Sunday, May 31, 2015

The CopyCat Murders - William Meikle

Well now. This must be the book equivalent of a bag of chips. A snack read. Not something you nibble at but something you demolish in one sitting. And just like a bag of chips, you pick it up without thinking. It's an impulse, just something you feel you need at the moment.

The CopyCat Murders is just like that. It's a novella, a total of sixty some pages, and it gives you a quick little story to fill the gap when you're on a commute or just have some down time. From learning about the book to downloading it to reading it... maybe an hour or an hour and a half at most? I saw the tweet for this freebie on my Twitter feed - it had a nice big image and was labelled as a mystery with a little occult thrown in. So I clicked the link to Amazon and added it to my cloud. I think that was the first time I found a book that I read completely while being on Twitter.

 The story starts out as a locked room mystery - always a fun read - but the mystery part is solved fairly quickly and it becomes more of a catch-the-bad-guy scenario. There's action, murder and even a splash of romance. So overall it was okay. Not great, not terrible, but okay. Like a bag of chips. The title was a little bit more of a mystery to me. Yes there was a series of murders, but I wouldn't say they were copycat. They may have shared the same modus operandi but they were definitely original to the one killer. So, would I recommend the book? Sure. It's free. It's fast. It's okay.

I think the real review here isn't the book though. It's something else. In the years I've been on Twitter finding authors, tweeting and reading tweets,  following and getting followed back, I've mostly ignored the many, many book tweets that flow in a never ending stream. Sure I'll click on some links to read book reviews sometimes, maybe even sample a book at the book store, but I've never clicked on a book link directly from Twitter. Why would I? There's just not enough information. It's social media. Why would I buy a book based on on 120 characters of synopsis? I'll read a few book reviews, maybe visit the odd book blog and check out the book stores where I buy books. But I've never even thought of picking up a book while I'm on Twitter or Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, Tumblr or any other place I'm connecting with people. To me, the social sites just peak your interest. There's still all that research you have to do as to whether or not you actually want to pick up, buy and read that book. So this was an eye opener for me. Apparently it is possible to click on a book link from Twitter IF the book has a picture. IF the book is free. IF the book is short. And IF it's a genre I like. Of course that's a lot of ifs. No wonder I've never found a book on Twitter. But I guess... maybe...  it is possible.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Ghost Hand by Ripley Patton

Ghost Hand was a very entertaining YA book with a great idea. Imagine being born and growing up with a physical part of your body missing - but not entirely. It is replaced by a ghostly representation of that part, and although it can function like the missing part, it can also have unusual qualities. The author did a wonderful job of creating a world where this condition exists - and gave the condition a name: Psyche Sans Soma or PSS. It makes for a very unique tale.

There is quite a bit of action throughout the story and the book is fast paced. There isn't too much description  - which can be good or bad depending on what the reader is looking for in a story. I find that it happens more often that way in first person perspective (which this book has). The main character, Olivia, has PSS and as a result tends to be a little irreverent and headstrong. She has a strained relationship with her mother - a mother who has difficulty accepting Olivia's ghost hand to the point of being repelled by it. In fact, Olivia has a difficult relationship with people in general because having PSS isn't well accepted. Luckily, Olivia has a best friend who does accept her completely and when the new kid Marcus shows up, he too is drawn to Olivia (something Olivia immediately misinterprets). These relationships all become important once the plot starts moving - and the plot starts moving quickly. The fun begins when Olivia's ghost hand gets a mind of its own, deforms and goes into a classmate to extract something from her. It's a little strange but a great way to get the story going. In no time at all Olivia is in danger. She gets followed by a stranger, is hunted by a fringe group and betrayed by an important member of the community Olivia had known for years. Her weird hand isn't just ethereal energy with a nifty glow in the dark feature. It has weird powers - or you could say it causes Olivia to have weird powers.

Overall, the book was fun and the writing good. There was humour and one wonderfully creepy/tense scene involving hanging razor blades in a hidden basement dungeon accessed through a freezer (you'll just have to read the book to make sense of this sentence). I did flounder a bit with the book in the second half - I thought Olivia became wishy-washy in her decisions and a little annoying. And the real reason behind the CAMfers chasing the kids was a bit of a stretch for me, although there may be more to it in the next book. I did like the new characters in Marcus' group though (even the hot head Jason). As for the relationship with Marcus - I don't know that I really bought it. It's probably something the second or third book in the series will work out but it was a bit too quick to develop I thought. Also, I was hoping for more on the whole PSS thing. It was such a unique part of the book I had hoped the author would give the reader more details.

I do recommend the book to YA readers - it's kind of urban paranormal, action and romance. I loved the whole PSS idea and hope the author will expand on it in books two and three. All of the books can be found on Amazon and other online retailers. A link to Ghost Hand on Amazon is here.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Fabled Kingdom - A Comics-Prose Fairytale Adventure

Fabled Kingdom

Comics-Prose. Somewhere between a graphic novel and a  well illustrated novel, the Comics-Prose genre is a perfect choice if you're looking for something a little different. If you're an avid reader who also enjoys Manga, Anime, Cartoons and Comics (or any of those), this could be an opportunity to satisfy a couple of those hobbies at once. Fabled Kingdom is an adventure filled with fairytale characters and settings. Of course it's not Red Riding Hood - or even a re-worked re-telling - even if it does share many similarities (like grandmothers, a huge wolf, huntsmen and a girl in a red cloak). It's an original adventure that takes place in more than one fairytale setting. The characters are engaging and the artwork is great. I found the comic style to be very appealing and a wonderful compliment to the story telling. I can see it being popular with teenagers, particularly those who take in a fair amount of YA and love an adventure that pulls up all sorts of things from fairy lore.

Fabled Kingdom (Part 1) was a very polished product - professional from start to finish. So I have to admit, I was very surprised to find it on Smashwords as a freebie. The only drawback I encountered was that I couldn't get the epub to work properly. The pages never fully loaded (to the bottom - the ends were always cut off) so I ended up reading the book online. In a way it reminded me of reading some of my favorite sort-of-web-comics (the ones that are a mix of prose, great artwork and comics) - but it was easier to read with the online reader than it is reading post after post on the web. If you download the book, the story looks like it's only six or so pages long - but keep in mind those are very long pages. I do recommend giving it a try, and if you have better success with a downloaded copy I would love it if you'd let me know in the comments.

As a pleasant surprise, I just discovered that the second book - part 2 - is also now available now on Smashwords. The link is here:

Monday, January 12, 2015

Underdead with a Vengeance - Review

Biting into that third book in a series means you have expectations. And sometimes those expectations can be pretty big. Did the author sustain a quality product? Is the story good or did they drop the ball and just stretch it out? Is the writing consistent? The characters? The humour? If you're investing your time and dollars in a series, in my opinion, it better be entertaining.

Well, thrill of thrills, Underdead with a Vengeance met all my expectations. Jo, the middle school science teacher, meat eater and cookie baker extraordinaire, is every bit the witty heroine she was in the first two books. Even one of her friends and her love interest #1(Gavin) shine a little more as Jo creeps a little closer to her undeadness. Yes, Jo does experience a few more... talents in this book.

Not too long and not too short -  it's the perfect distraction. It's easy reading for escapists, but the best part is that this story actually includes stuff happening. It's not just a continuation of the same old thing with fun characters and good dialogue. The story advances. Of course it doesn't advance far enough to actually end the story - which is  great. There's a cliffhanger of sorts at the end. So now it's just a matter of time to wait for book 4.

The only real problem that I have with the book is that my daughter is such a huge fan of the series that she's undoubtably going to steal my tablet. On the bright side, she'll probably devour it in one sitting.

I recommend the series. It's kind of a paranormal/cozy mystery mix. There is a little romance, but not enough to ruin the tone or story. Highly enjoyable and at only $2.99 per book it's well worth it. It's every bit as good as many of the super hyped books I've read from traditional publishers - without the atrocious price tag.

Get the ebook on Smashwords: Underdead with a Vengeance

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

New Year, New Stuff

With the onset of yet another deep freeze, the new year promises an opportunity for new book reviews. Finally. After an almost painful 2014 where so many of the books I read failed to inspire any kind of review, I have nothing but hope for 2015.

I just picked up a copy of Liz Jasper's Underdead with a Vengeance, the third in the Underdead series featuring science teacher Jo Gartner - a not completely undead almost vampire who gets caught up in dangerous and mysterious situations with a side of romantic entanglement. It's a fun series and I look forward to starting the year on a fresh page. Because yes - I really did just download it from Smashwords, it may take me a week or so for the review to get out. Plus I'm currently finishing up Red Rising (Pierce Brown) - also good but I'm not finished so we'll just have to see - so a week is the fastest turn around at the moment. I'm hoping to follow these books up with selection of graphic novel epubs I also downloaded. Unfortunately, this was where I got hung up last year. It can be soooo hard to find a good indie graphic novel in epub format. Then narrow it down to a mystery or thriller... and well... ? But I guess I'll just have to wait and see. Fingers crossed.

For the Underdead with a Vengeance synopsis, check it out here: Underdead With A Vengeance

                                Underdead With A Vengeance

Monday, October 6, 2014

24 Hour Comics Day

No book review this week!

We're a little sad about that, but on the bright side... we attempted the 24 Hour Comics Day after our previous failure at it in 2011. This year, it fell on Saturday, October 4. Naturally I went to my job, shopped, built a model giant Candy Land game for the kids at the library, cooked, got the wood stove up and running, and drove one of my kids to and from town that day. Consequently, I didn't get very much drawing in. But it never hurts to try. At least that's what I tell myself. We don't always attempt the mad race to complete a twenty four page comic book/graphic novel in twenty four hours, but we're always hopeful that some of our indie author friends do make the effort. So if you did take the challenge, we'd love to hear from you! Go ahead and post your comment - add a link to any comic pages you did and we'll be sure to check them out.

I'm posting a few of the pages we did manage to scratch up - but be forewarned - they're pretty terrible. If you have any appreciation for art, any at all, look away while you still can. My daughter wrote a short story and thought we should work together adapting it into a mini graphic.  Given that I rarely manage to turn out images with more detail than stick figures, I did have to invest some of my time Googling 'how to draw'. That in itself should give you some hints about what to expect.

So please, if you even doodled enough to pass as a friendly nod to 24 Hour Comics Day, then by all means, please share! (Yes, share the pain). Here are some of the fruits of our efforts:

Don't worry. We're back to posting book reviews next time.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Into the Wasteland - Lisa Shea

This snappy little novella came as a complete surprise. For one thing, it really is quite good. And for another, it is not at all what I thought it would be. Although the story is exactly as the title claims - a dystopian journey - my first impression is that the story is really more of a western. Yes, a western. From the grubby clothed, gun toting heroine right down to her companionship with a horse named Blaze, the story is a straight shooter. The writing is very clean. There are no superfluous words, added subplots, annoying characters or meandering thought processes. There isn't even a romance. It's a journey survival story and the author sticks to it.

Yes, the reader is thrown into the story without any clues about the world it takes place in, or who the main character is (other than a young woman with solid instincts who adopts the name Hawk). There are gunfights (well, shootings), dangerous characters, and a lot of survival moments like searching for food and shelter. There is also the hint of a mystery man. The reader has no idea whether this mystery man is real or imaginary or what his role in the main character's journey is. It's a guessing game. But sometimes more questions than answers can be a good thing. It keeps the reader reading.

At only 110 pages, it's a very quick read. And as a bonus, it's free (at least for now). One of the things I liked most about the story was that even though it's book 1 in a saga, it could just as easily be a stand alone novella. But because, when I reached the end of the novella, I learned that the proceeds from the sale of this author's books would benefit a battered women's shelter - I decided to buy the next one.

It's available here:

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Thousand Dollar Tan Line

Curiosity won me over. When I watched the series and the movie with my daughters I was intrigued by news that there would be a book series to follow. I could hardly wait to see how the noir version of Nancy Drew would translate into a grown up paperback detective girl. And I was pleasantly surprised. It was a completely different experience from watching the show. The book was not the sharp wit narrative I thought it might be - instead, it was a very readable mystery with familiar characters and a twist at the end plot.

Time-wise, the story takes place soon after the movie. Veronica has taken over Mars Investigations with Mac as her assistant/ tech expert while Kieth recuperates from serious injuries.The business is struggling along on small cases of spousal cheating until Veronica is hired by the local hotel magnate to investigate the disappearance of a girl during spring break. It's twisty and turny with a plot that could fit in a couple of TV episodes. The book treats us to some of the old familiar characters and a little of the Veronica perspective we saw in the show and movie - but it all comes across quite differently in third person descriptive print.

Still, it is quite readable as a mystery whether it's read by a fan of the show or not. However, I do think it will appeal far more to already existing fans. You can pick it up at all the usual places, but if you're a total diehard fan of the TV series and not so much of the movie; or if you're unfamiliar with the whole fandom thing, you might want to pick this first issue up from a library to take it for a spin before committing.
On Amazon

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Purgatorium by Eva Pohler

The Purgatorium (The Purgatorium Series #1)I loved the idea behind The Purgatorium. It is a fast paced YA novel that mixes adventure, horror and romance. It involves kids sent to a resort like island that is part nature reserve and part historical ruin, and something else entirely. One of the characters (the main) is a very troubled girl. All of these points hint at a really great read. So when I received the novel in exchange for a review, I was eager to get started with it.

In the story, the main character Daphne Janus and her best friend Cam travel to an island resort that is clearly not what it appears to be. Strange things happen almost from the moment Daphne arrives on the island. First Daphne witnesses a possible crime and then is terrorized by people dressed as ghosts. Many unusual and even dangerous events follow. Daphne begins to wonder about what is really going on at the island and makes arrangements to leave, but her attempts to leave are foiled. Worse, she begins to wonder if she can truly trust her best friend. As the reader moves through the story, it is revealed that Daphne has experienced a family tragedy. She blames herself for the tragedy and has not been able to cope for some time. The real reason Daphne is on the island is not for a resort holiday but for extreme therapy (experimental therapy). But is the extreme therapy going to be effective or is it dangerous enough to get her or others killed?

The best parts of the novel, I thought, were the descriptive paragraphs that gave the reader an excellent view of the island. Also, the plot kept moving and the main character was busy enough to not dwell too much on a few emotions that could slow the story down. Although the character does return again and again to her guilt and the reason she is on the island. I would have preferred that the author give the Daphne character more details from her life, and more detailed interactions with the other characters to build character depth, rather than just the replay of guilt.

Although I really liked the idea behind the story, there were a few things that completely held me up at places. A strong feeling that the story was a kind of... what would happen if the Hotel California was made into a YA novel - was one of those things. I can't help it. It just really made me think of that old song even though the island was more of a treatment centre than an asylum. (The story just had that *patient is trapped and surrounded by dangerous possibly crazy people feel*). That feel also kind of spread out into the plot. The plot jumped around quite a bit and took the reader in a few very different and unexpected directions. It's almost impossible to explain without giving away too much of the story.

The other hold back point was the love interest angle. It was problematic for me. It's a YA novel with romance, so it's not unusual for the main character to have at least three guys interested in her. However, two of those guys (one being her ex boyfriend) seemed to be too old for her (yuck) - although I admit that I was a little confused about what her age was supposed to be (17) and exactly how long after the family tragedy this therapy was taking place (2 years) when I was reading the story. It made me think of those reverse harem animes that don't make sense (and have those too old guys interested in too young girls). I know that some high school girls date college age guys, but given the main character's circumstance, it just felt creepy. Other readers might not see it that way.

Overall though, I really did like the idea behind the novel and I think that the story moves quickly enough that the series has potential. Oh, and the title is awesome.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Another by Yukito Ayatsuji, Horror, Mystery, YA

Volumes 1 and 2

Another, Volume 1Another δΈ‹
Another by Yukito Ayatsuji 

Although not exactly small press, it is fairly difficult to find these Japanese novels in a translated form over here (by here I mean North America). Another is one of those rare finds, currently only available in English in the form of an ebook (split into two separate volumes). It's a horror story and mystery with a distinctly Japanese feel. And while it's true that some of the story and writing do get a little lost in translation, for a unique horror mystery, I can't recommend this enough. I first discovered it as an anime series with subtitles, but by the completion of the series I was all over the internet looking for an English translation in book form. What a waiting game that turned out to be!

It's now available, sort of, on many ebook seller sites. Amazon might have Vol. 1 , but then you might have to search around for Vol. 2 on B&N or Kobo, or one of the multitude of other ebook sellers. It's much easier to find in its other incarnations: an anime series (both subbed and dubbed), a live action movie and an epic Manga book. But being a sucker for a good novel, it was the novel I had to track down. 

The story follows Kouichi Sakakibara, a third year student who transfers to Yomiyama North Middle School after the term has begun. He immediately becomes aware of a strangeness that surrounds his class, third year Class 3. More than just the 'seven mysteries' - urban legends that are associated with an individual school - Koichi's class seems to be genuinely cursed. Class 3, it seems, has become closer to death. Almost every year, although not every year, people associated with Class 3 are haunted by death. During a curse year or 'on' year, people die. They could be students, students' family members or anyone closely associated with Class 3. And they often die horribly. Whenever there is an extra student in the class, someone that was not previously  accounted for at the start of the term, the class has to scramble to make arrangements and it becomes an 'on' year. When Koichi joins the class he decides to get to the bottom of the curse, but can he help prevent the coming horror or will he make it worse? Another struck me as a unique horror and mystery story, not a typical ghost haunting or gory slasher tale. The suspense works well and the reader is often left with a very creepy feeling. For the overall idea and story execution I give it five stars. Given that it's in ebook format, it is probably a good idea that it's split into two volumes of roughly 300 pages or so. The first volume is much better than the second. The writing - or translation - does fall apart a little in the second volume and there are places where the story moves a little too slowly. But I still recommend it.

The ebook can be hard to find, so here are some links that might be helpful if you're interested:

Another, vol 1, 2
Another Vol 1 on Amazon
Another Vol 2 Kobo

If you don't want to struggle with the challenge of finding the novel versions of the story, you can pick up the Manga (a whopping 700+ pages) on Amazon or at Chapters. The Anime is more readily available, but get the subbed version. Trust me, the voices really don't work as well in English. And I would probably skip the live action movie altogether. Not that it's bad or anything, just, you know, the usual. Books and movies made from books. How many of those movies do you actually really like?