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Thursday, 20 November 2014

Six Tolls of the Bell and Other Mystery Stories by Marco Barbaro

Title: Six Tolls of the Bell and Mystery Other Stories
Author: Marco Barbaro
Read Type: Author Request
Stars:StarStarStarImage from the Silk icon theme by Mark James *'''Source:''' http://www.famfamfam.com/lab/icons/silk/ photo HalfStar_zps439ec261.png

You can purchase a copy of this book from Amazon UK and Amazon US
You can find the original Italian versions in the following:
The Chosen one in "7 Storie all'imbrunire" (Amazon Italian)
The ring and the swamp" in "Storie all'imbrunire Vol. II" (Amazon Italian)

You can find out more about the author on his Twitter, Facebook and Amazon Profile Page
The Italian Publishing house TRAGOPANO Edizioni has also written about Marco here
Book Blurb
This book contains three stories:
The Chosen One
The ring and the swamp
Six tolls of the bell


The plots

Slowly regaining consciousness in a gloomy, damp room hidden in an old and mysterious mansion, the chosen one awakens as his nightmares are just beginning. Why did this macabre cult choose him? And what terrible fate awaits him?

Morass and swamps. A terrible secret lurks in the depths of the murky water. What mysterious creature roams the rural woods and mangroves?

An old ritual is performed at the top of a campanile, the highest observation point of a little village. Father Cornelius has hidden the story for years, but now the time has come for him to reveal the terrible secret that, every night of the full moon, threatens to eradicate all who innocently live in the small town below.



Author Bio
Marco Barbaro (1976) was born in Mirano, Italy, and dedicated his spare time during the first thirty-three years of his life to work, family, music, sports and computer programming.

In 2010, he discovered the power and beauty of writing.

Between singing lullabies to his son and changing diapers, he's written nearly seventy short (and long) stories, two of which were honored in the "La Biblioteca d'oro" and "La Bussola Letteraria" 2011 literary contests. His collection of eight short and long stories was chosen as a finalist entry in the "Jacques Prevert 2012" contest.

In 2013, he wrote a short comic tale which was published in the anthology "77 Fiabe Buffe". He continues writing new stories today, several of which are being translated into English.

Feel free to share your ideas, reviews or ask questions by sending an email to Marco at marco.barbaro (at) gmail.com



Review
Strong language: once
Drugs: no
Violence: mild
Sexual content: no

I received a free copy of this anthology from the author in return for an unbiased review

Six Tolls of the Bell and Other Mystery Stories is an anthology written from Italian by Marco Barbaro and translated into English by Andrea Pakieser


The Chosen One
4 stars
A good start to the collection, the character's point of view displays his confusion and potentially drugged state well. There is tension throughout the story. It ended well, slightly uncertain of what the future held for the character.

I particularly liked the word choice in some situations, for example "making his muscles fibrillate"


The Ring and the Swamp
3.5 stars
We meet Jack, a man clearly slightly unhinged, with a penchant for dumping women's bodies in the swamp! As if he wasn't wacky enough there is a supernatural undertone to the entire story, fascinating to read. The descriptions were well placed and kept the pace of the story, while the flashes of something other than Jack out in the swamp were brief and believable as just a crocodile… or were they?

This slightly longer story snagged my attention and kept me reading, but I did feel the last section where everything was revealed weakened the story a little, I'd like to have seen it left in uncertain territory, I think.


Six Tolls of the Bell
3.5 stars
This story is told mainly to a sceptical priest, in a small group of selected men, many of whom would rather be in bed at this late hour than in a hushed up meeting to hear what is surely the ramblings of an old man who's lost his sense of reality a bit.

I felt that the characters not listening simultaneously made the story being told feel less important, but also gave a sense of foreboding. Would they realise in time the truth of the matter or would lives be lose because of them?




The 411
I felt overall this was a good first effort in English by Marco, sometimes phrases were awkwardly put, I'm not sure how much of this was in the original Italian copy and how much was through the translation. At times I came across a word I would never have thought of using for a situation, yet if I'd consulted a thesaurus this would have been near the top of the list. Most of the time I felt these added a unique take that perfectly captured the moment, but a couple left me bewildered for a moment.

I look forward to seeing his future efforts.

Rating a translated book is always difficult as it is hard to tell how much of those little things that bother you are the story itself and how much are the translation. When doing the individual ratings I kept them as one, but as an American translator translated this, not the author, I'll judge what I think the Italian version would read like (if only I could read the language).

For the original stories I give a 4
For the translation I give a 3
Overall I give this anthology a 3.5 and adjust it to a 4 for reviewing sites.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

The Girl Who Read the Stars Otherworld (Book 01.5) by Skylar Dorset

Title: The Girl Who Read the Stars
Author: Skylar Dorset
Series: Otherworld (Book 01.5)
Read Type: eARC from SOURCEBOOKS fire
Stars: StarStarStarStar

You can purchase a copy of this book from Amazon UK and Amazon US
You can find out more about the author on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Goodreads and her website

Book Blurb
Set after Skylar Dorset’s debut The Girl Who Never Was and before the thrilling conclusion to her Otherworld duology, The Boy With the Hidden Name, this novella is told from the perspective of Merrow, the Fay of the Summer Equinox.

Merrow could tell is was going to be a good school year because Jupiter was moving into her constellation. Merrow read the stars...well, sometimes she got a feeling anyway. The stars were always dancing — they were difficult to understand. And then there was Trow. He was a new boy at school and Merrow got a feeling... Which is weird because she’s never minded being on her own before. (She wasn’t exactly popular.) But there was something about Trow. And a prophecy and fate and danger and love — if only the stars would hold still.


Author Bio
Skylar’s first story was a tale of romantic intrigue involving two feuding factions of squirrels. Think “Romeo & Juliet” but with bushy tails and added espionage. She was seven.
Since that time, Skylar’s head has been filled with lots of characters and lots of drama. She is delighted to be able to share some of it with all of you now, because, honestly, it was getting pretty loud and crowded in there.


Skylar is a born-and-bred New Englander, which is why Boston was a natural setting for her debut novel, THE GIRL WHO NEVER WAS. Skylar shares her home with a cardboard cutout of the Tenth Doctor, lots of Mardi Gras beads from the time she spent living in New Orleans, and a harp she’s supposed to be teaching herself to play. She’d like to get a dog.



Review
Strong language: Some, mild
Drugs: None
Violence: None
Sexual content: No

Please note: I have read an advanced reader copy of the sequel, The Boy With the Hidden Name before this novella so I had some insight into what was happening. Any inconsistencies in my review can be put down to that.


Merrow is a high school girl and a bit of a loner, but she doesn't mind about that part. After all she has the yoga classes she teaches, reading tarot cards, the stars, the way salt and pepper fall as well as dust motes to tell her it will be a good year. She doesn't know why, but it just will be. After all, we all know the stars can be a bit fickle like that!

She also has two Moms, one a hippie yoga teacher (she owns the studio Merrow gets to teach some classes at, and a lawyer Mom who keeps them both tied to the ground so they don't float away in their stars!

The book is written in first person, a very chatty voice used, the kind you'd be happy to sit and listen to as she tells you crazy stories of her life she feels are completely normal. She still has many of the complaints of a normal youth, but gets along with both her moms smashingly and finds her solace around them. I loved that that was just a fact, not a big thing made of it, just a fleeting line in the story before we move on.

So Merrow knows she will be having a good year – until she sits down in homeroom and finds a new boy in front of her, the first boy she's ever really paid attention to. Then the stars and tarot and salt and pepper and dust motes and everything else start to tell her things that make no sense. There's a boy. And she's far too attracted. She never gets attracted. Can this be a good thing?

I found said boy, Trow, (yes there is a slight penchant for unusual names, which I found charming) seems nice, if a bit dry and with secrets. Well, he's her first boy-interest, this could never go smoothly, now could it?

I thought at times the plot was a bit hectic, to use an example Merrow might think of, it was a bit like a long string of wiggly spaghetti that had wrapped around itself and gotten confused in places as to which way you went at the crossing. Having read the sequel I knew things about certain characters, so I found it easier to follow, but I do worry some readers may be confused.

The supernatural element, excluding the fortune and future reading in its various forms, was introduced suddenly into our laps, however, like that piece of tangled spaghetti above it was slowly and carefully unravelled into a roughly straight line so everybody understood what was happening. Much like young love, the parties this most involved were the last to understand!


The 411
This was a sweet novella with a thoroughly charming voice that made me want to be friends with Merrow, the point of view character, from the very first chapter. At times it was confusing, but there were also fascinating conversations about life, and takes on aspects that only a hippie teen could have.

If you are not used to fantasy I would recommend you consider reading The Boy With The Hidden Name first, however, I think you should definitely return to this. Readers of fantasy should get along fine with the novel

For voice I give it a 5
For casual use of a lesbian adoption in YA fiction I give it a 5
For comprehension of foreign concepts I give it a 3.5

Overall I give this novel a 4

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Doctor Who: Silhouette (12th Doctor novel) by Justin Richards

Title: Doctor Who: Silhouette (12th Doctor novel)
Author: Justin Richards
Series: Dr Who: New Series Adventures
Read Type: eARC
Stars: StarStarStarStar

You can purchase a copy of this book from Amazon UK and Amazon US
You can find out more about the author on Goodreads and his Amazon Author Page
Book Blurb
"Vastra and Strax and Jenny? Oh no, we don't need to bother them. Trust me."

Marlowe Hapworth is found dead in his locked study, killed by an unknown assailant. This is a case for the Great Detective, Madame Vastra.

Rick Bellamy, bare-knuckle boxer, has the life drawn out of him by a figure dressed as an undertaker. This angers Strax the Sontaran.

The Carnival of Curiosities, a collection of bizarre and fascinating sideshows and performers. This is where Jenny Flint looks for answers.

How are these things connected? And what does Orestes Milton, rich industrialist, have to do with it all? This is where the Doctor and Clara come in. The Doctor and his friends find themselves thrust into a world where nothing and no one are what they seem. Can they unravel the truth before the most dangerous weapon ever developed is unleashed on London?


Review
Strong language: None
Drugs: None
Violence: some, non-graphic
Sexual content: None

I received a copy of this novel in return for an unbiased review from Random House via NetGalley

For those not familiar with the Dr Who franchise (it covers TV, audio books, novels a few films, plus other mediums, and has been an UK staple for over 50 years) it is based on a humanoid alien who travels time and space in the TARDIS, a ship resembling a 1960s UK police phone box that's bigger on the inside. He usually travels with one or more humans, either tracking down or stumbling into mysteries and alien crimes which he rights using mainly his wits and a lot of luck.


A creepy opening, a locked door murder, sets the scene for a complex mystery. It was well orchestrated, now let the story commence!

The Doctor and Clara follow an energy spike into Victorian London, not far from the base of Madam Vastra, Jenny and Strax. Feeling it is nothing, the Doctor declines to contact them, yet they are already investigating a mystery of their own.

Having to wait for another spike to be able to track it, the Doctor is soon sight seeing. The Frost Fair, a winter carnival, is in town, and draws the eager Clara and Doctor for a visit. The Carnival of Curiosities, a traditional magic and freak show, was also present within the fair, and soon they were exploring tents with strong men, shadow puppets and preserved creatures amongst other things.

During this time they bump into Jenny, also exploring, and get filled in on another local mystery. Soon the team is expanding, their goals are being set and they have a list of suspects… but who are the puppets and who is the puppet master?

I found the writing of this to be beautifully done, dropping little snippets of Victorian London into the scenes without stopping the story to fill pages with descriptions. These were well placed to progress the story, such as the use of the smog of the time to make the characters lose people they are following. The longer descriptions were stunning in their imagery. "As it drew nearer, she held out her arm, the scarlet material hanging down from it like a shimmering waterfall of blood. […] Dark ink smudged and smeared, and dripped into the white snow. Like blood from a wound."

At the quarter mark of the novel, two mysteries were being investigated by teams, for many scenes Jenny and Clara were working together while the Doctor was off doing some jiggery pokery or digging around where he shouldn't be. It was nice to get to know Jenny better as her own person, not as a side to Madam Vastra. I did feel this left Clara uncharacteristically decisive and trusting of others however, without the Doctor to keep her in check with the time period. For the most part Madam Vastra struck out on her own, only connecting for short intelligence sharing sessions. I would have liked to see her more. Strax was his typical self, if it wasn't of use dispose of it! Seeing the team try to convince him why they should use techniques other than 'slaughter everything in sight' was amusing to say the least.

The mystery clipped along at a good pace, helped by short chapters, many split into scenes within, making it feel reminiscent of an episode. I enjoyed the speed and constant twists and turns, never knowing who the bad guy was or who to trust. I did feel however it would have benefitted from some group discussion scenes, probably with tea and maybe snacks, much like the episodes. Those breaks and seeing everyone together I'd expected after watching these people in action together, and was left slightly disappointed. Nevertheless Clara and Jenny's breaks in the refreshments tent did give some sense of a break to give the reader a breather.

The finale was exciting and unexpected, up until the last page I was unsure what to expect. I felt for some of the characters left behind and would like to see them pop up in the future to see how the abnormalitiesthe story left them with are affecting them.

I haven't decided if this Doctor has a catchphrase yet so let's just say "alons-y and geronimo" into the next hair-brained adventure!



As for the likeness to the characters on TV:
Strax: just perfect
Jenny: while I love madam Vastra it was nice to get a sense of Jenny when she didn't feel on duty, both alone and talking with Clara who she seems to consider more of a social equal
Vastra: interested to see her reactions but felt she was a little soft

Clara: much closer to her previous series personality than the current one. I preferred this portrayal
The Doctor: close, but I felt a bit snippier than in the series. However, given this was released around the same time as the early episodes I felt a very nice job from the author given the limited material they'd have had


The 411
This was a good early outing for the twelfth Doctor and crew. It was good to have the Paternoster Row gang present to act as a buffer, and add more variety. The mystery was deeply interwoven, complex and offered many opportunities to see a different side to the characters. The ending was unexpected.

I would have liked to have seen everybody together discussing, but I felt the breaks offered while walking and talking offered an acceptable alternative.

For the story I give a 4
For the character likeness I give a 4
For the writing I give a 5

Overall I give this novel a 4,5 and round to a 4 for reviewing sites. I look forward to many more novels to come

Sunday, 9 November 2014

The Orb of Chaos (Vol 1): No Rest For the Wicked by M. Ray Allen

Title: No Rest For the Wicked
Author: M. Ray Allen
Series: The Orb of Chaos (Vol 1)
Read Type: Author Request
Stars: StarStarStarStarImage from the Silk icon theme by Mark James *'''Source:''' http://www.famfamfam.com/lab/icons/silk/ photo HalfStar_zps439ec261.png

You can purchase a copy of this book from Amazon UK, Amazon US, Smashwords, B&N and a signed paperback from the author
You can find out more about the author on Website, Facebook, Indieview Interview and Goodreads
Series Blurb
The Orb of Chaos follows a group of adventurers that are thrown together by fate to stop the world from being devastated by those that would use the Orbs power.

Book Blurb
No Rest for the Wicked (Book 1 of the Orb of Chaos series) begins the story by showing how the group comes together after a demonic king named Nicholas DeVanya manages to collect the pieces of the Orb of Chaos after it was scattered two thousand years ago. Despite their differences, they have to find a way to work together to stop Nicholas from using the Orb to raise an unstoppable army and slaughtering their home and everyone that lives there.

Author Bio
Raised as a Navy Brat, I grew up living all over the United States. While born in Oklahoma my family lived in Bermuda, California, Texas as well as a few other places in between. After High School, I attended the University of Oklahoma to be closer to my extended family and close friends – The Clarks.

During my time at OU, my friend, Mark Blauser, and I stayed up one summer night drinking and talking about our favorite adventure stories (he’s a Tolkien fan). I shared this tale with him and (to my surprise) he loved it. We were up until 3-4am talking about it before I finally crashed. The next day he came over (waking me from a hangover) and forced me to tell him the story again, but this time he brought a tape recorder and insisted we find a way to get this on paper.

So began the tales of Sol and Oather. It’s taken a long time to pull it together, but it’s finally done. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I have but don’t fear, there’s more to come. This was just the beginning…


Royalties Donation
100% of all author royalties from the sale of this book will go to help Genesis Women's Shelter of Dallas, TX. http://www.genesisshelter.org/

Genesis Women's Shelter Mission Statement:
To end the epidemic of domestic violence against women and children by stopping individual victimization and reducing the devastating impact of family violence through safety, shelter and expert services to battered women and their children.

We are committed to preventing violence by raising the level of community awareness regarding the pervasiveness and effects of domestic violence.



Review
Strong language: Some
Drugs: None
Violence: Yes
Sexual content: None

I received a copy of this novel in return for an unbiased review.

Set in a world that knows of magic, elves, wizards and monsters, this is a fun romping adventure with a group of eclectic characters who begin the story alone, but slowly work their way into one group to fight the greater evil before them. You have young men on their latest madcap scheme to get rich – or die trying; a wizard; an elf; a knight in training; a priest; and an assassin.

The book is split into short, pithy chapters, each one through a different point of view as these characters are introduced to us, seemingly going about their own business.  Slowly the reader discovers the connections between these characters as they join forces, sometimes planned, sometimes by necessity. At first I found the repeated switching a bit disorienting, but there were soon fewer groups to keep track of and it ceased to be a problem.

Out of all the characters I feel the young man, Sol, is the leader of any group he is in. between him and his friend and shadow, Oather, they often take charge of people with more experience, making use of the natural chemistry Sol spreads. Oather feels like Sol's right hand, always there to agree, and do whatever Sol suggests, even if he internally disagrees, despite his much larger body-frame. He could almost be considered an extension of Sol in some scenes, just adding a backing vote to the latest madcap proposal. Nevertheless I liked the young man.

Then, of course, there are the bad side to consider. Nicolas, a demonic king who's mad to the bone has the adventurers trapped in a realm with him where the Gods have made it impossible for anybody to leave. Downtrodden and wary villagers meet the free, soon chasing them off after a slight misunderstanding causes the deaths of several. Nothing to worry about!

At first Nicolas has some of the characters held hostage for one reason or another. One character who really stood out was a young priest, Halistan, who is lucky enough to have a fabled healing article with him at the time of his kidnap. This really shows his emotional and moral stand as he heals other prisoners he can't even see for no discernable gain of his own.

Nicolas himself is a fascinating character, I was never sure how much of what he said was the truth, how much a lie, or how much he'd just convinced himself of over the years. I've read a vast amount of fantasy, science fiction and folklore, yet every time I thought I had him pinned for what he was and what he could do he'd surprise me yet again. He's many generations old, as are his few staff, adding a sense of time and more reason for his madness and desperation.

Despite all the differences, as Nicolas plays his trump card the group manage to pull together for one cause, even if they decided to do it in vastly different ways. You have minds from the realms of "I must do the lords work" and "it is my duty to protect one and all even when they are trying to kill me" to "well, as he's dead he won't mind me taking his jewellery and any other titbits"! some hold their cards close to their chests until the very end, leaving me surprised at where they stood.

Stylistically  felt the writing would have benefitted from more tagging of speech so we knew who'd said what, and use of active voice during explanations to make them more engaging. On the other hand, I particularly liked the way humour and sarcasm were used to break up complex explanations and longer fight scenes.

I think this could be considered a light epic fantasy, it had the wide world and social hierarchy of the Hobbit without designating half a tree worth of paper to telling the history of a race we only meet briefly, or making my fingers itch for a dictionary of the places and characters in the world every couple of pages.

This book has a solid ending, I felt all the major plot points were covered with no urgent cliff hangers making me feel I have to rush out to buy another book to see how it ends. However, there were several parts that left the story open for continuation, not to mention the massive changes in the lives of several of the characters. I shall look forward to reading the sequel when it is out and returning to this world.


The 411
This was a great easy to read fantasy to get away from the world with. The eclectic groups of characters left me plenty to love and a few to love to hate! The writing moved at a good pace and was imaginative.

The ending left me satisfied, but room for more adventures in the world.

I give this novel a 4.5 adjusted to a 4 for reviewing sites.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Leap into the Knight (Romantic Knights Series 01) by M.J. Schiller

Title: Leap into the Knight
Author: M.J. Schiller
Series: Romantic Knights Series 01
Read Type: eARC
Stars: StarStarStarImage from the Silk icon theme by Mark James *'''Source:''' http://www.famfamfam.com/lab/icons/silk/ photo HalfStar_zps439ec261.png

You can purchase a copy of this book from Amazon UK and Amazon US
You can find out more about the author on her Blog, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Google+, Amazon Author Page and Goodreads
Series Blurb
After saving Princess Megan of Bethyea from the hands of an evil ruler, Darius and Orion's lives will never be the same. Through a series of adventures they become close. Facing off against bad guys will do that to you. But in the end, when the mastermind is revealed, will they be able to overcome the evil stacked against them?


Book Blurb
Sir Darius Lee is a Knight of the High Order.
But when Darius discovers a stranger in his room in the middle of the night, and the intruder turns out to be a beautiful woman, he begins to question how he is meant to live his life.
Princess Megan of Bethyea is being held captive.
But when two knights help her to escape and bring her back to her home planet, she finds the home she knew no longer exists.
When The Council of Twelve questions Darius about his relationship with Maggie, she tries to flee from The Academy of the High Order to prevent him from losing his knighthood.
Will Darius and Orion find Maggie before she leaves Albion? And if they do, how can they face the decision of The Council? And what about the feelings Orion has developed for the princess?



Author Bio
MJ is a lunch lady in the heart of Central Illinois. My gosh! Can you get more folksy than that? She met her husband at the University of Missouri-Columbia and now she has a nineteen-year-old (how did that happen?) and seventeen year old triplets! She loves to read, karaoke (where she can pretend she is a rock star) and spends WAY too much time on Facebook. She grew up in St. Louis and still has family there.




Review
Strong language: Some, mild
Drugs: None
Violence: Yes
Sexual content: Yes

I received a free copy of this novel in return for an unbiased review.


Darius, a knight of the High Order, is sharing a suite with his apprentice, Orion, while waiting to speak to the people who kidnapped the princess he is there to free. He’s woken in the middle of the night by a sound, his spidey-senses tingling. He gets up but decides against getting his laser sword and…hang on—laser sword? I don't think we're in Kansas anymore, Toto!

This is a space age novel where chivalrous knights still rescue fair maidens and protect the universe, but it is also a novel looking at societies and how romance can affect a person to the very core.

I liked the tension created by the princess that they were there to rescue being under the very nose of the knight, hiding in his quarters, while she herself was unware of Darius’s intent. A frantic chase ensues when the slightly bumbling Orion crashes into the room, laser sword primed and held aloft as he charges into the fray thinking he is helping. This was a great way to show us some of the abilities of the knights, as well as give us a flyby of the palace and grounds and an overview of the technology present in the story.

In general, I also liked the switching between points of view, largely between the three main characters, because it gave information more quickly than a conversation could. However, at times point of view seemed to change every few paragraphs, which I felt broke the emotional connection to the story. The more we get to know the characters, the more I felt the book was character driven as opposed event driven, which disappointed me when the characters came off underdeveloped.

I enjoyed the plot so if I was reading this as relaxed beach read, I would have been satisfied. However, as a lover of the written word I found the writing was often phrased awkwardly, I would have liked more internal monologue or use of show don’t tell to express how character felt as opposed to it just being stated. For me this did drop my opinion as well as the rating. It's a shame, I felt a brisk brush from an editor to remove these extra phrases and build more three dimensional character backgrounds would have made a great improvement.


The 411
Plotwise this was a fun adventure and romance with the characters often feeling like teenagers in their first serious relationship. However, the writing was mediocre,  it felt stunted, and I would like to have seen it cleaned up before editing.

I did enjoy the world and hope the author takes the time to clean up the rest of the series before publication. I would like to see more of this world she has created

For the plot I give a 4
For the writing I give a 3

Overall, for this novella I give a 3.5, rounded to a 3 for reviewing sites.