Friday, December 9, 2016

Review: The Mighty Oak and Me by KS Brooks


Genre: Children’s Picture Book/Educational

Description:

The Mighty Oak and Me is inspired by a real 300-year-old oak tree in Mr. Pish’s backyard. The tree constantly revealed different wildlife and wonders with every new day. Discover the magic of the Mighty Oak and the value of all trees, with the charming and adorable traveling terrier as your tour guide. Come celebrate this amazing tree and its many lessons in The Mighty Oak and Me.”

Author:

K.S. Brooks has written numerous books in multiple genres including romantic suspense, satire, and educationally oriented children’s books. She is administrator of Indies Unlimited (a multi-author blog “celebrating independent authors”), where you can often catch her pontificating on matters of interest to both readers and authors. For more, visit Brooks’ Mr. Pish’s webpage or follow Mr. Pish on Facebook.

Appraisal:

Mr. Pish always makes learning fun. Educational facts are shared about a three hundred year-old oak tree in Mr. Pish’s yard. From the history a tree that old has experienced to the wildlife that live within its branches. The anatomy of the tree is discussed, from the leaves all the way down to the roots and the purpose they serve. Ms. Brooks uses Mr. Pish’s childlike zest for life to make learning science fun for kids of all ages. Also included with this book is a worksheet with multiple choice questions to answer along with other thought provoking questions. This worksheet is also available to download free on Mr. Pish’s website. Don’t miss out on any of Mr. Pish’s fun, educational books.

Buy now from:    Amazon US    Amazon UK

FYI:

The Mighty Oak and Me is book two in Mr. Pish Backyard Adventure. This book is best viewed on a color device, however I was able to read it fine on my Kindle Paperwhite.

Format/Typo Issues:

No issues on proofing or formatting.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 2-3,000 words (30 pages)

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Review: Burning Down the House by Evangeline Jennings


Genre: Dystopian

Description:

Watch out. You might get what you're after.

A post-electoral dystopia blues, Burning Down the House describes the future breakdown of a once great nation following the rise of a tiny-fingered snake oil salesman.”

Author:

Born in Liverpool, also the birthplace of The Beatles, Evangeline Jennings now lives in Texas. After contributing and editing a slew of short story collections, she wrote Burning Down the House, her first novel. A fan and connoisseur of popular music, you can be confident she knows her book shares a title with one of the biggest hits from the Talking Heads.

Appraisal:

According to Wikipedia the dystopian genre is “the portrayal of a setting that completely disagrees with the author's ethos.” Typically the story will imagine a political or cultural direction someone proposes and picture the slide down a slippery slope to disaster. Not mentioned, but I think a logical conclusion, is that the reader's “ethos” being similar to the author's is going to increase the odds of the reader viewing the book as a good read or making a good point.

When I started reading Burning Down the House it was before the election. The possibility of “a tiny-fingered snake oil salesman” being elected President of the United States was still just a bad dream. (Yeah, I'm definitely in the target audience for this book.) By the time I finished, the bad dream had come true. That post-election perspective is the one all readers going forward will be viewing the story from, so that's the one I'll talk about.

Dystopias aren't pretty and Ms. Jennings has done an excellent job of imagining how ugly the country could become if the tiny-fingered tyrant of her story did everything his real life equivalent has implied, threatened, or suggested. A wild ride down the slippery slope later and very few are left happy. There are a lot of characters with different story threads for each and the only thing tying them together is the changes happening in their country. At times this challenged my memory (who is this again? Where did we leave them last?) but I managed.
Luckily I was able to remember that this is fiction. Slippery slope arguments are fallacious. This could never happen, right? Oh my gosh, I hope not.

Buy now from:    Amazon US    Amazon UK

FYI:

Adult language.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 60-65,000 words

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Reprise Review: The God Particle by Daniel Danser


Genre: Science Fiction/Thriller

Description:

A tsunami hits Japan knocking out a nuclear reactor and putting thousands of lives in jeopardy. An earthquake rips through Istanbul, Turkey, leveling the city. And CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is about to discover the Higgs boson or God Particle.

Author:

Daniel Danser has worn many hats during his thirty-two year career. Fresh out of college he worked as a reporter for the Manchester Evening News, developed computer platforms for IBM, and when the Internet arrived on the scene, Danser became a web entrepreneur. Today, he’s a freelance writer with the exciting thriller, The God Particle, as his first novel.

Feel free to follow Mr. Danser on Facebook and check out his Amazon author page.

Appraisal:

Author Daniel Danser expertly knits recent historical events into a sci-fi thriller that will keep readers at the edge of their seats. Professor Tom Halligan has just been given the job of a lifetime—Director General of Cern’s LHC. Soon after arriving in Geneva, Switzerland Tom swiftly makes friends and enemies as he uncovers a plot that could mean the end of the world as we know it. The God Particle is a must read for all sci-fi thriller fans.

Buy now from:    Amazon US    Amazon UK

FYI:

Added for Reprise Review: The God Particle was a nominee in the Science Fiction category for B&P 2015 Readers' Choice Awards. Original review ran January 9, 2015

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: Michael Thal

Approximate word count: 90-95,000 words

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Review: Against the Oaks of Bashan by Julia Starling

Today's review is the first from a new pal, Average Jeff.


Genre: Political/Sci-Fi

Description:

In 1970s Buenos Aires, with the city under military occupation, people disappear at a terrifying rate. They are the desaparecidos, those who vanish forever.

Camouflaged by the ongoing crisis, someone abducts young adults for another goal. These desaparecidos are used to create a compliant, easily-manipulated population.

Lucas and Vera Freund are among those abducted. The young couple—both brilliant scientists—have stumbled onto a discovery that could change humanity forever. To shield their work from those who would abuse it, they’re willing to make the ultimate sacrifice. Years later, Frances Fons and Julian Haller meet in Zurich. They know nothing of the horrors that transpired in Argentina.”

Author:

The is Julia Starling's first book: Against the Oaks of Bashan. Starling “is a medical doctor and psychotherapist. Born and raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina, she spent five years in the UK finishing her clinical studies and then moved to California to complete her psychotherapy training. She currently lives in Northern New Mexico with her husband.”

Appraisal:

The Oaks of Bashan opens wonderfully, with an ingrown biblical ceremony of contrition, complete with gargoyle-like incantations. It fits neatly with the book’s title, the allusion to Bashan, a terrible battleground in the Book of Genesis that remains a terrible battleground today, the Golan Heights between Syria and Israel. And, to my delight, the next chapter of the Oaks leaped across time to land among the preparations for a sulfurous lawn party. Wonderful. But just as I reached for the petit fours, I stumbled over the first of many leaf piles of impassable adjectives.

The Oak’s descriptions got told and elaborated upon and tormented until they betrayed more than they revealed. “People marveled at her ability to create the most exquisitely delicate tastes, to tap into pleasures of times gone—and often speculated on the intriguing juxtaposition of the seemingly earthy predisposition, this almost peasant-like simplicity, with the perfumed air of French aristocracy that emanated from her indifferent, icy urban demeanor.”

And so on. What started with two moody chapters intimating an era of political horrors fell down the rabbit hole of melodrama. Where there was the appearance of story development, it clogged with flummery that failed to drive the story forward. No single scene gained purchase enough to mount the rungs on the ladder of suspense. Language substituted for action. Pronouns quailed for antecedents, and adjectives turned on each other with the noble aim of contrast but succumbed to conflict. “A peasant-like simplicity” crashed against “the perfumed air of French aristocracy,” which was then mugged by the chef’s “icy, urban demeanor.” Contrast? Yes. Laborious? Yes. Rule: No fifty-word sentence about a victimized wife whose foodie talents grow byzantine should go unedited.

Against the Oakes of Bashan had so much going for it when it began, but its trees never grew into a forest; maybe it was all those leaf piles. What was advertised as a tale of Argentina’s political horrors driven by the turbines of sci-fi doom has its possibilities. But the author’s work was felled by its own axe. Too bad. It all started so well.

Buy now from:    Amazon US    Amazon UK

FYI:

The reader would do well to know some Spanish, or take classes. Where, in some works, the use of foreign terms piques a description, the use of Spanish nouns, possibly Argentine idioms, in this book, lost me.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ** Two Stars

Review by: Average Jeff

Word Count: 65-70,000 words

Monday, December 5, 2016

Review: Ruin's Entrance by Ray Stickle


Genre: Modern Gothic

Description:

"Cast into this world after the death of his parents, young Marius Besshaven seeks the truth about his mother’s past, about his own identity. Cryptic messages in unlikely places, the fractured memories of unreliable survivors, the haunting voices of ghosts--from these elements Marius will have to piece together his family’s history. And what will become of him? Will he find ruin, like so many who came before him? Will he find resolution? Or will the curse continue?"

Author:

"Ray Stickle is the author of The Footnotes, Ruin's Wasteful Entrance, and Stay, Illusion. He graduated from Ohio State University with a degree in history. He lived and taught in South Korea for four years, returning to his home in Ohio in 2006 to finish a master's degree. He currently lives in Ohio with his wife and sons."

For more information visit the writer's Author Page on Amazon.

Appraisal:

This is a book of several genres - gothic, family saga, mystery - all wrapped up in the story of the main character, 14 year old Marius Besshaven (terrific name). After the death of his parents, Marius is suddenly transported to an unknown uncle's house, a place of silence and secrets, some dating back to the Second World War. He has to navigate this strange world alone until he makes friends with Flora, the housekeeper's grandaughter. He meets a taciturn gardener in the grounds, Ben, who chases him away from a locked garden. And he has a tutor, Mr Charles, who seems to know something but no one will answer questions about his parents, his uncle, or his grandparents.

There is a family tree on the first page of this book which is always good to see and promises an engrossing tale. From the beginning there are echoes from the classics: The Secret Garden, Heidi, and Jane Eyre also comes to mind:

And then there was the scream. Far distant in the house. High. Piercing. Once and then gone."

When we first meet Marius, we find him self-contained, self-possessed, holding himself at a distance from the world, concentrating on his plants and his favourite science fiction books. He has become used to looking after himself. Adults generally find him direct, almost confrontational. He didn't know his parents very well; they treated him coldly when they were alive and he felt no grief when they died. When he meets his uncle, he is afraid of him but fear doesn't keep him from pursuing the truth with courage and tenacity.

A day comes when Marius needs new shoes; Flora drives him into town and it is a shock to find the modern world continuing as normal away from his uncle's house. You forget, as you read, that the first question Marius asked when he arrived was about the internet connection:

" Leaving the estate for the first time felt strange, as if we passed a magical barrier when we turned onto the narrow lane . . . "

The writing in this book is lyrical in places and there are lines to read and read again:

" . . . the overpowering perfume of roses and lilies and violets . . . Rich and abundant . . . The trees were an artist’s pallet blown into existence . . . "

And there's a wonderful library in the house extending to two floors and furnished with a ladder which the reader can see clearly, and smell too, the wood and the leather. But the reader is always aware of the darkness hanging around the house and family. There is death and spilt blood in this book, and characters with empty souls and hearts:

"The sound of the orchestra shivering its way through the walls. Enough sound to bury her initial scream? . . . and the blood spilled and saturated the carpet and filled the air with the scent of iron and the scent of the burial pits, those gaping hungry mouths . . . "

The narrative drive is so good in this book you could read it in one sitting. The characters are believable and layered and the writing is delicate and brutal where delicacy and brutality are called for.

A great story altogether and readers will be happy to know there is a second Marius Besshaven book available.

Buy now from:    Amazon US    Amazon UK

FYI:

Some graphic violence

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: Joan Slowey

Approximate word count: 75-80,000 words

Friday, December 2, 2016

Review: A Beautiful Stranger by Donna Fasano


Genre: Romance

Description:

When Sean Hudson arrives to claim his new daughter, he discovers the adoption hinges on the impossible. Unless he finds a wife immediately, the tiny orphan will be snatched away from him forever. But before Sean can abandon hope, a beautiful stranger proposes a surprising solution — marriage.

Sean swears the love in his heart is only for his soon-to-be daughter. And that is perfect for Nicki Willis, whose restless spirit yearns to have a family for just a while. But the tenderness of Sean’s touch soothes Nicki’s fears as well as little Sona’s. Now Nicki aches to become a family forever… and she refuses to believe she can’t make this dream come true.”

Author:

Donna Fasano is a three time winner of the HOLT Medallion, a CataRomance Reviewers Choice Award winner for Best Single Title, a Desert Rose Golden Quill Award finalist, and a Golden Heart finalist. Her books have sold over 3.6 million copies worldwide and have been published in nearly two dozen languages.”

Her novels have also made the Kindle Top 100 Paid List numerous times. To learn more please check out her website and Facebook page.

Appraisal:

I am always amazed at Ms. Fasano’s deep understanding of emotions involved in developing relationships. It didn’t take long for me to be drawn into both Sean Hudson’s and Nicki Willis’ dilemma. Both characters were hampered by past events neither could get past.

Baby Sona’s, an orphaned infant in war-torn Kyrcznovia, wellbeing is the driving force that brings Sean and Nicki together. Without Nicki, Sean can’t adopt Sona and Nicki happens to be in need of immediate employment so she offers her services to Sean. This seems like a good plan, however neither considered the emotional toll this might take on both of them.

This plot is well paced and realistic. The chemistry between Sean and Nicki is smoldering, a fire neither one of them allows to take flame. I felt for both, not knowing the past that led them to their decisions to stay apart. Their journey is heart-wrenching as they must face the past that has brought them to this point in their lives. Ms. Fasano has a way of exposing the human condition of relationships like no other romance author I have ever read. She is able to rip open emotional scars and apply a soothing salve that brings forth healing.

A Beautiful Stranger is a captivating story that will grab your heart. Baby Sona is perfectly captured as a loving eighteen-month old. Babies are amazing at that age as they learn and explore their world. Sean’s experiences as a new father are priceless and perfectly captured. Nicki is able to offer a wise influence in both of their lives. Sean and Nicki’s rapport will heat your loins while managing to remain in the clean wholesome genre. I like my romances with a bit of spice, however Ms. Fasano managed to not disappoint me with her wordsmith magic. Well done, ma’am.

Buy now from:    Amazon US    Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant proofing issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 40-45,000 words

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Reprise Review: Will by Dan Cardinal


Genre: Literary Fiction

Description:

Only days ago, Will Brown’s wife and three-year-old daughter were killed in a freak road accident—both of them wiped out instantly. Soon after the funerals, living in his marital home in Midland, lower Michigan, wrecked with grief, and surrounded by in-laws, friends, and well-wishers who don’t know what the hell to say to him, Will has a brain fart and decides to run . . . to a remote cabin in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Author:

Dan Cardinal was born and raised in northern Wisconsin. He double-majored in English and Computer Science at UW Madison and lives in his home town with his wonderful wife and three lovely children.

To see more of Mr. Cardinal’s books please visit his Amazon author page.

Appraisal:

Gosh, this is a terrific story. Let’s get the mechanics out of the way first--tight writing, clean editing, engaging and compelling scene setting. Yeah, well, those things may sound trite, but they certainly help a story along--Mr. Cardinal is a hell of a writer.

But it’s the characters, Will and his supporting cast, that make this a great story. They all felt real to me: his concerned father, his understanding boss, and most of all the locals in the tiny town situated a two hour hike from his cabin.

I know nothing about black bears or living in remote, cold places in the far north of America. Nor do I ever want to shoot a deer and field dress it, but I trembled along with Will as he waited for the big buck to shift into his sights. My heart raced when I wondered if the momma bear protecting her cubs, or Will, would win in their battle of wits and survival. I loved his dog, Max, as much as Will did.

Most of all, I felt Will’s heartache at the loss of his wife and child. I joined in his journey and agreed with his unorthodox recipe for curing a broken heart. Running away to the middle of nowhere seemed logical. The tiny cabin into which he poured his energies provided--through his physical endeavor--focus, a solace if you will. His father, although concerned when his only son ran from a good job and a steady existence, still supported him, and in a personal way empathized because he’d too lost his wife too soon.

And then the locals: a few scraped a decent living from tourists in the summer and full-timers in the winter. But many others, like Will, had cut themselves off from the ‘real world’ for personal reasons and became so married to the isolation that, like frantic beasts caught in tar sand, they were no longer able to extract themselves.

Would Will end up like them, unable to leave? Would his life become so inwardly focused on surviving the tough winters, and alcohol, and solitude, that he’d die alone and full of regrets like Lars Jackson. Or could he grasp onto a woman’s love like a lifeline and trust her enough to help him overcome his inner demons and break away? Could Will become a new person, a good person, a better person?

Well, if you’re interested in finding out. I suggest you read the story for yourself. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Buy now from:    Amazon US    Amazon UK

FYI:

Added for Reprise Review: Will was a nominee in the Contemporary/Literary/General category for B&P 2015 Readers' Choice Awards. 
Original review ran April 4, 2014.

Format/Typo Issues:

None!

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: Pete Barber

Approximate word count: 95-100,000 words

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Review: Glory on Mars by Kate Rauner


Genre: Science Fiction

Description:

There are eight settlers on Mars until the colony's psychologist walks out an airlock to die on the cold, airless sands. Emma and her crewmates, the next mission of settlers, launch from Spaceport America despite the tragedy and despite their own misgivings. They take a tabby kitten with them, as requested by the survivors on Mars, and hope to revive the shocked colony.”

Author:

Kate Rauner (Hanover, New Mexico, USA) writes science fiction novels and science poetry and serves as a volunteer firefighter. Kate is a retired engineer and Cold War Warrior--she worked in America's nuclear weapons complex. Living on the edge of the Southwest’s Gila National Forest with her husband, cats, llamas, and dog, she’s well on her way to achieving her life-goal of becoming an eccentric old woman.”

Appraisal:

As a young man, I’d have jumped at the chance to sign up for a one-way ticket to Mars, so this book fitted right in my wheelhouse. I particularly enjoyed the opening chapters, which started at the Earth-side preparation station with potential travelers confined for two years in a modular habitat that simulated the conditions they would encounter on Mars. Better to discover claustrophobic tendencies and personality clashes before takeoff, right?

Once on Mars, though, the story meandered and got bogged down in the day-to-day minutia of the settlers. I understand that living in an artificially maintained environment on a planet with no atmosphere would involve a lot of chores and attention to detail, but the activities became repetitive in the extreme. So much so, that the plot and characters became secondary. Moments of tension were few and too easily resolved. Potential conflicts were hinted at, but not fully realized.

And the cat? Well the cat made it onto the book’s cover but didn’t have any significance. That red-herring niggled at me most of the way through.
IMO, assuming the technical details are accurate (and they seemed to be, which is all that really matters for disbelief suspension, right?), this could be turned into an engaging story if it underwent a content edit.

Buy now from:    Amazon US    Amazon UK

FYI:

Clean copy, solid writing skills.

Format/Typo Issues:

None.

Rating: *** Three Stars

Reviewed by: Pete Barber

Approximate word count: 75-80,000 words

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Reprise Review: They Call Me Crazy by Kelly Stone Gamble


Genre: Contemporary Fiction/Mystery/Woman’s Fiction

Description:

Cass Adams is crazy, and everyone in Deacon, Kansas, knows it. But when her good-for-nothing husband, Roland, goes missing, no one suspects that Cass buried him in their unfinished koi pond. Too bad he doesn’t stay there for long. Cass gets arrested on the banks of the Spring River for dumping his corpse after heavy rain partially unearths it.

The police chief wants a quick verdict—he’s running for sheriff and has no time for crazy talk. But like Roland’s corpse, secrets start to surface, and they bring more to light than anybody expected. Everyone in Cass’s life thinks they know her—her psychic grandmother, her promiscuous ex-best friend, her worm-farming brother-in-law, and maybe even her local ghost. But after years of separate silences, no one knows the whole truth. Except Roland. And he’s not talking.”

Author:

Kelly Stone Gamble was born and raised in the Midwest… all over the Midwest. By the time she graduated from high school, she had run away from home twice and attended twenty-two different schools.”

To learn more about Ms. Gamble check out her website or Facebook page.

Appraisal:

There was a lot of dark humor in this twisted tale that could have taken place in any small town. The story exposes some serious issues of mental illnesses being improperly medicated by doctors who treat beyond their expertise. Cass lived her days in a fog and the best decision she ever made was dumping her pills down the toilet on that fateful day. Crazy ran in her family. When Cass was five, her mother committed suicide. Cass and her nine-year-old sister, Lola, were left in the care of their grandparents. Their grandma Babe was known for making potions, reading auras, and told fortunes with tarot cards. She was considered the town witch.

This story is told through multiple points of view that are clearly marked in each chapter heading. Each character rang true as they told us their perspective of the events as they unfolded. I could feel the sheriff’s frustration, and had to giggle as Cass’s big city lawyer put his spin on the situation. Small town secrets always have a way of coming to light, much to Maryanne’s dismay. The local fifth grade teacher has several secrets of her own and is expertly woven into Cass’s, Roland’s, and Clay’s lives. Clay was Roland’s older brother who after being discharged from the army after two years’ service, now spends his time with his worm farm when not working at the local hardware store. To say this town has colorful residents is an understatement.

I found this an entertaining read that pulled me in and kept me reading till my eyes wouldn’t stay open any longer. The setting of this book happens to be relatively close to where I live, so I could identify with the people, the problems that they dealt with, and situations that arose a little too easily. I appreciated the fact that Cass attempts to take full responsibility for herself instead of playing the crazy card and she doesn’t see herself as a victim. This was a well told story that left me with a smile on my face.

Buy now from:    Amazon US    Amazon UK

FYI:

Added for Reprise Review: They Call Me Crazy was the winner in the Contemporary Fiction category for B&P 2015 Readers' Choice Awards. Original review ran February 11, 2015.

Format/Typo Issues:

Even though I read an advanced readers copy and normally don’t comment on editing or formatting issues, I came across no issues to note.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 60-65,000 words

Monday, November 28, 2016

Review: Love, Christmas - Holiday stories that will put a song in your heart! by Katy Walters, Dani Haviland, and Cynthia Cooke

Editor's note:  We conclude our multi-part review of this box set with part 7.



Genre: Romance/Christmas/Box set

Description:

Put a song in your heart with 20 all-new Christmas Romances from NY Times, USA Today, and national best-selling authors. Each brand-new title is inspired by a Christmas carol and will lift your spirits and bring on the holiday cheer.”

Sleigh Ride by Katy Walters - Miss Sophia Vale faces poverty. Enter the Earl of Breconbridge, renowned as a rake hell with a conscience.

Little Drummer Boy by Dani Haviland - How could a mere drummer boy help those stranded in the worst winter storm of the 18th century?

Santa Claus is Coming to Town by Cynthia Cooke - A big city girl reunites with a small town boy--magic. A Santa in need of an elf--Christmas magic.

Author:

Katy Walters, “lives in the midst of Regency towns on the South Coast of England. Being of Welsh and Irish parentage, her novels tend towards Celtic themes. Her main interests are historical and regency romance with an underlying theme of time travel. She is equally drawn to the paranormal myths of the Dark Ages, the pre-medieval era, where the ancient Britons were known as the People of the Trees…

Katy’s enjoyed an eclectic career, delighting in every one of her occupations. On leaving school, the office beckoned and became her prison, one she managed to escape taking up operatic singing… Later on returning to university, Katy went on to enjoy a long and rich career as a research psychologist, psychotherapist and hypnotherapist… But then her first love, writing, beckoned, and she was in a position to write to her heart’s content. It was a dream come true when Amazon opened up the doors to publishing.”

To learn more please visit Ms. Walters website.

Dani Haviland, a Mayflower and Mormon pioneer descendant, recently semi-retired from selling tractor parts, tools, and roses in Alaska, relocating to a more temperate climate in western Oregon to pursue her passions: writing, gardening, and photography.

Life has changed from jumping into a skid-steer loader to plow snow to pull-starting the walk behind weed whacker, but there are still enough hours in the day for the feisty old lady to propagate people for her novels and plants for her yard. Sharing is part of her personality, so creating books and photos to share all over the world makes her happy.”

To learn more please visit Ms. Haviland’s website.

Cynthia Cooke, “First published in 2003, Cynthia Cooke is an award-winning author who has published 17 novels in 12 different countries with Harlequin, Entangled, and Amazon Kindle Worlds. She has a deep affection for romance stories and playing in the ocean. On her best days you can find her on the beach with her notebook, a novel in hand, and her dog, Angel, by her side.”

To learn more please visit Ms. Cooke’s website or follow her onFacebook.

Appraisal:

IIn this seventh and final group of novellas from Love, Christmas I am reviewing more new-to-me authors.


Sleigh Ride by Katy Walters:

Tragedy hit the Vale family several years ago when the Reverend Stuart Vale succumbed to yellow fever, along with two of his three sons. This left Lady Vale to raise six daughters and a son on her own. Baron Jude Hawsley, a lecher with a penchant for young maidens, has allowed the Vales to continue living in a cottage on his property. The Baron has now set his sights on Sophia, the oldest Vale daughter. Sophia is strong-willed, able-bodied, and realistic. However she is totally taken with the Earl of Breconbridge - Lord Jacob Wells - despite the debauchery involved during their first meeting. Sleigh Ride is a sweet romance in which Lord Jacob has to go to great lengths to prove to Sophia’s mother that he is not a rakehell.

I identified too many proofing issues in this novella. First and foremost is the Reverend’s first name was Stuart and he was only referred to as Thomas once. However, it is confusing to the reader when the author can’t keep their character’s name straight. Another large concern was the use or misuse of quotation marks; they were either half missing or on the wrong passages. I have to call it sloppy editing and deducted a star.

Not only is Ms. Walters a new-to-me-author, but I now have to wonder if I have ever read any Regency romance other than Pride and Prejudice. I would have found the restrictions placed on women and the language used almost comical, if they hadn’t been so restrictive. Sleigh Ride is an enjoyable story, with comical moments, if you are willing to tolerate the proofing issues.

Little Drummer Boy by Dani Haviland:

At only thirteen years of age, Scout is on his own. Son of a Cherokee mother and an absentee white, wannabe-Indian father, Ian Kincaid, he is searching for employment as a scout in the North Carolina backwoods. When he comes across a small group of soldiers trying to build a bridge across the river, he offers to guide them to an easier place to cross in exchange for employment pay as a scout. The year is 1784, it’s the month of December, and black clouds are moving in as they set up camp on the far side of the river.

I discovered reading this novella that Scout and others in this story are from a series titled The Fairies Saga; the first book is Naked in the Winter Wind. Being such, there are many characters mentioned who don’t get much screen play. I am sure they were there for readers who were already familiar with the series. However, it got a bit confusing trying to keep them all straight for me.
Scout is a smart, interesting character and I enjoyed learning about him and his many talents. The book is told through different points-of-view, so we got to know Scout and about his wayward father. Family relationships and bonds are explored as extended family is introduced. This novella doesn’t tell us how fairies are involved, unless Jenny turns out to be one. She and Scout have a special relationship. Jenny is the adopted daughter of Ian’s first, handfast wife Evie, who he also abandoned when he learned she was pregnant.

Since this seems to be Scout’s first Christmas, stories are shared to educate him in Christmas traditions of this time in early America. Little Drummer Boy is an enjoyable read.

Santa Claus is Coming to Town by Cynthia Cooke:

Nicole Flattery hasn’t been home in four years since she graduated college. She moved to Boston to build her career as an architect and she’s moving up the ladder to success. When her father, Frank, falls from a ladder putting up Christmas lights and breaks his leg and sprains his arm, Nicole packs up her files and heads home to assist her father.

Frank has been the town’s Santa since before Nicole was born and when he is unable to fulfill that obligation this year he talks his neighbor’s divorced son, Landry Parsons, into filling in for him. Landry’s six-year-old daughter, Kimmie, is beside herself with glee because she gets to be Santa’s elf. Nicole has lost her Christmas spirit over the years she has been away and worries about her dad’s sanity with his obsession about Christmas. Landry’s mother, Mary Margaret, has been taking the pictures since Nicole left for school and then work. However, this year her whole family is coming into town and she just can’t manage it. Against Nicole’s wishes but at her father insistence, she takes over the photo gig again. I call parents’ manipulation here, and I think you will too.

In the meantime, Kimmie vows to help Nicole find the Christmas magic she lost years ago. That’s a tall order for a six-year old but she is up to the challenge and of course the chemistry between her father and Nicole helps quite a bit. The twists in this novella aren’t surprising but things get tense and a bit unnerving. This is an endearing story about priorities, being truthful with oneself, and surrendering to passion. Santa Claus is Coming to Town will leave you with a smile on your face and a song in your heart. 

Buy now from:    Amazon US    Amazon UK

FYI:

The stories in Love, Christmas are new and never before published. Two of these novellas can be classified as Clean and Wholesome stories. Santa Claus is Coming to Town has a couple of sexual scenes not behind closed doors. 

Format/Typo Issues:

Sleigh Ride by Katy Walters: I found way too many proofing errors and had to deduct a star.

Little Drummer Boy by Dani Haviland: No proofing issues.

Santa Claus is Coming to Town by Cynthia Cooke: No significant proofing issues.

Rating: Sleigh Ride by Katy Walters: *** Three Stars

Rating: Little Drummer Boy by Dani Haviland: **** Four Stars

Rating: Santa Claus is Coming to Town by Cynthia Cooke: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 375-400,000 words for the full set. Each story is novella size, 20,000 words or slightly less.