“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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“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 “The Wake (and What Jeremiah did Next) by Colm Herron

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This story is nothing short of brilliant. If you have any connection to Ireland, you’ll recognize the intimate depiction of its people and culture. If you don’t, you’ll get a crash course. The saying that fiction is best for depicting truth definitely applies. In this case, it’s like being fully immersed, perhaps even like being baptized in Irish whiskey, through the eyes of the main character, Jeremiah.

The book is so loaded with truth I hardly know where to start. It starts out at a wake, an event that is typically associated with Irish culture. If you’ve never been to one like myself, this will give you a glimpse of what they’re all about. If you’ve ever lived in a small town, it will make even more sense. Here you have someone who has passed away and has no relatives, so a neighbor holds the wake because it’s the thing to do. The conversations during this event reveal a boatload. It’s more of a social event where refreshments are served than a time to remember the deceased, who was not particularly liked. Jeremiah, whose mother is the hostess, is stuck attending and, to make it more tolerable, has a bit too much to drink. Well, okay, maybe more than a bit. This results in some absolutely hilarious situations that had me laughing ’til I cried, but I won’t give away because I hate spoilers.

So what did Jeremiah do next? Well, he got on with his life. A rather weird, somewhat dysfunctional, crazy one that wasn’t particularly unexpected for a young man in his twenties discovering life in that time and place. As is the case with most that age and gender, he’s obsessed with sex. He’s in love with a woman who’s not only bisexual, but a rebel. This is where all the social issues regarding the Catholics and Protestants come into play. After all, it’s the 60s when protesting was in vogue. So, Jeremiah hooks up with Aisling and her partner, Frances, whom he describes as “Stalin in drag.” The adventures they encounter, including in the bedroom (which are tastefully done, considering it’s a menage a trois) take off from there, and provide a glimpse into the religion-related issues and what the protests are all about.

I consider this story a literary masterpiece. I could hardly put it down, which was exacerbated by the fact it doesn’t have chapter breaks. It reads partly like a journal and partly like following Jeremiah around, perhaps as his guardian angel sees him. Few books have the ability this one has to draw you into a world so effectively. It’s like a very personal trip to the Emerald Isle.

As a bonus, and to assist those who may not “get” what this book is all about, the author includes some discussion questions at the end which would be particularly helpful for book clubs or even English teachers. All great literature is unique and stands out from everything else and this is in that category. You’ll either love it or hate it. I loved 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.

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

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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

Review of “The Carrot” by Virginia Gray

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Quite frankly, I never dreamed that I would eventually give this book a five-star rating. I started reading it almost two years ago, 21 months, to be exact. It took me that long for a couple reasons, mainly because at first I couldn’t stand the protagonist, Susan Wade, whom I found horrifically irritating. I thought she was a dysfunctional, self-centered, obsessive, hot mess. Her warped views of the world made me want to slap her upside the head. She hated her roots, the small town where she’d grown up, and was willing to do anything to get ahead in the world. Her priorities were horrible. The plot moved very slowly at first, also, which tried my patience as well. I would set it aside, read something else (or two or three), yet inevitably pick it up again between other reads.

Why?

Because it was so exceptionally well written. The fact the author had developed a character so completely that she got on my last nerve made me feel I owed it to her to keep reading, to see where it was going. Her prose was fantastic, at times poetic, the imagery beautifully drawn. It was a pleasure to read, pure ambrosia, even if Susan was messed up and the plot crawling at glacial speed.

At this point I need to mention that, unlike other reviewers, I try to maintain a sense of objectivity. Not liking a story or its characters is not enough for me to give a book a bad rating if the story is well-crafted. I also care about grammar, typos, and formatting, which I find distracting. Editing, in all its varieties, is important to me. If a story is clever and otherwise interesting, I might forgive some of those things, but in general, I expect a professional product when I buy a book. If a book is loaded with such annoyances I’m likely to never finish it because it’s such a chore to read. There were very few such flaws in this story, certainly not enough to put me off. Rather, I was a bit surprised that they slipped past, based on the quality otherwise. One that really had me scratching my head was how one beautiful sunset painted the eastern sky. Huh? Possible, but not likely. Actually, I wrote a blog about that kind of stuff you can find here.

As I plodded through, page by page, gradually things started to make sense. I began to appreciate the fact that the slow pace was allowing me to get drawn deeply into the story and its characters. The sense of place was amazing. I love it when a book takes you someplace new; by the time I finished, I felt as if I’d spent several months in coastal North Carolina.

When it started to come out why the protagonist was the way she was, I began to be more sympathetic. Maybe Susan put me off at first because there were things about her that reminded me of myself. As her motives and life experiences became more clear, it was easier to care about her, then eventually start cheering her on. Some people are slow to come around such that it takes numerous hard knocks before they learn.

As a professional astrologer I’m a student of human nature and tend to try and place a particular sun sign on characters as I watch them unfold. Fixed signs (Taurus, Scorpio, Leo, Aquarius) rarely change, or it takes great pain and suffering from life’s lessons to do so. The implications of when her birthday was in the book made me think she was a Scorpio. When it said near the end that Pete’s birthday was March 15, making him a Pisces, that made sense, too. It made me laugh, since on my website I have a compatibility section where I say this love match concerns me a lot since I have often seen Piscean men injured horribly by Scorpio women, though there is often a strong attraction between them, both being emotionally driven water signs. Ditto, for this couple.  BTW, astrology works amazingly well for fiction. Just ask Elle Klass.

But I digress.

From about halfway in, the story started to move, and by the time I was 75% through, it was hard to put down. It was touching and I really connected with the characters. The corporate gymnastics and dog-eat-dog environment were well-characterized as well. Having spent over 20 years in the world of NASA contracting, I could definitely relate to some of the games people play.

Probably the underlying theme of this story is “Be careful what you wish for.” Another candidate would be “What you’re trying to escape is exactly where you belong.”

This was an outstanding story that was beautifully written. It has numerous life lessons within that astute readers can learn vicariously. It takes a while to get moving, but all that background is essential and what draws you in until you’re hopelessly hooked. I have two rather minor criticisms. One is the title. Those who aren’t familiar with the tale of the donkey and the carrot may not get it, which could turn away potential readers who would love the story. The new cover helped tremendously; I’ve had the book long enough it has the old cover, which featured–a carrot.

The other criticism is that it wrapped up rather quickly and was a bit confusing at the end. I don’t want to get into spoiler territory, so won’t say more, but I’ll just say I had to go back and reread a few parts to figure out who was doing what. Considering how slowly and patiently the story unfolded, it could have wound down at a less frantic pace so as not to lose track of what was going on.

That said, it was still a great read. If you love well-developed characters, outstanding imagery, and a rather common situation regarding the balance of career with relationships, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Pick up your copy on Amazon here.

P.S. As I got ready to post this review I discovered that there is now a prequel to “The Carrot” called “The Interview.” So you might want to start with that. You can find it here.

Review of “His Revenge” by John W. Howell

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This fast-moving, well-written and nicely edited thriller keeps you turning the pages as you wonder how hero, John Cannon, is going to get out of his current dilemma. In the first book in this trilogy (My GRL), Cannon foiled a sophisticated group of terrorist’s insidious plan. Needless to say, they’re out for revenge and manage to capture him after which they force him to be part of another devious plot aimed at destroying the economic viability of the west. The suspense is well-sustained, dialog gripping, and characters convincing. The action level was breathtaking. Having not read “My GRL” it was nonetheless relatively easy to follow what had transpired previously. Descriptions of Cannon’s recovery from injuries sustained in the previous book were extremely well done.

However, there were various gaps typical of a serial where the author doesn’t remind a previous reader (or enlighten a new one) with regard to details such as what the characters look like. For example, while it was implied in this volume that the terrorists were of the Middle Eastern variety, their names were not indicative of that heritage. Rather, they had names that suggested European or even American origin. There was also no physical description with regard to their appearance, so they were a faceless enigma. This left me scratching my head throughout the story, wondering “Who exactly are these people?”

I can definitely understand this tendency myself since I’ve written a serial. In the author’s mind it’s one, continuous story and easy to forget to include details that seem redundant, yet they’re essential. I’ve covered some of the things I’ve learned in previous blogs for serial writers such as this one and its follow-up. I’m sure my readers can find similar oversights in my books, so I mention this in all humility.

The motivation for their heinous acts was touched on, but not demonstrated in their personal behavior. While I would expect lethal passion resulting from intense anger, hatred, and a visceral need for revenge, the antagonists behaved more like corporate executives out to annihilate a competitor to keep their stockholders satisfied. They were definitely cold-hearted, but the expected fury at Cannon’s previous actions didn’t come through.

Maybe this was covered in the first book, but evoking the emotional drive behind their acts could have added considerable intensity and additional suspense. If the bad guys were true terrorists, you’d expect that pissing them off further would result in chopping Cannon’s (or a loved one’s) head off on YouTube, but that type of potential didn’t come through. Emotional connection is what really grabs a reader. They need to love the hero and hate the antagonist, or at least fear him/her. This is what makes a story real and comprises a gripping tale.

I hate to get on the soapbox again, but I find it helpful to to assess a book during the content editing process using the acronym IDEAS where I stands for Imagery; D stands for Dialog; E stands for Emotion; A stands for Action and S stands for Suspense. Depending on the genre, a certain balance is required of these elements. Action and dialog often come easily for thriller writers, so going back to include the others is often required. Of course you don’t want to slow the story down, so it needs to be done with finesse, not long, drawn-out descriptions that cause the reader’s eyes to glaze over.

While in this story the terrorists used the fate of loved ones to drive their captives’ cooperation, it seemed that the good guys may have gotten around it a bit too easily, if these terrorists were as smart or well-connected as implied. Especially if the antagonists had as much clout and the ability to infiltrate so many organizations to effect Cannon’s capture, which was not explained, either. Including such things increases a story’s credibility.

Perhaps this was covered in the first book, which would make it required reading to fully appreciate this one. The author has an excellent writing style with a talent for developing a fast moving story with convincing dialog and viable characters. By filling in some of these gaps, kicking up the emotional drive a notch, and a bit more imagery, Howell could easily approach the level of Tom Clancy or John Grisham. I see tremendous potential in his writing that could go from great to outstanding with a bit more attention to detail, though many readers may not care and simply enjoy the fast action. I, personally, like to know the how and wherefore, which is what can drive a great story up a notch to the best seller list.