Sunday, December 31, 2017

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The purpose of this site is to Review self-published and small-press published books. If a book is reviewed here, you can expect the quality and content to be sufficient for human consumption (at least ours, your mileage might vary), or know the reason why not. We will post clearly in our review the general quality, the amount of violence, language, sexual and spiritual content.

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Thursday, November 16, 2017

Review: Murder, Curlers, and Cream (Valentine Beaumont #1) by Arlene McFarlane

Murder, Curlers, and Cream (Valentine Beaumont #1)


32706740Valentine Beaumont is a beautician with a problem. Not only has she got a meddling mother, a wacky staff, and a dying business, but now she’s got a dead client who was strangled while awaiting her facial. 

With business the way it is, combing through this mystery may be the only way to save her salon. Until a second murder, an explosion, a kidnapping, death threats, and the hard-nosed Detective Romero complicate things. But Valentine will do anything to untangle the crime. That’s if she can keep her tools of the trade in her bag, keep herself alive, and avoid falling for the tough detective.

In the end, how hard can that be?
 



My Take:
Valentine Beaumont owns a beautician salon in the small town of Reuland Massachusetts, a town where practically nothing happens. That is, if you don't count the dead socialite found in her salon, strangled while awaiting her facial.

What with a new salon down the street trying to steal customers, and her rent coming due, solving the murder may be the only way she can save her salon. Until a second murder, a kidnapping, death threats, a fire bomb, and the handsome and hard-nosed detective, Michael Romero, complicate things. 

Nothing seems to deter Valentine from her quest to solve the murder, that is, if she can stay alive and prevent herself from falling for the tough detective.

Content:



Drug Content:
PG - Some drinking occurs, and one character is shedding a past life in the drug trade. 

Violence:
PG - There are several murders, one by strangulation, one by gunshot. There are a couple stabbings with beauty supplies, and a bloody accident with a straight razor. There are a couple fires, and some eyelashes get singed. Nothing graphic.

Language:
PG - There are a scattering of curse words in the book, no F-bombs.

Adult Content:
PG-13 - There are multiple references to a past incident where the main character defeated a thug by crushing his... um... never mind, in a curling rod. There are several affairs that occur. One girl wears a bikini that is more string than clothing. There are multiple semi-steamy encounters. Several scenes where a man's abs are exposed and admired, one where a female character is wearing a semi-transparent top. Men ogle women, women admire men. One scene where a lady had to take a cold shower to calm down... No sex, not even a passionate kiss. But plenty of interest.

Christian content:
A little bit. Valentine is a church attender. She prays. God doesn't play a major role onstage or off in this one, but her faith seems real enough. Family loyalty, public service, determination, benefit of the doubt, vindication, play major roles in this work.

Final analysis:
Valentine is an incredibly likable semi-ditsy three-dimensional character. She's a brick. Stalwart and faithful to her friends to the end, she is very realistically painted on the canvas of this romantic comedy. I was laughing out loud in many places. The crash-and-burn blind dates, the disastrous incompetent assistant. The settings, action, and drama in the book were so well-done that I felt more like I was watching a movie than reading a novel.

Anyone who's ever gotten a bad haircut, a ruined perm, worked in a salon, or loves mystery or romance would probably enjoy this one. I'd recommend it for older teen to adult. Solid characters, fast-paced, immersive world-building, spicy clean romance. Five Stars!

About the Author:
Arlene McFarlaneArlene McFarlane is the author of the Murder, Curlers series. Previously an aesthetician, hairstylist, and owner of a full-service salon, Arlene now writes full time. When she’s not making up stories, or being a wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, cat-mom, or makeover artist, you’ll find her making music on the piano.

Arlene is a member of Romance Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Toronto Romance Writers, SOWG, and the Golden Network. She’s won and placed in over 30 contests, including twice in the Golden Heart and twice in the Daphne du Maurier. 

Arlene lives with her family in Canada.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Review: Memoirs of a Girl Who Loves God by C.L. Wells

Memoirs of a Girl Who Loves God

25759924
At her new school, she makes one single friend, Em, who invites her to volunteer at the local homeless shelter. There, Krystal discovers fellow misfits, including Brandon, a boy from her school. How can Krystal start a new life when the scars of her old one will never fully heal?

My Take:
Some scars just can't stay hidden.

Fourteen-year-old Krystal's life is falling apart. Her parents have split up, and won't talk to each other, except through her. Being caught in the middle is bad enough, but being forced to stay with her unfaithful mom and the adulterous  man that knocked her up is driving her over the edge. She blames her mother for the wreckage of her family, but even more, she blames God.

To cope, she's been cutting herself. No one knows. Not even her best friend Em. When Em gets her to volunteer at the local homeless shelter, she finds purpose and meaning. Brandon, a boy from her school, is getting meals at the shelter while his family struggles, and Krystal vows to keep his secret, even if she knows she can never reveal her own to him.

As Krystal begins to rebuild her life, however, her well-hidden secret is about to blow up in her face.

Content:


Drug Content:
PG - A few characters have drug addictions at the shelter. One character had a serious alcohol problem in his past. 

Violence:
PG - A soldier is wounded, and his comrades are all killed. The main character has a long-standing habit of cutting, and it has left many scars, and draws blood. One person is shot and killed. None of the violence is graphic.  

Language:
G - Squeaky clean.

Adult Content:
PG-13 - Krystal's mother is unfaithful and ends up pregnant. A counselor asks questions about a couple's sex life. Two characters have been raped repeatedly by someone they know, though it's a past wound not on screen.   

Christian content:
This story covers the conversion stories of several characters at the shelter, and God is definitely at work in what appear to be amazing coincidences. God's hand in action is clearly displayed, and characters see answers to prayer. The disappointment that people face when God doesn't answer a prayer with a Yes, is a major topic of this novel.Dealing with grief, loss, and disillusionment, are major topics as well.  

Final analysis:
This was a well-written book that would find shelf space alongside good Christian teen books like the Lilly series. The characters are very real and the struggles they face are common to many teens. Issues like Anorexia and teen suicide are covered, and characters find hope in the midst of tragedy. The plot was well-constructed, the pace steady, the characters true to life. Five Stars!


About the Author:
C.L.  WellsC.L. Wells is a JANE-OF-ALL-TRADES, with a passion for writing and animals. She lives in Kansas with her family, which includes a fat doggie who is not named Toto and a cat who moonlights as an escape artist. Feel free to ask her about the ‘escape artist.’ She plans to write about it someday. She would love hearing from you.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

DNF Review: Johnny and Jamaal by K.M. Breakey

Johnny and Jamaal


30679683Two athletes from different planets are on the verge of greatness. Johnny’s a carefree Canadian making his mark in the NHL. Jamaal’s set to follow LeBron and Kyrie out of the ghetto. When their worlds collide, the catastrophic clash ignites racial conflict not seen since Ferguson. The incident tests the fledgling love of Johnny’s best friend Lucas and his African-American girlfriend Chantal, and sets them on a quest for truth and justice in the perverse racial landscape of 2016. 

As chaos escalates across American cities, an MLK-like voice rises from the ashes. Wilbur Rufus Holmes may be salvation for Luke and Chantal, but can he stop society’s relentless descent into racial discord? 

Johnny and Jamaal is awash with sports, violence and political taboo, as America’s seething dysfunction is laid bare.

My Take:
Two athletes from different worlds collide and spark a race war and chaos across a racially divided United States. Johnny is a carefree Canadian hockey player just rising to stardom. Jamaal is a lanky rising star aiming at the NBA. When these two collide in St. Louis, the clash ignites a tidal wave of racial conflict across the US. As Johnny's best friend Lucas and his African-American girlfriend Chantal try to keep their buffeted relationship afloat, the Black Lives Matter movement spreads chaos and violence across American cities.

An MLK-like voice rises from the ashes, as Wilbur Rufus Holmes tries to stop the violence and be a voice of reason against a war zone of racial hatred.

This book is a hard hitting expose' on racial tension and looks at racial violence, white supremacy, and the Black Lives Matter movement from all angles, exposing the dysfunction in the US. It's a gripping read. However, the violence, the pervasive foul language, and the difficult-to-follow ghetto language threw me out of the story about 25% through it, and I couldn't get my head back in, especially when the action was so painfully true to the reality we live. I'm giving a review, based on what I've read, but this is one I could. not. finish.





Content:

Drug Content:
R - The drug culture is alive and well, and weed and crack make appearance in several places. Drinking and drunkenness appear in a few places as well. 

Violence:
R+ - In a critical scene, a character is beaten to death, beaten until he is completely unrecognizable, his skull destroyed and internal organs compromised, broken ribs, you get it. There's a lot more violence, gunplay in the book, but I can't speak to that as it's beyond where I read. A lot of violence to a dead body, including desecration.

Language:
X - The F bomb appears on just about every page, sometimes as many as six times. Other expletives are even more common. There's so much bad language I couldn't continue. The N-word in multiple forms was common throughout, spoken primarily by blacks but also by whites. Cracker was used extensively as was many other racial slurs and epithets.

Adult Content:
PG-13 - As far as I read, there were many references to sexual encounters but nothing occurs on screen. 

Christian content:
Not so much. The Lord's name appears fairly often but only as a curse word. There are a couple places where a Christian speaks out about faith and hope, but it's practically drowned out in the pervasive darkness.

Final analysis:
Gee. Where to begin? Racial division and the hopes of reconciliation, and efforts in that direction, have been the focus of so many circles in the US, that this seems like a must-read. I entered it with high hopes. But this book was so real, so full of triggers I couldn't get more than a quarter through. The characters seemed to be quite real and the social problems this book raises are raw, divisive, and so close to home it was a painful read from page to page. I'd say that, what I read was very well-written, gripping, and a book that needs to be read. But unfortunately, the language was so foul, the violence so real, it was not something I could wade through. Four Stars.

About the Author:
K.M. BreakeyK.M. Breakey was born in Toronto and educated at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, BC. He spent 25 years in software development before turning full attention to writing in 2016, with the success of his 3rd novel, Johnny and Jamaal. In it, he fearlessly explores racial dysfunction in America, from perspectives you won't hear in mainstream media. Mr. Breakey states that, while Johnny and Jamaal solves America's racial problem, his forthcoming title is slightly more ambitious. Coming in November 2017.

He has also published Creator Class and The World Clicks. To learn more, kmbreakey.com.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Review: Lost Hunters, Second Edition by Deanne Devine

Lost Hunters, Second Edition


29540857"Amberly County would be a great place to live if it weren't for this stupid curse."
Jake Nichols, televised interview, "Peculiar People and Places." WYOY TV, May 28, 1979.

The tale of John Barker's Hunt has been handed down for generations in Amberly County. Stories about the Hunt are mostly told around campfires, but there are some who claim it to be true. According to the old timers, the county is cursed, and once every generation the ghost of John Barker returns to hunt down the person who killed him. Oddly enough, roughly every 20 years the county does suffer a cluster of bizarre deaths. 

Nineteen years have passed since the last Hunt, but the citizens of the quiet town of Miltonville are too absorbed in their own problems to take notice. Cindy Swift is preoccupied with her upcoming suicide; Troy Ivers is worrying about the midnight ceremony he plans to hold in a rural cemetery; and Leslie Vickers is very concerned that the mannequin down the hall wants to kill her. 

Ed Philips is the one person in Amberly County who is aware that trouble is about to arrive. It approaches in the form of a phantom, walking in the body of a dead man. Ed knows the real story behind the legend of the Hunt, but has spent most of his life denying the truth. Now, with the fate of a young woman in his hands, he must decide whether to continue feeding his demons of cowardice and regret, or face them head on, and attempt to put an end to John Barker's Hunt. 


My Take:
Every 20 years or so, Amberly County experienced a brief and puzzling string of deaths, linked, at least in some people's minds, to the massacre of John Barker and his bizarre commune over 200 years ago. Legend has it that Barker returns every 20 years to hunt down and kill the descendants of his old rival, Lucas Vanderkellen. 

Only Ed Phillips knows the truth, a truth he has been denying his entire life, a truth involving Leslie, daughter of his best friend, who was brutally murdered in the last hunt. Entrusted with the only means to end the deadly killing sprees carried on by the tormented angry spirit of John Barker, Ed must confront his own inner demons and defeat John Barker once and for all, before Barker regains his life and releases a horde of demons on an unsuspecting world.




Content:

Drug Content:
R - There is a tremendous amount of underage drinking and drinking to excess by most of the cast. It would almost appear to be the norm in this county. Marijuana is almost as common as the alcohol, harder drugs also make their appearance, and a stolen drug shipment plays a pivotal part in backstory. 

Violence:
R - The ghosts possess individuals, who end up dying during possession. The ghosts continue to animate the dead until they are unable to move. Most of the deaths do not involve blood, and appear to be brain aneurysms. One character's neck is snapped, several are shot, but most just... die.

Language:
G - While some of the things said seem pretty violent, curse words are almost completely absent.

Adult Content:
PG-13 - A drug scene involves a man coming home to his naked girlfriend and her naked friend. Several couples pair off for a tryst, but their antics don't appear on screen. Several affairs are discussed, a marriage is dissolved because of infidelity. One minor character is addicted to porn and is heavily harassed by a flock of demons. 

Christian content:
YES. I originally would not have thought so, and much of the book seemed so dark it was irredeemably demonic, several characters overcome the demonic influences by the power of Christ. Demons and angels fight in the spiritual realm, the afterlife is clearly discussed, the existence of God and the power of forgiveness, redemption, and self-sacrifice play central roles. The perils of a life yielded to demonic influence and inebriation show up in stark relief, and satanic rituals, curses, tarot cards show up, but are cast in a negative light.

Final analysis:
Not gonna lie, this is a horror story, and is pretty dark. The people throughout the story are alcoholics, drug addicts, and seem almost hopeless in their meandering through life in this small town. The evil ghosts, the satanic ritual close to the beginning, the depression, almost had me put this one down. But several scenes in the story gave me a glimmer of hope for it, and I kept plowing through to the exciting and glorious end. Glad I kept at it.

While the story was good and the action was gripping, the stakes were very high and the scenery well-developed, I found the characters to be a bit two-dimensional, and the pace a bit slow. I found the second half to be gripping, and hard to put down. The pace was racing at the finish, and the action enthralling, but not enough to give this one more than Four Stars.

About the Author:
Deanne Devine is a native of southwestern Ohio, a region rich in the everyday peculiarities and ordinary oddness that make good food for an overactive imagination. Her short stories and poetry have appeared in several small press magazines, back in the day when such publications actually came from a small press, and the original editions of her novels Lost Hunters and Live Armadillos were published in trade paperback by The Lighthouse Press, Inc. Currently, she is working on the ebook version of Live Armadillos, as well as filling her desk drawers with screenplays and short stories.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Review: 3 Days: A Passion by T.M. Fairman

3 Days: A Passion

30848192Within the aftermath of an epidemic that has been contained through sacrifice rather than cure, a young woman discovers she has contracted the Disease.

She has three days to live.

Society has deemed her irredeemable and requires her to pass her last three days in quarantine; a sacrifice for its own preservation. 

Her only link to the life she once had is her husband. Together they must try to battle with their demons. Together they must try to discover how their love can be expressed during separation and in the face of death. Together they must wrestle with the issues of love and loss, grief, depression and hope before finally having to say goodbye to each other.

My Take:

The telltale bright blue in the toilet gave the unmistakable and dreadful news - she had the disease. The worldwide pandemic that had decimated the population, that was incurable and terminal, and highly contagious. Her only course was to call the authorities, put herself into an isolation suit, and wait for pickup. To leave behind the man she loved immeasurably. Once you showed signs, you had three days to live.

He came home that afternoon, excited to spend his evening with her, the joy of his heart... only to discover the heartbreaking truth - that she was gone, self-quarantined to the Center for her remaining three days on earth. But he was determined she would not die alone.


Content:

Drug Content:
G - None.

Violence:
G - There is no violence whatsoever in this book, even the Disease simply causes the victim to succumb to sleep as they have less and less energy.

Language:
G - squeaky clean.

Adult Content:
G - While there is a great deal of passion between the husband and his wife, they are separated by miles, and can only talk via a tablet.   

Christian content:
The front cover is a cross, and the book is partially a parallel between Jesus and the Church, and His crucifixion. There are several scripture passages exposed in the book, and scripture is usually applied aptly. Death and the afterlife, dealing with grief, and loss, are bold-brush themes throughout.

The parallels however lost me a bit, as Christ was vilely treated, tortured, publicly executed in agony as a criminal, and bodily resurrected after three days. While the people infected were treated as criminals until quarantined, they were given every accommodation, and treated with every dignity, and their death yielded no pain at all. One of the characters had a solid grounded Christian faith, one had a character arc that indicated he was looking for answers. A bible was presented to one character, but it was never really read, even though they were facing death in a day. There didn't seem to be any conviction of sin or regret over past mistakes. Christ was presented, but His purpose in dying wasn't clearly defined. 

Final analysis:
This was an incredibly poignant story. The characters had an amazing love for one another, and the devastation they went through was raw and quite real. Many tears shed over the course of these three days, and several passages had me in tears myself. That having been said, the pacing was slow, and the action was almost lethargic. The author may have been reaching for that, as there's not a lot a person in a rapid convalescent debilitating disease can do. The settings were well-described, and the character depictions were spot-on. The stakes were high, and I was moved by the angst. But the pacing dragged and the allegory seemed to lose steam. Four Stars!

About the Author:
T.M. FairmanTM Fairman is something of an unexpected author. Currently residing in the South of England, the father of four studied Economics and Econometrics, leading on to a career teaching Mathematics and Economics in secondary schools. Although reading has always been a hobby, the inspiration to write came as a bit of a shock for him and those around him.


The main inspiration for his work comes from a Christian faith and the wide variety of people that being a teacher gives him the privilege of meeting. From a literary point of view, writers such as Dumas, Tolkien and Sterne feature highly on his bookshelf although he lays no claim to being anywhere near belonging on the same shelf!

Friday, November 3, 2017

Review: Warscapia by Garrett Boggs

Warscapia

31277900Sparrow wants to be the greatest warrior in all of Warscapia. But he’s not. He’s just a kid with mediocre magic skills. 



My Take:
Sparrow is a wizard with mediocre skills who resides in Warscapia - a video game fantasy universe. His inept control over his fledgling magic and his bumbling melee skills manage to land him a coveted entry level position in Warrior Core - an elite mercenary band who defend the populace in the game from high-HP monsters.

Together with Rock, an axe-wielding egotistical warrior, and Jade, a ditsy ninja-skills bow-wielding huntress, they form a beginner-rank task team sent to battle increasingly difficult enemies. But when a common Vampire-Dragon reveals himself to be none other than Count Dragula, he steals their souls, and they have ten days to retrieve them, or they become his... forever!


Content:

Drug Content:
PG - There's a bit of drinking in the game, several encounters happen, as is common in video games, in bars. A popular drink called Dethbrew increases magical potency and strength.

Violence:
PG - Video game violence, and most of it is non-graphic. Enemies when defeated turn to dust, leaving goodies behind. Seriously, if you let your kids play Zelda, this is probably ok.

Language:
G - squeaky clean. I don't recall any cuss words in the novel.

Adult Content:
G - The worst thing in this novel is Rock bragging about how much of a ladies man he is.

Christian content:
Not a bit. The main characters struggle a bit with death and the hereafter, but mainly it's just a lighthearted tale without a lot of meat. Some veins of deeper content are loyalty, sacrifice, teamwork, and comraderie. There didn't seem to be reference to the real world in the novel, which made me wonder if they realized they were in a game at all (consulting wrist units for HP and MP stats makes it seem they did). The bit about their souls being stolen caused some reflection on whether life had purpose, and whether it was worth it to fight insurmountable odds to get your soul back.

Final analysis:
While the majority of this novel was fluff, it was light-hearted, humorous fluff that had me laughing out loud multiple times. I thoroughly enjoy a good RPG game, and the action, adventure, and stakes in this one were aimed to please. It's a fairly quick read, and was hard to put down. Five Stars!

About the Author:
Garrett BoggsGarrett Boggs has a degree in English, but his inspiration to write mainly comes from late nights playing video games like Runescape, Maplestory, and Skyrim.
You can also catch him checking out the latest indie games on Steam.

His dream is to be sponsored by Red Bull and to have a pet falcon.

Garrett writes LitRPG, a new genre that combines mechanics from role playing video games with fantasy or sci-fi writing.

Email: garrett.boggs@my.wheaton.edu

If you are interested in more LitRPG, check out this Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/LitRPGGroup/

Friday, October 27, 2017

Review: Hydrostatic: Level of Fire by C.M. Blackburn

Hydrostatic: Level of Fire


30330180Everyone plays computer games, but what happens when the computer game plays you? Joe, Lottie, and Zac only mean to try a new game downloaded from the Internet, but find themselves literally sucked in. Soon they find themselves having to beat the traps and puzzles with all the others trapped inside the game. The only way to escape is to play the game through, but they only have one life..! 

Hydrostatic – Level of Fire is part one of a series where the children have to find out who has written the game, why it is trapping children there, and beat him both in the real and the virtual worlds. 

My Take:
When Joe downloads a secret new game he heard about in an online chat room, his brother Zac can't resist helping him defeat it. The burning lava and rolling boulders appear to be too hard a trap to beat alone. But when they key in a cheat code that appears at the bottom of the screen, they are digitized and sucked into the game, along with their sister Lottie, struggling just to survive. As Zac uses his knowledge of video game mechanics to defeat deadly trap after deadly trap, the three kids realize that the sadistic game has trapped other kids in it, and that if they are going to escape the virtual death trap, they will all have to work together.

The problem is that, in a video game, you usually have extra lives. But in this one, you only have one. And if you die, you're stuck in the game... forever!




Content:

Drug Content:
G - none, unless you consider video games a drup. Which they can be. ;-)

Violence:
PG - Burning lava, crushing boulders, swinging bladed pendulums, arrow and spike traps. The usual fare for video games, but the damage, the pain, and the blood in this game are very real. One injury nearly kills a character.

Language:
G - squeaky clean.

Adult Content:
G - This is a preteen kids book, no worries on this front.

Christian content:
Nada. The kids learn some valuable lessons about sticking together, about leaving nobody behind, and the responsibility of sacrificing for the greater good. Hopelessness, fear, and despair are met with encouragement, exhortation, and courage. While the book doesn't give a nod to faith of any kind, it does emphasize how these siblings look out for one another, no matter the cost.

Final analysis:
Weighing in at just over 100pp paperback, this MG scifi-fantasy was a quick read. While it read in parts like a walkthrough of a custom Minecraft level, or a hi-res VR version of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, the stakes couldn't be higher, and the kids were very aware of it. The characters were believable and likable, and the action was intense in places. The book was obviously geared for MG readers ages 9-12, and would be enjoyable for them, but teens might find the book a bit young for their tastes. Some plot twists made the story line intriguing, and I found the ending satisfying. Five Stars!