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Reviews of what you should be reading next.

Month: February 2016

Next Stop: Nina by Robin Raven

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Nina never was one who felt comfortable in this world. As she struggles to cope with the pain of her present and past, the young girl’s life is changed through the beauty of art. When Nina grows up and winds up in over her head in a dark place, she finds herself somehow transported to another time when nothing is quite what it seems. She must fight the horrors of her past all over again. Along the way, she faces greater challenges than she imagined. This is a character-driven novel with a heroine who faces life, love, and overcoming suicidal depression on her own terms.

 

Many thanks to the author for providing me with this review copy!

NEXT STOP: NINA is a book that will touch your emotions and send you into high and low places. I cringed when I read about Nina’s childhood and how innocent she was, always trying to forgive her abusive father. She feels she is never good enough, pretty enough, or strong enough to continue living, and considers suicide.

As she prepares to leave this world forever, something happens, and she finds herself back at home, talking to her beloved brother. Nina’s mental age and her physical age and appearance are very different. Has she gone back in time? Is this a hallucination or a dream?

The story continues with Nina trying to change the events of her past (and more depressing details about her life are revealed). She realizes that some events are always meant to be, and while this is heart wrenching to her, she understands she can grow and become a better person. She turns to philanthropic gestures, trying to help others by volunteering her time and seeing the light within herself grow.

Her first sense of true happiness occurs when she befriends a girl in school that no one ever talked to, in her “past life”. They become best friends and share many years together, bringing Nina more happiness and confidence.

One of Nina’s lifelong dreams was to meet an artist  whose painting made an impact on her during her darkest times. To her endless surprise, once she finally does meet him at an event, they hit it off and eventually fall in love. She self-sabotages the relationship and they break up. At this point I became frustrated with Nina, because her lack of confidence and poor communication was really the issue.

All of a sudden, we find Nina as a young girl again, realizing she has to live her life over yet again, experiencing all the tragedy and loss. Her interactions with others are different and things don’t go as they did during her first reincarnation. As she repeats things she develops a kind of Groundhog Day attitude towards herself, learning to accept things, and learning to change for the better.

Her interaction with Leonard (the artist) develops again in a slightly different way; and we can see the shift in each of the characters as more layers are added to the story. This is the main takeaway of NEXT STOP: NINA — growth and acceptance. Nina still shows lack of communication skills at times, which I suppose was integral in showing just how deeply depressed her character was; but the scenes where all was good between Nina and Leonard were tender and sweet.

As I mulled over the story I wondered if the “back in time” was really just a hallucination or something more sci-fi. There is a sort of explanation towards the 75% mark, but it is vague and unsatisfying, coming from a mostly undeveloped character that seems to be out of place.  I wasn’t sure what to do with that part of the story, and eventually I shrugged and kept on reading to see how the latest incarnation of Nina and Len would turn out.

It is easy for the reader to feel the heartbreak of Nina’s world; as author Robin Raven illustrates that beautifully. Reading about the tragedy in her life the first time was awful, and reading about it again, even though you knew how it would turn out, was no less horrifying the second or third time.

This was a book with an unusual premise and a positive message. Read it for yourself to discover if love truly saves the day for Nina. You can get your own copy here.

Airbag Scars (Micah Reed #1) by Jim Heskett

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Micah Reed’s name isn’t Micah Reed. He was born someone else, before the trial, before his new identity. Now he wants to leave his life of crime in the past, but it seems to keep finding him.

After a serious car crash, he wakes to find his body aching and battered, with bruised knuckles and a black eye. What happened last night?
And while he chases clues to piece together the events preceding the car crash, a psychotic former acquaintance will make a sudden and violent appearance. Donovan went to jail because of Micah’s testimony, and now he wants to see Micah pay for his sins.
And it won’t only be Micah’s life in jeopardy, if he can’t fight off Donovan and solve the mystery of where his missing time has gone.

Thanks to author Jim Heskett for providing me with this review copy! He is also the author of Reagan’s Ashes, reviewed by GTB here.

Micah is an alcoholic who fears that he may have killed someone while driving drunk. He’s a self deprecating, honest character whose private thoughts run from the sublime to the ridiculous. The part when he was in rehab and talking to his orange juice made me laugh, as did the parts where he addresses the head of Boba Fett (his constant companion, in his pocket).

The tone and style of this book is very different from Heskett’s other work, and I can see more Micah Reed books on the way. His character is written such that bits and pieces of his former life are doled out slowly along the way, and even by the end of the book you may not know exactly what makes him tick.

The story line seems convoluted in parts, especially in the case of Donovan, who is seeking to ruin Micah and is going about it the long way. Donovan is an angry guy given to fits of rage, and has cooked up a dish of revenge that he’s desperate to serve to Micah. There is a strip club with multiple bodyguards that are out to get Micah as well, and the specter of the bottle is always lurking.

As the book progresses some of the plot twists become a little murky, but eventually it clears up. The last few chapters go by in a flash, and it seemed a bit hurried and a bit unsatisfying to me. Overall I enjoyed it, just not the way the way things were wrapped up. For example: there was a character killed by Donovan and then never mentioned again, not even to have the others ponder her demise…kind of a loose end. It seemed like most of the book was full of showing, and the last part was full of telling.

None of these things were deal breakers, however. I chalk that up to the author becoming familiar with this new character and developing his voice. Micah is a likeable guy despite his flaws; indeed, because of them. He’s caught in a world where his past has come home to roost, and he’s at a loss. I’m looking forward to the next installment to see what new details are revealed about his past, and how he manages to get himself (and Boba Fett) out of trouble again.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up here.

 

 

 

Q&A with Johan Twiss, author of I AM SLEEPLESS

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While the others slept, Aidan spent hours each night running sim after sim. Although he was only a twelve-year cadet, he had completed more simulations than any prime— ever.
“You are setting history,” General Estrago told him. “No one has ever made it to the current simulation you are attempting. The other Masters and I are eager to see what comes next.”
So was Aidan.

The planet Ethos is at war with a mysterious enemy known as the Splicers. Their only successful defense is the Prime Initiative. All newborns with the compatible genetic code are taken from their families and injected with the Prime Stimulus. Each child that survives the stimulus develops an extraordinary ability and is conscripted into the military for training.

After turning twelve, Aidan is moved to the upper-class at the Mount Fegorio training complex. His special gifts allow him unprecedented success in the virtual training simulations, advancing him further than any prime cadet in history. No one knows what lies after sim 299, not even Director Tuskin, the ruthless and reclusive ruler of their planet. But something, or someone, has been guiding Aidan there. If he can pass the final tests, he may discover the key to ending the Splicer War.

 

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We had the honor of speaking with author Johan Twiss about his new book, I AM SLEEPLESS. In this post he answers a few questions about himself and his work.

Johan Twiss - John Burger

 

 

 

 

Where did you get the idea for this book? (I AM SLEEPLESS: SIM 299)
Most of my book ideas come from dreams I have at night, which are a mashup of events that happen in my daily life combined with the books, shows and media I take in. So basically, my dreams are about me being a super hero and so are my books.

For I Am Sleepless, I had a dream about kids with super powers, but they had physical handicaps. Around that same time, I was also thinking a lot about how much I could accomplish in life if I never had to sleep. Mash those two ideas together and that’s where the idea for I Am Sleepless sprang from.

Will there be more books in the series? (I AM SLEEPLESS: SIM 299)
Yes, the series is a trilogy and I have two more books planned. Search for the Reader is next and The Splicer King is the final book.

What are you currently working on?
I’m currently working on a mini novella series titled 4 YEARS TRAPPED IN MY MIND PALACE. I’m about 3/4 through the first draft and have a release date of May 2016.

You can download the first 5 chapter sampler (remember it’s a first draft) at my website http://iamsleepless.weebly.com/4-years-trapped-in-my-mind-palace.html​

4 YEARS TRAPPED IN MY MIND PALACE SYNOPSIS:
Diagnosed with a rare form of meningitis, eleven-year-old Aaron Greenburg is paralyzed from head-to-toe. He can’t move a muscle or any part of his body, including his eyes or his eyelids to blink. Although he is alive, his doctors believe he is brain dead and unaware of his surroundings. But Aaron is not brain dead. He is very much aware of everything, trapped in his own mind with no way to communicate with anyone, including his parents.

Placed in a rest home for full-time care, Aaron retreats into his mind to cope with his imprisonment. But after one year alone, Aaron receives a roommate in the form of an outspoken, old, Jewish jazz musician named Solomon. With the blanket diagnosis of dementia, everyone thinks Solomon is crazy, especially Aaron. But when Aaron talks to Solomon in his mind, carrying on the normal one-way conversations he has with all of his visitors, something strange and unexpected occurs.

If you had a superhuman ability, which one would you like?
Touch someone and take away their greed. Think of how much better this world would be if you could take away greed and selfishness. Say so long to wars, murder, broken families, etc…

Who is your favorite author?
Brandon Sanderson. I’ve been hooked to his books ever since I read his Mistborn series. I’m pretty sure I’ve read every book he’s published, some of them multiple times. The worlds he creates, the magic systems, and the intrigue/mysteries he has running in the background make amazing stories.

What do you do when you are not writing?
I love to play instruments and create music. I play/dabble in a number of instruments including guitar, bass, trombone, blues harmonica, piano and percussion. The best part is my kids are getting old enough that they are starting to make up songs on the piano and we have Family Jam Sessions. We also have Family Fight Nights. My oldest children take martial arts and we like to put on the sparring gear and go at it. The kids take turns coming at me two at a time, (even my 3-year old daughter), and they practice their strikes, kicks, blocks, etc… Basically, they get to hit dad and we have a lot of fun.

My wife and I also own and operate the online retail store www.playfullyeverafter.com. We sell toys, games, costumes and home décor items. It’s more than a full-time job, but luckily we have a handful of wonderful employees, (most of them family members), and we get to work from home. This gives me a little more flexibility to write.

When and why did you begin writing?
This writing journey started as I became more involved volunteering with Anti Human Trafficking non-profits. You can learn how I became involved in that work at my blog http://abolitionistjb.blogspot.com. As I researched, learned and met individuals who had been sold into slavery, I realized I wanted to tell these stories. But some of the stories are so raw and unnervingly sad that they are hard to read about and can send people into depression.

I’ve talked to some people who said they couldn’t handle how sad these tragedies made them and they didn’t want to learn anymore about it because it made them so depressed they couldn’t function.

So I set out with the goal to write a fictional story that gave the facts of human trafficking, showed you what was going on around the world, but gave hope through a hero, almost a super hero of sorts, that fought back. I wanted to make learning about these tragedies palpable to help spread awareness about what’s going on and what’s being done to combat modern slavery.

This became my first story, ABOLERE. Right now Abolere is a trunk novel. It was the first book and I learned a lot about writing in the process of creating the story, but it still needs some TLC to make it publishable. My goal is to finish it by Dec 2016. You can read the first chapter sampler on my website at http://iamsleepless.weebly.com/abolere.html.

What genre do you consider your book(s)?
This is tough because I have books planned for multiple genres including Science Fiction, Fantasy, Historical Fiction and Crime Fiction. I also have two non-fiction books I want to write.

That’s why I decided to create the pen name Johan Twiss. I plan to use the Johan Twiss pen name for all of my SciFi/Fantasy books and my real name, John Burger, for everything else.

The problem is I have a backlog of book ideas and I get more each week. My wife lovingly smiles and nods her head, sometimes rolls her eyes, every time I say, “So I had a dream last night and I’ve got this great idea for a book.” Maybe someday I will be a full-time writer and my writing will slowly catch up to my list of ideas.

Do you write an outline before you write?
Yes, but it’s very bare bones. I have a long list of book ideas that I let simmer in my mind. When one of them starts to combine enough “cool scenes” in my head, I move it to the outline stage. My outlines consist of a few bullet points, with very few details, and they are usually incomplete sentences. It’s basically a list of the scenes I’m excited to write about, put in order for the story to take place.

This is where my addiction to writing is fed. I love the discovery process of filling in the gaps and creating a story from these scenes. I’m always surprised and fascinated by the ideas that pop into my mind and exploring where those take the characters and plot. It gives me goosebumps. It’s the drug that keeps me writing.

Please fill in the blank:
Keep Calm and Eat Chocolate— unless you’re allergic, in which case I will eat your chocolate and mourn for you.

What advice would you have for writers?
As Dory says in Finding Nemo, “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.” But in the case of writers it’s, “Just keep writing, just keep writing.” The more I write, the more I learn about writing. I have a couple of trunk novels that may never see the light of day, but I learned quite a bit from the discipline of writing them.

Tell us three things no one knows about you.
1.  I play a mean blues harmonica, along with guitar, bass, piano, a variety of hand drums, and the trombone.
2.  I once met the Yankee Hall of Famer Joe Dimaggio in a Martinez, California strip mall parking lot. I was an 8 year old kid and my dad pointed him out to me. So naturally,  I went up to Jumping Joe as he unlocked his car and asked for his autograph with my dad’s softball mitt that I snagged out of the back of our minivan. The signed softball mitt was later stolen. There went my college fund.
3.  I’m Batman- wait, I wasn’t supposed to tell you that.

What’s the best thing about being a writer?
Writing is an addiction for me, and it’s one that I wholeheartedly feed. I love the discovery process creating a story from scratch. I’m always surprised and fascinated by the ideas that pop into my mind and exploring where those take the characters and plot. It gives me goosebumps. It’s the drug that keeps me writing.


How do you deal with writer’s block?
Honestly, I have not experienced writer’s block yet. I’m sure I will at some point, but for now I have dozens of ideas for books and exciting scenes I want to write in my current works in progress. Right now I wonder if I will ever be able to write all the stories I want to tell.


 

We hope you enjoyed this Q&A session; now go out and buy his book! You can pick it up here.

 

Unfortunate Event by Marc David Veldt

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A man’s life can easily be shattered by a single unfortunate event.
After a patient dies following a routine operation, hospital administration needs a scapegoat. They find their victim in Dr. Jack Andrews, a brilliant anesthesiologist. Andrews’s actions had no bearing on the patient’s death, but he finds himself thrown to the legal wolves by his so-called colleagues as they scramble to protect themselves.

Facing a relentless, amoral prosecutor and allied with a malpractice insurance company acting in its own best interests, Andrews loses everything-his money and his standing in the medical community. His money-obsessed wife divorces him, taking with her their two children.

Jack’s opponents think they’ve won. They think they’re the most ruthless players in the game of life. But Jack’s about to introduce them to the game’s next level. He’s got nothing left to lose, and a mind trained to make life-or-death decisions. People start to die-people who wronged Jack Andrews.
A tense thriller, ” Unfortunate Event” explores the dark side of operating room culture, the cutthroat world of malpractice law, and the mind of one man as his world crumbles around him.

Word Slinger Publicity gave me a copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

The one thing that drew me to this book was that the author is an anesthesiologist, and I was looking forward to accurate and copious medical detail.
I wasn’t disappointed! I was also pleasantly surprised by the quality of the writing and how thrilling the plot was. Jack Andrews is a very sympathetic character that undergoes a sweeping personality change as a result of his verbally abusive and emotionally absent wife, job stress, and accidental death of a patient that was not his fault.
The story line is set up well as we see a patient suddenly go downhill after a routine surgery. The medicine was good, but an unknown combination of events caused the patient to spiral downwards and eventually die. The details showing doctors scrambling to lay blame and divert attention away from themselves is chilling and unfortunate if truly accurate.
Andrews is a magnet for almost every cliché surrounding the medical profession: he’s married to a money grubbing woman who teaches their children to view their father as a giant wallet, his coworkers are a coterie of doctors that eschew their personal life to chase the almighty dollar, and his malpractice lawyer is a drunken has-been who only cares about getting the case settled quickly so he can go back to his bottle.
Author Marc David Veldt makes this situation sound plausible. Some of his most cringeworthy bits of dialogue are from the mouth of Kate, the doctor’s wife. In one chapter, she is lambasting her husband for having to miss work during his malpractice trial. She asks:
“How long will the trial take?”
“About 3 or 4 weeks.”
“You can’t be expected to miss that much work. We have no income if you aren’t working. You’ll just have to make the lawyers attend the trial. There’s no reason you have to be there all the time.”
“Gee, honey, I think it’s expected that I show up for my own trial.”
“It isn’t fair. Why should the children and I have to suffer because some guy had a poor result?”
“Dying is a very poor result.”
“You just aren’t tough enough, are you? I can’t believe I’m supposed to raise children with someone who isn’t strong and has all these problems.”

Every time Kate spoke it was pretty much along the same lines, and I hoped to read later on that he had injected her with some potassium chloride or something.

Eventually Dr Andrews gives in to let the machine chew him up and spit him out. He loses everything he cares about, and the only thing left for him is to seek justice….his own way. The brilliant, organized mind of an anesthesiologist turns to nefarious deeds, and this is where the story takes a darker turn. He plots the murder of everyone who has wronged him in a cool, calculated plot that did stretch credulity a bit, but for the most part it was easy to digest.  Even as he plots the demise of his enemies, he still remains a sympathetic character. I stayed up long past my bedtime to see what would happen to the good doctor!

Andrews’ character is well defined, whereas some of the others were not. There was an equal amount of dialogue and description to keep things constantly moving forward in a compelling way, and there was suspense as well towards the end of the book when the police started putting the pieces together.

UNFORTUNATE EVENT is a hidden gem of a book and easily readable, no medical background needed. The events put forth in the book really made me think about the world of malpractice law and how vulnerable doctors may be in this litigious society. The author writes in such a way as to exploit the desire for money, and this causes the reader to realize the pressure on doctors and how this affects each decision they make.

I’d love to see more of Veldt’s work and I hope he continues to write. Want your own copy? You can pick it up here.

 

 

 

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