Wednesday, March 30, 2011

REVIEW: "The Bloated Goat" by Manley Peterson

Oh, no! Bloated Goat has little black Xs where his eyes should be! Now it's up to his best friend, Cocky Doodle, and Cocky's grandma, Granny Hammy, to take Bloated Goat home to be buried. Along the way, Bloated Goat becomes the desired target of a cast of zany characters, including a lovesick skunk, a family of rats, and wild and crazy mushrooms. Will Cocky ever get his friend to the right place, or will Bloated Goat permanently end up on someone else's dance card?

"Bloated Goat" is, at times, witty and clever, but some adults may find its wackiness to be over the top. The narrator sometimes talks to the readers, and refers to upcoming chapters. The obvious is often stated by the various characters, in a very amusing way. The short length of the story is perfectly fitting to this particular genre; any longer and the silliness would likely become annoying.

The characters are fun in their absurdity. A wolf, married to a vegetarian, can't help but gnaw on his delicious mother-in-law. A skunk, crazy for love, is looking for the perfect husband- the smellier the better. Fun characters and zany conversation when you least expect it adds to the cleverness of the story. A few pictures along the way would really add a lot to the story, but there is something to be said for imagining the happenings on your own. Overall, this is would be a good bet for the middle-grade age, where the sillier the conversation and the nastier the smelly imagery, the better the fun to be had in a book!

4 /5 stars

Available at Smashwords, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble

Monday, March 28, 2011

Teaser Tuesdays!

 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: 

"It hung just beneath the surface, suspended amid the sundry flotsam and jetsam that characterises an urban canal in old age. Oil slick rainbows on the water's dark surface iridescent in the August sun, added to the spectrum of colours the canal paraded, in the form of crisps packets and plastic shopping bags, drawn irresistibly to the water." 

page 166, "Sugar & Spice" by Saffina Desforges

(To find out what was there in the water, you'd better read the book! Review coming soon.)

REVIEW: The "Jason Dark: Ghosthunter" series by Guido Henkel

Jason Dark, Ghosthunter is fearless and resourceful. Together with Siu Lin, a petite martial arts expert whose parents were killed by demon, Dark works to find and destroy evil. Set in Victorian London, this series by Guido Henkel is written in "dime novel" style, heralding a return to a clever concept. At around 54 pages on my Sony reader, each installment can stand alone or be read as part of the whole series.

I love this retro concept. There's something to be said for sitting down to read 54 pages and knowing that you're getting an entire story in that time. You'll have the stage set, go on an adventure, and get some closure, all within those few pages. Each installment has Jason and Siu Lin battling a different form of evil, and I found I really enjoyed some more than others. For example, of the ones I read, I liked "Ghosts Templar" the best and "The Blood Witch" the least. Something about "Ghosts of Templar" resonated more with my own particular preferences. A tome that brings ghosts to life to avenge their persecutors is something I can get into more than a witch who needs a blood sacrifice every year to retain her youth and beauty. Someone else may have found "The Blood Witch" to be perfectly in line with her horror preferences. That is the beauty of this series- the ability to pick and choose the adventures which may appeal most, or read them all.

The writing style and setting evoke a retro feel as well. Sensational and over-the-top, as the dime novels were prone to be, you truly take an adventure with Dark and Siu Lin. The author sets the mood quite nicely. I can almost see the dark streets and foggy atmosphere, and imagine Jack the Ripper - or likely something even worse- waiting just around the corner. Jason and Siu Lin are perfectly complementary to one another, each with different skills that allow them to work in harmony. Sometimes I got to read a little more about what Jason was thinking than I would have liked- I would have preferred his actions and dialogue with Siu Lin to have taken care of those explanations in a way that folded seamlessly into the storyline. Stylistically, the phrasing and dialogue was fitting to the time period, but it also made it more difficult for me to really engage. The entire feel was almost "campy" to me, fairly predictable with serendipitous plot points, but I think that's part of what made it fun to read. I was never fully engrossed in the stories, but I did find them really interesting. The format and the storylines would make these books perfect for a weekly series on something like the Sci-Fi channel.

Overall, I give the series 3.5 /5 stars. I think those with a particular affinity for this type of gothic horror will love the experience.

Read it free or browse buy links here!
Volume 1-5 available on Smashwords, Set available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Sunday, March 27, 2011

GIVEAWAY! Win your own digital copy of "The Watcher" by John Brinling

The horror was starting again...

Official Blurb:                          
Janet Stapleton – widowed, confined to a wheelchair, living in a remote Connecticut farmhouse - didn’t believe in out-of-body experiences until she had one and witnessed a brutal murder. The second and third ones were no less horrific. Her investigation into why she was chosen to see these murders soon has the demonic killer pursuing her. 

John Brinling brings originality to fiction. His writing brings characters to life and he surprises you at every turn. If you'd like to check out some of his shorter work for free, or see what others books he has available, check out his Smashwords page! The author is generously giving away THREE copies of this book, so your odds of winning just tripled!

Entering is always easy- just comment on this post with your email address and your preferred format. If you are one of the lucky winners, you'll receive your ebook via email. Available in .mobi (Kindle), .epub (Sony/Nook) or .pdf (computer or other viewing).

I reviewed another of John Brinling's books, "Ghost of the Flea," this past November, and I'm really looking forward to reading "The Watcher!"If "Ghost of the Flea" is any predictor, I'm expecting clever and unique characters, an engaging storyline, exciting plot twists, and an unexpected ending.

 If you simply must have this book NOW, contest be damned, it's available for a very reasonable price at Smashwords and Amazon.

(All winners chosen by Contest closes on April 15th.)

Saturday, March 26, 2011

REVIEW: "The Salbine Sisters" by Sarah Ettritch

When Maddy heard the call to become a Salbine Sister, she initially struggled with the difficult decision to join this powerful order of mages. While in training, she develops an intimate relationship with her instructor, the stringent and brusque Lillian, who happens to be the most powerful mage in the order. To Maddy's utter frustration and dismay, the gifts of Salbine- the power to draw upon the elements- seem to elude her. After nearly dying while trying to draw forth fire, Maddy desperate seeks answers to why Salbine has denied her. To that end, she sets out on a journey across the land, where a horrible set of events besets Maddy along the way. But the gods answer in different ways, and maybe the answers she seeks are not at all what (and where) she thought they would be.

A novel by Sarah Ettritch, "The Salbine Sisters" looks at a world where powerful women are revered for their magical ability to draw upon the four elements. What happens when one of the chosen turns out to not have the same abilities? Is there truly a place in the order for those who cannot perform as expected? Part sweet love story, part personal journey, this tale is masterfully woven together with fluid prose and a well-paced storyline. The author entwines key details of the world perfectly into the story, and I was never left confused or unsure about what was going on. Being able to draw my own conclusions from the dialogue and events really allowed me to become completely engaged. And this story was engaging from the very beginning; it never really seemed to lag and I was riveted throughout.

The ending offers the reader closure, tying up the threads nicely while still leaving room to think about the future. The story doesn't progress the way you might expect, which lends its own element of delight and satisfaction. The message I see in the story is applicable to all of us in that we may not always realize that the answers given us are not necessarily the answers we expect. Maddy and Lillian possess both strong and fragile characteristics, but their strengths and weaknesses compliment one other. I loved the interchanges between the two of them, and those scenes allowed us to learn a lot about their characters without ever being told explicitly by the author. Their relationship was sweet, but it was not without its own bumps in the road, and those bumps gave the chance for the characters to show growth. Each woman discovers what she needs to become whole, and for each of them, it's not what she had expected. The supporting characters were perfectly placed in a way that added much to the overall story.

A very enjoyable and heartwarming story that utterly engages from start to finish! Strongly recommended.

5 /5 stars

Available at Smashwords, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble

Friday, March 25, 2011

REVIEW: "Jimmy Stone's Ghost Town" by Scott Neumyer

Jimmy Stone has had a hard life. It all really started when his mom came home from the hospital with a puppy instead of the new baby sister he was expecting, and it went downhill from there. Now, he's been relocated to "Boredsylvania" with his largely absent father. With no friends, he finds himself the number one target of the local bully gang. Luckily, he manages to make friends with David, who has successfully survived his year of being the gang's whipping boy, and David is willing to teach Jimmy some survival tips. A spontaneous walk with this new friend in the woods behind Jimmy's house leads to an exciting discovery, and an unexpected adventure. Now Jimmy has to solve a riddle that foretells the end of everything Jimmy holds dear. Can he save the seven realms in time?

I've mentioned before that I don't usually notice cover art, but I must say that I love the cover of this book. I think it's fitting to the story, and quite striking to boot. While I usually skip right by the cover, I find myself mesmerized by this one. That being said, on with the review! This middle grade novel by Scott Neumyer begins when Jimmy is in third grade and his family suffers one tragic loss after another. The story is told from Jimmy's point of view, and you can feel his frustration and lack of understanding in the events that took place. I found the writing in the beginning sections very fluid and engaging in telling the story from Jimmy's point of view. During the course of the book, however, the writing flips between present and past tense with no apparent reason (that I could see). Although I found the beginning of the story to flow well, I found it flowed less in the latter half of the story. The writing and dialogue seemed a bit more disjointed and immature later in the book. Additionally, although I found the overall writing style and storyline to be appropriate for the intended age group, there was enough extraneous swearing to definitely make me think twice before sharing this story with my own middle grade sons.

Jimmy's character was developed enough that I got a good feel for him, his life, and his feelings. I found him interesting and, swearing aside, age appropriate. I liked the relationship between Jimmy and his dog, Trex and I felt it added a nice texture to the story. The character of David, on the other hand, confused me. He seemed almost psychic in places, and I expected that to play into the story more. I expected him to have a mysterious connection to the ghost town in the title. Instead, he seemed just as surprised by the ghost town, and his actions and dialogue just plain confused me in places. I'm not sure if it was a lack of development or just inconsistencies, but I think a lot more could have been done with his character that would have added to the storyline.

The story itself was disjointed to me. It was almost like two halves of a story linked together by a walk in the woods. During the first half of the story, I found myself wondering when in the world we were getting to any ghost town. When it happened, I wondered why the extended back story on Jimmy's life. I kept waiting for them to tie together, but it never really happened. Things were hinted upon, but then the ending came somewhat abruptly and prematurely. I didn't see anywhere that officially listed this as the start to a series, but I can't imagine it's anything but. The ending really sets itself up for six more books- one for each of the mentioned realms. I think further books could really help solidify the connection between Jimmy's past and his future, as well as further develop David's character.

In spite of what I felt were shortcomings, I did enjoy the read. I think the author does possess some nice fiction writing skills that could really bloom with tightening of a storyline, and particular attention paid to consistency.

3 /5 stars

Available at Smashwords, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble

Thursday, March 24, 2011

REVIEW: "If I Were Your Monster" by Scott Nicholson (Illustrated by Lee Davis)

If I were your monster, I'd slither at your feet,
I'd slobber, snort, and click my claws at people on the street

Written for children, Scott Nicholson's book has a lovely cadence that makes for a fun read aloud. Just to test it out, I read it aloud to my own three kids. They loved the story. I initially read this on my Sony, but the pictures weren't nearly as fun in black and white. We then read my copy on the computer so we could see the colors. One of my sons decided the pictures would give a little kid nightmares, the other thought they were a little "weird" and didn't look quite right. My daughter loved them. Not sure where I got such analytical sons.... but this does go to show that the pictures may not appeal to all kids. I found the colors and silly and detailed drawings fun.

This book is perfect as a read aloud, but some of the vocabulary is higher level. I love that in a read aloud where you'd likely be reading the story to the child. If the child is old enough, this is a great way to expand vocabulary through conversation. If the child is younger, they'll still get a lot from the catchy rhyme. I think this is also a great way to help dispel nighttime fears in younger children, and may even lead to spontaneous and creative production of additional rhymes. How about "If I were a zombie?" or "If I were a werewolf?" As a parent and educator myself, I love when books provide a jumping off point to expand knowledge and make connections. What better way to nurture a child than to read together? With a engaging book such as this, conversations and fun will surely follow!

5 /5 stars

Available on Smashwords, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble

Blog Hop/Follow Friday!

Book Blogger Hop
Hosted by Jennifer of Crazy for Books blog, the Book Blogger Hop asks: 
"If you could physically put yourself into a book or series…which one would it be and why?"

Ooh, that is a *really* difficult thing for me to answer. I could really see myself in a lot of different books! Maybe I'll go back in time... I always kind of saw myself as "Turtle" from "The Westing Game" by Ellen Raskin. There are so many more I could pick, but I'll leave it at that...

Hosted by Parajunkee's View, the assignment is: 


OK, hmm.

1) I am rarely without a book (my ereader, usually!)-- even if there's not chance I'll get to read it, it sits next to me at all times. I even read while brushing my teeth and putting in my contacts.... my mother used to get so exasperated with me "Grace! I have never met ANYONE in my life who read while (insert one: vacuuming, sweeping the floor, watching TV, using the computer, eating, etc)." Yes, I do read while making dinner and watching TV and just about everything you can imagine. If there's no book, I read the printed material on whatever's nearby. 

2) I am not a "sharer" when it comes to books. I love to read them. I (now) love to review them. I hate to "discuss" them in the "can you recommend some books for someone who likes....." I'm just really bad at that! Books to me are really personal, and I have to reach out of my comfort zone to get into the "sharing" mode. I get the feeling that's weird.

3) I won many writing contests in my earlier days, and always imagined I'd be an author someday. With the exception of some professional articles, I haven't published anything, and don't really have the urge to do so right now. Writing was a huge outlet for me as a child, and it's not a priority for me now. I do quite a bit of writing for my job, however, then I write book reviews in my spare time, so I guess you could say I'm still writing... 

4) There is truly no better smell than a book. Even the stinky moldy ones. And I say that even though I absolutely love my ereader! 

5) I have never been a book collector. I'm a story collector. I used to spend hours and hours at the public library. I only stopped doing that recently, when I started using digital reading material. Now, I just spend an hour. :D

Well, I guess that was more like a thesis statement! 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

REVIEW: "Under Witch Moon" by Maria E. Schneider

When a giggly, nervous woman comes to Adriel asking for protection from a werewolf, Adriel thinks nothing of it. After all, she makes her living selling spells to the public. Sewing silver protection into a blouse isn't such a difficult job. But Adriel realizes it may not be so simple after all when that woman ends up dead, ripped apart by the very werewolf now staring straight at Adriel. Even worse, it turns out this isn't the first woman to have played with a werewolf and lost. As she tries to uncover the secret of these deaths, Adriel quickly realizes she may be playing with much more powerful magic than she ever imagined. She may be good at spells, but is she good enough to stop an evil witch with an evil plan and friends in high places?

A first installment in the Moon Shadow series by Maria E. Schneider, this paranormal mystery is an engaging, quick read. Wonderfully lighthearted, but solid in its structure, this story contains an interesting cast of characters. Adriel herself is a fun character- she's got some good skills and ideas, but needs a little boost sometimes to make them work. That boost comes in the form of Lynx and White Feather. Lynx, a young shapeshifter, is Adriel's link to new customers, and to information that helps Adriel do her job. White Feather is a mysterious connection who uses Adriel for information, but he's got a few secrets of his own. The main characters in this story have some nice characterization, but in the length of the novel, it could have gone a few steps further to help flesh out some of these characters. White Feather, in particular, could have used some additional meat to his story. He seems to have such a fascinating history and some more secrets to share. I really wanted to get to know him a bit more. Lynx and Adriel have some nice development, but I hope to find out more about their backstories as well in the next installment.

One of the things I loved about this novel was the explanation of all things "witchy." This world of spells has clear rules and structure, and the author does a delightful job of weaving that information into the storyline. The story flows along pretty well, with very few bumps along the way. There were a few times I took a quick look back to confirm an action or a character, or reread a passage to be sure I could visualize what just happened, but that was the exception rather than the rule. For the most part, the story flows along smoothly. I only noticed a few typos (two come to mind immediately: the first being a word that didn't quite make sense--"train" when I thought maybe "gain" would be more fitting, and the second was an apostrophe on a plural).

Overall, a fun read and a great start to a new series!

4 /5 stars

Available at Smashwords, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble

(Check out my review of another book by this author, "Executive Lunch!")

Saturday, March 19, 2011

GIVEAWAY! Enter to win your own digital copy of "Scent of Jade" by Dee DeTarsio!

 The Scent of Jade is creative and unique with surprising twists--in turn suspenseful and heartbreaking, combining humor and romance to reach the payoff ending.  (Available at Amazon)

Official blurb:

“Romancing The Stone” meets “Survivor” in this delightfully quirky novel from television producer and writer, Dee DeTarsio! 

Julie Fraser is the least adventurous person she knows…until she hops on a plane to surprise her husband who's on a business trip in Costa Rica. Reeling from the discovery that her husband isn’t who she thought he was, she embarks on an unexpected rainforest adventure that leaves her not knowing where to turn, literally, or whom to trust. She knew she should have stayed home! Will a monkey, a Latin hunk, and a mysterious ‘love potion’ help Julie on her mission to find and forgive her husband?

About the Author:

Dee DeTarsio is a television writer living in San Diego, California, with her husband, John, a Director of Photography. She is the indentured servant of their two children, Tyler and Gianna. She is writing a screenplay for The Scent of Jade, and is working on her next novel, Ros.


I honestly can't wait to read and review this book. Action and adventure, a woman on a journey in a foreign land, a Latin hunk, and a love potion thrown in? How could you resist? Luckily, you won't have to! Enter here to win one of TWO copies being given away by the author. The ebook will come in the form of a Kindle gift. Don't have a Kindle? No problem! Download a FREE Kindle app for your smartphone (I use one on my Droid X), your ipad/ipod touch, or even your computer. 

Entering is super easy because, well, I like easy! Just leave a comment on this post with your email address (so we can email you your prize if you're one of the winners). That's it! You are more than welcome to say wonderful things about me or the author, follow this blog, tweet or otherwise share this giveaway with all your friends....  doing those things won't up your chances, but they'll make us all feel happier, and isn't that worth it? 

(Giveaway ends April 7th)

Friday, March 18, 2011

REVIEW: "Servant of the Lich" by Chris Wilmsmeyer

An unexpected (and undead) visitor one evening brings back the wizard Hannibal's worst memories, and all of his biggest fears. His past has finally caught up with him, and the lich demands his magical service once again. To deny the lich would be to destroy the love of Hannibal's life, and everything else for which he's worked so hard. He's going to have to gather every bit of his cunning and strength to maintain some piece of himself through this battle, and he can only hope to come out intact. In the meantime, an army of unlikely heroes band together to stop the terror that is being waged right in their city. They are motivated, but are they strong enough?

Reminiscent of "Lord of the Rings," this is the first installment in an epic series by Chris Wilmsmeyer. Filled with fantastical creatures such as orcs, elves, dwarves, and wizards, this story speaks to both evil and goodness, and the intermixing of the two. Hannibal is the most developed of all the characters, and his story is the thread that runs throughout. Complex and tragic, he's torn between what he must do and what his heart tells him to do, between who he truly is and who he has been. The lich and Arvol are also clearly defined, but it's hard to get a complete feel for some of the other characters in the book. The characters are many, and it's sometimes difficult to keep up with the various storylines as they are slowly and irrevocably pulled together to the inevitable conclusion. Several times, I found myself having to flip back to remember who a character was or what he had done before. This may not be an issue for hard-core fans of epic fantasy who may be accustomed to a large cast of characters, but I wanted fewer players and more development so I could truly get to know the most important characters. Similarly, some of the characters' storylines seemed less complete in that their relationships with the story in general weren't as tightly tied in. Hannibal's story was twisted with that of the lich, but I felt that the establishment of a relationship between Hannibal and the heroes early on would have strengthened the plot and given me a more complete feeling when it all came together at the end.

The first in a planned series, this book offers closure that ties in the ending events with what happened in the beginning, while still hinting at things to come in the next installment. I almost felt like there were a few endings to the story, which gave me the feeling I was done...more than once. I also felt the story dragged in a few places- those were the places where the events seemed more tangential and less integral to the main storyline- and I found myself putting the book down more than I would have liked before I was finished. But I always came back for more, because I simply had to know what was going to happen. The writing style was generally fluid and the events were well-written, and the frequent changes in setting towards the end really worked well with the quickening pace of the story.

Overall, this installment is sure to engage and excite fans of epic fantasy.

4 /5 stars

Available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

REVIEW: "Bug Island" by R. G. Cordiner

A mysterious island that shouldn't exist suddenly appears on radar, a cruise ship hits an underwater mine, a group of survivors struggle to remain alive on a deserted island.... SCRNCH... err, wait, what was that? As the survivors come face to face with bizarre bugs that can't possibly be as big as they appear, they'll need every bit of courage and wit to stay alive. What *is* this place, anyway? And is there any way off?

Authored by a teacher, R.G. Cordiner, this story is written in a simplistic style for a younger audience. In all honesty, I'm a little torn on how I feel about the writing. Billed on one site as horror for a "young adult/teen" audience, and on another site as "middle grade novel" the actual writing style seems geared for the younger audience, or teens with much lower reading levels. With very simplistic sentences, short paragraphs, and many "sound effects" built in, I am picturing the writing as a read-aloud for younger children. I feel the actual content of the writing, however, is geared for a slightly older age category. I was so undecided on this issue, I passed the book on to my 10yo son and then asked him some questions when he was done reading. He thought the writing was a little too simple for his grade level (5th), but he was definitely interested in the storyline. We also both enjoyed that there were facts about each bug listed at the end of the story. It's a great way to learn more about bugs!

The characterization is also simple, but with enough distinction to differentiate the characters. The character of Zosimo bothered me a bit, however. I felt his speech patterns were inconsistent in the story. At times, he spoke in very broken English, later speaking in fairly fluid sentences, only to speak another broken sentence later. I really liked Fiona's character, and I felt she was the most developed of all of the characters. The characterization was, overall, appropriate for the level of writing. I think older audiences may want more, but it should be enough to satisfy the younger readers.

The ending offered great closure while still giving the reader something to think about for the future of the island. Not everything is tied up in a neat little package throughout the story, which is nice because of the unpredictability. You just don't know who is going to survive, and that lends a nice feeling of adventure and discovery throughout. The events did seem a bit sterile to me, and that may reflect upon the simplistic writing style. Additionally, the transitions between events and settings are sometimes delineated with a break, and sometimes not. Using consistent breaks would help the reader understand that a switch in point of view and setting just happened. Overall, a satisfying story and enjoyable read!

In the end, I asked my son what he would rate this book, as he really is the target audience. He actually gave me the exact number of stars I had already decided upon. Looks like he may follow in my footsteps....

3.5 /5 stars

Available at Smashwords, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble

Sunday, March 13, 2011

GIVEAWAY! Enter to win a copy of the novel "Tag" by Simon Royle!

On 15 March 2110, 6.3 billion people will die at the hand of one man. 
A man with a twisted vision, to make humans a better, more intelligent race.

Official Blurb: 
In the wake of Arbitrator Jonah Oliver’s interrogation of Jibril Muraz, a prisoner of UNPOL, his secure life disintegrates into one of lies, corruption, conspiracy and murder due to what he learns.
Jonah is thrown into a race against the clock to stop a plot designed to eliminate two-thirds of the population. The odds are stacked against him. He soon finds his past is not what he thought it was, those closest to him cannot be trusted, and what he’s learned could get him, or worse, his loved ones, killed.
From a world where personal privacy has been forsaken comes a tale of conspiracy, love and murder – and the bond shared by brothers.

I am a huge fan of Simon Royle, for many reasons. For starters, there's his fantastic blog which is one-stop Indie Author shopping. You can find "IndieViews" with authors and reviewers (even mine), information on some fantastic Indie Books & Authors, and you can even find the Latest Indie Reviews from around the Internet.

Maintaining this huge wealth of information is a full-time job in and of itself, but Simon does more than that. He's a fantastic Indie author in his own right. Simon's first novel, "Tag," a compelling science fiction thriller, was one of my Top 4 Picks for 2010. (You can find my full review right here!)

Why am I telling you all this? Because now is your chance to WIN your very own digital copy of this fantastic book! As always, entering is easy- just leave a comment below with your email address, and you're in! The lucky winner will receive a Smashwords coupon to download a FREE digital version in the any format.

Uh, why are you still sitting there? Enter now! And if you're still sitting there with nothing else to do, share this giveaway with all your friends ;)

(Giveaway ends March 26th)

REVIEW: "Shades of Green" by Ian Woodhead

Something strange is happening in the small town of Holburn, but most people aren't aware of the force that tunnels beneath the land. An episode of bullying decades ago unleashes a force that cannot be stopped; one that hungers for the living. Damien's brother, Alan, is intrinsically tied to all that is happening. Will Damien live long enough to find out what is going on?

In his first novel, Ian Woodhead has created a horrific landscape where plant life intermixes with human life to generate demon-like creatures driven by an unseen force. Immediately drawn in by the opening sequence, I was quickly thrown off-track and confused. The first section talks about a past event with two brothers, but in the next section, the brothers seem to have traded lives. I never quite understood whether it was an error in writing, or a plot device I didn't catch. When the story is read the whole way through, there are some great concepts that are very much in line with some of the best horror out there. Unfortunately, those great concepts are utterly obfuscated by the actual writing, which would greatly benefit from a full-scale editing/revision process. Missing punctuation, redundant words, and run-on sentences make some of the sections difficult to understand. There is plenty of action and gore to attract fans of this genre, but the jumps between times and scenes add quite a bit of confusion to the storyline. At one point, I just gave up trying to understand when and where things were taking place, and just read to find out what happened. I wasn't engaged (I couldn't even figure out where I was or what was going on at times), but I watched the story unfold, much as I would watch a B-rated horror flick. I was detached from the actual events, but I still wanted to know what was going to happen.

Although there is some closure to the story in the form of an explanation of the events that began the horror, I felt there were still too many threads left dangling. If they actually did tie in, the need for extensive editing and revision masked any connection for me. Additionally, I felt the character development wasn't complete. Some characters sort of blended together. Although I felt as though I had a decent grasp of Damien, I never did get a clear understanding of Alan, and I think there was a lot that could have been shown about this central character. Jennifer could have used some more depth, and I never quite "got" Tony. More clearly defining the scenes and the happenings in each scene may have helped bring out the personalities of the individual characters. At times, I thought the author was much more focused on the description of the horror than the development of the characters or the plot. I think that developing the characters with some additional scenes to set the stage would have strengthened the horror and suspense aspect of the book.

A compelling plot that suffers in its execution, this story will still have appeal for enthusiasts of the genre. I would like to check out some of the author's short stories to see if his intriguing concepts shine stronger in a short story format.

2 /5 stars

Available at Smashwords, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble

Saturday, March 12, 2011

REVIEW: "Slippery Willie's Stupid, Ugly Shoes" by Larry Peterson

Willie isn't like the other kids. He has slippery feet! Everywhere he goes, he slips and slides all over the place. Even when he wear shoes, he still slips and slides. So one day, he gets a pair of shoes that will keep him from slipping and sliding. But they're so ugly! How can he ever wear them to school? Everyone will laugh!

A first children's book by Larry Peterson, this story tackles the concept of accepting differences. The ending includes a list of ideas to open up discussion about this very topic. The images in the book are colorful and engaging. They do a great job evoking the feeling of the book, and they will delight younger readers as well as adults.

The storyline of the book seems to me to be best geared towards a 5-8 yo age group, but the ideas can extend well beyond that group. There were quite a few words on most of the pages, however, making it more likely to be a read-aloud for younger children. The discussion points included at the end offer a great starting point for groups of children to discuss how it feels to be different. The storyline itself is engaging and fun, and the silliness factor will really engage children. Many children know the feeling of being different and afraid to stand out, and the crazy extremes of this story will delight.

Overall, a fun story for children and adults alike and a recommended read!

4 /5 stars

Available at Tribute Books or find more buy links here

Find out more about the book here

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Friday, March 11, 2011

REVIEW: "No Rest For the Wicca" by Toni LoTempio

Morgan Hawkes is a ghost whisperer. She uses her paranormal skills to help talk ghosts and daemons into moving to a different plane; sheʻs a true "ghostbuster." Nothingʻs run of the mill in this job, and sometimes she finds herself up against some formidable ghosts. Still, itʻs a cushier job than her old job in homicide....and not nearly as satisfying. Morgan longs for the excitement and adventure she found working homicide. When full-blooded witches start turning up dead in an apparent plot that combines voodoo and Wiccan magick to unleash terrifying forces, Morganʻs mixed Wiccan and voodoo heritage lands her a role in an undercover plot. Morgan is compelled to save her friends and relatives, and, in doing so, to banish the ghosts of her own past.  Working with Cole St. John, a sexy, captivating Inheritor Vampire, Morgan has to keep her wits about her in order to play her role to perfection.

Toni LoTempio does a nice job introducing characters and giving background information pertinent to the main character without stopping the flow of the storyline. Morganʻs character has some depth and a back story that rounds out her character and makes her interesting. Cole, on the other hand, is much more two-dimensional, playing the role of stud and sex god to perfection, but not quite the well-rounded character I would have liked to see. We are given hints of his background, and that helps us to understand him a bit more, but it still felt lacking in characterization. Similarly, I would have liked more depth to Xiaʻs character as well. In spite of the wish for more character development, I did find the full range of characters in this story to be interesting and distinct, and they added interest to the overall story. The actual plot is readable, engaging, and quite entertaining. Although predictable, there are a few nice twists that added to the storyline and kept me reading. 

The level of romance in the story was predictable and secondary to the storyline, but it seemed to take too much attention at one point, and that detracted from the storyline. I also have to admit to having trouble taking sex scenes seriously that use words like "staff" and "round globes" as euphemisms for body parts. While I did want Morgan and Cole to get together (and it was obvious from the get-go that it was going to happen), it almost felt like "too much" when it did happen. Although I could immerse myself in most of the story, there were a few moments when the characters did something that seemed out of character and didnʻt quite fit what I knew of them. For example, Dru suddenly deciding to share the book with Morgan seemed out-of-place. It was necessary to further the plot, but perhaps could have been written in a way that would have seemed more in line with the relationship between those two characters. This book could also use another thorough editing pass, catching those last few pesky errors. 

Overall, a good bet for anyone who enjoys books in this genre. A fun and engaging read!

3.5 /5 stars

Available at Smashwords, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble

Sunday, March 06, 2011

REVIEW: "The Fear" by Julio Angel Ortiz

Charlotte awakens in the middle of the night to strange noises and voices in her room. But it isn't really her room, and the two unknown men in the room seem strangely familiar to her, but they're just as confused as she is. As she searches her memory to try to make sense of her situation, Charlotte realizes she can't remember anything other than her name. She certainly can't remember why she's in a cabin in the middle of an eerily silent forest. Silent, that is, until a terrifying creature comes for a nighttime visit. Repeated attempts by the trio to find civilization are unsuccessful, as they continually find themselves back where they started. When will this terror end?

This short story by Julio Angel Ortiz is immediately engaging as we are drawn into Charlotte's fear and confusion at finding herself in a strange place that feels "wrong" with two men who somehow seem "right." I loved the concept behind this story- there is a psychological aspect that was full of potential and offered a lot to think about. The very last conversation between the main characters was really fitting to the story and provided nice closure on the major theme.

The length and format of this story give ample room for the storyline to be fleshed out more completely. I wanted more explanation of certain things; in particular "where" this place was, and more about the role of the Waroo. I think I was most confused by the part of the Waroo in the story. I got the impression that there was something mythological and spiritual about him, but it wasn't completely clear. The question that most haunted me- what and where exactly this place was- was never really answered satisfactorily, and that left me a little cold. I also wanted to know more about Roger and his motivations. I understand what he shared with us, but it wasn't quite enough to satisfy me. The final scenes felt somewhat rushed to me, as Noah made some jumps to a conclusion that I had a little trouble initially following.

I think the overall idea is solid and entertaining, as well as thought-provoking, but more meat to the story would really help bring the theme home more definitively. Adding more to the story would also allow for stronger character development. We are given glimpses of the character's personalities, especially through their actions and dreams, but I think allowing more suspense to build would allow us to get to know the characters better and ratchet up our anxiety, making the story even more effective.

Overall, an intriguing concept and a fun read--

3 /5 stars

Available at Smashwords

Saturday, March 05, 2011

REVIEW: "The Goblin Brothers Adventures" by Lindsay Buroker

Malagach and Gortok are brothers. Goblin brothers, that is. Smart and literate, they are quite unusual in their village, and often the target of Zakrog and his gang of bullies. Gortok is the inventor of the two, always coming up with amazing new tools to use. Malagach is a bit of an "idea boy," and he makes a great assistant for his younger brother. Together, they find themselves in some crazy dilemmas, and it takes every bit of knowledge and ingenuity they have to get themselves right back out!

Written as a middle-grade book, this collection of adventures by Lindsay Buroker is entertaining and fun for all ages. The writing style offers a good combination of easy-to-understand language along with higher level words that will challenge younger readers. It's the type of story that will entice reluctant readers to learn new vocabulary while providing an engaging story for more advanced younger readers. The mix of simple sentence structure with more complex structures is a great technique to appeal to many levels of reading. Some middle-grade books feel a bit mind-numbing to an adult, but that was not true in this case. I know my own kids would enjoy it as much as I did. The world that is presented to us is an adventure in itself. We are able to explore the relationships between goblins, humans, orcs, and other creatures, enticing our imaginations while providing entertainment.

The brothers themselves are utterly engaging and fun, with good characterization. The dialogue between them really helps establish each brother's personality. I really liked the fact that the brothers were always on the lookout for new books, and were interested in new math and science facts. Other characters are brought in as concerns the plot, and each personality presented is quite distinct and well-defined. Although all the stories are about the brothers, there isn't a lot in the way of continuity between stories. Each adventure stands alone nicely, which can be a draw for this age group. Some chapters provide a little more backstory into the brothers' lives and some are much more adventuresome than some others. Each story presents a challenge for the brothers to overcome. I found myself more engaged in some of the stories than in others, with one story in particular much less appealing to me than the rest.

Overall, a wonderful adventure with universal appeal!

4.5 /5 stars

Available at Smashwords, Amazon and Barnes & Noble

You can read more about the Goblin Brothers and their Adventures on their website!

Thursday, March 03, 2011

REVIEW: "Vestal Virgin" by Suzanne Tyrpak

Taken from her home when still a child, Elissa is a revered Vestal Virgin. Somewhat sequestered from the rest of Roman society, educated and powerful in ways that are different from other women of the time, Elissa struggles between doing what is expected of her and dealing with her strong emotions of longing towards one man and hatred towards another. When her brother and sister become part of the drama that surrounds Elissa, she must fight with every bit of her being in order to survive the perilous future laid out before her. 

With a fluid writing style, Suzanne Tyrpak has created a gripping tale that immerses you in another time and culture. From the very beginning, I was pulled into the storyline. The plot is well-paced, with excellent timing on the introduction of characters and situations. Initially, more time is spent getting to know the various characters, and the pace picks up in sync with the increasing tension. Throughout the story, we follow the characters as their lives become inextricably intertwined. Each character plays a very important part in the overall story, and they are very well-developed and interesting in their own right. Although the storyline focuses upon Elissa as she struggles to put her world right, the supporting characters are no minor parts. On the contrary, they are just as engaging and complex as Elissa herself. 

The ending was artfully written, providing both closure and peace. My only real quibble is that I felt the story of Flavia was unfinished. As the story of Elissa was more complete and offered more closure, the ending for Flavia seemed incomplete by comparison and I felt as though there was a bothersome, dangling thread. Although not the main character, Flavia played such an important role that the incompleteness of her tale left me wanting more. Although they were several scenes involving "deviant sex," as the official blurb calls it, they were so skillfully integrated and told suggestively rather than with explicit detail, and they added to the overall story. This tale was truly about Elissa's journey to save herself and her family and to carve out a bit of happiness along the way, and everything in this story supported that theme. 

Altogether, a beautifully written story from a very talented author!  

4.5 /5 stars

Available at SmashwordsAmazon, and Barnes & Noble

Update: The author has indicated that there is more to come with regards to Flavia's experience. That will be coming in the next installment! I'm looking forward to seeing how it plays out...

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

PHOTOS: Around International Fountain, Seattle Center

I was a little obsessed with trying to capture the Space Needle and the water coming from the fountain! I think I succeeded in capturing the idea that I was obsessed, if nothing else.