Category Archives: review

Reviewing books by Joel Shepherd and Jonathan P. Brazee

I write reviews in the hope that others will discover new authors and new worlds into which they can escape. Military anything has never been my cup of tea, but over the last few years, I’ve discovered a number of authors who have made me change my mind about the genre: Elliot Kay, Chris James, D.Wallace Peach, and now Joel Shepherd and Jonathan P. Brazee.

I’m still a long way from being a military enthusiast, but a damn good story is a damn good story, no matter what genre it occupies.

The two books I’m reviewing today both fall into the ‘military’ category, and both feature a female protagonist, but otherwise they are quite different. Sasha, by Australian author Joel Shepherd, is what I would call a ‘military fantasy’ in that it is very low tech with cavalry charges and swords rather than guns and tanks etc. Fire Ant, on the other hand, is ‘military scifi’ with lots of space battles. I enjoyed them both, and I think you might too. 🙂

First up is my review of Sasha:

I came to Sasha from the author’s Spiral Wars science fiction series because science fiction is my passion, but…in Sasha I’ve found a story even /better/. And a world so rich with detail that it feels real.

One of the reasons the world building is so amazingly good is because, like Dune, it contains everything – politics, multiple cultures, religions, belief systems, and…languages. Not just a few silly words made up to make you feel as if the language is real, but enough detail to make it obvious that the author /created/ a language for the story.

Do any of these details hit you over the head, slowing down the story and boring the pants off those who only want to read about the battles?

No. Shepherd has woven the world building in to the action so you absorb it much like you would absorb the world building in a movie – naturally, a bit at a time.

That same mastery of story is evident in how the author builds the characters. They all have a past. They all have quirks. They all have virtues and faults, but again, discovering the characters is part of the story.

I am more impressed than I can say. More importantly, I LOVE this story, and I’m about to buy more of it.
Cannot recommend Sasha more highly.

The next review is of Fire Ant:

I didn’t know what to expect from Fire Ant, especially when I realised that the main character was a female…a female written by a male. Would she end up being a man disguised as a woman, as so many of these kinds of ‘kick arse’ characters are?

I’m pleased to report that the author, Jonathon P. Brazee, has created a female character who is kick arse but in a genuinely female way.

The story is pretty much a coming of age tale in space, but deep enough to make it enjoyable even for oldies long past that age. 🙂

I love it when I discover new authors. It’s like finding buried treasure!

Have a great weekend everyone,

cheers
Meeks


Right to Kill, by John Barlow

I just submitted a review of ‘Right to Kill’ on amazon.com. Simply put, I loved it. Read on for the full review:

I’ve been a fan of John Barlow since first reading ‘Hope Road’ quite a few years ago. So when I was asked to write a review of his latest story, I knew it would be good, I just never expected it to be /this/ good.

Like all three books in the Hope Road series, the characters in ‘Right to Kill’ all feel as if you’ve known them, or people like them, for ages. Some you would never include on your Christmas list, but others feel so real you want to hug them, laugh with them, cry with them.

The main character, Detective Sergeant Joe Romano feels utterly real too. He’s smart and principled, a /good/ man, but he’s also a little bit broken and a little bit lost. The pillars of his life have shifted and he’s treading water, going through the motions in the hope that he’ll rediscover some meaning to life.

When Craig Shaw is found burnt to a crisp in his Mum’s old Corolla, it’s Joe Romano’s colleagues in the Leeds police force who seem to be going through the motions. Why? Because Craig Shaw is a drug dealer and general low life, and the world is probably better off without him.

But does anyone really deserve to die?

As far as Joe Romano is concerned, the answer is no and he sets out to prove it.

How Joe proves it will keep you reading long past the point when you know you should turn out the light and go to sleep. I know it had that effect on me, and I can honestly say I did not see the ending coming. And yet, Barlow told this story so well that there was a huge sense of ‘oh, of course!’ once the identity of the killer is revealed.

That fulfilling sense of resolution is why I call this story the perfect thriller. We learn as Joe learns, clue by clue. We may not be as smart as Joe in putting the pieces of the jigsaw together, but once he does, we know it’s right. It could be no other way.

Telling enough but not telling too much is a tightrope without a safety net. Walking that tightrope is damn hard, but John Barlow makes it seem effortless.

This is a story I would recommend to anyone. I wish I could give it a 6 out of 5.

The link to ‘Right to Kill’ on amazon.com is below:

Have a great weekend everyone!

cheers
Meeks


Keiree – a review

I have enjoyed a great many books in the last few years, but I have not reviewed all of them because…well because life gets in the way, doesn’t it? But sometimes a story grabs me enough for me to get off my butt and say why. This is the review I just left on Amazon for a scifi story called ‘Keiree’. I believe the book, and its author, deserve a great deal more attention from readers like us. So here it is:

Keiree, by C. Litka

I’ll start with Molly, a green silka cat whose breed has been genetically enhanced to understand human language, if not speak it.

That was enough for me to give ‘Keiree’ a go, but somewhere along the way the story snuck into my heart and took up residence there. I reached the end and kept swiping my Kindle, hoping for more. An epilogue, maybe. Or perhaps a link to a second book.

I found neither, and if the author reads this – please Sir, can I have more?

Not because the ending wasn’t right. It was perfect for /this/ story. But …I grew to love Gy and Molly. I’d really like to know what they did next. How they lived their lives /after/.

On a technical level, the definition of scifi is that the story could not have taken place without the technology, place or time of the world in which it’s set. Think Dune or The Left Hand of Darkness.

By that definition, Keiree is as scifi as you can get because it takes place on a terraformed Mars, many hundreds, or possibly even thousands, of years in our future. Cryosleep is commonplace, as is sophisticated genetic modification and all sorts of other, smaller, innovations that we would consider close to magic now. But while all these elements quietly define the place and time, it’s the people who truly shine.

People don’t change. Some are petty and avaricious. Some remain true, no matter the odds. Keiree is that kind of story. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

You can find ‘Keiree’ here. It’s at a ridiculously low price, so even if you don’t think you like scifi, please give it a go. I’m certain you won’t be disappointed. Hmm…unless you’re looking for space battles, lasguns and Terminator style robots. Wrong book, sorry. 😉

cheers
Meeks


5 stars for The Godsend!

This day really couldn’t get any better. Just found this new review for The Godsend:

‘WOW the action certainly ramps up in this second book of the series. Miira and Jamie are trapped outside Innerscape and in mortal danger, there’s an assassin determined to kill The Burned Man, the falsely accused Kenneth Wu reappears, and much, much more.

Excuse me, Book 3 is calling my name – loudly…’

Click here to see the review on Amazon UK. Click the link to see The Godsend on Amazon US or Amazon Australia.

I am so happy I could pop! My thanks to the wonderful Chris Graham, otherwise known as the Story Reading Ape. Not only is this an awesome review, it would make a brilliant blurb. -dance-

Have a wonderful weekend my friends!

love,
Meeks


And one more for The Egg!

The Vintage Egg is my one and only foray into short stories, and it just received a fabulous 5/5 star review:

acflory writes some great sci-fi, and though I’ve read her novels, this was my first experience with her short stories. Her imagination and polished writing skills never disappoint, and these six stories are original and entertaining. My favorite tale was broken into two parts—The Vintage Egg and Egg Run—which bookend the other offerings. I also thoroughly enjoyed The Christmas Roast. I read this collection in under an hour and highly recommend it. A great peek at acflory’s writing talent.

I’m happy-dancing my way to the kitchen now for some lunch. Have a great day or evening. 🙂

cheers
Meeks


“Liars and Thieves” by D.Wallace Peach

I had a feeling this book would ruin my sleep…and it did. “Just one more chapter” kept me awake until 3am, but it was worth every minute. My Amazon review is going to start with a great big 5/5 stars, but you guys will get a sneak peek, followed by some information from the author herself. Let’s begin!

Liars and Thieves, by D.Wallace Peach

‘Liars and Thieves’, the first book in the Unravelling the Veil trilogy introduces us to the three main characters: a female Elf named Alue, a male Changeling named Tallin, and a half-cast Goblin-Elf known as Naj. But this is no cookie cutter ‘quest’ story. The three start as enemies and continue as enemies for most of the book because their races dislike and distrust each other.

We learn about those races, as we learn about the three main characters, and I have to tell you that the world building is deep. Each of the three races have unique magical talents, but the one thing they all have in common is their dependence on Savan crystals to power their societies. And guess who controls the mining of the crystals?

The Savan crystals can only be found in the Goblin’s territory, and comprises a large part of their trade along with mechanical devices that are powered by the crystals. In theory, this gives the Goblins a great deal of power, but these Goblins are not your stereotypical villains. Far from it.

In Liars and Thieves, the Goblins are the cool, calm rational ones who revere reason and logic above all else. They trade the crystals to the other races but keep supply to a minimum because they don’t trust the other races not to abuse the power the crystals provide.

As the story progresses, you realise that the Goblins are right. Alue the Elf is not a bad person but she is arrogant and impulsive, especially when she’s angry, which is a lot of the time. In many ways, she is a fitting representative of her people who seem to believe that they have the right to take what they want simply by virtue of being Elves.

The third race is represented by Tallin, a Changeling who can transform himself into any animal, or insect, for which he has learned the ‘pattern’. He uses his ability to spy on the Elves for the Changeling Queen. The Changelings believe that it’s okay to subtly spy on and manipulate the Elves because the Elves have proved that they want the natural resources that belong to the Changelings – and are prepared to cheat to get them.

Like three countries in our own world, the three Races in ‘Liars and Thieves’ have an accord that defines boundaries and lays down rules to help balance the needs of the three Races. But this is no dry historical treatise. We learn all of this world building through the characters and their interactions with each other. As we learn about them, we learn about their world, and the process is seamless.

That process is also utterly compelling. As I said in the beginning, I lost sleep because of it, and now I’m itching to find out what happens next. I’ve enjoyed all of D. Wallace Peach’s work, but this one has really, really hit the spot for me.

And now for some info about D. Wallace Peach [Diana to her friends], and the answer to a question I asked her about her writing process.

Author Bio

D. Wallace Peach started writing later in life after the kids were grown and a move left her with hours to fill.

Years of working in business surrendered to a full-time indulgence in the imaginative world of books, and when she started writing, she was instantly hooked.

Diana lives in a log cabin amongst the tall evergreens and emerald moss of Oregon’s rainforest with her husband, two dogs, bats, owls, and the occasional family of coyotes.

And now for that question. I asked Diana whether she created the plot to suit her characters or created the characters to drive the plot, or a bit of both. This is what she said:

Great question! Thanks for asking. I think there are three parts to the creation process for me. I start with the concept—a spark of inspiration bursts into my brain. In this case, a story about how untruths and biases start an avalanche of blaming and retaliation that spirals out of control and nearly destroys the world. The end of the world based on nothing real.

Seconds after the concept, the characters scramble in. Some are gung-ho. Some are wary. And some, like my goblin, would rather not participate. All of a sudden, their personalities are showing and taking over.

The plot is a work in progress as the concept turns into action and the characters tell me who they are. My outline of the plot lays out all three books, but it changes continually as the characters make choices and become who they are. I love that creative part of writing.

Thanks for indulging my curiosity, Diana. I think that balance between the characters and the world and the plot is part of what makes ‘Liars and Thieves’ such a joy to read. Oh, and…Diana’s writing is beautiful. At times it almost flows like music. At other times it’s as sharp as a shiny new pin.

If you want to see what else Diana’s up, you can find her on her blog: http://mythsofthemirror.com

You can also find her at:

And last, but most certainly not least, you can find ‘Liars and Thieves’ via this universal book link:
http://a-fwd.com/asin=B08FGQ2W3Q
Or click on the picture of the book. It will take you to the same web address.

I’m recommending ‘Liars and Thieves’ to anyone who loves to read, irrespective of genre. A good story is a good story is a good story! Enjoy. 🙂

Meeks


When a foodie needs some time out…

It’s been a stressful time in Australia lately, and I feel as if I’ve been either horrified, or scared or angry or all three since well before Christmas. To say I needed some time out would be a gross understatement, so the last couple of days I’ve retreated to books. Or should I say, one book in particular : The Quiche and the Dead.

I gave The Quiche and the Dead 5/5 stars on Amazon and left this review:

I read lighthearted mysteries when I’m feeling down and need a pick-me-up. Well, The Quiche and the Dead did more than just lift my mood, it left me in awe of the author’s imagination, writing skills, sense of humour and…cooking ability!

I mean, really! A murder mystery that actually makes some [subtle] social commentary? has realistic dialogue? has main characters who are instantly recognizable and come across as real people? has secondary characters who aren’t 2 dimensional plot devices? is well written and edited? and does all this whilst making you want to try one, or all, of the pies featured in the story? Oh, and has a tight plot and excellent pacing?

Frankly, I was going to give The Quiche and the Dead 5 stars even before I reached the final page, but then I finished the story and discovered that the author really did know how to cook and had provided recipes for all the pies in the story!

Apologies if that was a spoiler, but I’m a foodie and intend to try those recipes in my own kitchen. In fact, I intend to buy more of the Pie Town series in case there are more goodies at the end. And for the story, of course. 🙂

Would I recommend The Quiche and the Dead…you bet, with bells on!

Drat, just realised I forgot to mention the cat! Seriously, buy this book and read it!

cheers

Meeks


The Lost Valley – my review on Amazon

I wrote about Jennifer Scoullar’s latest novel here, and so I thought you might be interested in the 5 star review I left for it on Amazon.com:

I’ve read a number of Jennifer Scoullar’s novels now, and I’ve enjoyed all of them, including Fortune’s Son, book 1 of The Tasmanian Tales but…The Lost Valley turned out to be something a whole lot more.

This is the most powerful story Scoullar has ever written, imho, and her characters almost jump off the page, they ring so true. Tom, the gentle twin who dreams of flying like a bird. Harry, the troubled twin who’s desperate to reclaim the family fortune lost by his father. And Emma, a working class girl who dreams of becoming a doctor in pre-World War II Australia.

Life, and the war, turn all their dreams upside down and inside out, especially when Kitty, a gorgeous Hollywood starlet walks into their lives. But weaving through the entire story is a thread of quiet joy – the secret of the Lost Valley.

I can’t say anymore for fear of spoiling it for everyone, but I guarantee you won’t be disappointed. Scoullar’s attention to detail and obvious love of the Australian bush, make the storytelling sing, but it’s her characters you’ll grow to love. All of them, well except for maybe one. Her you’ll hate. 🙂

Disclaimer: I received an ARC copy of The Lost Valley but would happily buy it for myself it’s that good.’

If you’ve read The Lost Valley, please leave a review on Amazon. And please follow Jennifer while you’re at it. It makes such a huge difference to a writer, not just because it helps us sell our work, but because we don’t actually get feedback all that often. I don’t think there’s a writer alive who doesn’t get a thrill when someone says ‘I like this’. 🙂

cheers

Meeks


How to print a paperback – #KDP vs #CreateSpace

So far, I’ve only used CreateSpace for my print-on-demand needs, but today I thought I’d check out the new, Amazon KDP print option as well.

To access the KDP print option, you have to be registered with KDP. If you’ve already published your ebook[s] with them, simply log in and click on your Bookshelf. Click the book you want to print and you will see an option to create a paperback for that book:

The next bit is pretty slick. If your book is already available as an ebook, most of the setup information will be inserted automatically [taken from the ebook setup]. The bits that aren’t are fairly self-explanatory. But what if you’re a brand new author thinking of printing a book for the very first time?

First Impressions

Not knowing where to start, I decided to watch some videos provided by KDP. I can only assume the makers of the videos assumed new authors would already know about trim sizes etc., because they skipped a whole heap of stuff to do with the pre-print part of the process.

Next, I decided to check out the two templates offered by KDP. One template only had the formatting instructions, the other had dummy text to make it easier to see what went where. As with the CreateSpace templates, everything is manual with lots of copy-pasting. Meh. A bigger problem I found was with section breaks etc. There are only about 10 example chapters in the template. So what do you do if you’ve got more than 10 chapters in your own book? You can keep adding chapters, of course, but if you accidentally delete the section break [which is not visible] the whole thing falls apart.

Finally, I had a look at the written instructions for the Basics. It’s pretty bare bones and assumes that authors will be familiar with Word processes and formatting, but otherwise they were okay until the section on page numbers. The following is copied straight from the website:

  1. Go to the first page of your first chapter.
  2. Depending on whether you want your page numbers in the header or footer, double-click on the header or footer. This will open the Design tab.
  3. In the “Navigation section,” click Link to Previous. This will prevent page numbers from showing up on your title, copyright, and table of contents pages.
  4. In the “Header & Footer” section, click Page Number and choose where you want the page numbers to be.

For Steps 3 and 4 to work, the manuscript must already contain a section break separating the chapters from the front matter [Title, Copyright, Table of Contents etc]. I checked back over all the previous instructions to make sure I hadn’t missed something, but no, none of them even mentioned a section break much less instructions on how, and why, to add one.

This is a glaring and costly mistake because, if there is no section break:

  • the ‘Link to Previous’ option will be greyed out, i.e. unavailable,
  • a page number applied at any point in the manuscript will cause page numbers to be displayed on each and every page…including the front matter.
  • any Headers – e.g. Author Name, Book Title etc – will also appear on each and every page…including the front matter.

If you are going to provide instructions for something, those instructions have to be as clear as possible and accurate. My guess is that the instructions conflated the section breaks in the templates with the instructions on doing everything from scratch. Unfortunately, this kind of slip can lead to massive frustration on the part of authors, and a failed project.

A little further down, the instruction for creating a PDF of the Word file suggested authors use the File/Save As option. This is one of the ways of creating a PDF, but it assumes the author will know about file types and how and where to change them. In Word 2016, it’s a lot easier to use the File/Export option which takes you straight there.

Next, I thought I’d check out the cover creator option on KDP. First I watched the video walkthrough. From what I could see, the Cover Creator app. is very similar to the one used by CreateSpace. The video tutorial, however, is more of an overview than a real guide, so I decided to give it a try myself.

The layout and some of the functions are definitely slicker than the Cover Creator app provided by CreateSpace. But. It soon became obvious that KDP’s version is still a beta. The following are the problems I found after just a few minutes of play:

  • there are only 11 templates to choose from [CreateSpace provides 30],
  • if you choose one of the free, KDP images as the first step in the process, you can ‘start over’ and choose another template, but you can’t go back and choose another picture,
  • if you do want to choose another picture, using the Back button on the browser will take you back to the KDP bookshelf, and yes, you have to go through the first page of the setup all over again,
  • if you exit via the Cover Creator ‘Close’ button, you exit all the way out of KDP and have to log back in,
  • if you decide to use your own image, there is no template that allows for a ‘free’ cover [in the CreateSpace version there are 2]. This is what I mean:

 

As you can see, my cover image includes interesting fonts and colour choices. When I brought it into Cover Creator, however, I ended up with the default template version plastered over the top. And there was no way I could get rid of it. Horrible. If you are going to use your own cover image, make sure it’s the correct size for the trim size and contains NO WRITING.

Overall? I think the KDP print-on-demand process needs more work. I’ll give it a skip, at least for now.

 

Meeks

 


The Bone Curse – out on March 27th, 2018

Do you believe in Voodoo? I don’t, and yet I had no trouble suspending disbelief as I read Carrie Rubin’s The Bone Curse.

For the record, I won a pre-review copy from the author.

The story begins in Paris where Ben Oris receives a small wound from an ancient bone. Ben’s best friend, Laurette, fears that some sort of evil has entered his his body through the wound, but Vodou is no part of Ben’s world and he dismisses her fears, even as people close to him begin to sicken with a mysterious illness.

To add some context, Voodoo is Hollywood, Vodou is the belief system of Haiti. It has good and evil spirits, just as most Western religions have angels and demons. More importantly, it has practitioners who actively believe. That counts for a great deal when Ben’s ordered, logical world turns upside down. First his ex-lover gets sick, then an ex-girlfriend, and finally the woman who birthed him.

Nevertheless, it’s not until Ben becomes a father and fears for the life of his newborn son that he begins to wonder if there’s more to Vodou than he wants to believe. What follows is a fast paced race against time as he tries desperately to save those he loves.

I wasn’t sure if I liked Ben Oris at the start, but as the story progressed, I found myself empathizing with him more and more. Not just because he was a Doubting Thomas like me, but because he slowly evolved into someone capable of putting others’ lives ahead of his own. As he began to care, so did I.

I can’t say any more for fear of spoiling the whole story, but I devoured The Bone Curse in under two days and I strongly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a fast paced, medical/psychological thriller that makes you think.

The book will not be published until March 27, but you can put it on pre-order here:

Most definitely 5 stars.:)

cheers

Meeks

 


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