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Rob Slaven (Indianapolis, IN)

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Alive Souls: Inception
Alive Souls: Inception
by Elena Yulkina
Edition: Paperback
Price: £4.65

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Lots of good ideas for a series of novels in this tiny book but the writing is extremely poor, 30 May 2015
This review is from: Alive Souls: Inception (Paperback)
I received this book free for review from the author or publisher in exchange for an honest review. Despite the privilege of receiving a free book, I’m absolutely candid about it below because I believe authors and readers will benefit most from honest reviews rather than vacuous 5-star reviews.

This book is a weird mix of the Superman "alien sent to Earth to get away" theme and the Never-ending Story's "the nothing is taking over our world" story. The story is complex and endlessly convoluted but at the same time extremely short which makes for an odd and transition-free reading experience.

To the positive side, the author has no shortage of ideas and seems to spout them onto the page with complete abandon. I've read many books that had only a fraction as much to say but took four times longer to say it. This book certainly doesn't leave you guessing about anything for long.

To the negative, the book is almost painfully difficult to read at times. The narrative thrashes through so much so quickly and completely without transition that there is no time at all for proper plot or character development. You can pound through this book in less than an hour but it seems a lifetime has passed in the life of the protagonist. Add to this the often nonsensical things which happen to the character because of this lack of transition and you end up with a real head-scratcher. Textually, the book has some real problems as well. It reads like a child's book most of the time but will suddenly launch into vocabulary that sent me to the dictionary and then right back to child lit. It's almost as if the author consulted a thesaurus just to have something big to throw in about every 20 pages or was not a native speaker of English. Add to this the frequent misuse of words altogether and you've got a book that needs a lot of editing.

In summary, the author has a lot of good ideas but has absolutely no idea how to properly cobble them together into a novel. This book feels like the Cliff's Notes version of a 3-4 volume epic masterpiece. It gives you the general flavor of what the author wanted to accomplish but fails to provide any of the meat. Just as you were getting to know what was going on the book is suddenly over.

PS: I hope my review was helpful. If it was not, then please let me know what I left out that you’d want to know. I always aim to improve.


The Book of Stone: A Novel
The Book of Stone: A Novel
by Jonathan Papernick
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.03

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An epic battle waged in the mind of one confused young man, 29 May 2015
I received this book free for review from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Despite the privilege of receiving a free book, I'm absolutely candid about it below because I believe authors and readers will benefit most from honest reviews rather than vacuous 5-star reviews.

The nutshell view on this is that it's a complex character development novel that traces the evolution of a son after the death of his emotionally estranged father. The book describes itself as incendiary but I would call it more of a slow, methodical burn. It brings to the fore some very controversial ideas.
To the positive, the author has brilliantly portrayed the psychology of a young man in mental crisis. The protagonist demonstrates so many traits that could be pulled straight from the DSM and it is delightful and head-nod inducing as he manages to project his own needs on the facts of a situation. As a reader you never QUITE are sure which ideas are real and which ones are just Stone’s warped imaginings. The author's ending too, which is all of about 10 pages and hits you like a ton of matzah, leaves you nodding your head as all those long-held suspicions turn out to be justified. It’s a wonderful conclusion to an exceptionally complex novel.

To the positive, the story centers on a very contentious topic, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. At times the book goes on a length about the rightness of one side over the other and it does seem almost preachy. I realize this must be included to demonstrate the motivation of the protagonist but it can sometimes be rather wearisome. In that general vein, the narrative is a rather long one. It’s not a punch-filled action novel but rather a bit of a plod at times.

In summary, I enjoyed this book both much more and much less than I expected to. Its depths from a character development standpoint are profound. From an action/plot standpoint it's fairly middle of the road. If you like epic battles that are waged between the ears then I think you’re well served with this book. Everything else is just backdrop to that conflict in one man’s mind.

PS: I hope my review was helpful. If it was not, then please let me know what I left out that you'd want to know. I always aim to improve.


Christianity. . .It's Like This: An Uncomplicated Look at What It Means to Be a Christ-Follower
Christianity. . .It's Like This: An Uncomplicated Look at What It Means to Be a Christ-Follower
by David R. Smith
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.61

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars As a non-Christian I find this book accessible and a quick read but no more convincing than others of its type, 28 May 2015
I received this book free for review from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Despite the privilege of receiving a free book, I'm absolutely candid about it below because I believe authors and readers will benefit most from honest reviews rather than vacuous 5-star reviews.

This book is an accessible introduction to the Christian faith. It covers all the standard topics from what is God? Who is Jesus and the Holy Spirit? And of course all the various points of what happens after you’re dead and what should you do while you’re still alive. In the interest of full disclosure, however, it must be noted that I am not a Christian and generally tend to view the mystical aspects of the Christian faith as pure hogwash. But in the interest of honest reviewing I will not let that obscure my vision as I look at this book as a purely academic endeavor.

To the positive, the book is, as it claims, very uncomplicated and easy to follow. It also adheres to the familiar and rigorous pattern of introducing a topic to you, telling you what it means to you and then backing up the point with citations from the Bible itself. It's an accessible but also academic form that the author has done a good job of using to make the potentially complicated very easily digested.

The only negative I would point out is that the book isn't really breaking any new ground. I've read lots of similar Christian "explainers" and they all seem to follow very similar lines. These are the same basic arguments that I’ve read a dozen times and as an atheist I’m no closer to believing them in this accessible form than I was when I read them in C.S. Lewis’ "Mere Christianity."

In summary, this book is what it says it is. It’s very accessible and a great primer for those who might be confused. I’d suggest, however, that it is just that though, a primer. Those who want a more in depth take or have deeper doubts, I'd suggest you go straight to the Lewis and skip this one.

PS: I hope my review was helpful. If it was not, then please let me know what I left out that you'd want to know. I always aim to improve.


Big or Little?
Big or Little?
by Kathy Stinson
Edition: Board book
Price: £4.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Short, sweet and easily digested, 27 May 2015
This review is from: Big or Little? (Board book)
I received this title for free via a NetGalley giveaway. Despite that I'm honest below.

This is a very, very simple book but it has a good message. Kids can sometimes be very frustrated that they're not growing up fast enough and this book captures that but it also gives kids the counterpoint viewpoint that sometimes it's OK to just be the age you are.

The book also has bright, welcoming illustrations that invite the reader to keep going. In summary, a very sweet and easily digested book.


Dead Americans and Other Stories
Dead Americans and Other Stories
by Ben Peek
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting book but seems to have the wrong focus., 27 May 2015
As usual I received this book for free in exchange for a review. Also as usual I give my scrupulously honest opinions in spite of NetGalley's generosity of providing a free copy.

This really is a tale of two books. About 60% of the content of this book revolves around what I could only succinctly describe as alternative history. Familiar names like John Wayne, Orson Welles, Mark Twain and others all do things that seem reasonably within their respective characters but most assuredly did NOT actually happen and at times perform perplexing anachronisms. The remaining 40% of the book is a series of related tales centered on a fictional world in which the dead are sold for parts and many have their life histories tattooed upon their bodies. Personally I'm a fan of the latter practice and may soon enact it myself but that's irrelevant to any qualitative statement about the book.

On the positive side, the author has a tenacious talent for the bizarre. All of his stories have a quality of perplexity that is rare to find in any author. In the portion of the book that I describe as the "dead are sold for parts" there is a particularly strong thread of continuity and I'd like to see that milieu expanded into a novel or even a series of them. This is a delicious and darkly foreboding place that one would giddily and guiltily visit time and again in the written page but never likely admit to anyone for fear that you just couldn't do it justice in describing it.

To the negative, the portion of the book that I describe as alternative history left me rather disappointed. Perhaps it's my own idiosyncrasy but I was far too distracted trying to unravel the reality of Twain and the others from the fiction that was woven around them. This is a perpetual weakness of the alternative history genre in my mind and one this book just didn't manage to properly address.

In summary, the author is a grand talent but I think the book focuses on the wrong thing. The very cover emphasizes the wrong part of the book. I acknowledge fully the author's talent but I think that, as the saying goes, his light is hidden under a bushel and that the real meat of this book lies in the middle and is filled with unfamiliar and notably unAmerican names.


Ghostly Tales: Poltergeists, Haunted Houses, and Messages from Beyond
Ghostly Tales: Poltergeists, Haunted Houses, and Messages from Beyond
by Billy Roberts
Edition: Paperback
Price: £15.50

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A tidy collection of hair-raising tales, 27 May 2015
As usual I paid nothing for this book but instead received it for free in exchange for a review. Despite NetGalley's kindness I give my scrupulously honest opinions below.

This book is pretty simple. It's just a collection of haunting tales. You could have guessed that by the title alone, I'm sure. But what it is NOT is any attempt to analyse or explain anything. It's just straight-up campfire-grade spooky stories.

To the positive side, I give the author credit for just getting down to it. There is a bit of an introduction but not much and the stories just start right up without excessive preamble. Our tales of horror are divided into handy categories and were all sufficient to raise a bit of gooseflesh on me though I did prime things rather well by laying abed by myself in the dark before reading. It wasn't enough to keep me up but it did keep me thinking.

To the negative, I'm not going to make any comments about whether you should believe any of these stories because, let's face it, you'll believe what you want to. However, these did seem to all fall along pretty common lines and you could place each story in some movie or some TV show of the past. I picked out a couple of Twilight Zone plots pretty easily and I'm sure most of these either have their roots in or have inspired some fictional retelling along the way. As I said, it's up to your belief system which way that pendulum swings.

In summary, this is a nice, tidy collection of hair-raising tales that are either just nice stories or real-life accounts of encounters with the supernatural. Which is it? That's your decision.


The Bird Eater
The Bird Eater
by Ania Ahlborn
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.64

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A unique story with an delightfully ambiguous ending., 27 May 2015
This review is from: The Bird Eater (Paperback)
As usual I received this book for free. This time it was from Kindle Firsts. I'm glad I did because it was a breathless four hours on the sofa.

To describe this book in a nutshell, it's one of those wonderfully ambivalent horror novels that mystify you with their gruesomeness as you're reading and leave you with a big question mark at the end. The novel is fairly gory in bits but not outrageously so and those with a passionate fixation for kindness towards birds would be well advised to steer clear because they are among the primary victims of unpleasantness.

To the positive side, this book strikes a good balance between inspiring horror and providing background. The first chapter is vivid, cruel and horrifying in the extreme but after it gets you hooked things do settle down into a more standard pace. The author is clearly very practiced and proficient at descriptions of things that most of us just don't want to think about. I came away with some very clear mental pictures of this evil that are likely to haunt my dreams for a while.

The only negative I could really come up with is that while the over-arching story is fairly unique, some of the specific mechanisms that the author uses to get there are pretty standard. I can't really mention... any of them... because I don't want to spoil anything but I think you'll know them when you see them. Despite this tiny, and I do mean tiny, negative, the effect of the author's writing is still exceptionally strong.

In summary, this is one to curl up with when you have 4 hours to sit and blast through the whole thing in one go. I did it bright and early on a Saturday morning but the results in the middle of the night would be soul-shaking. Highly recommended for those who don't mind a bit of gore and who don't mind NOT having an iron-clad answer to the question of "So what exactly happened...?"


Pumice Seed (Tullman Book 1)
Pumice Seed (Tullman Book 1)

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars I hope I got a bad copy of this book from the author because if not.... Reads like a novel-length haiku, 25 May 2015
I received this book free for review from the Author in exchange for an honest review. Despite the privilege of receiving a free book, I’m absolutely candid about it below because I believe authors and readers will benefit most from honest reviews rather than vacuous 5-star reviews.

The nutshell summary on this book is…. Well, honestly, I couldn't tell you. I could not get past page 10. The book suffers so horribly from typographical problems and just downright poor writing that I can't make heads nor tails of it. Since I received it as an ePub I was able to copy and paste some direct quotes from it.

"A facet drew chilled water."

"As I closed off all trace on the automations a scythe swing in my mind caught me unaware forcing me to open those blood red eyes again."

"Lucidity wanders over to the feather."

"Clouds dance the sky and fall onto a far away landscape alike."

"Over the horizon once again the gas guzzling miasma makes its debut. A caught up wind buffets the car as I compensate with an oversteer to the right around a mountain incline. The precipice blocks any oncoming drag from my path. Slight relief at the perceived change I relieve my grip from the wheel tired of fighting with it."

These are direct quotes copied from the text of the book. I hope fervently that this is an erroneous copy of some sort. It seems to be missing about 80% of the apostrophes and most question marks and the text reads more like a haiku than it does a novel. Perhaps this is some sort of literary device that I’m just not quite smart enough to figure out?

PS: I hope my review was helpful. If it was not, then please let me know what I left out that you’d want to know. I always aim to improve.


Ray Ryan
Ray Ryan
Price: £1.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A book that rather rambles on when it should find one genre and stick to it, 25 May 2015
This review is from: Ray Ryan (Kindle Edition)
I received this book free for review from the Author in exchange for an honest review. Despite the privilege of receiving a free book, I'm absolutely candid about it below because I believe authors and readers will benefit most from honest reviews rather than vacuous 5-star reviews.

The two-second summary of this is that it is essentially a biographical sketch of the main character from childhood through early adulthood. Each chapter section is a year starting with 1994 and extending to 2022. During this time he deals with an abusive father, the standard childhood enemies and drug-dealing thugs. The story isn't terribly original and one wonders if on some level it’s not an embellished autobiography but I have no basis for that proposition except that the author is from the same town as his protagonist.

To the positive, the author has laid out in great detail a life in Nottingham. It feels very much like a life that could have been lived by a real person… at least the first bit. The characters are vividly rendered and the reader can certainly sympathize with their situations.

To the negative, realism is all well and good unless the story becomes painfully bogged down by it. The text is full of what seems to be irrelevant detail that doesn't really add to the story but instead distracts from it. The story does eventually pick up but by the time it did I was just tired of reading every intricate tidbit of the hero's life. Further, the author’s writing style is passable but it seems to be comprised largely of "Yoda speak" in which verb and subject switched they are. This is tolerable but does eventually become rather a painful distraction.

In summary, I don’t really have a target audience that I would suggest this to except those who themselves have lived in this area and feel share they a parallel history. It feels to me as if the author didn't quite know what it was he wanted to write and instead just kept writing and writing and writing until something that seemed completely cooked came out on the other side. As it turns out, he seems to have written himself two books: one an episode of "The Wonder Years" and another an Episode of "CSI London"

PS: I hope my review was helpful. If it was not, then please let me know what I left out that you'd want to know. I always aim to improve.


Kalki Evian: The Ring of Khaoriphea
Kalki Evian: The Ring of Khaoriphea
by Malay A. Upadhyay
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.59

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars This book has a kernel of a good idea for a story but it so poorly written that you can't really make it out, 25 May 2015
I received this book free for review from the Author in exchange for an honest review. Despite the privilege of receiving a free book, I’m absolutely candid about it below because I believe authors and readers will benefit most from honest reviews rather than vacuous 5-star reviews.

Firstly, it must be stated that I could not bring myself to finish this book. After 100 pages I had to tap out and move on to something else. From what I did read the narrative is a two-threaded story of a man who wakes from a 23-year coma to find himself in a strange new futuristic world. The other thread of narrative seems to take place in the same timeframe but it’s not clear to me how they’re connected. In it a woman escapes an abusive husband to find a caring protector. Again, I’m not sure how these two threads are connected and clearly they will be later in the book but I just couldn’t make it.

To the positive side, the book does have an intriguing story. The setting the author has chosen is one of those impossibly bright futures but that has a not-yet-revealed dark side to it. I’m a big fan of not-yet-revealed dark sides. There’s goodness at the core of this book but…

To the negative side, the writing is abominably perplexing. I found myself understanding about half of what was trying to be conveyed (at least I THINK I did) but was constantly bamboozled by the use of language. It is filled with unintentional malapropisms, awkward phrasing and at times descends into utter nonsense. A random sampling that I noted:

"...Kanha lay submerged in thoughts and simple set of metals stocked in a separate room..."
"...her lips reduced to faint shiver instead of the lush they were born to revel in..."
"Quin lied down and shut his eyes. Sleep dawned abnormally quickly..."
"She was there to attend to a splurge of curiosities he bore in his heart..."
"So we were forced to transcend our mental fixations with vertical growth."

In summary, there is a good story here but it’s hopelessly bogged down by exceptionally poor writing. Writing so poor that I can’t even be entirely sure what the book is trying to tell me. It needs to be thoroughly scrubbed up and redone I’m afraid but there is a solid start at an idea here.

PS: I hope my review was helpful. If it was not, then please let me know what I left out that you’d want to know. I always aim to improve.


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