Thursday, April 23, 2015

4 Stars for Aizai the Forgotten (The Soul Wanders)


Reviewed by Kelly Michelle Baker (Guest Reviewer)

Summary:

Seventeen-year old Wolfdon dreams of travelling to Aizai, a forgotten realm connected to our world by invisible sol-lines. He begins his search as a “word-warrior” in his hometown in France in the late 17th century, hunting for rare books that mention Aizai. One obscure book, by the philosopher Paulo de la Costa Santamiguero, has given him a lead to start his journey—to go to the northern coast of Spain where a portal to Aizai supposedly exists.

With a noble horse he borrows from an astrologer and armed with a strange magical device, Wolfdon travels to a place that surpasses even his vivid imagination, with walking statues, animals with glowing gems of power, beautiful towers and misty valleys, and Aizians whose magic is innate to their souls. He meets many peculiar characters, from the cryptic Philosophers of the Eastern Empyrean to beautiful Aizians and dark magicians.

Though death and danger loom ever near, nothing can dim the brightness of Aizai kindling within Wolfdon’s heart. Yet as he strives to discover Aizai’s secrets and fate, a frightening truth becomes perilously near, and may cost Wolfdon everything, including the future.


Review: 

Armed with what he’s read in books, the story follows Wolfdon—a boy in search of an alternative world to our own called Aizai, where he delves into the philosophies of time travel, good, evil, and life itself. While commonplace fantasy at face-value, his journey is painted vividly through the author’s rich prose. The beautiful writing, which is becoming increasingly rare in the young adult genre, absorbs us into a clever place split between reality and the mystical. Like the cryptic setting she creates, Harris is equally deceptive, writing like a seasoned author when she is, in fact, just debuting.

The author’s greatest strength is world building. Along with the protagonist, you see the structures and hear the sounds through a literary instrument reminiscent of Niel Gaiman. We begin in France, real France, then slowly descend into an ethereal community. But unlike most fantasies, the reader is introduced to magic along with the protagonist, accentuating the suspense (in a similar fashion to Harry Potter’s training in wizardry). The non-magic elements give equal intrigue, as they ground the story into something recognizable, touching on Catholicism, familiar cities, European history, etc. It’s incredibly well-researched and was a learning experience.

Harris’ second strength is in her characters, which are diverse and not without depth. Wolfdon isn’t stone-faced in his bravery. Rather, he’s curious and all around good-natured. He’s an ambitious fellow and you want him to succeed.

One criticism (and it’s small) is how descriptive the author can be. She is not wordy, but rather dwells on the physical environment. For some readers, like myself, this is part of great storytelling. However, others may find it a bit overwhelming.

“Aizai The Forgotten: The Soul Wanderers” is a sophisticated and intelligent read promising more stories to come. It is deserving of a wide readership, and I hope she will inspire other burgeoning authors.


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Name: Kelly Michelle Baker

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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

5 Stars for HORRORSTOR

Author: Grady Hendrix
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Suspense - GhostsReviewed by: Nancy Pennick



Summary: Something strange is happening at the Orsk furniture superstore in Cleveland, Ohio. Every morning, employees arrive to find broken Kjerring bookshelves, shattered Glans water goblets, and smashed Liripip wardrobes. Sales are down, security cameras reveal nothing, and store managers are panicking.

To unravel the mystery, three employees volunteer to work a nine-hour dusk-till-dawn shift. In the dead of the night, they’ll patrol the empty showroom floor, investigate strange sights and sounds, and encounter horrors that defy the imagination.

Review:

Amy, the main character in HORRORSTOR, works at ORSK while attending college. She’s the typical disinterested employee who rolls her eyes at the company’s rhetoric. Basil, her gun-ho younger boss, follows all the rules and recites policy to all that will listen. Strange happenings occur overnight. When the crew shows up for work each morning, the employees find broken or stained items. Basil decides to stay overnight to find the culprit and asks Amy to work a night shift along with another employee, Ruth Anne. They find two of their co-workers already there, ghost hunting. .It turns out the store has been built where an old prison once stood. The ORSK store is haunted. Needless to say, they have an interesting night.

A few weeks ago, my son, who works at Barnes and Noble, brought home HORRORSTOR. He sees the latest and newest books coming into the store and found it to his liking. The cover caught my eye, but I knew better. I don’t like reading anything creepy or about ghosts. Still I couldn’t resist flipping through its pages. The book is set up like an IKEA style catalog and the store in the book, ORSK, is a carbon copy. Still intrigued, I told myself I could stop reading if I didn’t like it. I liked the fact the book was set in Cleveland. I could picture the store off I-77 and recognized the TV station mentioned in the book.

HORRORSTOR is part satirical and part horror. I think the author equated the prison to working in retail. It would be rated on the lighter scale of the scary spectrum. I enjoyed the book. I’d recommend it for an interesting read. Book in hand would be better than digital. It’s fun to look at the pictures and read the made-up names for the furniture. So I guess I’m tearing apart my genre theory. Try going out of your comfort zone. If you don’t like the book you choose, you can stop reading. But you may keep reading, and find the book stays with you. Not because it scared the crap out of you, but because you can’t stop thinking about what a clever story it was. Isn’t that what all good books do?

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Friday, April 10, 2015

3.5 Stars for 314 (Widowsfield Trilogy) by A.R. Wise


Summary

Alma Harper has been trying to forget what happened in Widowsfield 16 years ago. She has a good life as a music teacher now, and might rekindle her relationship with her one true love. However, the number 314 haunts her, and threatens to bring her back to the day that her brother disappeared. When a reporter shows up, just days before March 14th, Alma realizes that her past is coming back to haunt her. What happened on March 14th, at 3:14, 16 years ago? No one but The Skeleton Man can remember.

Review

314 starts with a unique twist on the theories behind whole populations of people disappearing under mysterious circumstances. My favorite, and maybe partially because I am a North Carolina resident, is Roanoke Colony of North Carolina where pilgrims disappeared leaving only a message reading Croatoan on a tree. The word Croatoan could refer to Native Americans, or maybe some horrific evil embodied in human form, or maybe it was a disease, incurable and dying with the last of the Roanoke Colony. In any case, this was my line of thinking when I first started 314, a mystery only a skeleton man could solve. He was like my Croatoan, so naturally; I’m intrigued.

However, 314 did not fully flesh out its mystery and it ended with a gigantic cliffhanger with way too many loose ends. I needed a little closure. I probably won't go onto book two, even though I genuinely liked the characters. The romantic element between the main characters, Alma and Paul held sweet, believable detail. Paul's stubble worthy beard and slight inner tube around his middle felt nostalgically real. He’s the guy that forgets to make a new pot of coffee in the morning, but you love him anyways. I understood Alma being in love with him. The creepy concept was another plus - a skeleton man who controls kids and whose approach is signaled by chattering teeth and a green fog. Again, he was like my Croatoan.

Dean Koontz did a similar book about a whole town disappearing in his book, Phantoms, but Koontz wrapped his complete theory in one book rather than three, further his characters were cookie-cut, but this didn’t bother me. They worked for this book. Further, Koontz did his research on lost civilizations, and tied up every loose end brought to the pages.

With Wise, I didn't understand a major concept, like how would one incident affect a whole town? Or why would a government like group step in to try and recreate a tragic incident? These were questions that should have been addressed more in book one for me to continue on to book two.

The last time I became this frustrated with a book series was James Dashner’s Maze Runner series, where I read the first two books, and never moved on to the third. With that said, a lot of other folks did move on, and have with 314 as well. It can be found at Amazon with over 500 five star reviews. So, this book may be the book for you, its certainly creepy enough for a horror fan, and the characters are ones you’ll like.

WARNING: This book contains graphic content that may be objectionable to some readers.


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Monday, March 23, 2015

5 Stars for Covert Exposure

Title: Covert Exposure (A Nick Spinelli Mystery Book 1)
Author: Valerie J. Clarizio
Genre: Mystery, Romance Suspense
Reviewed by: Nancy Pennick

Summary:

Detective Spinelli’s life is tossed sideways when he is reassigned from the Homicide division to assist in the Child Services division of the Social Services Department for the holiday season. From the beginning, Spinelli and Caseworker Shannon O’Hara generate their own kind of fireworks, causing more than the normal workplace stress. They both have their own philosophies for dealing with the clientele. However, the forces of nature have their own plan for Spinelli and Shannon.

Shannon moonlights as Santa Claus’ little helper at the mall, and when Santa and an elf turn up dead Shannon appears to be next on the killer’s list. Spinelli is placed back on homicide and goes undercover as Santa to help capture the killer. He catches a great deal of grief along the way but will he capture the heart of his little Santa’s helper as well?

Review:

Due to a well-earned retirement, Nick Spinelli is a homicide detective without a partner. He has his cases wrapped up and his boss sends him upstairs for the holidays, to help out in the social services department. There he meets and falls for Shannon O’Hara, the woman he’s assigned to work with. Still, he’s not too thrilled having to go on cases with a social worker and lets it be known. Shannon also moonlights as a Santa’s helper at the mall. Santa is murdered and Nick joins in with his homicide detectives to solve the case.

Handsome Nick Spinelli falls for the beautiful and sweet Shannon. She’s not like other women who immediately fall for him. I think he sees her as a challenge at first, but the more cases he goes on, he sees her gentle nature and caring attitude. Nick has a past which keeps him rough around the edges. He ends up playing Santa at the mall to help solve a murder, but also to keep an eye on Shannon. During this time, he learns a lot about himself and lets his guard down. Then the criminal investigation picks up putting a few of the characters in danger. The story is a nice mix of romance and crime fiction.

Covert Exposure is a fast, enjoyable read. Ms. Claizio has two follow-up books in the series. It will be interesting to see what Nick and Shannon are up to next.


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Saturday, February 14, 2015

4 Stars for Love Least Expected

Authors: Meredith Bond, Aubrey Wynne, Valerie Twombly, Kris Calvert, Katie Stephens, Nessie Strange, Kishan Paul, Isabella Harper, Michaela Miles.

Genre: Women’s Fiction/Anthology

Reviewed by: Nancy Pennick

When love drops in unexpected, the strangest things can happen. Nine short stories from sweet to sultry, full of romance, magic and love from award winning and USA Today recommended authors

Under The Mango Tree: (Historical Romance) ~ by Meredith Bond

Lakshmi is a good 18th c. Indian girl who should not be hiding among the branches of the mango tree avoiding her chores. She truly should not be seen by a man who is not a member of her family–an Englishman, no less. And she absolutely should not even contemplate speaking with this man. But Lakshmi has never been one to follow the rules.

Rolf’s Quest: (Historical Romance) ~ by Aubrey Wynne
Time is running out for the royal wizard of Henry II. Rolf’s quest: find genuine love and lift the enchantment that has imprisoned his ancestor, Merlin, for centuries. Now he must win Melissa’s heart without the use of magic. She desires him, but will she defy her family and refuse her betrothed? Or will Rolf be doomed to a life of bitterness like his ancestors before him.

Fall Into Darkness: (Paranormal Romance) ~ by Valerie Twombly

Eli, bounty hunter for the Tribunal, is sentenced to earth to find his humanity. But when temptation is thrown in the angel’s path in the form of the soft curvy Ashley, he is unable to resist. Fate may bring them together, but desire could bond them for eternity

Alphabetical Disorder: (Fantasy Romance) ~ by Katie Stephens

When a trick horseback rider gets caught up in a dangerous prophecy that jeopardizes the circus, she believes she can solve the problem by dating alphabetically. Now all she has to do is figure out how to manipulate her flawed interpretation so she can be with the man she loves.

Roses Are Wrong, Violets Taboo: (Southern Romance) ~ by Kris Calvert
When Alexander Chase Tabeau and Rose Westwood meet by chance, neither planned on stumbling into the best night of their life. But timing is everything and fate has a cruel sense of humor. With love on the line and nothing to lose, will one night together change their destiny forever?

Love’s Not Viral: (Contemporary Romance) ~ by Nessie Strange

When a crazed Hollywood star puts Aster Sanderson in the media crosshairs, her home becomes a prison. With her life out of control, the last person she expects to rescue her is her captor’s brother, James. Is their attraction a result of circumstance…or could it be something more?

Taking The Plunge: (Contemporary Romance) ~ by Kishan Paul
When Pete, Eve’s high school crush, shows up in her life, she pepper sprays him. Despite her efforts to push him away, Pete finds himself drawn to the red haired beauty. When logic and emotion don’t agree, which path should she follow?

The Trouble With Never: (Southern Romance) ~ by Isabella Harper

When Summer and Caleb run into each other after a long absence, sparks fly. Her painful past makes it hard for her to open up, but he’s more than willing to help. He’s loved her most of their lives. Can she learn to love and trust him, or will her fears push him away?

Keep Calm And Eat Chocolate: (Contemporary Romance) ~ by Michaela Miles

When institution residents Elle and Chris meet, their personalities clash. During a quiet moment in the garden together, secrets are shared and a bond is formed. Will their connection be their downfall or lead to the fresh start they deserve?

My review:

Love Least Expected is a collection of love stories by nine different authors. It’s a great read for Valentine’s, but I recommend it for any time of the year. The other great thing is it’s just 99¢ on Amazon! The stories range from historical to paranormal. There’s something for every reader. I rate the stories from 3 to 5 stars, so I gave it an average rating of 4.

Reviewing the book as a whole, I found each story to compliment the title. The main characters weren’t looking for love. It happened organically while following other paths in their lives. Some stories had a touch of magic, others a realistic theme. I enjoyed reading about the fallen angel searching for his humanity and how the wizard, Merlin, ended up as part of a tree after trying to force love. His only hope was for his ancestors to save him by finding true love.

Some of the stories are excerpts to longer novels, so expect a few to be cliffhangers. Those that were, I wanted to know more. The short stories all end in a satisfying conclusion. There’s a nice mix in this anthology. This is a great read for those who don’t have the time to invest in a novel. Read at will, chose your own story. What’s not to like?


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Saturday, January 24, 2015

4 Stars for Candice Fox's Hades

Summary:
Hades is the debut of a stunning new talent in crime fiction. Hades Archer surrounds himself with the things others leave behind. Their trash becomes the twisted sculptures that line his junkyard. The bodies they want disposed of become his problem - for a fee.Then one night a man arrives on his doorstep, clutching a small bundle that he wants 'lost'. And Hades makes a decision that will change everything...Twenty years later, homicide detective Frank Bennett feels like the luckiest man on the force when he meets his new partner, the dark and beautiful Eden Archer. But there's something strange about Eden and her brother, Eric. Something he can't quite put his finger on.At first, as they race to catch a very different kind of serial killer, his partner's sharp instincts come in handy. But soon Frank's wondering if she's as dangerous as the man they hunt.

Review: 
Candice Fox’s Hades is an interesting twist in Crime Fiction, one that turns good cop to bad leaving the reader surprisingly sympathetic to evil. It reminds me of Jeff Lindsay’s Darkly Dreaming Dexter. The Dexter book hooked me in the first paragraph, first because of the genius way the serial killer Dexter is first implanted in the reader’s mind, second the writing is fantastic.
         “And the Need was very strong now, careful cold coiled creeping crackly cocked and ready…it made me wait and watch.
I had been waiting for the priest for five weeks now.”
The use of alliteration is better than Peter Piper, no pause in the need – to kill. Right away, you know Dexter will kill himself a priest. But, why? And better, why does he have this need? For anyone whose watched Dexter, you’ll know there’s a great reason for that.
Now, back to Fox’s Hades, she proposed that same kind of mystery in her story; however, I don’t think it was as fleshed out as it could have been. The reason was there, and it was good, but not great as in the Dexter book. There the reason exploded in all its gory detail, and in it Dexter was our hero, odd but true. I didn’t come out of Hades finding a hero, just a lot of lost souls. I'm a girl that likes a hero, someone to root for.
         First, the character of Hades felt like a deep, dark shadow with no real face, and I thought he had the most potential to be interesting. Fox’s set-up of him was interesting, but I would have liked to see more into what made him tick, not just a glimpse of his childhood but a deep probing. I never really understood his need to help young Eden and Eric other than he didn’t kill innocents. Eric came across as just a stereotypical bully, sadistically psycho, sure, but nothing too mind blowing. Eden was interesting, but like Hades I wish I could have seen more, maybe even before of who she was before meeting Hades. Overall, the three of these characters competed with a fourth character, Frank. Frank was the primary perspective the story was told in. Frank was a typical cop with a history of being unreliable and selfish. His character made an unusual turn towards heroic at one point, where I started to like him a little, then he did something at the very end of the story that simply said there was no changing this guy. He was always going to pursue his own interest which meant chasing down Eric and Eden’s secrets rather than protect those that needed protecting. Frank started selfish and ended that way for me.  I wish someone else had told me the story, maybe Hades.
         In the end, I will say the double plot worked. The serial killer Frank chased never felt like it was competing with his need to find out more about Eden and Eric. The ending was predictable, but for a good vengeance story, and serial killer story this is what I expected. Hades was a fast read, with a neat ‘Desterish’ premise that I would recommend. It’s worth your time if your into a good crime story, with a serial killer, and some messed-up cops looking for vengeance, Hades is your cup of Joe, dark roast no vanilla, thata be your hero.

Hades can be purchased at Amazon.com

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

5 Stars for Shady Cross by James Hankins, a crime thriller


Summary
In one hand, small-time crook Stokes holds a backpack stuffed with someone else’s money—three hundred and fifty thousand dollars of it.
In the other hand, Stokes has a cell phone, which he found with the money. On the line, a little girl he doesn’t know asks, “Daddy? Are you coming to get me? They say if you give them money they’ll let you take me home.”
From bestselling author James Hankins comes a wrenching story of an unscrupulous man torn between his survival instincts and the plight of a true innocent. Faced with the choice, Stokes discovers his conscience might not be as corroded as he thought.

Review

This is the third book I’ve read by James Hankins and it is the best one. Obviously, this writer gets better the more he writes. I prefer a book that’s character driven, and Shady Cross is entirely dictated by the actions of the main character, Stokes, a guy down on his luck and a complete loser. Stokes is a guy you don’t expect to be heroic saving a little girl from some ruthless kidnappers willing to do anything to get their money - even hurting the girl in bits and pieces.

Shady Cross is a terrific example of how a great story can be developed from well-done characterization. Stoke’s character peeled away like an onion, revealing him first as the loser he’d become, then the motives that made him that way, and finally the choices he was trying to make to change. Every other character in the book developed through their relationship to Stokes, highlighting his actions past and present.

The biggest characteristic I liked about Stokes was deciding quickly to save/or not save the girl. Don’t get me wrong, the inner struggle to do the complete opposite was a constant conflict. In Techniques of the Selling Writer, quick decision making by the main character is a must…

“The issue is the moment of commitment. True suspense only comes when you establish the story question. And the story question moves into focus only when your character, desiring, looks danger full in the face and then takes up the challenge that the situation offers. Implicitly or explicitly, he must say, ‘I’ll fight’, before your story can begin.”

Shady Cross began right away and kept up an intriguing fast pace all the way till the end. I read it in three days. This book is loaded with suspense, conflict, and tension. Suspense on whether or not the girl would be saved kept me reading, the constant conflict inner and outer with Stokes kept me reading, and finally the tension beneath the suspense layer kept me turning pages.  The final ending felt perfect to the events leading up to it. Although, the ending is not necessarily the happiest – it works splendidly. A bold move from Mr. Hankins. I highly recommend Shady Cross to mature readers looking for a good fast pace thriller with an unlikely hero.

Shady Cross comes out February 24th, but can be pre-ordered through 

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