Reviews (Rave Reviews Book Club)

ALL LISTINGS BY TITLE IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER
(for all 4.5 and 5 stars reviews see main review page)

The Rave Reviews Book Club has grown quickly since it began in late 2013 and, at the time of writing, is nearing a membership of 600. The Club is a magnet for the independent author and/or publisher, as the main thrust of its ethos is to buy, read and review the books that may not be published through the traditional routes of literary agencies, consultancies and big publishing houses; and why I was drawn to it, both personally and for DreamWorlds Publishing and our writers’ collective, because it’s yet another way of pooling reviews – the giving and receiving of them – on the largest online marketing hubs in the far reaches of cyberspace…

The following reviews have all been written for books and authors who are (or were at the time) members of the RRBC community –

Abigail Phelps (Bk 1: I’ve Loved These Days) by Bethany Turner
4 stars

Bethany Turner’s eponymous heroine at last delivers to us a female rival for Forrest Gump, Walter Mitty and/or, depending on your perspective, Billy Liar. As the introduction is at pains to emphasise that this is fiction, for me, this became something of a mantra as I romped quite happily through the book, because in moments of reflection, I often found myself wondering about that Billy Liar viewpoint that might be justly held by Jayne Torvill (Chris Dean’s real life ice dance partner), Meryl Streep and Meg Ryan to name but three ladies who weren’t given any shrift at all as Abigail blithely took on their respective mantles on the ice, in Africa and in Seattle, or all over with Harry… Isabelle Duchesnay and Darryl Hannah are at least accorded their rightful places in the storylines of Christopher Dean and JFK Jnr, although the former definitely became the main antagonist, along with the late Sen. Edward Kennedy.
So, yeah – this gets 4 stars and not 5 because, although this book is very well-written and researched, especially in relation to the underlying delusional status of Abigail’s modern-day celebrity-obsessed version of a whopping quasi-Napoleonic complex, it bothered me a lot that despite the disclaimer, this story can arguably be said to straddle extreme fan fiction and what amounts to ‘appropriation’ stopping just shy of defamation, as it deals with a fictional and obviously disturbed, though high-functioning, psychiatric patient. Don’t get me wrong – this book is entertaining and good reading even where the pace drops a little, or there are moments of exasperation where the fan girl kleptomania gets a little too acquisitively gung-ho as the checklist of showbiz ‘triumphs’ rack up.
Certainly Turner is not the first writer to echo real famous lives and events in their fiction, but tying this in with the mental illness element so convincingly somehow struck a dissonant chord for me, along with the faint ‘dissing’ aspect of all the real life ladies who’ve been written out of existence, even if it’s fully justified in terms of the principal character’s distorted motivation?
Definitely a personal taste thing I guess, so the missing star is sacrificed for my guilty pleasure in finding it all a good piece of fantasy grounded a little too well in reality in terms of sensibilities.

Allergic to Life: My Battle for Survival, Courage and Hope by Kathryn Chastain Treat
4 stars
I briefly ‘met’ Kathryn Chastain Treat online a few weeks before she sadly passed on, shortly before Christmas 2014. I knew of, but had not looked at her book before this and, because I had come to know her as a very kind and supportive lady who loved and valued her friends and online community (The Rave Reviews Book Club), I finally got Allergic to Life to honour her memory and as a personal ‘thank you’ for her giving my own writing career a helping hand in those final weeks of her life. Knowing something of the trials of suffering from allergies and a whole lot more about depression, especially when related to the workplace, in some ways I had been reluctant to read the book, because I sort of knew what to expect…
I would have loved to give Kathryn a 5 star review but, mostly because this is irredeemably a medical memoir first and foremost, it’s a 4 star, but a well-deserved one. It’s a hard book to read, but I knew it would be and really I’m very glad she wrote it because it certainly got across how isolating and debilitating an allergy-related condition can be, especially when you end up, as Kathryn did, reacting adversely to nearly everything we come into contact with in modern daily life. She kept a diary and that comes across very clearly and depressingly, as she relates going from doctor to doctor for assessments for her workers compensation and litigation suit against her former employers, when they blithely discount, or just plain ignore clinical evidence from her own medical advisors, or, even worse, totally misunderstand her conditions and need to have a ‘safe’ environment for examinations. It’s this litany of ignorance and prejudice, amounting to malpractice in some instances, that is the ‘drag factor’ for getting truly immersed in Kathryn’s ordeal in getting recognition and restitution for the terrible position her illnesses placed her in. The diary approach to the writing is only useful so far, because you don’t always get the emotional pull, except when Kathryn does dwell more on her own personal reactions, and in her poetry that underscores her deep depression and desperation to find some relief, as her life is peeled away from her and she becomes more and more isolated from everyone, even to some extent her daughters. Luckily her husband was and remained a tower of strength to the end, although it must have been difficult for both him and Kathryn at times as money became tight and the reaction began to keep them apart.
Those personal little vignettes that delve into her mental and emotional suffering aren’t there enough at times to help lift the dispassionate narration that come across more strongly and frequently, so this a book that matters very much, but rarely shines, for good reason of course, but it kept me from ‘loving’ this book.
What does get through however is Kathryn’s courage and determination to survive, even when she’s almost out of hope, which in itself is inspirational, as is her ability to think of others even when she’s almost at the end of her strength. It’s this quality that has earned the affection and respect of fellow sufferers and writers the length and breadth of the US and beyond, so in the end this book is an important one and deserves to be persevered with, because there are lessons for everyone in it, even if you’ve never had a day’s illness in your life. A book to be proud of certainly and like I said earlier, I’m so glad that Kathryn was able to write it because it has already, and will continue to, help a lot of people.

Alora: The Wander Jewel (Bk 1 of the Alora Series) by Tamie Dearen
4 stars
I was hovering between 3 and 4 stars here and came down on the high side because I know I’m sometimes a little intolerant of YA titles involving older teens – this book did keep my attention for mostly the right reasons, so deserves the better score.
Fantasy IS my preferred genre however and, by and large, Alora hits the buttons pretty much square on for a cracking, well-paced read about people with extraordinary ‘gifts’ fighting a terrifying enemy who happens to be closely related to the eponymous heroine. This contention works well with the antagonist growing in perfidy and malice right up to the end of what is the first episode of this mystic world series.
Which is where I hit another caveat, because connecting worlds – in this case Montana, and an Otherworld realm don’t always work too well and there are some jarring notes cropping up, especially culturally and with language (where the Otherworlders can speak reasonably good English), and seem to grasp anomalies of the technological kinds very quickly and skillfully. I can’t help feeling that some opportunities for humour or misunderstandings to occur were missed or glossed over. The US parent figures too, seem incredibly eager to accept their children’s off-world adventures after initial (and fully understandable) scepticism, although Alora’s guardian does know that she’s got exceptional gifts and that her mother definitely wasn’t a US citizen.
However, such points don’t get in the way of the storyline, following Alora and her soulmate Kaevin through increasingly hazardous adventures as they explore the challenges of their own relationship (which compromises their physical health and potentially their lives if they’re separated) and Alora’s growing mastery of her gifts as the bearer of a very powerful wander-jewel, which takes them into even greater perils as they clash with Vindrake, Alora’s murderous father. He has great powers himself and at first seeks to reconcile with his long lost daughter only to find that she becomes doubly lost to him as she rejects his violence and evil ways and joins Kaevin’s people, the Stone Clan, in opposing Vindrake’s aggressive bid for overlordship of Kaevin’s homeland.
This is a book that would most definitely appeal to YA’s still at school, but may not be ‘edgy’ enough for older readers, as other reviewers have noted, with the tendency for the younger characters to start pairing up creeping in a little too easily. It’s certainly got a lot of thrills and spills to keep us interested and rooting for the attractive and likeable young heroes and was an enjoyable, if not totally original story for this ‘grumpy old lady’ reader.

Ambient Light (Bk 1: Angel McKenzie Mysteries) by Lorraine Adair
4 stars
Not a huge fan of thrillers but this debut novel with matching hero, photographer Angel McKenzie, was a real tonic to read. Lorraine Adair skips lightly over potential clichéd banana-skins to render her titian-haired lead in bold, realistic strokes highlighting the vulnerability beneath the workaholic professional woman and her tangled relationships with her mum, assistant Dave and spiky, but totally magnetic cop, Jason Dalton.
I also liked the slowly revealed menace of the antagonist as his twisted past piles on the substance on what could so easily be a less substantial two dimensional form and all without getting hysterically over-creative with painting in the dark psychological shadows.
Very glad to know that there’s more to come from these vivid and engaging characters in a forthcoming sequel.

Annwyn’s Blood (The Paladin of Shadow Chronicles) by Michael Eging and Steve Arnold
4 stars
In it’s mingling of Celtic myth and legend (for King Arthur does not sit well in the Otherworld of Annwyn) and a strong historical flavour of Christendom when its influences were splitting between Rome and Byzantium, this is a powerful story with a dark strong undertow that should appeal to GRR Martin nuts, as well classic mythological fantasy fans.
However, in some places I was reminded a little of the Deryni series (by Katherine Kurtz), not in it’s family-friendly, barely there fear and violence settings but, for my money, it did get a bit too ‘preachy’ in tone at times, although the clergy don’t fare too well (notably 2 young monks and a novice nun) when they’re trying hard to foil catastrophic abominations from the Otherworld being perpetrated.
Certainly this isn’t anywhere near a YA novel, as it deals authentically with adult themes very effectively and with considerable resonance and, in the main, keeps a sensible hold on the reality checks (yes, it’s fantasy I know but there are boundaries!) and there’s some unique and very compelling characterisation and plotting so no hesitation in giving this a good 4 star recommendation for all lovers of meaty, plausible fantasy.

Another Sunset by Jason Zandri
4 stars
If Michael Landon had been born 30 years later then he’d have been a shoo in for the role of hero, David Stephenson in the movie version of Another Sunset. This review is going on US Amazon too, where it’s had rather more attention and is the main reason why I’m posting here in UK land first, as this is one of those books that I think speaks for its time and deserves a wide reading for daring to write about people being kind to others, and helping them out if they can.

It’s the objective cynic in me that prevents my giving this a gushing 5 stars because, whilst I enjoyed this moving, inspirational story on the strength of human love and spirit it’s not perfect, and, though the writing is powerful and sincere, it sometimes grated a little when the main characters began to get a little too saintly and ‘Mary Sue’ (or rather Gary Stu I suppose) for my own tastes. To be constructively critical about the mechanics of the writing style, my only serious mark down is that there’s a tendency to repeat words and phrases to bang home a point too long that got me a little irritated and feeling like I was in Sunday School, especially when it was in the middle of something dramatic or intriguing and I wanted to know what happened next, because I already got the why and the how of the situation.

Other than that I really liked the pace and backbeat to the storyline and how the characters did mostly feel and act like real people, even if they were very well-behaved ones for the most part. In a market that’s saturated with gritty, salacious plots and fly, wise-cracking anti-heroes it was really quite charming and relaxing to read something ‘quiet’ and humane and still be drawn along by the enigmatic and deeply wounded main lead characters (David and Maria), offset by the wonderfully fresh (and really not precocious at all in its usual sense) aspirations of nearly 9 year old Caroline. So, yes. A great 4 star read and suitable for general reading, even for young YA audiences, with its ‘life can be tough, but people can be wonderful’ ethos. And why a younger Michael Landon could star in a modern day ‘Little House on the Prairie’ style tale.

Beneath African Skies by Gillie Bowen
4 stars
As we find out at the beginning of the book, this is based on family records, journals and anecdotes of a white English family, the Hudsons, who leave their home for South Africa as settlers in the early 1800’s. Theirs is a story of hardship and blind faith in finding a farm in the hostile bushlands of the interior, where there are other unseen and lethal dangers besides predatory wildlife and wary tribesmen. But eventually they prosper and farm fruit on more fertile lands in Zesfountein, as British colonial interests flourish. The story then moves on a few generations to the 1920s and follows the story of George and Molly Hudson as young children, through to the end of World War II.
While this is no gritty, full on Wilbur Smith pager-turner,Gillie Bowen (daughter of Molly Hudson) has nonetheless captured the lives and situations of moderately well–off white colonial communities in South Africa and later in Kenya between the wars. George and Molly’s mother was from a Belgian family so there’s a balance of two of most widespread colonial influences on the continent and, understandably, while the prose is redolent with the zeitgeist of that era it also does not touch deeply on the other, murkier side of the coin for the lives of the tribal peoples of those regions. Where it does throw light on indigenous Africa, the accent rings true from a European viewpoint, with victims of tribal in-fighting and fatal castration of one the Hudson servants and the casual, insidious prejudices from both sides of the racial divide, when the besotted young teenage son of the local chief does a fertility dance for an even younger and innocently bedazzled Molly during a firelit festival.
I’m not sure whether there’s to be a sequel (I think there may be as the book comes to a fairly abrupt end after VE day in England at the beginning of Molly’s second pregnancy), but perhaps this feeling of only getting part of the story will be redressed more if Bowen moves on to more contentious times, with the painful course into independence through the Mau-Mau rebellion in Kenya and the start of apartheid in South Africa begins to grip hard. As it stands this is a real, solid, story told from a firm perspective and from individual viewpoints, so it’s an authentic presentation of life amongst the incomers and how their ancestors’ heritage still pulls them away from what had become their true homeland. I thoroughly recommend it as a snapshot of an era and lifestyle for the insulated colonists that has been forever cocooned in time.

Best Foot Forward (The Best Girls Series: Bk 4) by Tamie Dearen
4 stars
Although this is Book 4 in the Best Girls series there’s no need to have read books 1-3 as this story stands on it’s own whilst sharing all the verve and fun elements of Tamie Dearen’s light as air touch for rom-coms. This time it’s Doctors and Teachers in the frame for a comedy of manners and errors with tons of wires getting crossed, frustrated and generally confused before lead characters Miss Grace (good friend of Emily Best) and Dr Brad finally get themselves out of a tangle and into each others trembling arms.
I doubt that chastity before marriage has ever been such saucy fun until Ms Dearen put her own inimitable spin on the good clean romance genre. The line between smut and puritanism has rarely been tweaked so enchantingly, with just the right amount of yearning and heat applied in all the right places that makes the Best Girls books suitable for young-hearted romantics of any age. Go get yourself a contemporary helping of Doris Day in lurve – you won’t be disappointed!

Beyond Vica by T.C. Booth
4 stars
Yes – I cried buckets! So, a very therapeutic read that veers away from the usual self-obsessed angst of YA reading fodder, as the main character at least knows her best friend, Sam is much worse off than she is, which, in itself, was enough to get me over my general aversion to novellas. Having said that this is one of the shortest novellas I’ve read and enjoyed which in itself is high recommendation. 4 stars, earned well enough but, despite it being an uber-tearjerker, I found the plotline strangely remote at times. Perhaps because of the strong physical response, my actual emotions didn’t get as strong a workout as I’d thought. Which is weird of course, but also disappointing, mainly I believe, because those responses were almost hard-wired to be so sweeping. All the right notes are hit anyway and the writing’s engaging and compassionate, even if I ended up feeling like all my buttons had been pressed too knowingly.

Connor by Dormaine G
3.5 stars
This is a high 3 star rating (don’t you wish they’d at least let you put in a half star mark as well sometimes!) for a good paranormal YA romp with wise-cracking, head-banging Connor, who discovers she has superpowers and, more disturbingly, that she isn’t who she thinks she is, or rather her family maybe aren’t hers?
This is a pacey, punchy story with plenty of action, laced through with teen wit and awkwardness that rings true for any fifteen year old (or is she?) girl growing up fast and furious who finds out that when she sometimes feels as though she’s disappeared off everyone’s radar she literally HAS! Luckily she’s not the only one and soon fellow invisible schoolmate Tony introduces her to several other teens who also have more extraordinary gifts which at least prepares Connor for finding a few more of her own.
The writing is action-packed and witty, which mostly makes up for some stylistic glitches and continuity gaffes that can jar at times but are easily forgiven as the characterisation is always believable and engaging to match the speed of the main storyline . YA is not my favourite genre, but this got my thumbs up because I love homo superior storylines and possibly alien conspiracies in store… I’ve no doubt Connor is going to be back again for at least one more outing, as her future rolls out and her past unravels some more.

Crazy, Hot and Living on the Edge by Shirley Harris-Slaughter
4 stars
I’m not much of a non-fiction person and my attention for books of the ‘self-help’ variety is patchy to say the best… but this is a book that really IS a must for women ‘of a certain age’ and certainly ones who’ve had relationship issues in their lives.
Although you might be expecting something a ‘leeeetle’ more racy from the title it certainly doesn’t pull it’s punches or mince words on what it’s like to become a victim of your own hormones and a dodgy love life that wreaks it’s vengeance on your health, mental or otherwise.
Definitely not a medical self-help tome, as Ms. Harris-Slaughter immediately lets us know she’s no doctor, the writing gives us the perspective of someone who just listens to her own body and is prepared to do her homework when doctors aren’t always on the same wavelength. In fact it’s more about ‘how I helped myself get through’ with a nod to how you might do the same with your own unique set of ailments and bedevilments that living your life entails. Certainly a lot of good, common horse sense on how to meet your troubles head on and deal with them in a way that suits YOU, even when that means you have to look to alternative medicine or philosophy for a way through.
Highly recommended as a warm, friendly and often funny companion into growing old with grace, gumption and a positive outlook, even if you need to get Crazy, Hot and right out on that Edge along the way.

Daydream’s Daughter, Nightmare’s Friend by Nonnie Jules
4 stars
When you’re reviewing an independently published book that has attracted this many good reviews (on Amazon.com) it’s inevitable that you have to have a look at some of them. And I did. I also looked at the ‘worst’ one since it’s also billed as the most helpful critical review – and that’s exactly what it is, despite some of the testy comments it’s attracted. Said review has been downgraded from 3 stars to 1 now, which is probably too harsh an overall assessment given the difficulty of the subject matter, but the comments stand as objective and just.
Although I’m going with the middle route and giving this a 4 star rating, the reasons why I’m not giving Daydream’s Daughter 5 stars are much the same as Ms. Foley’s. For this I’ve taken into account the difficulty of the subject in itself, because writing about this level of physical and emotional abuse and its effects is very hard to handle, even if you’re writing from experience or a position of knowledge on the subject matter.
The ‘shock’ value of the content means that readers will inevitably have strong reactions towards the central character and the antagonists alike, so comments like ‘gripping’, ‘compelling’ and ‘heart-breaking’ are not surprising even when the characterisation is patchy or skims the surface of the scene without providing much depth to the underlying motivation, or adding to the context of humiliation or pain. There’s only so many ways to say ‘Maiya was raped’ in physical terms without going into overly graphic detail. What you can do and which, in most instances did not happen throughout the story, is to describe reactions, sensations and repercussions in a personal, invested way. So yes, I also thought that most of the characters, even Daydream, despite her foul temper and mouth, were mostly two dimensional. This nearly happened with Maiya/Marisa too: the constant litany of how sad and down-trodden she is at times blurred focus and lost resonance with this reader, but there are moments when we see the awful price she’s paid in her high school rebellion, teenage promiscuity, in the harrowing prison assault and when she almost casually jeopardises her ‘perfect’ capsule family with a seemingly idle sexual encounter. These are all very real and heart-rending consequences of years of systematic abuse that result in self-destructive and degrading behaviour, but the full emotional tone of those notable instances and indeed all the substantive background never really hit home too much.
If the book was a TV programme it would be at best a docu-drama, as the writing never seems to explore the range of thought and feelings that could be evoked for all the characters, good or bad beyond the obvious ones of anger, revulsion, sorrow and fear. It’s like reading a news report at times, with all the facts laid out but none of the real ‘heart’ or heat apparent. This is a terribly important subject to be presented as fiction and so in some respects, although Ms. Jules has given a full and authentic exposition of real-life domestic horror, there’s too much hand wringing and sobbing and not enough fury or blind fear and pain to portray the warped passion and travesty that victim, perpetrator and their loved ones go through when these crimes are laid bare for all to see. It’s too much theory and not enough screaming, or glimpses of the demons for Maiya, or Lee, or Daydream. In fact that’s what the narrative felt like mostly – a rather disturbing daydream, rather than a full on sweaty sheets, gibbering nightmare.
I did like the book – honestly, and I applaud its undertaking because I have had experience of the aftermath of real life cases in my work in the courts as a para-legal, so I know that these things can and do happen this way. I just wish I hadn’t felt the characters were so remote and muted most of the time, when the context could have been orchestrated so much more viscerally so we could immerse more fully in a nightmare that nobody should be ignorant of.

The Deadliners by Rachel Medhurst
3.5 stars
I wanted to like this book more because there are some really good ideas and characters that fizz and are believable – poignantly so in the case of poor mum, Milly, but in the end I’ve decided to say this is a three star work because some of the concepts didn’t work out too well. It’s a high three stars though, at least 3.5 which I’d have happily pushed for a four rating if only the author could have been braver about resisting the urge to put sex into the afterlife arena… Not that sex isn’t great to write about (and read too) but somehow it doesn’t seem to have much of a place justified for a spirit land that supposedly has volunteer souls signing up before their earthly birth to take on the after-death task of escorting the newly dead into whatever paradise awaits them.
I did like that there was very little that was judgmental, or even philosophical, let alone evangelical in the storyline, or indeed with the main deadliner characters who were flawed but mostly empathic with their assigned charges, up to the point where things start to go badly wrong with team boss, Danny and his struggle to accept his wife’s passage into the next life. The way the back stories unfold, there is explanation or motivation for most of the unfolding malice, self-absorption, hubris and plain revolting behaviour that goes on, but what I really didn’t see the point of was the introduction of a physical extension of the love affair between Anna and Charlie that leads to jealousy and revenge baiting amongst the younger, hitherto unattached deadliners when the genie’s out of the bottle and they realise there’s nothing to stop them having a sex life. even though they’re supposedly there to help their earthly soul assignments to attain their proper karma and reach the afterlife successfully. Like they all presumably have this vocation to serve as guides, but suddenly some of them start to want a swinging sex life as well, when they’re off duty? I just felt it wasn’t really justified and, except for one scene when the darkness really sets in, really wasn’t warranted, not even for saintly Anna on the eve of her ‘retirement’ to join her loved ones in the source after successfully completing her own karmic journey. Maybe it was there because of the YA factor – for me it being there at all felt slightly cynical and out of place anyway. That’s what spoiled it for me for a 4 or even a 5 rating, along with some grammar glitches which were just frequent enough to be irksome.
On the positive side, I loved Milly and her family and how that whole storyline progressed as her young daughter grew frailer and Milly’s husband more desperate to ease her agony. That was beautifully framed and revealed with gentle dignity as Milly was tormented by the tragedy and tried to postpone the inevitable for as long as possible before finally having to crumble into letting go as she realised the price she was making her dearest loves pay. The other ‘passing over’ vignettes had a lighter touch that sometimes lacked depth, but for the most part succeeded. Other intriguing concepts like negative souls and their fate were set up but not fully realised and I would have liked to see them explored more than they were, but I see that there’s at least one sequel to come so hopefully we’ll see more of this in the next edition. And yes, I’d very much like to read more about the Deadliner community and their Elders and I did enjoy reading this quirky and thoughtful book that really didn’t need the sex scenes at all – in my opinion.

Destiny (Absent Shadows Trilogy Bk1) by S.M. Spencer
4 stars
I’ll say upfront that YA isn’t my favourite form in any genre, which is why this creeps over the 4 star mark for me if I purposefully disregard that bias. Having said that, for a YA novel this is a sophisticated and cerebral read that is subtly paced and fairly light on the late teen angsty elements, especially if you’re fond of the non-gorier approach to vampire characterisation. It’s also suitable for the more naive YA market, without pulling too many punches for more robust readers.
Ms. Spencer’s storyline is dealt with in other reviews, so let’s just concentrate on the reading experience. There’s no doubt this is a well written novel, but at times began to totter into Mary Sue and Gary Stu territory for the two lead protagonists, in that they lost their edge somewhat to maintain their divers tragic backgrounds. OK – so I got a bit irritated with that at times, but I’m a Spike rather than an Angel fan to apply the Buffy test, so to some extent ‘I would say that, wouldn’t I?’ This really was my only crib over the plotline, which was mostly intriguing and left field in some respects, especially with the vampire evolution side of things. I also liked the historical references and sense of place for Melbourne, which added a lot of tone and interest in the ‘believability’ stakes, and left me feeling that I’d like to go on with the next volume in the trilogy. Four stars well earned and showing a lot of class, which I suspect owes much to Spencer’s own literary influences.

 

Heaven’s Waiting Room by Clare Wilson
4 stars
There’s nothing so gratifying as having your opinion validated so if, like me, you often think that hell is other people in the here and now then this book won’t change your life. However it might bring some welcome food for thought about what’s in store after life’s extinct to know that, for most of us, Heaven’s on hold and you get to stick around this mortal coil (unless you’re a child or a VIP) and hang with your family, or in this age of dysfunctionality, with other like-minded souls. Nothing much is said about the other place, but there are malignant souls cropping up and it’s a nice idea to have exorcism as a valid alternative for banishing, even if the priest performing it gets more than he bargained with a one way ticket to the pearly gates as one of the few ‘important’ souls who do get to join the heavenly host.
For heroine Portia there’s no such luck, but luckily for her some of the good guy stick-around souls track her down and help her acclimatise to the afterlife and make new friends who show her the ropes to manifesting and how to travel to places she holds dear. There’s even a soulmate for her in the irritatingly attractive shape of David. This gets 4 stars from me only because 5 means it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read (whether or not it has flaws) and, whilst there’s much to admire with the great writing and imaginative conceptualising it stays at 4 because I didn’t feel the passion flowing too much, probably because Portia’s diffident and drifting character traits were something of an anchor, however well expressed. I wish we could use a decimal rating system because this would definitely be worth a 4.5 rating and I’d certainly happily read other titles by this writer in the future – so I will!
Really good read for paranormal fans who don’t need blood and full tilt horror the whole time and also fine for a more sensitive YA readership.

Her Best Match (The Best Girls Series: Bk 1) by Tamie Dearen
4 stars
Trying to keep a rein on my usual reading preferences which don’t generally go for rom–coms, but there’s so much to enjoy in this bright and breezy offering that it’s not really a chore to just sit back and enjoy the ride. I DO enjoy rom-com movies very much however, and so this is a very fulsome compliment to Ms. Dearen’s writing style to say that I’d no trouble visualising all the characters and scenarios and was rooting for the principal couple Ann and Steven from the moment they met, even if there’s nothing too original going on with the office romance front.
The energy and dynamics of the main characters are the charm that lifts this into the high 4 star firmament as Ann and her daughters’ ‘joi de vivre’ sweep all before them where the Texas gals take The Big Apple in their exuberant stride that can’t fail to appeal to even the most jaded of cosmo-urbanite palate for whom big city lights have long lost their appeal. In fact I was left quite breathless at times at all the gym, fine and deli dining, sightseeing and showtime activity sandwiched around high flying office antics. Anyway – a thoroughly sparkling and attractive book that leaves plenty of room for yet more romantic fun in store as the first of this Best Girls series concludes. Oh — and the zingy physical attraction bits manage to gambol gleefully without once getting too sleazy or too prissy – quite a feat to pull off for ‘authenticity’ addicts! Highly recommended feel good read, whether or not you’re a romance fan.

His Revenge by John W. Howell
4 stars
High four stars from me on this one, reason for not making 5 stars simply being that I’m not a huge thriller fan and the pace got a tad too frenetic and incredible for me at times.
As this is the first review going on the Amazon UK site I’ll give some (hopefully) spoiler-free background as this is the second instalment in the John Cannon series and starts where the first book, My GRL, left off. Our hero, John is on a 6 month sabbatical from his law practice and looking for a change in direction, buys a boat, My GRL, with a view to captaining charter trips in her. Lots of murder and mayhem ensue when John and his boat get caught up in a terrorist conspiracy to blow up Annapolis Midshipmen. John is kidnapped by the terrorists and discovers that he’s gained the enmity of their billionaire leader, Matt Jacobs during one of his old court cases. This enmity of course intensifies when, at the end of My GRL, John thwarts plans to use his boat as a floating bomb, managing to divert it well away from its target to do any harm, although it’s still blown to smithereens.

His Revenge takes up the tale as John wakes up in hospital several days later, to discover he’s temporarily lost his sight but is being discharged into the care of Ned Tranes, his cop friend, who also happens to be an ex-Navy SEAL and de-commissioned FBI operative who’s just been put back on active service because John about to be honoured for his valour in stopping the terrorist attack by the President. Gung-ho for revenge the evil Jacobs is still hot on John’s case, and it’s not long before John is in severe peril once more and caught up in another fiendish plot involving a military hospital being held hostage in another bomb plot designed to force John and a couple of other hapless captives into derailing the US economy and defaming the government and military. Lots of twists and turns, sex and mind games ensue and plenty of chases of one type or another. To say this is an action-packed adventure is putting it mildly – if you’re a thriller fan, then this is the book for you!

I, Hero: The Beginning  by Jason Zandri
4 stars
Jason Zandri comes at the ironically cliched, eccentric milieu of comic book heroes from a fresh perspective, where the emphasis is perhaps a little too self-absorbed and politically correct. For those latter reasons, which introduce a rare cerebral, almost too adult, concept to the superhero genre this just makes it to 4 stars for me, because this doesn’t deliver the dynamic highs and crashing lows you’d normally expect – the glimmer of which, with it’s shades of grey, are heralded on the book cover.
OK – emotive negatives dealt with. New hero Nathan’s ‘grown-up’, responsible approach to superheroing is a subtle, and probably an exciting direction to take, even at the expense of the usual pizz-zazz and breathtaking derring-do that the Batmans and Spideys do so well, so it’s interesting to follow someone expanding from a less ordinary life into a global champion with an evolved conscience. Herein lie the dangers of Gary Stew-dom as other reviewers have noted, but I think that this first episode just misses that pitfall because of the Greek Myth connection (with perhaps an extra-terrestrial spin) and the Cici character aspect which give the clue to how Nathan’s future path will develop. Although overall the pace was too deliberate and methodical in some respects, I did like the flashes of originality very much, particularly with Nathan’s two potential love interests and the fickleness of his newly-endowed powers that mean he’s not always invulnerable, which of course makes him more truly heroic, if not as flashy, as an archetypal pants-on-the-outside Heracles…
Halfway through (and getting a little annoyed with the plodding period of acceptance of our boy’s new mantle of destiny) I wasn’t expecting to be looking forward to a sequel – but that changed with the climactic stunt for the finale and, again, the thwarting of any cosy Lois Lane style progression with Nathan’s feisty Puerto Rican cop girlfriend. So – looking forward to Book Two now (which DOES have some colour creeping into the cover art – is this an omen?) and what the gods have in store for Nathan next!


I Kissed a Ghost
by Robin Leigh Morgan

4 stars
Although this might be classed by some as YA fiction, even with with the paranormal elements there’s very little to make most of today’s savvy teens get too scared as the kissing in this is very innocent indeed and the writing unfailingly mild.
I’m writing this review for the UK market as there are no other reviews over here as yet and because, although this is set in the US, the late Victorian-Edwardian tone of the time travelling done by Mary Elizabeth and her friendly ghost George, is evocative and charms with its old world values.
The 4 star rating is in spite of some very sloppy copy editing with lots of faulty grammar, repetitive sentences and patchy continuity, but, on balance, this gentle tale of a rather naive young girl growing up is well observed and developed. We can all remember being on the cusp of looking at boys in a new light, with all the gaucheness and apprehension that entails, especially for a sheltered only child but, for that reason I think this book would not appeal too much to young ‘urban’ teens, as the writing is child-like and fairly moral, despite being in a contemporary setting in the world of internet chatrooms, malls and movie multi-plexes. What I liked about Mary, the main character, was her anxiety over being the ‘new kid’, having to make new friends and her frustration with George’s habit of not showing up when she wanted him to. However, she didn’t seem to mind his little habit of kissing her goodnight (on the forehead) from the very first night in her new haunted house too much…
The whole point of the book is that Mary kisses George though, and there’s no doubt that this is a fetching tale of innocent first love with a paranormal twist.

Jacked-In by Jacob Quarterman
4 stars
Orphan Martin Doe and his friends Timmy and Stacey are disaffected, disenfranchised teens – ‘naturals’ who can only partake of the Utopian networked cultural cyber highway that the rich, in-crowd kids in their high school enjoy by using outdated techno-headgear aids. This book may well appeal to anyone who’s been on the outside looking in, but it also speaks volumes on the ethics of blanket platforms that style themselves as trend leaders and how they effect those who can’t participate in (or don’t want) or be a part of what everyone’s supposed to dive happily into.
When dissidents from the other side of the Green Wall attack and corrupt the networks, Martin’s world is turned upside down and he and his friends, including mysterious security avatar Simon, go on the run from the ‘Infected’ population who’ve been turned into mindless cyber-zombies by their internal electronic plumbing that kept them permanently plugged into the all- encompassing grapevine. This is a quirky, wise-cracking story which lifts it out the normal range of angsty teenage rebellion sagas. It reminded me a little of The Matrix without descending into being a ‘wannabe’ (so in a good way). The pace is mostly good, although it gets a little manic and fuzzy here and there, but I’m up for a sequel!

JEM by Michelle Abbott
4 stars
I’ll admit upfront that although I have no real personal experience of physical abuse at first hand, I did spend over 25 years as a court clerk in the family courts, so I do know a fair bit about the trauma of domestic violence and its effect on all ages and gender. So, although the violence was implicit and at times graphic in Jem, it always ‘felt’ authentic, even when it veered off into the matter of fact, almost robotic reactions of Jem especially, but also for Devon at times.

The realism of the situations and responses for Jem and his angel Devon were, in turn hard-hitting and tender, which I think was helped along at times by the spare, almost detached writing style. Although it’s been noted by other reviewers that there’s a lack of description for the settings of the action, I did get a sense of time and place in the seaside town, with it’s blend of transience and unchanging rhythms of tide and characters, that was almost peaceful at times, despite the unsettling menace that constantly lurked beneath the surface. So, a good recommendation from me for an unsentimental but never impersonal tale of warped lives and transcendent, lasting love.

Jenna’s Journey by Julie Ryan
3 stars
As with some of the other reviewers I found it hard to rate this book because it’s certainly not a 2 star as I DID like it but certainly not enough to give it 4 stars so 3 it is, but even now I’m blessed if I can tell it that’s because it’s a very high 2 or a creditable 3.5.

I think the trouble with it is that Julie Ryan perhaps wanted to write a deeper and darker action romance to underscore the ‘Sliding Doors’ scenarios (or, more likely, the French Lieutenant’s Woman approach?) with the dual ending that draws this away from comparison with Shirley Valentine. Those elements are there, but they’re not strong enough for the lighter, more romantic strands, that support the main characters so well and have you rooting for them because, to a large degree, these gloss over the shadowy undertones of violence, abuse and the supernatural aspects and weaken them almost to the point of having no purpose whatsoever.

The upshot is that the book certainly works as a holiday reading romance but never really gets over the ‘froth’ as a consequence? Certainly there’s really a little too much telling and not enough showing and when that does get going it’s often too sketchy to make much of an impact – that’s how it seemed to me anyway. No doubt these are hard enough tricks to pull off for even seasoned authors. I do bear in mind that this is a debut novel and that I did enjoy the story and characters so, as it seems there are more mysteries to follow, I will perhaps try book #2 when it’s out and hope the darker themes get more attention and development next time around, as there were definitely some very good ideas in there with the antiquity smuggling and the police procedural aspects which, on this outing, lack consistency and, at times, gravitas at the right points when Jenna (or indeed her husband Greg) really are in danger but we’re not really too sure how that’s panning out.

What does shine through and lifts the story out of the plotting mires are the characters and locations, which are vivid without being brash, so the people and settings still sing even when they’re transitory or, of necessity, sit in the background. As it’s literally a holiday romance, you’ll certainly float along with Jenna’s deepening tourist impressions of Greece as she takes her spontaneous leave of absence from her car crash of a marriage and basically falls in love with the island and the culture as well as with Nikos. So, yes – I’d recommend this book on it’s superficial level as the writing’s done well in that respect. I think my instincts are right – this is a 3 star book and get’s a thumbs up from me for being an entertaining and not too demanding read.

Jessica: Auto-biography of an Infant by Dr. Jeffrey Von Glahn PhD
4 stars
As this will be the first UK review I’ll give a brief overview of this real life story. Jessica seeks the help of psychotherapist Dr. Jeffrey Von Glahn because she (and her young daughter) have to spend the night at her mother’s house every time her husband works nights. In addition, Jessica can no longer drive anywhere on her own, so she’s desperate to get help with deeply buried issues stemming from her birth and childhood, that prevent her functioning as a normal well-adjusted adult. After over 3 years of increasingly fruitless sessions Jeffrey is in despair of breaking through Jessica’s ‘robotic’ facade when she suggests switching to longer, more intense sessions at her home, where she feels more in control of her surroundings, for 4 hour meetings for 3 and then 4 consecutive days over the weekend. Having already found out about the dreadful experience Jessica had suffered at the hands of a teenaged male babysitter, Jeffrey agrees to this new arrangement and quickly comes to view Jessica’s therapy as ground-breaking and the beginning of a big learning curve for his own career, as together they discover that Jessica’s recall goes back much further, right up to the day she was born and even whilst in the womb.
Like I said – this is a true story, written by psychotherapist Dr. Von Glahn. This is not, however, a clinical examination of Jessica’s therapy, but rather a fictionalised account of her treatment and revelations that take into account both her and the author’s exploration and handling of the harrowing and extraordinary revelations that Jennifer unearths from the very depths of her infant psyche. Dr Von Glahn has likened his role as therapist to that of an investigating detective and it’s this forensic approach that lifts Jessica’s story into a kind of docu-drama as her session peel back the atrophied onion layers of perceived and real abuse that had made a tiny baby feel she should die or else put aside her own need for love and nurture and lose her right to be a human being.
This is a very well-written and researched work that cannot fail to touch the readers heart and at times it’s hard to remind yourself that this is NOT fiction but really happened. Parts are so unbelievably moving that you really wish this was purely fiction and I think that, for me, this is where I wanted to step back more and find out more about how these mind-blowing revelations had effected Jessica’s relationships with own daughter and her husband. That’s the main reason why I’m holding back from 5 stars, despite this being a wholly unique and gripping piece of literature, because we really only have therapist-client dynamic but for a necessary bit of context from Dorothy, Jessica’s hard-bitten and worn down mother who ought to have been an antagonist but herself deserved our empathy for her own trials in childhood and as an abused wife. I wanted to know more about how the traumas Jessica had suffered as a newborn and deprived child had effected her own role as a mother and, although the epilogue does show that she made good progress and recovery after years of ongoing psychological counselling to become an insightful practitioner with small children I felt that this would have given a more rounded picture of her life and rehabilitation. That’s my only criticism for an amazing and fascinating journey through this singular young woman’s life experience from and before her earliest moments in this world – highly recommended for anyone interested in the nurture of infants and their emotional health and well-being.

Laurel’s Quest by Nancy M. Bell
4 stars
This is a well-written and conceptualised YA fantasy that dances lightly along the tricksy tightrope of successfully blending contemporary real world action with myth, legend and magic. The central core of the story surrounding Laurel and her friends, Coll, Aisling, and Gort is skillfully woven into the misty legends and landscapes of Cornish mythology, as Laurel strikes up a deal with The Lady of the Lake to save her terminally ill mother.
The reason I’m not giving the vital fifth star is that some of the dialogue, while making a good attempt at Cornish accents, sometimes veers off west into the Celtic Sea and ends up rather jarringly in the Emerald Isle… The sense of place however is uncannily accurate, as it roams around the mysterious historic places of South West England, and is a testament to the excellent research on locations that Ms. Bell has done, as well as local flavours such as piskies and selkies that are as delightful as they are convincing.
Definitely a recommended YA fantasy read from me!

Long Stories Short: a collection by Karen Black
3 stars
Sometimes it’s difficult to tell whether you’re reading early work or more practised, later pieces, but by and large I found myself enjoying the stories more, the further in I got, so I’m guessing to some extent that there’s a chronological progression to this as well as a general paranormal/supernatural theme. In other words Karen Black’s later stories appear more skillfully written – the earlier ones I felt were less ‘crafted’ and were hit and miss with things like pace and detail.
To some extent my own reading preferences for a slow burn and subtle denouement rather than have dramatic twists saved up for the end (and I do mean right at the very end) which, if done clumsily and too frequently tend to get rather cheesy and doesn’t let the story find it’s flow always. Overall, and in keeping with the stated opinion, I enjoyed One Step at a Time most, simply because it wasn’t hurried and, like the main character, the twist wasn’t overstated, or plonked in at the end with a false-sounding ‘Ta-dah!’ moment.
Lots of great ideas and some of the descriptive writing was quite beautiful in places, so this is a ‘high’ 3 from me, but the earlier stories weren’t as polished in some respects, or perhaps could have benefited from a more thorough critiquing in the editorial phase to rein back some repetitious sections and generally tighten things up where the writing got a little too gawky or naive. Overall an enjoyable read showing a lot of promise to come.

Love’s Child by Lizzie Chantree
3 stars
This is a case of ‘it’s not you, it’s me’… I think part of the problem for me with Love’s Child, is that the blurb got my hopes up for a rather more dystopian tale on a theme of weird-science genetic manipulation (the designer baby and diminishing fertility thing). I can’t say that this is badly written, or that the story isn’t gripping – there’s a lot of mileage on both counts and the style skips along nicely enough. I liked Ms. Chantree’s previous chick-lit romance work, Babe Driven, very much and as this has a similar tone I just wasn’t expecting to be so disappointed with the content.
For me, the  book doesn’t really do what it says in the blurb, in that I would have expected something pithier and with less emphasis on Cinderella secretaries and pouty, rich-bitch domestic and megalomaniac daddy tantrums. Or so much pressing of the hunky, handsome male buttons and lustrous locks and perfect skin for the females. So that’s why I’m only going with a 3 star rating, because I was expecting more Margaret Attwood and less Jilly Cooper. Even though the story still works OK, it was just on the wrong side of frothy for my rather jaded taste in dystopia.

 

Luck of the Irish by Liz Gavin
4 stars
I’m all for NOT pulling punches in adult fiction when it comes to love and violence, so I was mostly quite happy with the way this erotic romantic thriller (with a touch of the paranormal here and there) balances it’s way through the storyline of a rather inexperienced American graduate taking a much longed for vacation in Ireland, starting in Dublin.The sexual tension builds fairly quickly, but the thriller aspect takes a while to wind up, then progresses nicely as the heroine leaves for the Irish countryside.
I disagree with some of the reviews that say this doesn’t have much of an Irish flavour, because it does, but this is sometimes mishandled in the dialogue and some scene-setting. Character-wise it’s mostly spot on and plausible enough until the serial rapist antagonist’s plotline boils over and he manages to escape police custody, which paints a more stereotypical and unflattering picture of Irish whimsical ineptitude, as the body count starts to become jet-propelled. From there, the violence may get a little too much for some faint hearts, but it’s mostly well-paced and not too out of context, as are the sexy bits, which are frequent but not too over-stated or contrived for the most part.
A good, rollicking romp of a read that’s not too demanding on the leetle grey cells if you’re a mystery addict, and are a fan of Tom Jones-like misadventures, with a dash of Irish blarney thrown into the mix.

Mirror of Our Lives: Voice of Four Igbo Women by Joy Nwosu Lo-Bamijoko
4 stars
A well-earned four stars from me for these tales of four Igbo women. As always with Ms. Nwosu’s books there’s a definitive and lyrical Nigerian accent throughout, as we explore the lives and loves (or more often than not the lack of it, sadly) of these women who survive neglect, violence, humiliation and hardship but who come through the fires on their own terms.
Although the stories could apply to many millions of women around the world, the cultural tone is undeniably African, even when it moves through Europe and to North America, and tracks the tortuous weaving through the hurdles that faith, custom and prejudice put in the way of each woman’s happiness and well-being. If nothing else you come away with a feeling of understanding the cultural struggles and challenges these ladies have faced down in their own way, always doing their best to be good wives, mothers, daughters and sisters. Wherever you are born life can be tough – this book reveals how much the heart can endure and survive as well.

My GRL by John W. Howell
4 stars
There’s a lot to like in this nautical thriller, not least because it’s written in the first person. so you get to sit inside main antagonist John Cannon’s head throughout, and the twists and turns that starts when his friend Gerry is gunned down for no apparent reason. From there on, we see the storyline unfurl from John’s perspective, on how his sabbatical plans for a change of pace from a corporate law practice in San Francisco, to that of a jobbing charter boat captain, are sabotaged by Gerry’s murder, as a clandestine deal to sell on John’s newly acquired boat, My GRL, to unknown buyers is uncovered.

For the most part the pace moves along at a satisfying pace, helped by Cannon’s naivety in his new career choice and how his own professional past is connected to the increasingly perilous situations he finds himself in with no clue at first as to what is happening. The aspect that stops me giving this the ultimate accolade, is that the chosen first person viewpoint is sometimes too laboured in explaining John’s reactions and motivation, when you really want to go with the flow of action and not wallow about too much in the whys and wherefores. Pace aside, there’s enough to keep you on John’s side as he’s a likeable chap with a dry, self-effacing sense of humour and, although he’s a smart guy, isn’t ever too unflappable or too street-wise outside of his usual expertise when faced with being the initial suspect in a homicide investigation or with apparent FBI interest. It’s refreshing to have the hero fumbling around a little and lurching from frying pans to fire-bombs when out of his usual fish pond. All in all I enjoyed this ride very much, despite thrillers not usually being a favourite genre, especially where terrorism is concerned, so this is a well-earned 4 star review from me.

Mystical Emona: Soul’s Journey by Ronesa Aveela
4 stars
I’m not big on romances, but I do enjoy fantasy and quirky locations so the title and the blurb drew me towards this book after a book club recommendation. With Bulgaria as the main pivot for the back history and the setting for most of the story it was fascinating to explore somewhere I’d never been to, although some of the cultural motifs were tantalisingly teased out from eastern Mediterranean and Eurasian myth and folklore in a subtly wafting way, leading us by degrees into Carina’s legendary Otherworld through Stefan, the reincarnation of Dushan, Carina’s Thracian love, and his ever-perplexing dreams and nightmares.
At this point I have to record that I read the 1st edition of the book and that the 2nd omits ‘The Legend of the Samodivi’ that originally formed the prologue. Presumably the reason it’s been taken down is because it all plays out through the afore-mentioned dream sequences, which is, I suppose a valid editorial decision. The first chapter, set in Boston, would perhaps have been a more sensible replacement as a prologue, rather than in the mainstream book, as Stefan’s story quickly moves thereafter to Emona and stays there. But this is all semantics and really, as my rating reflects this is a dream of a tale, well told, evocative and redolent with the essence of ancient Thrace and the heartbeat of modern Bulgaria as the different locations and characters unfold their true nature. It’s true that the pace dips at times, as noted by others, but I rather liked the meanders and the gauzy glimpses that we get of minor characters against the gentler landscapes, along with the occasional inconclusive rushing in of more heart-wrenching action and terrifying terrains that left me feeling as disoriented and confused as Stefan waking from old memories that don’t belong to him or this world.
So 4 stars, well earned and with the promise of more to come as Stefan and Carina’s old love unites them and start their lives together again.

 

Over Our Heads (Life the Universe and Everything by James Sinclair
4 stars

It’s quite a tall order to explore life, the universe and everything in simple, (almost) jargon-free language, but James Sinclair has accomplished this without it all going completely over our heads!

This is not to say that the physics of the cosmos is dumbed down, far from it, but the easy-going, everyday writing explains difficult concepts such as black holes and supernovas clearly and cohesively without the use of monocles (Patrick Moore joke – sorry!) or getting too flip about things, despite the Douglas Adams quote in the sub-title. Luckily for us this is written in the digital age as well, so this book can be updated to stay abreast of future discoveries in or out of the Solar System as they happen. I think this book would be the perfect present for an older child or young teen who has an interest in physics and astronomy but doesn’t necessarily want something too academic.

Passion and Struggle (Bk 1: The Genesis Saga) by John Fioravanti
4 stars
Passion and Struggle is the first of a series in The Genesis Saga, that spins off the future worlds created by author Kenneth Tam, who has permitted Fioravanti to venture forth to make his own mark and develop the universe and characters from Tam’s earlier books,The Equations series.
Let’s get things straight immediately – you do not have to read the Equations books to enjoy this book. It stands on it’s own merits and the storyline and all the characters, new or previously introduced are fully realized and their back-histories embedded and consistent within the new series from the outset. So no problem with a change of author, or settings, as I haven’t read the Equations books (yet) as everything works smoothly and I didn’t feel as though I was missing too much nuance, context or indeed on the action as it played out (with one important exception which I’ll come to a little further on). The characters are all engaging, dynamic or loathsome as required and there’s romance, intrigue and well-paced action in bucketloads, so I enjoyed the writing a lot, but…
… in a future world where we’re told the UN has sent off endangered humanity into the voids of space beyond the Solar System indoctrinated into a new belief system where religious autocrats are the ruling elite – why are there still people with ‘Irish’ and ‘Italian’ accents or inclinations 700 years on, in a completely ‘different’ world? It’s not a big thing really I suppose, but it irritated me more than a little that national traits still appeared to persist even after Earth has been rendered uninhabitable for the human race – wouldn’t it be new planet, new rules/divisions? But there’s the Star Trek precedent, so I suppose I’m being ultra-picky as it didn’t spoil things too much, but it’s the main reason why this makes 4 and not 5 stars.
The other reason is to do with the inherited ‘Earther’ characters who are the new masters of Old Earth and are genetically-enhanced, highly sentient and socially benevolent descendants of predatory mammals like big cats, wolves and bears. This is the one facet from the Equation series that I would have liked a little more embellishment for, because the whole concept is so wonderfully bold and exciting for someone new to the franchise to help us visualize more satisfactorily. With the Earthers being so obviously superior in most respects to venal humanity it was hard (and believe me I have a very lurid and flexible imagination) to not have too many clues on how these excellent species have evolved so quickly to overcome things like acquiring opposible digits (or mitigating paw pads) and whether they were like Narnian sentient species, or more along the lines of Chewbacca? Again, this didn’t stop me enjoying the story, but I would have been grateful for a little more information aside from the obvious, namely that Earthers surpassed humans in every respect just about and most especially in learning how to be nice to each other.
I’ll certainly look for Book 2 because there’s a massive cliffhanger and my romantic appetite needs urgent assuaging – and so, despite my own caveats, I’ve no hesitation in recommending this lively series opener for all mainstream sci-fi nuts!

Pearseus Series (Bk 1: Schism) by Nicholas Rossi
3 stars
A tantalising glimpse of a new star – in fact I’d go so far as to say that Pearseus: Schism is a good start to what promises to be a great sci-fantasy series – and one likely to become a classic.
This review has been revised to be more positive as Book 1 now ‘stands alone’ and no longer forms a preface to the next book, The Rise of the Prince (along with 2 sample chapters of Book 2 as a teaser). Nicholas Rossis writes well and convincingly, drawing us into this intriguing world somewhere beyond the Solar System colonised by the random survivors of stricken space cruise-liner Pearseus. The only real reason I’m not now giving this a 4 or 5 star rating is because of my own bias towards novellas as the scene setting and writing whet my appetite so much I was rather disappointed when The Schism seemed to grind to a premature halt, leaving us holding all kinds of intriguing plot strands which presumably will be satisfied to some degree in book 2. Perhaps it’s because Schism ends so positively (and without a dramatic cliffhanger) that the following glimpses of what goes on for the colonists a few hundred years later is just a little too much on the skimpy side – but of course that’s what teasers are for…
Anyway I’m well and truly teased and looking forward to episode 2 of that rarity, a sci-fantasy adventure that doesn’t get too bogged down in the technology AND is strong on the people aspects, which is always far more interesting of course. Three stars now well and truly earned

Pearseus Series (Bk 2: Rise of the Prince) by Nicholas Rossi
4 stars
Truly this would have received 5 stars because I did enjoy the story throughout, but the many (admittedly small for the most part) occurrences of faulty grammar and/or inadequate editing did detract from the overall reading experience, so I can’t give this full marks.
There’s nothing else to fault with this well-paced, thought-provoking, inventive and masterly story that takes us on in a very satisfying way with the descendants of the survivors of the Starship Pearseus that we see in Book 1 (The Schism) which is really a kind of taster or prologue for this next instalment, 300 years on. Comparisons with Game of Thrones and Dune are well substantiated by the many PoV characters and the handling of their cerebral aspects, including symbiant (but not necessarily benevolent) alien life-forms taking up residence, temporary or long-term, in some of the main character’s craniums.
Lots of good ideas and principles intelligently explored and balanced throughout, so I enjoyed this second Pearseus volume so much I was rather sad when I came to the last page – although there’s some tasters for the next book afterward that, so I’m ready to move on to Book 3 fairly soon to see whether this Prince takes an increasingly Machiavellian route, or keeps to the classical and probably tragedic concepts of world leadership!

Pure Trash: The Story by Bette A. Stevens
4 stars
I’ve stopped buying short story stand alones and skimpy novellas, but for this author I suspended my usual bias and, I’m glad I did, as I would have missed a little gem of a tale. Bette Stevens’ writing is nostalgic in the very best sense, giving the full flavour, sense-surround feel of wrong side of the tracks 1950’s middle America.

Shawn and his brother are brimful of youthful energy and, for anyone who’s a baby boomer, or lived with one, this brings back memories of a pre-24/7 telly world where you ‘made your own fun’ and often had to go scavenging for the treasure trove of returned soft drinks bottles to fund visits to the shop for sweets and other necessities of childhood… It also highlights the insidious and institutional prejudice of western society towards what used to be called the ‘undeserving’ poor – children whose parents frittered their meagre earnings away on more intoxicating liquors or other social vices that made life on the trash heap a little more muted and bearable.
Without being derivative in the slightest, the writing takes you back to the worlds of Harper Lee and even more intolerant times in the days of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, where the magic of childhood still dared to poke it’s oblivious way out of the weeds and muck heaps and paints a faithful picture for us that shows the guts as well as the many bright and brutal colours of human nature. I look forward to reading a longer and more realised account of Shawn’s family’s travails with much anticipation after this all too brief ground-breaker.

Ragged Souls (3 Tales of the Holy, the Strange, and the Bizarre) by Ernesto San Giacomo
4 stars
I’ve recently become more grumpy about novellas and their frequent inability to deliver a good meaty ‘follow through’ so this eclectic collection of upfront short stories came as a welcome treat. San Giacomo pulls off a classy sassy hat-trick with these twisting quirky Tales of the Unexpected using elegant prose (and well edited too, which is frankly a delight and too often skimped-on in the groaning under-funded indie market) with these three different but well-balanced stories investigating the nature of souls and their salvation (or not of course).
All three stories are approached from left field and are well-seasoned with attraction, humour and irreverence that make for a stylish mixing of sub-genres without leaving you feeling cut adrift too soon, although I would agree with one other reviewer’s comment that A Purveyor of Odd Things could have done with a slower burn in places to help the character development soak in a little more. Definitely a great read that doesn’t leave you feeling cheated and perfect for summer reading or if you’re on the move. I’m looking forward to reading more from this author.

Redwood: Servant of the State by Jaxon Reed
4 stars
This is a good cross-genre action novella that fuses ‘vampires’ with future worlds and has distant echoes of Firefly here and there. I also have to highlight that it’s a meaty book that isn’t afraid to let the reader to use their imagination and brains a little by going into boring explanation of the concepts and science of Redwood which is in the boon docks of the worlds explored by humanity via the Janus gateways that shrink time and distance for interplanetary travel.
Let’s get the vampire thing out of the way – this isn’t in any way Bram Stoker or Buffy territory. The hematophagous hero Marcus may be dependent on blood in his diet but has adapted to his condition without too much need for killing humans to get it. In fact he’s one of the more humane characters, in spite of his Cinderfella heritage as a bonded servant of the State who’s basically bottom of the heap in Redwood’s sparse and spartan society as the penultimate colony of Old Earth and along with Orange, the last prison world of the Janus string. Because of it’s remoteness, Redwood also gets the oldest and crankiest hand-me-downs for technology and home comforts which mean almost all of the population is firmly contained in The Cube and it’s there that Marcus’ story unfolds as he’s forced to go on the run after committing a bizarre accidental homicide on his last space-run to New Texas.
He escapes into the wild-lands of Redwood where he discovers an illegal counter-culture community of scientists living under the shadow of the great giant forest of Redwood. It’s here that Marcus finally uncovers the mystery behind his bloodsucking predilections that owe more to evolution and ecology than the supernatural.
If you enjoy well-conceptualised sci-fi themes along with your rites of passage adventure then Redwood Servant of the State will not disappoint – especially if you don’t need your fantasy to be spoon-fed.

The Reunion (Beneath the Trapdoor Bk 1) by A. A. Pencil
3.5 stars
As has already been observed, this tale suffers from inadequate, shoddy and ultimately unforgiveable editorial and proofing and so can’t make it beyond the three star mark.
Production quality did detract a lot from what is actually a very absorbing and out of the ordinary high school reunion horror story territory that I really did want to enjoy. The murders and motives become ever more outrageous, almost defying belief but gripping you tighter and tighter, so that by the time the plot had almost run out of candidates for ‘person most likely to become a serial killer’ the final tornado-like twister leaves you completely winded and out for the count momentarily.
I’d like to say I almost saw it coming but credit where it’s due – A.A. Pencil is great at shading in the darkest corners of her world and I dearly hope that the next book in the series is more competently edited and proofread so the story can bask in the limelight it deserves.

Revenge by Bill Ward
4 stars
A really enjoyable action novel debut from Bill Ward, which features Hollywood glamour, the politics of terror and cheque book journalism, as well as the believable settings in London and Brighton that other reviewers have commented on.
The romantic and heroic leads, betting shop owner and poker addict,Tom Ashdown and feisty, down-to-earth blockbuster actor, Melanie Adams, bring a grittier touch of ‘Notting Hill’ style class to this fast-flowing ‘stop-’em-doing-it’ action thriller. There’s no doubt their almost instant attraction has us on side from the start, even though it gets a little far-fetched at times during some of the stakeout scenarios.
Have to agree that some of the editing and proofing were not of the best at times, but in the end it’s the story quality and writing that counts, so not too many brownie points lost as this is one of the best indie offerings I’ve read in a good while. I’ll look forward to more of the same from this author – perhaps with Tom and Melanie again?

Shadow of the Drill – Bk 1: Born of Circumstance, Bred for Revenge by Rhani D’Chae
4 stars

… in the sense of thoroughly exploring the story path of and its characters, Ms. D’Chae drills deep down into back stories, motivation, and determination, so I certainly would not argue with the majority of reviewers views that this book is populated with fully rounded and, in the main, appealing characters, with even the antagonists at times catching my sympathy, if only because of the some of the more brutal drilling activity.
As tough guy vigilante-style thrillers go, the two male leads hit most approval buttons, although their resistance to nerve-crunching pain and cheating near-death scenarios stretched this reader’s belief a little too far at times; their shared history, enduring sorrow, and never-ending thirst for vengeance, remained constant and plausible enough to make allowances for the odd stab of irritation when the heroics got a little too histrionic. Certainly most of my empathy consistently resided with Decker’s long-suffering girlfriend Charlene, though I got why she stuck with him, despite his tunnel-vision crusade on sorting out the bad guys with their own medicine (or worse). I always enjoy PoV characters and also thought that strip-club dancer/hooker Tawnee’s side story provided some gritty and insightful food for thought on the role of the female in The Drill’s nightmarish sub-world, because I got the impression we weren’t supposed to like her too much, but I couldn’t help finding her inept and always abortive attempts at manipulating her boss’ Rudy’s, and then Decker’s, affections entertaining, and her campaign to get Charlene on her side amusing, even as we get to understand her own dysfunctionalities and demons. So she’s a strong, if slightly misguided, and at times whiney, streetgirl who never has any trouble putting herself first, even at her most vulnerable. More power to her I say!
There’s lots to enjoy and many original approaches, which is always a help when reading thrillers where there’s a large ‘angst’ factor and macho posturing with gang-crime, so no hesitation in giving this 4 stars and perhaps looking forward to future drills with these characters – certainly there’s more to heard here.

Skywatcher: Bk 1 by Ella Emerson
3.5 stars

This nearly made 4 stars but, alas, as noted elsewhere, the editing ain’t good and the proofreading’s shoddy being littered with missed yet easily ID’d typos. On the plus side I’m the sort of reader who will overlook the grammar/spell checks, whether they’re automated or breathing, if the stories good and so with Sky Watcher, the story is easy on the eyes and brain, flows well if fairly predictably and has engaging characters, although some of them made me want to scream at times.
Lead characters Allison and Luke need their heads banged together a fair bit, but allowances must be made for star-crossed lovers whose libidos need to be paid more than a bit more attention – that’s the cynic in me speaking, as this is an easy-going, simple romance that no doubt will roll out satisfactorily over the next instalments. Which is where I do get prejudiced, however hard I try because novellas just aren’t my favourite thing, although this is meatier than most and at least spends some time letting the reader get to know the characters. Sorry about the 4th star – it nearly made it but I enjoyed the ride and hope for a less bumpy one for Luke and Allison next time out!

A Single Step (Bk 1: The Grayson Trilogy) by Georgia Rose
4 stars
Placing this review first on ‘home territory’ amongst so many favourable reviews I’m taking the easy option in some respects, as others have done all the hard slog with a plot synopsis and commentary on the (mostly) impeccable prose, so I’m going to come at this from a more critical perspective, which is not to say I didn’t enjoy this book, because I did very much.

So here’s some mild carping on the questionable wisdom of putting a quote from a (no doubt) much admired literary classic right under your dedication before launching straight into your story. I couldn’t get Jane Eyre out of my head thereafter and so, as the plot thickened and denouement built up, there were the shades of the eponymous heroine and Rochester coming in on cue and the character development of the two principals fairly panting to fall into similar moulds, albeit updated and given a thoroughly modern slant.
Having had a distinctly negative experience of the eldest Ms. Brontë’s potboiler in school (some English teachers should be shot!) I was actually pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed the parallels and amazed at how much of the plot I remembered – and I must congratulate Georgia Rose on engaging and holding my attention to the storyline and characterisation in a much more natural and enthralling telling than the original. And of course it’s not a copy to the classic novel by any means, as the thriller element is dealt with really well, the pace is cannily balanced and never wallows around in self-pity too much, so Emma Grayson is therefore a much more attractive and feisty leading lady than poor Jane ever was to my ungrateful 13 year old philistine mind.
I also thought the title was rather weak in some respects and didn’t really connect too much with the storyline except in the ‘journey begins with a single step’ sense, which is not greatly original or indicative of the action sequences and the thought that has gone into constructing Emma’s backstory in particular. This book certainly transcends its roots and inspiration in my opinion – it’s a far better written story with promise of more in the same vein for the sequels to follow, so worthy of 4 stars, with no need to involve the good Lady of Haworth too much.

So the Feeling Shows by Jo Jenner
4 stars
Aspects of love that definitely aren’t written wearing rose-tinted specs, or indeed whilst supping something sweet and sickly. Jo Jenner puts her short stories under the microscope and then examines them from every perspective and so comes up with some quirky and often cerebral takes on why love really does make the world go round. Certainly her own view has originality and verve.
Some of tales misfire slightly and the editing could have been sharper in places, which is why I didn’t go to a 5 star rating, but this is well worth the 4 shiny stars and my only other quibble was that I was left wanting more. I’ll certainly be looking out for more of the same from this author.

Sugarcoatin’ is for Candy & Pacifyin’ is for Kids by Nonnie Jules
4 stars
Like another reviewer I was slow to pick this up because of the ‘Kids’ factor (Nonnie Jules is also the author of the Good Mommies Guide to Raising (Almost) Perfect Daughters), but, knowing Nonnie a little better courtesy of the Rave Reviews Book Club when I finally did take the plunge I knew I was getting into something where punches are never pulled if they’re needed. Suffice it to say that I wasn’t disappointed as Sugarcoatin’ is very much a ‘Best of’ Nonnie’s blog posts about writing, life, kids and why we should always strive for the best for ourselves AND for others we meet along the way.
So – lots of positivity, gusto and homespun philosophy that just makes sense in breezy bursts that blow the cobwebs of mediocrity and false modesty out the window, that really has something for everyone who wants to lead a happy, active and mindful life. It’s a very American outlook, but in the best possible way, with vivacious language, a no-nonsense outlook and always looking to uplift and not bring down.

Superior Peril by Michael Carrier
4 stars
Of it’s type this is a fast-paced action-packed ‘ex-cop with connections’ thriller that throws in a little speculative historical fiction as well – more on this unusual aspect in a moment.
As far as this genre goes Carrier does pull off quite a respectable feat in delivering an unusual team dynamic with a father-daughter pairing and a budding action man in their teenaged mute (for now anyway) nephew/cousin (an orphan). This is book 3 in the series but that doesn’t really stop you getting into the spirit of things, even though the limitations of the youngest of the trio got a tad annoying with him having to text the whole time (when he couldn’t nod or shake his head or make hand gestures) during the increasingly fast, furious and bloody car chase scenes. But I carp, perhaps unfairly – it’s a good pacey story with a lot of punch and energy.
The speculative historical fiction angle? – I now realise that there is some impetus of the History Channel variety to make a case for Bronze Age Minoans sailing around the Great Lakes and Canada in search of copper . As a native of Devon and Cornwall with it’s well established mineralogy credentials for copper and, more importantly in the making bronze, tin mining for the same period and long afterwards in the region as well as an archaeological nerd with a fondness for the island of Crete and the Palace of Minos… Let’s just say it was an amusing notion to imagine a culture not known for having ships seaworthy enough to cross the Med without hugging a coastline like crazy venturing boldly across the Atlantic (even via Atlantis?). A leap too far into suspending ‘realism’ for this reader I’m afraid, but it’s intriguing in it’s way and I’ll certainly be interested in reading the sequel to find out how this part of the storyline pans out in Superior Intrigue.
As someone who’s not into thrillers too much I’d still recommend this strongly to people who are, as it’s well written and paced.

The Wastelanders by Tim Hemlin
4 stars
Water is a valuable commodity, politically and commercially in this dystopian tale of future America. Comparisons with Frank Herbert’s classic series Dune are therefore inevitable, if ill-conceived, since this is very much an Earthbound tale and, to some extent, not so inconceivable or even unlikely in the contemporary eco-climate, where too little, too late is the norm so far as natural resources are concerned across the Western Hemisphere.
Parallels with desert planets are there in the best sense, in that this is a well-written, fast-paced piece of classic sci-fi where the inner hinterlands of the future US are laid to dead, arid wastelands under a devastated ozone layer, inhabited by freaks of various cultural origins including the criminal, religious, chemical, philosophical, genetically corrupt and morally bankrupt. It’s hard to be totally original with apocalyptic dystopian tales, and there were times when I got deja vu of the Mad Max, or Tattooine persuasion, hence the 4 stars. However, by and large, Tim Hemlin has done a great job with edgy, engaging and not always squeaky-clean protagonists, and gloriously despicable, unhinged, but still strangely vulnerable, even charming nasties, whom I couldn’t quite bring myself to hate – Mr. ‘Fat Cat’ President being a case in point.
So yeah – very much of it’s genre, but well worth reading and providing much food for thought for those of us who don’t do enough to stick up for Mother Nature, but just KNOW we’re gonna pay for it eventually…

One thought on “Reviews (Rave Reviews Book Club)

  1. Pingback: Pay It Forward for author Rhani D’Chae | Jan Hawke INKorporated

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