“The Monster Upstairs” –Another YA Paranormal Hit from Elle Klass

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Elle Klass fans will undoubtedly love “The Monster Upstairs”,  latest in her “Bloodseeker” series set in historic St. Augustine, Florida.

This heart-stopping sequel to the first book in this series, “The Vampires Next Door”, provides a wild ride (some onboard a rather hot werewolf) as the lethal conflict between Bloodseekers and Slayers intensifies. Slayers aren’t alone in their quest; in case you haven’t already guessed, werewolves are likewise engaged in this timeless battle, as well as Light witches and Dark witches, their mysterious ties revealed in this suspenseful Young Adult thriller.  I’m not normally a vampire fan, but Elle’s have a slightly different twist and culture, that makes them more interesting. Especially the Slayers, tasked with keeping them under control or, better yet, eliminated, through individual powers endowed through their amulets.

The author continues her enviable ability to bring vivid and memorable characters to life, as she has with all of her series. In this story we meet teenage Mandy, who’s suddenly confronted by unexpected and daunting challenges associated with her fated destiny. Previously unaware she’s the product of a forbidden liaison, she discovers family secrets in a shocking turn of events that change her life forever. Whisked away to Wolf Manor, she discovers the true nature of the mysterious man named Joel and his mother as well as the fateful roles they’ve played in her life.

Each supernatural entity has its own fascinating agenda as the forces of good and evil battle for dominance. The author brings refreshing new twists to classic supernatural beings you only thought you knew and understood. Their respective cultures and the relationships between them, both as individuals and groups, are nicely developed, bringing depth and credibility to their intriguing world.

Alison and Rodham, along with the other amulet-wielding Slayers you met in “The Vampires Next Door”, return, their fates converging with Mandy’s and Joel’s, as this clever tale gathers momentum and complexity, ultimately converging in a clash between powerful supernatural forces in historic, mystery-laden Saint Augustine. And there’s more in this series to come!

This Teen/Young Adult thriller is a fast read, but in spite of the paranormal subject, not overly graphic or so scary you can’t read it at night. I’m a real coward when it comes to such stuff, but had no problems being creeped out. I recommend reading “The Vampires Next Door” first, if you haven’t already, so you can follow more easily how the two books and characters fit together.

You can preorder your copy here.

While you’re waiting, get your copy of “The Vampires Next Door” here.

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5-Stars for Scott Skipper’s “A Little Rebellion Now and Then”

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If you’re not afraid of the truth, you’ll thoroughly enjoy this book. It’s brutally honest, somewhat raw, and loaded with sarcastic wit that had me laughing out loud. Yet, its story is far from pretty because it depicts a little too accurately what has become of the 1st Amendment. At this point, we can hardly tell what’s true and what’s not. If you’re wondering who’s telling the truth (or perhaps suppressing it), this gripping story can probably enlighten you.

As a Baby Boomer myself, I could relate to this book in multiple ways. For one thing, I remember the Nixon era, the Vietnam War, the California drug culture, and ’60s protests including the Kent State shootings all too well. This book recounted them all in vivid detail, its first-person narrative style gripping and authentic. You can’t help but love its main character, Kate Baker, who is truly a rebel at heart. The kind of rebel we need more of these days, one who isn’t afraid to speak up and confront injustice and hypocrisy, regardless of how powerful its source might be.

Back in the ’60s, Kate was vocal regarding the Kent State incident, where students peacefully protesting the Vietnam War were shot by the Ohio National Guard. The government has never taken kindly to criticism, and the Nixon administration was no exception. Good ol’ Tricky Dick was a real piece of work and ultimately quit upon being caught and impeached for the Watergate Scandal.

As Kate writes a variety of scathing articles relative to what really happened at Kent State, she encounters harassment of all varieties. Of course she paints a target on herself in some ways, given she was into pot and recreational drug use, providing numerous excuses to get busted. She was also what I would consider pretty loose on the sexual morality side, yet as I remember that era of “Make Love, Not War” it fits the character. No one ever said you have to be a saint to be a hero. Courage and an adventurous spirit can often lead off the beaten moral track.

One thing that comes to mind about this story is the old adage “You finish like you start.” That, and the fact that people don’t change who they are.

So Kate’s misadventures in the ’60s and ’70s are only half of this thoroughly entertaining story. The chapters alternate between her youth and later years, when she’s a successful novelist who’s written a best selling book entitled “Satan’s Angel” where the president is assassinated by a genetically engineered fruit that combined figs with oleander. Similarities between the characters in Kate’s book and the current administration are noted and the powers-that-be immediately try to silence her through a litany of harassment techniques such as hacking her computer to steal her passwords, placing her on the “no fly” list, freezing her bank accounts, unpublishing her self-published book as well as black-balling it with major publishers, following her every move with a drone, and numerous other devious tactics.

Let me say here, that Kate is definitely not politically correct. If you’re offended by such individuals, then you’ll undoubtedly get so mad you won’t be able to get through this book. (Liberals, I’m talking to you. More than likely you’d be siding with the antagonists and demanding this book be banned.) On the other hand, if you’re sick of all the PCBS, you’ll get angry as well, but you’ll be behind Kate and sympathetic to her situation every step of the way. The sad thing is that we all know that this type of harassment and brutal silencing techniques happen. Oddly enough, they’re often depicted on TV shows.  True “free speech” is a thing of the past and Big Brother is not only alive and well, but now armed with modern technology which enables him to be even more devious than Orwell ever dreamed in his worst nightmares.

The author has done incredible and accurate research that makes this story come alive. It is shocking and chilling. It doesn’t read like fiction, it reads like a news report–a blood-chilling and accurate news report, of which we see few, if any, these days. This story is an outstanding commentary on what our society has become and where it’s probably headed.  And it does it with style, humor and wit, to say nothing of sustained suspense that makes it extremely hard to put down. I gotta say, when Kate mooned the drone I about fell over laughing. And of course, she wound up in jail as a result. I’m definitely going to adopt her penchant for saying “Whisky, Tango, Foxtrot” for WTF.

Be warned, however, that there’s a generous dose of what some would consider offensive language. It’s not over-done or gratuitous, but definitely in-character; Kate does not behave or speak like a nun. All that aside, we need more Kates in this world. If she were real, she’d probably resurrect the Grey Panthers, which at this point I’d join in a heartbeat. If you’re as disgusted as I am with what used to be a rather nice country, past presidents like Nixon notwithstanding, don’t miss this articulate voicing of how bad things have become as seen through the eyes of Kate Baker. IMHO, she absolutely rocks.

The selective reporting and bias of the media is no secret and it’s gotten progressively worse.  Democracies tend to fail and, at this point, the USA is headed in that direction. The scariest thing is that there are those out there who WANT it to fail. Why? Because it’ll be to their advantage and they’re carefully positioning themselves to take control. In case you’re not aware, failed democracies are always followed by a dictatorship. There are lots of opinions out there with regard to who that aspiring dictator might be. After reading this story, you should have a better idea who that might or might not be. Hint: It won’t be the one network TV or major newspapers are pointing at.

You can pick up your copy on Amazon here.

“Fantasy Patch”–Another 5-star Nail-biter from Stephen Geez

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Wow! What a ride! I’m still trying to catch my breath since finishing this fast-moving suspense thriller. In fact, sometimes it moved so fast, I felt left behind in the dust. The immediacy of the story is beyond gripping, told in first person/present tense through the eyes of protagonist, Danté Roenik. So “present”, in fact, you don’t even know his name for several pages. Kind of like meeting an interesting, good-looking, charismatic guy at a party who’s telling a good story. You really don’t care what his name is, you just want to be part of the excitement along with the other enchanted guests. This served as a very clever and effective writing tactic outside the mainstream, for which the author once again definitely earned my admiration.

This is the third Stephen Geez book I’ve read and this man must have multiple personalities because each tome’s style, at least the ones I’ve read so far, stands out as unique. Some authors can write in multiple genres with ease, yet the style is largely the same. I don’t think I’d be able to tell these were written by the same person, though they did share outstanding characterizations and vivid setting descriptions, plenty of suspense, lively dialog, and complex plots as well as strong writing, edited to perfection. No ruts or boring formula writing here! A random sprinkling of clever creative word plays are scattered throughout the narrative as well, which are not only entertaining but further characterize Danté’s artistic temperament. For example, “beeping blippers and blipping beepers” or “purse snatchers and snatch pursuers” or “fact takers and tacit fakers”, all of which add color and humor.

Poor Danté. An artist at heart, all he wants to do is draw, yet he’s sucked into a web of intrigue through his position as creative director at a public relations firm. He’s a nice guy, perhaps too nice, who adores the lively, old lady next door, Mrs. Moeroff, as well as the love of her life, another neighbor, Hank Barnahay. His attorney girlfriend, Cyn, is focused on an ambitious fast-track to partnership in her law firm, which is her top priority, much to Danté’s dismay. And that’s just his personal life. His professional life is what makes your head spin. The author places you firmly in Danté’s shoes in a busy, competitive, fast-paced, head-spinning and often risky environment, ripe with industry jargon. If you’ve ever wanted to work in PR, then this story is required reading for its excellent description of what’s involved, from the actual technical processes, to sales tactics, and competitors as trustworthy as piranha. By the time you finish this story, you feel as if you could put experience at Dellman/Roenik on your resume. I kid you not.

Of course any such firm is loaded with employees doing a variety of tasks, the boatload of characters adding to and authenticating the hectic pace. And then times it by two, by the way, because our hero changes employers, the original now his rather unfriendly competition. In fact, there were so many characters, I would have welcomed a dramatis personae to keep them all straight. They come at you fast, so unless you have a steel-trap memory, which I don’t, you might want to keep notes. Trust me, it would be worth it, because things get more complicated with every page.

The good news is that their names were not only unusual, but differed dramatically, reminding me at times of alphabet soup. Yet they were well-chosen and unique, which helped keep them straight versus unimaginative authors who call one character Bob and another Rob. Their physical descriptions were helpful as well, making them easy to envision, their personalities distinct and never lacking.  There’s no doubt this story would make an outstanding movie, or better yet, TV mini-series.

The story quickly evolves into a murder mystery, so the huge cast also serves as a collective red herring with regard to the identity of the guilty party. But actually, it’s not that simple, it’s Big Pharma and its cohorts covering their tracks with regard to lethal side effects of Parzilac, combined with rather vicious competition tactics as competitor, M-Slovak, prepares to release a potential competitor, the Fantasy Patch. Corporate espionage is in full swing as is appropriate security, courtesy of Flynn Durbett, a carryover character from “Invigilator.” I love it when characters live on!

If you’re looking for high-octane entertainment with surprises at every turn, grab a copy today and plan to stay up late reading. Same goes if you’re naturally suspicious of Big Pharma or are annoyed by those TV drug ads (which are illegal is most of the world besides the USA) where the side effects narrative takes 90% of the allotted time. Breathtaking action, nail-biting suspense, crisp dialog, and edge-of-your-seat narrative suck you in, all the way to the last page. Don’t miss it.

You can pick up your copy on Amazon here.

5-Stars for “Rarity from the Hollow”by Robert Eggleton

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At first I didn’t know how or where to begin to categorize this story. Two sitcoms, “The Beverly Hillbillies” and “Third Rock from the Sun”, come to mind.  It’s clearly in the Sci-Fa genre, a mixture of science fiction and fantasy, always effective for establishing an environment ripe for just about anything to happen. I must say that once I got past the first third of the book, which could be a bit troubling due to the horrific living conditions and home environment of the young heroine, Lacy Dawn, that I laughed–a lot.

The author’s style is unconventional, which I consistently admire, at least when it works, which it did. Written in an omniscient viewpoint, it took a little while to get used to the inner dialog of all the characters. Each individual’s spoken statements were typically followed by an italicized blurb of what they were really thinking. While at first it was confusing, it was nonetheless effective in getting to know the characters.

The story itself is definitely unique as well. It centers around a young girl named Lacy Dawn who lives in poverty in a dysfunctional and abusive rural environment. This is not ever expressed in a horribly graphic manner and does a great job of setting the tone and setting, though there were times I was worried about whether it would get worse. Much to my relief, it didn’t. Her father, Dwayne, is a Gulf War vet with a severe case of PTSD. Her mother, Jenny, continually reminds her daughter (as well as herself) that Dwayne “used to be a good man.” Their neighbor, Tom, is a good friend of the family with a “secret garden” that he pays Lacy Dawn to tend.  The produce involved is not so much mystical as illegal, given that its marijuana.  Needless to say, numerous joints are rolled in the course of the story.

Lacy Dawn believes that it’s a child’s responsibility to fix one’s parents. This is certainly different than the usual practice to blame one’s parents. She’s not only highly intelligent, but has been chosen to save the Universe, a task for which she is being groomed by DotCom, an android who has arrived from elsewhere in the cosmos and lives in his spaceship on a nearby hill. At first it was difficult for me to figure out whether DotCom as well as Lacy Dawn’s conversations with the trees and her deceased friend, Faith, plus her ability to float “Roundabout” to visit her spacey friend, were simply part of a child’s vivid imagination. Either way, it was believable and contributed to the mood of the story.

I don’t want to get into spoiler territory so won’t say anything further about the basic story, other than to say that the remainder is entertaining. It’s loaded with plenty of raw humor along with interstellar jaunts to strange new worlds populated with numerous aliens. The characters were definitely well fleshed-out by their hilarious inner dialogs, reaction to various situations, and crude honesty.

Underlying all this, however, at a deeper level, is a rather sad, even tragic, commentary on our society. The fact that such situations exist is no secret. Otherwise, the story would not have been so believable. Neither is there any magical or interstellar entity out there to rescue those caught in the trap of poverty, need and abuse. So often the thought patterns of those living in such conditions revolve around sexual satisfaction, a good cannabis harvest, and whether the food stamps will last until the end of the month.

My only criticism of the story itself, at least at the superficial level, is that toward the middle it felt a bit disjointed. The plot broke down somewhat with too many “shopping trips” to “The Mall” where momentum was lost. The ending, while satisfying, was slightly less than I’d hoped for.

Thus, you may wonder why I awarded this story five stars. That’s because it made me think. Very few stories I’ve read recently manage to do that. There’s sufficient symbolism to place this story soundly in the literature category. What better disguise for difficult topics than humor?

There’s Lacy Dawn, the child who’s been exposed to and seen things no ten year old should, who has genius potential and wise beyond her years. Fixing her parents versus blaming them, what a concept. Then there’s DotCom, the android from another world, who’s there to help Lacy Dawn achieve her destiny, yet he begins to evolve and become a bit too human under the influence of people who would best be described, albeit rudely, as white trash.

The materialism of The Mall, principles of capitalism, what constitutes a celebrity or inspires human motivation to excel or achieve can all be found lurking beneath a raw and sometimes vulgar look at the human condition. Even the ending holds a powerful message when looked upon more deeply. Who’s really in charge and is it a higher or lower lifeform? The answer to that is definitely politically incorrect, a term invented to cover up that which will ultimately destroy civilization if we continue to yield to its misguided allure.

If you want a cleverly orchestrated story saturated with sci-fi and fantasy and packaged with plenty of crude, bathroom humor, you’ll enjoy this book tremendously. If you can’t deal with coarse language, don’t even bother. If you enjoy reading stories at a deeper level and analyzing what they’re really trying to say, you’ll likewise enjoy it, probably even more. Brilliant satires such as this are genius works of literature in the same class as Orwell’s “Animal Farm.” I can picture American Lit professors sometime in the distant future placing this masterpiece on their reading list.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ecopy of this book in return for a fair and honest review.

You can pick up your copy on Amazon here.

Describing a Sci-Fi story as “Unbelievable” is NOT a Good Thing

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** Review of “Return of the Sagan” by Neil Patrick O’Donnell

I don’t enjoy giving a book a bad review. As an author myself, I know it hurts, unless someone has such an iron-clad ego that they don’t believe it and thus fail to heed what it’s saying. Thus, when I do so, I try to stick to the facts of what a book’s deficiencies are so the author knows what to fix. Of course any review will always have a high level of subjectivity, but I try to judge a book as fairly as possible, based on its merits.

This story got off to a good start and has tremendous potential to become an epic saga of a starship gone for 300 years and now returning to Earth, only to find the human population extinct. That’s a big story. The main character, anthropologist, Francis Burns (no relation to Frank Burns of M*A*S*H fame), is believable and endearing with his OCD and quirky obsession with Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica and Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. It was a nice affirmation for gender equality that men and women shared high military rank in the story. The names of the vessels were well-chosen and credible. Authors are always advised to “write what you know” and O’Donnell did a great job with OCD and the geography of the Niagara region as well as military jargon and protocol. Generally, I believe that the world of “fandom” would particularly enjoy this story and would make a good target audience.

However, there are numerous things that need to be fixed before this story can be taken seriously by true science fiction fans. It’s important to note that “fandom” comprises individuals who are very well-versed on details and to earn their loyalty and respect you’d better get the particulars right. Unfortunately, I would give an “F-“ to some elements in this story, which I’ll explain farther down.

I must say that I truly hope the author can take my comments as constructive criticism as opposed to bashing, which is not my intent. I believe this story deserves serious editing at the line, copy and content levels so it can become the great saga for which it holds promise. If I were its editor, here are some of the things I would suggest to bring it to its potential glory.

1. It’s best to open a story with the main character, not someone who will largely disappear or be absorbed. Furthermore, there were too many characters, especially in the beginning. They weren’t all faceless, but most didn’t have a distinct personality. Due to the scope of the story, several characters are justified, but they need to be humanized and developed to hold the reader’s interest.

2. The author’s writing style is reasonably good, almost to the point of what I would call “strong.” However, there are few relatively easy to fix stylistic issues that would result in considerable improvement. Probably the most noticeable would be to eliminate the repeated use of the POV character’s name. Interestingly enough, this didn’t occur until later in the story. It’s distracting for a name to be repeated a half-dozen times or more in a single paragraph, especially in places where the person in question is the only one involved. That’s why we have pronouns. If there are two people of the same gender involved in a scene, a reminder of who’s talking or doing what from time to time is useful, but effective pronoun use is essential to readability. You don’t want the reader thinking, “Yeah, yeah, I know it’s him already!” or, conversely, having to stop and reread a section to figure out who’s speaking or prevailing in a fight scene.

3. Typos are almost inevitable in any novel, my personal favorite in this tome being “zero-gravy” which would probably slip past a spell-checker, but some were grating such as the consistent use of the wrong homonym. One or two I can handle, but this was excessive. I’ve never seen so many. I suspect a good grammar checker would catch these since in most cases they represent an entirely different part of speech. For example:

solar flares, not flairs

waver in the limited light, not waiver

reigned in magnificence, not reined

soul was allowed to leave his care, not sole

waved Francis to take his seat, not waived

pour out of the satchel, not poor

higher branches, not hire branches

fell from the satchel right past Francis, not passed

4. The military jargon and procedures were convincing and came across with an air of authenticity. Good job there. However, the technical aspects were so far beyond feasible that it detracted from the rest of the story. One minor example is the use of paper onboard a starcruiser, which is beyond doubtful.

5. And speaking of a starcruiser, no matter how much of a conspiracy buff you might be with regard to UFOs, it would be more credible for the ET’s from Zeta-Reticuli to provide Earth with a ship with interstellar capability with the volume of three aircraft carriers than for us to suddenly acquire one, much less populate it with F-15E Strike Eagles. I would think that most people, particularly sci-fi fans, would know that these aircraft could not possibly fly in space. Just out of curiosity and as a detail-oriented person myself, I asked a friend who’s a former pilot about that. Here is what he said:

“The F-15 could not be controlled outside the atmosphere as the airplane’s control surfaces depend on air flow to cause changes in roll, pitch, and yaw.  Thrusters are required to maneuver in space.  If it had thrusters, I suspect that the structure would overheat and breakup during reentry.  Initial reentry mach is far higher and would generate far more heat than the F-15 materials could withstand.  The engines are air breathers and can’t burn the kerosene without oxygen.  Then there’s the little issue of gravity.  The fuel tanks, lubricating oil tanks, and hydraulic reservoirs depend on gravity to operate.  The pickup points are in the bottom of the tanks.  The fuel tanks have baffles to keep a small amount of fuel available for negative-G use.  The engines are okay with the oil on them for a short time and there is pressurized hydraulic fluid in the system. 

“The fighters and trainers that I flew were limited to 30 seconds negative-G or inverted flight.  Zero-G is not negative-G, I’m not sure if there would be any difference.  The F-15 cabin is pressurized to 5 psi above ambient at altitude.  (It is unpressurized to 8,000 feet, maintains 8,000 feet until it requires 5 psi, then maintains 5 psid.)  There should not be any issues with DCS if the pressurization were functioning but it won’t be because it uses bleed air off the jets and the jets won’t work in a vacuum.  Therefore, the crew is exposed to vacuum with probable deleterious results. Another issue: the generators are driven by the engines and if the engines aren’t turning you are down to battery power which will only power essential systems for a short duration.  The longer I think about this the more reasons I come with as to why the F-15 isn’t a spacecraft.”

 

Yes, there are readers who are acutely aware of such facts and inaccuracies of this magnitude detract from the story as a whole. It would be more credible to make up an entirely new craft (think X-wing or Tie fighters) than use one inappropriately. Even a mention of the aircraft being retrofitted would have helped, even though that would be extremely unlikely due to what it would entail.

6. Some plot angles, such as the potential for a conspiracy on the part of political figures, were dropped. If this will be developed in a sequel then that should be implied more clearly.

If I were to deduct one star for each of the above points, the book book have a negative rating. Of course all the work the author put into it is worth something and it did have some redeeming value, even though reading much of this book was downright painful. Nonetheless, I persisted to see how it would end, which was handled reasonably well and provided fertile ground for a sequel.

As noted earlier, the premise is interesting and has tremendous potential, but the execution left far too many shortcomings if you’re picky about the science being accurate and expect proper grammar and style that doesn’t keep tossing you out of the story, shaking your head. These issues require attention to pass muster with the ranks of true science fiction fans. Besides some good editing, a cadre of good beta readers are a valuable asset that I highly recommend.

If you’re so inclined, you can pick up a copy on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Return-Sagan-Neil-Patrick-ODonnell-ebook/dp/B00SP4BOZS/

Review of “Faithless Elector” by James McCrone

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Don’t let the enigmatic title and somewhat bland cover of this political thriller fool you. While the subject sounded interesting and very apropos for the times, which is why I decided to read it, I had no idea it would suck me in like it did. I could hardly put it down and even stayed up late, missing a new episode of one of my favorite shows, “Blindspot,” to finish it. Believe me, that takes something pretty gripping.

There were so many things I loved about this book. First of all, I learned more about the Electoral College and the process the U.S. has for electing its president. Many years ago I remember a political science class in college where the professor stated that we should have a national primary, get rid of the electoral college process and go with a strict popular vote to elect the president, which made sense to me. That was back in the 80s and clearly nothing has changed. The complexity of this process leaves too many loopholes for corruption, as this intense story points out.

In this day of computers it simply wouldn’t be that difficult to assure the integrity of elections which is obviously not happening. I could go off on a complete rant about that, but this is a book review, for heaven sake. So I won’t. But I enjoy learning something from a book, especially when it’s packaged in a fast-moving, gripping story where you can’t read fast enough to find out what will happen next. There were parts where I wouldn’t have dared take my blood pressure. Yes, it was that intense.

The characters in this book were strong and believable. The main character, Duncan Calder, is a political science professor. He’s charming, intelligent and undoubtedly handsome, but not someone who is accustomed to being plunged into a world of intrigue and murder. It was very credible, the way he adapted, using his intelligence and survival instincts. All of the characters were also vivid and believable, particularly Imogen Trager, a former grad-student of his who is now working for the FBI. The history these two have is believable and handled in a very convincing way. They were very human and nothing felt contrived.

The descriptions and imagery were fantastic. The author described the various settings using prose that read like literary ambrosia. Yet, he knew when to cut to the chase, literally, and make the story and plot move at a breathless pace. It reminded me so much of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan novels that I loved, books I gave up like an addiction back in the days when I had a day job because they would force me to stay up into the wee hours of the night finishing them. Like those best sellers, the sense of danger of this thriller is palpable. There were a few brilliantly funny lines that had me laughing out loud and a touch of romance, masterfully intertwined within this incredible. I not only look forward to the next book, given not all the mystery was resolved in this one, but will probably read this one again. That, also, is something I rarely do. If I could give this book 10 stars I would. Don’t miss it.

Pick up your copy on Amazon here.

Review of “The Star Agency Chronicles Book 2: The Voyages of the Seven”

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This second book in the “Star Agency Chronicles” series does a great job of expanding the cultures of the alien worlds to which “the seven” have been transported. In this story, they embark on specific journeys that resemble interstellar “sightseeing” in some respects and yet transform more to quests for others. The characters are further developed, at least some of them, as they meet the challenges thrust upon them inherent to their specific missions, greatly adding to the suspense and intrigue. Ruby’s situation is particularly fascinating and her evolution and growth especially well done. At this point, she is my favorite character. I love her spunk and courage coupled with emotional vulnerability, easily seen as a person who is hard on the outside yet soft on the inside.

The relationships between the various youth are credible and demonstrate nicely the complexity of teen emotions as they interact with each other, especially those of the opposite sex. Some have romantic possibilities while others are simply platonic. Jealousies arise as romantic interests are not reciprocated but directed elsewhere. The characters and their personalities are integrated nicely into the story, giving it more depth.

The aliens are definitely more enigmatic versus the first book, though I would have liked a few more reminders of what they look like. The interactions between the different alien worlds are further developed as well, introducing their various agendas that introduce numerous new plot twists, conflict and mystery in which the young characters are entangled.

I wish the author had not given two of the characters such similar names, i.e. Larissa and Lara, especially since Theo has taken to calling Larissa, Lari, which makes it even worse. The two are clearly different people, but it’s still slightly confusing, sometimes yanking me out of the story as I figure out which one is involved when all the characters are together. Maybe in the next volume one of them can acquire a nickname that will make each stand apart more clearly.

You’ve gotta love Lara, who shows signs of being slightly autistic, probably afflicted with Asperger’s syndrome. Her inability to filter what she says adds tension as well as raw honesty which adds to the interpersonal dynamics of this chosen group of youth. Larissa, though you see more of her in this story, is not nearly as well fleshed out as a character. A few of “the seven” have not gotten to “show their stuff” yet, which I assume will occur in the next book.

I give four stars to this entertaining and imaginative hard sci-fi series suitable and undoubtedly directed to teen and young adults.

You can pick up your copy on Amazon here.

Review of Elle Klass’ “Baby Girl 6: Return to the Bay”

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Cleo’s saga continues in another suspense-filled episode. If you’re a Cleo fan like I am, you won’t be disappointed in this latest segment of her ongoing story. This one picks up where Baby Girl 5: Caribbean Heat drops you off with a nail-biting cliffhanger. Cleo, her best friend, Kacy, and La Tige have been ambushed and left in dire straits in a warehouse. Upon surviving this ordeal, the set out to figure out who the culprit is and his possible motive. More of Cleo’s family secrets are revealed in the fast-moving sequel. As always, the characters are convincing and endearing and by the time you make it this far in this enjoyable series, they’re like your own family. Cleo’s story just gets better and better.

Pick up your copy on Amazon here.

5* Review of Kristina Stanley’s “The Author’s Guide to Selling Books to Non-Bookstores”

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If you’re an author who wants to get more print copy book sales but don’t know where to start, Kristina Stanley’s guide is the book for you. While everyone has undoubtedly noticed books for sale in establishments other than bookstores, how to go about getting your book in such a position is often an enigma, if you’ve never been involved in sales.

My favorite part about this book was that it felt as if you were sitting around a kitchen table having a friendly conversation with Kristina. I loved the way she admitted to being nervous about such an endeavor and how her hand was shaking the first time someone asked her to autograph one of her books. I could so relate! So many of us authors are uncomfortable with self-promotion and it’s encouraging to know that this can be overcome so it no longer stands in the way of what we really want, which is to sell books.

Since Kristina was originally nervous about selling her books face to face, if you’re in that category, she makes you feel comfortable and not self-recriminating. It’s just where you are, but don’t have to stay there. She was able to get over it and be successful, so her example builds your confidence that you can do it, too. She explains how to approach store owners and managers and even includes important information such as the different types of contracts, e.g., direct and consignment sales. She talks about what percentages to offer and how to calculate what your actual book cost is, plus she even provides suggested layouts for spreadsheets to track your sales.  There are check-lists for sales calls, book signing events and more, as well as tips for marketing materials.

Most importantly, she helps you see things through the store owner’s eyes and determine the correct “what’s in it for them” approach, key to successful sales of any kind. By sharing her experience and lessons learned, Kristina helps you not to feel clueless and thus nervous about attempting to hawk your print books in such a way to gain community support for your work. Ideally, you’ll create a reciprocal relationship where they sell your books and you, in turn, point potential readers to their establishments to buy them through your marketing plan.

This book is a jewel that every author should read, whether published independently or traditionally. Taking that first step away from your writing sanctuary out into the public to promote your work can be a daunting task if you’re an introvert at heart like myself. This great guide provides a warm and friendly tutorial that includes the know-how, confidence and courage to take that important step. I give it 5 stars, but it deserves at least 10.

You can pick up your copy on Amazon here.

 

Review of “The Star Agency” by R.E. Weber

staragencycvr

I thoroughly enjoyed this story about Theopolis James Logan’s grand adventure, which has barely begun, since this is the first book in a series. He’s a somewhat typical 13 year old, highly intelligent, a bit too outspoken for his own good, bored with school as the highly intelligent usually are, and generally disaffected by his life. Sound familiar? Whether you’re someone who has already survived the teen years or are dealing with them yourself, you will relate to Theo.

The suspense is well-sustained and keeps you turning the pages. The author has spun a great science fiction tale and created a vivid world. This story is a clean read with plenty of adventure and believable characters. While suitable for young readers, it’s an enjoyable “stress free” read for adults as well. However, remember this story is designed and targeted for younger readers, for whom it’s an excellent introduction to the world of sci-fi, but may not be what you’re looking for if you’re expecting a more sophisticated story/writing style populated with adult characters.

I appreciate the fact that the author stated that this book took years to write. I have to admit that I can truly relate to that, since mine did, too. To fully confess, I, too have written a young adult science fiction series and I believe that anyone who enjoys Weber’s story would enjoy my Star Trails Tetralogy and vice versa.

Pick up your copy of The Star Agency on Amazon here: http://amzn.to/2aJcEjL

You can find my Star Trails Tetralogy Box Set on Amazon here: http://amzn.to/1Sk1gpy