Month: April 2016

Review of ‘Game of Fear’

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High school girl, Abbie Cooper, is an over-achiever with her life all mapped out. She’s basically a good kid who had to do something bad in a period of crisis, but that’s all behind her—she thinks. Then, one day she gets a threatening note in her locker, which leads to a demand for money.

Game of Fear by Glede Browne Kabongo follows Abbie through torturous ups and downs as she tries to identify her blackmailer, known only as the Avenger. A taut drama with loads of mystery and suspense, and a touch here and there of romance, a mixed genre story that I’ll put mostly in the thriller category. Once you start reading this story, it’s hard to put down until you finish.

On Goodreads this book is categorized as young adult, but in my view, the situations are a bit intense for that audience. Nonetheless, I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Lights of Love’

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In Lights of Love by C.S. Lane two worlds collide with cosmic results. Tessra El De LeRay is consumed with curiosity about the lights beyond the border of her magically protected home. When she’s caught after venturing outside, and using magic beyond the border, she is banished. Sent outside with no memories of her real past, and no magic, she encounters Payton Bennett, a combat veteran plagued by demons of his wartime experiences. At first, neither remembers that they’ve encountered each other before, but there is unmistakable chemistry between them. Into this mix is thrown the Shadow, a hired assassin, sent to eliminate certain targets for reasons he is not told.

A strange story; part fantasy, part science fiction, with a healthy dose of romance thrown, the author takes you on a roller coaster ride through a world that is so real you’ll be able to feel the heat and smell the body odors. An amazing combination of thriller and romance, this has to be put into the category of multi-genre—and, extremely well-done at that.

A great first novel that I happily give five stars.

Review of ‘The Further Adventures of Toby the Trilby’

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Above ground for two years, Toby, the boy created by scientists and given the ears of a rabbit—and other strange accouterments—sees a light fall from the sky. Curious, Toby goes in search of the source of the light, but there is someone else seeking it; someone who will go to any lengths to obtain the power the light represents.

The Further Adventures of Toby the Trilby by Angela Castillo is the second book in the adventures of the strange little boy who wonders about the existence of his own soul, and in his quest, answers that question for many others. Beautiful descriptions and engaging situations make this a perfect book for young teens, or even younger readers; providing wonderful life lessons without preaching or overtly instructing.

Toby is an endearing and engaging character that even adults will identify with. I give this book four stars.

Unusual Character Traits

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Day 21: #AtoZChallenge


The characters in our stories and novels are often very complex. We spend a lot of time getting to know them, asking questions, describing them and giving them a personality.

We want our readers to visualize our characters and recognize them every time they speak. But, what can we do, besides names, ages, or gender to make our characters memorable?

Give them unusual character traits or as John Yeoman from the Village Academy calls it, a signature. We all have our idiosyncrasies, so give your characters  a few; make them mimic real people. To get you started, here are a few suggestions.

30  Unusual character traits worth considering:

  1. Meaningful repetitions – for instance in my novel, one of the characters uses the term, “Dear” when speaking to others.
  2. Twirls hair when preoccupied or worried.
  3. Bites nails when nervious.
  4. Taps fingernails or pencils against a hard…

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Review of ‘Innocent in Las Vegas’

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Tiffany Black is a blackjack dealer in Las Vegas, but she wants to leave that job and become a PI. She’s on the verge of having enough supervised hours to get her license when an old ‘friend’ asks  her to investigate the murder of her husband, a well-known casino owner, and in the process prove that the ‘friend’ didn’t do it.

Innocent in Las Vegas by A.R. Winters is a delightful entrant into the category of hilariously funny PI fiction. Evocative of Janet Ivanovich’s Stephanie Plum, Tiffany Black is a character to keep an eye out for. Between her weakness for cupcakes and her inability to stay out of trouble, she’ll have you laughing until you choke. The author has a fine eye for detail and crisp dialogue.

I give this really funny book five stars.

Review of ‘Doing Germany 2’

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Doing Germany by Agnieszka Poletta was a hilarious romp through a foreign culture through the eyes of a hybrid immigrant North American who, despite her multi-cultural background, was something of a naif when she encountered Germany for the first time.

In Doing Germany 2, the author picks up right where she left off in the first book. Married now, to a German-Pole, or is that Polish-German, with a baby newly arrived, Agnes and M (she refuses to name him through two books, can you believe that?) argue over whether the kid should be named Max or Maximillian—thankfully, Max wins. Agnes (the anglicized version of her Polish given name) continues to struggle with the cultural chasm she must cross to learn to get along in Germany.

If you’re into sophisticated, low-key humor, in the words of the infamous mobster, ‘fuggedaboudit.’ This book is low-brow, in your face humor from start to finish. If you’ve been in a situation where you’re encountering a completely alien culture for the first time, though, you’ll immediately see the point.

Light reading, quick to read, and funny as hell. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘An Empire of Traitors’

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An Empire of Traitors by Serban V. C. Enache is an epic novel that tracks several independent story lines in an era of war and betrayal; war between god and god, between man and god, and between man and man. Exquisitely written, with both courtly and vulgar language in fine proportions, the sheer number of stories forces a reader to read slowly and carefully for fear of losing the thread of the narrative. This is not a book for anyone addicted to light reading—it takes effort.

In the end, though, it’s worth the effort. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘A Killing Truth’

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An assassin for a super-secret government organization known only as the Agency, Leine is convinced that she’s doing what she’s good at, and is ridding the world of evil at the same time. Then, a supposedly routine job goes south and she’s ambushed and almost killed. She chalks it up to a glitch, but her partner/lover, Carlos, is convinced that their boss, Eric, is setting her up. She’s not convinced until Carlos goes missing and a bomb almost kills her on the next assignment Eric gives her.

A Killing Truth is the chilling prequel to D.V. Berkom’s Leine Basso thriller series. It introduces one of modern fiction’s deadliest heroes, filling in some of the blank spaces in Leine’s murky background, and at the same time, offering readers a generous helping of Berkom’s talent in weaving a fantastically twisted tale that will keep you perched on the edge of your seat.

As Shaft would say, “Leine Basso is one bad mother—” Get it today. You won’t regret it. I received an advanced review copy of this book from the author, but I also purchased it – talk about being an over-the-top fan. Oh yeah, and just so you know, I give it five stars.

Review of ‘The Locksmith’s Secret’

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Editor-Author Prunella Smith seems to be getting her life back together. She feels that things are going well with her boyfriend, Jamie, until the death of his older brother in England draws him back home and into the clutches of a demanding, manipulative mother. While coping with this unexpected separation, Prunella is drawn into writing a steampunk novel about Nell, an intrepid investigative reporter on the trail of a vicious killer who also happens to be an esteemed member of the upper class, and enmeshed in the ‘dream’ life of Daniela, a young woman about to become a nun, who is caught between trying to get away from her abusive past and the decidedly earthly feelings she has for the convent gardener. While all this is happening, Prunella is also experiencing waking dreams about a mysterious locksmith who seems to hold the key to everything she needs to understand to get her world back into balance.

The Locksmith’s Secret by Tahlia Newland is, to use a word coined by Prunella, a multi-genre story that combines all the best traits of sci-fi, thriller, steampunk, and a few other genres in a tale that grabs your imagination in a vice-like grip and refuses to let go until you breathlessly reach the last page. This is an exploration of the mind that takes up where the author’s World Within Worlds left off, but stands on its own as a story that will make you question everything you thought you knew about the universe. Most importantly, though, it will entertain you in the way that well-told stories are meant to entertain.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review. A definite five-star story!

Review of ‘Dead Lawyers Don’t Lie’

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Photojournalist Jake Wolfe is a Marine combat veteran with a soft spot for war dogs, an irreverent attitude, and a penchant for getting into trouble. While on an assignment tracking the doings of an unscrupulous lawyer, he witnesses the man’s murder and gets film of the assassin, a mysterious gunman known as the Artist. He’s now on the Artist’s hit list and hip-deep in a global conspiracy of murder and mayhem.

Dead Lawyers Don’t Lie by Mark Nolan is the first book in a series about Wolfe, a man who is trying to put his bloody past behind him, but refuses to back down when the stakes are high and his friends and family are threatened. Nail-biting action merges with deep emotion and human drama, marred unfortunately in places with a bit too much head-hopping, in this chill-a-minute thriller. Despite having to stop and re-read a few parts because of the number of characters and frequent shifts in place and time, this was a book that I couldn’t put down until the end.

I predict that this series will only get better as it matures. The theme is definitely five-star, but in fairness I have to subtract a star and a half for the hard-to-pin-down point of view.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review. I give it three and a half stars.

Review of ‘The Scattered and the Dead’

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With most of the world’s population dead and gone, the survivors are scattered and fighting to hang on to what little humanity they have left. These ‘leftovers’ each have his or her own unique way of coping with the apocalypse.

The Scattered and the Dead by Tim McBain and L.T. Vargus is a series of stories of the individual ‘leftovers,’ some beginning just before the tragedy has completely enveloped the world, and some taking place at different times afterwards. Each story unfolds slowly; the authors intersperse them, moving from one character to another in a measured fashion, showing how he or she deals with an uncertain and gloomy future.

The switching, of character and time, can be a bit confusing for about the first third of the book, but you soon get in the swing and it all makes sense. A chilling tale, as much for the almost distracted way it’s handled. Once you start reading, you’ll be hooked.

Five stars for a great read.

Review of ‘Alice in Sinland’

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Alice Rosenburg is an expat New Yorker working for a law firm in London. Her career is on an upward course until she is assigned to purchase the ruins of an old castle for a wealthy client. She then begins to experience waking dreams, and the message, ‘what do you want,’ recurs again and again.

Alice in Sinland, by Antara Mann is the first in a series of murder, greed, and betrayal. It’s written in a tight, no-nonsense style that will keep you reading until you reach the end when Alice decides to chuck her legal career and return to New York to pursue a career as a singer.

The author sets readers up perfectly in anticipation of what lies in store for Alice as the demons lurking in the mist draw closer. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review. This is a four-star book.

Review of ‘Hostage of Islam’

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Hostage of Islam by Phillip Strang is a compelling story of the extremism and violence in Africa brought about by the terrorist group Boko Haram and criminal gangs that prey on foreign workers in Nigeria.

It revolves primarily around the murder of a missionary couple and their friend and co-worker, and the abduction of two young women, an American and a Brit, one of whom is marked for sale to a Saudi prince as a concubine. The book begins rather slowly with historical and biographical background on the murder victims, and then picks up with background on Helen, the British woman who, after leading a trouble life of drug use and prostitution, has decided to redeem herself by devoting her life to missionary work in Africa. It then picks up with the introduction of Kate, a young American woman who is traumatized by the death of her boyfriend in an auto accident.

The overall theme of the book is sound, but it drags in places with the insertion of a lot of background historical, political and personal information that would be better included in smaller amounts or through dialogue. At times, also, because the author has such a large cast of characters, and introduces them with rather fulsome histories, it becomes a bit confusing for the reader to try and keep track of all the comings and goings.

The book does have lots of action and human drama, and is about a subject that is very much currently in the news. It would be a far tauter thriller, though, if it started with the attack on the missionary compound and then all the information on the pages before that was brought out as the story unfolds.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review. The theme is definitely five-star quality, but I give it three and a half stars for execution.

Review of ‘Soft Target’

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When small towns in the UK become terrorist targets, the country is on the verge of being brought to its knees. The only thing standing between the government and total collapse is former soldier Sarah Stone. The problem is that, Stone has been so badly treated after her military service, she hates the government.

Soft Target by Iain Rob Wright is a taut, suspenseful thriller that follows Sarah’s adventures as the Major Crimes Unit enlists her service to stop further bloodshed. Crisp dialogue and superb characterizations mark this Jack Reacher-style story. It’ll keep you turning pages until the climax.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Missing Wives, Missing Lives’

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When a woman is missing, it’s often the husband who is the prime suspect in the disappearance. Some 2,300 women go missing each day, and less than 5% of them are victims of kidnapping by a stranger.

J.J. Slate’s Missing Wives, Missing Lives is a chilling true-crime narrative of 30 cases of wives who remain missing and whose husbands are suspected of having a hand in their disappearance, and presumed murder. Some of the cases in this book go back to the 1970s, and in some, authorities have even managed to indict and convict the husband of murder, despite having no corpse. Each case, though, is a story of a family that continues to seek answers, and will chill you to your marrow.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘The Amazing Adventures of Toby the Trilby’

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Toby is a 12-year-old boy who was created in a bunker by a group of scientists who accidentally gave him ears and a tail. They call him a Trilby. He’s not sure what he is; does he have a soul, what does the sun look like, and is there anyone outside the bunker.

The Amazing Adventures of Toby the Trilby by Angela Castillo is a heartwarming tale that will appeal to readers of all ages, although it’s intended for teens and young adults. The author’s descriptions, setting and characters, as Toby sets out on the adventure of his young life, will make you think about the meaning of life in ways you probably never thought possible.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review. I give it five stars.

Review of ‘Doing Germany’

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Doing Germany by Agnieszka Paletta is a different kind of travelogue. Follow the adventures and misadventures of the author, a Polish-Canadian who loves Italy, as she leaves Italy with M after accidentally stepping on his toes in a crowded Italian night club.

Lovers of travel stories will be enthralled by this author’s view of an alien country, its differences and similarities to her hybrid native culture, and her responses as she learns to call Germany ‘home.’

This book will make you laugh until you shed tears, and in some places will just cause tears, but in the end, you’ll be aching to read the follow-on book to see where life goes for Agnieszka, now a wife and mother, and you’ll wonder, is she ‘doing’ Germany, or is Germany ‘doing’ her.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review. I give it five stars for its sheer chutzpah.

Review of ‘Black Spark’

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His name is Faz Pound, and he lives in Cardiff, Wales. He’s also known as Black Spark, or just Spark to his friends, and he’s an enforcer. But, not just any kind of enforcer, he’s a Dark Magic Enforcer, charged with sucking the magic out of normal people who use it wrongly, and sending it to a dark place. When he finds himself stumbling through a park, joining a chess game, and then using magic to kill his opponent when that worthy reacts badly to being bested, he has a problem—a really, really big problem. At first, he doesn’t even know who he is, but as his memory returns, so does the knowledge that he must put things right, or else.

Spark’s given just 24 hours to rebalance things and somehow remove the knowledge from normals that magic exists, or bad things will happen to him, possibly fatal things. As if that’s not big enough problem, he’s also told that he must deal with the Armenian, an ageless succubus who has decided to establish her base in Wales, and who is playing fast and loose with a high ranking member of the Magic Council.

Black Spark by Al K. Line is the first book in the Dark Magic Enforcer series, and, like some of the other works by this author, displays doses of dark humor and twisted plotting; warped characters—including a main character who has as many bad traits as good, but who still comes across as somewhat loveable, and profound observations of society. Starting off on an ominous, but occasionally funny, note, the book lifts off vertically and doesn’t stop rising until it’s at nosebleed attitude, then it does a roller coaster dip that leaves  your stomach behind, gliding to a most satisfying conclusion.

If you like your fiction with a touch of the bizarre, you’ll love this book. I received a free copy in exchange for my unbiased review.

I give it five stars!

Review of ‘Oliver and Jumpy: 37-39’

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Oliver and Jumpy are back in a new series of adventures. Oliver and Jumpy: 37-39 by Werner Stejskal contains three exciting new stories of the exploits of the elegant tom cat and his kangaroo friend. From rescuing a maiden in distress in a painting to Oliver’s dislike of getting wet, to a trip down the river, more adventure awaits your young readers. Fascinating illustrations and deftly taught morals mark these stories that every child will enjoy.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review. I give this book four stars.

Review of ‘Tomorrow is a Long Time’

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Tabitha Vohn’s Tomorrow is a Long Time is a moving story about the power of love. Eileen ‘Lee’ Langley has been smitten, obsessed even, with actor Cal Morrison since seeing him in a movie when she was five years old. The problem, though, is that Cal is three decades older than she is.

An accomplished music composer and performer, at a concert in Europe, Lee encounters Cal, and discovers that their attraction is mutual. From this point in the book, it delves into the realm of science fiction, as they learn that a German scientist has developed a method of implanting memories of one person into another after putting both into a dream state, and during the process create alternate realities for both. Cal convinces Lee to join him in the experiment, and they embark on a dream journey that changes not just their lives, but the lives of those around them.

This is an intriguing book, with a theme that is profound in its implications, and with characters that are compelling in their depth. In places, the author does employ some wording that is a bit complex, forcing the reader to stop and ponder the meaning, but in the end it’s a worthwhile journey as it explores the deeper meaning of time.

I give Vohn four stars for an interesting story.