Independent book review: Smoke Road



Scorch Series Romance Thriller Book 3

By Toby Neal and Emily Kimelman

Luca Luciano is a jerk.

The books of the Scorch Road series are gripping, fast-paced page turners that will thrill, scare, arouse and thoroughly entertain you.

Smoke Road is the third volume in the new Scorch Road, six-book series being launched at a rate of a book a month by co-authors Toby Neal and Emily Kimelman. Both best-selling authors in their own right, teamed to write a six-volume series, releasing them at about three-week intervals.

The books I have read so far in the series follow a pattern. Each one has two main characters: one of the six Luciano brothers from South Philly, and a strong woman he meets. Together, they have to fight their way through the chaos unleashed by the Scorch Flu, a pandemic that kills 90 percent of those infected. Along the way, they gather clues about the source of the virus and a deep conspiracy that caused it.

Smoke Road’s male protagonist is Luca, the eldest Luciano brother. He’s the “alpha male,” a former Special Forces member built like a superhero.
The female lead is Dr. Haunani Kegawa, a medical researcher and advisor to the U.S. national security establishment who has found intelligence about the source of the Scorch Flu: a neo-Nazi skinhead group in Texas who has stolen a virus developed by the government and dispersed it across the country.

The plot of the whole series follows the well-established apocalypse scenario. As most of the country falls sick and dies, society and government fall apart. Gangs loot towns. Communities are reduced to scavengers, pirates, raiders or slaves. Think The Walking Dead, without zombies.

Dr. Kagawa is charged with finding the skinhead neo-Nazis responsible for the calamity, and given a unit of National Guardsmen to help her—the only military force close to the enemy that has not succumbed to the flu—which includes Luca Luciano.

As soon as he meets Dr. Kagawa, they’re irresistibly attracted to each other. This is where Luca becomes a jerk

Luca has deep-seated issues. He doesn’t trust any women. He uses them for his own pleasure—and to be fair, many use him for theirs. He’s a hunk’s hunk. But he believes all women are devious.

Dr. Kagawa is anything but. She’s clearly drawn on Toby Neal’s main character, Lei Texeira: she’s part Hawaiian, part Japanese; she has baggage stemming from a bad, nearly abusive past relationship; and she carries a piece of beach glass in her pocket at all times, which she holds and rubs to allay anxiety. This is a direct carry-over from Lei Texeira.

The story is basically a love story, with the pandemic apocalypse a setting. Luca and Nani are drawn together by circumstance and biology, and their personalities are just similar enough that they clash repeatedly. They drive each other crazy in many ways.

Like reality, it’s the man who’s wrong.

Toby Neal

Toby Neal

Emily-author-photo

Emily Kimelman

It’s frightening to me just how well women can read men’s minds.

This book is compelling and exciting, full of action, suspense and hot sex scenes. It’s a true mark of a writer’s skill to be able to write hot sex scenes without coming off as either pornographic or silly.

Well done, Toby and Emily. You’ve done what every writer strives to do: make a nightmare fantasy completely believable.

5*

A gripping thriller and a stunning writing feat



Independent review of Sugar for Sugar by Seb Kirby

SebKirbyLargerWith the first few pages of his latest novel, Seb Kirby seemed to have challenged his abilities as a writer by choosing two elements that many writers find difficult to pull off: the unreliable first-person narrator, and present-tense action.

It seems challenging at first, but within the first three chapters, you can see how clever Kirby is.

Sugar for Sugar begins with a prologue about a hit-and-run accident. But the story really begins with “I’m lost in a dark, dark place and, try as hard as I can, nothing helps me to understand.

“When I seek answers, I see only broken shards of my past, flashes lighting this darkest of places for an instant, shining bright then fading as soon as they appear.”

Gradually, we learn that Isobel Cunningham has no memory. A friend, Marianne French, has brought her to a hospital, concerned about Issy’s disorientation and confusion.

Issy doesn’t even remember being brutally raped. This fact is discovered by Dr. Jane Wilson, the physician who first examines Issy.

Amnesia: a clever device

The opening is simultaneously frustrating and compelling. Issy asks the same questions over and over because her short-term memory is less than a minute long. On the other hand, she can remember older facts about herself, like her name, age, address and employer. But she cannot remember the previous several days, nor her childhood. The repetition this characterization requires would seem frustrating, but at the same time, we readers are compelled to turn the page to find out more, especially what would induce this state of mind.

This device is a perfect way for the author to describe the first-person narrator, as she goes through the photos and messages on her smart phone to try to learn about herself. “Wavy blonde hair … grey green eyes.” It’s a book for the social media age, as Issy not only begins to reclaim her past through her online identity, but also uses the phone to keep notes as a workaround her faulty memory. They’re messages to herself:

Why did Colin need my help?

Mary is a good friend.

Thankfully, Kirby does not rely solely on Issy, the unreliable narrator. Subsequent chapters have the POV of two police officers, DI Steven Ives and DS June Lesley; Marianne French, the woman who brought Issy to the hospital, and occasionally gangster Justin Hardman.

The mystery

sugarforsugarDetectives Ives and Lesley are investigating the suspicious, sudden death of Mike Aspinal, the Senior Executive at Ardensis, where Issy works. Early in the plot, it turns out that Aspinal has been murdered by poison injected into his back. Medical evidence also shows it was Ardensis who raped Issy, giving her a motive to kill him.

Like the skilled mystery writer that he is, Seb Kirby logically links all these elements. While there are some red herrings, there’s not a wasted word. The pace is fast, the action tense, the details spare, just enough to keep you flipping pages—or swiping my iPad.

The ending is satisfying, sensible and logical, tying everything together.

Recommended

The publisher describes the book as “a gripping psychological thriller,” and every single word of that is true. Do yourself a favour and buy it now.

I highly recommend this book. 5 stars *****

Get it on Amazon

Visit Seb Kirby’s website

Friday Nights Don’t Last Forever: Independent book review



fndlfcoverCaleb Pirtle III has proven that he’s an original writer. His books do not follow the usual tropes and stereotypical genre tales, whether he’s writing mysteries, sports stories or anything else. He’s not a genre writer — he’s writing modern American literature disguised as genre books.

Friday Nights Don’t Last Forever, his latest release, is an excellent tale, told in the author’s trademark  staccato, declarative and lucid style that brings the reader not just into the scene, but behind the character’s eyes.

An original plot

Set in the mid-1980s, the story of Friday Nights starts where the typical high school sports story ends: at the state championship game.

The high school in the small town of Avalon, Alabama, has had an underdog football team for decades. But this year, the team has been blessed with the golden arm of Casey Clinton, and the almost magical abilities of wide receiver Lucas Calhoun. In game after game, play after play, Casey has managed to find Lucas, who has caught every pass.

The state championship game attracts scouts from college football programs who want to see whether Casey is for real. But the night of the big game, it rains. In the final minute, with Avalon needing just one more touchdown to win, as Casey winds up for the forward pass, his foot slips in the wet mud. He falls, his pass goes wide, Lucas cannot reach it and Avalon loses.

It’s all over. There will be no more Friday night glory for Avalon, for Casey, Lucas, coach “Balls” Baldwin, nor anyone else in Avalon.

But it’s not over. It’s only early December, and the school year stretches ahead. The story continues through December by juxtaposing the experiences of Casey and Lucas.

For Casey, December is a season of continual phone calls from scouts from high-profile college football scouts, including the legendary Frank Hatchett, longtime head of the football program at the University of Alabama.

Casey feels the pressure of not just competing coaches who tempt him with scholarships, cars and sex, but also from his family, who want him to bring glory to them as well as the town; town leaders with competing interests; his wide receiver but never friend, Lucas Calhoun; and of course his teasing, virginal girlfriend, the cheerleader Chelsea Sinclair.

Lucas, meanwhile, the other half of the magical team that brought so many touchdowns and so much glory to the Avalon high school, is completely ignored. No scouts call him. The coach doesn’t talk to him, the rest of the football team shuns him. Chelsea, the “Virginal Queen” of Avalon, actively scorns and bullies him because he’s “trash.”

The contrast becomes starkest when the Alabama football program invites Casey to come see the Cotton Bowl in Texas, where they’re playing for the holy grail of college football. Lucas, in the meantime, begs Casey, whom he despises, for a scholarship, too, if he accepts a scholarship from a competing college.

Characters

calebpirtle

Caleb Pirtle III, author of Friday Nights Don’t Last Forever.

Pirtle’s lean style drives the reader through the story, where we meet many three-dimensional supporting characters like Brother Bailey Proctor, the sex-hating Baptist preacher; his frustrated, sexy wife, Karen; “Crazy Legs” Epperson, who was once a football star but whose scholarship hopes were destroyed by an injury; “Balls” Baldwin, the football coach, who allowed himself to hope for a state championship before he retired, but sank back into defeat; and Lucas’ alcoholic, father, Charlie. Readers quickly come to hate Charlie, for good reason.

A drunk who abandoned the family when Lucas was small, Charlie began to pay attention to Lucas during the final football season to try to get some reflected glory on himself. But after the team loses the championship game, Charlie is mostly out of the picture again until a murder in the second half of the book. The author’s skill allows him to achieve not redemption, but a little sympathy by the end.

Of course, as quarterback and captain of the football team, Casey’s girlfriend is the head cheerleader, Chelsea Sinclair. But Pirtle does not let stereotypes lie quiet. Chelsea is a clever little bitch with an agenda, simultaneously promising and withholding sex to keep her boyfriend on a short leash.

Bottom line

I read an advance copy in return for an honest review. As such, I found a number of minor typographical errors in the version that I read. But the story and the writing style rise far above those issues. This is an excellent read by a polished, professional author who knows his subject and his characters intimately.

Buy and read this book. You won’t be disappointed.

5*

Find it on Amazon.

Interviewing the book reviewers



BrookeTramFor the third time, we’re turning the tables on book critics and reviewers, asking them what makes them tick and why they review books the way they do. This week, it’s good friend and fellow iAi member Frederick Lee Brooke, who in addition to being an author of six books himself, is also a prolific reviewer on Amazon and Goodreads.

What genres do you review?

I review most of the books I read, because I think we do a service to other readers when we summarize our impressions of a book. So asking which genres I review is the same as asking which ones I read: mysteries, thrillers, psychological thrillers, biographies, literary novels, some science fiction.

Why do you prefer those genres? What do you get out of them?

I like reading mysteries and thrillers because there’s a set structure, whether it’s a story about a serial killer or a kidnapping or whatever. There’s something satisfying about revisiting that structure over and over again. I also like spending time again and again with detectives I’ve come to know, whether it’s Karin Slaughter’s Faith or Gae-Lynn Woods’s Cass Elliot. In any book I read, I expect to meet characters who are tested by their circumstances, and I expect them to read true.

What do you look for in a book that you review?

I look for characters who ring true, who develop into interesting full-blooded people before my eyes. I look for surprises in every chapter. I look for good writing that makes me sit up, including dialogue that sounds real, and interior stuff that makes me ponder. I look for a story and a conflict that matters, that has some weight to it.

What is the worst mistake that an author can make in a book?

I keep reading books by big name authors that are full of clichés, and I’m surprised to encounter them. Clichés in the language used, or in descriptions of characters. Another thing I hate is when a narrator has gaps in their story due to their own drunken blackouts, as in Girl on the Train. I feel ripped off.

What is the worst mistake in your opinion that an author can make when trying to promote a book?

It’s very off-putting when authors basically go on Facebook or Twitter with twenty-six versions of “Please buy my latest book”. I think authors need to put their books out there, and put themselves out there, and trust the reading public to find them. I wouldn’t buy a pair of jeans from a guy blocking my way in the street, pointing to a rack of jeans for sale; I would be sure to give him a wide berth. But when I need a new pair of jeans, I go where I know I can find jeans, and pick out a pair I like.

Which is more important to you: the plot/story, characters, or the writer’s style?

If the characters aren’t fleshed out and real, I won’t read the book. If the characters are totally unique and unforgettable, like Harry Potter and his friends, just to name one well-known example, the story and the style both fade in importance. However, poor writing (style) can sink a story with well-drawn characters as well.

Name a classic book in the genre you favour most that you think today’s writers should aspire to equal.

Creative Commons

In the realm of psychological thrillers I greatly admire Gillian Flynn, and her books Gone Girl, Sharp Objects and Dark Places. But I also find the less well-known Cody McFadyen fascinating. I think these two authors are exploring the grungier side of human nature in absolutely spellbinding detail.

Desert island question: name three record albums you would take with you if you were stranded on the island from Lost (where they had vinyl records and diamond-stylus record players).

Prince’s Purple Rain would be in my bag, and Linkin Park’s Minutes to Midnight, and then maybe a Motown Mix with some Temptations, Marvin Gaye and other classics.

Thank you very much, Fred!

Frederick Lee Brooke recently completed his dystopian science-fiction Drone Wars trilogy with The Drone Wars, which was preceded by Saving Raine in 2013 and Inferno in 2014.

DroneWars3a3319-inferno_ebookcover1c103-saving_raine_cover_final_600px_72ppiHe launched the Annie Ogden Mystery Series in 2011 with Doing Max Vinyl and followed with Zombie Candy in 2012, a book that is neither about zombies nor sweets. The third mystery in the series, Collateral Damage, appeared in 2013.

A resident of Switzerland, Fred has worked as a teacher, language school manager and school owner. He has three boys and two cats and recently had to learn how to operate both washing machine and dryer. He makes frequent trips back to his native Chicago.

When not writing or doing the washing, Fred can be found walking along the banks of the Rhine River, sitting in a local cafe, or visiting all the local pubs in search of his lost umbrella.
b1551-collateraldamagehirescover ZombieCandy2

 

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Stories from the War: Friends of my Enemy, Book 1



StoriesFromWarBy Autumn Birt

An independent book review

I was a little nervous as I read the first chapter in Stories from the War. I like Autumn Birt’s writing and I enjoyed her fantasy series, Rise of the Fifth Order. So I was intrigued by her shift from epic fantasy to dystopian military thriller with Friends of My Enemy.

Hopes high, I was a little put off by the opening of the first Story from the War, First Meeting. It’s a lunch meeting between two main characters: Arinna Prescott, a military attaché from the USA and an EU diplomat who happens to be a baron. I thought, “Oh, no. She’s trying to evoke some kind of Regency romance here, but set it in the future.”

I was also a little afraid that Stories from the War would follow the worn path of the military dystopian future, where an ex-soldier’s military training and discipline is the only thing that ensures the survival of a small group while civilization deteriorates into rival warlord territories.

But while this book starts with the U.S. under military law and Europe renews aristocratic ranks and privileges. As I read on, I felt myself drawn deeper and deeper into Autumn Birt’s universe. I really could not put it down.

Stories from the War is not a novel.

It’s a set of 11 stories about a small group of realistic characters. First are Lieutenant Arinna Prescot, who meets a diplomat, Baron Bryan Vasquez, in Spain. Their conversation, which opens the story, skillfully sets the stage of the whole series. We learn that by 2055, the United States is under military law, beset by famine and riots. Climate change has brought storms that even the Americans could not recover from. Arinna’s and her husband, Air Force Captain Michael Prescott, have been sent to Europe in order to help rebuild the diplomatic relationship between the “New States” and the united Europe.

The characters are the best element of this very strong book. Sure, some of them are pretentious blowhards, some are conceited jerks, and some are hopeless romantics. But we all know some people like that. I don’t like all the characters, but I believe in all of them.

The stories are episodes in the lives of these characters, and each episode develops their relationships. These relationships drive the plot, or rather, its exposition. We see this new war that develops and how it affects each individual.

One of the few weakness is that the “enemy” is never clearly identified.

The U.S. was destroyed by repeated storms and famine, but soon after the Prescots’ arrival in Europe, a mysterious organization called the Freedom Liberation Front strikes the U.S. and completes its destruction. The Prescots calculate their chances and join the EU, rising in NATO’s military as the FLF turns on Europe.

Throughout the book, the FLF remains distant and shadowy. It’s not until probably four-fifths of the way through the book that the POV characters come face-to-face with the enemy, and even then they’re not that close. It helps to make the enemy that much more sinister, but it is frustrating not to know what they really want.

Overall, I enjoyed reading this book.

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Author Autumn Birt

The characters, particularly Arinna, who becomes known as “The Lady Grey” are strong and very well drawn. The reader sees through their eyes, feels what they feel. The descriptions are so vivid I can practically smell the smoke and feel the heft of weapons in my hands.

Congratulations to Autumn Birt on creating another vivid fictional world to explore.

4*

Get Stories from the War on

Find out more about the author

And follow her on Twitter @weifarer.

 

Independent book review: One Upon a [Stolen] Time



OnceUponAStolenTimeThe perfect haunted castle story
By Samreen Ahsan

The old adage, “Be careful what you wish for, because it might come true” is the starting point for this story. Myra Farrow is a romantic young woman from London, UK, who is obsessed with stories about medieval knights and princes. She wants to be part of history, and wishes she were a real medieval princess. Frustrated with the impossibility of that, she reads medieval English history, literature and poetry, even making it the subject of her university degree.

Her parents have indulged her to the point of visiting every old castle and manor in the UK, except for one that’s abandoned and closed: the totally fictitious Hue Castle.

Myra’s parents, who run a successful business in London, are concerned that their daughter lives more in the past than the here-and-now, so they arrange a marriage for her to Steve Bernard, scion of one of the UK’s wealthiest and most powerful families.

But Steve isn’t just the inheritor of wealth. He’s actually a successful video game entrepreneur, and while he isn’t interest in Myra romantically, he does want her to be a model for shooting scenes for his new medieval-themed video game. And as coincidence will have it, Steve has chosen the abandoned, yet lifeless Hue Castle for his setting.

Hue Castle has all the necessary elements for a very spooky setting, like prison towers, dungeons and instruments of torture. But the most dangerous thing is a shrouded mirror. When Myra looks into it, she sees scenes from six hundred years ago, the vicious cruelty that brought down a curse so extreme that nothing grows at Hue Castle — no plants, not even rats live there.

As Myra returns to look into the mirror, she’s increasingly drawn into the lives of those dead for six centuries, and gradually, she begins to hear them and finally contacts Edward, the crown prince of England in 1415. Myra wonders whether she can even enter that time, and if she does, whether she would be able to return.

Characters

Ahsan’s strength is creating believable, familiar characters, and Myra is another example. She’s a romantic, obsessed with her fantasies of kings and princes and knights, but she is far from one-sided. She dreams about being rescued by a handsome knight, but she’s not weak. She’s a complex, modern woman who likes her cell phones and clothes, and her freedom and independence.

Steve is a complex man, too, who undergoes a transformation through the book and comes to love Myra for who she is. This sets up a love triangle and another level of conflict in Myra, who is already trying to choose between the past and the present.

Perhaps the most complex, appealing character is the tortured Edward Hue, the prince and son of the cruel (fictitious) King Stefan. You really feel for this character, and I was surprised by how fully Ahsan has realized this character.

Drawbacks

The only thing I didn’t like about this story was the framing device, the overly complex way she has set up the story, with Myra being set up by her parents with Steven, who is not interested in her at first. I understand why Ahsan chose the billionaire genius guy and the smart, regular girl structure for her previous two-volume Prayer series (A Silent Prayer and A Prayer Heeded). She was showing what a love story like 50 Shades could be if handled by a writer with skill and talent. But there is no need for that here. Neither is there a need for the marriage to be arranged. Steve could have just hired Myra to be his model, and gradually fallen in love with her. It would have made the story simpler and allowed the author to get to the action quicker.

But that’s a minor point. This is a mesmerizing story that keeps you swiping your e-reader to get to the next page. It’s well worth a read.

Get it on Amazon.

Independent book review: My Last Romance and Other Passions



A cliché-busting collection of romances by Kathleen Valentine

As an independent author, I find it important to write an independent book review from time to time — my own, unasked-for review of a book from a fellow indie. Here is my review of one such.

Kathleen Valentine is a literary leader. As a writer, she follows her own path and creates original, beautiful stories with characters readers can recognize because they’re taken from reality. 

I’m not normally a fan of romances. But I have to say that I was turned on, in many ways, by the collection of romantic short stories for grown-ups by Kathleen Valentine called My Last Romance and Other Passions.

Most “romance” novels I have encountered seem to be aimed at women who never emotionally got past high school. (To be fair, most action/adventure novels I have read seem written for men who never matured past Grade 8). They tend to follow one of two or three models:

  • the nice, middle class girl fixes the tortured billionaire—50 Shades of Crap was far from the first of this cliché
  • the two young lovers with damaged childhoods find safe havens in each other
  • the nice girl is drawn to the bad boy, and either
    • decides on the nice boy next door, or
    • fixes the bad boy.

There’s a lot of fixing in romance, and almost always by the female protagonist.

These are the tropes no matter the “hotness” level. There are these plots in sexy, steamy romances; in hot romances about Highlanders, cowboys, firemen and pirates; and in the “clean” romances — which means romances without sex.

The clean romance is the genre I hate the most. What are these writers saying — sex is dirty?

When Valentine breaks the rules

I guess it was inevitable that a writer named Valentine would write romantic stories. I’m just so glad she didn’t fall into the Hallmark Card type of romance trap. I found the stories in My Last Romance and Other Passions to be insightful, believable and entertaining — in other words, real literature.

Most romances, whether independent or commercially published, also feature characters with British, Celtic or otherwise very Western European names. Kathleen Valentine is one of the few writers in any genre I have read who’s willing to be inclusive and realistic in reflecting the diversity of Western culture today, and her characters have names like “Silvio” and “Asa.” And they’re not all middle-class suburbanites or billionaires or expatriate European nobility. They come from isolated towns in the Appalachians or fishing villages in Massachusetts or from poor farms in Texas. They’re people we know exist, but they rarely feature in literature or genre fiction.

Kathleen Valentine is breaking down the rules that have accreted over romance like so much mould, and revitalized it.

Grown ups do grown-up things

Another thing I really appreciate about these romances — the last and otherwise — is that they’re about adults, and they do adult things. Okay, I admit I have a bias at my age, identifying more with people who’ve lived longer and had more experiences.

But Valentine’s characters have businesses and hold down jobs, and it’s clear that the author understands everything this entails. They’re musicians who never sold a million albums but know how to rock the house down. They’re artists who capture beauty and truth but never get known beyond their home town. They have children and marriages, and occasionally — no, more than occasionally — they fail at their obligations, they stray and they cheat and they enjoy it.

The independent book review

9a285-kathleenvalentine1948_sx200_Kathleen Valentine is an accomplished, professional writer with a lot of successful titles on her Author page. This collection is an excellent introduction to her work, and should stand as a model for would-be romance authors.

5*

You can find My Last Romance and Other Passions either on Amazon, but I got my copy as an even better value, as part of the BestSelling Reads Valentine Bundle, featuring full length books from nine professional, independent authors. For more great values, don’t forget to check them out.

And of course, you should visit Kathleen’s own website and blog for thoughts and ideas from a real, talented designer and author.

Undrastormur: An independent book review



The best children’s books are those that also appeal to adults, and they do that by presenting characters with elements that readers of all ages can recognize in themselves.

Undrastormur: A Viking Tale of Troublesome Trolls by Roger Eschbacher is one of those books. It continues the author’s oeuvre of middle-grade books based on ancient northern European mythology, started in Dragonfriend and Giant Killer.

The story

Undrastormur is the Storm of Wonder, unleashed by a special spell to the thunder god, Thor. The story begins when young Eirik wakes up before dawn one morning, feeling extra hungry, so he goes out into the forest to find mushrooms. Because he’s away from his Norse village, he avoids an attack by giant, horrible trolls who mysteriously are not deterred by sunlight. Terrified, he hides in a cave too small for trolls to get into. There, he finds part of his grandfather’s staff, a weapon that when whole can call down the Undrastormur, the storm that will destroy the trolls and save the village.

But there’s a problem, explained by the guardian spirit, Bruun: the staff is broken and will not work until its two halves are joined together again, and the other half is in Nilfheim, the Norse underworld, a cold, dark land of despair beneath the roots of Yggdrasil, the world tree.

Bruun explains that Eirik has inherited his grandfather’s magical properties, which is why he can communicate with a guardian spirit and survive the trip to Nilfheim. Taking his grandfather’s talisman so that he can return to his own world—after surviving an encounter with the trolls and escaping—Eirik goes to Nilfheim, where he meets a girl. It turns out that Astrid had also been sent to find Eirik’s grandfather’s staff, but had been stymied when the staff had been taken by a monster of Niflheim.

And here is the challenge: Eirik must learn to trust Astrid and work with her to defeat the monster, return to Earth, and then use the restored full staff to defeat the trolls.

Sure, it’s based on that trope of a young man, or teenager who inherits special properties that make him the only hope of his people—but hey, this is a fantasy, based on ancient mythology. It works.

Characters

One of Eschbacher’s main strengths as an author is his ability to show us interesting and believable characters. We can recognize in them people that we all know. Old Aesa, a tough old lady of the village, is my favourite. She reminds me of some of my relatives in her no-nonsense talking manner and her delight in shocking young people.

Eirik and Astrid are believable young people. Eirik is often terrified, but knowing that he’s the only hope for the village, embarks on his adventure anyway. Astrid is a strong, smart and able young woman who has learned how to survive. Even Bruun, the household spirit, is funny and interesting.

And the trolls are great: huge, ugly, disgusting, dim-witted and very funny.

Wonderful for adults & kids

Undrastormur is a lot of fun for the middle grade set: humour, grisly, messy deaths at the hands of hideous and amusingly stupid trolls, magic and resourceful young people finding the solution to problems that freeze grown-up hearts.

140d6-roger-portrait-small_dsc00275editAs an author, Eshcbacher, is a true professional. He’s written a number of children’s books and works in Hollywood as a writer for children’s programs. So of course, Undrastormur has obviously been professionally edited and produced, and has a professionally designed cover.

It’s a book that’s aimed at children, but with a solid story, fully developed characters, lots of humour and a surprising twist at the end, like the best of all art for children, it’s a book that adults can enjoy, too. I just wish it had been longer.

You can get it on Amazon.

5*

A Snake in Paradise: A woman finds her inner strength — Independent novel review



Snake-new-mediumBy Eden Baylee

I loved Eden Baylee’s stories since I read her Fall into Winter collection. So when I saw that she had written a Lei Crime Kindle World novella, I had to read A Snake in Paradise.

Essentially, the story is one of a woman discovering her inner strength and learning to trust herself. My favorite aspect is how the author uses the snake as a symbol of strength and power, as opposed to the usual sneaky, evil associations.

The story

Madelaine Lee is a recently divorced woman who decides to turn her life around. She starts to call herself “Lainey,” rather than Madelaine. After decades of her overbearing husband preventing her from getting a tattoo, after her divorce, Lainey has a friend give her a colorful tattoo of a snake the length of her back. Then she treats herself to a solo vacation on the Big Island, Hawaii.

At the opening of the story, she’s clearly still in recovery mode: nervous, anxious to please. But she is making the effort to transform herself. She dresses so as to show off her tattoo. She books adventurous excursions.

At her hotel, she is victimized by a handsome man, who seduces her, then robs her and leaves her naked and bound hand and foot.

Drawing on her new-found inner strength, symbolized by the snake tattoo, she is determined not to let her experience ruin her vacation, and to help the police find the man who robbed and humiliated her.

Her self-confidence grows daily. She makes new friends and begins to like herself more and more. By the end of the story, she’s no longer the same Madelaine Lee, ex-wife. She’s self-actualized Lainey Lee. Like a snake, she has gone through a painful struggle and is now renewed.

This is an excellent book that follows a credible, sympathetic character’s development, who finds in trauma her own inner strength. From that, she changes her situation, her life and herself.

5*.

Kindle World

A Snake in Paradise is one of the titles in the Lei Crimes Series Kindle World. Bestselling author Toby Neal created the Lei Crime series, which now has nine books featuring Hawaiian Detective (and sometimes FBI Agent) Leilani Texeira, as well as a companion novel about a secondary character.

EdenBaylee

Eden Baylee, author of A Snake in Paradise

Kindle Worlds is an initiative of Amazon, where the company takes a successful series and invites other people to write shorter works that fit within the original author’s world. Toby invited a number of proven, professional writers to contribute to her Lei Crime world, and Eden Baylee joined with A Snake in Paradise.

In total, 11 authors have published Lei Crime Kindle World books of varying length, and I’m looking forward to reviewing more, including Christine Nolfi’s The Shell Keeper and Emily Kimelman’s Warrior Dog.

Seamless weaving of romance, mythology and psychology: A Prayer Heeded



An independent novel review

A_Prayer_Heeded-682x1024A Prayer Heeded is the follow-up to Samreen Ahsan’s multi-award winning A Silent Prayer, the book that brought Ahsan international acclaim.

A Silent Prayer has won six international book awards, including Best Romance at the 214 Paris Book Festival.

But A Prayer Heeded is not really a sequel, because the two books together tell a single story. The premise to Fifty Shades of Gray, but written by a talented writer who lives in the real world.

The premise

Adam Gibson is a very wealthy Toronto real estate developer with a troubled past. He has been estranged from his mother, who, he believes, abandoned him as a child. He became a billionaire in a real industry, as a real estate developer in Toronto. It’s a plausible premise.

Adam is an atheist with a strong social conscience who supports several charities. He pays all the costs of a women’s shelter, called Hope.

Rania is a graphic designer, professional, strong, independent and devout with a troubled past of her own. She is estranged from her father, but not through choice.

These bookend characters meet more or less accidentally, through work, and are instantly attracted. Yes, it’s love at first sight, but this is a romance, after all.

Of course, there are a lot of obstacles to their relationship. There’s Rania’s past as an abused wife, which dissuades her from getting involved in another romance. There’s Adam’s past, his estrangement from his mother, which leads him to a string of loveless couplings with women.

And there’s their religious difference. Rania is a faithful Muslim, and Adam a convinced atheist. Gently, with kindness and examples, aided by some mystical experiences on both their parts, Adam comes to believe in divinity.

By the end of A Silent Prayer, Rania has accepted Adam’s love, but then his jealous outburst sends her away. And that’s where A Prayer Heeded begins, with Adam searching for Rania again.

When he finds her, Rania tells him their relationship can never work because Adam’s jealous outburst not only humiliated her, it showed her that he cannot offer what she needs.

But really, she’s running from Adam because she is literally cursed. A jinni loves her, or a woman who looked like her thousands of years ago. For millennia, this jinni has pursued women who look like Rania and prevented them from having normal relationships with human men.

SamreenNew

Samreen Ahsan, author of A Silent Prayer and A Prayer Heeded

That’s where the book takes a sharp left turn and delves into the confluence of mythology and contemporary paranormal fiction. But at the same time, like the best in the paranormal or fantasy tradition, the fantastic elements can be interpreted as metaphors for the traumas in the lives of the main characters.

It’s obvious that the author, Samreen Ahsan, is very devout, like her protagonist. Over the course of the book, she weaves aspects of religion with psychology and romance, carrying the readers along like a shuttle.

Strengths

Ahsan’s characters are well developed, believable, and sympathetic characters. Like people we all know, they can be strong one moment, vulnerable the next. But even when they’re not at their best, they’re likeable.

Gibson is a believable billionaire, largely because he’s smart and the author takes care to show him working at his job. Rania is a modern, professional woman who knows what she wants, but hides a terrible secret from everyone she loves.

Weakness

The only thing that detracted from my enjoyment of both A Prayer Heeded and its predecessor, A Silent Prayer, is the pacing. They really make up one book, together. That would be a long book, but that’s my point — it takes too long to get to the core of this story, which is the possession, the magic and the ultimate villain of the piece.

On the other hand, the long story does allow Ahsan to fully describe the development of Rania’s and Adam’s love story. So, I’ll just hold back a half-star for that.

4.5*