Book Review-Rescue, or Royer Goldhawk’s Remarkable Journal by Amy Leigh Strickland

Title: Rescue, or Royer Goldhawk’s Remarkable Journal

Author: Amy Leigh Strickland

Format: Paperback, published by Matter Deep Publishing

Published: 2013

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What is one to do when he witnesses the woman he is enamored with taken by strange men and hauled onto an airship? Well, if you’re Royer Goldhawk and it’s 1883, then you do exactly what author Amy Leigh Strickland wants you to do. You and your best friend and a woman that may or may not care much for you take off on a cross country trek to save the girl, only to discover so much more action and adventure!

Rescue, or Royer Goldhawk’s Remarkable Journal is the first book in at least a two book series by Strickland that is presented exactly as what its title states it is, a journal. The prologue slides the reader right into the tale by establishing that a child of the title character has discovered a journal that Goldhawk kept, a secret to the unnamed child. The many twists and turns unfold in perfect precision both for the narrator and the reader, taking us all on a journey that literally makes it feel as if we are standing right beside Goldhawk and his team of derring doers.  That’s a task many writers try, to give the reader an immersive experience, but very few succeed at.  Strickland not only succeeds, but she takes the story and wraps it around the reader in such a way that not only do we want to follow the action, but we want to know the people involved, to not only uncover the reason behind the kidnapping of Goldhawk’s enamored, but to watch as Goldhawk and America Loveguard verbally spar, to see the conflict between Seavers and Cutteridge, two potential allies who join along the way, and to simply be a part of what happens.  Strickland weaves words in a way that makes the reader want to be fully invested in what happens.

This is definitely a book steeped heavily in steampunk influences, and that’s okay.  But the best part of that is that Strickland doesn’t simply write a steampunk adventure. There is enough genre blending and even mashing going on within Rescue to make it interesting to nearly every type of reader.  The undercurrent of mystery that flows through the narrative is quite engaging and added to the thrill of discovery as it unfolded page after page.

Perhaps the best part, however, of this book is the characterization.  Strickland not only breathes life into Goldhawk and company, but she makes them solid, makes them real. She has created a cast of characters that readers will find it impossible not to care about, not to want to know, not to want to follow.  This is so true that on the night I’m writing this review, I just became aware there was a book two and I now own it on Kindle.  Not just because I want to know where the story ends, and yes, Rescue does end on a cliffhanger, a well executed one, but also because I want to see what becomes of these people that I got to know while reading the book.

Rescue, or Royer Goldhawk’s Remarkable Journal is a full on five out of five pages.  It is a fantastic read in every way.

A full loaded pistol for this one, six out of six bullets.  Characters, plot, cover, structure, everything is a direct hit with this one.

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Book Review-Quickfire Reviews of Blood Price, Comfort Foods, My Summer with the King

Book Reviews are funny things, for the reviewer anyway.  Just like any writer, we find inspiration for what we produce review wise.  And of course, that inspiration is found within the pages of said volume and/or work we are choosing to review.  Now, if you’ve read any of my reviews, then you know that I’m prone to knock out anywhere from five hundred to a thousand or so words on the books I review.  Having said that, though, there are some books I read and plan to review that just don’t conjure that many words for me.  It has nothing to do with how good or bad the book is or how much I liked it or not, it’s just that some books cause me to elaborate and expand more than others.  There are those books that simply evoke a very simple, very brief response in me.  Not so brief that it’s a smattering of ‘I loved it!’ or ‘This book isn’t worth a plug penny!’, but brief enough that doing a short review of just one book isn’t worth it.

So, welcome to the first of my Quickfire Reviews. I won’t do these often, but periodically I’ll do short, blurb like reviews of three to five books that just didn’t coax me to write more. Some will be top notch, others will be bottom of the barrel, and most likely in between, just like all the books I read.  They just will all be collected in one spot for your rapid reading pleasure.

Title: My Summer With the King

Author: Meliss Goodman

Format: Paperback, published by Healing Hands Entertainment

Published: 2014

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In the summer of 1953, May Richards and her mother, Mama Rose, along with May’s little sister Daisy and her cousin Thelma, move into a new home.  This sets May, a teenager, on a course that will greatly affect her life, thanks largely to three men- Mama Rose’s boyfriend, a local sort of bad boy, and a young man who is spending his summer with his grandparents across the street from May.  A young man by the name of Elvis Presley.

My Summer with The King is an interesting look at the unintentional rites of passage a young girl goes through one summer, a process that just happens to involve the future King of Rock and Roll.  The book opens with engaging characters and conjures images that would interest any fan of such stories or of books set in the historic South, but a promising beginning quickly falls apart due to choppy storytelling and poor plot structure.  By the end of the story, the characters have become boring and the episodes that May goes through have become not only predictable, but forgettable due to inconsistent pacing.  Having said that, the last several pages outlining the final scene of the book are glimmers at what the rest of this book should have been, a closing scene that was put together well and made me sorry that these characters hadn’t fared better as far as development and build up.  Editing issues, including typos and story structure, seem to have contributed to the weaknesses of this book quite a bit.

My Summer with The King gets three out of five pages.  If you’re a fan of Elvis, the portrayal of the King is fun and nostalgic.  But for the most part, the book sort of collapses around itself.

Three out of six bullets go in my gun for this one.  It takes aim at a dandy target, but misses almost by a mile.

Title: Comfort Foods

Author: Ella Buntin, Jack W. Butler, Mary Lang, Larry Underwood, Kim Caudell, Mandy Haynes, Mark Steinwachs, Angela Trumbo, D. Alan Lewis, Robert Crow, Melissa Posecznick, David Michael Rose, Hunter C. Eden, and Nikki Nelson-Hicks.

Format: Paperback, published by Nashville Writers Meetup Group

Published: 2013

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I’m not a horror fan.  Not by a long shot.  But I do have to say that Comfort Foods, an anthology put together by a Nashville writers group and themed somewhat loosely around the concept of eating and food, is a total package of tantalizing terror goodness.  Edited by Nikki Nelson-Hicks, who also wrote the fantastic introduction, creepy in its own right, the stories in this volume reach out and tease and downright scare whatever bejeezuses you might have in you right out of you.  There are no duds in this collection, the best stories being hard to determine simply because each one delivers on the horror in just the way it seems intended to. Personal favorites for me include Dull Flesh, Sharp Fangs by D. Alan Lewis, Always the Feet by Robert Crow, Bones in the Wind by David Michael Rose, and In the Garden Where the Bones Are by Kim Caudell.  Also, one of my favorite parts of this entire collection happens to be the cover, a charming and disturbing image created by Brenna Hicks.

Comfort Foods is a full five out of five pages and loads six out of six bullets for me, hitting horror on its decapitated head with every word.

Title: Blood Price

Author: Martin White

Format: Paperback, published by Alban Lake Publishing

Published: 2014

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Blood Price is a sixteen year old super heroine.  Equipped with a mask and gadgetry, she is also a young girl who is running head on into danger due to darkness in her past.  As she works her way through both normal and super life as a teenager, she teams up with a young lycanthrope and a sort of possessed mystic and together the three of them pursue a killer. Not just any murderer, but a being that may hold secrets for all of them and may prove to be their ultimate undoing.

Blood Price is a novella, clocking in at 63 pages.  That is its biggest weakness and the reason this book just never works.  White packs enough teen angst into the words on the page to keep therapists in business for years, yet there is simply too much.  Not just too much preening to the young adult market, but too much in too little space of everything.  The story is largely inconsistent, unable to make up its mind between being a super hero actioner or a coming of age story in tights.  It never finds itself as either one and simply ends up being disjointed and disenchanting. You can see what the book might have been given another 100 or so pages, but it never gets there.

Blood Price gets two out of five pages. If you’re desperate for young adult super hero fiction, then take the chance.  You’ll miss the story I wanted to be just like I did.

I can give it two out of six bullets, again because it had promise, but it doesn’t ever, ever reach it.

Books Review – The Christmas Scrapbook & The Mitford Snowman

NOTE: In honor of the holidays, I thought I’d do a couple holiday stories, so it’s a bonus twofer review day! I know that these are competing series, but hey, why not?


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TITLE: The Christmas Scrapbook
AUTHOR: Philip Gulley
FORMAT: Hardback
PUBLISHED: 2005

Okay, so I needed a Christmas book for the reading challenge, and I found this on the shelf.  It was short, so I grabbed it.  I’m not big on Christmas stories in general, and I’ve already read Skipping Christmas and Ester’s Gift, and a couple other short ones.  Thus, this one it was…

The book is apparently a stand-alone companion book to the popular Home to Harmony series of books.  I haven’t read them, but I had no problem following along with who everyone was.

In this story, the MC is Pastor Sam, determined this year to get a better gift than the almost two-decades of crap he’s managed before, so he’s off making her a scrapbook. Misunderstandings happen.  Hilarity ensues.  Or something. [Side note.  If you’re the type of husband that can’t manage something better than a friggin’ pelican to hold your kitchen sponge, you are doing this husband thing wrong.  He’s supposedly been married 17 years.  I don’t know why either one of them put up with the other.]

Look, I’m sure these are supposed to be cute and wholesome and whatever – and this felt like a rejected Andy Griffith Show story line.  But unlike Andy, Sam’s just annoying.  And the busybodies all over town are just … annoying.  And I know I said that about Sam, but let’s just say that if this beauty parlor had the only shampoo in existence, I’d never wash my hair again instead of having to deal with these twits.  Apparently being a total gossip is a “good Christian” quality.

And the wife…  So, this is a minister and his wife.  When Sam has somewhere to be Wednesday nights and a bad lie to cover it up, why does she automatically assume he’s cheating on her?  I’m not saying clergy can’t cheat, but I’d like to think they operate under a higher morality clause than the rest of us.  And I’d like to think that even if they were acting all suspicious, a minister’s wife would assume just about anything else before cheating.

Honestly, this book did less than anything for me.  Maybe people who love this series will think this is a cute story, but I think that it could have seriously used about 1000 more words to flesh some things out instead of weak transitions and the glossing over of stuff.  For instance, at one point somebody twists an ankle.  And since the response to that is more important than the actual ankle being twisted, it was reduced to about half a sentence.  That could have at least been an exciting paragraph.  But no.

In the end, I suggest reading this to put yourself to sleep.  If you like your fiction so saccharine sweet (with an undercoat of hen chatter) that you get diabetes, maybe you’re the target audience, but I know that I certainly am not.  2/5.

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TITLE: The Mitford Snowman
AUTHOR: Jan Karon
FORMAT: Hardback Large Print
PUBLISHED: 2001

For those not in the know, Jan Karon has a series of books that take place in the little town of Mitford, and center around a sleepy southern town and a priest.  I haven’t read any of the novels, but I did review the other Christmas book about a year ago.

So this one.  The Mitford Snowman is a simple – and very short – story that starts with a couple guys sitting around talking and then it starts snowing.  Next thing everyone knows, an impromptu snowman building contest starts up, and everyone up and down the street gets involved.

It’s cute, and it’s simple, and I think it’s pretty much what it should be.

With that said, it’s short.  Like 1800 words.  Which isn’t necessarily bad for a gift book at Christmas, but I have several issues with this version.  Like I said, I got the large print one, which came out from Wheeler Publishing.  Unfortunately, this version has all black and white illustrations, and the short internet search I did about this book shows that the interior is actual in color in the regular print version, so I was sad to miss out on that.  Also, because Large Print somehow costs oh-so-much-extra to print, the cover price on this is $26.95.  Yes, $27 for 1800 words and some should-be-in-color illustrations in black and white.

And because it’s Large Print, it felt like I was reading a Children’s book.  There were something like 45 words per page.

So I was seriously disappointed with this version.

Bottom line.  For the story itself, I totally think its worth the read.  But the Large Print book isn’t worth it at all. I don’t want to even give this version of this book a rating.  But I must, so I’d give it a 3/5, mostly because the story is good.  The price with the B&W is a total ripoff.  That said, I’d give the regular version a 4/5, so if you can get your hands on that one, read it instead.  But if you have a friend that’s really into the Mitford books, this would be a great Christmas gift with a nice box of tea.

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Either book satisfies the Christmas Book portion of the challenge.
Book 6/52.  (And yes, I know these reviews published out of order.)

Book Review- Allan Gilbreath: A Short Story Collection by Allan Gilbreath

Title: Allan Gilbreath: A Short Story Collection

Author: Allan Gilbreath

Format: Paperback edition by Kerlak Publishing

Published: 2010

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Many authors write short stories, myself included.  Some of us do it because they sell well and others do it because they simply prefer the short, terse form of fiction over the longer, more involved process of writing a novel.   Whatever the reason, short stories are something at some point that most, if not all, authors have or will write.  And very few do it with such skill as Allan Gilbreath.

Known possibly more for Galen and Dark Chances, his two novels giving us his take on vampire fiction, Gilbreath shows an ability and a range of skill in this short story collection that should establish him as a leading writer of the form. In nineteen stories, Gilbreath moves effortlessly between genres, taking readers to planets far from home and then showing them how horrors can literally invade the four walls and ceilings of our houses.  He slides into historical noir like he’s putting on house slippers and then just as comfortably crafts a tale of the old being made new again, in terms of species.  As displayed in this volume, there seems to be no genre that Gilbreath isn’t comfortable creating within.

The best stories in this collection, in my reviewing opinion, are The Little Demon Doubt, Afternoon Lemonade, Just Beneath the Surface, Time To Come Out and Play, Twilight’s Last Gleaming, The Glamour of It All, Origins, Mr. Crump Don’t Like it, The Smile, An Odd Demise, Lepus Europeaus, Torah of the Gem, and The Abere.

The last three stories in the book all feature Jack Lago.  Lago is a grumpy sort of rumpled detective, an ex-cop who gained a reputation for handling the weird and strange cases that most officers would rather ignore or not deal with.  Now in his pseudo retirement, Lago finds himself called into consult whenever a case tends to cross the line into the supernatural or the paranormal or the ‘No damn way to explain’ category.

Gilbreath is at the top of his game in these three stories.  Lago is not only engaging and curmudgeonly, but he is great fun to read.   Gilbreath navigates the first person narration like a pro should and pulls the reader into the mystery right alongside Lago.  Something else he does well is filling the world around Lago with a believable supporting cast, many of them unsure if they even want to associate with Lago and what comes with knowing him.  Each mystery is tightly conceived and executed and, although this is a phrase I hate to use, these three definitely will leave readers wanting more.

Allan Gilbreath: A Short Story Collection by Allan Gilbreath rates four out of five pages.  Not every story is a hit, nor will it be that way with any reader. But overall, this collection is the work of an author who not only knows how to craft a short story, but even seems to enjoy doing so, based on the after comments he added to each story.

I’d load five out of six bullets for this collection.  Again, personal preference keeps it from being a full chamber, but this on the whole is a fantastic representation of a talented writer’s work.

Book Review: Tanner’s Twelve Swingers by Lawrence Block

Title:Tanner’s Twelve Swingers

Author: Lawrence Block

Format: Paperback edition by Jove Books

Published: 1985

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Lawrence Block is a name of legend, at least for a guy like me who reads mysteries and the like voraciously.  Matt Scudder, Block’s possibly best known Private Detective character, ranks in the top ten of best fictional PIs of all time.  I have only recently, however, discovered another one of Block’s fantastic characters- Evan Michael Tanner, quite literally the most unlikely and accidental spy probably ever created in fiction.

Unable to actually sleep due to a rather strange physical condition, Evan Michael Tanner is a man of many unique attributes and distinct interests, one of the most prominent being that he is a fan and oftentimes supporter of lost causes around the world, the more obscure the better.  He is also a voracious reader, a man who, spongelike, absorbs information wherever he can.  In Tanner’s Twelve Swingers, Tanner promises an acquaintance of his, one he has made association with through one of his various lost causes, that he will retrieve the man’s one true love.  From the Soviet Union. Himself. And that he will bring her back to the United States.

Although Tanner continually regrets this commitment, he tries to be a man of his word always, so he undertakes the mission. The path he has to travel isn’t strange to him, as he has been in that part of the world, even responsible for a small rebellion in a country over there in his first adventure.  What occurs along the way, however, is that Tanner ends up not only having to deal with his friend’s lover, but her sister, as well as the ten other members of the gymnastics team the girls are a part of.  Oh, and then there’s an old gentleman who tags along wanting to defect and a young girl, who Tanner liberates from being held prisoner by her subjects.  Why? Because they are convinced she is the heir to the throne of Lithuania and want to hold her prisoner until the right time to return her to power.  She’s six by the way.

Tanner’s Twelve Swingers is definitely a raucous, fun ride.  The situations that Block puts Tanner in are definitely crafted only for someone of Tanner’s rather singular being to survive and to do so with such aplomb that other mostly positive things happen as a result of him not dying.  This being Block, the voice of the novel is solid and consistent and moves along at a decent pace.

My issues with this book, though, have to do with having read the first Tanner adventure before this one, the third in the series.  In The Thief Who Couldn’t Sleep, Block wrote Tanner as a rather interesting conundrum of a man, one who somehow stumbled into situations accidentally, then rode victoriously out of them.  The Tanner in Tanner’s Twelve Swingers doesn’t really seem to be that particular version until nearly the end of the book.  This Tanner seems easily frustrated and constantly considering walking away from the duty he has undertaken. And although the curmudgeonly aspects of Tanner were almost charming in the first book, they get in the way in Tanner’s Twelve Swingers of appreciating the character, almost like some of the moments move too quickly, not enough time being taken to let Tanner shine.

Tanner’s Twelve Swingers rates a good four out of five pages. Even with the less than likable version of the character showing up this time around, it is still a rollicking and exciting time, one replete with neat little character moments.

By my standard, Tanner’s Twelve Swingers is definitely five out of six bullets, the sights only being off slightly where the lead is concerned.

Book Review – Uglies: Cutters by Scott Westerfeld and Devin Grayson

Title: Uglies: Cutters

Author: Scott Westerfeld and Devin Grayson

Illustrator: Steven Cummings

Format: Paperback

Published: 2012

 

As I have stated many times before my favorite author is Scott Westerfeld, so it should not be a surprise that I would be drawn in by a graphic novel that is at least partially by him and part of the world of Uglies and Pretties that he created.  I know I wasn’t through the roof for Shay’s story the first graphic novel but again I had to read this all the same.

 

The general story of the Uglies universe is a world that is set in the distant future where people are controlled and kept at peace by being equally beautiful and not having a want in the world.  Of course the secret to keeping everyone peaceful and in control is much more than a surgery that makes people pretty but I won’t go into details so as not to ruin the story for your but the world is interesting all the same and one I immensely enjoyed when I first read it.  The main story focuses on Tally Youngblood as she is the main heroin.  She had a close friend Shay who is major contributing factor in pushing Tally to do what she does in much of the series.  This graphic novel takes on the story of Shay and her perspective on things.

 

This is the second graphic novel that focuses on Shay the first one was Shay before she became a petty and before she met Tally and how she saw things in the story of Tally that we read in Uglies.  This graphic novel picks up and tells the story of Shay and her take on things during the time that we follow Tally in Pretties.

 

In the past I did read and review the first of Shay’s story and wasn’t wowed by it but all the same I still found myself picking up the second book and honestly I wasn’t wowed by it either.  It was interesting to see how Shay saw things, but the story was weird all the same.  Instead of just telling Shay’s story there was commentary from the main villain Dr. Cable periodically in the story and there was a fantasy story that kind of worked as an allegory for the main story.  It kind of broke things up a lot and I wasn’t fond of it.  I didn’t feel that the fantasy story fit in well though I very much got what point it was trying to make.

 

Unless Shay was your absolute favorite character in the books, I would not recommend this book.  It gave me a bit of insight but otherwise the story was flat to me and I wasn’t fond of it.  Over all I’ll give this story a 2 out of 5 pages simply because it wasn’t the most atrocious thing I’ve read but honestly I found it a bit dull.

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