Seal of Excellence Recipients

Super Nobody

Super Nobody
Michael is just an ordinary, average, normal, every day middle schooler in the perfect town of Lincolnshire, a town that happens to have more superheroes per square mile than anywhere else on the planet. What could possibly go wrong, surrounded by so many people capable of destroying the town with a snap of their fingers?

Reviewed by Tahlia Newland.

November 28, 2013

5 Stars

 

It Was Clear From The First Sentence

It was clear from the first sentence of this book that the author knows what he’s doing. Super Nobody grabs your attention straight away and holds you there in a fast moving action packed story about super villains, superheroes and a not-super reluctant teenage hero. There’s a few YA superhero books about, but this one has a particularly real central character who isn’t so super and not such a hero, at least to begin with.

The story begins with Michael being bullied. It seems a normal enough situation, but things soon start turning very strange. Kids are turning into Actives, the name for super beings, and soon everything goes pear-shape. Michael may be a nobody, but he’s just the kind of nobody the town needs to save it from a madman, or is he? If plan A fails, there’s no plan B.

Mr Meske doesn’t just deliver a great action story, he delivers on the characterisation as well. Michael, Charlotte and his mother are very real people, and Michael grows through his experiences as characters should. The language was such that I never had any doubt that I was looking at the world through the eyes of a 12 yr old boy. I particularly liked the ‘shrug shield and grunt armor.’ The prose is clean and clear, well aimed for a young young adult audience, a great read for boys and girls.

Highly recommended. 5 stars. It well-deserves its AIA Seal of Excellence.

 

All the Blue-Eyed Angels

All the Blue-Eyed Angels
Author:
Publisher:
Published: November 16, 2013
Jonestown. The Solar Temple. Heaven’s Gate. In the summer of 1990, the Payson Church of Tomorrow joins the ranks of those infamous cult suicides when thirty-four members burn to death on a small island off the coast of Maine. At ten years old, Payson member Erin Solomon watches helplessly as the church and its congregation are reduced to ash and embers. More than twenty years later, Erin is an accomplished investigative journalist when she receives word that she has inherited Payson Isle… and all its ghosts. She returns to Maine to learn the truth behind the tragedy that has haunted her since childhood, aided by the rakish mentor who’s stood by her side since she was a teenager, her trusty mutt Einstein, and a mysterious stranger with his own dark past. Soon, Erin is enmeshed in violence, conspiracy, and scandal, as she fights to unearth the secrets of the Payson Church of Tomorrow — secrets someone will kill to keep buried.

Reviewed by Tahlia Newland

All the Blue Eyed Angels wasn’t given to me in exchange for a review. I received it as a gift, so I read it as a kind of reviewer’s holiday, feeling a sense of relief that here was one book that I wouldn’t have to write a review about. However, I hadn’t read far before I realised that I would be writing a review after all, because the book is simply excellent and deserves to be praised loud and clear for all to hear.

Not only is it expertly written, it’s a great tale with an unpredictable plot that left me wanting the next instalment so much that as soon as I had finished it, I turned the internet on and bought it immediately.

It’s the kind of book that makes anyone who says that Indie books aren’t as good as mainstream books look either ignorant or an idiot, because this is every bit as good as the best that any mainstream publisher might produce, and it deserves to sell every bit as well.

Reporter Erin Solomon is a modern woman with a strange past. After being bequeathed the island where she lived as a child, one she hasn’t lived on for twenty years, she returns to unravel the mystery of a fire that killed 32 people. A package of photographs that came with the title deed indicate that whatever the truth was all those years ago, it was covered up with the full knowledge of several people, including her estranged mother. Erin intends to find out the truth and write a book about it.

She lived on the island in a cult with her father until she was nine, and though she remembers it as a good, safe time in her life, as the story progresses and she sees some of the events from a grown up perspective, she begins to question her childhood perception.

A thread of romance also weaves its way through the story; two men, two different relationships, and neither of them simple. Add the facts that people start dying from the time she begins her investigation, and that Erin’s parents are both well-involved in the cover-up, and it’s no wonder that Erin’s soon out of her depth. Slowly, the facts start to come together, but the real knowledge only comes along with a fairly catastrophic event. The pacing is flawless, building steadily to a riveting climax. The characters are complex, likable and expertly drawn.

If you enjoy contemporary mysteries, then you don’t want to pass on this one, and even if—like me—you don’t usually read mysteries, I highly recommend it. The romance softens the otherwise very gritty story.

All the Blue-Eyed Angels now holds the exclusive AIA seal of quality. It is available on Amazon.

 

The Warden Threat

The Warden Threat
Published: March 1, 2012
A lighthearted parody.

Reviewed by Awesome Indies

September 28, 2012

‘The Warden Threat’ is a light-hearted parody of epic fantasy. Though the genre is noted as science fiction, the science fiction was suggested rather than explicit. It’s a fun read with a darker underlying theme of political and religious manipulation.

Our hero is Prince Donald, third son of the king of Westgrove and quintessential archetypal fool. He’s sweet, naive and idealistic, and longs to be the hero in a story. He’s left the palace to wander the country in search of adventure and to get to know the ordinary people. Luckily his guide is a worldly wise character who is able to moderate the Prince’s impulses.  When it comes to his notice that an ancient and massive magical stone warrior known as the Warden of Mystic Defiance in the neighbouring kingdom is going to be woken and used in a war against Westgrove, Donald sees it as his chance to prove his mettle and be the one to save the kingdom.

Nothing turns out as he planned. Everything is much more complex and difficult than he imagined, and it soon becomes apparent that in real life, the hero is not always predestined to save the day.

However, true to the fool archetype, his amusing bungles make it clear to him that he knows nothing, and that knowledge makes him open to the truth. Because he wanders with ordinary people, he sees things that the King in his throne room cannot. Donald discovers that something is brewing and it’s not what the King thinks it is. Will he listen to Donald though?

Donald is a delightful character who grows as the book progresses, and his two companions are equally as endearing in their own way. I love the way his guide nurture’s Donald’s development, knowing when to step in and when to back off. He is the archetypal father to Donald’s fool. The generous, always hungry and not very smart sidekick is reminiscent of the zanni characters from the Commedia del arte.

This is a well written book with a point beneath the humour. Greed is a great motivator, religion can become a method of indoctrination, rumour and mistrust can create wars, and fear and ignorance are a lethal combination.

This book looks deceptively simple, but there is a lot more to it than first meets the eye. It’s a skilfully executed work by a talented author with a unique voice. I recommend it to all who enjoy parody of either the fantasy or political kind. Perfect for cynics.

 

The Commons: Book 1: The Journeyman:

The Commons: Book 1: The Journeyman
 “Paul Reid died in the snow at seventeen. The day of his death, he told a lie–and for the rest of his life, he wondered if that was what killed him.” And so begins the battle for the afterlife, known as The Commons. It’s been taken over by a corporate raider who uses the energy of its souls to maintain his brutal control. The result is an imaginary landscape of a broken America-stuck in time and overrun by the heroes, monsters, dreams, and nightmares of the imprisoned dead. Three people board a bus to nowhere: a New York street kid, an Iraq War veteran, and her five-year-old special-needs son. After a horrific accident, they are the last, best hope for The Commons to free itself. Along for the ride are a shotgun-toting goth girl, a six-foot-six mummy, a mute Shaolin monk with anger-management issues, and the only guide left to lead them. Three Journeys: separate but joined. One mission: to save forever. But first they have to save themselves.

Reviewed by Katt Pemble

4 Stars

I don’t really know what to say after finishing The Journeyman… my mind is still whirring around putting things together, rehashing scenes from the start that held hidden meanings that only revealed themselves after you’ve finished the book.

My first thought was around how instantly engaging and interesting the story was, even though it began as a slice-of-life type of story. The first few chapters welcomed the reader into Paul’s world, showed a young man who had struggled through life, had been beaten to the curb time and time again.

Annie and Zach also added to the delightfully well-constructed characters. I especially liked that they were both a bit different from the traditional characters. Zach appeared to be on the spectrum, while Annie is a strong minded, single mother, data analyst and injured war veteran.

Brilliantly different and yet, someone that just about anyone could relate to on some level.

The idea of a purgatory or interim afterlife has been done before, but not with this sort of fantastical element. When the book changes from slice-of-life to The Commons the whole world is turned on its head. This left me a little lost as to what was happening, and while a little disorienting, the fast pace meant you really couldn’t stay focused on that for too long.

This will either encourage the reader to just ‘go with it’ or potentially put them off completely (which is what I’ve seen in a couple of the other reviews). For me, the unanswered questions around what was happening and who all the new people were, was more intriguing than annoying. But I can completely understand how some people would get ‘over it’ quickly.

My biggest criticism, and probably the only one really, is to do with the pace of the book. The action starts at chapter 5, and it does not stop until you read the last line of the book. Now, at times, this works brilliantly. The epic battles and racing through dark tunnels was fantastic at a frantic pace, but normally as a reader you need some slower parts. Parts that allow you to digest what has happened and to form intricate and emotional bonds with the characters; It’s a part that was almost missed because of the frantic pace.

The emotional impact of one of the pivotal sad moments in the story was a mere molehill to me because of my lack of emotional attachment to the characters. The reaction that should have occurred was nowhere to be seen because my level of emotional commitment to the character was still in its infancy. Had there been a few softer, quieter moments with this character, ones to forge emotional bonds with, then I’d probably have been crying like a baby at that climatic scene. I wanted to, I really did.

Are you crying?

This isn’t to say that Michael can’t make the reader care about the characters, because he does. I really felt for little Zach and felt my heart lurch along with Annie’s as she worked her way through the puzzles along her journey, but these scenes were about characters that’d been with me the whole way through the book. I knew something of them, I wanted to read more about them and experience things with them.

When it comes to antagonists, Michael really shone. Mr Brill was insidious in his evilness and yet, still not out and out creepy. There was an intelligence about him and a polished exterior that was somewhat misleading. I also liked his little side-kick Gerald Truitt, he was an interesting character. I can see bigger things for him too.

All in all, this is a fantastic book. One that is well written, flawlessly edited and thoroughly engaging. If you want to try something that’ll get your imagination flowing, pick this book up today, you will not be disappointed.

**Note: I was provided an electronic copy of this book in return for an honest review***

Salvation

Salvation
A story of illicit love, intrigue and adventure set in Shakespeare’s England. ‘The story literally thrives on excitement … I have no hesitation in recommending this book as an exciting romp through the hurly-burly of Elizabethan England.’ Historical Novel Society'

Worlds Within Worlds

Worlds Within Worlds
Imagine living in a multi-layered reality of separate but complimentary worlds—physical, mental, spiritual and technological—when a bully you thought safely tucked away in the cyberworld suddenly appears in your physical world looking suspiciously like your worst nightmare. Can you stuff him back into your computer? And if not, can the Magan Lord’s daughter from the fantasy book you’re editing, your dreams of a rabid beast, your visions of a Tibetan Yogi and your reawakened memories help you maintain your sanity and survive the darkest night of your life? Find out in the double award-winning metaphysical thriller Worlds Within Worlds when all this happens to author, editor and reviewer Prunella Smith. This inspirational, transrealist work—a mix of psychological thriller, fantasy and romance—has been awarded the Awesome Indies Seal of Excellence and a BRAG Medallion of Excellence in Independent Fiction. Worlds Within Worlds has a unique perspective on the nature of creativity. Its touch is light, its humour distinctive but it reaches deep into the nature of human experience.

Reviewed by Awesome Indies Assessor

December 12, 2014

I received a free copy of Tahlia Newland’s Prunella Smith: Worlds within Worlds for review, and I have to say up front – this is a book that is long overdue. It addresses cyber bullying, especially as it pertains to writers and reviewers, but does so in a chilling way that will live you looking over your shoulder with every word you write.

Prunella Smith is a freelance editor and author who is up against a deadline on an editing job – a fantasy story about an adventurous woman, Kelee, who is having an affair with a young groomsman on her estate. Ella, as she is known, is also a book reviewer, and a recent review of a not-so-good novel has provoked the author, Dita, to begin a campaign of on-line stalking and bullying. Dita’s cyber bullying begins to take its toll, interfering with Ella’s ability to objectively edit Kelee’s story, and things only get worse when she discovers that she has a physical stalker as well.

Newland’s tale kept me interested from page one – and the little surprise she threw in near the end, well -2 I didn’t see that one coming. A thoroughly entertaining story. An easy five stars here.

Reviewed by Frank Kusy (aka Wussyboy)

This is a very topical book, a very well written one too. Thirty something Ella Smith lives in a remote log cabin in the Australian bush, cut off from most of humanity but connected through her mind and imagination (and her internet) to a multitude of worlds: at times she is a writer/editor in the real world, at others she is a wise old Yogi in the prelude to the 1959 Chinese invasion of Tibet, or Kelee, the fictional warrior princess with whom she comes to identify strongly through the book she is editing. Not to mention her alter ego as Electra, an ‘after dark’ dancer in a local strip joint. The topicality of the book comes when Ella responds to a request of an ‘honest’ review from an arrogant (and unbalanced) author on his new novel and gives him just that… a two-star review on a social media website (Amazon) which he deeply resents. At this point, we enter Stephen King territory – the demented author Dita shouting “Take it down!” much as the main protagonist of King’s ‘Thinner’ shouts ‘Take it off!’ to the gypsy who has laid a curse him. When she doesn’t, the author turns cyber troll and begins invading her virtual world with increasingly nasty abuse and threats, along with one-star reviewing her own recently published book. As the bullying author penetrates even her dream world (he’s a dark, human shaped blob in a hoodie!) her other identities as Kelee, Electra and the Yogi also run into crisis, and she struggles, through her Buddhist practice, to elevate her mind above the worldly concern of being unliked by 20 Facebook friends overnight. ‘Sometimes it’s hard being a Buddhist,’ she observes when not just one but two stalkers get on her case – the fight is on, in her own mind, to see all obstacles as opportunities, to see Dita, The Creep and even the evil Beak as fuel to fire her own journey to enlightenment. This is riveting stuff, part magical realism dreamscape, part taut psychological thriller, and I was literally on the edge of my seat when the final twist – and what a twist it is – came around. Phew, what a ride!
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an ‘honest’ review of my own. Well done, Ms Newland, I can honestly say this is the best book have read this year.

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Reviewed by Amy Spahn

Worlds Within Worlds tackles the problem of identity in the age of technological anonymity. Ella Smith is an independent author and editor whose online life crashes into reality with disturbing implications. The book questions how much of one’s true self can – and should – be broadcast to the world.

The story also delves into the nature of authorship when anyone with a computer can publish themselves instantly. What determines the value of a writer? Their career success? Their contributions to other authors, appreciated or not? What about when their readers disagree with their interpretations of their work? Who is the final authority when everyone has an opinion?

This book will make you think. Considering the deluge of new works streaming from authors these days, that may be the highest praise a novel can receive.

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Reviewed by Robyn Gregory

World Within Worlds was an interesting read. There was a mixture of Buddhism, magical realism and present-day problems of a 30-something writer/editor. She has chosen career over a family and children. She seems fairly content with the decision. During the time she is editing another author’s book she is bullied online by an author who she gave a bad review to. My only issue with it was that there were too many storylines running at the same time and I was having a little bit of trouble following along with them. I think it would have been better if they had her story alongside Kelee’s story (the one she was editing). But, otherwise, it was able to keep my interest. I received this book free from Awesome Indies Books in return for an honest review.

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Reviewed by Justin Spahn

My wife recommended this book to me, and I absolutely loved it. I do not normally review, well, anything on Amazon, but I decided it was time to start, having read something which inspired me to respond. Its multiple layers were very compelling, and the author struck just the right balance of keeping the various strands and plot threads and titular worlds separated as well as intertwined.

I love how thoughtful this book was. It asked many questions about reality, imagination, and how perception and intent shape the world and vice versa. It gripped my attention and fascinated me, and I found that I couldn’t put it down. The main character is in her own world, experiencing the worlds of others through meditation, social media, dreams, and real-life clashes. In addition, the entire book is a world of its own within the author’s mind, and I myself, as the reader, am yet another world into which her worlds are introduced and experienced. Is the book I finished reading the same book that the author wrote? Did I perceive and experience it the way it was intended, or did I myself change the book simply by observing it, like a quantum physics experiment? Not since “If On A Winter’s Night a Traveler” by Italo Calvino have I felt so intellectually stimulated by a novel!

Finally, I find that I’ve bonded with the main character, which is quite a feat as I personally share virtually nothing in common with her, and yet I miss her terribly. I eagerly look forward to the release of the sequel!

Eternal Destiny

Eternal Destiny
Ariel and Nick face their deepest fears and their greatest challenge as they search for the Master Demon who holds the key to the future of mankind. Slay him and the world goes free; fail, and it falls irrevocably into violence and chaos. Guided by a wisdom master of a mystical tradition that uses mind power as the basis of powerful magic, the assault party travels from the ancient granite walls of the Hermitage, up the Steps of Death, and through a labyrinth of shifting gorges to the Palace of Skulls. Even if Nick wins his struggle with the scars of his past and defeats the green-eyed head of the Cogin clan, they still must cross the scree slope, where the bones of Ariel’s father lie, to get to the ice caves beneath the summit where the Master Demon awaits. The journey is extraordinary, the enemies are deadly and the ending is mind-blowing.

Reviewed by Richard Bunning

We reach the top of the climb, having started up the `spiritual’ mountain of Newland’s metaphysical creation in the first book in the Diamond Peak series. Life’s path is never easy for anyone if they are to fulfil their potential, the greater our gifts the more that others’ normally expect us to give. So it is with the heroine, Ariel. In the end, this was not so much of the story of Ariel’s struggle to conquer the blackness threatening her and the lives of those she cared about, but rather about her determination to help the `all’ of humanity. The serpentine Ariel has to destroy is just as binding in landscape we all know as it is on her mythical mountain; a massive peak which seemingly buds from some part of urban Australia. There is a true moral theme, the idea of a saviour, the dream of resetting the clock back on all corrupting evil. This work draws on the powerful allegory of writers like C.S. Lewis, whilst remaining free of his well chiselled, establishment, religious tow.

This is a superb read, in which for me the true peak of creativity was in the all too brief return of Ariel to the `real’ world. In this section we are rewarded by glimpsing the very dark childhood shadows from which Nick, Ariel’s ever closer friend, had to emerge. Of course, the fulfilling of the prophecy was most certainly the summit of excitement. Perhaps the `homecoming’ chapter had a particular resonance for me as it brought to the fore the inventive speculative fiction angle of the book to a degree not seen since the opening chapters of book one.

In my opinion, a perfect rounding of Newland’s `Diamond Peak’ project would be an omnibus addition, an amalgam of all four books in one fat volume. This would allow a huge amount of stripping of retold background and re-established character traits. Going over old ground in each book of the series is so necessary to readers’ understanding in any true serial with a defined `quest’. All four of these books work very well as standalone reads. However, written as one script of perhaps 300,000 words, even if still split into `books’, this could become a modern classic of YA fantasy.

Click Date Repeat

Click Date Repeat
These days, finding love online is as commonplace as ordering that coveted sweater. But back in 2003, the whole concept of internet dating was still quite new, with a stigma attached to it that meant those who were willing to test the waters faced a fair amount of skepticism from friends and family. Such is the case for Chloe Thompson, a restless 20-something tired of the typical dating scene and curious about what she might find inside her parents’ computer. With two serious but failed relationships behind her, Chloe isn’t even entirely sure what she’s looking for. She just knows that whatever it is, she wants to find it. Based loosely on author K. J. Farnham’s real-life online dating experiences, Chloe’s foray into online dating involves a head-first dive into a world of matches, ice breakers and the occasional offer of dick pics, all while Chloe strives to shake herself of the ex who just refuses to disappear. Will she simultaneously find herself and “the one” online, or will the ever-growing pile of humorous and downright disastrous dates only prove her friends and family right? There’s only one way to find out… Click. Date. Repeat.

Reviewed 

Billed as chick lit/contemp romance, one would expect a light, fluffy, and … well, romantic type book. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The book starts off somewhat slowly and analytically as Our Heroine, Chloe, peruses the profiles and stats of possible matches on an Internet dating site.

It picks up the pace when she starts dating a number of these men, and at the same time, we read about her relationships with her two best friends, her family, and … her exes, particularly the most recent one.

Unsurprisingly, this is a book about relationships, or lack of them, and the author does a good job in portraying the very different types that Chloe has.

This story is written in the first person, and primarily present tense, but even so, we learn about Chloe’s past, and that of her friends and family as the story unfolds, yet without any distracting unnecessary information dumps. The skill in this story is showing the feelings and emotions of others through their interaction, emotions, and conversations with Chloe. Dialogue is one of the main techniques used to tell this story, and it is well done, with no overly descriptive tags or unnecessary adverbs. It moves on the story and our understanding at the same time.

Characters develop through the story, and we come to empathise with Chloe’s feelings and thoughts as she questions the way she is approaching online dating and her new relationships. The author takes us inside Chloe’s head so that we share the anticipation of each new date, and the self-doubt that follows. Will there be a repeat date? But not just Chloe, her friends Jess and Shelly, and her family, grow as we read through the book. We truly learn more about all the characters. Even the dates she has stamp their personality on the story.

There is judgement, criticism, argument, and inevitable disappointment. There is however no maudlin sentimentality, the author steers clear of that.

And the plot? Well, my predicted ending didn’t happen, although the actual ending felt a little unreal. Nevertheless, after an up-and-down, exciting, unexpected journey through online dating, the ending provides an optimistic finish, and it has to be said, an interesting one.

It’s a good story of the pervasive influence the internet has on our lives, even down to finding our partners in life.

In chick lit genre, it’s somewhat different from the expected norm, avoiding all the crass stereotypical portrayals of behaviour, while providing good character and plot development. In contemporary romance it holds its own, providing a realistic view of the highs and lows of online dating, and the assumptions people make about it.

 

 

Reviewed by Renee

I went from one serious relationship to the next, so I really enjoyed living out a casual dating experience vicariously though this novel. I really liked Chloe, she was the kind of person I could imagine being friends with. Going from one dating disaster to the next, I was just as excited to find out what would go wrong as what would go right. There were a lot of male characters to keep track of, and most didn’t last long, so I didn’t really get a chance to connect with any of them – but that’s casual dating for you.

I received this book free from Awesome Indies Book in exchange for an honest review. This is the second book I’ve read by the author and I’m looking forward to the next.

Reviewed by Nat Parsons

This review has slight spoilers that I felt necessary – you have been warned!

Chloe Thompson is a teacher, has been out with two very very absolutely lovely guys but is still not settled. Her mum likes to remind her of this. Chloe is therefore sensitive to this fact. She has also dated one complete arse.

She thinks it’s time she met a good guy (I totally agreed.) A guy she can not only feel safe with, but also feel the kind of passion she felt for the complete arse (go Chloe!) So she registers for online dating. BUT, it’s 2003!! Online dating is so new it’s almost embarrassing to admit to it. There’s stigma – her mum disapproves, her friends are full to bursting with advice, solicited or not. How is Chloe – and ONLY Chloe – going to decide on her future with so much background noise?

I enjoyed this book overall. This isn’t usually the type of book I would read because I read them too quickly! I usually opt for something different. But the cover and the 4 star rating persuaded me I should read and see. It was very worth it.

Because of the real relationships between Chloe and her friends the book is much deeper than I initially assumed, so props to KJ Farnham. It very maturely addressed the problems found in making decisions with a vocal and opinionated family-and-friend group. Both friends mentioned – Jess and Shelley – are well rounded and also go through character growth in the dating arena.

The book also addresses the sometimes difficult relationship between mother and daughter. It is hard to feel like an adult making decisions if your mother is always chipping in with advice/guilt trips. This book brings a nice resolution to that particular drama, and that’s sometimes difficult to do well or smoothly in fiction without too much preaching.

The last bit of props goes to the exploration of moving away from emotional bonds to a person previously dated. I’ve already mentioned the arse, but he serves a useful purpose. Through the mistakes Chloe makes we all get a masterclass in how to get rid of a clingy ex; don’t see him/her, definitely take away his key if he/she has one, forgoodnesssake don’t sleep with him/her, tell him/her not to call and perhaps even change your number if necessary BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY tell him/her why you’re doing what you’re doing. Tell him/her it’s finished and at least for the time being you don’t want to see him/her. Communication is key, people. Because it’s not only him/her that will be hearing this, it’ll also be YOU. It’s be good for YOU to hear this.

The sex: Chloe has sex. Oh yes she does. I’m afraid neither are the warm, safe, happy-ever-after encounters that happen in happy-ever-after rom-coms. The first is with Mr Arse, and the fact she shouldn’t be doing it and I knew that the guy was just taking advantage of her made me feel very sorry for our Chloe. I’m afraid it got worse after that – the second time was with an online date that date raped her.

I feel I need to mention this because it could be triggering for some readers.

I don’t know how that scene came across to others, but when a girl has almost passed out and says very clearly to the guy: I AM NOT GOING TO SLEEP WITH YOU and he does it anyway, I call rape. And I was also uncomfortable that this guy was portrayed as a good guy for the rest of the time he was around. It was confusing for me as a reader. I don’t know whether this was on purpose as a comment on how many times the girl blames herself for miscommunication and other things in a borderline abusive relationship, or whether the author didn’t quite communicate with readers that actually it wasn’t rape, for reasons that are unclear to me. I like to assume the former because that’s a more interesting story that the author could have gone into more detail about that perhaps she didn’t want to at this time. I hope she does one day. For this confusion, I have reduced my rating from 4 stars to 3.

The element of mystery given in the form of a reading by the Angel Lady of Vegas could have been introduced much sooner. It definitely would have added that extra layer of interest; which guy was closet to the reading? Was Chloe going to listen to the reading, her mother, her friends, or herself? Etc etc. I think as a reader I would have enjoyed that. Plus, having it introduced 80% of the way through (I read this on my Kindle!) feels like it was shoehorned in for the ending.

The writing style itself was so polished and consummately good. I never had any problems reading it, it was smooth and nothing ever stuck out or bothered me/brought me out of the story. Which always means good writing!! I was a very happy reader 🙂Chloe herself was a brilliant character with flaws, so she was real on the page. I enjoyed reading her point of view.

I was surprised by this book, because it had depths. I’m not sure what genre I would out it in other than women’s fiction. It’s NOT a rom-com, because it’s not romantic and it’s definitely not a comedy. It has comedic elements from time to time but not comedy. It’s about a women with serious flaws (all of us!) getting over herself (something we all need to do) to find her relationships again.

3/5 stars. Solid book, with a few flaws.

I (gratefully!) received this book free from Awesome Indies Books in return for an honest review.

Playback Effect

Playback Effect
New technology records the highlights of emotional experience for others to share. But the recordings carry hidden information. What will a sociopath do with recordings of the experience of death? “O wad some Power the giftie gie us/To see oursels as ithers see us!” But what if we could see others as they see themselves? New technology records the highlights of emotional experience for others to share. Buy a helmet and you can feel the exhilaration of an Olympic ski jumper, or the heat of a lucid dreamer’s erotic imaginings. Commit a crime, and you may be sentenced to endure the suffering you inflicted on others. But such recordings may carry more information than the public has realized. What will criminals learn about their victims? When a husband is wrongfully convicted of injuring his wife, how will their marriage change? And what uses will a sociopath find for recordings of the experience of death?

When Your Dreams Are Not Your Own

Wynne Cantrell sells dreams – not the kind you might think, but actual dreams. Wynne has the ability to record her dreams and then provide them to customers. Her husband Hal Wakeman is a noted sculptor, who unfortunately does not take what Wynne does as art, and often takes her for granted. Late as usual for appointments, when Wynne waits for him at lunch near a fountain he designed, he is not there when a bomb explodes, causing the loss of her hand and the deaths of several people.

At a loss for suspects, the police suspect Hal of the crime, either as some kind of over the top artistic protest, or as a way to get rid of his wife. Things go bad for Hal when Arthur Kellic, a rival for her affections, is assigned as the lead detective on the case. Hal is convicted and faces the punishment of the time, which is having to endure the final thoughts of the victims. He’s later cleared, but too late – he’s already punished – a punishment that the system will not undo.

Playback Effect by Karen A. Wyle is a riveting account that follows Wynne as she copes with her injury and recuperation, Hal and Arthur come to terms with their rivalry over Wynne and find themselves working together to find a vicious killer-kidnapper before the list of victims pile up, and Arthur’s boss, Tertius Shaw, an enigmatic figure who seems to be at the center of all that takes place.

This is a novel that’s impossible to pigeonhole into a genre. The presence of a technology that permits recording and playback of dreams is science fiction, but it’s also a legal/crime thriller. The author, who has an extensive legal background, weaves it seamlessly into the story from start to finish. This is also something of a dystopian novel, in its description of the various uses and, most importantly, the misuses of technology, by those seeking to make money, by government, and by criminal elements – and the disastrous impact all this can have on individuals within society.

Playback Effect has an astonishingly diverse cast of characters, and while Wynne is the main protagonist, the others play roles that are no less important. The author uses third person point of view, and moves from one character to another to keep the suspense level high and the tension as tight as a steel cable on a suspension bridge.

It really has two conclusions – befitting a book of this scope – the first when the mysterious killer is identified and brought to justice, and the second, quite satisfying resolution of Wynne’s personal life.

Dialogue, descriptions, and narrative are flawless – not a wasted word anywhere. This is a book that will linger in your thoughts long after you’ve stopped reading – and are likely to invade your dreams. I give it a resounding five stars.

 

Reviewed by Katt Pemble

ETA: Karen has been in touch with me and we’ve worked through the formatting issues and addressed the typos. Upping the book rating to 4 stars.

Playback Effect is the fifth book I’ve read by Karen and it certainly didn’t dissapoint. Like her other books, this one has a quite complex and intertwined plot. It also has a bit of legalese in it.

The concept of this story is very interesting. What if we could record our emotional reactions to things and share them with people in a form of personalised virtual reality, what would that mean for our friends, our family and even us? What if you could re-experience that amazing high you got when you won your childhood athletics carnival? Or what would it mean to those creatives who use emotion as inspiration? What if you could access someone’s real reaction to something you’re planning to write about?

The book, brings to light some answers for some of those questions, but it also poses some more serious ones. When felons are forced to experience their victims’ emotional trauma as a way of punishment, what do you think would happen? Interesting and thought-provoking questions.

The characters are typical of Karen’s work, three dimensional, flawed and felt very real. Almost as if she were drawing inspiration from people in her life. I didn’t love Hal and Wynne, but I connected with them to some degree. I quite liked Arthur, even though I don’t believe that was entirely intended. I think perhaps I was meant to feel a bit sorry for him, but there was something about him that struck me as a bit of a fighter, one to keep an eye on.

I was pleasantly surprised with Hannah’s character. I would love to see a whole book written about her. She was brilliant!

Speaking of brilliant, but not in a good sense, the antagonist in this novel is decidedly creepy. The emotionally removed way in which they spoke and thought about things – chilling. How they maintained that detatched emotional control even throughout some of the most horrific events – terrifying.

Considering you get but brief glimpses of gruesome acts, the effect on the reader was quite intense because you get to experience the villain’s POV. Great work Karen.

This only gets a 3 out of 5 for me because of a couple of points.

1. The scene changes in places are quite rough. I think this is because of formatting on the kindle – the paragraph breaks fall over the turn of a page so they look like one scene not two. The result was of confusion. “Who is saying what now?”

2. Occasionally the legalese got a bit much. Particularly at the end, I had to read a couple of the scenes multiple times to completely understand what was happening.

Overall, a fantastic plot, a great idea and a good cast of characters. This is teamed with an eye-catching cover. I’m not too sure about the blurb (particularly the opening sentence), but it still draws you in. If the two issues I’ve listed above were resolved it’d easily be a 4-5 star book.

A few things I noticed:
The typos I picked up have been rectified by the author.

**Note: I was provided an electronic copy of this book in return for an honest review.***

Reviewed by Amy Spahn

Let me start by saying this book is not a thriller. The pacing, areas of focus, and multitude of subplots are more akin to a literary novel than to heart-pounding suspense. At no point are the main characters in prolonged existential danger. There is no mystery about the identity of the culprit. There are no major plot twists. There is a layer of suspense and creepiness, but since it receives less attention than the relationship between the two mains, I would consider it more of a thriller subplot.

However, what this book is, is a brilliant exploration of the social and ethical implications of a new technology. I have never seen a book dive so deeply into every societal facet of an idea. This is a strong example of thought-provoking sci-fi, along the lines of Asimov’s End of Eternity. What happens to us as a people when we gain the ability to literally share our minds?

The characters are well-developed, though by far the best of these is the villain. His chapters are spooky, yet provide excellent insight into his psychology. The protagonists are likable and make some major decisions about how they relate to one another over the course of the book. The novel is actually a serviceable romance in addition to its other genres.

By far the most interesting “character” is the helmet technology. Oh my, is this well done. Wyle probes every legal ramification, every marketing angle, every relational hiccup that could result from the ability to record and replay one’s thoughts. Though the book takes place on Earth, she does an exceptional job of world building, displaying the changes that occur based on this one innovation. I really can’t stress enough how imaginative this is; you have to read the book to see it.

The writing is clear and the subplots weave together smoothly. Though unlikely to shock and thrill the experienced crime novel reader, I’d recommend this book to fans of thought-provoking sci-fi and fans of relationship stories with a twist.