Browsing "Book Reviews"
Nov 3, 2011 - Book Reviews    2 Comments

Book Review: The Crazy Old Lady in the Attic by Kathleen Valentine

NOTE: I do not accept books for review. Reviews posted here are only for indie books that I have bought, and enjoyed enough to tell others about them. No, I don’t post reviews for books I would rate less than 3.5 stars.

It’s been ages since I last reviewed a book, and I thought it was about time I got back into doing so. I found out about The Crazy Old Lady in the Attic from a thread on the Kindle Boards forum. The description really grabbed me, and I loved the fact that it was only 15k words long (I find these days I prefer shorter items, as that way I can read many more stories in the time I have). At 99c it was really a no-brainer purchase.

I’m glad I did.

The plot follows a woman, Mattie, who has inherited an old house in Boston after her grandmother’s death. Mattie and her husband move into the house to renovate it ready for sale, but Mattie begins to learn that the house holds a lot of dark secrets that she could never have dreamed of. Unable to stop her search for the truth, she soon learns of past events that will change her life forever.

The story is written in first person, present tense. Since most stories are usually written in past tense, this change was slightly disorientating for a few pages. But after the first few pages, it seemed perfectly natural and I found myself really getting into and enjoying the style.

(I know some people don’t like first person stories, but I’ve never had a problem with them).

The writing was clear, and I didn’t notice any errors as I was reading. The plot had a few nice twists and turns to it, some obvious, and some not-so-obvious. I managed to spot the main clues were actually clues, but I didn’t quite manage to put it all together until the final reveal. The pacing was good, and Kathleen did a fantastic job of building the story to it’s climax. I think most readers who like a more cerebral horror story (as opposed to a person/monster running around killing people) will really enjoy the final result.

I can’t find any fault with the story, so I give it a well-deserved 5 stars.

Feb 1, 2011 - Book Reviews    Comments Off on Book Review: Lessons II by Michael Crane

Book Review: Lessons II by Michael Crane

NOTE: I do not accept books for review. Reviews posted here are only for indie books that I have bought, and enjoyed enough to tell others about them. No, I don’t post reviews for books I would rate less than 3.5 stars.

I reviewed Michael’s first book of drabbles, Lessons and Other Morbid Drabbles, back in December. I became interested in writing drabbles (stories exactly 100 words long) after reading his book, and got so attached to them I’ll be publishing my own collection shortly!

Michael has since released a follow-up book to his first collection, Lessons II: Another Morbid Drabble Collection. It’s been out for a few weeks now, but I’ve only just had the chance to pick it up. So, how does the sequel compare to the first one?

Overall, it’s fantastic.

I must admit, I was a bit worried after I read the first few stories in his new book. They seemed “off” somehow, and not up to what the stories in his first collection were. But after the first few stories the quality seemed to really pick up, and I found myself both laughing and cringing as I read the rest of his stories.

Like his first collection, Michael has really shown great control with the stories. He takes full advantage of the 100 words, giving the reader enough of a hint so they can visualise what is happening, then delivering the twist punch at the end of the story. It takes skill to do that well, and he has it.

In this new collection, Michael also addressed a complaint that I didn’t want to admit I had with his first book. I’d felt 25 stories was a little short in the first book, but hadn’t commented on it in the review because the book was just a $1. Lessons II has 30 drabbles, and for some reason that feels “just right”. It also has a bonus drabble from David McAfee (originally published in his Devil Music collection), so you’re getting 31 drabbles for your money.

I have no complaints about this book – the first few stories were a little shaky but still good, and the rest were fantastic as always. I have to give the book a well-deserved 5 stars.

Jan 17, 2011 - Book Reviews    Comments Off on Book Review: Decisions by R. Doug Wicker

Book Review: Decisions by R. Doug Wicker

NOTE: I do not accept books for review. Reviews posted here are only for indie books that I have bought, and enjoyed enough to tell others about them.

I’m a big fan of murder mystery stories, but for some reason I’ve never read a lot of them. I’m not entirely sure why that is – I guess I tend to lean toward sci-fi, fantasy and urban fantasy as my first reading preference, which leaves little time to read other genres. But I saw a brief description about Decisions on the KindleBoards (the author was after help with the blurb he was using on Amazon), and I thought it sounded fascinating. A few clicks later, and it was mine.

I’m very glad I bought it.

To start with the positives, R. Doug Wicker weaves an interesting murder mystery. The writing is clear, I found the dialog to be interesting and well written, and the story moved at a good pace without getting bogged down too much. I enjoyed how the clues for the mystery were mentioned in passing without making a huge song and dance about them, allowing observant readers to spot them right away and people who missed them to go “oh yeah, I remember something being mentioned about that”. One thing I can’t stand is authors that deliberately keep clues from the reader to prolong the “mystery” – thankfully Decisions doesn’t do that.

I don’t know if long-time mystery readers would find the mystery obvious. I worked out a number of the elements, but didn’t manage to figure out how everything all fitted together before the start of the final reveal. I thought the mystery of the story was well constructed, and it didn’t leave me feeling like there were huge holes in how things had happened.

I do have a few niggles with the book however. The main character is not particularly likable early on. He has his moments, but he comes across as an asshole quite strongly at the start. On the plus side he gets much more likable as the story progresses, but there were still a few times I wished I could reach into the story and slap him around a bit for the way he was acting.

Another comment I’d have about the start of the story is the main character goes on and on about the physical appearance of several women, and how terrible his situation is (both his mental state, and “oh my god there are beautiful women interested in me”). It felt like a hurdle I had to get over before the story really got going, but thankfully once that was past everything moved along smoothly.

Despite these flaws, I think overall the book was superb and I’d happily recommend it to anyone who likes murder mysteries. I’d give it 4 and a half stars (docking half a star for the rough start), rounding up to 5 stars for Amazon.

Jan 10, 2011 - Book Reviews    Comments Off on Book Review: Dark and Darker by Ryne Douglas Pearson

Book Review: Dark and Darker by Ryne Douglas Pearson

NOTE: I do not accept books for review. Reviews posted here are only for indie books that I have bought, and that I enjoyed enough to tell others about them.

I can’t remember how I initially stumbled across Ryne Douglas Pearson’s books – I think it might have been a link to his web site on the Kindle Boards. Anyway, while looking at the list of books he had written on his site I saw Dark and Darker. I’ve become interested in short stories lately (since I’m writing a few myself 🙂 ), and the price was right (99c), so I grabbed a copy.

Dark and Darker is a collection of four horror short stories. From the description on the Amazon site:

Beholder… Two police officers step inside a suspect’s personal hell, and discover just how close they are to the real thing.

Creation… What is art? Derek Devine thinks he knows. But a visit from a dangerous stranger, who looks uncannily like a subject in one of Derek’s older paintings, leads the young artist to a place where the line between life and art seems not to exist at all.

The Key… Jason Riley’s wife was brutally murdered. When he comes across evidence that the police missed, he plans his own unique brand of justice for the killer.

Shark… A lawyer learns there are consequences to winning in court when he accepts a dinner invitation from the party he successfully sued.

Interestingly, the stories are in the order I enjoyed them the most.

Beholder was the only story with multiple viewpoints, and it really developed the two characters it followed well. It did something I personally like in a story – the viewpoints of the main character were “current”, but the viewpoints of the “villain” were initially set in the past, with each viewpoint progressing through his life to meet up with the current time frame. This style can annoy others, but I find it fascinating and it built the final reveal very well. A superbly written story.

Creation had a fantastic twist at the end, and then a slightly annoying double twist that I wasn’t totally sold on. It built up well, and the reveal of the first twist at the end was brilliant. Another well-written story.

The  last two stories were shorter than the first two. I liked them both, but not as much as the first two. The Key left the ending very open, while for Shark I wasn’t 100% sold on the premise or the characters. Both stories were still very good, but not my favourites.

Despite my reservations with the last two stories, I enjoyed reading the book. The writing was solid and engaging, the characters were strong (developing and changing in the first three stories), and most importantly I didn’t want to stop reading. Ryne is a very good writer, and I plan on reading more of his books in the future.

I rate Dark and Darker a well-deserved five stars.

Dec 13, 2010 - Book Reviews    Comments Off on Book Review: Lessons by Michael Crane

Book Review: Lessons by Michael Crane

NOTE: I do not accept books for review. Reviews posted here are only for indie books that I have bought, and that I enjoyed enough that I want to tell others about them.

I first heard about Lessons and Other Morbid Drabbles from a review Red Adept did on her blog. The concept of the book (stories written in 100 words or less, also known as a drabble) intrigued me. Thirty seconds later I had bought the book, and set about learning what a story of less than 100 words looks like.

As I discovered, you can actually tell a story in less than 100 words. Lessons has 25 such stories in it, all in the horror theme. The stories are punchy. Most of them give you the impression that the story is heading one way at the start, then hit you with an unexpected twist at the end. Obviously 100 words isn’t going to give you detailed backdrops and in-depth character creation. What it does give you is fun stories that are self-contained and quick to read.

And don’t think that because they are only 100 words long, Michael has just thrown these stories together. It’s obvious that he has given each of them a lot of thought, and taken care in his word selection to ensure he gets the maximum punch for the few words he has. You don’t have room to waffle when you only have 100 words – you need to get straight to the point, building the setup with a few choice words then going for the reveal. I was very impressed with how they were put together.

If I had a criticism about the book, it’s that not all the twists are unexpected – a few of the stories are obvious from the start in the way they are going to end. On the other hand, what’s obvious for one person might not be for another (and vice versa).

I hope Michael releases more drabble collections in the future, as I would love to read more of them!

Overall I give this book a solid 4 stars (out of 5).