Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Book review: Next to Impossible by Scott White


"It had felt so right to be in Mac Callaghan's arms. His promise to meet her for dinner seemed so genuine. So why was it, less than twelve hours later, Hope Crosby was listening to Mac’s voicemail telling her he was going out of the country on business. Really? Couldn’t he have come up with a better excuse than that? She couldn’t believe she had been conned again. This guy seemed so different, so quietly confident, honest and strong. And so damn handsome!

Forty-eight hours later, off the coast of Malaysia, Mac gazed into the darkness as he prepared to fast-rope from a helicopter to the slippery, pitching deck of a small freighter. It was up to him and his team to rescue a woman who had been kidnapped by pirates in the Strait of Malacca. The pirates didn’t know they had kidnapped the daughter of the U.S. Secretary of State−yet. Mac and his team raced against the clock to save her. If they failed, she would disappear into the horrifying world of human slavery and prostitution in Southeast Asia.

As he looked down at the ship’s wake, he wondered for a moment if he would ever see Hope again. At this point, the odds didn’t look too good. He thought about the way her eyes sparkled when she smiled. Then he regrouped and dropped down the fast-rope into the darkness."

"Next to Impossible" is a fast-paced military-romance novel that is built on a very solid core. Many books I've reviewed have a few unnecessary tangents, but White's novel is plain and simple which is a good thing. There were only one or two scenes that may be able to be cut, but even then there's no reason to. That's something I look for in a good book, and White delivered on that. There are some issues with the book, unfortunately. There's quite a bit of head-jumping, sometimes within the same paragraph, and at times it detracts from the book. Some readers may have an easier time with it than I did, but I haven't seen many books written with so much jumping.

It may be because White is a retired Naval Officer, but it was nice to see a more realistic military operation in a novel. Most of the time you get the movie version, where things are exaggerated, and you have the cliché lines and kung-fu moves of the soldiers. It was methodical, straight-forward, and without what I would consider excessive violence. It was one shot, and they were down. I think that's a really good way to describe the book as a whole: methodical, and straight-forward. And the romance in the novel gives it the extra edge, and gives Mac something to come home to after his mission.

Overall, this is a decent book that just needs a bit of work to make it a bit more readable. But if you're looking for a solid book with some awesome military scenes, this is it. I can't say many books have such a firm foundation as this one.

Buy the book on Amazon

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Mark Lawrence's Great Self-published Fantasy Write-off

Back in March I discovered Mark Lawrence's writing/review blog and his post detailing a contest. He gathered together quite a few book bloggers to try to find some of the best self-published fantasy novels. And I thought to myself "why not try it out?" But not as a blogger. As an author. He has a warning on the post saying that sci-fi was going to need to work harder to get to the top, but I know 'Revealing the Revolution' is a hard worker. It's about a professional athletic team after all! My book was assigned to Tyson Mauermann of The Speculative Book Review and wouldn't you know it, but I haven't been cut yet! In fact, I noticed the other day that Mr. Mauermann rated 'Revealing the Revolution' 3 stars on Goodreads (which equates to "I like it") which is still a positive rating!

Sally Field - You Like Me You Really Like Me

I will keep everyone updated, especially if he posts a review on his blog which you all need to check out. He's reviewed some pretty interesting books.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Book review: Woman of Clay by Linda Caddick


In first century Israel, Shushana lives a quiet life but her inner spirit rages against the outside. Her rebellion against her father brings her to live with her aunt and cousin, and begins her descent into an abyss where she finds no hope. The words and miracles of a mysterious rabbi know as the Teacher and Master speak to Shushana's soul, and in him she begins to find the peace, love, and forgiveness she has longed for.

While technically this is a Biblical or historical fiction novel, it was written as though it could just as easily been set in modern times. This fact makes "Woman of Clay" such a relevant novel to people today. Caddick clearly did some research for this novel, especially when it comes to the events and goings-on during the time of Jesus' ministry. I'm known to be overly critical of historical fiction, especially Biblical fiction, as it's my degree, so a few of these next comments will be completely due to that, and not necessarily a reflection of what readers will see. While it's great that the novel could be translated to modern times, it was too easy to do so. The Middle East has such a distinct feel and resonance that wasn't apparent in the novel. I liked the inclusion of talking about how exactly people travelled around, because it wasn't easy. But some terms used by the characters and understandings didn't quite fit with First Century Israel. One thing that niggled at me was the names. Some were traditionally Hebrew, some were Anglicized. And then...there was a Spanish name. That absolutely threw me for a loop. If Caddick had wanted to use a name with a certain meaning, there is definitely a Hebrew name as a replacement. (Joana would be the replacement, even though there is already a character with that name. Or Matea/Mathia could work.)

Other than those issues, this is actually quite a wonderful novel. It does an excellent job at showing the love and forgiveness of God, and depicts what it was like to be a follower of Christ during his last year of ministry. It's easy to see why it was seen to be so radical, and some people were taken to be fanatics. But Caddick explored that rationale well and showed how it was dealt with within the Jewish culture. It was definitely a dangerous time, not only with the Pharisees but also the Romans. I would have liked to see a bit more of an account of what it was like to live under Roman occupation, but I think what is shown is likely the extent of what would have happened. The Romans weren't too concerned with Judea, so it only makes sense that there would be little influence on the actual culture.

Overall this is a lovely novel, with flawed characters who are redeemed in the end. It shows the power of love, faith, and forgiveness between each other and with God. I really loved how this wasn't a novel about Jesus, or Shushana following him. That part of her story was entwined within her quest to find herself and quench the thirst within her spirit, and Caddick did a great job showing that.

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Monday, 20 April 2015

Review for "The Return of the Key" by Alisha Nurse

“The Return of the Key” by Alisha Nurse is an adventure story with a healthy dose of fantasy and sprinklings of romance woven in throughout. Eliza Aurelio is the focus of the tale, a mixed race girl sent from her home in Trinidad to England to escape racial tension but then gets swept up into the problems of a mythical fairy world she unwittingly gets drawn into. She makes many friends along the way who all have unique skills they contribute to help Eliza save the world of magic and in turn her own. Eliza is pushed to become the hero she never thought she could be, and in turn learns to overcome her fears and insecurities. In the end the greatest battle she has to face is the one to accept herself just the way she is.

Alisha Nurse took a bit of a gamble with this novel by combining the very real issues of racial conflict with the mythical problems of race in a fictitious world but I think she carried it off marvelously. Nurse blended the two story lines flawlessly together and the parallels between the magical world and the human world highlighted the damage caused by racial tension. Eliza Aurelio is the protagonist but we also get to hear from her friends Gwen and Arden which provides a great balance of perspectives. Gwen is Eliza’s friend at school facing racial problems of her own and Arden, a fairy who has to rise above the prejudices of his people to help his world and his new friends.

The characters are well fleshed out, if somewhat resembling stock characters from a teen drama, which to a certain extent is what this book is. Gwen is a typical tomboy, becoming fast friends with Eliza as she recognizes the similarities between their lives and the challenges they face. Arden is one of the first fairies Gwen and Eliza meet and luckily also one of the most sympathetic to their plight. He is the stoic hero, constantly coming to the rescue of the girls, and in particular Eliza as a strong relationship grows between the two. After all what is a novel about teenagers without a bit of awkward romance?

Since the book is quite short, the characters are not given long to develop over the course of the story but they are still lovable and relatable. The plot on the other hand has a great rhythm to it and unfolds at a great pace considering the length of time it is given. I loved the ending which strays from the typical storybook ending in a creative way. There is also a great segue towards the end that in my opinion, leaves the way open for sequels.

The only real problem I had with the book was the simplicity. The story was rich with history and sideline characters but for a young adult novel I was expecting a bit more depth to the story. The writing was also problematic in some places as Nurse tried to tie in a lot of imagery but ended up with bulky run on sentences, and while it showed off her vocabulary it made for some uninspiring read on occasion.

The Return of the Key was a fun trip through a fantastical land and a great message to younger readers about the need to look past race and color in order to make your world a better place. The main character Eliza’s voyage through self-discovery running parallel to the story again is a powerful example to old and young alike about our capacity to grow and our high levels of self-worth. If Nurse does decide to turn this into a series I will be eagerly anticipating the next book.

If you would like to buy this book the Amazon link is here

The authors' website is here.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Book review: The Last Gathering by Norbert Monfort

"Christina Rivera was hosting what she thought was just another gathering for her beloved community of St. Francis Catholic Church, but things were not at all as they seemed and this would turn out to be the last gathering she would host for this close knit group. It would take over thirty years for Christina to discover what was really happening at this gathering and have a unique opportunity to set things right. There's murder, larceny and scandal, but also the importance of community in helping you thrive during the good times and survive when tragedy strikes. Add in a dramatic and miraculous twist on the concept that everything happens for a reason and you have a thriller that leaves you satisfied in the end."

I have to say that this is likely going to be the least positive review thus far. I've given worse through Reader's Favorite, but we're not able to post reviews with anything less than 3/5 stars. I don't have that policy on my own blog, so here goes nothing.

In terms of the story, 'The Last Gathering' by Norbert Monfort really only gets interesting in the last fifty pages. There are some good ideas in there, which was the book's saving grace. The end read pretty well, but that's about all I can say about it.

This book needs a massive professional edit. It detracted so much from my reading experience, that I had to re-read pages twice just so I would stop editing it in my head. Sure, I edited my own book but I had the help of three beta-readers, and about twenty alpha readers who read it as I was writing. And that helped. So it's not always necessary (but very much encouraged) to get professional editing...but it's necessary in this case. It's not just spelling, but grammar, and style. Yes, I said it. Usually I never review style, as it's all personal preference...but the book read so poorly that the style needs to be altered.

The narrative jumps around, really unnecessarily. Sure, some of the flashbacks/flashfowards were useful, but most of the time they could have been summed up in a few lines to give character background. The dialogue was stilted and unrealistic, and again wordy and unnecessary. Most of the time we get a lot of explanation through the dialogue which can be okay in some circumstances, but the characters are giving these explanations to other characters who don't need it and it's much too apparent that it's an info-dump. At the end of the book, I find out that some characters could have been written out completely and wouldn't have made a bit of a difference to the outcome of the book.

I think if Monfort went back through and re-structured the novel and got a professional editor, it may not even be bad. The idea of getting a second chance to change an entire community is interesting and shows how we are all connected. Every single decision we make will affect others around us whether we realize it or not. But that doesn't even seem to be the focus until the last fifty pages of the novel. If you're looking to pick it up, make sure you wait for an updated version because as it stands it reads like a manuscript rather than a professional novel.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Book review: Mr. Ruins by Michael John Grist


Ritry Goligh lives in a society constantly in the verge of destruction by deadly tsunamis. But until the next one, Ritry will continue his work: diving in the minds of others, implanting knowledge, or removing painful memories. This is his life. Until he meets Mr. Ruins. Then everything changes.

'Mr. Ruins (Ruins Sonata Book 1)' by Michael John Grist is so messed up it may be brilliant. At first it reminded me of the movie Inception based on the idea of going into someone's mind, but I soon realized there is so much more to this book. The author writes at a perfected pace, and it kicks up a notch right when you get sucked into it and doesn't let up.

The setting is well done, and I got into it immediately. He managed to make nearly everything recognizable from what it is now without compromising the futuristic setting. I'm not typically great at picturing things in my mind, but I had no trouble doing so with this novel.

The added plot with the team of marines was clever, and was perfectly executed. By the end I was rooting for them, and emotionally invested in their mission.

Grist's style of writing does take some getting used to, but it works well with the novel. I found a few errors in the text, although not enough to take me out of the novel. Actually, only one did because it was a repeated word, but not a big deal.

If you're looking for an emotionally charged book, one that makes you question your state of mind, one that delves into the power of memories, and what lies at our core as a human, this is the book for you.

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Author's website

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Book review: Dragon Choir by Benjamin Descovich


Elrin has learned first-hand the dangers of eavesdropping. After hearing his lost father's name in a conversation, he is on the run for his life. His mentor sends him to Hoard Island on a quest to find his father, and he needs the aid of the fabled Dragon Choir. Life and circumstances force him into an anti-slavery rebellion, one which shows his part in a prophecy.

(*I feel the need to remind my readers that these reviews are my personal opinion. Unless I talk about technical errors such as spelling and/or grammar, these are all completely subjective.*)

The blurb for the novel makes it sound intense, complicated, and very interesting. Unfortunately that didn't carry over into the novel as a whole. The writing itself isn't bad, and I couldn't find any glaring editorial issues. But it just didn't do it for me. 

Descovich has put quite a bit into this novel, and at times it feels a bit jumbled. But I really liked the different elements he used and although I found them to be jumbled they each had their role within the novel and it all worked well together. The idea of slavery in the novel is really quite intriguing, and it's nice to see some sort of social issue within a fantasy novel as that doesn't typically happen. I got the sense that there was something underlying about the issue, and I hope that's detailed in later novels. We got a hint of it at the end with the mysterious letter, which shows that the plot carries on and evolves in the rest of the series. At least I hope it does.

I would have liked to know more about the prophecy which is introduced, or at least the concept. From my reading, it almost seems as though each person had a personal prophecy (or at least the main characters did) which would make for a very interesting culture. Yes, yes. I know I'm asking for a lot of answers, and I know that they'll be given in time. I'd be content with knowing if Minni having a prophecy is special, or if everyone has one.

Along the same lines, I also would have liked a bit more of an explanation of the world in which the novel is set. We get glimpses here and there, but no real feel to the scenery. Granted, a lot of the novel is set on a boat...ship. What's revealed about the history is interesting, but not quite satisfying although I'm sure more of that will be revealed as the series continued. But I'm an overly curious person. What really interested me was the flawed society Elrin was raised in. He was pretty much set up to fail from a young age, which helped the story along, but made for a frustrating life (from his perspective.)

I found a few comparisons with Game of Thrones (there's a city called Lord's Landing, to compare to Martin's King's Landing although it's not the centre of the kingdom) and Lord of the Rings (races, which isn't too big of a deal as many other fantasy novels use elves and orc. I've never seen hobbits anywhere else, although they're not called hobbits here. But they're described as short, with large hairy feet.) Of course, this is where my mind took me as I've recently been reading the other two epic fantasy novels and it may be different for others. My husband didn't seem to get the comparisons, and he's a bit of a Tolkien fanatic. (He has a copy of The Hobbit in Latin...and can read it...he's so cool.) I've also found a connection with the move In Your Eyes (awesome movie) and a webcomic I read nearly ten years ago. Obviously they had nothing to do with each other, but my mind makes connections when it sees similar words or themes.

Overall, it's an okay book. It had some great elements and the writing was pretty good. The overall concept is interesting, but I probably wouldn't recommend it to many people. Readers of epic fantasy, and even most people with an interest in social/cultural issues within the fantasy genre will be entertained by this novel. Unfortunately, I wasn't one of those people.

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