WHY I DON’T GIVE STAR RATINGS ON MY BLOG REVIEWS
For a number of years I wrote reviews of live music performances for the Australian Press. I was paid to use my knowledge and understanding of music to tell other people about the strengths and weaknesses of a performance. If I had based the reviews on my personal responses, the newspapers would not have hired me for very long.
I find it difficult to accept what often appears on the various platforms as a review of a book. In fact, sometimes what is posted is not a review at all but an entirely subjective ramble around the ‘reviewer’s’ feelings.
I have nothing against feelings. They’re interesting. But I want a review to provide me with objective facts which I can test for myself.
The Star Rating The written content of an Amazon review cannot be posted until the number of stars has been filled in. What people tend to forget is that the star rating is an expression of the reviewer’s subjective response and not a measure of the quality of the book.
A book can be a remarkably brilliant piece of a writer’s imagination and craft and still be awarded a two star rating (I don’t like it).
Unfortunately, the star ratings have come to be the primary interest of an e-published book review and a point of jubilation or despair for the author, because stars are accepted as indicators of excellence, and they influence sales.
When I post my reviews onto my blog page I don’t include any hint of a star rating. I hope readers will be interested only in my written content.
11th July 2017 Review of “Druid’s Portal: The First Journey” by Cindy Tomamichel
A Fine Portal Novel
“Druid’s Portal: The First Journey” by Cindy Tomamichel is a strange and engaging novel, well written and of a high technical quality. It holds adventurous romance, drama and thoughtful consideration of human issues which appear to be the same, although separated by nearly two thousand years, ranging between the 20th century and Roman Britain.
As well as dealing with people problems, the book also opens the fantasy world of magic and the eternal conflict between the forces of good and evil, in settings which reveal the author’s considerable descriptive powers.
The characters are strong and well-rounded. Even the minor actors in the drama are complete and distinctive. The main personalities interact in a series of often fascinating events, and from the outset the villain’s presence dominates the action, providing a focus for the heroine’s individual development.
Any author takes on a difficult task when attempting to deal simultaneously with past and present, but in “The First Journey”, Ms Tomamichel employs two techniques with equal success. Memories and dreams are used with very effective precision, and material travel through a time portal is extremely well handled.
The novel has been quite adequately researched, and the difficulties presented by a 20th-century character who descends on the distant past with all her contemporary knowledge and attitudes intact, do not result in unbelievable action.
There is always the question of authenticity to be considered. The author makes a good decision to use the 20th-century tone in dialogue, with just slight and colourful hints that the historical characters would have spoken in a considerably different idiom. However, during the narrative one notices anomalies which, although necessary to the storyline, may cause readers who know about such things to give a blink or two.
This is a fine novel, written by a person who is in full control of the techniques of writing and who knows how to engage a reader completely in an unusual and vivid narrative.
4th July 2017 Review of “Instant Pot Vegan Cookbook” by Lisa Hyde
“Instant Pot Vegan Cookbook” by Lisa Hyde is not about the advantages of living as a vegan person. Comprehensive information about that particular life style will have to be looked for elsewhere. This book assumes the reader is at least interested in veganism and has seen, or even possesses, one of these Canadian-invented high-tech cooking devices.
Despite all the exciting advertising of Instant Pot, not everyone will choose to go with one of these versatile multi-cookers. Many people will probably stick with their traditional pressure cookers and slow cookers, at least for the time being, so the traditional cookbooks will not disappear immediately. However, the book under review meets a particular need because it shows how this new machine will help vegan eaters to a quicker, easier and probably very enjoyable kitchen experience.
It begins with a very brief introductory glance at why veganism is a good choice for busy 21st-century people. Then there is something of a sales pitch for this super-cooker, in which the writer is obliged to mention the fact that the Instant Pot also cooks non-vegan meals.
But when the recipes begin, the book comes into its own. Although the pictures have been photographed in the domestic setting rather than in studio conditions, the e-book layout is clear and easily followed. Each recipe gives the calorie content and preparation time for the dish, and the ten main ingredients used appear to be standard for vegan culinary conditions.
All the recipe steps are clearly stated, together with the necessary operating instructions for Instant Pot cooking. It is a slight relief to a traditionalist to learn that the IP cannot fry. For that, one has to return to the stove top, although what is being fried can be prepared in the Pot.
In the brief final message, the author suggests that personal experience and inventiveness can be brought into play for variation. It is certainly possible that someone without an Instant Pot could take some of the very attractive recipes and use them in established devices, particularly in pressure and slow cookers.
“Instant Pot Vegan Cookbook” is a simple but very attractive compilation of home-style recipes which will interest not only Vegan people and Instant Pot owners but also those who will not yet abandon their traditional kitchen friends.
Past and Future
The novel “Clarity” (‘Epsilon’Book 1) by R.James Stevens makes a very decent read for connoisseurs of thrillers, intrigue, and future projection.
One of its particular strengths is the very high quality of the many episodes involving military confrontation, which the author presents with authority and conviction. Stevens has a gift for writing action scenes of all kinds, and he does not hold back when embarking on vivid descriptions of destruction and mayhem.
The two main protagonists both military men, are both well developed as characters. Their lives and personal relationships are the main thread which holds this very complex narrative together.
Other characters are not as firmly rounded, although two of the villainous contingent bring in an unusual and engaging colour. The female protagonist, a young intellectual prodigy who has broken all the glass ceilings around, has a potential that is not fully developed during the course of the novel, but she is used effectively to support one of the many strands which together form the intriguing plot.
The structure of the novel is unusually intricate; it leaves the linear flow of time and turns to the world of the flashback, so that light from the past clarifies the present. Although on occasion this technique of fluctuation between times and states of being is distracting, Stevens keeps it under control, and excursions into dreams and cyberspace become completely necessary parts of the narrative.
However, even with the continuous invoking of the past, the theme of the book is not easy to discover, although the reader picks up the impression that there is something rather dark waiting for humanity in the future.
In some respects, “Clarity” is a slightly obscure and puzzling story, but it does engage a reader’s interest. The pace is fast, some of the concepts are thoroughly intriguing, and in general the novel offers a pleasant and memorable reading experience.
1st June 2017 Review of “The Gods we Make” by Eric Johannsen
Although it is identified as being a science fiction novel, ‘The Gods We Make’ by Eric Johannsen is set in the year 2045. In terms of time, this is just down the road, perhaps not even over the horizon, and yet the author gives us a world to wonder at, where social and scientific advances are taking humanity expertly and confidently into interplanetary space.
He shows us only the first steps, but his reason for taking them, why some of his characters find themselves travelling to Jupiter are the same reasons which have dominated human affairs for the last few thousand years – the conflict between humans for power and position.
Mr Johannsen’s projections belong on the “hard” side of science fiction. He is very knowledgeable about space science and because his writing style is strong and lucid, the reader learns a great deal about developments in space construction and movement, and can only feel glad about the incredibly useful 3-D printer.
At times, the narrative becomes slightly bogged in prolific detail, and perhaps the reader who tends more to the space opera side of science fiction may find themselves skipping over pages where technical operations are perhaps too meticulously described.
It is all in the service of the very authentic and convincing narrative, fast-paced and colourful, demonstrating the author’s highly-developed writing skills and his extremely effective ability to create a very complex structure, which involves not only a James Bond style encounter in a playground for Asian high rollers but also the taking over of an alien starship.
On the whole, the characters are thoroughly developed and well rounded, although the high-achieving, glass-ceiling-breaking female lead is perhaps not as satisfying as the experienced astronaut/rancher who delivers the goods, even if he does have to do something almost unthinkable on the way.
However, there is much more to the novel than conflict, espionage and possible space-based aggression between two world super-powers. Running through the thrilling and adventurous storyline is a strong thread to which the fundamental questions of human ethics are attached. The narrative constantly refers to how humans do, and should, relate to each other on a general level, irrespective of national and personal interests.
There is no doubt at all that Mr Johannsen is a writer of great ability, and in ‘The Gods We Make’ he has created a very fine book which is highly recommended to readers in a range of genres.
16th November 2016. Review of “Write Your Way Out Of Depression” by Rayne Hall and Alexander Draghici
Sometimes one forgets that Rayne Hall is a highly regarded author of fiction, because she is so very firmly and successfully grounded in the non-fiction area. In her “Writer’s Craft” series, she reveals the skills and understanding that the accomplished writer needs; she also helps people to understand and deal with the urges and demands of a writer’s life.
“Write Your Way Out of Depression” is her latest book in the long series, and it is a notable addition. While it deals with ways and means of writing, it is directed specifically to people who have the great misfortune to spend some part of their life suffering depression.
In this book, Ms Hall does not seek to develop authorship skills. Instead, she turns to the act of writing itself. She suggests “strategies” that a writer can follow when dealing with life’s difficulties.
As well as clearly describing a number of different writing processes, Ms Hall shows how the strategies have worked for her, and how they have helped to shape her personal experience. She also includes ideas which people can apply to their immediate life circumstances, such as making sure that they get enough sunlight.
Depression as a phenomenon is clearly explained by Ms Hall’s co-writer, clinical psychologist Alexander Draghici, who follows the systematic laying out of the strategies with professional confirmation. This is a very successful combining of two areas of expertise.
Ms Hall says: “This is a practical book, based on solid science but uncluttered by technical jargon and academic references. It’s all about you: your feelings, your way with words, your ability to heal yourself.”
There can be no doubt that the content of this book will help people in depression, but it is also very clear to see that the book will appeal, and probably be very useful, to all writers.
30th October 2016 Review of “Reflections in a Hubcap” by Steve Atkinson
In this collection, Steve Atkinson proves himself to be a complete master of the short story, not only through his accomplished writing style but also in his choice of themes and subjects.
The immediacy and completeness of characters is something that a writer of short stories must achieve if a reader’s interest is to be caught, held, and the story remembered; and character definition in Atkinson’s stories is remarkably deep and rounded. These are people who easily could be found among the living, but Atkinson takes the points of essential reference and description to render his players equally alive on the written page.
Even the most minor of accompanying characters is vivid and strong, and faultlessly takes their small part in framing and interpreting the many storylines which Atkinson follows, ranging through the full gamut of human experience, from the darkness of the tormented soul to a child’s brilliant happiness.
The narratives unfold at a carefully studied pace. Nothing is hurried nor pushed along too quickly. The author controls the reader’s desire to know where the action is leading through the precise handling and fascination of the immediate moment. Atkinson’s tales are not objects for skim reading.
Each of the stories in this collection ends with that moment of dénouement or revelation when final understanding is achieved. This is the technique which sets the fully skilled short story writer apart from aspirants in the genre, and it identifies this book as one for very serious consideration by any reader looking for a good story, excellently told.
3rd September 2016 A review of “Breathless” by MM Carter for the “Books Go Social Book Review Group” posted on Amazon and Goodreads.
Strong Characters in an intriguing Storyline
Breathless brings into vivid existence the life of an Australian adolescent in the final year of school. The educational setting, and the relationships which build and grow there are authentic and convincing, as is the home life of the protagonist, Charlie, a girl at the boundary between independent living and emotional dependency on the father she loves.
Where is her mother? The question is one of the many interesting twists in this very well-crafted young adult novel and exists as a dark line which runs throughout the narrative, carrying with it a sense of unresolved mystery and fear.
MM Carter has a remarkable gift for character creation; even those who make only minor appearances are rounded and strong, and the main characters spring almost instantaneously into complete and persuasive reality. The year bully is cleverly used as a mirror for Charlie’s own growth and his comeuppance is a little different from similar cases of uncertain egos.
And what a reality there is in this book. The reader is taken at a very fast pace repeatedly from small crisis to large climax. The storyline is full of incident and tension, there is excellent developmental conflict between the youthful characters and a large-scale external structural conflict. Just the stuff to engage a young adult reader, and a more mature adult reader too.
It is a shame that the final proof-read did not pick up a number of grammatical errors, which happen often enough to call for a mention. But apart from that, in Breathless, MM Carter demonstrates accomplished writing skills and presents a book which is well worth taking into a personal library for more than one read.
29th August 2016 A review of Little Birdie Grows up by Wanda Luthman and Bryce Westervelt. Posted on Amazon and Goodreads.
Flying the Nest
Although “Little Birdie Grows Up” is written for very young children, who cannot fail to be immediately and deeply attracted to Bryce Westervelt’s vivid pictorial narrative, it is a book which most likely will also engage genuine adult interest.
In its few pages, and told from the young bird’s point of view, Wanda Luthman’s storyline deals with time; with growing up, with learning how to live, successfully doing all the things that birds do, passing through the developmental stages of the species, until the wider world calls and the parent is left in the empty nest.
To a certain extent the book deals with standard material, and parts of the rhyming structure are a little strained. However, hidden in the story, and extending it beyond the normal scope of similar books, is a rather clever metaphor, although a person will not fully appreciate it unless they spent part of their own childhood singing, or at least listening to, hymns.
Adults who follow the story with the young child, should be prepared for demanding questions, perhaps even some judgmental observations, and one could also expect frequent re-reads.
But, when all is said and done, these are fundamental characteristics of a successful child’s book, and there is no doubt that with “Little Birdie Grows Up”, Luthman and Westervelt have added another good read to the repertoire of the genre.
16th August 2016 A Review of The Black Orchestra by JJ Toner for the “Books Go Social Review Group”. Posted on Amazon and Goodreads.
A strong Writing Style tells a good Story
As the Second World War begins, Kurt Müller, the protagonist of this well-written book only wants to live as normally as possible, to cope with his somewhat mysterious girlfriend, to enjoy pleasant meals on the main Berlin shopping and coffee strip, to do his job, and eventually to continue his studies at university in Ireland. He is only an obscure lieutenant in the Abwehr (the German high-command spy and sabotage service) and is driven by nothing more than a normal sense of what is right.
But the author creates a complex and interesting storyline which causes this pleasant and uncritical young man to change, because he discovers wrong-doing, coercion and brutality in people whom he has tended to accept without question and realises that the same trends are affecting his beloved Fatherland as a whole.
Although the book is described as a “spy thriller” there is not a great deal of suspense to be found, especially in the first part. Kurt is no James Bond, and he pokes around in the departmental records and the offices of his superiors, almost with impunity. A bit bland, perhaps, but things begin to follow more predictable and faster-moving paths when the action passes to neutral Ireland and the central concept of the story is revealed.
The greatest strength of the novel is the development of Kurt’s character, which the author builds with considerable skill. He is an appealing, naïve young man at the beginning, and at the end, although he has faced terrible realisations, and has been forced into extreme action, he has not descended into cynicism and bitterness.
The other characters are something of a mixed bag. Some would benefit from a little more definition, and the arch-villain is not very villainous at all, but there are others, who are extremely well drawn. Kurt’s best friend Alex, for example, emerges as a fully-rounded and idiosyncratic character, personifying the tragedy of the general social collapse.
JJ Toner is as good a writer as one could expect to come across. His style is strong, highly individual, and in “The Black Orchestra” he has produced a novel which not only creates genuine reader interest but also provides material for reflection, which is one of the standards by which we measure a good book.
7th July 2016 A Review of Flowers for the Ancients by Fiona Guillaume for the “Books Go Social Review Group”. Posted on Amazon and Goodreads.
Among the Erotic Best
In “Flowers for the Ancients” Fionna Guillaume takes us into the days of ancient middle and far eastern history, into the stories that were told by the people who lived there, and into some of the events which may have taken place. She does not offer us historical fact; only intelligent and intriguing supposition.
Was there ever a hard-working lesbian lady who founded Timbuktu? It doesn’t matter. There may have been, and all we have to do is to suspend disbelief, to tell ourselves that this author creates convincing realities, and we can sit down to one of the best reads in the erotic genre.
Ms Guillaume sets out to answer some of the questions which have puzzled us for years. What, for example, was behind the horrible tradition of binding women’s feet in China? Generally, it is down to an Emperor from eleven hundred years ago, but how did he get the idea into his head in the first place? Ms Guillaume offers us an answer, and at the same time creates a strong and determined female main character who enjoys a spot of revenge.
She tells us what life may have been like in a polyandrous Tibetan household, where a woman, finding herself with seven husbands, all with distinctive personalities and hang-ups, determines that she will not become the household drudge through the day and the family sex toy at night.
All of the stories are well-worked, finely written and distinguished by excellent and very strong characterisation. Some of the storylines perhaps are over-burdened with sexual description, but others look quite deeply into the relationships that build between lovers.
In this regard, the best story is the one which lays out the circumstances which could have generated the iconic bust of the Egyptian queen Nefertiti, which as we all know, lacks one of the eye pupils. What we don’t know is the character of the queen and the men she loved, but Ms Guillaume offers us a highly believable and tender story of what might have happened in Egypt, thirty-three hundred years ago.
Telling such old stories from the main character’s point of view has to present an author with difficulties of language presentation. Ms Guillaume maintains a good balance between the imagined narrative and speech styles of the past and the modern-day mind, although some anachronisms such as “déjà-vu” and “auto-pilot” stand out from time to time. But this author is a highly skilled writer and keeps the reader firmly in the worlds she creates for each story in the anthology.
The erotic content of the stories is very well handled. Hardly ever is it over-drawn, lacking in basic good taste or clichéd, as happens so frequently in erotic writing. In these stories the eroticism has different faces and is as necessary to the storylines as are the characters and settings which Ms Guillaume uses to bring these narrative imaginations to complete and persuasive life.
July 1st 2016 A review of Bonnie Milani’s Liquid Gambit for the ‘Books Go Social Review Group’. Posted on Goodreads and Amazon.
Bonnie Milani follows a classic Science Fiction practice when she writes “Liquid Gambit” as a novella. Many Sci-Fi stories have been told in this short but comprehensive genre which, while allowing for a deep exploration of the subject, takes the story in a single direction, with comparatively few characters and generally no sub-plots.
In the hands of an unskilled author, a novella can be pedestrian and uninteresting, but Ms Milani is a very skilled and stylish writer, and although the storyline is simple enough, she turns it into a rich reading experience through a masterful handling of back stories and strong drawing of characters.
The main character, the cynical, disillusioned Lupan bar owner, an alpha among the denizens of the lower levels of a space staging station, narrates the events in a terse, gritty delivery, reminiscent of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer. The fact that he is a genetically engineered wolf/human warrior with a past is essential to the story and Ms Milani uses his physical attributes as a fully believable, driving force in the narrative.
Fast-paced conflict, both external and internal, moves the storyline along. Perhaps the narrative flows a little too quickly at times, and a small thread of inferred action, when events take place off-stage, as it were, results in a slight lessening of the intensity. However, such very slight weaknesses do not detract from the fact that “Liquid Gambit” is a very successful, accomplished and intriguing book, guaranteed to deliver a good evening’s read to anyone – not only to Sci-Fi aficionados.
30th April 2016 A Review of Bound to Lust – a Collection presented by Selena Kitt
SEX ISN’T EVERYTHING
The book description says it all; what you see is what you get. “Bound to Lust”, presented by Selena Kitt in the “Excite Spice” series, is twenty-one books and excerpts of different lengths, all following a single theme and sold as a single bundle. As a marketing tactic, it is a good idea. Readers will be set up for predictable reading in their favourite genre.
However, making my way through the collection, I saw a problem with this type of presentation. By being in the collection, the books are up for comparison.
Each writer seems to possess competence in their understanding of the basic power theme – dominant and submissive sex – and in that they share common ground. But there is no getting away from the fact that some books have better storylines and are written more competently than others.
I don’t propose to rank the books in order of writing ability, but there are one or two which are more memorable, at least to this reader, than others, and would earn five stars if they were individually presented. I am thinking of “The Buyer” by Saskia Walker, and “Bounce Down” by Lorraine Loveit, although there are one or two others of similar good quality. Perhaps it is because in these, the characters are well-developed, dialogue and description are skilfully written and the storylines follow the structures of good narrative more closely than the rest of the books in the collection.
“Bound to Lust” intends to present books dealing with a single theme, and although the theme is never in doubt, the standard of writing is uneven. However, for fans of this genre, it is a collection well worth having.
February 2016 A Review of Hero and Heroine II (An Anthology of Short Reads) Edited by Tara Maya
An excellent collection, with first-class writing all the way through.
The great human theme appears again in Hero and Heroine II, differently treated but just as well presented as in the first anthology. Despite the variety of storylines and genres, there is a common element holding everything together, and that is the very high level of skill shown by each of the contributors. There is not the slightest hint of inexperience. Each writer is in full command of the literary expression and the result is a collection of stories which fascinate and engage.
In this second collection the narratives are very firmly connected with the heroic theme, even if the basic ideas may be a little unusual, not to say quirky. A re-telling of a fairy tale through the eyes of a feisty heroine, a story of the future where the hero is a technological construct, a dancer who makes sure that greed and self-interest get their comeuppance, a thoroughly engaging military romance with both heroine and hero equally strong as characters – these are just half of the interesting and very stylish storylines contained in this collection. Can you imagine a hero clutching a clipboard, a hero and heroine beating the system in a world of the future and a heroine preparing to deal with invading aliens? This collection has them all.
The success of “Hero and Heroine II” rests not only upon the general excellence of the contributions but also on the extremely high standard of editing by Tara Maya who has released an extremely readable and enjoyable anthology.
February 2016 Review of Hero and Heroine (An Anthology of Short Reads)
Edited by Tara Maya
Anthologies are often published with the focus on a genre; a collection of Romance or Sci-Fi stories for example, but this anthology is theme-based on the topic of heroes and heroines This is a canvas just about as wide as one can imagine. The hero/heroine is one of the classic archetypes of human existence and the expressions of that fundamental theme are various, to say the least.
That variety is a strong feature of “Hero and Heroine (Anthology of Short Reads)”. There are humorous, not to say comic stories from Rayne Hall and Angraecus Daniels, hard sci-fi from L.K. Pinaire and Justin Tyme, a Regency romance from Heidi Kneale in novelette form, young adult stories from Alex Binkley and Martin Bueno, a very short sci-fi look at the Japanese new year by Deborah Walker and a paranormal, somewhat steamy, romance novella by the editors Tara Maya and Vashti Valant. Although in some instances the presentation of the “hero/heroine” theme is a little tenuous, it is a very satisfying collection with often intriguing ideas, all of them written well and with a good feel for style.
The collection is also pleasantly visual. Each of the stories has its own cover and although this may appear slightly unimportant, it is a feature which definitely enhances this well-presented, well-edited and enjoyable anthology.
31st December 2015 Review of The Fresco by Sheri S. Tepper, posted on Goodreads.
A central character whose surname name reflects two of the largest ethnic groups in the US was the first thing which caught my eye in the blurb introducing “The Fresco”. Then the name of the alien interventionists caused me to smile, and I read the book; and very glad I am too.
I like to see the bad guys getting their comeuppance and in this book there are plenty of bad guys, both alien and human who, of course, find each other and for a time cooperate for the sake of their own interests. The human baddies are after power and the alien baddies are after a meal – of humans.
But balanced against them is the dutiful and put upon woman of the people, Benita, who has been noticed from afar by other aliens and chosen to be their intermediary as they begin to interfere in human affairs “to improve your morality”, as one of them puts it.
This straightforward deus ex machina situation is very appealing and when it is delivered with the accomplished style and excellence in alien world/society building, which is one of this author’s outstanding strengths, it delivers a memorable message.
The theme of alien intervention is not new. We yearn for signs that intelligent, hopefully benign, creatures will arrive one day and solve all the dire mistakes and confusions that the human race constructs around itself.
To a certain extent The Fresco gratifies this wish, and certainly the main character’s metamorphosis from common obscurity to chosen world influencer is a fairy-tale theme which we all relish.
But there are other themes deeply at work in this novel, and which are very relevant to contemporary societies. It is for these themes, and the strong characters who carry them, that I highly recommend this book as one for reading.
November 25, 2015 Posted on Amazon and Goodreads
A Novella to Read
There is a difference between a short novel and a novella. A novella is a single literary hit and can often be read in one sitting. It has a comparatively simple structure, there are no subplots and fewer characters, and yet a novella can pack a real reading punch.
In “Angel Mine” and “Lycan Love” Barbara Chioffi shows herself to be a novella writer to watch, and although this review looks mainly at “Angel Mine”, some of the comments could also be applied as the writer deals with the werewolf theme of “Lycan Love”.
Chioffi has a considerable gift for character presentation and development and in “Angel Mine” she focuses consistently on two strong central characters, both of whom move from positions of self-doubt after failed relationships to a renewal of confidence as they slowly find happiness in each other. An ordinary, perhaps even pedestrian theme, one might think, but there is a twist which makes this book quite memorable and by including it, the author shows that she is a story-teller of considerable ability.
To an extent Chioffi is still developing her writing style, and will learn to pace events a little more evenly, but this is not to say that readers should wait for her later books. This author already has a strong command of language and her fluency of expression will improve as she writes more. Chioffi has a high level of imagination and so far as steamy sensuality goes, she handles it with perfect control, not over-indulging but using it as a technique to confirm the growth of affection into love.
In “Angel Mine”, Barbara Chioffi presents a contemporary story which will interest and engage readers. It offers a thoughtful yet entertaining look at personal relationships with persuasive sympathy and flair.
November 20, 2015 A review of In Times of Violence by Karina Kantas posted on Amazon and Goodreads.
Karina Kantas’s novel “In Times of Violence” takes the reader into a strange social environment; one that most people have no direct experience of and which most people would draw back from if they met it in their real lives. But this sub-level of modern-day living does exist, and the author shows it to us, with power and authenticity, through the character of a female – a young woman who has become alienated from her dysfunctional family and goes to search for a substitute in London. She finds one, better by far than the one which has rejected her and let her down. But it is a family living on the edge of the legal system, a family which makes its own group laws and follows them honourably.
When Jade joins the Tyrants, a motor-cycle gang, she is accepted and respected, and she blossoms. It is this positive aspect of a fundamentally violent life style that the author draws so clearly and so cleverly for the reader. Kantas does not try to excuse the generally negative behaviour of the gang members. She shows that in order to be true to their group values they must live in a constant state of confrontation with the outside world; but she also reveals the support and affection that they give to each other.
Kantas presents Jade as an unusual young woman, driven by rejection and need, a young woman of determination, a young woman of violence. Perhaps this is the most shocking aspect of this novel. Jade is shown to be a violent woman, one who deals with her opponents violently. She thinks little of it; violence is a natural aspect of her new life.
However, betrayal by the man she has come to trust cannot be dealt with through violence. In a moment of classic tragedy, Jade turns to another man for comfort, and the end is inevitable.
This is a cleverly constructed book and the writing is controlled, stylish and accomplished. Kantas is a fine writer, with a great deal to offer in the way of reflection on modern-day society, and although it is targeted towards young adults, the story is relevant to a much wider readership.
Love Grows in the War Arena
“A Singer and a Soldier” by Lorraine Loveit
I read “MOUTH: A Steamy Anthology” because I was interested to learn how a number of different writing styles would handle the same genre and how they would appear in short form and placed closely to each other. I think it was a very successful enterprise and I thoroughly enjoyed reading the different approaches to very similar themes.
Naturally there were some stories which suited my particular taste better than others and I found “A Singer and a Soldier” by Lorraine Loveit to be not only “steamy” and very well written but also to contain a really good storyline.
In four quite short chapters the author presents a contemporary reality in which a talented, although still aspiring, singer goes to Afghanistan as part of a travelling entertainment troupe for the Australian soldiers deployed there.
The war arena is not quite the usual setting for such a story, but the author handles it with authority, using it to provide a structure for the attraction which springs into life between the main characters. In fact, the setting has a large part to play in this story of quickly growing love, with the main climax of personal understanding arriving at a time of military crisis. Almost immediately the setting forces a separation between the man and the woman but the author skilfully brings them together again in a convincing and very satisfying close to the story.
There are many good stories and good writing in this genre-based anthology, but I found that “A Singer and a Soldier” caught and held my interest from beginning to end because of the very high quality of the story concept, the strong character development and the accomplished writing style.
“Hell is Empty and All the Devils are Here” (The Plague Years Book 1)
by Mark Rounds
A Convincing and Disturbing Reality
In “Hell is Empty, and All the Devils Are Here” the very high quality of the writing is immediately attractive. Without doubt this is one of the better contemporary apocalyptic novels, with a storyline which presents an acceptable reality, leading to highly believable action. It is not a reality which one would wish to experience, in which a viral plague, produced and dispersed by a highly placed but unrevealed cabal, overturns the order of the world.
It is well known that in such fictional situations the human spirit tends to rise and burn brightly in certain individuals. These become leaders, resolving the situation as best they can, and in “Hell is Empty” there is an abundance of such people, both male and female. They appear as strong individuals, but as characters in a novel, they are somewhat undeveloped. Perhaps this is to be expected. In an apocalyptic survival story, with a strong military colour, individual character growth will take second place to the action; and throughout the course of the book the inexorable development of the plague itself is the main focus of the storyline.
The survivor characters are all firmly identified with the military and law enforcement arms of society. They are calm and resourceful. They are very knowledgeable and capable in all areas, from being able to produce the statistical information needed to understand the spread of the disease to the planting of home-made napalm bombs to protect their houses, not to mention fighting off bikie gangs. It is this reassuring quality which the author personifies in the chief character, Chad. It is a strength which carries him and his family, together with his equally capable and experienced friend, the somewhat enigmatic Dave, through the first stages of survival.
Rounds knows what makes a compelling story. There is a villain, an unpleasant “spook”, high in the echelons of Homeland Security, the creature of the faceless evil. Macklin is a character equally as strong as those he opposes, and through him the author achieves a balance of understanding between how the forces of evil operate and how the forces of good get along in opposition.
If the title of the novel has been taken from Act I of Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest”, another Shakespearean allusion can perhaps be seen at work in the action in general. In “Hamlet” Polonius advises his son to avoid getting into trouble but if he finds himself in it, he is to make sure that he gives a good account of himself. In this book the positive characters do exactly that. Although the infected plague victims act in a traditionally terrifying zombie-like manner without actually being corpses, the uninfected survivors manage to cope without sacrificing too much of their basic human generosity of spirit.
The plot is tight and fast and the passing of time is handled very effectively through the use of datelines. If these had not been included it would be difficult to follow the events as they unfold in different places, but Rounds handles what is in fact a very tricky structural need with the aplomb of a multi-book author. One could wish that these prompts stood out a little more clearly within the text, but they are there, and they certainly help.
The storyline and action are thoroughly authentic. From the first recognition of the plague, Rounds shows what happens in military emergency councils; he reveals the decisions which are made and the plans which are formed. It is quite clear that he intends to suggest that this fictional reality is very close to the reality we all know, and he is completely successful.
Certain editorial errors which seem to identify many online independently published books can be overlooked in the face of Rounds’ accomplished achievement. In full command of a distinctive and persuasive writing style he has presented a knowledgeable, authentic, thoroughly interesting and possibly disturbing, story.
“Hell is Empty and All the Devils Are Here” is highly recommended for general reading, even to those who may feel that stories of the apocalypse are not their preferred genre.
Reviewed by Judith Rook
October 6th 2015 A review of Star Viking – Book 3 of The Tribes of Yggdrasil by Hugh B. Long. Posted on Amazon and Goodreads.
This book is space opera brought to a height. Not a new height because all the familiar structures are there; all the huge action of vast space battles, all the intriguing cooperation between people of different races under the banner of benevolent government, all the conflict between the good that humanity and its allies is capable of and the nasty evil that villainous aliens bent on universal domination can unleash.
The theme is simple. A force of space-going warriors under the command of Haldor Olsen is dedicated to protecting the human space colonies, particularly to defeating the evil predators and slavers, the blue-skinned Hrymar. This is a theme familiar to very many people, and it carries an enduring interest. But the author has not simply jumped onto a proven bandwagon. He presents the basic idea through a new and complex storyline which will appeal to any space opera or hard sci-fi fan. It also holds an engaging romantic interest involving the hero and an elf maiden; there is also a cute child and a strange animal companion to round off the solid worth of the main character.
The background to the plot is old-Earth Norse culture and mythology which will already hold a significance for many readers. The concept provides the values and motivation for much of the action but what is not always made clear is where the author’s vivid imagination takes over from established record.
There is little doubt about the imaginative energy which Long brings to the telling of this story. The ideas almost tumble over one another, but there can be too many ideas and some of the events are presented so quickly that their significance in the storyline is lost, and one or two sections of the plot are puzzling.
In some instances the prose lacks complete fluency and becomes slightly ponderous, but this is balanced by the care which the author takes with detailed descriptions of people and settings. One might wish that the very short epilogue had not been included. Although it may carry the storyline into the future, it does detract from the resolution of the final, almost poetic chapter.
There is no doubt at all that this author can write truly riveting space battle scenes. This is one of the strongest aspects of the book and from the written word emerges a completely visual impression. In this area, Long proves himself to be a master. The starships are described in all necessary detail, the fighting techniques are made thoroughly clear and the actions and responses of the characters involved take the reader fully into the world of conflict between strangely shaped and unbelievably powerful vessels against a cosmic background. There are many such battle scenes throughout the book, very attractive to sci-fi readers in particular and also to action readers in general.
The aliens are given the attention they deserve; the author takes the reader into the mind of the enemy. But they are not treated sympathetically, they are monsters through and through, their evil-doing is almost beyond human belief and yet there is a very slight suggestion that some of them at least might be capable of change, and that could be a matter for the continuation of this massive storyline.
Another source of great interest is the development of the main characters. Although the author’s presentation of individual temperament is not as strong as are his scenes of conflict, there are situations which interest and intrigue throughout the book. The hero accepts that he must allow innocents to be killed when necessary, he will destroy numbers of enemy captives instead of attempting to redeem them, the romantic relationship is affected by a quality not usually found in people who want to become lovers and a father/son connection receives a strange twist.
“Star Viking” falls squarely into the space opera genre. It deals with quite well-developed characters and generally controlled and convincing situations; there is an enormous amount of outstandingly good fight conflict, a highly satisfactory building of a world structure and way of life, and at the end of the tale one is left with a sense of reading time very well spent.
Reviewed by Judith Rook
Forbidden: A Reluctant Series Novel By Marla Josephs
(Reader’s copy provided for honest review)
One is taken quickly into the events of Forbidden: A Reluctant Series Novel by Marla Josephs; in other words, one is hooked. There’s something immediately attractive about the story; about the goodness, the reality, the honesty of ordinary life which it depicts.
Particularly interesting is that in this book ordinary life is busy and densely populated. Around the two protagonists and one or two secondary characters there is an absolute cloud of other people involved in the storyline. They are not like a chorus from a classic tragedy, commentators and interpreters of the action; they participate. In their contemporary and comfortable urban setting they ebb and flow according to the author’s need of them; they are essential to the development of the plot, but they are perhaps a little hard to follow.
This character “busyness” may be difficult to absorb, particularly at the beginning of the book. However, once the reader has settled into this proliferation of persons the main action takes over, drawing the attention to the carefully and precisely worked out plot.
There have been so many stories written on this classic “girl and boy find each other and encounter difficulties” theme that one could hardly expect a greatly interesting variation on its presentation. However, Marla Josephs has done exactly that.
The attraction of this book is not so much the plot, although it is a good one and supports a pleasingly strong storyline, as the way in which the action is developed. Quite slowly, and with great attention to necessary detail, the author reveals the complexity of the relationship which builds between the protagonists. She does not take short cuts; she spends time laying out the emotional and intellectual reactions and responses of the characters. She ensures that the reader witnesses each small step along the road towards mutual understanding and acceptance.
There is plenty of conflict in the novel but most of it is slightly bland in its effect. When the heroine needs to rid herself of her plague of male relatives she does so without aggravation. Of course, this is true to her character, but a little extra force would not have come amiss in this particular part of the storyline.
Some also might argue that the action does not move along quickly enough and that the inclusion of a constant food interest can be distracting but this author is highly skilled and she knows what she is doing; the meals are used both as a mirror, reflecting the nature of the characters, and also as a thread, drawing them gradually together.
Despite its extensive insights into every corner of the developing relationship the action progresses in sharply defined peaks and troughs, carrying the interest forward and culminating in a surprising revelation which adds even more energy to the final outcome.
The main characters are particularly well developed. The author moves between two separate points of view with accomplished ease, creating thoroughly convincing people who quickly engage the attention. One may not agree with how they conduct themselves, why they seem incapable of the openness needed to support a growing relationship, but they are authentic and interesting and between them they create that happy condition where the reader begins to care genuinely about them and continues to the final and full working out of the situation.
Forbidden: A Reluctant Series Novel is a book to appeal to readers of romance novels in general and to those who like to reflect on their reading experiences in particular. It does provoke thought and its impact will probably not end with the final word.
Reviewed By Judith Rook
A science fiction romance novel such as Carol Van Natta’s Minder Rising: Central Galactic Concordance Book 2 has to do two things. It has to develop characters which can reveal the magnetism of inter-personal relationships and it has to invent a world-scale setting in which that magnetism can take place. More than in any other romance sub-genre, in a science fiction romance the setting takes a central place, and if there is anything which is not clear about the setting, the reader’s interest can become distracted from the developing relationship.
In this novel the Central Galactic Concordance is an interplanetary system of governance, regulating over five hundred planets and providing an impersonal power which controls the lives of all the inhabitants of those worlds. It is the third central character in the storyline, taking the role of the inimical authority, bringing into the narrative all that is threatening and destructive to affection and love.
The first flowering of attraction between the protagonists is necessarily slow because for both of the main characters other factors have become dominant. Special security agent Lièrén Sòng is attempting to survive in a social system which, he slowly realises, has betrayed him completely, and Imara Sesay struggles to protect her gifted young son, Derrit, from the predatory clutches of the same system. All three characters are “minders” that is, they all possess distinctive mental powers to a greater or lesser degree. In the case of Sòng the powers are known and are used in support of the system and in the case of the mother and son they unfold as the action progresses.
This is a recipe for success, both in the science fiction genre and equally in the romance genre, and to a very large extent Van Natta develops all the potential of her plot. She is a stylish and accomplished author who writes with confidence and authority, and develops the action at a pace which perfectly suits the storyline, except perhaps at the outset of the book. At the beginning of the first chapter the reader is introduced to a great deal of world references and nomenclature which are not clearly explained and which are sometimes confusing in their effect, as is the great amount of background detail which, while necessary, could perhaps have been spread more evenly across the opening pages.
A highly packed introduction courts the danger of not fixing the reader’s attention; however, by the end of the first chapter the action is unfolding smoothly, the conflict is becoming apparent and the reader’s interest and anticipation are engaged.
It is impossible to have a truly successful romance story without convincing characters. If an author cannot create believable figures to support the storyline then they ought not to take on the challenges of this particularly demanding genre. More than in any other genre the characters must be not only self-aware but also intensely aware of each other. Although they are individuals, the magnet of mutual attraction draws them together and the author has to be able to depict that essential aspect of a romance story with persuasive clarity.
Van Natta’s characters are very strong and quickly take on the solid yet complex identities that are needed to support not only the romance theme but also to make the reader believe completely in the world where the storyline is played out. Sòng’s growing realisation of his isolation within the system, a realisation which turns him from cooperation to opposition, is particularly well handled. Imara’s more pragmatic determination not to allow the system to overcome her life identifies her as the perfect partner to accompany Sòng into the future. Even the secondary characters are well-shaped, particularly the flamboyant and exhibitionist Rayle who carries his own line of interest through the full course of the action.
In Minder Rising Carol Van Natta has brought together two genres, giving each a similar weighting in the development of the plot. The book is not science fiction with a romantic interest nor is it a romance incidentally placed in a different world. It is a highly satisfactory and successful integration of the two, resulting in an enjoyable story very well told against a setting which is completely believable.
Reviewed By Judith Rook
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
“How to Train your Cat to Promote your Book” – Rayne Hall
One might think that Rayne Hall’s book “How to Train your Cat to Promote your Book” will only attract a limited readership. How many people are there who write books, and how many of those writers have a cat companion? Actually, quite a few; the book tells us that black cats in particular like to live with writers. But don’t be deceived. This book does much more than send useful messages to authors. Beginning with the dawning of an idea, the pages deal with the fascinating account of the development of that idea and on the way the reader is presented with insights into feline behaviour which may already have been observed but not completely understood.
Written in Hall’s very approachable, clear and fluent style, the book reveals aspects of the world according to Sulu, the author’s black feline companion. Through her account of this animal’s amenability to training and his willingness to participate in his human’s life, Hall opens a door onto the wide field of cat behaviour. In her dealing with a specific case of animal/human cooperation, she presents the general condition.
This can only be useful. There are many of us who deeply appreciate the enjoyment and the consolation of animal companionship and want to understand as much as we can about our friends from another species. Many of us also have a sneaking suspicion that cats know exactly what they are doing and in the scratching order, they are the ones with the claws, so it is in our interests to understand what may be going on.
“How to Train your Cat to Promote your Book” gives us a comprehensive and clear look at how cats are likely to respond to their human friends in certain circumstances. In response to the author’s assurance that feline training is a careful, committed and long-term process, I began to try her methods on my own cat, with little expectation that I would see a great deal of change. The author’s cat is young, full of the joy of life (or catnip), enthusiastic and interested in the novel events of his day. My companion is much older, staid, friendly and a creature of great habit. However, within two weeks of following some of Hall’s training suggestions, I can see that my cat’s interest has been engaged. A new experience has come into her life and I believe that she is beginning to enjoy it. Whether it will produce the results which appear in the pages of this book remains to be seen but I have hopes.
In the chapters dealing with the practicalities of preparing and capturing the images which form the basis of a creature-assisted promotion, the author lays out the process in necessary detail, revealing the personal experience from which the book has emerged. As well as the many images, notes from a veterinary doctor also appear through the book, adding even more substance to the well-prepared material.
The author never goes too far in interpreting animal behaviour in human terms, although she does sketch out parallels in human thinking and feline responses. She points out, a little startlingly, that cats vocalise because they have worked out that we humans need sound to communicate meaning. She also suggests from time to time that Sulu’s mind harbours certain improbable intentions, but that is just an enjoyable extra to the main line of her argument which is that if you want to, you can shape your cat’s behaviour. It would not happen to a cat in the wild, but in the domestic setting training is something which probably makes the cat’s life enjoyable and interesting and possibly will be helpful, not only to a book-promoting author but also to a gardener who doesn’t want feline fertiliser in the vegie patch. It will take time and commitment but, according to Hall, it can be done.
Rayne Hall’s book about her cat and its response to training for a specific purpose is without doubt a very good read and one I would highly recommend to anyone who cares about the quality of their animal companion’s life – and, of course, of their own.
There is a contemporary movement known as “Terror Management Therapy” which is catching the attention of many people in the early 21st century. The mindset behind TMT awareness is not new. Humankind has always wondered and worried about the fact that life leads to death.
Paul Bracken, the author of Gilgamesh in the 21st Century – A Personal Quest to understand Mortality uses events and characters from the third millennium BCE to make the point that the appearance of death is rarely hailed with enthusiasm, and throughout the ages people have sought to cheat nature of her rightful due, which is not to be burdened with ageing and no longer productive organisms.
However, humans are not quite as straightforward as that. The power and creative potential of our minds argues that we could well wish to continue living far beyond our three-score-years-and-ten. In our well-fed and medically supported western society we could probably notch that up to four-score-years-and-ten and, if we take notice of what Bracken shows us, we could think seriously of going even further before very long.
Bracken says: I invite the reader to think about death, not out of any desire to be morbid, but rather because it opens the door to a lot of interesting science, and because our mortality is often what prompts us to contemplate the grander mysteries of life.
Taking this troubling subject into firm and scholarly (although light) hands, Paul Bracken presents an intriguing and often amusing account of the many attitudes which people adopt on the subject of human mortality. Founded both on personal experience as a scientist, and on meticulous research which must have kept him occupied for a number of years, together with the frequent involvement of his dad, Jim, and Granddad Waine, Bracken opens the doors into an often highly enjoyable library of thought and opinion about mortality.
He gives the reader a great deal to think about, from the first appearance of rock paintings to the redesigning of the human body, but he does not become an advocate for any one particular attitude, except that he does point out that the consolations of religion are not founded in the science we know. He also makes very clear his deep admiration of both Carl Sagan, and the Star Trek saga, from which he frequently quotes.
Perhaps Bracken’s personal position appears at the end of his penultimate chapter, just before he quotes from Eliot’s Little Gidding:
It is, after all, the only home that humanity has ever known, so if it’s heaven we’re after, we’ll have to find it on Earth. It also means that there are no second chances. If we only get one shot at life, then we need to be extra careful not to waste it.
It’s a sensible position to take and after reading this very well-written and attractive book on a difficult topic, one feels that the situation after all is not desperate, and a busy and contented life is a very good thing.
Highly recommended to readers in a wide range of genres.
“Not for Sale” by Brenda Cothern Reviewed 30th June 2015 for ‘Kindle Edition’
“Not for Sale” (“Undercover Love” Book 1) by Brenda Cothern is a very good read, even if your tastes don’t run to the particular area of erotic experience which is explored in this book. The storyline is very strong, although I found that the end could have benefited from a bit more rounding out, a little more extension of the events. Perhaps the author had a deadline to meet. However, that slight criticism aside, the storyline is very interesting, and it is presented by a highly skilled writer.
The erotic situations are handled with care and considerable finesse and although some of the events reach a high, perhaps even startling, level of sexual energy, the boundaries of natural good taste are not over-stepped.
What I like particularly about this book is the development of the relationship between the two main characters. Their gradual coming together at a deep level is perhaps the strongest element in the story. From the initial doubt and hope to the final expression of love, the range of feelings explored in the text are genuine and universal.
I found this book engaging and highly readable and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys encountering ordinary humanity in possibly not altogether ordinary situations. Please note that I use ‘ordinary’, not ‘normal’.
on June 16, 2015 Format: Kindle Edition
Mike Wells is a good writer; there’s no doubt about that, but someone should tell him firmly not to keep his readers guessing. He does it once in the middle of the book when a villain apparently dies – or does he? – and the dénouement of the story is just around the corner – in Book 2 . . . or 3? Eeks!
I will buy the next book. I’d have done it anyway because I like Mr Wells’ writing style, but cliff-hanging is not my favourite sport. Still, I learned quite a lot about the intricacies of forging money.
From the point of view of writing technique and an excellent storyline I highly recommend this book to my fellow-readers. I give it four-and-a-half stars. It would have got five had there not been those two big points of serious frustration.