Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Novella Review: Cat's Paw by Rustin Petrae

Cat's PawTo wrap up October's short and shortish book theme, there's no better way than to end with a ghost story.

I picked this one up on Amazon during one of its free days.  I'm a big fan of the author's Book One: Dragon and looking forward to the newly released Book Two: Roc, set in the world of Purga.  I won a copy of Book Two: Roc by answering a trivia question about Book One, but it is still on my to be read list.  I'm looking forward to it.

Cat's Paw wasn't exactly what I expected when I picked it up, but it was a good read.

Good and scary, enjoy!

Cat's Paw by Rustin Petrae
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A ghost story with a twist.

Tad is fifteen the year Vicki Campbell is murdered. Neighborhood parents are afraid, but Tad and his friends, while worried for Vikki, are more interested in breaking free of the extra restrictions imposed to keep them safe from an unknown predator. On the way to a pickup game the kids are organizing to break the monotony, Tad has his first run in with the cat.

While this story features a young boy as the main character, isn't a kid's story. The subject matter is scary, and both his experiences and the ultimate outcome are somewhat graphic. Also, the story seems to be told from the perspective of a fifteen year old, though the main character seems to be reflecting on a long-past memory. The language used is simplistic, and the dialog is filled with juvenile bravado and insults. Still, I enjoyed the quick read and the surprising, yet disturbing, twist.

Cat's Paw is a reasonably entertaining ghost story, though not for those who are easily disturbed or offended when the horrors are portrayed realistically and in detail.

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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Short Story Review: Stray (Feast, Stray, Love #2)

Feast, Stray, LoveThe author enjoyed my first review so he asked me to review #2 and #3 as well!  I always love hearing that my reviews are well received  and getting follow up review requests.  Plus, I like "collecting" an entire series in my reviews.  If you scroll back far enough in my blog (especially on Goodreads, which is where I started off), you'll find a few of my collections.  Some of them are still in progress.

Feast, Stray, Love by Kevin Anthony
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Funny follow up to Feast (Feast, Stray, Love #1).

Stray takes up a bit after the final showdown in Feast. The story is short, funny, and doesn't lose track of the original storyline. I thought it did for a while, but the threads were being laid to tie everything together. Damien has left Mayson for Port Rising, a cozy seaside town. Living and working at Dirty Betty's, a gay bar, and moonlighting at the local Church for Pastor Abram in gratitude for help when he first came to town, Damien finds himself living a double life.

My favorite character in this one is Sparkles, the owner of the gay bar. I can totally picture him in his evening gowns, or in his teddy bear pajamas. Although he seems silly at times, he as a person comes across as realistic. He's afraid for his bar and his staff, and acts desperately to save them. I also love that Ava pops up again. She is the jack of all trades from Feast, who pops up everywhere performing her latest "part-time." It's funny, but also intriguing. Why is she everywhere Damien goes?

Besides the characters, there is an underlying theme of being true to yourself, even when the mainstream thought is against you. Caleb, the pastor's son, is the primary vehicle of this message. Damien, who sees the good side of the pastor, is surprised to learn that his son was written off when he came out, but doesn't truly believe the pastor is all that bad, just a strict follower of his beliefs. Then he begins to learn more.

Another theme is one of moving on after loss. Damien is coming to terms with the loss of his boyfriend and is avoiding any romantic entanglements, a difficult proposition when the handsome Detective Jaxom rolls into town on a basketball trip. Sparkles says go for it, but Damien feels it would be a betrayal to Ben.

I noticed much less cursing than in Feast, which I felt was good. The sexual situations are relatively tame, but they do focus on m-m relationships. Personally, I don't mind that, but it's worth note. If the reader is uncomfortable with such things, this is not the book for them. I also noticed an improvement in the execution of the dialog, making it seem more natural and easier to picture what's happening while the characters are talking.

As for things I didn't like, I found a couple of places where I felt like something changed in the matrix (pardon the pun). The people would be talking, then something would be said that I thought had already been said. I'd flip back and it wouldn't be exact, but it would be close enough to throw me off. It wasn't too bad, but it was confusing when it happened. I also noticed a few minor errors in grammar such as using a singular verb for a plural noun.

Overall, I really liked this one. It's primarily funny, with underlying themes of social acceptance, dealing with loss, and learning to be oneself. Plus, the creepy Factory is still in play, though not quite as much as in the first, so it has the horror component going for it. I'd recommend this to people who enjoy humorous and scary stories and who either prefer or don't mind the portrayal of m-m romantic relationships.

I picked up a free copy of Stray during a promotion on Smashwords after completing an author-requested review for Feast. When the author requested a review for Stray, I had already added it to my TBR list.

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Monday, October 28, 2013

Short Story Review: Feast (Feast, Stray, Love #1) by Kevin Anthony

FeastI picked up this book during a free promo day on Amazon after the author requested a review for it.  As horror and m-m fiction, it's not in a genre I typically read, but sometimes a story will surprise me. As far as the theme goes, this one comes just in time for Halloween, but this story is meant for a mature audience.

Feast by Kevin Anthony
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A dish of humor served with a side of gore. Short, creepy, creative...

Feast is the first in the Feast, Stray, Love short story trilogy. The story begins with Damien being rescued by his teacher after passing out and causing a massive fire at the local college. Upon waking in the hospital, he learns he has a brain tumor, and his doctor performs the surgery to remove it. Unfortunately for Damien, his doctor is a bit of a quack and scrambles a few things up while working on him. Luckily, Damien's mother and boyfriend are there to support him through his recovery, but the extra job his boyfriend picks up to help cover expenses soon leads to unexpected complications in their relationship, and his doctor's shoddy operating techniques lead to complications of their own.

First off, I must say I don't frequently read stories specifically focused on men in romantic relationships with each other. That being said, I found the relationship believable and, for the most part, tastefully done. There are some sexual situations, but none are too explicit and the focus seems to be more on the emotional relationship, which is an approach I tend to like in a story. However, I would classify this book as horror, rather than romance.

The true focus of the plot is the doctor's mess of a job on Damien's brain and the creepy factory outside of town that subverts his boyfriend and later threatens his mom. People enter the factory, never to return. Those who land jobs there either disappear or leave their families to stay at the factory, and strange shipments arrive frequently. Besides that, the question is, what exactly does the factory do? The dodgy answers Damien gets from his boyfriend and later from a detective leave much to be discovered in later books in the series. Adding to the horror aspect of the story are the relationships. The author builds a highly admirable and likeable boyfriend, who the main character loves deeply, and then puts him in harm's way. He does the same with Damien's mother, building her up into someone the reader likes, and then showing her becoming a bit too enamored of an ironically named self-help book, "Feast, Stray, Love."

As for the vastly unqualified doctor in the story, I'm not certain the details or credentials surrounding him or his work on Damien are exactly believable, but his bedside manner is humorously atrocious, and his less than stellar operating skills are responsible for Damien's subtle transformation throughout the book. Again, is it believable? Not really, but it is entertaining. A good bit of the humor in the book stems from this crazy, irreverent doctor and the reactions of those around him.

Besides the romantic angle, the plot, and the crazy doctor, which I enjoyed and led me to like the story overall, there are a few things that kept me from loving it: one, grammatical issues, primarily the punctuation of the dialog; two, the frequent use of the F-word, not a surprise since it's also used in the book description; and three, various plot points for which I had to hit my "I believe" button. The dialog and other minor grammatical issues might detract from the story for those who find that sort of thing annoying, but could be fixed in a future edition. The F-word usage bugs me, but I think it fits into the story and the style of the writing, totally a personal preference type thing. The things that were vague could be due to the constraints of writing a short story, namely details are often cut to keep the story short. However, some of the details and situations presented are hard to imagine in a real setting, but are portrayed as being normal or realistic, which made some of the fictional aspects of the story less believable.

Overall, I liked Feast. It's a good, short book with a bit of humor and romance and a whole lot of mystery and creepiness factor, good for a horror story. The romantic relationship between Damien and his boyfriend isn't too explicit, focusing more on their relationship, but I would caution that it is aimed at mature readers. I'd recommend this story to those who like the horror genre, want a quick read, and either prefer or aren't bothered by books that feature a male-male romance.

I picked up a copy of this book from Amazon during a free promo day after the author requested a review.

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Saturday, October 26, 2013

Novella Review: Flute of the Wind Queen by Eisah

Flute of the Wind Queen (Outlander Leander: vol.1)And now for something a little different. Today's contribution to my short or shortish book theme is Flute of the Wind Queen.

I picked up this novella in a book review club on Goodreads where I received a free copy of the ebook in exchange for a review.

It caught my eye because of the worried looking guy with the big ears on the cover, but I didn't expect to find pictures inside. Not just one or two pictures, but several, meaningful and relevant full page illustrations fill the book. I thought it was a nice touch, and in this case, nicely done.

Later, when I went to post the review on Amazon, I found this funny author profile picture and write up for Eisah. I always enjoy finding gems like this.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Short Story Review: The Story of Hennelie Hamster RUNNING WILD at Christmas Time on a Farm in Zimbabwe by Nikki Ziehl

And now for a little bit of inspiration.  Today's feature is a short story featuring the brave Hennelie Hamster.

For a short story, this one has quite a long title, but it lets you know what you're in for.  It tells you who the main character is, what she's doing, when she's doing it and where she is when she's doing it.  Plus, it fits together nicely on the cover, which makes me smile every time I see it.

I came across the link and intro to this story on the CreateSpace message boards near the end of last year before I really got into writing reviews.  In fact, when I looked at the review I had for this one, I decided it was way too skimpy: just two sentences and a corny thank you to the author.  So, here is my revamped review for The Story of Hennelie Hamster Running Wild at Christmas Time on a Farm in Zimbabwe.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Short Story Review: The Awful Tale of the Minnesota Diarrhea Ghost by Rish Outfield

The Awful Tale of the Minnesota Diarrhea GhostThe Awful Tale of the Minnesota Diarrhea Ghost by Rish Outfield
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Silly little story where grandpa tells his two grandsons all about the origins of the diarrhea ghost. I found it to be funny, and it left a smile on my face. Can you imagine? A ghost whose presence gives you diarrhea.

I bet the Ghost Hunters wouldn't want to take on that one.


Looks like it's perpetually free on Smashwords. Worth picking up for those who like an incredibly short, humorous read.

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Pick up your own copy at Smashwords.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Short Story Collection Review: Working for Heat by Donavan Sotam

Working for HeatToday's offering for this month's theme of short and shortish books is Working for Heat, a collection of three short stories set in the office.

When the author asked me to review his book, he mentioned it was a satire. I'd like to say I knew exactly what he meant, but instead I had only a vague sense of the word. To ensure I knew how to treat this review, I dusted off my memories from high school English class and then did a few searches on Google just to be sure. In case you're a bit rusty like I was, satire is poking fun at a human folly through wit, irony or derision.

As for the title, the author explains it as working to no purpose.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Short Story Review: Rikki-Tikki-Tavi by Rudyard Kipling

Rikki-Tikki-Tavi by Rudyard Kipling
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This classic tale, featured originally in The Jungle Book, tells of the brave battle of Rikki-Tikki the mongoose against the deadly cobras, Nag and Nagaina.  Rikki-Tikki is swept away from his family by a flood and finds himself a most welcome guest of a human family.

I remember reading this once in school, though I can't remember exactly when, and I was happy to come across it for free on Amazon. It's actually quite an exciting tale, though perhaps a little scary.  The snakes, Nag and Nagaina, are sinister and plot the death of the entire family in the big house, hoping that Rikki-Tikki would then move on. But luckily their plot is discovered, and the mongoose defends his adoptive family with every fiber of his being.

The characters are varied and are each entertaining in their own right.  I love the idiotic Tailorbird, Danzee.  He weeps, sings, and celebrates in turn, without any regard to consequence, mostly because of his short attention span. The little fearful musk-rat, who runs along the walls, but never to the center of the room, is also amusing.  His role as informant is important to winning the battle, but mostly because he's afraid he'll be mistaken for the mongoose.

But mostly, I love Rikki-Tikki himself.  Too curious to be afraid and fiercely protective of the young family and the creatures of the yard, he is an admirable hero.  Brave and funny, and believable, too. When he's not busy saving the day, he scampers around on the breakfast table, perches on the little boy's shoulder, and otherwise endears himself to both the family and the reader.

I also like the poem at the beginning and Danzee's song at the end, cut short because Danzee himself was interupted in the singing by Rikki-Tikki.

Overall, a short, but powerful story of triumph, bravery, and danger. I recommend this one to anyone who likes rooting for the underdog and those who enjoy animal characters.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Novella Review: Annie Banner, Wedding Planner by T.G. Davis

Annie Banner, Wedding PlannerMy month of short and shortish stories continues with Annie Banner, Wedding Planner, what the author calls a cozy mystery.  I didn't know what a cozy mystery was going in, but I think it means a quick mystery you can cozy up to. 

Anyway, this is another one of those stories that the author offered to me in exchange for a review.  But unlike The Tales of Arva (previous post), this one didn't fall into one of the genres I usually read.  However, I took it as an opportunity to broaden my horizons and agreed to do the review anyway.

I've since discovered that this is just the first of many Annie Banner, Wedding Planner cozy mysteries.  The author plans to publish them quite frequently.  As such, I've included a link to the author's Amazon page at the end of this post, so those who are interested can sign up to receive notifications when new ones are released.

Annie Banner, Wedding Planner by T.G. Davis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Annie Banner and her mom, Dana, run a successful wedding planner business. But this time, a routine visit takes strange turn and the duo find themselves in the middle of a mystery.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Short Story Collection Review: Tales from Arva: Volume 1 by Kevis Hendrickson

Tales from Arva: Volume 1As part of my month long theme of short and shortish stories, todays' feature is Tales from Arva, a collection of poetry, parables, legends and myths set in the same fantasy world.  This common location was the only thing these stories shared.  Each one was completely unique.

The author offered me a free copy of this book in return for a review after seeing that I both like fantasy books and like writing reviews about them. 

After I wrote my review, I discovered that some of the stories contained in this collection are also available as individual short stories.  I ended up posting a bonus review of The Tale of Liril with that story because it was my favorite of the bunch.

Tales from Arva: Volume 1 by Kevis Hendrickson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Parables, legends and myths, both bittersweet and tragic...

I liked Tales of Arva, though I must say I enjoyed some of the tales more than others. Since each one is unique, I'll address each tale separately.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Short Story Collection Review: Shakespeare for Cats by DE James

Today, as part of my month long theme of short and shortish stories, I am featuring Shakespeare for Cats.  I came across this on Amazon when I was scouting for freebees and thought I could use a little sophistication on my book shelf.  Plus, the little cat on the cover looked cute.  This book surprised me because when I got it, I didn't realize it was a collection of short stories.  Besides that, I found the way the stories tied together to be an interesting approach.

Shakespeare for Cats by DE James
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Cute, quick, and amusing.

Shakespeare for Cats is made up of a bunch of short stories, featuring the furry, hoofed, feathered and even two legged denizens of an aging neighborhood.

The characters are each unique and well-developed, and though they may not try to be, they are humorous in their interactions and their life views. My favorite, and a great example, is Fav the opossum. He organizes a gang of house mice on raids, ambushes and intelligence missions, and even makes an attempt to bribe a guard parrot into looking the other way for a cut of the take.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Forgotten Valor (Shadows of Valor #2) Cover Reveal and Release Date

Woot, woot! 

My third book, Forgotten Valor (Shadows of Valor #2), is set up for pre-order on Smashwords and is scheduled to be released on November 20.  This is something new on Smashwords, which I think is fantastic. 

Forgotten Valor (Shadows of Valor #2)
Forgotten Valor by Patricia Hamill

Check out my sample here at Smashwords and then keep an eye out on Kobo, Apple or B&N if you'd like to pre-order.

So excited! I'll keep you all posted.

I will coordinate the print and kindle release on Amazon so they will also go live on November 20, but the book will only be available for preorders at Kobo, Apple and B&N.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Novella Review: Santa Claus vs the Aliens by James Cardona

santa claus vs the aliensToday's feature short or shortish book is Santa Claus vs the Aliens.  This one was good timing because the author sent me a review request for two of his books just before I decided on my theme for October.  I picked this one because it looked funny (I like funny) and because it was a novella and fit into my plans.

As a bonus, this story is free today on Amazon (last day), so if you like what you see here, pick up a copy!

santa claus vs the aliens by James Cardona
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Love it. The right mix of humor, danger and whimsy...

Santa Claus vs. the Aliens follows young Edwin Cardona on an unexpected adventure in New York City. Edwin, the son of Puerto Rican emigrants, lives in a children's home where his father left him temporarily while he got on his feet. In a moment of frustration, Edwin throws away his father's most cherished possession, a gaudy ring with a face that looks like Santa. The story begins with Edwin setting out from the children's home on a quest to retrieve the lost ring and ramps up from there into a surprisingly riveting urban adventure featuring aliens, Santa and personal growth.

Set in the Great Depression era, the historical details in this story are both fascinating and accurately portrayed. I didn't get all of the song references, favorites of the time, but the rest is interesting. That young Edwin lives in a children's home and prefers it to his father's family is an interesting setup, made all the more so because Edwin, his father and the family are all real people, relatives of the author. In fact, I've confirmed it with the author; everything besides the obviously fictional parts (aliens, Santa, etc.) actually happened as told in the story.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Short Story Review: Hexes and Tooth Decay by Nancy Fulda

Hexes and Tooth Decay: A Short StoryAs part of my month long theme of short and shortish stories, I figured I'd start with one of the shortest ones I've read in recent memory, Hexes and Tooth Decay: A Short Story.  I came across this one for free on Amazon one day and it sat on my to be read shelf for several months before I finally said, "Hey, what's this!" 

I opened it up during a commercial break (because, of course, that's when I do my best reading), and by the time the break was over, I was done with it.  But, I must say, even though it has to have been the shortest ebook I've ever seen, I was not disappointed.  I was, however, concerned that my review would be longer than the story...

Hexes and Tooth Decay: A Short Story by Nancy Fulda

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Funny and worth a read.

This one literally took me about two minutes to read, but it had me laughing and smiling. It's a clever take on the origins of a certain mystical being much loved by elementary school children.

I can say that it is rare for me to rate a short story with five stars, but this one deserves it. The plot is well developed, the characters (three of them, it is a short after all) vivid and strange, and the parting shot at the end is fantastic.

A winner for adults and kids (I'd say middle-schoolers), though adults should read it first before passing it along.

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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

October Theme: Short and Shortish Books!

If you've been following my blog for long, you may have already guessed I tend towards the more massive offerings. This month I'll be doing something a bit different.  The focus will be entirely on short and shortish books: novellas, short stories, short story collections, etc.

For authors, short stories of various lengths provide a great way to practice writing, to get your work and your name out there, and to build a volume of work in a rather short period of time.  They're also great for getting recognized in competitions, such as those available on Writer's Digest.

For readers, short stories provide a glimpse into another world, a quick escape, and an introduction to an author's style.  They also make great bedtime stories, even for adults, and yes, some of the stories I'll feature this month are definitely not something you'd read to a kid.

To kick off my month of shorts, let's run through what makes a short story a short story.