Monday, October 24, 2016

Review: The Emblem Throne: Runes of Issalia II by Jeffrey Kohanek

The Emblem Throne: The Runes of Issalia, Book II (Volume 2)
By Jeffrey Kohanek

As they strive to become Masters within the Ministry, Brock and his friends resume their training at the Academy, an institution founded on magic, science, knowledge, law, and combat. They soon discover an expansive web of conspiracies and deceit within the Ministry, hidden behind a veil of benevolence and piety. The exposure of one of those secrets forces Brock and his friends to flee the institution with their lives in the balance.

Joined by a fierce Tantarri warrior, the group embarks on a quest to locate a mysterious throne that has been lost for centuries. Guided by the cryptic words of an ancient prophecy, and backed by a forbidden magic that they are still learning to wield, they journey across the continent to save humanity from extinction.

My Take:
The Emblem Throne picks up where the Buried Symbol left off. As Brock and his friends return to the Academy, he is quickly exposed as an Unchosen and imprisoned, to be shipped off to work in a mine. But Brock's friends break him out and they escape the academy. On the run and hunted as outlaws, and one step ahead of invading hordes of nightmarish monsters bent on humanity's extinction, Brock and his friends race against time to find the Emblem Throne and uncover the means to deliver mankind from its greatest threat.

Drug Content:
PG - There is a minor amount of drinking in this book, and a few heavily inebriated minor characters.

R - The invading hordes are merciless in their horrific violence, though the graphic nature of the battles are not gratuitous. Swordfighting and magical attacks abound, and there are quite a few decapitations. The violence is a bit less graphic than in the first book.

PG - there is not any cussing that I recall in the book.

Adult Content:
PG. The main character has a steady girlfriend, and they have a physical relationship, but the story doesn't pursue anyone into the bedroom. Other characters also find partners in the story. There is some discussion that the Unchosen are forbidden from marrying officially, but they do often publicly declare their vows, even if the State doesn't recognize their unions.

Christian content:
None at all. The main god in this book is Issal, the god of Order, and Order and Chaos are set against each other in the book, somewhat like Yin and Yang. Order is described as the life force in all living things, similar to the Jedi religion of Star Wars fame. Chaos, the hidden symbol and power from the first book, is more power and death, and is pitted as the thing that will save humanity. There are moments when characters mention praying to Issal to save them. Or to receive fallen comrades.

Final analysis:
The Emblem Throne is, if anything, a more riveting read than the first one. It is well-written, immersive, and a page-turner. As in most middle books in a series, the story line resolves some things, leaving the plot at a stopping point but with the major conflicts unresolved. I'm already looking forward to the next book, really enjoying this fantasy series. From a Christian perspective I would only give a caveat that this book would be appropriate for older teens grounded in their faith. Five Stars.

About the Author:
Jeffrey L. Kohanek

Jeffrey L. Kohanek grew up in rural Minnesota where comic books sparked his young imagination, inspiring fantasies of heroes with super-powers saving the day. His tastes later evolved to fantasy epics featuring unlikely heroes overcoming impossible odds to save worlds born from the writer's imagination.

Now residing in southern California, Jeff uses that imagination to weave tales of engaging characters caught in fantastic plots to inspire young adults and the child within us all.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Upcoming Reviews for October

Well, summer is gone, kids off to college and homeschool, and the arrival of the Great Pumpkin is due by the end of the month. ;-)
I'm off to a late start this month, as I did a pre-release and expected to complete five books last month, but got the last two done in the first week of this month. So, October will probably be a light month. Here's what I'm expecting to read and review this month:

The Emblem Throne: The Runes of Issalia, Book II (Volume 2)
By Jeffrey Kohanek

32344265(This one was supposed to be a pre-release review, but it's already available on Amazon, and will be soon as a Kindle there. Hopefully I will get it complete in a timely fashion. Looking forward to this...)

As they strive to become Masters within the Ministry, Brock and his friends resume their training at the Academy, an institution founded on magic, science, knowledge, law, and combat. They soon discover an expansive web of conspiracies and deceit within the Ministry, hidden behind a veil of benevolence and piety. The exposure of one of those secrets forces Brock and his friends to flee the institution with their lives in the balance.

Joined by a fierce Tantarri warrior, the group embarks on a quest to locate a mysterious throne that has been lost for centuries. Guided by the cryptic words of an ancient prophecy, and backed by a forbidden magic that they are still learning to wield, they journey across the continent to save humanity from extinction.

30301772Is it a love story? Or is it an adventure story? Or is it a commentary on the tragedy of war? It is all of these, and more.  Caroline McCullagh weaves a thrilling and dynamic story around Anne O’Malley’s genealogical search for the story of her late husband’s father that takes her to the far North of Canada to find new relatives among the Inuit culture, to Europe behind the lines in World War I, and back to the small Inuit village where she finds romance. The Ivory Caribou won Best Unpublished Novel in the San Diego Book Awards.

29563845The innocent never waver from doing what’s right, even if it means drowning the world in fire. 

Violina had been burned and betrayed by mankind ever since she sprang into existence. They named her a heretic and condemned her to a pit to live and die in agony. Though she sat stranded, starved and bloodied, she would not submit. Violina, the girl who had been mocked and hunted for rejecting the warped ideals of artificial authority, would lay down her own law. 

Inevitable Ascension — The rapid-fire action/adventure novel packed with a host of twists that will make your mind explode! But not literally, otherwise that would be really gross.

...and, if there's time...
How Two: Have a Successful Relationship
by Phil and Maude Mayes

30075491Do you and your partner argue too much? Are you always fighting about who is right? Are you feeling estranged and distant? In How Two: Have a Successful Relationship, experts Phil and Maude share their process and their radically different approach to relating. They insist that conflict is not inevitable and that it is possible to have a passionate and peaceful relationship.

Phil and Maude share a simple step by step understanding that is easily accessible to everyone. Their strong desire to make their direct experience available to all couples shines through their writing and will renew your faith in what is possible and attainable. In these pages you will learn:

* How to find mutual solutions to decision making and problem solving
* How to remain an individual within the relationship
* How to break the vicious cycle of anger and recrimination
* How to avoid the pitfalls that create separation and estrangement
* How to keep that original loving connection to your partner

This book is a gem. It's short, it's practical, it's based on real life experience. If you want to improve your relationship, this is the book for you.

Review: Hire Train Monitor Motivate by David J Waldron

Hire Train Monitor Motivate 
by David J Waldron

30040295The transformational workplace of the twenty-first century is front and center. Are you ready to navigate its twists and turns toward reaching your career goals and dreams? In Hire Train Monitor Motivate, author and veteran organizational leader, David J. Waldron, offers powerful, yet simple techniques that can dramatically improve your organization, team, or individual career achievements in today’s hyper-competitive local and global marketplaces.

This practical book will teach you how to master the art of workplace effectiveness by first making a lasting commitment to placing people first, whether a customer, recruit, staff member, or coworker. Then hire, or get hired for an optimistic mindset; train, or be trained for delivering quality products and services; monitor, or allow monitoring for regulatory compliance; and motivate, or stay motivated for enduring performance.

As a practitioner more so than an academic, Waldron, presents unpretentious, everyday workplace rules that when implemented, or followed, can transform your organization, team, or individual career to one of lasting distinction. Master the proven techniques for playing the game the right way and learn how to practice leadership or teamwork by inclusion toward making your workplace a great place to learn, earn, and grow.

Hire Train Monitor Motivate guides the reader toward recognizing his or her essential role in today’s transformational workplace. A work environment—whether for-profit, nonprofit, or in the public service—that requires an understanding and buy-in to the Millennial Model, the cultural transition of the now predominant generation that, according to Waldron, is fast becoming the new standard in organizational behavior, group dynamics, and individual effectiveness. This horizontal hierarchical model will likely drive the influential organizations, teams, and careers of the twenty-first century as the vertical hierarchy of the Baby Boomer generation did in the twentieth century.

Waldron guides the reader in embracing crucial areas of the modern workplace. Join him as he explores the emerging dominance of the expert economy; the importance of lifelong learning and perpetual career development; and how to be an active participant—as opposed to the spectator—on the precipice of reinventing compensation and worker equality. Plus, why accepting the significance of work/life balance will remain necessary to sustainable career success.

Whether an owner, donor, leader, manager, supervisor, or staff member, make a commitment to your essential role in the transformational workplace. Read Hire Train Monitor Motivate, today, and make your workplace a great place tomorrow. Your organization, team, and career are counting on you.

My Take:
This seems to be a clear, concise roadmap to transform your workplace into a place customers and workers can't wait to return to. This rolls out to about a four hour read. It's brevity isn't indicative of a lack of meat, though. Using seven proven steps to transform your workplace, Waldron gives nuggets of wisdom and several riveting stories along the way.

The focus on hiring the best people you can afford for your company, and then empowering them to guide the vision and direction of the company, is fairly forward thinking, though it's more common than it used to be last century. With focus on hiring practices, career planning, building quality products you can get behind and believe in, workplace sculpting, monitoring for regulatory compliance and quality control, and motivating your employees, there is help for executives here at whatever stage of development your team and customer base lies.

Final Analysis:
Honestly, I was concerned when I began reading this, that I would find this to be a dry, pre-packaged textbook that I would not be able to drill through. But I found it fresh, well written, concise, informative. Five Stars!

About the Author:
David J. WaldronDavid J. Waldron is a passionate student and practitioner of organization, team, and individual career effectiveness in the transformational workplace. He is the author of the new book, Hire Train Monitor Motivate (Country View) published May 31, 2016 and now available on Amazon Books and in the Kindle Store.

He is also author of The Ten Domains of Effective Goal Setting (Country View: 2016) and A Great Place to Learn & Earn (Country View: 2015). 

David is an award winning contributing writer to Seeking Alpha; and frequent contributor to Career Education Review,, and Pulse. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in business studies from Stockton University and completed The Practice of Management Program at Brown University. David lives with his wife, Suzan, outside Providence, Rhode Island USA. 

Monday, October 10, 2016

Review:Fallen: Henry Shepherd Series#3 by Michael Ozarks

Fallen: Henry Shepherd Series#3
by Michael Ozarks

30198563When his young wife dies two months after the birth of their son, Brandon is torn between surrendering to debilitating depression and surviving to raise the helpless remnants of his new family. In this cathartic confession, he drudges up the troubled details of his past, hoping to equip his children with a fulfilling and empowering perspective on who their parents were—and on what really matters in the vapor that is life.

My Take:
Having hopped into this series with this book, I got a bit confused where Henry Shepherd might be in the series. In fact, I searched the book, wondering if I'd missed him. But he wasn't in the novel at all, so it's pretty safe to say this book would work as a standalone.

The blurb also mentions the main character's name as Brandon, but the author was careful to hide the main character's name throughout the book. I've actually never seen that contrivance before, but you get used to it as it's written in first person.

This book reads as a memoir, and covers a lot of ground, over a span of some twenty-five to thirty years, as Brandon moves from an angsty pre-teen to a single parent. The fictitious account of his life is quite realistic, if a bit disturbing, and covers painful ground most of us could relate to in our various walks of life.

PG - In one scene Brandon sets up an ex-friend for a violent beating that turns deadly. Brandon is viciously attacked and left for dead by a gang of hoodlums while trying to change a tire in a bad neighborhood. Other than that, there are a few school-yard fights where noses get bloodied, and a somewhat brief visit into life and death with cancer.

PG - I believe there are just a few curse words in the book.

Drug Content:
PG-13 -  Drinking occurs to excess in a few places. One character struggles painfully with alcoholism. Marijuana and harder drugs are mentioned in passing and play a part in some parties where other adult content goes on.

Adult Content:
R - One character has constant sexual escapades. The main character recounts many of his own. There is a boss that evokes quid-pro-quo and several occurrences of sex as revenge or manipulation. One person is a prostitute. A boy in school is ostracized because of his effiminate behavior. College drinking and sex is common. The sex is not described, but several characters are partially or fully disrobed.

Christian content:
Scripture is quoted and remembered somewhat often, and is recalled at critical times to show that characters lean on their own understanding of God and their faith to make it through tragedy. The main character struggles with a lack of faith, a thirst for revenge, and deep-rooted bitterness and anger. He vacillates between jaded views of all Christians and a hope-so faith, finally arriving at real faith when the tragic need for it is critical. This is actually where this book shines. In places, the author gives a vibrant and solid testimonial account of faith when the going gets tough, and real faith juxtaposed against surface belief. Some of this could offend, but any faith-based material is solidly backed by scripture.

Final analysis:
The Christian faith underpinning this novel was clearly delineated and rather raw. It is this novel's best feature, closely followed by the realism in the main character's raw account of his life and struggles. I'm not really into memoirs, and in many places in this novel, the pace dragged and conversation was confusing. Attribution lacked in some dialogues, making it difficult to keep track of who said what. That having been said, the characters were raw and believable, the settings realistic. I would like to score this higher because of that, but with the pacing issues I couldn't grant more than four stars.

About the Author:
Michael OzarksMichael Ozarks is the pen name of a former struggling musician who eventually began a somewhat successful marketing business by learning how to operate video equipment on the fly one fateful morning. For over a decade, he has designed, strategized, produced, and written for Fortune 500 companies and their less soul-crushing counterparts. In his early twenties, the author dabbled with experimental manuscripts in order to purge all manner of smugness and ignorance from his creative process. Years later, in the wake of surviving a life-threatening illness while his children were very young, he recommitted himself to the written word, primarily in order to insist upon his progeny—whenever they are old enough to think they know everything—that their clueless father had, in fact, once been there and done that.

Currently, the author lives in southern Ohio on the frontiers of farmland sprawl with his wife, two kids, two dogs, and various insects and arachnids.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Review: Behind Her Mask was Death by Aria E. Maher

Behind Her Mask was Death
by Aria E. Maher

Behind Her Mask was DeathPeople don't generally think about death, especially not on the night they are going to die...

Devon Lavender never thought he'd end up in the middle of a murder mystery. But when an unnamed red haired woman dies in his arms on the dance floor in the middle of the Prince's extravagant costume ball, it would seem obvious to everyone who the killer is. Devon finds himself with one chance, and one chance only, to prove his innocence and discover the real murderer, before it's too late.

My Take:
Devon Lavender has spent his life trying NOT to be the object of any attention. After all, in the Kingdom of Plutch, getting the attention of the Marquis is a good way to end up dead. But once the prince's girlfriend dies in his arms, Devon finds that he's the center of attention, and that his life hangs by a micro-filament. There won't be any hiding behind masks. Just an unmasking of the real culprit. Before somebody else ends up dead.

This is a novella, but it could have been fleshed into a full length novel. It covers the events of one fateful night, and is a fluid stream of action throughout, as Devon races against time to find the real killer and prove his innocence, with the assistance of the woman dressed as the grim reaper at the costume ball. Devon and the Princess make a great team, and her sarcastic wit and his confused puppydog innocence produce chuckles throughout.

PG - Well, mainly because somebody dies. After all, it's a murder mystery, so there needs to be a body. There's the threat of torture, but no real description of what that would look like.

G - I don't remember a single curse word in the book. .

Drug Content:
G - There's some discussion about the main character avoiding the wine, and a description of the hangover he gets the next morning. I'd call that PG, but there's a drunken scene in Sleeping Beauty that's a lot worse.

Adult Content:

Christian content:
Not much, pro or con. There's a bit of discussion about heaven in passing. The Marquis could be a typecast for the devil - he's evil enough, but plays by a strict set of rules even so.

Final analysis:
This delightful novella is an intriguing murder mystery with a few twists to keep you wondering whodunit. The stakes are clearly life and death. The characters are entertaining and relatively believable, and the action moves along at a good clip right to the exciting conclusion. Five Stars!

About the Author:
I wrote my first book when I was eight, chronicling the grand adventures of the Super Mario Bros. in pages torn from a sketchbook and bound with masking tape. At ten, I ditched my writing for a career as a robotics engineer, and constructed interesting devices (which never worked) out of old bits of computers and washing machines. But then, dismayed that I would have to study mathematics (oh, the horror!) in order to be an engineer, I returned to my writing, and constructed bizarre fantasy worlds filled with fairies, portals, mad wizards, and flying castles built on clouds.
Currently, I'm in the middle of publishing my first book, Behind Her Mask was Death, a YA mystery/fantasy novella. My favorite inspirations are steampunk (and Victorian things in general), Terry Pratchett's remarkable Discworld novels, and the random fantasy landscape art I find on Pinterest.