Monday, February 24, 2014

Review Time - The Day the Tigers Broke Free

Lately I've accepted quite a few books to review, so I'm breaking out of my constructed mold and will post a review on a Monday.

A Monday you say?  Yes - normally I'm a Garfield when it comes to Mondays, but since I actually have time in my evening tonight and want to make some headway on my ever growing list, I'm gonna get cracking.  So now that that is out of the way, let's get to my thoughts on Ken Ping's novel The Day the Tigers Broke Free.

Book Blurb:
In a small town, a seventeen-year-old Chinese boy is found dead.  An obvious suicide, say the police, and the family is left to grieve.  Enter Charlie Kee, a relative and investigative reporter in from New York for the funeral.  There are suspicious circumstances about the death and his questions stir up a lot of hate between him and the police chief, and with the local boys.  But a skilled and relentless investigator, he picks up on the clues.  And he is a man with a past that simmers hot and cold in his mind.  What he uncovers stokes the fire of those emotions and throws him headlong into a tumultuous clash with hatred, with himself, and with Ann, a beautiful psychologist, who is journeying through emotions of her own.

This novel is a blend of action and drama centering around the investigation of a crime while exploring the issues of life and death, racism, the human condition. Charlie, with his cold exterior, is himself volatile like his enemies, and it is a thin line that divides them, one that only God might sort out as they come to an explosive climax.

My Review:
New York investigative reporter, Charlie Kee, returns to his family's Texas roots for the funeral of his seventeen-year-old cousin.  It's been ruled a suicide, but Charlie's investigative instincts won't rest.  Review of the autopsy and interviews with the police chief and other potential witnesses to that night reveal inconsistencies that would never pass muster in the city.  But small-town secrets and prejudices have deep roots growing beneath the surface.

The premise of this novel intrigued me.  It had the elements of heartache, loss, and deep-seated emotions that offered the potential to stir my own.

However, the execution hit all of my buttons and left me feeling quite frustrated.  Point-of-view was all over the place - one paragraph I noticed switched POV three times - and so many random and inconsequential characters took POV center stage that before I even finished a third of the novel I wanted to stop reading.

The POV problems also affected how I saw the characters.  Character reactions swung so sharply at times nearly every single character almost seemed bipolar.  Seemed waaay over the top, which made them feel more like caricatures of the worst kinds of humanity.

Too much telling instead of showing dragged the pacing down, not to mention the numerous side stories that had absolutely nothing to do with the main story arc.  We had Ann and Paul, Lisa and her mother with Lisa's impending wedding, and countless other situations that made me keep going HUH?  The only thing Ann really had to do with the story was that she served as a counselor at the school.  I could understand all of that, but I didn't need to see her strip down in a public pond while she was being seduced by her ex-boyfriend.  If all of these side stories were removed, this would really help tighten the novel, thereby increasing the pacing drastically and keeping to the main story arc of Charlie trying to discern what happened to his cousin.  

It would also take an over-long book and cut it nearly in half - in my opinion a necessary sacrifice.

In the end, the characters for whom I was supposed to feel some empathy left me with a bitter taste in my mouth because they ended up behaving in the most despicable ways and committing acts even the bad guys might not - Charlie and his uncle included.  Their atrocious acts of vengeance (even after discovering the truth) made whatever minute sympathies I felt for the childhood flashbacks obsolete.  The protagonists turned into the antagonists.

It pains me, but I can give The Day the Tigers Broke Free only one and a half stars - the half star being for the promising premise.

Author Bio:
Ken Christopher Ping first started writing short stories, although unpublished, prior to writing his first novel, The Day The Tigers Broke Free.  Among his careers, he has been a graphic artist, as well as having served three years in the army.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Review of "New Math is Murder"

Afternoon, dear readers!  Have I got a treat for all of you mystery/humor lovers.  I'm happy to bring to you a review of fellow indie Jo-Ann Reccoppa's New Math is Murder.

Book Blurb:
Newspaper stringer Colleen Caruso thinks she has it all – a great job as a freelance journalist, two nice kids, and an orderly suburban life. Her perfect world is shattered when her husband leaves her for a younger woman, she trips over the body of her daughter’s dead teacher on a morning jog, and she and her best friend become prime suspects in a murder investigation.

My Review:
Colleen Caruso's life is the perfect example of Murphy's Law - if something is going to go wrong, it's going to go wrong with her life.  Her self-centered husband leaves her for a younger woman and hides their assets, leaving Colleen in financial limbo.  Sara, her teenaged daughter, - well, need I say more? - is flunking Algebra after acing it the year before.  And Bobby, her ten-year-old, just wants his dad to come watch him lose another Little League game.

Not to mention her nosy parents who live behind her just across the alley, the pittance of freelancing for the local newspaper, the barely-out-of-college editor who loves giving Colleen the snooze-fest assignments, a best friend who's been keeping waaaay too many secrets, and a boss who won't keep his shirt on.

Did I mention her finances?

Throw in discovering the dead body of her daughter's Algebra teacher, and Colleen is one foot from the funny farm.

As regular readers know, I'm not very good with dry humor.  But I found New Math is Murder to be a witty delight with several chuckles and laugh-out-loud moments.  I could really relate to the mess Colleen has found herself in - especially after the hilarious beginning scene.  I too hate my alarm clock!

We stayed firmly in Colleen's point-of-view throughout.  We get a really good sense of who she is without being spoon-fed every teeny tiny tidbit.  I could relate to her as a human being with internal motivations.  Good with the showing and not too much of the telling.  Most everything had a purpose and a point and wasn't just thrown in as fluff and fodder to make the book longer (by the way, the length was perfect).

The mystery wasn't complicated and was easy to unravel, but the mystery wasn't so much the main focus of the read - it was just fun riding along to get to that "ah-ha" moment when everything fell into place for our characters.

Was every aspect of Colleen's life tied up in a pretty little bow by the end?  Nope - and I liked that!!!  Life doesn't get tied up in rosy bows, and it left everything with a great sense of realism among the laughs.  It also left room for follow-up mysteries for Colleen to solve.  And I look forward to reading more of her exploits and explorations.

I give New Math is Murder a solid four-and-ahalf stars and recommend for teens through adult.  I can't even remember if there was a single cuss word!  My mother would love this book.  Pick up a copy today if you want a good book for a cold weekend.


Author Bio:

Jo-Ann Lamon Reccoppa lives in New Jersey and draws on her experience as a freelance correspondent to create oddball characters and unusual scenarios. She has published over 400 articles. She has never tripped over a dead body while running in the woods, but eagerly awaits the day it will happen . . . if she should ever decide to take up jogging.

In addition to her endless reading and writing, Jo-Ann is the self-proclaimed most devoted Devils fan in New Jersey. She wishes to be buried in her No. 4 Scott Stevens jersey, though not too soon. She has much more to write, many books left to read, and a million more games to attend at The Rock!
New Math Is Murder is her first novel.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

For Fantasy Lovers - Healer's Touch by Deb Howell

Good afternoon on a cold and snowy day!

While trapped indoors this week, I opted to check out the freebie downloads currently available for my Kindle.  It's been awhile since a fantasy novel passed by, so I picked up one that I thought I'd give a little recommendation for here at the blog.  For those who like a simple but promising fantasy series, check out Deb E. Howell's Healer's Touch.

Book Blurb (from Amazon): 
Llew has a gift. Her body heals itself from any injury - but at a cost to anyone nearby.

In a country fearful of magic, freeing yourself from the hangman's noose by wielding forbidden power brings dangers of its own. After dying and coming back, Llew drops from the gallows into the hands of Jonas: the man carrying the knife with the power to kill her - permanently.

The last of his warrior race, Jonas is haunted by memories of his loved ones. At his side, the cursed knife that took their lives acts as a cruel reminder of his pain. Jonas has learned the hard way that caring for others means their death.

Jealous of his half-brother's celebrated strength and speed, Braph has created the device that gives him the power to perform magic, any magic. But it needs fuel - the blood of a healer...

My Review:
There were several things I liked about this novel and several things I believe could be strengthened.

This is really a fantasy novel in a fantasy world, not a wild-west or steampunk setting. I understand the western themed moniker to give it a semblance of time and setting, but I think that reference in the book blurb (on GoodReads) is misleading. There are characters with special powers I found very interesting, particularly the healer's touch component that our protagonist, Llew, possesses.

Llew is a teenaged orphan, living on the streets of Cheer (a misnomer) as a boy since her father disappeared. One night she is attacked when a man realizes she is a woman. When Llew tries to fight him off, he starts slashing at her with a broken bottle. However, each time he slashes at her and she touches him to fight off the attack, a transfer of life occurs and Llew is healed. Eventually she passes out, realizing the connection she maintained with the man sucked the life out of him to heal her - and his lifeless body lay beside her.

When the townspeople of Cheer realize a murdering witch is in their midst, Llew is forced to flee into the unknown. Along the way, she encounters a group of wealthy adventurers escorting a young woman to another land to meet her betrothed. They agree to take her on as another protector - and for the time being Llew's secret is safe. But the traveling troupe has many secrets of their own, the warrior Jonas being more than a distraction.

This wasn't a story that kept me reading into the wee hours of the morning, but it was one that kept me coming back over the course of several days as I had availability. So without giving away too much, here we go. The first third of the book was interesting as I got to know Llew and her predicament, her strong and determined personality, and as she grew more aware - and sometimes frightened - of her strange power. The last third was both exciting and heartbreaking as Llew fought for her freedom, her life, and for the lives of others.

The main problem I had was with the middle third, as it got bogged down and at times felt as if the author had lost direction. The characters even changed in odd ways and didn't stay true to what they were at the beginning and end. One of the most irritating was the changing speech patterns of several characters, in particular Jonas. He had disappearing and reappearing accents that varied throughout the story. In the beginning he carried a normal speech pattern, and then suddenly he sounded like a southerner from Texas, then the Bayou, and then back to no discernible accent. The middle could be cut waaay back without losing any significant aspect of the story.

Then, besides Llew, there was little development of any other character to give the reader a sense of depth, motivations, and more than one-dimensional representation. I think this would have helped the middle section from feeling so wooden and would have also made our antagonist feel more like a flesh and blood man instead of a spoiled brat throwing a temper-tantrum.

There were very few editing errors and point-of-view stayed fairly strong without jumping around from character to character in the midst of a scene (bravo and thank you, Ms. Howell!!!). In the end, I think the story ended on an appropriate note and made me interested in continuing with the next leg of Llew's journey.  This would've rated a four star if not for the issues mentioned above, but it has much promise in regard to Llew and the created fantasy world elements.  Thus I'll settle with three and a-half stars for this first outing in the series.  

Healer's Touch is still a freebie under all eBook outlets if fantasy tickles your fancy.  Due to some disturbing elements (rape, hanging, bloody battle sequences and death) I'd only recommend for 18+.