Chergui’s Child by Jane Riddell

Cover of Chergui's Child

A quick and entertaining read, but perhaps not the most memorable. While I do have some critiques, I found that Chergui’s Child was a decent read. I realize I should keep things to a review only, but I just can’t help myself. Some days I think I’d make a better editor than librarian!

Olivia, a bit of a damp and fragile woman, receives a letter from a dying aunt that launches her past back into the present. Through a series of flashbacks, we watch as Olivia’s story unfolds. But, what I think was meant to be an empowering story about a woman who perseveres, kind of falls apart towards the end.

Part mystery, part women’s lit, Chergui’s Child sets the stage for an intriguing plot-line, but doesn’t follow through in the way that I thought it would. Olivia, who, let’s face it, has made some really really really terrible life choices struggles to cope with the findings in the letter. Meeting a series of characters and traveling to different locations, Olivia tries to piece her life together.

Unfortunately, between all the characters and traveling back and forth, Chergui’s Child can come across as a bit rushed. While I am assuming that each character’s flaws were meant to give some momentum and depth to the story, there weren’t any real connections. Everyone was just kind of….awful. Sometimes that works in a story, but this time, it just didn’t do it for me.

On the flip side, I think Chergui’s Child does have some poignant moments. I am rather fond of Riddell’s attention to detail. While not particularly flowery or verbose, Riddell describes a wide range of settings: from the dust storms of Morocco, to the choppy waters off the coast of France, to the stiff interior of a lawyer’s office. I also admire the way Riddell incorporates her own experiences so lovingly into her craft. If you’re looking for a bittersweet novel with a focus on women’s issues, this is the Indie novel for you.

You can purchase Chergui’s Child on Amazon here.

You can also find her professional editing services site at www.quietfiction.com. Yes, I do realize that I made mention of editing an editor’s work, but I really do believe it is close to impossible to edit yourself really well, as evidenced by all of my own mistakes! Editing is a fickle beast.

If you are more in the mood for something a little more literary or a little more personal, you can follow her blog Papillon athttp://wwwbloggercom-janelilly.blogspot.co.uk/

Pleasant Reading!

Raking the Dust by John Biscello

And the award for Best Indie Read So Far goes to…..Raking the Dust by John Biscello. I was totally blown away. In fact, I was so impressed, that I actually resent the fact that this hasn’t been picked up by a bigger publishing house.

Raking the Dust is a semi-autobiographical work of fiction that is set mainly in Toas, New Mexico, home to Biscello, a native New Yorker and Brooklynite. Through a survey of literature and music, with just a hint of magical realism, we find the intensely flawed yet somehow noble Alex Fillameno. Alex, a divorced, drug-addled, and starving artist meets D.J. an unpredictably mysterious, and surreal musician who introduces him to a world unlike any other.

In a way, Raking the Dust is a little experimental. Biscello plays around with the traditional format of novels, but not to the extant that it would be distracting. I actually fell into it quite easily, like nestling into a warm blanket. Though, if I’m being honest, Raking the Dust isn’t exactly warm and cuddly. It’s not cold…or distant. At times it was incredibly intimate. In turns it was harsh yet touching, colorful yet monochromatic, surreal yet honest. I loved the different dynamics at play. All together they produce a completely original narrative that will keep you turning the page.

At times it read a little like a freshman literary survey course, with copious amounts of quotes and name dropping. BUT….the pretentious book snob in me delights in understanding obscure (as well as incredibly obvious) literary references. And if I don’t get them, which happened a few times (not gonna lie….) while reading Raking the Dust, I nevertheless enjoy being introduced to the writer’s muse.

I was never quite sure where I was headed, but when I got there I realized I had definitely enjoyed the ride.

You can find out more about John Biscello and his body of works at his website johnbiscello.com. Raking the Dust was originally published by Zharmae, which has since closed it’s doors.

Read on!!

The Sabbath by Arthur Nsenga and Shaunakay Francis

I want to apologize to everyone for the delay in posting. Sometimes life just gets in my way, and sometimes these reviews just don’t go the way I wanted or expected them to. This time it was a little of both.

The Sabbath is a post-apocalyptic novel that follows Lana and Cory, two hardcore action heroes who are surprisingly delicate and sensitive. A little too sensitive. It’s one of the more cryingest books that I’ve ever read. Soooo many tears. So. Many. Cory’s mother is missing and it’s up to him and his new girlfriend Lana to find her. Following an array of characters that are a little too reliant on their archetypes, The Sabbath is the clash of religion, politics, and society gone awry.

Now, I usually try to remain fairly objective. But, honestly, this just wasn’t my thing. I actually had a difficult time finishing the book. I couldn’t bring myself to keep on keeping on. This isn’t a critique of the writing style, which I just didn’t find engaging. It’s not a critique of character development, which I thought was a little lacking. Sometimes, you just don’t jive with what your reading.

I try to screen the Indie books as much as possible because the last thing I want to do is tear down someone’s dream. It takes a lot of guts to start a novel, let alone finish one. I have the utmost respect for anyone who can get a finished product out there. Who am I to say what’s what? With that being said, I try to find Indie books that I am genuinely into. It’s easier for me to overlook issues that occur without having a topnotch editor when I find myself really drawn into the plot…or characters…or setting…or some aspect of the book that I find deserves praise and attention. Unfortunately, in this case, I just wasn’t a fan. But as I can’t give a positive review, I can neither give a negative one.

The Sabbath really does have potential. I think there are definitely a few kinks, but overall there is something there lurking under my own personal preferences of the novel. It put me in mind of movies like the Children of Men. Or if I’m being 100% honest here, it reminded me of watching someone play Call of Duty instead of playing it for myself, if that makes any sense.

In any event, if your looking for an action packed post-apocalyptic shoot-em up with just a hint of romance, The Sabbath may just be the book for you. This is a debut novel by Arthur Nsenga and Shaunakay Francis. You can purchase the book from the Amazon Kindle Store, and find out more about the writers here:
http://www.arthurnsenga.com and here: https://twitter.com/shayykayyyy

Pleasant Reading!

Crossroads: Women Coming of Age in Todays’s Uganda

Does reading make us kinder, more compassionate people? I’m not sure. I’d like to think so. What I can tell you, is that reading is like looking through a window, or moving through a door. It’s watching an unfamiliar landscape unfold until it becomes close enough that you might go through it with more understanding and empathy than when you started.

Crossroads is a collection of autobiographical essays written by Ugandan women about the binaries of tradition and modern culture. Topics range from women’s rights, education, abuse and domestic violence, religion, love, marriage, and many more, often with overlapping.

I wasn’t particularly impressed with the prose, but I will chalk that up to a couple of different factors that were outside of the writers’ control. However, I was moved by the narratives. The audacity and bravery of these women to share their most intimate and harrowing experiences is really quite admirable.

While I won’t pretend to understand 100% where they are coming from, as a woman, I could identify with some of the writers. Even if I wasn’t a woman, I think there is much to be gained by learning about others’ experiences, especially when they are so different from your own. Crossroads definitely fits the bill.

While I do think each essay was written with Crossroads in mind, and therefore felt a little forced or abrupt, I think the project was a successful one overall. A fairly short read and the ability to skip around makes Crossroads a great commuter read, or a great read for those who don’t have a lot of time.

For more information about the project you can visit their website at http://www.uganda-crossroads.net/

The Boston Ranter by Layden Robinson

The Boston Ranter. A fictional “autobiographical” series of vignettes portraying one man’s life as a New Englander. I generally try to remain positive in my reviews of Indie books because for all intents and purposes, they are missing a certain set of steps that eliminate the chaff from the wheat. But, sometimes this proves very difficult for me. Case in point: The Boston Ranter.

Somewhere amidst the accented profanity (which was not consistent), and the….emojis (for why???), there might have been something worth holding on to. But, I’m not so sure. Even with short stories and vignettes, there is some sort of thread that runs through the whole thing. A particular theme, or just something that makes the whole thing feel cohesive. A sum of it’s parts. Something that, at the end, you can say, “Yeah, I get that.” But I just didn’t get it with The BR.

On the flippity flip, The BR is a very short read, so if you are looking for something quick to fill the void, this will do you nicely. If you happen to BE FROM BOSTON, this might be your thing. If you love supporting Indie Writers, go ahead and take a chance. If you love music and/or blogs, check out Robinson here: https://laydenrobinson.wordpress.com/

Happy Reading! 🙂

The Dean Machine by Dylan Lee Peters

First let me begin by saying that the introduction alone made me cry. Like, big heaping sobs and soggy tears. It was literally like reading one of those old Sarah McLachlan commercials where all the furbabies are looking up at you with sad eyes to the tune of “Angel.” “Spend all your time waiting / For that second chance / For a break that would make it okay. / There’s always some reason / To feel not good enough / And it’s hard, at the end of the day…” I know you’re singing along to it….and its ok. Cue the water works!

TDM is a futuristic dystopian sci-fi with more than just a pinch of robotics in the mix. Dan Delacor is more than a little restless with his humdrum life in Yellow City, that is until he meets Wendy and her little dog, Dean. Together with a host of other characters, Dan must come to terms with who he was, who he is, and who he will be.

One of the heroes, The Dean Machine himself, is written for the author’s actual rescue dog, Dean. It’s what first snagged my attention when asked to review the book. I think we tend to see animals that are pertinent to the plot more in children’s literature than adult, and I was interested to see how it would pan out.

While Dylan Lee Peters is definitely an imaginative and talented writer, I did find that I wavered between wishing this was toned down a bit so it would be more suited for a juvenile book, and wishing it was beefed up a bit to read more adult. TDM gave me the distinct impression that it was imparting a lesson, which was so obvious that it tipped toward juvenile literature. Then there would be bouts of violence, soliloquies that waxed philosophic, and I was awed at the existential crises of a few of the characters. I was actually thoroughly impressed by the villain. He’s a nasty piece of work but my favorite bad guys are always the smart ones. He has A LOT to say, b-t-dubs.

At first I thought I would prefer it if TDM was two separate novels, one about Dean for kids, and one with all the other stuff for everyone else. Because, Dean is cool. Like, super cool. Buuuuut….he definitely detracted from the main plot. It was a little too cutsie when everything else was intense. Then I felt guilty because, I mean, the whole thing is a tribute to the dog. So, I’m still not sure how I feel about it.

However, I want to be clear. When I said Peters is a talented writer, I meant it. This guy is good! TDM has it all. Action, adventure, love, puppies, robots, heroes, bad guys, clones, and more twists and turns then you are ready for. I was spell-bound. You will be too. I’d put TDM in my top 3 Indie reads. Plus a percentage of proceeds go to animals in rescue. Did I ever tell you I’m a dog person?  I love a good cause, especially if it’s for the pups (except you Sarah McLachlin, Harbinger of Tears and All the Feels. Gah, I hate that commercial!)

Dylan Lee Peters is also the author of the Everflame series. You can find out more about Peters, his books, and his swag at his site dylanleepeters.com.

The Sisters by Don Sloan

Nathan and Sarah are both descendants of old Cape May families. They have both inherited houses. Evil houses. Houses that witness and whisper to one another in the night. With demons and witches, spells and curses, blood and gore, Nathan and Sarah have to solve a centuries old mystery or die trying.

And from here I’m going to have to break this down a little bit.

My Likes:
The concept
: I do like a bit of horror. The darker the better. Forget haunted houses, try demonic sentient houses!
The setting
: This is the second Indy novel I’ve read in a matter of months that takes place on Cape May. I think the universe is trying to tell me something. Whether it’s go! or stay away! is still a mystery…
The voice
: I felt like I was reading a screenplay as opposed to a novel. I think The Sisters would make a pretty cool film actually, and I kept finding myself directing it in my head…

Dislikes:
The voice
: I felt like I was reading a screenplay as opposed to a novel…What? I can like and not like it at the same time. I was undecided!
The dreamscape
: The book started to feel disjointed with all of the flash backs, time travel, dimension hopping, and dreamscape scenarios. The plot lost a lot of its momentum with all the movement and felt underdeveloped.
The history
: From the opinion of an history enthusiast….I will spare you by omitting the details, but know that the book has some pretty glaring historical anachronisms. So much so that I couldn’t get past it. If that kind of minutiae doesn’t matter to you, then this probably won’t be as big a deal as it is to me. Sloan does mention in the afterward that he has taken several liberties, but it seemed more of a reluctance to fact check than poetic license.

And just a weird side note thing that happened to bother me probably for no good reason: Nathan is actually named after his great, great (or something to that effect) uncle Nathan Bedford Forrest (who also makes an appearance in Forrest Gump) AKA the Wizard of the Saddle AKA the first Grand Wizard of the KKK. I’m not sure why this is even a thing since it didn’t have any relevance to the novel itself, so I’m just gonna leave this here….? Do with it what you will.

Overall, I think that Sloan has a pretty intense imagination. Both The Sisters and the sequel, The Horror Hunters, are available on Amazon. You can check out his pretty extensive book review blog here! https://donsloanauthor.wordpress.com/

Pleasant reading!

Blackspoon by Daniel Eagleton

I’m very tempted to call Blackspoon “pulp fiction.” No, not the John Travolta kind, the hardboiled kind.  But, Charlie Wetherspoon, RAF man, addict, and egomaniac is anything but desensitized by violence. As he succumbs to drug induced paranoia his penchant for violence only increases.

In the beginning, we kind of feel sorry for Charlie. He’s put himself in a stupid position smuggling drugs into England via his tour in the Middle East. But still, he’s a bit of a slacker, a bit pitiful. Someone you feel sorry for. By the end, you still feel sorry for him, but in the way that you feel bad about having to put down a rabid dog.

Pulp fiction isn’t really my bag. Neither are political, legal, or military suspense novels. But Blackspoon really had me going. I was pleasantly surprised at just how Eagleton really kept me guessing. About halfway through I found myself becoming more and more convinced that Charlie actually knew what the hell he was talking about. Yeah, man. I GET IT. But even at the end, which was actually a bit of a cliffhanger, I still wasn’t sure what to make of the whole thing.

Eagleton relies heavily on colloquialisms, so there were some things that I got quite easily, but others I had to look up. I have a tendency to fact check as I read (I blame the librarian in me) and Eagleton has produced a really smooth, extremely well edited copy. But, if you’re an American reader unfamiliar with English slang, brace yourself. In any event, I really appreciate pop culture references and local flavors as I find it can give me a more immersive experience.

Even though I was scratching my head trying to figure out if there really is some government cover-up, conspiracy theory goings on, I did figure out that I 100% enjoyed this read.

Eagleton doesn’t have too much of an online presence, but I did find this interview for your viewing pleasure.

Read on, Indie fans!!

Night of the Victorian Dead: Welcome to Romero Park by Amber Cook

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. Android Karenina. Yes. These are all real titles. And so is Night of the Victorian Dead, which follows in the wake of other horror-ified classics. Night of the Victorian Dead is like a mashup of Sean of the Dead and Downton Abby. It’s fun and flirty and well…zombie…y.

Cook stays true to that gothic feel by limiting the graphic horror and playing up the suspense, as well as the matchmaking. Her voice, while not quite authentic does a fabulous job at imitating what we would think of as regency prose. I felt as though a bejeweled gossip was whispering in my ear revealing the scandals and other juicy sweetmeats that get passed on behind hooded eyes and dainty fans. It was a delight. Oh yeah, and zombies.

On the other hand, at times the writing can be a little clunky. The timeline was slightly unsettling as I only figured it out at the end. Between the flashbacks and the multi-character narrative, the overall arch gets a little lost behind the individuals. The first book takes place over the course of a single day and night, and I am assuming the next installments will follow a similar paradigm. However, my biggest complaint was that because it is so split up that there was no climax. No denouement. The natural progression of the story was cut off before things really started heating up. I wish I had all three to read straight through.

With that being said, as far as complaints go, these are mere trifles. Night of the Victorian Dead is a pleasurable read. I applaud Cook, for despite any shortcomings, her novella really is well turned out. If you are looking for a period piece with a bit of suspense, this should be right up your alley…err…or root cellar…Oh yeah, and zombies! Did I say zombies?

Cape May by Holly Caster

I have to be honest. I was really quite impressed.

Cape May is the story of near-60 Joanna. Through a series of life-changing adventures, Joanna comes to terms with who she is and what she wants, even if it has taken more than half of her life to get there. Joanna is ready for a change, but doesn’t quite realize how much change she is in for.

I was delighted by the wonderful descriptions of Cape May. I was simply transported. Caster really has a way of bringing the town to life. So much so, that I totally want to visit! Like Joanna, I live in New York, so it’s totally doable. Three day weekend here I come!

Caster’s portrayal of love and marriage is honest and heartbreaking. It sheds light on our secret fears and our deepest desires. It opens up a door that so few of us have the courage to walk through. In the end we are left satisfied but never really free of regret. The chemical attraction between the characters is electric. You can feel it from the get-go.

Charmed and joyful, a bit on the steamy side, Cape May is a wonderful beach read. Or in my case, snuggled on the couch with my puppy because it’s snowing outside kind of read. I read it all in one sitting, completely under Caster’s spell. Much to my surprise, I couldn’t put it down. It reminded me of a lighter version Nights in Rodanthe. It is very refreshing for me to see realistic characters with age, depth, and a lust for life and love. It actually made me take a step back and wonder what I could be doing differently in my own life.

Holly Caster is a column writer/journal editor and is already working on her next novel. You can read more about Caster and her novel Cape May at capemayanovel.com. You can pick up a copy of Cape May from Amazon in paperback or Kindle format.