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Review: “Venice in the Moonlight” by Elizabeth McKenna

“Venice in the Moonlight” by Elizabeth McKenna

Available from: Amazon or Barnes & Noble
Released on: 3 October 2013

I received this book free in exchange for an honest review.

Description: Considered useless by his cold-hearted father, Nico Foscari, eldest son of one of the founding families in Venice, hides his pain behind gambling, drinking and womanizing.

After her husband’s untimely demise, Marietta Gatti returns to her hometown of Venice in hopes of starting a new life and finding the happiness that was missing in her forced marriage.

When Fate throws them together, friendship begins to grow into love until Marietta learns a Foscari family secret that may have cost her father his life. Now, she must choose between vengeance, forgiveness, and love.

Elizabeth McKenna’s latest novel takes you back to eighteenth century Carnival, where lovers meet discreetly, and masks make everyone equal.

Review: Venice in the Moonlight is a story that brings to life things I loved when I was a young woman beginning in my romance reading life. A dark hero with a past that makes you wish to change him, a strong heroine willing to risk all to right wrongs, a setting in a land I will never see. But I did not find enough original, except maybe the reason for the thriller sub-plot, which made it stand out to me.

It had the makings of a story that could pull you into the intrigue but I felt it always left me hanging on the edge of what could be really good. Carnival in Venice, a city known to be one of the most romantic in world, with Nico, a hero that made you wish to comfort and bed at the same time. A mystery that needed to be solved, and Marietta the woman willing to do all she could to solve it, including putting herself in situations that were not only daring, but fool hardy. Instead of taking the easy way out of having the hero come to the rescue, the author almost always found a way to pull Marietta out of the situation and leave you saying “that was too close.” It was at those points when I felt the story could elevate and give me all the drama and passion I was hoping for, but it didn’t as those were the points it plateaued at.

The secondary characters were not as original as the main characters, but that is forgivable in this length of a book, you did not need them, but they were decent window dressing. The descriptions of the city, the clothing, the masks and even the food were lovely and decadent at times. Painting a lovely word picture in the mind, it was them that lead me to hope for more from the beginning.

Overall I think this book had tremendous potential that kept me holding on and hoping for it to be reached throughout but at the end I was left with a feeling of, “It was nice, but nothing spectacular.” But boy did it raise my hopes for spectacular. I give this book 3.5 fireballs.

3.5fireballs[1]

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Review: “Fire Sign” by M. A. Petterson

“Fire Sign” by M. A. Petterson

Available from: Amazon or Barnes & Noble
Released on: 26 July 2014
I received this book free in exchange for an honest review.

Description: A beautiful forensic engineer hiding a tragic past reluctantly teams up with a troubled cop to stop a serial arsonist targeting churches.

Dr. Anja Toussaint believes that her own dreadful youth foretells who the arsonist is and the shocking motive behind the fires. But Detective Gil Dolan stubbornly sets his sights on a white supremacist previously convicted of arson and just released from prison.

Unfortunately, when Anja blocks his efforts the arrogant cop sets his own plan into motion that leads them both into a fiery trap.

Review: On the whole, I enjoyed this story. It was a quick and fairly easy read, and I really loved the premise/set-up of the main character as the forensic engineer/arson investigator, particularly a woman. I’m not entirely sure if I liked Anja or not, but she’s the type of character that I think was written that way. She made for a unique narrative voice, though, and I did like that.

Some elements of Anja, and Dolan, felt kind of stereotyped, or at least common for characters in this sort of genre. But then, sometimes things are common for a reason: they’re common, so I can’t decide if that’s really a detractor. Also the “near miss” for Anja and Dolan felt kind of odd, a little shoe-horned into the plot and I wasn’t crazy about that. (There was another detail that felt similar and didn’t go anywhere that I wasn’t crazy about, but I don’t want to spoiler anything.)

Also, there was one plot turn that felt like a bit too big a leap for anyone to make who wasn’t Sherlock Holmes so I’d have liked to see more development there, although a small twist at the end was a good one.

So, while there were some elements that didn’t quite hit the right notes for me, over all, I did like the story. 4 Fireballs.

4 Fireballs

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Review: Death by Didgeridoo by Barbara Venkataraman

“Death by Didgeridoo” (Jamie Quinn Mystery #1) by Barbara Venkataraman

Available from: Amazon
Released on: 13 November 2014
I received this book free in exchange for an honest review.

Description: Reluctant lawyer, Jamie Quinn, still reeling from the death of her mother, is pulled into a game of deception, jealousy, and vengeance when her cousin, Adam, is wrongfully accused of murder. It’s up to Jamie to find the real murderer before it’s too late. It doesn’t help that the victim is a former rock star with more enemies than friends, or that Adam confessed to a murder he didn’t commit.

Review: This was a fast read, but a fun one. The mystery wasn’t what I’d call complex and ran in a pretty straight line, as your mystery stories go, but it didn’t bother me. I found the narrator amusing and engaging, reminding me of Kinsey from the Sue Grafton series. 4 Fireballs.

4 Fireballs

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Review: “The School of Night” by Colin Falconer

“The School of Night” (The William Shakespeare Detective Agency) by Colin Falconer

Available from: Amazon or Barnes & Noble
Released on: 7 October 2014
I received this book free in exchange for an honest review, as part of this book’s blog tour.

Description: “My name is William Shakespeare. No, not that Shakespeare; and no jests please, I’ve heard them all. I’m the other one, the ne’er do well cousin, the loafer, known to family and friends as the dunce, the one who could not recite Cicero or Horace, who could never be as good as his clever cuz, the one who has just come to Bishopsgate from Stratford with silly dreams in his head and a longing to make something more of himself than just a glover’s handyman.”

What he finds in London is Lady Elizabeth Talbot, who is willing to pass a few shillings to this blundering brawler if he will help her find her husband. Poor William does not realize the trail will lead to the truth behind the death of Shakespeare’s great rival, Christopher Marlowe – or to a lifelong love affair with a woman far above his station.

Each book tells the story of William’s adventures as England’s first gumshoe, set against turbulent Elizabethan politics; of his romantic pursuit of the impossible Elizabeth Talbot; while charting the career of his up and coming dramatist cousin, the bard of Stratford, but just Will to his family.

Review: This book I loved. Being a Shakespeare fan, this naturally drew my attention but it following not the bard but the cousin of the same name made it fun. There was just enough history to keep it feeling real, but enough drama and adventure to keep it lively.

I completely hooked into Cousin Will, as just the type of character I love, and I thought that Elizabeth was a great mix of a woman of her age but with those bits of the Modern Women that we like to see. The romantic sub-plot was light, but I liked it.

Falconer’s style and Voice of the character was amazingly readable, and now I want to run off and read his other historical fiction. 5 Fireballs.

5 Fireballs

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Review: “A Plague of Shadows” by Travis Simmons

“A Plague of Shadows” (Harbingers of Light, Book One) by Travis Simmons

Available from: Amazon
Released on: 14 December 2014
I received this book free in exchange for an honest review, as part of this book’s blog tour.

Description: A shadow plague is creeping through the land of O. The plague ensnares those it infects, and turns them into mindless shadow people called darklings. The darklings have one goal: to pollute all of the nine worlds along the world tree, and bring about oblivion. Fear of these darklings and the magic they possess drives people to kill those that appear different, or go against the holy word of the All Father.

At nineteen Abagail Bauer should be starting a family of her own, but instead she still home, caring for her lame father and their farm. The hard life has made her practical. She has little time for flights of fancy, unlike her sister Leona who insists her doll can predict the future. But that all changes in a single moment. While tending their bees Abagail encounters a blackness spreading through the hive. She knows what it is: the shadow plague. And now she’s been infected.

She doesn’t believe in other worlds outside her homeland of O. But when her father finds she’s contracted the shadow plague, he sends her to live with her Aunt Mattelyn in a world known as Agaranth. Though she’s never met her aunt, she’s the only known person who has contracted the shadow plague and learned to control it. For Abagail, everything she’s ever believed to be myth becomes a staggering reality.

Joined by her neighbor, Rorick Keuper, on a quest of revenge against the darklings who destroyed his home, and her seer sister, Leona, Abagail sets off across the rainbow bridge to Agaranth in hopes of curing herself of the plague. But Abagail finds that her infection is only the beginning of her ill fate. When she arrives in the new world, she’s far from where she needs to be. Braving the winter of this new land, along with the darklings that hunt her, will Abagail be able to find her aunt before the shadow consumes her, or is she destined to become a husk of who she once was and destroy all she holds dear?

Buy A PLAGUE OF SHADOWS today and get lost in the darkness.

Review: I’m still not entirely sure what I think about this book. There wasn’t anything “wrong” with it and I can’t say that I thought it was bad. It may have been my mood while I was reading, because that’s been known to happen, but I couldn’t seem to fully connect with any of the characters and something undefinable just didn’t sit entirely right.

It was a short read, but I didn’t feel like I got to know the characters that well and Abagail did bother me a little, but that may have been her age. (My issues with young female main characters being well documented.) It moved slowly, but the writing was fine. I liked the Norse inspiration as well, which mostly carried me through.

So I liked it well enough for 3 Fireballs.

3 Fireballs

 

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Review: “Mad Reality versus Aurelius” by James Ayrford

“Mad Reality versus Aurelius” by James Ayrford

Available from: Amazon
Released on: 3 August 2014
I received this book free in exchange for an honest review.

Description: Experimental philosophical short story as deep and insightful as Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

How the eyes of the abyss look like, when she stares back at you? Does she, like a woman, enjoys attention and whip or not? Or why even staring into it, what can be seen there and is it even worth it?

So here is what I’ve seen in there.

Like Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, protagonist fictitious travels and endeavours serve as a metaphoric vehicle to present and illustrate philosophical ideas such as subjectivity of reality that people experience in their daily life, influence of religion on the world and its anatomy, psychology of the masses and of love, possibility and requisites of happiness. It consists of two narratives: one follows endeavours of main protagonist Aurelius and the other describes major historical events of the world of Mad Reality. Most characters and events in actuality are an allegoric representations of the real world concepts and ideas, for example Maximus embodies Ancient Rome, its values and metaphysics.

The story is set in a magic and odd technology infused, somewhat bizarre and even gruesome, metaphoric world. It starts with Aurelius reflecting over the disappearance of a mysterious women named THD as well as over everything his life had been about so far. As the story progresses, not only details of their love affair and other events revealed, but also both surface and hidden reasons behind various events of his life and even those of a broader world that caused it all to turn out this way.

Conversation with THD led Aurelius to eventually discover a psychological working of love that led to a metaphysical conclusion of her real nature, and other events and stories have their own philosophical, existential, metaphysical or psychological wisdom to tell.

Among them causes of conflict between Aurelius and priests of the Model over the existence of a certain dios as well as reasons for it unusual outcomes. As well as war between dioses Redemptius and Bicornerius and their followers that, while settles, leads only to further beaconing conflict with even more contestants. Origin of dioses and reasons for their popularity among the people and importance in the grand scheme of things. And even motives behind hitting a ground with a forehead according to a prescribed method shared by fellow ground-hitters and why it is not only a very popular activity but also a sacred ritual of great sanity. And many other witticisms.

Author of this masterpiece is a mysterious, solitary philosopher with a Bachelor degree in an unrelated field, who nevertheless has sound understanding of literature of merit due to independent studies and, in addition to works of Nietzsche, read such famous literary works as One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Slaughterhouse five by Kurt Vonnegut.

And he intends to eventually write several more books in this series.

Review: This story was another one with a good idea at the heart of it, or at least an intriguing one, that was hampered by the mechanics of the storytelling itself.

First off, I almost didn’t accept this book because I’ll admit I tend to steer away from books that describe themselves as “masterpieces” in their own summary. But the idea sounded curious and I wanted to see how it played out. It was also a short read.

Throughout the thirty pages, it feels like the author can’t decide if it is a fiction story or a non-fiction treatise on the ideas of reality and religion and perception (to name a few) that are played out. This book is 95% Tell with very little Show, which rarely works in contemporary fiction.

The allegories–which you know about going in since they are pointed out in the description of the book–sway between very vague and very heavy-handed. And I was disheartened to find that the sub-plot featuring THD contained, to my opinion, more than a thread of misogyny. (And in my opinion, not enough was done with it to make it anything else.)

Too much was done in this story to fit the size of it, and the writing itself needed an editor who could help the construction of sentences and paragraphs in both form and function to make it actually readable.

For the ideas of it and that I was able to finish it, it’s a 1.5 Fireballs. A review I hate to offer, but this is my opinion.

1.5 Fireballs

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Review: “Season 7″ by D. F. Nightshade

“Season 7″ by D. F. Nightshade

Available from: Amazon
Released on: 20 August 2014
I received this book free in exchange for an honest review.

Description: Richard has been a security system salesman for about a year now. He’s good at what he does and loves his job, but doesn’t feel valued at the workplace. He’s passed up for promotions he feels he should get and is constantly second-guessed. His anger starts to affect his job performance. Stressed out Richard goes to a bar to try to calm his nerves. On his way home from the bar he is waved down by Nautilus who is nothing but trouble.

Nautilus is a seemingly normal guy who just so happens to be an alien. Nautilus believes that Richard is the “special one.” The one destined to rule his planet, but everything’s not as it seems and Richard has to find that out the hard way.

Or does he?

Review: This story was…interesting, and strange. I felt that the concept was very creative, and I liked that part of it. I always commend authors on scenarios that aren’t like every other story, and I believe this was the case here.

Unfortunately, the story fell short on the execution of that idea. The mechanics of it didn’t work for me as I felt that the plot wandered a lot and elements were just added “for the hell of it” without true purpose to the story or the characters; the Point of View changes were jarring and I thought unnecessary–since going a long while with one character’s PoV and then adding random others later is something that I generally don’t like; and then this book also suffered from Pointless Female Character Syndrome, where female characters were seemingly just added to have female characters but without giving them strength, depth, or reason.

I wish I could have liked this story better, but unfortunately, it just wasn’t for me. 2.5 Fireballs.

2.5 Fireballs

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Review: “Wednesdaymeter” by Dean Carnby

“Wednesdaymeter” by Dean Carnby

Available from: Amazon or Barnes & Noble
Released on: 29 April 2014
I received this book free in exchange for an honest review.

Description: An eggplant wails, a ladder breaks, and the guise of civility shatters.

A professor of festival studies, a potato hunter, a deadly career counselor, and a part-time terrorist are struggling to retain their sanity in a magically mundane city. Their carefully laid plans fall apart when they meet Mr. Pearson, an everyman who suspects a conspiracy of evil polygons behind his company’s absurd practices.

Theirs is a world in which people use raw produce and wasted time to alter reality. If it were not for the stringent safety standards on fruits and vegetables, the citizens would live in misery. Most live a life of willful ignorance instead, desperate to avoid facing the threats surrounding them. Festival season is about to begin, but the colorful banners cannot hide the tragic past any longer.

Review: As I write this review, it’s been about a week since I read the story and I’m still not entirely sure what I just read…

This was a very strange book. Using raw vegetables to do things like run faster or change appearance, which you can fold like paper and uses wasted time to function… People like polygons… And yet, I commend the author’s imagination and creativity, and as bizarre as it was, it was a generally well-constructed story that I did over-all enjoy.

After the Curiosity Factor wore off, the story did begin to drag a little through the middle. The characters felt somewhat two-dimensional at times as well, but part of it–given the scenario and backgrounds–made sense and may have been intentional, although it did make it a little hard to fully “hook into” the character we were reading about.

The conformity versus non-conformity theme is, however, one I greatly appreciate, so I liked that about it and I did ultimately like the strangeness of it. It had the feeling of allegory although I’m not entirely sure what exactly it’s allegorical to.

So…I liked it, although I can’t say I really liked it. 3.5 Fireballs.

3.5 Fireballs

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Review: “Agnes Canon’s War” by Deborah Lincoln

“Agnes Canon’s War” by Deborah Lincoln

Available from: Amazon, Barnes & Noble or Powell’s
Released on: 1 October 2014
I received this book free in exchange for an honest review, as part of this book’s blog tour.

Description: “I saw a woman hanged on my way to the Pittsburgh docks…

Agnes Canon is tired of being a spectator in life, an invisible daughter among seven sisters, meat for the marriage market. The rivers of her Pennsylvania countryside flow west, and she yearns to flow with them, explore new lands, know the independence that is the usual sphere of men.

This is a story of a woman’s search for freedom, both social and intellectual, and her quest to understand what freedom means. She learns that freedom can be the scent and sound of unsettled prairies, the glimpse of a cougar, the call of a hawk. The struggle for freedom can test the chains of power, poverty, gender, or the legalized horror of slavery. And to her surprise, she discovers it can be found within a marriage, a relationship between a man and a woman who are equals in everything that matters.

It’s also the story of Jabez Robinson, a man who has traveled across the continent and seen the beauty of the country and the ghastliness of war, as he watches his nation barrel toward disaster. Faced with deep-seated social institutions and hard-headed intransigence, he finds himself helpless to intervene. Jabez’s story is an indictment of war in any century or country, and an admission that common sense and reasoned negotiation continue to fail us.

As Agnes and Jabez struggle to keep their community and their lives from crumbling about them, they must face the stark reality that whether it’s the freedom of an African from servitude, of the South from the North, or of a woman from the demands of social convention, the cost is measured in chaos and blood.

This eloquent work of historical fiction chronicles the building of a marriage against the background of a civilization growing – and dying – in the prelude to civil war.

Review: This book reminded me a lot of ‘Centennial,’ and I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I mean the mini-series from the ‘70s rather than the book. I have yet to manage a sojourn through Michener’s epic (and epically sized) work. But my mother loved the mini-series, so I watched it a lot when I was younger and I still enjoy it. Anyways, what I mean by that is that this felt like a story as much about its setting as the “main” characters; perhaps more about the setting.

We do follow Agnes Canon and Jabez Robinson, and their families and their lives together, but we also follow a town and a state and a people over the course of more than ten years. And when talking about the 1850s and 1860s in America, what a ten years that was. We follow the years that led up to and then through the Civil War, but what makes this book interesting in that is that it’s set in Missouri. It was a much “greyer” area between people siding with the unionists versus the secessionist, the slave-holders versus the abolitionists. It was more divided and less decided than the far north or deep south. So for a book about the civil war, and for a girl with family in Alabama and Connecticut, it provided a different perspective than I usually get and I liked that.

This was a very good book. It was very readable. The way it moved through time–fitting so many years into a three hundred page book–could be a little jarring, but not that bad. Even if you looked at the surroundings and the setting more than the people, you still felt the people. You still got into the characters.

Agnes was an interesting portrait of what a woman was expected to be in her day and age and the modern way that women reading these books today wish those historical figures had been like. Jabez showed the general restlessness of much of America, and all those who moved west to the uncharted areas. And in them and through them, we see a lot of the fuzzy lines of that time period.

Overall, this story was…heartbreakingly realistic. There were some scenes that were very difficult to read and, yes, made me cry. But they were true to the day they lived in, and well portrayed. And the fact that this story was based on some of the author’s personal lineage makes it all the more fascinating.

I can’t quite say this was a 5 for me, but 4.5 Fireballs is sound.

4.5 Fireballs

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Review: “Gentlemen of Pitchfork” by Kamil Gruca

“Gentlemen of Pitchfork” by Kamil Gruca

Available from: Amazon
Released on: 13 July 2014
I received this book free in exchange for an honest review, as part of this book’s blog tour.

Description: The year is 1415. France is weakened by the recently ended Civil War between the factions of Burgundians and Armagnacs. The young and belligerent King Henry V Lancaster decides to pay the French a neighbourly visit. With him – the flower of the English knighthood.

Among them – Sir Arthur, the Baron of Pitchfork, an ideal of all chivalric virtues – his uncle, Sir Ralph, a veteran soldier with a taste for women and bitter humour – and his cousin, Sir Robert, a young and romantic would-be scholar who will have his first taste of war, sieges, duels, betrayal and intrigue but also love and practical philosophy.

Together they ride as secret envoys of their King to meet Burgundian emissaries. But the Armagnacs’ spies keep their eyes open for any sign of treason on the part of their political opponents and three powerful French armies are gathering to cross King Henry’s way.

Review: I accepted this book because I have long had a fascination with the Battle of Agincourt. Thanks to my mother returning to college when I was in elementary school, I grew up on Henry V with Kenneth Branagh. I was obsessed with archery in my late teens and early twenties, and so Agincourt was a good one to study. So when I saw a book related to that campaign, I was naturally interested.

That part of it, I liked. I’ll say that up front.

There was one overriding issue with the book. The author is Polish and so it was originally written in Polish. It was translated into English. S’all good, I’ve read a lot of translations, but this one read like no English editors had gone over it; like the translation has not been edited at all by someone versed in that.

For example, words that were perhaps technically accurate but to an English reader were odd choices and thus drew you out of the story; and I don’t mean the medieval terminology. I mean verbs and adjectives used in the exposition. Ways that sentences were constructed could be awkward. And that’s not even touching the tons of grammatical errors. (As a freelance editor, it’s really hard for me to overlook these things sometimes.)

It just felt to me like this could have been a very interesting story and a better read if someone had taken the time to really care for the book, which it didn’t–to me–feel like it received, and that was frustrating. The book was nearly unreadable to me, so much that I almost didn’t finish it, and I’m sure I missed a lot of the story itself because I was struggling with the text so much.

From what I was able to focus on of the story itself, the plot (in its historical context) and characters were fine. Scenes and developments a bit quick, but trying to fit a plot into a historical timeline can do that to you so I was alright with it. There were a lot of names and titles to follow, which you could get lost in finding who was who and on what side…but you got enough of the idea.

Lastly, two major subplots end quite abruptly and cliff-hanger style. I learned from the author’s biography that there is a second book, which has not been translated. That’s just mean. I struggled with the book, but I managed to hook into it enough to want to know what happens to those subplots and characters there-in.

So…I really wanted to like this book, but my frustration with it was pronounced enough that I can only say I “just” liked it. 3 Fireballs.

3 Fireballs

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