Tuesday, April 22, 2014

4 Stars for Seasons of Love and War

Author: Brenda Ashworth Barry
Women’s Fiction
Reviewed by: Nancy Pennick

Summary:


While the Vietnam War rages and the rest of the world experiences seismic socio-polictical and cultural shifts, childhood sweethearts Beth Ann Rose and Kaylob Shawn O’Brien are sheltered, naïve and innocent in the northern California town of Novato. Beth Ann, a spirited redhead, has big to work her way to Broadway, and Kaylob, a creative, warm, easygoing self-starter, dreams of and opening a restaurant. Whatever life brings them, one thing is crystal clear — they will be facing it together. They are in love, full of hope and joie de vivre.

Eager to launch their new life, they move south to Riverside, California, as soon as Beth Ann turns eighteen. Then, with no warning, the unthinkable happens. Kaylob is drafted into the U.S. Army. They are devastated. This shakes the foundation of their dreams, but with no other choice but to serve his country, Kaylob goes to war and leaves behind his girl along with their aspirations.

Come take this journey in book one of a four part Saga through love and war where these two young kids struggle to stay strong and hold on to hope.

Review:

Beth Ann and Kaylob are young and in love. What can come between them? The Vietnam War. The story is set in a time of change and upheaval in the U.S. Kaylob has been to war and volunteers to return. He has unfinished business. Beth Ann isn’t too pleased but finally sees why Kaylob must go back. The lovers are torn apart and Beth Ann struggles to go on with her life. Although good things happen for her, Kaylob is always in the back of her mind. He is her one true love.

If you love a good romance story, Seasons of Love and War, is for you. The strength of Beth Ann and Kaylob’s love is apparent throughout the book. Beth Ann has to continue her life without him and Blake is more than willing to take his place. Blake is rich and handsome, someone who’s loved her since high school. Beth Ann struggles with leaving Kaylob in the past and moving on. She sometimes has visions that he is alive, calling out to her, and tries to make sense of the meaning. The book almost becomes a fantasy at this point because of this strong bond and connection. Her dreams and visions are real.

The author uses slang of the late sixties to set the tone of the book. I got a feel for that time period through her descriptions of clothing and settings.

The one criticism I have is the overuse of the word “baby” and “darlin’” in the story. It was said one too many times. Also, Beth Ann’s wonderful Broadway career came to an abrupt end and was never mentioned again. It would’ve been interesting to see how that side of her life evolved. Every man seemed to fall in love with Beth Ann and things came easy to her. I would have liked for her to become a more independent woman in correlation with those times.

Seasons of Love and War is a historical romance set in a turbulent time of U.S. history. It’s an easy read. I understand this is a saga and there’s more to come. The love triangle of Beth Ann, Kaylob and Blake is hopefully not over yet.


Purchase Links

Melange Books
Amazon Kindle

Amazon Paperback
Barnes and Noble


Author Links




Wednesday, April 16, 2014

4 stars for Preservation by Rachel Wade A Romance


Summary:

Fear is sabotage's sweetest weapon.

Kate has no time for meaningless romantic charades, and definitely no time for hot college professors who are full of themselves and smitten with her. Constantly battling eviction notices, tuition she can't afford, and a sick, dependent mother, the last thing she needs is to be distracted with someone else's complicated baggage.

When she stumbles into Ryan Campbell's creative writing class, he is only "Mr. Campbell" to her, until Ryan finds himself captivated by her writing and she is forced to face their mutual attraction. His cocky know-it-all syndrome is enough to send her running in the other direction, and his posse of female admirers and playboy reputation are enough to squander any odds in her favor.

But underneath Ryan's abrasive facade is something to behold, and she can't stay away for long. Ryan and Kate must decide who they're willing to become and fight against their former selves if they want to make things work. That's if academia, vicious vixens, old skeletons, and their own mastery at self-destruction don't pummel their efforts first.

Review:

My genre of choice is horror, but I’m also a sucker for a good romance, if its written with style. “Preservation,” flows smoothly, with fast-pacing that doesn’t hesitate. I read it in two days. The story is Ryan and Kate’s, only. I appreciate other side stories didn’t interrupt this. For example, Kate had two adoring friends, Carter and Dean, and their lives never interrupted the main story. Wade never lets side-plots crash the main party. Her plot began strong and followed through.

The main characters did get so much attention, that other characters fell flat. However, I enjoyed the characters of Ryan and Kate enough, this didn’t bother me. Furthermore, and purely personal, I could relate to both of them, because they are writers. This is where it also got a little sticky for me. Ryan and Kate were writers and I never knew ‘what’ they wrote about. Ryan had a novel in place, and so did Kate, but I didn’t even catch a glimpse of the genre until the very end when Ryan mentioned his story was a horror. 

If much of their connection was writing, shouldn’t it have been discussed in greater detail rather than the generics of good writing. Good writing can mean so many things, from plot, characterization, passive and aggressive voice balances, sentence balance, setting, good dialogue, etc. But just discussing a character from one of their books would have been a plus for me.

       Good writing reminds me in many ways of pitcher in a major league baseball game. He throws the ball with many things in mind, the batter and how he hits, his team’s positioning, the kind of ball to throw and what he can pitch, the score, who’s on base, etc. My point is, so many things go into writing, and just maybe Wade felt like talking about the writing in a large way could have distracted from her main plot. 

But, in my opinion it could have embellished it, drawing to a deeper understanding of Ryan and Kate. A writer always puts much of themselves into their stories. Why should it be different for Ryan and Kate?

       Now, even though I missed this element, it didn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the rest, like the idea that both Ryan and Kate were swimmers. They water burned off stress for both of them. This is a huge connection for me. In addition to the personal connection I felt for both characters, I thought Wade did a swell job of developing a past for both of them making it difficult to stay together. 

Many reviewers didn’t understand Ryan, and considered him a jerk, but this is where I feel a reader ‘shouldn’t just read with their eyes,’ as noted by Thomas C. Foster in his book, “How to read like a Professor.” In this book he notes James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues,” where he sympathizes with an uptight professor and his drug addict brother.

       Ryan, because of his past should be sympathized with, just as Kate and her struggle with hers. Just because Ryan is a man doesn’t make him a bad guy, his actions are no different than those of many women, who have had their heart broken. Bravo, to Wade on story building with these two characters. I would highly recommend this story to anyone who believes love deserves a second chance.


“Preservation” by Rachel Wade can be found at Amazon.com.


Sunday, April 13, 2014

4 Stars for Reunion: A Supernatural Thriller by Jeff Bennington


Summary:

TEEN PLOTS MASS MURDER.
David Ray makes the final arrangements before he walks into school to kill everyone who had tormented him over the years. As he gathers the guns and weapons into his car, he remembers the bullies and abusers that made him what he is... a freak... a monster. His life sucks because of them and they're going to pay.  

THE WORLD TURNS UPSIDE DOWN.
Countless lives are destroyed, interrupted, transformed, and for some, ruined by David Ray's decision to murder and maim his classmates. Tanner and Maria's dreams unravel in a matter of minutes. Kate and Bryan's destiny turns upside down. Nick's twin brother is shot in cold blood with a bullet meant for him--and he will never forgive himself. 

20 YEARS AFTER SHOOTING - SURVIVORS RETURN - SCHOOL HAUNTED. 
Although they suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder a small band of survivors  reunite at the school, hoping for healing and closure. But there's a problem; the school's haunted and Nick, an alcoholic, is the only one who sees it. Is he crazy? Or is there something to his blathering? Nick may be going off the deep end, but he'll do anything to prove he's right. 

What's haunting Crescent Falls? Were they told the whole truth about David Ray's death? Is he coming back to finish what he started, or is there something more sinister dwelling within the boarded up school? Will a surprise visit from a seventh classmate have the answers they're looking for? As the haunting spirals out of control, the survivors might learn the truth about their past and rediscover who they are. But first, they must relive their nightmare at their 20th Reunion.


Review

Jeff Bennington’s “Reunion,” tackles the issue of bullying and the violent repercussions that follow; however, Bennington puts a fantastic supernatural spin to it. He begins with the crime, and then follows the tragic survivors twenty years later for a reunion. The story is told in multiple perspectives, which can take away from truly getting to know the characters, only so much time can put into a single character in one book without distancing the others. In this book, you get a sense of the people in it and the tragic experience unique to all of them, but there is a sense of distance.

Bennington’s efforts to use so many perspectives are not in vain. David, the killer, is the most developed, maybe because so much time got devoted to him in the beginning. You could sympathize with him - despite his horrible actions. A similar sympathy devise was used by Jodi Picoult’s  in “Nineteen Minutes,” where the shooter, Peter, was played as a victim. Picoult’s story took the victim/shooter idea a little overboard, often playing up incidents of impossible bullying. I’m often in schools, and the things that happened to Peter would not be permitted. Unlike Picoult, Bennington never lost sight of how one person can ruin the lives of so many others, despite his reasoning. Bennington didn’t model his characters around a bunch of stereotypes as Picoult did, not everyone is a nerd, jock, or cheerleader and even if they are, hopefully there’s something more authentic making them real-life.

However, I have been sucked into the books with stereotypes like Harlan Coben’s soccer mom types, but Coben makes it up to me with his non-stop twisty plots. Picoult seemed to get caught in the ‘no bullying’ message in “Nineteen Minutes” which made that particular book way too long. Coben always gets to the point, everything is plot related, and interesting. Bennington went off on a couple of tangents in “Reunion”, but nothing to really slow down the pacing. I read it in a matter of days.

I prefer Bennington’s characters more than Coben’s or Picoult’s, even though they could have been fleshed out more. They still gravitate towards the real world allowing the characters to deal with a tragic situation in a solid way. The women could have been a little more aggressive in their dealings, rather than screaming and cowering most of the time. I did enjoy Nick’s approach, in fact turns out he was my favorite. Overall, I highly recommend this story. 

Saturday, March 1, 2014

3.5 Stars for At Faith's End


Author: Chris Galford
Date Published: October 2013
Pages: 462
Recommended Age: teens and up
Reviewed By: Tara Fox Hall

Summary:

Conflicting dedications to duty and revenge have gutted the Idasian Empire, leaving its royal family in tatters and a host of opportunists snapping at the scraps. In desperation, they turn their hopes to a foreign face, praying for reprieve against the dark plots determined to see them dead.

Meanwhile in the east, hiding among the starving remnants of the imperial army, Rurik Matair has survived attempts on his own life, and war besides, only to become isolated from those he cares most about. But even as the madness of a nation infects the heart of the army, a new commander offers the hope of stability—and the possibility that new changes will right old wrongs.

Yet one cannot hide from truth. As Rurik and his friends face the reality of those around them, young and old alike are forced to realize a terrible fact: even faith can crumble, and what stalks its ashes might be something far worse.

Tara's Thoughts:

“Love. That was all he wanted. Essa’s love. Friends’ love. A famil to have and to hold and to take the pain away. I am a child, a needy child, ever and always and he despised how he sounded, yet he could not help but offer his true heart, to for once honestly unveil the whole of its sundering.”

This was perhaps my favorite passage of the book, but each chapter was filled with good lines of equal merit.

This is a very well-written second chapter of the trilogy (or perhaps series?) of the story that began in the first installment, The Hollow March. The author’s style is very descriptive, his fantasy realms realistic with the horrors of wartime. The despair of this conflict which is very present throughout this book for most of the characters is pervasive and comes through each page, and one of the reasons it took me so long to complete this review.

I do caution that this is a slow moving work. As in most fantasy series/epics, there are many characters, all with their separate histories and their own paths/plans/pains. There are also long lapses in the action of the book where flashbacks tell more background, and past events. These passages do make the book lag between character’s dialogue, so when one character is responding to a question on the previous page asked by another character, the reader may need to go back to the last dialogue to find out just what was asked. But fans of book series such as Game of Thrones will enjoy these aspects of this work.

I liked Essa and Voren in this installment as much as the last, though Essa’s preoccupation with her sad history was a bit much to take at times. I found myself liking Rurik much better than the previous work, as he has matured much, probably in no small part now for all the tragedy and blood he’s seen, as well as his unrequited love for Essa. The conclusion of the work was shocking to me, but also moving, and left me wondering where the third installment of this series will go. Somewhere more uplifting, I hope!

Overall opinion: If you like fantasy series, you’ll enjoy it! Just make sure to start with the first book.



Purchase Links

Amazon Kindle
Paperback


Author Links:

Website


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

5 Stars for The Winemaker


Author: Charmaine Pauls
Genre: Romance
Reviewed by: Nancy Pennick

Summary:


Etán Perez-Cruz, world-renown winemaker, excels in everything he puts his mind to, but self-expression. When an intoxicating woman crashes head first into his life, he finds a way to communicate his feelings through his wine bouquets. As knowing Zenobia becomes a hedonistic pleasure, he fights to keep her safe, and to keep his all-consuming desire from destroying her happiness ... and his brother. Etán will need more than his exceptional talent of taste and smell to overcome the dangerous obstacles set in their path.

Zenobia Rambling considers everything about herself utterly average. Leaving England to marry her boyfriend in South America, she finds herself dumped three short weeks after her arrival. Going home is not an option. Zenna possesses a visionary gift that has become her curse. Out of love, luck and money, Zenna turns to her famous Chilean neighbor for a temporary solution ... and finds far more in the deal than she has bargained for.


Review:

Zenobia Rambling has been on the run for most of her life. A fresh start in Chile with her fiancée was just what she needed. To her dismay, everything falls apart when she arrives from England. She’s left alone in a foreign country. At her lowest, she’s befriended by the Perez-Cruz’s, a wealthy family that owns a winery. Zenna meets Etan, the eldest son, and sparks fly. Only problem is their pasts stand in the way of their future. Etan is the winemaker and communicates best when he’s discussing wine. Zenna can’t think straight when she’s around him. She also possesses a special gift, enabling her to see the past and future. That gift puts her in unforeseen danger and Etan will do anything to protect her.

The setting of the story, a winery in Chile, makes for an interesting backdrop. The Perez-Cruz family is one that anyone would love to be a part of and Zenna is a lucky girl to be taken in by them. You feel the caring and warmth of the parents, the brotherly love of Luca and the strong bond between Zenna and Etan, even though they are unaware at times.

The book is a romance but I enjoyed the bits of “paranormal”. Everyone seemed to have a gift in the Perez-Cruz family. Zenna blends right in. As in all romances, there are many obstacles for the couple to overcome and you wonder if it will ever happen. Etan was a little too hot and cold with Zenna for my liking. It went on for a little too long. That’s the only small criticism I have of the book. Otherwise, I loved reading about how wine is made and tasted, the countryside of Chile and the lives of Zenna and the Perez-Cruz family. In fact, I would like more. I hope the author considers writing a sequel about this wonderful family. So pour yourself a glass of wine and sit back and enjoy the adventure.


Purchase links:

A paperback is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Lulu

Author Links:

Thursday, February 6, 2014

5 Stars for A Traitor’s Fate

Author: Derek Birks
Published By: Yordale Publishing
Date Published: Oct. 2013
Pages: 398
Recommended Age: Older teen to adult
Reviewed By: Tara Fox Hall


Summary:

A Traitor's Fate is the long-awaited sequel to Feud and second book in the Rebels & Brothers series set during the Wars of the Roses.

Peace never lasts…
It is 1464. Ned Elder and his two sisters, Emma & Eleanor, have won a hard-fought peace and their feud with the Radcliffes seems long over, but one man never accepted the outcome. After three bitter years of waiting to destroy the Elders, a new ally provides him with a fresh opportunity for revenge.

When Ned is summoned to confront a Lancastrian revolt by the new king, Edward of York, he finds his enemies are not just amongst the ranks of the rebels. Branded a traitor by his own commander, the Earl of Warwick, Ned is soon a wanted man in hostile territory and the price on his head only rises when he stumbles upon a royal secret.

Meanwhile, Eleanor and Emma watch over Ned’s pregnant wife, Amelie, with only a small garrison of old men and boys to protect them. The feud may have ended, but the scars run deep for all three women and they must hold their nerve and prepare to defend themselves at any cost.

A condemned man, Ned must find a way to escape his pursuers or else the whole Elder family will be destroyed.

Tara's Thoughts:

This book drew me in from the first page, just like the first book in the trilogy, Feud.

This was a great action historical fantasy. There is a lot of carnage in the book—whole families get slaughtered, as well as main characters that I loved from the first book. But the writer has grown clearly, in that this book was “unputdownable,” and I read it straight through, because I had to know what happened next.

There were great scenes of action so real that I could imagine them happening. The author has a knack for fight scenes. While I am certain a tremendous amount of the battles are historical, there were skirmishes detailed that are probably not in any history book, and yet they were as realistic as the large battle scenes.

Ned, the main character, is by now an old friend, though he’s had about every terrible thing possible done to him by this book’s end. I also enjoyed the characters of the brave women Amelie and Eleanor and Emma, Ned’s relations. Everyone is harder, darker, and more vivid in this book than the last one, including the vicious Henry, Ned’s half-brother, and his evil wife, Joan, who is just about the most awful, ruthless, and power hungry woman I’ve seen in fiction. While only minor characters in the last book, these two rise to major characters of this book, along with Warwick, to form a trilogy out for Ned’s blood and that of his family. The latter brands him a traitor—hence the title—and the plot of this book is Ned trying to survive and clear his name, which seems impossible at times.

In summary: In a word: riveting! And the kind of book that’s good enough that I tell others about it and encourage them to read it. Sequel NOW, please!

Parents:
Language: Swear words
Adult Content: A lot of descriptions of carnage and battle scenes
Violence: a lot of violence, including graphic depictions of hand to hand fighting in battles with various weapons.


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Sunday, February 2, 2014

4 Stars for Magpies by Mark Edwards


Summary

Meet the neighbors from hell, in the gripping thriller that reviewers and readers describe as "fast-paced," "chilling," and "impossible to put down.”
When Jamie and Kirsty move into their first home together, they are full of optimism. The future, in which they plan to get married and start a family, is bright. The other residents of their building seem friendly too, including the Newtons, a married couple who welcome them to the building with open arms.
But then strange things start to happen. Dead rats are left on their doorstep. They hear disturbing noises, and much worse, in the night. After Jamie's best friend is injured in a horrific accident, Jamie and Kirsty find themselves targeted by a campaign of terror.
As they are driven to the edge of despair, Jamie vows to fight back—but he has no idea what he is really up against . . .
The Magpies is a gripping psychological thriller in which the monsters are not vampires or demons but the people who live next door. It is a nightmare that could happen to anyone.

Review

This book is certainly face-paced and impossible to put down. I can’t say its chilling, because I just finished reading two ultimate terror books, Hell House, and Let the Right One In. The first book being about a psycho-sick ghost and the second a blood sucking vampire. Those books left me with nightmares. I loved it!

What I will say about Edwards, Magpies, and the whole reason I picked it up was because this story could happen to anyone. Maybe we wouldn’t make the choices the main characters, Jamie and Kirsty made, but we could all be plagued by someone twisted living right next door. It could happen to anyone.

The beginning of Magpies is loaded with mystery. Who is terrorizing Jamie and Kirsty? Why are they doing this? The pacing slower at first, as I got to know Jamie and Kirsty, and the psychological reasons they might react to certain incidents like dead rats on their doorstep. Edwards did a wonderful job of illustrating Kirsty and Jamie’s characters. Kirsty reminded me of a Georgia O’Keefe’s “Jimson Weed.” Kirsty felt open, pure and forgiving. Jamie felt like a dark Jackson Pollock painting, his feelings and emotions all over the place constantly ruling him. I didn’t like some of his choices, but I understood why he made them.

The neighbors could have been drawn with more detail pushing the mystery level of the plot making it less predictable, but predictable a plot sometimes makes a good story. Many plots are predictable and successful. Pet Semetary by Stephen King is, but it’s still one of my all time favorites along with Salem’s Lot. A writer has to decide on these things, but for me this particular story could have use a few more plot twists from deeper character analysis of  the neighbors around them.

Overall, Magpies is definitely worth reading. I enjoyed it and read it within a few days.
Mark Edwards can be found at http://indieiq.com/self-published-amazon-bestseller/
and his book Magpies can be found on Amazon.



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