem to engage in what was going on. The fast-talking dialogue lacked in commas, which made it difficult for me to follow at times. Some of the missing commas actually changed the meaning and required a second read to be sure of the intention. There were a few typos, and a few punctuation switches (a question mark where a period should be, a period where a question mark should be)- in the first 100 pages, those typos numbered around 5- not excessive, but I can't speak as to the rest of the book.

Fans of the genre will likely enjoy the imagery and storyline of "Black Shadows."

Available at Smashwords

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

REVIEW: "Luminous and Ominous" by Noah K. Mullette-Gillman

When Henry gets a disturbing video from a friend in the Peace Corps, he formulates a plan to save a dozen or so of his closest friends from an alien invasion. Gathering the friends turns out to be the first of his problems. After convincing them of the danger, he must plan for how to keep them alive and safe until this danger blows over. Something goes wrong in his plan, and he and two friends are left out in the world to fend against the alien plant life and find a way to escape the "Cornucopia Blue." Does Henry have what it takes to survive? Is it even worth the effort?

Written by Noah K. Mullette-Gillman, this story jumps between the story's present time (2014) and the beginning of the alien plant invasion (2012). I found this a really clever and effective way to tell this tale. The story starts out with Noah and his two surviving friends making their way through the altered landscape, and quickly switches to show the start of the invasion. With two such intriguing introductions to the two time periods, I was immediately engaged. Telling the two parts of the tale concurrently was a great technique to maintain attention, and, with clearly marked chapters and predicatable switches, it's easy to follow both story lines until they connect at the very end. Original and descriptive, it was an appealing tale. Where this story really shines is in the originality of the concept and the imagination involved in creating this alien life form. I could easily picture "Cornucopia Blue," as the plant invasion was christened, and I could almost feel the power of its allure.

Where this story really lacks is in the editing and the writing style. This story could definitely use another editing pass. There were enough errors to be annoying, with typos and some sentences that didn't make sense because of missing words. The writing style itself was very simple. It was written as though geared towards (or written by) a pretty young audience, with trite dialogue and a lack of true depth. I had to do a double check, thinking perhaps this was marketed for a youthful reader. It does make for a fast read, but I felt the writing style was much too simplistic and somewhat immature for a tale that had the potential to be truly intense and wonderful. There were also several points in the story where there was a sudden proliferation of exclamation points (in the narrative as well as the dialogue!), which increased the feel of a juvenile writing style.

The ending tied the two parts of the story together, yet left some ambiguity for the reader to decide what truly happened to Henry and his friends. All in all, not a bad ending. It answers the question of how they got from one half of the story to the other, and it leaves the reader to wonder "what happens next?" Although the ending was ok, I wish there had been a little more. There was a thread throughout the story that started with something Henry's stepdad had said to him: "Are you in a cave, or in the Universe?" Henry thinks of this question at several points throughout the story, but it's conspicuously missing at the end of the book. I think this could really have tied the story together in a way that added depth and left the reader with a greater sense of satisfaction, and made the ambiguous ending stronger.

Overall, a clever and unique tale that I felt was held back by the writing style. The originality and interest level of the storyline itself bumps it up for me to:

3 /5 stars

Available at Smashwords, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Teaser Tuesday!

 This is a weekly meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

Here are the rules-- Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Here's my teaser: 

The hot water had brought the insects inside of her
to incubation. The sluggish bodies slithered over her wet chin and neck, shoulders and breasts. 

page 38, "Luminous & Ominous" by Noah Mullete-Gillman

(Look for a review within the next few days!)

Monday, January 24, 2011

REVIEW: "Alison Wonderland" by Helen Smith

"My name's Alison Temple and I used to have this line when people asked me if I'm married. I'd say, 'I'm waiting for Mr Wonderland and when I find him I'll get married. Until then I'm staying single.' The kind of people who need to know whether or not you're married don't see the humor in a joke like that."

And so begins the tale of Alison Wonderland, a straightforward, amateur detective of sorts who's just trying to find her truth in life. In the meantime, she meanders around, making the best choices she can, and doing what she thinks is right. Alison has a downstairs neighbor who shows his love with poetry- between coming up with the next great invention (my favorite is the clock that makes time go slower or faster, depending upon what you want at the time), a job following and photographing unfaithful men, a crazy and possibly unstable friend, and, oh yeah, there's a man out there dead-set on finding out exactly what Alison knows, which is nothing at all, really. 

With witty, straightforward writing, and well-developed characters, Helen Smith has crafted an engaging tale that takes us into Alison's life and thoughts. A big part of the appeal of this book is the sheer enjoyment as we saunter along with Alison, who finds herself in the oddest of situations- on a hillside, watching a man in love with his shig, tracking down an "unfaithful" husband who is actually just trying to make ends meet, helping a friend escape from a club supposedly frequented by singing monks, finding a baby in a box at the edge of the sea... life is never boring in Wonderland.

Written in the present tense with UK spelling and phrasing- including single quote marks for dialogue- some readers may need a few chapters to adjust to the style. I quite enjoyed the style, and was quickly immersed in the story. The tale sort of ambles along, not really intent upon getting anywhere. At times, I found myself wondering if we were really even headed in the same direction as we started. It's really less of an progression towards an end of some sort, and more a study of the characters contained with the pages.There is some growth to be seen in some of the characters, and in Alison's character, in particular. Each bizarre turn spurs Alison on again and we discover more about who she is and what she is becoming through those turns of event. There are several different storylines going on in the story, and they don't all get tied up in neat little packages at the end, but, somehow, the ending is fitting and gives a sense of closure anyway.

Loosely connected, but utterly entertaining, this is a fun read all around.

4/5 stars

Available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Sunday, January 23, 2011

PHOTOS: Mr. Krispy goes to High Surf

There's been a lot of high surf here lately, and my very own "Mr. Krispy" went to the ocean and snapped a few awesome shots! I wish I had been out there, but I've been battling a super nasty cold these past few days :( He did a fantastic job in my stead! (be sure to click on them to enlarge- check out the bee in the second-to-last picture! He said he was inspired by some of my shots.)

Saturday, January 22, 2011

GIVEAWAY! Enter to win a FREE digital copy of "Terrorlord" by Guido Henkel

 Gothic horror has a new hero! Follow Jason Dark in his exploits as he faces the horrors, the demons, the vampires, the werecreatures, and every other diabolical monster imaginable on behalf of a more civilized world.

Guido Henkel is giving away *five* copies of "Terrorlord," which is Volume 9 of the Jason Dark series.  To win this exciting installment, all you need to do is leave a comment below with your name and email address. The author himself will send you a personalized link allowing you to download the story in the format of your choice!

Volume 9: Terrorlord

Conjured from the bowels of the abyss by ancient magic, the Terrorlord has one desire — to open the Seven Gates of Hell and unleash the horrors of the undead upon mankind.
Reliving the nightmares of his youth where an encounter with the Terrorlord left him scarred for life, Jason Dark must once again confront the powerful gatekeeper from Hell before his reach and power spiral out of control. With the help of Siu Lin, the ghost hunter will have to put an end to the Terrorlord's dark reign before he can devour our world in his evil blackness.
"Jason Dark: Ghost Hunter" is a supernatural mystery series that is being published in both print and eBook form by Thunder Peak Publishing, an imprint of media publisher G3 Studios. Though in the gothic horror segment of the market, these books are, in fact, occult detective mysteries targeted at mainstream readers and young adults who enjoy a fast, action-packed read. In his review, Fangoria editor Chris Alexander called the series "a briskly paced pulp fiction throwback full of gothic dread and shivery intrigue" and “a cult of sophisticated fiends who like their terror full of elegant dread and Victorian charm.” High praise indeed, coming from the leading horror magazine in America! What's more "Ghosts Templar," the third installment in the series just won the 2010 Occult Detective Award on!

Just leave a comment with your email below for your chance to win a copy of this exciting installment! 

Friday, January 21, 2011

REVIEW: "The Eye of the Idol" by Paul Dayton

The Eye of the Idol. An incredible and mesmerizing artifact that has touched the lives of many. An artifact with a story and a history- cursed, perhaps, as those who touch it seem to suffer the consequences. North Korea on the warpath, a luxury ship sunk in the early 1900s, a thief forced to execute his own wife; all seemingly unrelated elements that are somehow connected in the most unusual ways.

Blending fact with fiction, Paul Dayton weaves a tale of intrigue that spans centuries. The author pulls seemingly unrelated pieces of history together in a fictional tale fueled by actual truths. I thought the concept was really interesting, and I was pulled in by the description. I was envisioning an exciting tale filled with historical facts and fascinating ties. I wanted to be drawn into the story, to escape into a fascinating tale of adventure. I really wanted to love this book.

While I was interested in the historical details included in the book, I just couldn't immerse myself in the story. I was confused by some of the exchanges and events in the story; perhaps because the characters all sounded the same to me. The conversations between characters didn't ring true, and I felt the characters were mostly one-dimensional. A lot of historical context gets explained by way of conversation between several RCMP officers, and, although the facts themselves were of interest, the conversation relaying those facts was dry. Adding to my confusion, there were several sentences with entire words missing, and the punctuation (including quotation marks) was incomplete in places-- this story would really benefit from additional editing. Some of the transitions to different time periods in history were clearly defined by chapters and headings, others were not defined at all, leaving me to wonder where in time I was. I felt the characters and the connections needed some more polish and substance. I think the potential is there for this story to be a riveting adventure, and the author has really done his research into these historical events, but the execution fell flat for me.

In the beginning of the story, there were numbers (but not hyperlinks) that I assumed corresponded to endnotes. Later in the text, there were hyperlinks that led to websites with more information. When I got to the endnotes after the epilogue, the notes had no numbers attached. It wasn't easy to see which note went with which item in the story. As I read most of this story on my Sony PRS-505, the endnotes and the hyperlinks were useless to me. I could click on the hyperlinks on my Droid X, and that was nice, but for ereaders with no touchscreen capability, it doesn't serve much purpose. I wish the author would have chosen either endnotes or hyperlinks: I vote hyperlinks, even though I couldn't access them on my 505, as they are less obtrusive. Endnotes make me feel I'm reading a history book, and this was meant to be a fictional tale with historical facts embedded. If I'm reading a novel, I don't want to be flipping back and forth (a frustrating task on an ereader, in particular). A hyperlink I can ignore or follow (if my device supports it).

In short, a great concept with real possibility, but it just didn't do it for me. Add in the need for further editing, and I gave this:

2.5 /5 stars

Available at Smashwords, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble

Update: The author is working to hammer out the kinks I noted. I have a deep admiration for authors who take feedback seriously and take those thoughts into account. Some of the issues I noted with endnotes and such are to do with what's allowed by the publishing platform.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

REVIEW: "Brittle Shadows" by Vicki Tyley

A tragedy surrounded by controversy leads a devastated fiance to her own deadly act, and her shattered sister is left to pick up the pieces. Something just doesn't seem right about the circumstances surrounding her sister's death, and Jemma is determined to discover what that is. Despite veiled threats and mysterious events, Jemma persists in following the clues to their inevitable ending. If she trusts the wrong person along the way, she may not live long enough to put all the pieces together...

As with Vicki Tyley's other books, this book grips you from the very first scene, setting up a ride that twists and turns until the very end. New clues lead to potential suspects, and it's anyone's guess as to the who, what, and, most importantly for the reader, the why. As I read, I constantly formulated and dismissed perpetrators and motivations, as each page turn brought me closer to the surprise ending. Along the way, I fingered the right person, only to change my mind a few pages later. This book manages to get the reader to become an active participant in the story, and that always makes for an enjoyable read.

The characters were defined nicely, and I felt I really got to know each of them. I could genuinely relate to Jemma, and I felt liked her character. Through her eyes, I was able to get to know the other characters a little more, including the sister who was tragically lost. The writing style is fluid, for the most part, and very readable. The book has that "fun factor;" interesting and enjoyable, and difficult to put down before you've devoured every bit.

Although I really enjoyed the overall story, the jumps between many of the chapters was somewhat bothersome. I also noted this when I reviewed one of her previous releases, "Sleight Malice." Some chapters would end in a bit of a cliff-hanger, but the next chapter started hours after the cliff-hanger had been resolved. When this happens, the readers miss out on experiencing the anxiety and intensity along with the main characters, and it takes us away from that sense of being present. I'm present right up to the cliff-hanger, then I feel detached as I struggle to figure out what's happened. It's akin to having a brief blackout and then trying to recreate what you must have missed. An effective technique when used sparingly, but somewhat disconcerting when used with relative frequency.

Overall, a recommended read. A Vicki Tyley book is always a good bet, and I look forward to each new release!

4 /5 stars

Available on Smashwords, Amazon  and Barnes & Noble

Monday, January 17, 2011

REVIEW: "Trevor's Song" by Susan Helene Gottfried

Trevor Wolff is the vision behind ShapeShifter, the hottest new band. What he lacks in musical talent, he makes up for in attitude. He's a love 'em and leave 'em kind of guy, and he plays life according to his own rules. When his best friend and talented band member, Mitchell, finds the girl of his dreams (Kerri, aka "Rusty"), Trevor is forced to reevaluate his own idea of what it means to be Trevor Wolff. His friendship with Mitchell must change, and he begins to wonder if he's ready for a real relationship himself. With a few potentially life-changing decisions in front of him, Trevor has to dig deep and truly question who he is and what's important to him in order to move forward.

The author, Susan Helene Gottfried, has a background in the music industry, and she's given us an inside look at a band on the edge of stardom. The characters of Trevor, Mitchell, and Kerri are well-defined, with Trevor truly as the star of this story. There are several layers of complexity to Trevor in his feelings and his relationships; he doesn't even really understand himself. Conflicted by memories of a hinted past and uncertainty about his future, Trevor's story is an engaging study of emotional growth. It's Trevor's song that reverberates throughout this story, and the background music of other characters is there only to support and reinforce Trevor's own refrain.

In addition to Trevor's other relationships, a special relationship is implied with Kerri; animosity on the outside, but an unexplainable internal connection. I felt this relationship lacked something to help define it. Perhaps it would have been clearer with more backstory on Kerri that could help explain why they had that special connection. Trevor felt Kerri truly understood him, but I wanted to know more about Kerri to find out why that was. There was also a thread of abuse between Trevor and Mitchell that would benefit from some fleshing out, or it could have been left out entirely. It came up enough to make it seem like a stray thread, but not enough to have it be another facet that helped support and round out what we learn of Trevor's past.

The storyline is complex, and a lot of growth can be seen in Trevor's character. The story is really about Trevor and his need to change and adapt in order to continue, and it's an intriguing tale. I felt the beginning of the book dragged, perhaps offering too much of a foundation for the rest of the story. It really picked up in the latter half of the book as Trevor's character become more defined and I was more clear on the direction we were headed. I read the first half of the story with some detached interest, but in the second half, I was engaged. There is some ambiguity at the end that is very fitting for the story, and is satisfying in its own way. Even without knowing the outcome of the final action, the reader still understands that it will all work out.

3.5 /5 stars

Available at Smashwords, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble

Saturday, January 15, 2011

REVIEW: "Second Chance" by Sandra J. Gerencher

Chance is a shelter dog who is given a "second chance," and he has a tale to tell about his adoption and his new family. When he is adopted from the shelter, he doesn't really understand what's happening. He has to ride in a car, which is very scary for him, to get to his new house where he is greeted by a pack of Pomeranians (not all of whom are friendly). In addition to the dogs, his pack also now consists of "Mommy" and the boy, Ryan. Mommy explains that Ryan is special, just like Chance, and was also adopted. Ryan, who is autistic, is the only person who can understand Chance and it is from Ryan that Chance learns the word "adoption" and what it means. Chance is delighted to learn that adoption "means to be loved forever" and he is eager to share that with the rest of his pack.

Filled with softly blended watercolor photos of the members of the family, this is a story told from Chance's point of view. The images form a lovely background for the text on each page, with a message that is both heartwarming and heartfelt. The storyline mirrors the life of the author, who adopted a similar set of dogs and has an adopted son with special needs. There were really a few main themes operating here; there was the idea of adoption and understanding what that meant, but also the theme of being different and how that makes one special. I think focusing on just one of those themes may have made for a more powerful story, but they are both wonderful themes to share with children.

A PBS Kids Recommended title, this title is listed on Amazon as being geared for ages 9-12. I felt the format and the premise of the story seemed geared for a younger age group, but the smaller font size, large amount of words on each page, and the overall writing was more fitting for older children. I think the story could be even stronger and fit a wider age group with fewer words on each page. That would make it an easy read-aloud for younger children, and a fun picture book for older children.

Altogether, this is a lovely read and a helpful aid in explaining adoption to older children.

3 /5 stars

Read an excerpt here.

Buy the book here.

Watch the book trailer:

You can find Sandra Gerencher on Facebook.

Friday, January 14, 2011

REVIEW: "The Girl Who Ran With Horses" by David Michael

Stevie has just spent the school year in Tulsa with her aunt and uncle, and she's now headed home to Antler for what she's sure will be the best summer of her life. She's made plans to compete in every barrel race she can manage, and she's eager to see her older brother and her horses again. She's ready to put a recent tragedy behind her and focus on the fun and adventure that will comprise her summer. Unfortunately, things don't always work out as we plann. From arriving home a few days late (because her dad can't be bothered to come and get her), to a surprising new friendship and an unexpected injury, Stevie is quickly finding out that this summer isn't all that she expected. Maybe, just maybe, it's more. Along the way, she finds out some surprising things about her family, her horses and, most importantly, about herself.

In my review of another of author David Michael's books, "The Summoning Fire," (read that review here) I commented that I was sure I'd enjoy his work in other genres as well. Luckily, I was right. I delighted in this journey of a girl coming to terms with uncertainty and loss by ignoring all that makes her uncomfortable, and focusing on her dreams for the future. Along the way, she discovers that she must face her past before she can look forward to her future. She can't fully be herself without acknowledging that she is who she is because of where she's been. With her horses to help her cope in unexpected ways, Stevie matures into a young woman who is more whole, and no longer just a sum of her parts.

The writing is engaging, as is the storyline. The prose is very readable and perfectly combines maturity and young adult appeal to make it a good read for all ages. I must admit that I've never been the type of girl who dreamed of a horse of her own. In fact, I am not really a horse fan in general. I've ridden a horse exactly twice, and I distinctly remember a few tears (or maybe more than a few) of fear each time. Even with my clear lack of interest in anything equine, something in this story still reached out to me. I think we can all relate to the difficulties involved in change, loss, and in just plain growing up. I was thoroughly engaged in the story- enough that I even cried a few tears of my own along the way. Life doesn't always work out the way we plan, and this story included just the right amount of emotional conflict and growth to keep me entertained and engaged the whole way through.

The characters rang true and were well-defined, for the most part. Stevie's character is quite complex and the author does a nice job mimicking teenage angst. However, some of Stevie's actions and words seemed to repeat in ways that smacked of redundancy. For example, there was a scene with Travis that I read and immediately thought "didn't I just read this scene?" because of a very similar scene happening shortly before. Mechanically, there are a handful of errors in the book, including a few places where an entire word appears to be missing. Not a big detraction, but noticeable, nonetheless.

Altogether, a great example of a touching and entertaining young adult novel that brings the reader through a gamut of emotions to an ending the satisfies.

4.5 /5 stars

Available at Smashwords, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

REVIEW: "The Quest for Nobility" by Debra L. Martin and David W. Small

Darius and Dyla Telkur are royal twins from the duchy of Telkur. They are imbued with psychic gifts (as all royals are) and live a charmed life... until tragedy strikes. When their parents, the Duke and Duchess of Telkur, are implicated in a dastardly smuggling ring and presumed dead, the twins' uncle, Avikar, takes over the royal duties until the twins are of age. What the twins don't know is that Avikar has his sights set on the Dukedom, and will stop at nothing to get it. A mistimed attempt on the twins' lives results in yet another tragedy, and the blame falls to the twins. Their attempts to win back their duchy and clear their family's name takes them on an exciting adventure to places they never imagined. Time is running short; will they be able to prove their innocence and that of their parents in time to regain control of the royal title and their duchy?

Written by the collaborative team of  Debra L. Martin and David W. Small, this fantasy tale is highly imaginative and quite engaging. The authors transitioned to new settings and events by beginning each chapter with a "quote" from the "Chronicles of Otharia." It is in this way the readers are introduced to the rules and customs of the Otharian people. Each quote is paired well with a chapter that demonstrates the quoted information.  I found this to be a really effective way to prepare us for what was to happen in the chapter, and supply us with information without having to spell it out in the narrative. It helped tie together a story that was somewhat lacking a smooth flow in events and storyline. The writing, overall, seemed somewhat inconsistent to me, almost as if different parts were written by different authors.

Of the three main characters, Darius, Dyla and Eclair, I felt Eclair was actually the most developed and the most interesting. I got a better sense of his motivations, as well as his strengths and his flaws, than I did of any other character. All of the characters in the story proved interesting, but they were not all developed as well as I would have liked. The dialogue between characters proved a bit flat and stilted in many places, which made it some of the reading occasionally awkward.

The storyline itself is actually quite interesting. I especially liked the way Earth was tied into the Otharian adventure, and I was really interested in how those two planets were related in the past and, perhaps, would be again in the future. I was really able to get into the adventure, although I did wonder to myself several times where the adventure was actually going. It was engaging and moved along at a nice pace, but it almost seemed like several parts of the story were written separately and then stuck together. In addition, there were a few timeline jumps that caught me by surprise- sometimes the storyline picked up where it left off in a previous chapter, and sometimes it jumped time. It felt inconsistent. Although there was a common thread- the battle for the royal throne- sometimes I lost track of where we were headed and why. The ending does a good job in setting up a sequel, and it is a sequel I'm interested in reading.

With regards to the mechanics, I felt the book could use one more editing pass. There were several typos (e.g., you for your, certainty for certainly) and I felt it was lacking commas in some key places. There were several times I had to reread a sentence to understand the meaning because of the lack of commas. At one point, for example, I was confused as to why a woman waitress was checking herself out, until I added a comma in my head and realized a patron was actually doing the ogling.

With a half star boost for the sheer creativity and cleverness in tying Earth together with Otharia (which I thought was the most interesting concept introduced in this story), and the fact that it was engaging and fun to read,  I give this:

4 /5 stars

Available at Smashwords, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble

Currently FREE on Smashwords- for a limited time, perhaps!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Teaser Tuesday!

I saw this on The Crazy Bookworm and thought I'd give it a go this week! This is a weekly meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

Here are the rules-- Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

So here's the teaser from the book I'm currently reading:

"Eclair looked at Dyla and shook his head; 
he didn't have anything else in his bag of
 tricks to cover this situation. There was no 
way he could hold the invisibility circle for 
that long or open a portal without alerting 
the sentries." 

page 75, "The Quest for Nobility" by Debra L. Martin

Sunday, January 09, 2011

IndieView-- with me!

I was very honored to be invited to participate in an IndieView with Simon Royle, author of the captivating novel, "Tag." (If you haven't read Simon's book, it's definitely worth the read. You can read my review of "Tag" here.)

If you're not familiar with Simon's site, Simon does a fantastic job showcasing Indie authors through his IndieViews. He also does a great job of connecting authors and reviewers via his Indie Reviewer list and he keeps up a showcase of review links called the "Latest Indie Reviews from around the Web." Without a doubt, Simon's site is a one-stop resource for authors, reviewers, and readers. If you haven't already checked it out, you are definitely missing out!

So, as I was saying, I was quite honored and excited to be chosen for Simon's latest IndieView. I really appreciated that chance to explain myself a little more, and he had some wonderful, thought-provoking questions that were a lot of fun to think about and answer.

You can read my "IndieView" here!

Saturday, January 08, 2011

REVIEW: "Koenig's World" by Luke King

On yet another scientific adventure with his father, Jacob finds himself stranded on another planet. His father was so sure there was something amazing to be discovered on Koenig's World, but Jacob is now to discover it alone. A tragic crash and Jacob is left to his own devices on this unfamiliar, colorless world with only Marron, his synthetic man, to keep him company. Unidentified screaming from the forest every night and a distinct lack of palatable food wears on Jacob day by day as he struggles just to survive. It isn't long, however, before Jacob begins to notice some amazing things about this planet; unexpected things that Jacob is unable to explain away. It isn't until he takes matters into his own hands that everything starts to make a little more sense. He may understand this world a little better, but can he survive it?

Engaging from the start, I really enjoyed this book. I devoured it in short order, with each new discovery a tantalizing clue as to what this world was all about. The writing style was entertaining and the plot events rolled out at a nice pace. The story didn't seem to drag at all, with each page just as engaging as the one before it. Jacob is likable, but I found Marron even more fascinating and I rooted for his continued development. The introduction of a new character near the ending led to an interesting twist that added a element of complexity to the overall plot. I felt one of the biggest strengths of this story was the originality of the concept, including the turn of events the led to the final ending.

Although I really enjoyed the story, there were a few things that were a little disappointing. Some of the elements were somewhat predictable, with me guessing long before Jacob figured it out. I found many of the chapters too abrupt with an overabundance of cliffhangers. The way the chapters ended really broke up the flow of the story when it was really more of a continuation. The ending of the story was also quite abrupt, leaving the reader to imagine what might have happened next. I'm not sure that abruptness bothered me, per se, but I think a touch more information would have still left the cliffhanger as intended, but given me a little more satisfaction. I noticed just a handful of errors, with only one of them really bothersome to me (it's instead of its).

Altogether a really fun story and a good read!

4 /5 stars

Available on Smashwords, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble

GIVEAWAY! Enter to win a FREE ebook copy of "Jimmy Stone's Ghost Town" by Scott Neumyer

By Scott Neumyer
For Jimmy Stone, life in "Boredsylvania" has been pretty tough. His mom's died, his dad's completely checked out, and he spends his days running from the Coogan Boys, the local bullies. It isn't long, however, before "Boredsylvania" gets a lot more exciting. With his new friend, David and his dog, Trex, by his side, Jimmy discovers that the woods beyond his backyard hold the key to a world he could never even imagine. Soon, he ends up in Ghost Town, where he’s greeted by his ghost guide, Gasp, and receives an ominous prophecy.
“Seven things you must find.
One thing for each day. 
Seven things you must find. 
Or else they all will pay! 
Suddenly Ghost Town becomes as scary as it sounds, and Jimmy Stone realizes that he's in way over his head.

To view a Teaser Trailer, visit

To enter: 

  1. Leave a comment on this post with your name and email address.  Please specify whether you’d prefer to receive the book as an ebook from (for Kindle owners) or as an ebook from (for all other ereader owners- including Sony and Nook). 
  2. Up to 5 winners will be randomly selected after the Giveaway closes on January 17th! Winners will receive their FREE ebook information via mail from the author himself!
(If you aren’t comfortable leaving your email address on the post, you can send it to me via email after you leave a comment. If you do not share your email address, you will not entered in the drawing as I won’t know how to get a hold of you should you win.)

You do not need to follow me in order to win, but followers are always appreciated! Feel free to link to, tweet, or mention this giveaway!

Top Reads of 2010!

I was honored to be asked by author Maria Schneider (check out her books!) to contribute my top 4 Kindle reads of 2010 for DailyCheapReads blog. It was really hard to decide which books to choose! Click here to find out about the 4 I finally chose!

I thought I'd take a few minutes and list all the rest of the 4 and 5 star (according to me) books I've reviewed on my blog in 2010. (Take a quick browse of my Smashwords page to see many more 4-5 star books reviewed by me before I started this blog.) I hope you take the opportunity to check out some of these reads! Here, in no particular order, are the books:


"Flaming Dove" by Daniel Arenson (fantasy)

"Alone in the Company of Others" by Kelly Huddleston (literary fiction)

"Remix" by Lexi Revellian (feel-good murder mystery)


"Secondary Targets" by Sandra Edwards (suspense, conspiracy)

"Powerless: The Shadowing" by Jason Letts (YA fantasy)

"The Summoning Fire" by David Michael (horror)

"ZombieStop Parade" by ZombieStopperUno (fiction-political corruption)


"Venom of Vipers" by K. C. May (science fiction)

"Meet Me in Nuthatch" by Jacqueline T. Lynch (nostalgia, relationships)

"Heirs of Mars" by Joseph Robert Lewis (speculative science fiction)

"Lovers and Beloveds" by MeiLin Miranda (fantasy romance with erotic content)

"The Year We Finally Solved Everything" by Rudolph Kerkhoven (literary, speculative)

"The Noble Pirates" by R. L. Jean (historical fantasy, time travel)

"Awakening; Dead Forever Book 1" by William Campbell (science fiction)

"The Ghost of a Flea" by John Brinling (mystery, suspense)


"And Then She Was Gone" by J. Daniel Sawyer (hard-boiled detective mystery)

"Anomaly" by Thea Atkinson (literary fiction)

"Red in the Flower Bed" by Andrea Nepa (children's picture book)

"Van Gogh, Encore" by John A. Karr (speculative)

"Few are Chosen" by MT McGuire (science fiction)

"The Tempest" by Holly Hook (YA fantasy)

"Pink Noise" by Leonid Korogodski (science fiction)

Friday, January 07, 2011

REVIEW: "Raven Wings and 13 More Twisted Tales" by Frank G. Poe, Jr.

Frank Poe has compiled an intriguing collection of stories, poems, and artwork. The tales are short, very readable, and certainly twisted- some with better twists than others. Some made me cringe, some surprised me in a fun way, some made me think, and some just left me thinking "eh..."

The book starts off with a lengthy introduction that discusses the writer's own experiences with an illness that brought him close to death, and  then discusses reincarnation and religion. It's a manifesto of sorts, and an interesting introduction, to be sure, but I didn't quite see how it tied in with the stories as promised. It seemed almost like a short story in itself- interesting, thought-provoking, and only loosely related to the rest of the collection. The poetry and images interspersed throughout added a refreshing change of pace. I felt the poetry, in particular, was a commentary on life, and it more closely delivered that connection to which the introduction alluded.

Nicely written, the stories in this book are quite engaging and make for quick reads. As the tales didn't appear to be related, this is an ideal collection for small blocks of reading time. Just pick up the book, read a story or two, and put it down again until you have some more time. One of my favorite Christmas gifts as a child was a short story collection by Stephen King. The idea that machines could be blood-thirsty, that danger lurks in cellars, that seemingly innocuous items could hide evil... true horror at its finest. I was also a huge fan of The Twilight Zone, where a twist would turn everything you thought to be true upside-down. This collection brought to mind those types of themes. In some stories, the author manages to take some familiar concepts and twist them to be something else. In others, it's a twist on a familiar tale. It is truly an eclectic collection with a common theme of "twisted." I wanted some of the stories to go further and tell me much, much more, and I found others to be perfectly written "as is." For example, "The Tell-Tale Door" and "The Purple Basketball" seemed to have just the right touch of suspense and surprise, while "A little Bit of Java" and "Deliverance Vs. Silence of the Lambs" left me wanting for more meat (no pun intended!) and that satisfying twist seemed to be lacking.

Overall, a nice collection that can be read over and over to catch all the little nuances that gave the meaning behind the words. Recommended for fans of the genre.

3.5 /5 stars

Available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Thursday, January 06, 2011

REVIEW: "The Job: Based on a True Story" by Craig Davis

Joe B. has a great job he loves, a loving family, a wonderful house, and is an all-around lucky, lucky guy. Unfortunately, his good deeds have not gone unnoticed by a certain, spiteful employee with enough power to finagle a demotion for him. Suddenly, the former Vice President at Universal Whirligig finds himself working in the mailroom, and his whole words is thrown upside-down. Struggling to find answers to this unexpected life change, he schemes to get a meeting with the Big Boss in the hopes that this (obvious mistake) will be resolved. His situation gets worse and worse until he finally gets the meeting he's looking for, but will he get the answers he's expecting?

Humorous and fun to read, this book is, to me, a parable with religious undertones. As I was reading, I found myself reflecting on various Biblical stories and noting the similarities. After reading the story, I went online to read the official blurb and noted it was described as "a modern parable of ancient troubles and truths." I didn't realize that going in, but I definitely could see that as I read it. Although I frequently was reminded of stories from the Bible, this book really struck me as a parable of the story of Jesus- a bit tongue in cheek and with an added sense of humor, but many similarities in the suffering and the questioning of his future.

I think the brilliance of this relatively short book is in its simplistic writing style and humorous outlook. I really liked Joe B. He wasn't particularly well-developed as a character, none of the characters really were, but you knew just enough to picture him and to understand his motivations and actions. The other characters were less-developed, but they were really secondary. Big Boss had a mythical quality to him (mysterious and omniscient), and Joe's attempts to get an audience with him ranged from inspired to downright ridiculous. In some places in the story, it seemed that there was an attempt to put a little too many meaningful details in, and I got a little sidetracked in those places. Simplicity in some of the details would have gone well with the writing style. The book lacked depth in the writing, but a reader could certainly read more into various aspects of the tale.

This was a fun, lighthearted look at the workplace and the politics at play. It can also be read as a serious parody of belief and suffering, set in a modern workplace. A fun read!

3 /5 stars

Available at SmashwordsAmazon, and Barnes & Noble

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

REVIEW: "Roses of Doom" by S.P. Wish

 When horror strikes, black roses are left behind...

Mizu and Kaji, twins who couldn't be more different, take a school trip to Greenfire Forest, home of the mysterious and evil spirit of Won. With their closest friends along for the trip, the twins discover some strange happenings as the beginning of something very evil and scary is unleashed.

This is the debut novel of S. P. Wish (a novel-writing duo), and, according to the listing on Smashwords, it's targeted for the young adult or teen market. It's a short story, and I'm assuming it's meant to be along the lines of R. L. Stine's work, or another author who writes horror for children. As I started to read this, my immediate thought was that the author(s) were either not native English speakers, or were quite young. The writing is very reminiscent of the writing of a upper primary student, or perhaps a middle school student. As a former 5th grade teacher, I wanted to grade it instead of read it. The dialogue is stilted, and there are jumps in the action that seem more like someone didn't feel like describing the next part or just got tired of that setting. It's missing the fluidity that comes with a more mature writing style. Although the characters are meant to be 6th graders, their speech patterns and word choices are inconsistent. Short, childish phrases are intermixed with a more formal way of speaking. There is a distinct lack of slang and relaxed speech. The narration indicates that the children are American, but they have Japanese names because some of the mothers were born in Japan. The speaking style of the characters is more in line with perhaps a Japanese child for whom English is a second language. There is an over use of the ellipse, and some issues with a changing point of view as well. It's told in first person, but switches randomly to third person whenever convenient, with no indication to the reader it's switching.

Although the novel is listed as young adult or teen, I would say it's written more in line for a lower to middle primary level, with a few bigger words thrown in. It is also in need of editing, as there are missing commas, sentences that are incomplete, and several words that are clearly meant to be different words, amongst other things.

It's difficult to rate this. If this is a creation by young people, I want to give encouragement. This isn't a bad place to start, but the writing and concept formation still have a long way to go to achieve the polish that stories geared to this age group should have. As an example, Rick Riordan's series about Percy Jackson is geared toward a young market, yet the writing is rich and fluid and the storylines flow well.

As this was submitted as a request for review and this book is being marketed, I will rate it using the same scale as I rate other books. If it is truly geared for the young adult/teen audience, it is a 1 star. If it is, instead, more geared towards second-third graders, it would earn closer to a 2. In any case, I hope the authors continue to work on adding voice into the story and creating realistic dialogue that helps to move the story along,  as well as developing storylines that are more fluid in nature.

~1.5 /5 stars

Available FREE at Smashwords!

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

REVIEW: "But Can You Drink the Water?" by Jan Hurst-Nicholson

Frank and Mavis Turner, and their teenage son, Gerry, are your typical Liverpool family.  Liverpool is the only life they've ever really known, and it's a satisfying, if uneventful, life. When Frank is offered- and accepts- a job in Durban, South Africa, he turns his family's lives upside-down. Dragging along a sullen Gerry and a reluctant Mavis, Frank excitedly embarks upon his new adventure. This novel follows the Turner family as they explore Durban and come to terms with their new surroundings, and it does this by finding the humor in their experiences. The Turners meet their neighbors, get to know the land and the local creatures, and struggle to find their place in a new land. Through visits from family, and a visit back "home," the Turners get to see themselves through another filter as they realize just how different they have become from that Liverpool family who left to embark upon an African adventure.

With nicely developed characters and enough description to help readers envision the setting, Jan Hurst-Nicholson has injected a bit of humor into this story of how much life can change in just a few short years. The Turners' speech is strongly imbued with a dialect that I assume is typical of those who live in Liverpool, adding more context and texture to the characters. Although these speech patterns may throw unaccustomed readers for a loop as they adjust, it's an integral part of the characterization. The story follows the Turner family as they get to know their surroundings, but I was a little confused about the timing. It wasn't always clear to me how much time had elapsed in various points in the story, and the time didn't seem marked by major life events for the Turners (with the exception of the visits from Mavis' parents and her sister). As a result, it almost felt as if we had been riding a really long moving walkway with interesting sights along the way. Typical of real life, we dragged along at times as we watched the Turners just experience life in Durban.

The book is interesting and readable, and I was curious to discover what happened to the Turners along the way. The premise is a bit "fish out of water" and it was fascinating, but I think it could have gone so much further. I enjoyed the ride, but I felt like we weren't really going anywhere. I think there were a few major themes going on here; one was the evolution and growth of the Turner family, and the other was highlighting the differences between life in Liverpool and life in Durban in a humorous way. I wasn't sure which was meant to be the main idea, as neither felt to me to be completely developed. Although this story is described as "humorous," I almost felt it was more literary, just with a lighter side. The story felt less about the funny happenings that the Turners experience, as I expected it would be, and more about a family coming to new realizations about what it means to feel "at home."

I enjoyed this story, overall. I thought it came together more at the end, making it worth the read along the way. Satisfying, like a warm cup of cocoa, but without the clear focus I expected.

3 /5 stars

Available at Amazon