Author Archives: Awesome Indies Book Awards

Not Without Risk

Not Without Risk
Author:
Publisher:
Published: November 10, 2017
Author's Twitter: @PeterTrewin
When Martin Bennett, the backroom brains in a regeneration company charged with bringing back Merseyside’s former prosperity, sees an ex-friend murdered on a hospital escalator and discovers that the body was too hastily cremated, he feels compelled to investigate.   In order to discover the truth about the murder, he must navigate the Merseyside underworld peopled by bent solicitors and coppers, corrupt politicians and violent thugs. He forms an alliance with the mayor’s right hand woman, who is out of favour with her corrupt boss, and uncovers not only the surprising story behind the murder but also a conspiracy to carve up Merseyside’s green belt.   The journey will not be without risk. For both of them.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spiderworld

Spiderworld
Publisher:
Published: June 15, 2015
Author's Twitter: @RichardBunning
Not even the time-lord, Orlando Oversight, knows everything. But speculation can turn into a real future, and the Lush Star system, where spider-like beings treat humans as we do animals, isn't so very far in the future. Do Jack Baker, the self-styled 'Spartacus', and his followers have a chance to become more than meat and slaves? Will Athalie have the life she hopes for with her hero? And will the 'spider' Boklung hold his business together while funding and organising the Arcraft's voyage across the Milky Way? Spiderworld is another of Richard Bunning’s quirky, speculative, science fictions. Other sentient life forms are out there, planning their own strategies for survival. Other sentient species also run short of space and time.

The Awesome Indies Seal of Excellence for Outstanding Independent Literature has been awarded to Spiderworld by Richard Bunning! Read a brand new review of Spiderworld below!

In Spiderworld, a quirky sci-fi novel by Richard Bunning, Orlando Oversight, a time-lord, space historian, and adventurer, using Bunning as a vehicle, tells us of a future that is yet to happen. In Orlando’s version of the future, Earth has been invaded by an octopedal species, the Aranian ungolian, who have transported most of the planet’s humans to their home planet as slaves—and a food supply.

Through the author, Orlando tells how an escaped breeding yeng, which is the Aranian word for the human slaves, Jack Baker, manages to maintain his freedom against the physically superior spiders. Central to the story is Bokung, an Aranian slave breeder, who is maneuvering to get a special project launched, a project that has the potential to change the destinies of homo sapien and octoped alike.

The author does a masterful job of describing an eerie alien environment in which humans must struggle against aliens and each other. As fanciful as it is, it also paints a fairly accurate picture of what happens when a relatively unsophisticated race encounters a technologically advanced group.

Spiderworld has a bit of everything: religion, slavery, romance, greed, and advanced technology, along with the interpersonal and social dynamics that exists between different groups. Despite some gory descriptions of Aranian eating habits, it also has a touch of humor, so you have here a story that should appeal to a broad range of reading tastes. That’s shorthand for, you’ll like this book.

 

 

Little Rabbit

Little Rabbit
Published: May 19, 2016
Absinthe and drugs at a vampire wake. Tensions are running high at the Winslow house party, and as the past is dragged out into the night, accusations begin to draw venom. The vampire marshals are already in town. Drawn by the scent of suspicious deaths and asking uncomfortable questions. Which means Eloise Winslow has to walk a dangerous line. One where she works to act like everything is normal while she covers up the brutal murder she has just committed.

4 Stars

This is an intriguing story, with a strong plot and compelling characters. It revolves around Eloise Winslow, a vampire who has lived in America since colonial times when she, her sisters and their friend Crow were ‘turned’ on Dark Day. Imprisoned in a silver mine for murdering her sister, Tabitha, Eloise is given a chance for early release if she will provide the details of the crime, and agree to work with the Vampire Marshals.

Little Rabbit by Barb Ettridge is a slightly different take on the vampire story. Part fantasy-thriller, part mystery, and part romance, it shows the ‘human’ side of vampires—human weaknesses in a near-immortal shell.

The way the story starts with Crow, a Vampire Marshal, offering Eloise release more than seventy years before completion of her sentence, if only she’ll provide details surrounding her murder of Tabitha, her older sister—also a vampire. In addition, she must agree to work with the marshals after her release. This forces Eloise to come to grips with things in her past she would rather forget—if only she could.

The first chapter shows Eloise’s reluctance to dig up the pain of the past, but she chafes about being held by the power of the silver in the mine to sap her strength. The narrative then transitions immediately to the events leading up to her sister’s demise, and this is where the real strength of the story lies. The author does a fantastic job of letting the speech and actions of characters show us their motivations. By the middle section of the book, the reader feels—at least this reader did—an intimate association with Eloise, and in-depth understanding of the characters who revolve around her.

Told entirely from Eloise’s point of view, the suspense is electric as Crow comes closer to solving Tabitha’s murder. Crow’s love for Eloise is also clear, as is her affection for him, leaving the reader to wonder until very near the end if Crow will be able to fulfil his duty. Even though the opening chapter makes it clear that Eloise was caught and punished, we do not know the agency of that punishment until near the end.

The setting was probably the weakest part of the story. We know where we are, a small town in New England, not far from Boston. But, other than knowing the approximate date when Eloise and the others were ‘turned’ to vampires, we can’t be sure when the events in the story take place. There are some popular culture references that hint at late twentieth century, but it’s never made clear. The geographical setting, descriptions of the town and its environs, is great, and adds to the dark tone of the story.

A great job of showing rather than telling. The British (or Australian) spellings and grammar stick out, especially as the story is set in America, which wouldn’t be an issue if it had been set in colonial times, when one can assume that colonial Americans still retained English forms, but it was a bit unsettling at the outset. The story is so compelling, though, that by the one-third mark, I no longer paid spelling or unique non-US constructions much mind.

I give this book a solid four stars.

 

The Adventures of Gracie & Monkeybear, Book 1: Summer

The Adventures of Gracie & Monkeybear, Book 1: Summer
Gracie & MonkeyBear is told through the actions and conversations between a brilliant young girl and her partner in adventure, the most celebrated canine inventor the world has ever seen MonkeyBear! The pace is that of children, hopping and bouncing from one creative thought to the next, one adventure to another. This is not a traditional children's book, it is a storyworld meant to be read and experienced together, parent and child, veteran bookworms with new readers. At its core, The Adventures of Gracie & MonkeyBear embodies the concepts of relentless curiosity, untethered imagination, power of diverse friendships and experiences (like the world around us), heroic acts of kindness based on strength of character and most of all, the belief that all living things are connected and should be treated with love, compassion, and respect.

Assessed 

5 Stars

The Adventures of Gracie & Monkeybear, Book 1: Summer is a fantastic children’s book just in time for the holidays – packed with wonderful illustrations, a fun adventure and an important message about helping others. The titular Gracie is a young girl with an active imagination who goes on a journey with her faithful dog, Monkeybear. Their quest takes them on an archaeological expedition, to meet a friend from outer space and finally to the depths of the ocean. Along the way, Gracie and Monkeybear help out a tyrannosaurus, an alien and a whale who are all having bad days. The theme of helping those in need is prevalent through out, and Gracie and Monkeybear serve as kind and unselfish role models who show that you can make friends with anyone, regardless of your differences. The theme that you can do anything if you put your mind to it is also prevalent throughout.
The illustrations are beautiful with lots of little details and it’s clear the artist put a lot of love into the aesthetic piece of the book. The bright colors of Gracie’s imagined world are engaging and attention-grabbing when contrasted with the browns of “normal” reality, which are mostly relegated to the background. The story is easy to follow, and parents looking to grow their child’s vocabulary will find some good ones in here. While adventurous girls who like to play outside might be the most obvious audience, there is something that every kid should enjoy in here. If you’re looking for a well-written and wonderfully-illustrated book for a child in your life this holiday season, The Adventures of Gracie & Monkeybear is a real winner.

Now That We’re Adults

Now That We’re Adults
Published: September 6, 2016
Author's Twitter: @PlaidCoreLynn
A group of geeky 20-somethings in Scranton, PA, struggle to form post-college identities without alienating each other in the process. When happy-go-lucky Wade is dumped by his longtime girlfriend, he’s left to wonder whether she might have a point about his lack of ambition. Needing a distraction from the heartbreak, he begins programming a video game, which soon becomes a passion project as he strives to prove he can follow through on his own. Meanwhile, his brother Ian barely has time for games now that he’s overloaded at work and struggling to connect with pregnant wife Kat, who’s starting to doubt whether she wants a baby at all. In fact, without the shared experience of college, their entire friend group is splintering. Needing his friends more than ever, Wade becomes obsessed with turning back the hands of time. But with everyone’s hopes and expectations so tangled up, it might take an outsider—someone like painfully shy librarian Eleanor—to provide some much-needed perspective. That is, if she could get out of her head long enough to risk making a connection.

Assessed  

5 Stars

Now That We’re Adults is a beautifully crafted book that will affect different readers in different ways. For some, this will be a book about a time that has passed you by, before the complexities of adult life fully took over. For others, it will be a tale of the inevitable – a glimpse into a period of life that is different for everyone, but always has the result of shaping us into the people we will be. Even much older people who haven’t been in their twenties for decades will find that while the scenery changes, the nature of people doesn’t. This is a book about ups and downs, and the minor and major tragedies that unfold as the result of the decisions we make. Whether the reader is looking at the book with the benefit of hindsight or as a cautionary tale of the future, the story that unfolds is one that will evoke a number of emotions and culminates in an ending that will leave you satisfied.
The characters in Now That We’re Adults are well-written and convincing twenty-somethings. Wade is a childish lover of video games who feels the sting of first love lost and must mature as a person to heal and move on. Eleanor is stuck in the past, and has self-esteem issues which prevent her from finding happiness. Ian and Kat are well-intentioned newlyweds who, like most young married couples, are confronted with the burdens of adulthood sooner rather than later. A lot of their conflict arrises when they have their first child, and each find themselves less-enamored with their role in the new family than either had anticipated. What follows for each character is a tale of growth and compromise, and without giving away too much of the book, the endings will resonate with many people who have witnessed or are in similar situations as authentic. This a down-to-earth presentation that doesn’t shy away from the most uncomfortable of emotions, and the author has a gift for depicting guilt, grief, melancholy and listlessness. That isn’t to say that the book is all maudlin, and each character’s arc reaches a satisfying conclusion.
The dialogue is snappy and realistic, and the author does a good job of making interactions and events seem organic. The book’s structure alternates focus on members of the main cast, but it isn’t guilty of head-hopping and the character focused on is clearly depicted at the beginning of each chapter. The stories interweave at points, and having the characters play off one another is a particularly enjoyable aspect of the book. Readers of all ages will find something to like in this book, although obviously the closer to twenty you are, the more the story will resonate. I give Now That We’re Adults 5 stars and recommend it for inclusion in Awesome Indies.

The Jinn’s Jest

The Jinn’s Jest
Category:
Published: February 23, 2017
Author's Twitter: @Gwen_fntsy_writ
It is the 14th century and Grenada is again under threat thrusting thirteen year old Sultana Ara and her cousin Layla again into danger. As Ara and Layla sail down the Grenadian coast to raise tribute for the Castilians, a magical and mischievous Jinn appears to cause trouble. And worse, a young, arrogant Venetian boy, Tomas, is aboard their ship. The Jinn issues a mathematic challenge to the young people; the stakes are high and none can afford to lose. Ara and her friends must use all their skill to protect themselves and Grenada, but will it be enough to defeat a Jinn? And what happens to the Jinn if he loses?

Approved  

4 Stars

Ara is the daughter of Sultan Mohammed the Sixth, ruler of Granada. A willful girl, she chafes under the restriction placed upon a Muslim girl in the society of the time, especially those applying to the daughter of a ruler. When a series of misfortunes—which Ara suspects are caused by magic—plagues Granada’s trade, and exposes it to possible invasion by its greedy neighbors, Ara and her cousin, Layla, are sent to Africa on a trade mission to reverse the kingdom’s fortunes. Fatima, the sultan’s elder wife, is sent along as chaperone, and they are joined by Tahirah, a Sufi mathemagician, and Suleiman, the court’s senior eunuch. Thomas, the son of an Italian trader, is also sent with them. Thomas, like Ara, has seen the magic, which they learn is coming from a young jinn, who has passed from his realm to the realm of the humans, and for unknown reasons is creating havoc.

The story unfolds as they journey from Granada, with a series of mishaps, magical and mercenary, and Ara, with the help of Tahirah, Layla, and Thomas, confront the jinn. In the process, each learns about themselves and the power of magic, and are transformed, to emerge whole at the end, as they confront the awesome power of the efrit jinni.

The plot is well laid out, with seemingly unrelated events tied together at the end. Readers who have enjoyed The Arabian Nights or The Adventures of Aladdin will find a number of implicit references in this story, and will be pulled into the narrative as it unfolds. The characters are all well developed, and their growth as the story progresses is logical and well-explained.

The book was fairly well edited, with only a minimal number of typos or formatting issues in the electronic version.

I give this book four stars.

The Ahe’ey Series

The Ahe’ey Series
Author:
Published: March 8, 2017
Author's Twitter: @JamieLeFay
Thirty-four-year-old Morgan is a dreamer, change maker and art lover. She is a feisty, slightly preachy, romantic feminist full of contradictions and insecurities. Morgan uncovers a world where women have the power, and where magic is no longer just a figment of her wild imagination. Sounds like a dream, but it may, in fact, turn into a nightmare. The world of the Ahe'ey challenges and subverts her views about gender, genes, and nature versus nurture. The strong and uninvited chemistry between her and the dashing Gabriel makes matters even more complicated. His stunning looks keep short-circuiting her rational mind.

4 Stars

 

The Ahe’ey Series by Jamie Le Fay is a tale of paranormal romance that takes the reader on a fantastical journey while encompassing the narrative in subject matter heavily anchored in our own political reality. This is a book (series of episodes) with something for everyone, and many readers will be able to comfortably find a home here. There is a special attention paid to feminist ideals that this reader thinks will resonate most powerfully with younger female readers, but readers of other demographics should not be turned off by this, as the adventure that unfolds is chock full of suspense, allure and strong characters that attend to heroic quests while simultaneously tackling real human issues.

Readers should be aware that throughout the majority of the story, the narrative is very much in flux. This is a book that reflects the current political landscape, and as such the characters, motives, and landscape can change seemingly instantaneously. Fortunately, the driving idea does not change, and this results in a book that powerfully reflects one author’s view of modern soceity – albeit through the lens of fantasy. Morgan, the main character, is a foil of herself, and full of all the conflict that makes great heroes. While she is well-drawn and interesting, some of the secondary characters can fall into stereotypical roles. As this book can be viewed as political commentary, this doesn’t take away from the intent, but could draw the reader’s attention away from Morgan’s journey.

The world that Le Fay crafts is intriguing and desirable, but like any envisioned utopia has sustainability issues. The author doesn’t shy away from discussing complex matters, and dedicated readers will be rewarded with an entertaining story that also sends a message. This book isn’t for everyone, but I think most readers will be able to get into the story, and at the very least learn something, from giving The Ahe’ey Series a shot. I give the collected series 4 Stars.

 

Curse Breaker

Curse Breaker
Author:
Published: December 1, 2016
She'll risk her life to break his curse but revealing the truth could be far more dangerous. In high school, a friend’s mother blames Grayson Steele for the tragic death of her daughter. Now, years later, Grayson is wealthy and successful, but on the brink of suicide. Because the women he loves are dying. And he can’t stop it. Knowing about Grayson’s circumstances, Gillian Fletcher derives a plan. Catch the killer who’s making Grayson Steele’s life a living hell. But there’s only one way to do it. She has to be the bait. As Grayson and Gillian’s plan takes shape, they must not only expose a killer, but also their feelings for each other. The further they go, the more secrets they will reveal. Secrets that will illuminate not just a murderer, but shocking truths that neither may be prepared to face. Truths that will change their future forever.

Approved 

October 25, 2017

5 Stars

 

Curse Breaker by J.T. Bishop is an enjoyable paranormal suspense novel with a romantic angle. The book itself is the fourth in the Red Line series, but I found the book entertaining and easily followable without having read the previous three. The main character, Grayson Steele, seems to be affected by a curse which leads to the death of any woman he loves or falls for. This, of course, has a severe effect on his mental stability and well-being, and even causes him to become suicidal. Before things can get worse for Grayson, a woman named Gillian Fletcher enters his life to help solve the mystery and a romantic entanglement in which both parties are constantly in danger ensues.

The characters of Grayson and Gillian are well fleshed-out, and the secondary characters are also well-written. There are some instances where the dialogue can seem a little unnatural, and the book does have some minor pacing issues, but nothing that took me out of the story. While the action takes a little while to get started, once it does it ramps up quickly and by the end the reader will be absolutely enthralled. It would be impossible to discuss the ending of the book without giving away too much, but I can guarantee that readers who pick this up and make it through will be rewarded with a number of surprising and satisfying twists and turns and an ending that they won’t soon forget.

The author does a masterful job of leading (and misleading) the reader on an incredible adventure that deals with the supernatural while remaining firmly rooted in our reality. Fans of the Red Line series will surely be happy to spend more time in the world that J.T. Bishop has created, and readers new to the series will find a lot to like in this book (and it makes a fine entry point to the series, as the author mentions it can be read before or after the original trilogy). As mentioned, there are some minor hiccups with the seeming naturalness of some of the dialogue and the pace during the exposition, but I felt that neither of these criticisms warranted the deduction of a full star. I give Curse Breaker by J.T. Bishop 4.5 Stars, rounded up to 5.

Among The Branded

Among The Branded
Published: May 2, 2017
Author's Twitter: @lindasmolkin
What if a 70-year-old letter from World War II changed the course of your life? While attending Valor of the ’40s, art director Stephanie Britain stumbles upon a flea market selling letters from the war. She buys a handful, hoping they’ll inspire the redesign for a client’s website at her branding and design firm. At first, she’s drawn by the lost art of penmanship, but soon discovers a hidden treasure nestled inside declarations of love from homesick soldiers. Stephanie enlists a coworker to translate one and realizes it’s not a love letter after all. When a shocking discovery about a client causes Stephanie to question her principles and dedication to her firm’s business, she’s forced to make a difficult decision—one that could give her peace of mind, yet ruin her career in the process. Contemporary fiction with a historical touch, AMONG THE BRANDED explores family life, an unexpected friendship, and moral conflicts that make us wonder what’s more important: our livelihood or our beliefs.      

Approved 

5 Stars

Among the Branded by Linda Smolkin is a contemporary fiction that reminds us that we might be done with the past, but the past isn’t done with us. The main character, Stephanie, attends a World War II event (Valor of the ’40s) with her family and purchases a bundle of authentic war letters which she at first believes to be romantic in nature. Her goal is to use them as part of an ancestry website she is building for work, but quickly finds out that the letters are not what they seem. What follows is a thought-provoking journey to reconcile the past with the present, as Stephanie befriends Izzy, a man whose connection to the letters will change both of their lives forever. The book is well-researched, and the historical elements compliment the contemporary setting without getting too bogged down in the details.
The book reads easily and is well-edited, and the supporting cast of characters are interesting and believable. The novel has a steady pace, and I found myself able to get through most long passages comfortably. The story of Steph and Izzy will keep the reader engaged throughout, and without giving away too much, the story reaches a satisfactory conclusion while delivering a clear message. This work allows the reader to view the horrors of war through a modern lens, while attempting to bridge the past and present in a way that is easily approachable. In this way, Among the Branded definitely succeeds.
If there is any criticism to be made about the book it probably lays with the dialogue. There is a lot of dialogue in the book, and characters will often spend entire chapters having just one conversation. This is fine for most of the novel, but there are also a few scenes where it drags on for too long, only to have the conversation end with non-satisfactory conclusion or a cliche. I didn’t think that these few instances were enough to warrant a full-star being deducted, but it was something that was noticeable. If you can be patient through these longer conversations, though, Among the Branded offers something for everyone, and is a book I think most readers will appreciate. I give it 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5.