Saturday, 28 November 2015

REVIEW: The Betrayal - Family Wars, Glasgow-style





The Coyles and The McClellands – two feuding families intoxicated by power and fueled by revenge. The hatred for each other have sparked bloody encounters that leave a trail of dead bodies, injured relatives, missing family members, and an incarcerated scion.

Though the Coyles appear to have a united front, the dysfunctional family dynamics tell otherwise. It’s reminiscent of The Sopranos and The Corleones, but a little less charming and more muscle and grit. The McClellands, on the other hand, may appear to be the weaker of the two, but they are much more cunning and devious, setting the wheels of revenge in motion like clockwork.

The Betrayal is a compelling read, especially if you’re into crime family saga where characters have combustible personalities. The overlapping story arcs make for a fascinating read. There’s always the thrill of not knowing full well where the story is heading, then everything ties up nicely (and convincingly) in the end.  ★★★ 4/5

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Books I thought I reviewed but did not...

Because memory fails. 

Situation rectified.



SAFE by Kate Hanney

This is a “please-sit-down-let’s-talk-about-this” kind of book.

It’s something that you’d want to discuss with people who’ve read it. Or perhaps beg people to read it just so you can talk about it.

Danny Watson is a fascinating character. Tough. Hardened by life. A kid forced to become an adult because of circumstances.  What could possibly go wrong, yeah?

Just. About. Everything.

This a gritty portrayal of a life on the fringe. It’s a very dangerous place (and situation) to be in and author Kate Hanney takes the reader to that dark place. It deals with hard issues that no young adult should ever deal with.

This is a brilliant book with a “controversial” ending.  ★★★ 5/5 


GARDEN by Jane Yates

It takes an utterly imaginative mind to come up with a story that puts together elements of steampunk, sci-fi and fantasy and not overwhelm the reader (‘til their heads explode). Inspired by the classic “The Secret Garden”, the author re-imagines a futuristic (parallel) world with bio-domes, robot nannies and robotic animals.

This is a personal journey of Aberdeen, who was transplanted to Earth after her parents were murdered. Together with new friends, Aberdeen stumbles upon a riddle that triggers the adventure of a lifetime.

The author’s excitement and enthusiasm resonate in her writing, which makes this an absolutely delightful read. ★★★ 5/5 



The third book in any trilogy always seems to carry many burdens: the burden to provide a proper close to a series; the burden to save the series from a terrible sequel (Book 2s usually suck don’t they?); and the burden to deliver a memorable conclusion.

The Wexkia series does not suffer from a terrible book 2. In fact, it’s a great sequel. But with great Book 2 comes great expectations for Book 3.

Nell is thrown into this complex situation where she has to make a decision, act quickly, and stay alive. Failing to do so will wipe out an entire alien race. And the Universe will fall into the hands of people who shouldn’t be controlling such vast intergalactic real estate.

Reading this gives an adrenaline rush because you become involved in a wild adventure and hope that your fave characters don’t die in the process (Pls. don't be George R.R. Martin).

Justice did not have to worry about the burdens mentioned above, because it delivers an explosive conclusion to the series. ★★★ 5/5 

MORE TO COME

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

REVIEW: DEAD EYED - Wicked Dark



DEAD EYED by Matt Brolly


A serial killer from the past appears to have resurfaced after an 18-year hiatus. Such premise presents questions upon questions that even DCI Michael Lambert could not answer. If this guy was a weapon, he’d be a standard issue. Nothing special; just your ordinary detective chief inspector preoccupied by painful memories of his daughter’s death. And trying desperately to keep it together.

But when the case unravels bit by bit, so does Lambert. And this is where the story pulls you in.

In oculis animus habitat.

The trademark engraving that the “Souljacker” leaves on the victims’ chests tells of a gruesome yet skilful killing. It’s so horrific, it’s not human.

This is a cleverly plotted crime thriller with storytelling flair that makes you feel a bit of involvement in the investigation. Did the Souljacker re-emerge or there’s a copycat on the loose?  Will the real Souljacker please stand up?

It triggers speculations and guesses, but the writer is always ahead of the game. So, this I say to you: Guess again.   ★★★ 4/5


**Review copy provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Episode 28: Conversations Over Milk & Cookies - Madeleine Holly-Rosing

Welcome to Episode 28 of Conversations over Milk & Cookies hosted by Kindle Ninja. 

Hi, Kindle Ninja here. You know, the ninja who occasionally stalks authors and invites them to Conversations over Milk & Cookies. 

What is this madness, you ask? It's my way of supporting  authors & publishers! We interact with them everyday, directly through tweets, or indirectly through re-tweets, but we don't really know much about them. Their personalities really don't shine through in 140 characters. 

Here, we'll see the funny side, silly side, dark side, and all other sides that these wonderful authors don't let show. 

Today, I'm having a conversation with Madeleine Holly-Rosing, writer and creator of the Boston Metaphysical Society Web Comic.

Madeleine is running a Kickstarter campaign to print the 6th and final chapter of Boston Metaphysical Society through November 6th. It's a great chance to get the complete mini-series and cool items!

Let's get to know Madeleine in more than 140 characters.




KINDLE NINJA: Welcome to Conversations over Milk and Cookies. How do you like your cookies? Chewy? Crunchy? Crumbly? Something else?

Madeleine: I’m a fan of chewy. J


Writers are very interesting (and sometimes quirky) people with strange rituals. What is your strange writing ritual?

I don’t think I do anything strange other than I have to accomplish something in regards to maintaining the house before I start. (Like, laundry, cleaning a bathroom,, etc.) Then I usually I have a cup of black or green tea with me when I sit down. I do like it quiet. No music. I think it’s because I don’t really want the world to intrude or have any distractions.

What’s Boston Metaphysical Society?

It is a six issue steampunk supernatural graphic novel mini-series. The story is about an ex-Pinkerton detective, his spirit photographer partner and a genius scientist who battle supernatural forces in late 1800’s Boston. Think “Steampunk X-Files.” The storyline also includes such notables as Bell, Edison, Tesla and Houdini. I’m the writer/creator. Emily Hu is the artist and Gloria Caeli is the colorist.


**image from BMS Kickstarter page

  
If Boston Metaphysical Society would be made into a movie, who do you want to play the main character/s?  

Nathan Fillion as Samuel; Scarlett Johansson as Caitlin and Don Cheadle as Granville.

 







 

Fantastic choices! How do you feel about doughnuts without holes

I vastly prefer donuts with holes. Mainly because donuts without holes usually contain jelly and/or custard, which I don’t like. Nor do I like raised glazed donuts. If I’m going to waste calories on a donut, I want a cake-like donut. Old Fashions with fudge frosting are a good choice.

What’s the comic book / graphic novel you wished you’d written?

Lock and Key. That’s fairly awesome.

What steampunk invention (or any literary invention) do you wish was real?

A uterine replicator.






Sci-Fi (or Steampunk) character you identify the most. 

Cordelia Naismith from Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series (scifi).


Book you’ve read because everyone has read it. 

The Hunger Games


What’s your favourite word?

Plethora


Least favourite word.

Plethora

What would you rather be doing now? (instead of answering these questions).  

Sleeping


What song would you be probably caught dancing to?

“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” By Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell.




What are the five objects we’d find on your desk (or writing space)

Cup of Tea, thesaurus, pens, legal pad, nail file.


Tell us about the Boston Metaphysical Society Kickstarter campaign.

I’m really excited about this Kickstarter as it is to fund the printing of the sixth and final chapter of the series! The whole team has done an outstanding job. We’ve got some fun reward packages. Everything from just the book, to tea and even BMS dirigible lapel pin! You can check it out HERE

**image from BMS Kickstarter page

FAST ROUND:

 Underwater or Outerspace? Outerspace


 Puppies or Kittens? Puppies.


 Ninjas or  Steampunk Robots? Ninjas


Thanks for your time. Hope you enjoyed the milk and cookies. 

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Reviews: The Short of It

Been playing catch up with reading and reviewing. I’m 33 books behind schedule. Goodreads said so. Why should I care about what Goodreads say? You see, I joined the 2015 Reading Challenge and pledged to read 80 books, which translates to 6.66 books per month (I’m glad I’m not superstitious).  

Easy peasy, right? No. It’s September and I’m still struggling to get halfway through the challenge. I’m still convinced I could do it, but I’m going to need a strategy of some sort.  I realised that I could probably pull this one off by reading all the short stories and novellas on my TBR list.

It’s not cheating. Just slightly devious planning.


Two women, memory loss, a dead man, and a psychic. Everything else are fragments. This is a bizarre story that I quite frankly did not get the first time I read it. So I had to read it again. I like to believe I got it the second time around. Or probably not. It’s like the movie “Inception”. People think they got it, but they probably don’t.

The truth is it’s a mystery right to the very end. I don’t care if I don't get it  right because I enjoyed the writing, the build up, and the intrigue. This is not spoon feeding. You have to think. Think until it hurts and you beg for more.  ★★★ 4/5 


Andrew O’Sullivan is a medium and spirit photographer called on by Detective Angus Mallory to help investigate the gruesome murders that shook Beacon Hill. It’s Sherlock meets CSI meets ghost hunter in 1800s steampunk Boston.

This is more than just a murder mystery; it also introduces us to the young Caitlin O’Sullivan. If you’ve read The Boston MetaphysicalSociety webcomics, the last few pages of The Devil Within will certainly have an impact. If not, that’s quite all right, there’d still probably be an “aah” moment, if you were paying attention. There, I’ve avoided spoilers. ★★★ 5/5 



Children’s book writer turned crime fiction writer Marnie Riches shows her versatility with The Love Potion. Why was I reading a Valentine’s Day e-short, you ask? I think I have a compulsive completist disorder**

It’s wickedly funny and naughty and cruel. But it’s a love story.
It’s also a cautionary tale: Don’t date a pharmacist if you’re a lying, cheating bastard. 

As a bonus, you’d probably find a cure to what ails you.  ★★★ 5/5 
**A personality quirk that compels its victims to complete collections. In this case, books written by the same author.


This is the (short) prequel to Demons & Pearls. Having read the two books in the series made me feel that this is quite basic as an introductory piece. We meet the young Ivory Shepard and her cousins as they try to protect themselves and escape from men who have set their eyes on the prize.

To me, the two books are sufficient. This is just a bonus.

But this I can assure you: If you read Ivory Dawn, you will want to read all the books in the series. ★★★ 4/5 



How hard is it to kiss the girl of your dreams? Terribly hard if you’re a teenage boy named Scott. A desperate boy who wanted to be the first to kiss Clarisse.

So it’s a race against time and against Jay (who is God’s gift to teenage girls in Nowheresville, apparently). Dreams may just come true if you’re armed with a cunning plan and plenty of mints.  ★★★ 4/5

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Nonlocal Science Fiction Issue 1: Not short on entertainment



Reviewing a collection of short stories is always tricky; more so if they are written by different authors. The chance of liking all the stories is slim, though not impossible. There’s probably 2 to 3 remarkable stories and a few mediocre ones, and the rest, forgettable.

I believe this one was done right.

Nonlocal Science Fiction Issue #1 is a 10-story strong collection that’s perhaps the closest you’ll get to having that “dream” sci-fi short story anthology. It’s evident that it had gone through a stringent selection process. The stories are a wonderful mix of hardcore sci-fi, old-school, offbeat, edgy, and weirdly good speculative fiction.


Though my personal favorite is Shoot The Devil by Nicholas Rossis, I enjoyed reading the other stories. It’s one of those collections where the good stories outnumber the not-so-good ones. It’s a fantastic start with a lot of  sci-fi promise. ★★★ 4/5 

#

In January 2015, I had a conversation over milk & cookies with author and publisher Daniel J. Dombrowski of 33rd Street Press. He was then running a Kickstarter campaign for the Nonlocal Science Fiction Magazine. It was a successful campaign and I ended up with a free copy of the magazine (thanks, Dan!). Fast forward to September 2015, the magazine is now on its third issue! I'm playing catch up, but the reviews will come.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

IMMERSED: Steampunk Wrapped in Bacon



Everything’s better with bacon.

Immersed is steampunk wrapped in bacon. That’s how good this novella is.

There’s a new badass heroine in 1850s Chicago and she’s not to be messed with. Melusine DorĂ© slays monsters and beasts for a living and does so without breaking a sweat. The rough and tough exterior conceals a past that defines her present. She’s unbreakable. Or is she?

Rival monster-hunter Levi Cannon seems a worthy opponent but a profitable offer forces them to work side by side; an opportunity that has some dire repercussions.

The chemistry between Melusine and Levi is unmistakable – from the playful banters to the accidental contacts to the sexual tension. They’re quite a pair.

Author Katie Hayoz has this incredible knack for perfectly timed plot twists. She knows how to tease and knows when to astonish.

Immersed is steampunk with soul. ★★★ 5/5 

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Names of the Dead: A Pedal To The Metal Thriller



From the moment the first chapter of Names of the Dead ended, I knew Connor Montrose was going to be one hell of a character. Defiant, head-strong, and driven by vengeance. He’s an exceptionally written character with the swagger of a CIA operative and the fighting chops of a killing machine. From there, it’s hard to tell if he’s the good guy.

The narrative style is frantic and restless, but never confusing. This is magnified by the reader’s access to Montrose’s state of mind. The inner dialogues not only make us privy to Montrose’s innermost thoughts, they also make us feel that we’re part of this intricate web of lies and deceit. It’s as immersive as playing a first person shooter – pumping bullets, maiming enemies, and leaving a trail of dead bodies as location shifts from Rome to Zurich to Paris to Tehran. Add the involvement of abbreviated agencies in double cross and conspiracies, then you have a sensational international thriller in your hand.

Author Mark Leggatt is on the driver seat, never taking his foot off the gas as the story unravels at breakneck speed. Buckle up!   ★★★ 5/5 

Sunday, 23 August 2015

The Girl Who Broke The Rules: Dark, Twisty, and Relentless




Let me explain.

All the elements I love in a crime thriller are masterfully depicted against the backdrop of the seedy underbelly of Amsterdam.

The suspense is relentless; the characters unyielding.

Shifting timelines and switching points of view offer reprieve from the most gruesome depiction of madness and perversion.

The feverish storytelling never lets up and the palpable sense of danger and menace lingers like a shadow with a scythe.

Then there’s Georgina McKenzie. George. The feisty and sometimes irreverent heroine who brings emotional turmoil to an already besieged Chief Inspector Paul van den Bergen, who’s at his breaking point.

For a heroine, she’s not all that likeable. Therein lies the rub. It’s difficult to reconcile the fact that I love this sequel so much, but have a hard time “liking” George. But liking a main character is never a rule to enjoying a twisted macabre tale. If it were, I certainly broke it (ha! See what I did there?)

Likeable or not, George is a compelling character that not only adds intrigue to an already twisted story, but also thrusts readers into a literary quandary: “Does a character have to be likeable?”


Combining a dark, twisty plot with skillful writing makes The Girl Who Broke The Rules an absolutely gripping thriller! ★★★ 5/5 

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Reading Funk and Adventures in Beta Reading


So I was in a reading funk. It was so bad that according to Goodreads, I'm 28 books behind schedule of my 80-book target for 2015. 


Amazon is largely to blame. Because when your 60+ reviews are unceremoniously and unfairly pulled, you are gutted and you lose your street cred (if I ever had one, to begin with). 

And you lose your review mojo.



Then beta reading happened. 


A few days ago, a brilliant author asked me "When are you gonna beta read for me?"

Just so you know, I'm not a beta reader*. I've been invited by wonderful authors in the past, but I respectfully declined because I feel that I lack the necessary skills to beta read. Besides, when you read deliberately to find errors, it just sucks all the fun in reading. 

But this author isn't strict. All she wanted was a male perspective. 

Easy peasy.

The reading part, that is. The critiquing, not so much.

I found myself asking these questions before writing/sending my feedback.

1. How do you separate the fanboy from the critic? (Yes, I like this author very much).

2. How do you balance honesty and tact? (You have got to be cruel to be kind?)


3. Can the author handle a negative feedback? And can I handle the backlash? (Let's not get postal here.)
"Overheard from writer & reader"



4. Why isn't there a 'Beta Reading for Dummies'?  (but this beta reader etiquette is a great guide)

5. Is there an easy way to break an author's heart? (James Ingram's answer is 'No')

6. Can our relationship survive this? (Can we still be friends?)


Of course, it's not as bad as it sounds. I assure you that no ninja was hurt in the beta reading process. No hearts broken, no egos bruised (or maybe just a tad?). 

Beta reading is part of the author's writing process. It's great to experience the author-reader dynamics, in its very vulnerable state. It's not just about finding errors in story continuity or pointing out gaping plot holes, it's also a chance to better understand the author's creative process. Once you have this understanding, you'll have a greater appreciation of the final work.

And yes, it's also an exercise in diplomacy and tact.

Will I do it  again? With the right author, yes, gladly.



*Read Fletcher Delancey's Ode to the Beta Reader because it's cool.