Reviews and Features

Occasionally I review movies or other author’s books on this blog and I’ve preserved those posts on this page, along with features about other authors. I did much more of this when I began this blog back in 2012, and one of my resolutions is to review more books here.

I am interested reading speculative fiction of all sorts, including science fiction and fantasy. My protagonist in Shape of Secrets is a gay male, so I’m predisposed to review stories that feature LGBT heroes, or others who find joy in life by being true to who they are in spite of obstacles.

I am not interested in reviewing non-fiction, pure romance novels, stories which promote any particular religion, children’s books, or horror of any type. Please do not ask me to review erotica or books about vampires or zombies.

If you would like to be considered for a review contact me at Zane (dot) Zeitman (at) gmail (dot) com.


Review: Murder Gone Missing

Why am I reviewing a crime novel like Murder Gone Missing? Well, even though Shape of Secrets is a fantasy, it is also a murder mystery, and I have a soft spot for zany crime novels with an unusual premise. This is my third recent review here and I hope to do more. See the end of this post for details about my review policy.

 

My Review Summary: Lida Sideris has written a clever and funny story to entertain fans of light-hearted mysteries. My personal rating is 3.7/5. My full review appears later in this post.

About this book: Newly minted lawyer Corrie Locke has taken a vow of abstinence. From PI work, that is. Until her best friend Michael finds his bully of a boss stabbed in the back after confronting him earlier that day. Michael panics, accidentally tampering with the crime scene…which could lead the cops to Michael instead of the real culprit. He turns to Corrie to track down the killer. She doesn’t need much coaxing. Her late great PI dad taught her the ropes…and left her his cache of illegal weaponry.

They return to the scene of the crime, but the body’s missing. Racing against time, Corrie dredges a prestigious Los Angeles college in pursuit of clues. All she finds are false leads. Armed with attitude and romantic feelings toward Michael, Corrie dives into a school of suspects to find the slippery fugitive. Will she clear Michael’s name before he’s arrested for murder?

About the author: Lida Sideris is the author of the Southern California Mystery series, the latest of which, MURDER GONE MISSING, was published by Level Best Books. She writes soft-boiled mysteries and was one of two national winners of the Helen McCloy Mystery Writers of America scholarship award. To learn more about Lida, please visit www.LidaSideris.com or find her on Instagram,  on Twitter@lidasideris or at https://www.facebook.com/lidasideris

My full review: (See my summary at the start of this post.)

What I liked best:

  1. This is a witty, fast-paced book with enough unexpected twists to keep the reader engaged.
  2. The author paints descriptions with an artistic flair, and a hint of crime noir satire. Passages like “Fog crept around the hilly street, clasping hands with the darkness” abound. Better yet, she does it deftly enough that they don’t slow the story down.
  3. The protagonist Corrie Locke may steal high-fashion items from her mother, but she is a tough and capable detective with a good heart.
  4. One of my favorite scenes is when main character Corrie admits she has been antagonistic to another character for so long that she doesn’t even remember why she is doing it. The bit of self-awareness is in stark contrast to the sometimes unjustified sharp banter, and it did much to win over my sympathy for Corrie.
  5. The author does a noteworthy job of ending chapters in such a way that the reader just has to keep going.

What I liked least:

  1. At least one other novel preceded this one, and I never felt quite up to speed on the interpersonal relationships between Corrie and her two potential love interests.
  2. In places the book reminded me a little too much of the famous Janet Evanovich series, upon which it appears to be modeled. (One spunky woman PI and two gorgeous men.) For example, Corrie’s sidekick Veeda talks entirely too much like Stephanie Plum’s sidekick Lula.
  3. Witty and fast-paced can be overdone. In its least effective places, the book becomes a series of flippant one-liners in need of a little emotional honesty.

The power of what I liked well exceeds what I didn’t, and I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a mystery with touches of humor and just a hit of romance.

A personal note: I am a writer myself and therefore come to all reviews with biases born not only of my personal preferences but also of my own writing style. Also, I received a free pdf copy of this book from Goddess Fish, the value of which would never be enough to entice me to write a better review for anyone.


Review: First Impressions

 

About this book:  M/M Romance

Michael:
Two years ago I made a mistake, a big one, and then I threw in another couple just for good measure. I screwed up my life big time but I made it through. I was lucky.
Then I was given the opportunity for a fresh start. Two years in Auckland, NZ, ‘The City of Sails’. Away from the LA gossip, a chance to breathe, to get my life back together.
I grabbed it and packed my new set of golden rules with me.
I don’t do relationships.
I don’t do commitment.
I don’t do white picket fences.
And I especially don’t do arrogant, holier-than-thou, smoking hot K9 officers who walk into my ER and rock my world.

Josh:
The only thing I know for certain about Dr. Michael Oliver is the guy is an arrogant, untrustworthy player, and I’d barely survived the last one of those in my life.  Once was more than enough.
The man might be gorgeous but my eleven-year-old daughter takes number one priority and I won’t risk her being hurt, again. I’m a solo dad, a K9 cop and a son to pain in the ass, bigoted parents.
I don’t have time for games.
I don’t have time for taking chances.
I don’t have time for more complications in my life.
And I sure as hell don’t have time for the infuriating Dr. Michael Oliver, however damn sexy he is.

My review:

Things I liked 

  1. The two main characters are complex, intelligent and sexy people with back stories that ring true and make them both easy to like.
  2. The secondary cast of characters is also well drawn, from Josh’s sassy daughter and his loyal police dog to Michael’s best friend, the glitter-eye-shadow wearing male head nurse.  Some of these characters could so easily read as caricatures but they don’t; they come across as genuine individuals. 
  3. The banter in the book is great fun and almost everyone engages in it. 
  4. I found the switching of point of view between the two main characters to be particularly well done, especially when the same scene was told from each man’s perspective. 

What I didn’t like

  1. Everyone has a point at which steamy romance turns into porn and individual tastes do vary. I like to think mine are kind of in the middle of the spectrum, but, hey, who knows. I do know this novel crossed my line about a third of the way through the book due to the frequency of the sexual content, the really specific details given in the sex scenes and the pages-long duration of some of the scenes.  Perhaps a reader should be forewarned the novel contains a large amount graphic sexual material. I would have passed on reviewing this book if I had known.

Because the sex scenes make up so much of the book, I did not give it a rating in the review for the author’s blog tour. Rather, I commended the author for the things she did well, and recommend the book to those whose tastes in this regard are different from mine.  In retrospect I would give it a 2.4/5

About the author:

Jay Hogan is a New Zealand author writing in the LGBTQIA genre in MM Romance and Fantasy. She has traveled extensively and lived in many places including the US, Canada, France, Australia and South Korea, and loves to add experiences from these adventures into her writing.

She is a cat aficionado especially of Maine Coons, and an avid dog lover (but don’t tell the cat). She loves to cook- pretty damn good, loves to sing – pretty damn average, and as for parenting a gorgeous daughter-well that depends on the day.

She has lovely complex boys telling sweet sexy stories in her head that demand attention and a considerable number of words to go with them. Their journeys are never straightforward and can even surprise Jay, but the end is always satisfying.


Review: REALM OF THE DRAGON

Review summary: I chose this book because I enjoy fantasy, and shape-shifting dragons sounded like way too much fun to miss. It turned out to be more of a romance novel in a fantasy setting. However, it is a fun read (and the shape-shifting dragons were as good as I hoped.) I give it a 2.8/5. Details are below.

About this book: An ancient legend spanning eras, continents, and worlds. To some, it’s nothing more than a dream. To others, a pretty fairy tale handed down through the generations. For those in critical need of their own happy ending, a gift. For sheltered Lily Kiers, it’s all too real. Her escape from danger, straight into the arms of her destiny. Thrust into a realm made of fantasy and unbridled passion, Lily faces violent resentment and jealousy from extremely powerful enemies. Amidst fierce creatures whose very existence defy all common sense, Lily pieces together a past she could never have imagined. Claimed by Kord, Prince of Battle Draconian, their love will not be denied, even as malevolent forces plot to rip them apart.

About the authors: CiCi Cordelia is the pen name for the writing team of BFFs Char Chaffin and Cheryl Yeko.

 Published authors in their own right, they share a love for well-written stories infused with their favorite romantic genres: paranormal, suspense, and erotica. Both are fans of Alpha Men and the women they’d lay down their lives for.

 As a writing team, they bring a solid know-how for accomplishing the foundation of what makes a great romance read: a strong story, a passionate romance, fascinating characters, and a happy-ever-after ending. CiCi can be found: https://ccromance.com & www.facebook.com/HeartfeltRomance. More links for each author can be found at the end of this post.

My full review: Romance novels just aren’t my cup of tea, but I can appreciate a fun story, an imaginative setting and a happy ending. This book provides them all.

What I liked best:

  1. The parents. When mom and dad show up at all, in either romance or fantasy, they are seldom this supportive or having this much fun of their own. The Prince of Battle Draconian’s mother was actually my favorite character.
  2. Sensitivity. I expected the romantic male to be strong and, well, manly. No worries, he is. But he also isn’t a jerk. He treats his beloved with understanding and even courtesy and is all the more desirable for it. Kudos to CiCi Cordelia.
  3. The dragons. I loved their physical description, their shifting, and most of all the way they were part of but separate from their human brains.
  4. Bonus points for well written sex scenes that are detailed enough to be sexy and tasteful enough not to be embarrassing.

What I liked least:

  1. There aren’t many plot surprises, and I felt like the basic premises of the story were pretty obvious from the start. I’m all for the happy the ending, but would have appreciated more complexity in getting there.
  2. I’m willing to suspend disbelief about all things magic, but the idea of one of the three ruling families of an entire world living with no domestic help, doing all their own chores, was beyond what I could accept.
  3. The last third of the book slowed down. Once the romance is largely settled, the authors opt to resolve the remaining plot issues with a lot of fight scenes. I felt the book could have used a few more clever and less predictable ways to tie up the loose ends.

In spite of those flaws, I do recommend this book for anyone desiring an easy read to make a few hours melt away. It would be perfect on a difficult plane ride, where you could put on some music and immerse yourself in this story. If you are lucky enough to be traveling home, you can indulge yourself once you get there by pretending your mate is secretly a dragon. I bet it will make for an interesting evening.

Final Note:  I received a free copy of this book from the authors. A free copy of a book would never be enough to entice me to write a better review for anyone.


A political kindred spirit: A review of Scott Haworth’s novel Abraham Lincoln’s Lie May 9, 2013

lincolnThere are two reasons why I want to speak highly of this book, and it’s fair to tell you of them. First, this book has a strong political slant, and it turns out that I largely share the author’s views. More-over, his sort of moderate-liberal-progressive outlook, in my opinion, shows up too infrequently in political fiction specifically written to make a point, and I admit up front to wishing to encourage him.
Second, this is the first review I have written for a self-published complete stranger since I myself became a self-published author reviewed by complete strangers. I recognize how important reviews are and what an accomplishment it is to produce a coherent novel, much less one with only two typos. I am inclined to be gentle. That being said …..

This is a novel that covers about a forty year span after the USA breaks in two to form a red nation and a blue nation. The author wisely glosses over details, but focuses instead on following a few key families in each of the new countries. It’s a good format and he develops some compelling characters and covers issues from foreign policy to gun control.

The biggest problem with the book is that it can’t quite decide if it wants to be realistic, or satire. The smaller satire parts work well, like the number of things in the red nation named after Ronald Reagan and the conservative states getting corporate sponsors for their aircraft carriers. Funny stuff, although I personally would appreciate the humor more if some of the satire went both ways. Let’s face it, there is plenty to laugh about throughout the political spectrum.

At the other extreme, the human drama that is not satire works well also, such as the story of the two gay men who find their home is in the red nation, and are forced to flee to the blue with their adopted daughter. To me this was the most emotionally compelling story line and these were the most fully drawn of all the characters.

It’s the stuff in between the satire and realism that gave me pause. The blue states gradually turn into utopia, while having no problems with debt or high taxes. They get along famously with other countries, and somehow encourage innovation among the citizenry in spite of more government controls. Lazy or greedy people do not play a role, a fact that I find very hard to believe. In fact, after forty years the place is so perfect that I briefly thought I might have fallen into conservation satire that had been waiting to reveal itself.

Meanwhile, the red nation fares far worse. Citizens roam the countryside with legal automatic weapons. Criminals are tried and executed within days, with no appeals. Sex education has been abolished and science is barely taught. The nation is plagued with teen births, ignorant angry people and wars it cannot afford. Absolutely nothing works better here. As satire, one can do this of course. As a realistic novel, I’d have been more engaged if the red nation produced some sympathetic characters and occasional unique solutions of its own. In the real world, there are truly good people across the political spectrum. I know, I am related to many of them. Furthermore, real politics is a messy nuanced business and there are surprises.

Two things to this author’s defense. His main protagonist is the conservative politician who causes the split to begin with, and he does infuse this one character with warmth and humanity (and of course with mounds of regret for what he has done). Secondly, I skimmed through a little Ayn Rand before writing this review. I have not read her in decades and wondered in retrospect how balanced her world in Atlas Shrugged really was. Not very, so this author is at least in renowned company. Unfortunately, at this point his writing lacks the plot intricacy and the suspense that Ayn showed in her two most famous novels. We aren’t compelled to find out how this book is going to end, but rather have a pretty good idea much of the way through it.

click cover to purchase for kindle

click cover to purchase for kindle

His character’s motivations are sometimes unclear and their emotions sometimes range significantly from one sentence to the next. Author Scott Haworth also shows no skill at all in folding in either romance or sex, both of which do add to a book’s wider appeal. Lacking all this, his one-sidedness is more apparent than Ayn’s and will likely be more irritating to any reader that does not more or less agree with him already.

However, Ayn did write a first novel, called “Anthem”, and years ago I read it. I’m not going to bother to reread it now just for this review, but I remember it as a short, shrill and simplistic treatise in which she outlines ideas that she would later convey with far more power. I am a much more critical reader these days, and I feel certain that “Abraham Lincoln’s Lie” is a better first political book than “Anthem”.

I wavered between giving “Abraham Lincoln’s Lie” 3 stars or 4. I am rounding up in hopes that this is the first of several political novels we will see from Scott Haworth, and that one day soon his skills will grow enough to be able to powerfully convey the fictionally underrepresented ideal of a freedom-loving progressive nation. I am really looking forward to reading those future works.


Crime collides with speculative fiction at a fascinating new intersection Feb 4, 2013

I struggle with whether to call my novel y1 a  crime novel or speculative fiction, and so I have developed a soft spot for other authors facing the same quandary. Recently I learned of S.J. Hunter, and her fascinating series of books that combines both genres. I’m very excited to interviewer her on this blog, but first I’ll let her describe her series to you in her own words.

Longevity Law Enforcement:  In the 21st century molecular biology gives humanity some nifty gifts: perpetual youth, enhancements to intelligence and physical attributes, and extreme life extension.  The trouble is, not everyone thinks they’re nifty, and even among those who do, not everyone can afford them.  Most of all, no one really wants to be ruled by immortal superbeings if they can’t be one themselves.  That’s not all that unreasonable.  While much of the rest of the world descends into repressive oligarchy or anarchy, in the United States we establish Laws to govern the use of these gifts, and a special agency, Longevity Law Enforcement (LLE), to catch the lawbreakers.

L1 Cover DNA USEAbout Longevity (Longevity Law Enforcement Book 1): The suspicious disappearance of a brilliant, evil doctor.  A devious plan that threatens national stability.  A near-future world where the U.S. clings to laws that have preserved it from the almost worldwide abyss of anarchy, where a man can be both 32 and 102, and where a perceptive and clever woman and a uniquely smart dog can be kick-ass rookie partners.
No longer solo, legendary detective Chris McGregor and his new partners, Livvy Hutchins and Louie, relentlessly search for the mastermind before he can complete his plan.  Their opponent’s only option: kill them first. Available at Amazon here.

L2 Paper Cover 3 USEAbout The Burning Rivers (Longevity Law Enforcement Book 2): When LLE’s top team, Chris, Livvy, and Louie, Chris’ neuro-enhanced dog, investigates a brutal Syndicate of illegal labs trying to force its way into D.C., Louie finds key evidence that might help his partners crack the Syndicate’s power. If they can survive long enough.  Available at Amazon here.

L3 Cover resized USEAbout The Dog on the Moon (Longevity Law Enforcement Book 3):LLE detective Chris McGregor is still learning to rely on his new partners, irrepressible Livvy Hutchins and Louie, a dog with phenomenally useful talents. Together they must find a way to battle a deadly conspiracy of corrupt politicians and industrialists without exposing them to the public. Their goal: to preserve the Moon for the rest of mankind. Available at Amazon here.

Sheila provides this biography: Although she grew up on a small family farm in Wisconsin, since then she’s worked as a veterinarian and a librarian and lived in Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, California, Oregon, Florida and many places in-between, including twice in Washington D.C. The whole experience, meaning life so far, has taught her that it is essential to keep a sense of humor handy. Dogs and cats and people with infectious laughs help, too.

A short interview with author S.J. Hunter.

Me: You’ve lived a lot of places and done a lot of different things.  Did any one location or occupation particularly influence your trilogy? Her: I worked as a veterinarian in D.C. – it was my first real veterinary job – and I’ve always loved the city.  We lived there twice, about 6 years total. It has amazing character and opportunities, and constant reminders of our history, but access is very important, and in D.C. that means public transportation. The city plays a role in all three books; that makes sense because Chris, Livvy, and Louie work in the D.C. LLE office.

Me: It’s impressive to have written a entire series like this.  Do find that each book has gotten easier or more difficult to write? Her: Each book got easier.  I enjoy my characters, and since they are strong individuals, they started carrying the story forward for me.  The books are case-based, so they easily stand alone, but there’s also an important thread from Chris’ history that’s woven through all three books.

Me: You have a genetically enhanced dog as one of your characters.  Did a real life pet inspire this character? If not, what? Her: Okay, no surprise here: I’m a sucker for dogs and cats.  No one pet inspired Louie, but I thought a lot about service dogs, and how lucky we are to have dogs in our lives as companions. There’s so much we don’t know about the way they think, but a lot we can conjecture and some of that conjecture can be great fun.
Me: Will there be more Longevity Law Enforcement books in the future or will you be moving on to another subject? Her: I tried to move on.  In fact, I have another, very different book started, but about 20K words in I found I kept thinking about a case Chris had been involved in earlier in his career.  So I found myself writing a prequel.

For more about S.J. Hunter and her books please visit her blog at http://sjhunter123.blogspot.com/.


Nick Wastnage and Playing Harry Oct.18, 2012

With the novel y1 I made a mild segue in to writing crime fiction, and in the process it was my pleasure to make the acquaintance of several more experienced crime writers. This includes Nick Wastnage, author of twelve novels and a writer with a grab you by the throat style that almost guarantees less sleep until you finish his book. His latest novel is Playing Harry.

Playing Harry: Harry, an investigative journalist with a top British national newspaper, discovers a mysterious, encrypted file on his late brother’s computer. He thinks it contains a cure for HIV and is linked to his brother and sister-in-law’s murders. Helped by Amie, his ex-girlfriend, he starts to search for the truth. He becomes immersed in a violent, disturbing international conspiracy, where two of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies resort to murder and corruption to secure their world dominance and the American and British security services are shown to have blood on their hands.

Playing Harry, is about the man who rattled the CIA and MI6 and is available at Smashwords, amazon.com, amazon.co.uk, Barnes and Noble, iPad UK, iPad US, http://playingharry.wordpress.com.

Nick took the time to answer a few questions just for this blog.

I wrote: Unlike many other prolific crime writers, it looks like you don’t have a single crime solver that you write about.  Rather your books span all manner of characters, crimes and places.  Why the eclectic approach? He answered: Well, it’s because I’ve never found a character I’ve wanted to continue writing about, but that’s all changed. In a recent blog post, http://nickwastnage@blogpot.com – called Why did I write Playing Harry? I’ve said that I’ve found in Harry Fingle, the main protagonist and crime-solver in Playing Harry, a character I want to take through to a few more books. He has his faults, but he’s basically a good guy, and I’m looking forward to finding new adventures for him and developing his character.

I wrote: Your latest book looks particularly interesting and I’ve added it to my “to read” list.  I’d love to know, what is your personal favorite thing about “Playing Harry?”  He answered: The way I’ve managed to weave a love story and the exploits of six troubled characters into the narrative of a crime novel. It’s an interstitial book and cross-genred.

I wrote: Are you willing share anything about what is in the works after “Playing Harry?” He answered: I think I’ve already given it away. I’m starting on a new Harry Fingle novel, part of The Harry Fingle Collection, within the next four weeks. Without giving any more away, his enemies come back to haunt him, and his ex-lover, Amie, who’s now married, is never too far away. It should be finished by the second part of next year. I wrote a short, Harry and His Unfinished Business, which sort of kicks the new book off. It’s available for free at  https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/240287 or can be read on my blog.

About Nick Wastnage. Nick Wastnage calls himself a crime writer and an optimist. He writes about people involved in sinister deeds like murder, extortion, and retribution. He’s worked in a seaside arcade; as a record salesman, a decorator, a merchant banker, a marine, and a retailer. He was once shot by terrorists, winched from the jungle into a helicopter, and flown to hospital. He lives with his wife in Bucks.

Learn more about Nick and his books at http://www.nickwastnage.com  and http://nickwastnage.blogspot.com/


Introducing y1’s kindred spirits and “The Cult of Me” Sept. 17, 2012

I’ve enjoyed interviewing fellow indie authors on my other blog for the novel x0, and have decided to try the same here.   I will be featuring authors who are writing about any of the many themes touched upon in the novel y1. While my own novel focuses on the merits of appreciating ones uniqueness, please consider this intriguing tale about the darker side of that same theme.

The Cult of Me is a supernatural thriller about a man who has spent most of his life tormenting the people around him. He has a unique ability to enter their minds and bend them to his will. Over the years he grows tired of this game and decides to end it all in a final bloody stand. He surrenders himself and plots to gain control of the prison. But while he is there he discovers that he is not as unique as he once thought.

Author Michael Brookes says “although I am a new author I have enjoyed writing for many years. For most of that time I focused on short stories, only recently have I started with novels. Naturally I am an avid reader, mostly science fiction, but I do enjoy books of many genres. My favourite story of all time is Paradise Lost and my favourite novel is Excession by Ian M Banks. I work as an Executive Producer for one of the UK’s leading game developers.”

The Cult of Me is available from Amazon and a paperback version is coming soon!

Michael was kind enough to answer a few questions just for this blog:

1. The Cult of Me is your first book and part of a trilogy. Are you finding that it was harder to write the first novel, or it is harder to write the second one?

I’m finding the second book (Conversations in the Abyss) harder to write. I’m not sure I can put my finger on exactly why. I’ve followed the same preparations – I’m a great believer in planning the book out in advance. I think I have learnt many things with writing the first book and I’m trying to avoid them now with the second.

2. There are a lot of different classifications for speculative fiction and the boundaries blur. I notice that you call your book “occult and supernatural”. What pushed it into this classification for you?

This for me is one of the frustrating elements of book classifications. The Cult of Me, like many books, does not fall easily into a single category. It has a supernatural theme, but also has techno thriller and horror aspects. In my reading I cover different different genres and I find they all have something to bring to the mix.

3. You work for a game developer. Has that background guided your writing and if so how?

Games are a young and developing way of telling a story. I’m looking forward to see how it matures. In my job I often have to provide punchy and interesting descriptions of the projects I run, this has helped me focus my writing, to make it tighter. I also have to be aware of the bigger picture and knowing how to plan things does come in useful.