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Destiny

Destiny
Author:
Published: October 4, 2014
Author's Twitter: @SMSpencerAuthor
Set in Australia this YA paranormal romance is the story of Lili who, while looking for her destiny, finds herself in a world filled with vampires and ghosts. Destiny: ‘The predetermined or inevitable path a person must follow.’ When nineteen year-old Lili McIntyre decides to trade her California summer for a mid-winter visit to Australia, it’s in hope of finding inspiration and direction in the country where her father was born. But when she arrives in Melbourne, the first thing she finds is the last thing she’s looking for—a brooding man who makes her heart race every time she sees him. Against her better judgement, Lili finds herself drawn into a relationship that tests her very beliefs about life, reality and fantasy. But the real test is how to follow her destiny as she faces some of the hardest decisions of her life.

Reviewed 

4 Stars

Lili McIntyre just ended a difficult relationship and is now on a much-needed summer vacation to Melbourne, Australia for a few months. Her aunt Debs welcomes her Down Under and provides her with a chance to clear her head. On the plane, Lili meets Claire, and that new friendship introduces her to more than she dreamed of. Though Claire doesn’t know it, her new boyfriend, Tom, has an enormous secret. The oblivious Claire introduces Lili to Sam, Tom’s close friend. As a natural double-date, Sam and Lili find themselves thrown together and soon discover a growing attraction.

Soon, Lili discovers why Sam and Tom behave so strangely. They are vampires! Suddenly a world of the supernatural opens up to Lili and her heart will lead her to help Sam keep his secret identity and defend the city from conflicts begun in ages past.

Destiny is an enjoyable book with a fun take on the vampire genre, full of characters created with affection and care. Lili’s struggle to determine her future and the pressures from home struck a chord with me. She feels the urgency to decide her future and move forward, although the hugeness of the decision overwhelms her.

The American/Australian crossover made me wonder through the tale about the author’s origins, but I think I know. Some telling word choice clued me in. I loved hearing about life in Melbourne and all the interesting trips the characters took nearby. Though some of Melbourne’s history appears in the book, I would have like to learn more.

I appreciated the potential for the tale to discuss the subject of abuse. I think that young women, especially, need reinforcement that abuse is real, encouragement that they don’t have to endure it, and illustrations of what it really looks like. Plenty of speakers and nonfiction writers share about abuse, but tales of people enduring and overcoming it reach us in a different, sometimes more personal way.

Lili wonders through the tale why she isn’t scared that Sam is a vampire. I know why: it’s because none of the vampires in this book are the slightest bit scary. Romance and good looks trump blood-drinking. Any slip of the teeth is slight and polite to the extent that Claire never once discovers their identity. Even the scenes that should be thrilling and terrifying lose their teeth because of the detached and passive way the author describes them. My take is that the trouble lies in the author’s unwillingness to make the characters suffer. She loves them too much. Any problem is short and quickly resolved without the pain that blood-drinking romantic interests should pose.

Aside from the pressured calm of the tale, I enjoyed the book and look forward to the second book in the trilogy to find the answers to the problems that Lili hasn’t solved yet. Four stars.

A Salt Splashed Cradle

A Salt Splashed Cradle
Publisher:
Published: May 23, 2011
Author's Twitter: @ChrisLongmuir
Life and Love in 1830s Scotland. Set in a Scottish fishing village the story reflects the living conditions and morals of the ordinary fisher folk of that time.   Life and Love in 1830s Scotland. When Jimmie Watt brings his new bride home his parents are horrified, because fishermen are expected to marry within their own community, and Belle is an incomer from the town across the water. Belle, an emotionally damaged and beautiful girl, struggles to find acceptance in the village but she is fighting a losing battle, and when Jimmie leaves the fishing village to sail to the Arctic with a whaling ship, she becomes increasingly isolated. With Jimmie gone, Belle falls for the charms of Lachlan, the Laird’s son and embarks on a tempestuous affair with him. When Jimmie returns she struggles with her feelings for him and for Lachlan. The women in the village now regard Belle as a Jezebel who will tempt their men away. A mood of hysteria engulfs them and they turn against Belle, in an attempt to force her out of the village. What will Belle do? And will she survive? This historical saga is set in a Scottish fishing village in the 1830’s and reflects the living conditions and the morals of the ordinary fisher folk of that time.

The Land Beyond Goodbye

The Land Beyond Goodbye
Inheritance, betrayal, love, sex, aboriginal magic and a sleazy lawyer. What more could you want? 1987. The morning after the Great Storm. A letter drops through the door of Jess Whitelaw’s London flat and sets her on a journey through the Australian Outback and her own damaged psyche. In the heat and dust of the Northern Territory, Jess’s protective armour is chipped away as painful truths are revealed. Tension builds like thunderheads heralding the start of the Wet. Will Jess be able to come to terms with the guilt she feels? Will she ever learn that the past is not so terrifying when looked at the right way?

Reviewed 

Best novel I’ve read in years

5 Stars

Some books you know are going to be gold seal worthy from very early on, and this was the best metaphysical fiction I’ve ever read. The standard of the prose was excellent, (something for me as a writer to aspire to,) but more than that, the words had insight; they took you somewhere special – outback Australia. True, the physical setting is special, but not only does The Land Beyond Goodbye take you to the weather beaten back blocks of the Northern Territory, it also takes you into the land’s soul, ushered in by the aboriginal magic woman, Rose. One of my favourite lines from Rose is …

White fellah! Always thinkin’ stuff.

The Land Beyond Goodbye is about an English girl (pommie in Aussie lingo) who, as a young woman, spent some time working in an outback pub. Eighteen years have passed since she left and returned to London, but the death of an old friend has called her back. Darcy has left his place to her and she has no idea why? Or does she?

Her return brings back memories, particularly of the men, one in particular. She wonders if he is still around, if they could have had a life together if things had been different. She soon discovers that he’s around, but his life has fallen apart. He killed a man, an accident, of course, a punch up gone wrong, but  her old flame, Jamie, spent time inside for manslaughter, and he’d started the fight to protect Jess’s honour. After he came out, he hit the booze big time, threw his life away, they say.

Jess has to go to Darcy’s place to fix up the legalities. Joey worked for Darcy his whole life, but all he gets of the fortune is the house Darcy built for Joey and his wife Sherry. Sherry doesn’t try to hide her hostility and after an argument, Jess, an emotional mess, drives into the bush. The Toyota stops on a road that no one uses and she can’t get it started. She ends up walking, get’s dehydrated, and falls, once, then again. She breaks her shin, thinks she’s going to die, and would have if Rose hadn’t come along and healed her. How? Jess isn’t too sure. It seems like magic, but it can’t be, can it? How could someone like Rose have such healing ability.

Jess is the kind of modern western woman we can all identify with, and the other characters are as well drawn, Rose, as is right for the character in just a few well chosen words. The author writes her as a wise, compassionate person without judgement, and Jess’s time with her cuts through her preconceptions and prejudice in a relatively short space of time.

And then there’s Jamie, Jinjat now; he arrives looking like the alcoholic Jess had been told he’d turned into, but that was a lie, just as,  she discovers, her whole life is a lie. Jinjat has been unmade by Rose and her ancestors, stripped of pretensions and made whole. Jess feels stupid around Rose, because Rose says little, but what she does say shows an uncanny perception. At first Jess is repulsed by Jinjat’s appearance, the dirty clothes, the long hair and beard, but the longer she stays in Rose’s bush hut, eating bush tucker, living in the dust, the more her perception changes and she wonders if there could be something between them still.

Rose suggests that Jess needs fixing too. She agrees. Her life seems hollow now, compared to Rose’s wisdom and contentment, her sense of belonging and rightness with the world. But Jess has to go back to her responsibilities when the police are called to look for her. What is she going to do with this property, the mine and the huge amount of cash Darcy left her? But Jess’s time for fixing comes, and it’s no fun, but it works and Jess is remade. Her decision comes not from white fellah thinkin’ but from a place of knowing, made accessible to her by her time with Rose and her meeting with her ancestors, or demons, as Jess considers them.

This is quite simply the best book I have read in a very long time. Beautifully written, it is both an outer and an inner journey, one that captures the beauty and mystery of the outback and the depth of the inner experience that can come from immersing yourself in the rawness and vastness of the landscape, both outer and inner.

On a social level, the author shows clearly the kind of offhanded dismissal that many white Australian’s show for aboriginals, an attitude that arises from an ignorance much greater than that of any unschooled aboriginal.  Without romanticizing the aboriginal situation, the story shows how completely we can miss the point. This is primarily a story of transformation and of how inner wealth is more important than outer wealth.

Perhaps the most wonderful thing about the writing is that, in some places, it actually evokes the state referred to, or perhaps it’s just that I know that place where the material things we usually deem important fade into insignificance.

Undoubtedly, 5 stars and a book that everyone should read, especially Australians.

Reviewed by S M Spencer

5 Stars

Wow, I loved this book. Every bit of it. Highly recommended to anyone interested in Australia’s outback and original people.

 

 

Reviewed by Meredith

5 Stars

This book was fantastic and fully-engrossing! I will definitely be getting more of Ms. Walter’s books after this.

I was a little worried as I began – lately the books that have managed to keep my attention will jump right into some intriguing action to hook the reader at the outset (and, if the author can keep up the pace, it works). This book had a beautifully descriptive yet surreal 3 paragraph prologue at the outset (first two sentences, as a taste: “Pearly pink evening light suffused the land, blurring the edges of the bush. The throb of the electricity generator kept time with her heartbeat and the Outback took possession of her soul.” ) and THEN jumped into some action. I was worried it wouldn’t be plot-driven enough, but my fears were thankfully unfounded.

The story line follows a Brit, Jess, as she returns to the Outback for the first time in the almost 20 years since she lived there in her early twenties to claim an inheritance surprisingly left to her. We follow Jess as she goes back to old haunts, gets reacquainted with friends she hadn’t spoken with again after leaving the first time…the disconnect is painful.

The mystical pieces and storyline are increasingly less distinct pieces as Jess progresses. At the outset, Jess greets everyone with “namaste,” and she is unable to bridge the gaps between herself and former friends. As she tries to flea again, her car breaks down and strands her in the Outback. With the lucky and mystical help of a stranger, Jess is forced to face, and reveal not just to the reader but herself as well, what led her to flea the Outback so long ago.
Will she deal with it or run away yet again?

There is plenty of soul searching and action in this book. The author deftly weaves the plot with beautiful prose, romance, ‘magic’, and some heart wrenching conflicts. It’s fantastic.

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

Reviewed by Vivian

4 Stars

Interesting novel. I enjoyed reading about the Aborigines. In the end it comes together and leaves me wanting to find out what happens next.

 

The First Noble Truth

First Noble Truth, The
Machiko Yamamoto pulls out her hair, picks at her skin, and triple checks the locks to the house behind the school where she works. When a foreigner moves into a neighboring thatched roof cottage, she quickly falls in love with the quiet woman with the mangled hand.   Machiko Yamamoto pulls out her hair, picks at her skin, and triple checks the locks to the house behind the school where she works. When a foreigner moves into a neighboring thatched roof cottage, she quickly falls in love with the quiet woman with the mangled hand. Krista Black does not mind the weekly visits from the local English teacher. The scarred woman seems harmless, but she always wants to talk about travel and language and why Krista has come to the remote, Japanese village. Krista avoids her questions. She has seen much of the world, and she knows what it does to fragile people. Machiko may want to know her, but she could never understand her. Set in Kyoto, New England, Africa and Kathmandu, The First Noble Truth is a story of redemption, interwoven between two protagonists, across two cultures. It peers beneath the comfort of expected storytelling to investigate the dualities of suffering and joy, religion and sex, and cruelty and kindness.

Reviewed by Awesome Indies' Assessor

September 29, 2014

An illuminating tale beautifully told

The First Noble Truth is a tale told in the voices of two women. The author has made the interesting choice of giving us one voice in first person and the other in third person. Counterintuitively, I found the third person voice the more intimate of the two.

Krista, in first person, relates the circumstances of her life with some detachment; Machiko’s story is immersive, full of rich detail. Krista’s suffering is caused by large events—by loss, by grief; Machiko’s by the small injustices of daily life. Krista’s story is grim; Machiko’s is heartbreaking.

Krista and Machiko are very different from each other in superficial ways—race, nationality, family—yet the life of each woman is curtailed by suffering. Krista’s suffering prompts her to become an eternal vagabond, while Machiko’s affliction keeps her close to home, but each woman endures the loneliness imposed by her suffering, and in the end, it is the recognition of their shared experience that allows them to truly encounter each other.

What makes this book extraordinary is the power of the writing. It builds the worlds of these two women little by little, a piece at a time, until the reader finds herself woven into the fabric of the story, until the reader discovers herself in the lives of two strangers. This is a book that will change you.

Don’t Judge A Book By Its Magic

Don’t Judge A Book By Its Magic
Published: October 10, 2012
Author's Twitter: @KatePolicani
Colleen is a normal girl. She loves shoes, chick flicks, and cute clothes. The only thing abnormal about her is that she’s just become a magician; not the disappearing bunny kind, but the power-shooting-out-of-your-hands kind of magician. Her problem now is that she doesn’t believe in magic. Well, she believes in it. She’s seen it shoot out of her own hands, but she opposes it in a moral sense; no hexes, no spells, no incantations, no potions, no amulets, no tomes, no casting circles, no eye of newt, none of that. She has to be very clear because people pressure her about it. Whatever they say about “how it’s done,” this is a morality issue for her and she will not cave in to their pressure. Join Colleen at Seattle Pacific Regional University, where she becomes a part of The Convergence. She’ll learn the freaky side of Work Study, Financial Aid, and Vyxhepiocht. Seriously, she’s never seen so many hot guys. It’s going to be wild!

Reviewed by Meredith

4 Stars

 

This was an enjoyable book for the most part – it made me laugh and smile a fair amount. It’s very light – not for someone looking for deep subject matter.

This story at first reminded me of K.M. Shea’s “My Life at the Magical Beings’ Rehabilitation Center” because of the age of the main character, the light/witty inner commentary, and having to learn the rules of a magical society. But that similarity only lasted so long – my one complaint about the book is that it quickly becomes focused almost solely on which guy the heroine will choose….there’s not much else driving the plot. Which is disappointing because I think there’s a lot that could have been made of this set up. That said, I truly did enjoy it. I’m not sure if I’ll read the next one or not.

Note – I received this book free from Awesome Indies Books in return for an honest review.

Kaleidoscope

Kaleidoscope
Author:
Series:
Published: January 3, 2014
Author's Twitter: @kevinberryxxx
Chloe is different. She has Asperger’s Syndrome, Bipolar Disorder and probably a few other inconvenient conditions as well. She’s a quirky, resourceful and clever psychology student, but her world is literally about to be shaken apart. A devastating earthquake sparks a chain of events that spiral her life out of control. She’s off her meds. Her oddly-named cat is missing. She doesn’t know what she wants out of life any more. Misfortune and uncertainty don’t mix well with bundles of energy and Chloe’s tendency to ignore consequences. It’s as if mayhem and trouble are her constant companions. Will Chloe be able to cope with the earth-shaking events that rock her world? Share her journey.

Review by Awesome Indies Assessor

Sometimes you can tell from the beginning that a book is going to be awesome. Kaleidoscope by Kevin Berry was one of them, and it was primarily due to the strength of the author’s voice. Chloe leapt off the very first page like the vibrant and delightfully individual character that she is, and her unwavering honesty and cheerful acceptance of her various ‘conditions’ made her highly endearing.

This book follows on from STIM, but you don’t need to have read it first. The central character in STIM is Robert, Chloe’s boyfriend, and near the end of that book, they experience the earthquake that shocked Christchurch, New Zealand, in September 2010. Kaleidoscope is narrated by Chloe, a bipolar Aspie (person with Asperger’s syndrome), and near the beginning of this book, she and Robert experience the more disastrous February 2011 Earthquake that demolished Christchurch’s central business district and killed over 100 people. The earthquake and the difficulties it imposes on the people of Christchurch in the following months makes this book more dramatic and action orientated than STIM, which for many will make it the better book, but both books are excellent; STIM simply has a different kind of energy. It reflects Robert’s placid and stable nature, whereas Kaleidoscope reflects Chloe’s volatility. She is prone to impulses and wild schemes, which allows for more surprises.

People with Asperger’s syndrome find change difficult to handle, so Chloe has particular difficulty adjusting to the aftermath of the earthquake. Her task in this book is to come back to some level of personal stability.

As with STIM, this book has a striking ‘realness’ about it. There is no pretense or artifice; like the characters, Berry simply tells it as it is. I have read the speculative fiction books Berry co-authored and, though well worth a read for those who like fantasy parody, they pale into insignificance beside these simple and charming masterpieces. It is wonderful to see an author’s true talent emerge in this way, and I hope we can look forward to more books written with the same honesty and integrity.

One of the charming things about this book is Berry’s humour. It comes out in puns and delightful neologisms, e.g. ‘The university towers quagswagged like populars in a breeze’, and the dialogue about time travel between Chloe, who is in the middle of a manic episode, and a woman waiting outside a portable toilet had me chuckling. ‘It’s a freaking port-a-loo, not a tardis,’ she says. ‘It doesn’t go anywhere and it’s definitely no bigger on the inside than it looks on the outside.’

We also get a real glimpse into the Kiwi spirit in how they handle life in post-quake Christchurch. Chloe and Robert are trying to have sex in a tree when an aftershock happens. They are shaken from the tree and fall in the river. When their neighbour hauls them out, he makes no comment on what they were doing in the tree, simply gives his estimate of the strength, depth and epicentre of the quake. Apparently, the locals are very good at guessing now. Another interesting point is how Chloe receives her first information immediately post-quake about what’s happening in the Christchurch CBD via a text from her father in Melbourne who is watching it unfold on television.

Chloe’s dreams of the CBD Red Zone, the demolition area roped off by the army, are particularly powerful, as is her reaction when she skates around the perimeter and looks in at the destruction. Her thoughts and feelings mirror mine exactly when I saw the damage for myself a year after the quake.

All up, this is a wonderful book, I highly recommend it to all readers, especially to anyone with someone with Asperger’s or bi-polar disorder in their life. Berry brings this charming and ruthlessly honest story alive with a clear and distinctive voice.

 

Stim

Stim
Author:
Series:
Published: November 11, 2013
Author's Twitter: @kevinberryxxx
Robert is different. He has Asperger’s Syndrome. He experiences the world differently to 99% of the population. Follow his entertaining and highly empathetic story as he struggles to realise and accept who he really is, try to understand other people – which he cannot – and find a girlfriend. Especially find a girlfriend – he’s decided it’s his special project for the year. Accompanied on this transformative journey by his quirky flatmates, Chloe (who also has Asperger’s, amongst other things), Stef (who hasn’t, but doesn’t mind) and their oddly-named kitten, Robert endures a myriad of awkward moments in his quest to meet a nice, normal girl…and not even a major earthquake will stop him.  This absorbing and humorous story is starkly told from Robert’s point of view, through the kaleidoscope of autistic experience.

Awesome Indies Assessor

November 7, 2013

5 Stars

 

STIM is a sensitive and charming portrayal of an autistic man’s search for a girlfriend. Robert lives in Christchurch, New Zealand, and has Autistic Spectrum Disorder which means that he finds social situations awkward. He has difficulty reading social signals and understanding social conventions, hence finding a girlfriend is much harder for him that it is for NS (Non Spectrum) people.

This simple story glows with Robert’s earnest and honest character. His straight forward nature is the cause of much confusion for him and many chuckles for the reader, but there’s a serious side to the story, a call for celebrating neural diversity rather than shunning those whose brain works slightly differently to the norm. Reading this book will help you to understand what life is like for an autistic person and for anyone with clinical depression, that’s the kind that can be treated with medication – happy pills, as Robert calls them. You’ll also gain some insight into bipolar disorder. Robert isn’t bipolar, but he does have a manic episode when he ups his dose of happy pills.

Mr Berry draws this endearing character so well that we see the logic of Robert’s perception. Some of the things we Neuro Typical people find normal, like figurative speech for example, are ridiculous when seen from Robert’s point of view. Robert is somewhat like Sheldon Cooper of the Big Bang Theory. He has the same innocence, social ignorance, logical brain and ability to focus on obscure areas of study. Roberts language is very formal; he even speaks without contractions. At first it seems rather stiff and odd, but I soon realized now perfectly his speech patterns expressed his character.

Chloe is another wonderful character, also an Aspie, and a good friend who helps Robert to become comfortable in his own skin. In this way, it’s a coming of age story, that of a young autistic man finding his place on the world. Steph, their flatmate, is an excellent role model for how understanding NS people can be towards those with different neurological wiring. I loved it when he sent her aggro boyfriend packing.

Journal entries detailing what Robert had read recently and how much sexual activity he had had peppered the novel. The book titles and his descriptions of them were delightful as were his reactions to the question of sex. The author uses the format extremely well at the end. The book is undoubtedly well written. The character, the issues and the challenges come over loud and clear, and in an entertaining package.

This is not an an action packed book, and yet I didn’t want to put it down – an indication of the author’s skill. Robert’s life had enough tension in simple things like going to a party and working a job, and the addition of his experience in the Christchurch earthquake ramped it up at just the right point in the plot line. I really wanted Robert to find a girlfriend, but the odds seemed stacked against him. The end was not a surprise, but it was a delight.

I think this book would be enjoyed by anyone who likes literary or contemporary fiction and it really should be read by anyone who knows or works with autistic people in any way. The first person point of view really gets you inside Robert’s head.  Stories about people with Autistic Spectrum Disorder are not as rare as you might think, but they are rarely touted as such – take Sherlock Holmes for example.

Well done, Mr Berry. STIM undoubtedly deserves 5 stars.

 

(2) Review by Tahlia Newland

5 Stars

This is a truly wonderful book. The author has a very strong voice, the characters are real, the subject matter relevant, and the book is immaculately edited.

 

(3)Review by Vivian

5 Stars

Highly recommended. I don’t know if the author wrote this book in the hope of giving a moral lesson, but the main character’s different-ness made me look at life and people differently. Funny and sad and tender.

(4)Review by Marsha Cornelius

5 Stars

I loved this book, and his second one, too, Kaleidoscope. Such unusual characters, and a wonderful story. Can’t recommend it enough.

(5)Review by Adan Ramie

4 Stars

I didn’t think this was as funny as others have, most likely because I have an intimate connection with two autistic people and have an understanding (admittedly, the small amount I can from being closer to the neurotypical side of the scale) about the way their minds work.