Enoch’s Device ~ Joseph Finley

  • Title: Enoch’s Device
  • Author: Joseph Finley
  • Genre: Historical Fantasy
  • Format: e-book
  • Source: Author
  • Reviewed by: Erica, Guest Reviewer
  • Rating: 5 out of 5

Description:  Nearly a thousand years after the birth of Christ, when all Europe fears that the world will soon end, an Irish monk, Brother Ciarán, discovers an ominous warning hidden in the illuminations of a religious tome. The cryptic prophecy speaks of Enoch’s device, an angelic weapon with the power to prevent the coming apocalypse.

Pursued by Frankish soldiers and supernatural forces, Ciarán and his freethinking mentor, Brother Dónall, journey to the heart of France in search of the device. There, they rescue the Lady Alais from a heretic-hunting bishop who insists mankind must suffer for its sins. Together the trio races across Europe to locate the device, which has left clues of its passage through history. But time is running out, and if they don’t find it soon, all that they love could perish at the End of Days.

Enoch’s Device is a fast-paced medieval adventure steeped in history, mythology, and mysteries from a dark and magical past.

Review:
Ireland, the year 997 AD. The monks at the local monastery watch in awe as a ship arrives from France, carrying a host of armed men and the bishop of Blois, a man called Ademar. Among the monks is a young man called Ciaran, and he is shocked to hear why the Franks have arrived: Ciaran’s friend and guardian Donall stands accused of witchcraft and heresy.

This marks the beginning of a fast-paced adventure that takes in half of Europe, encompassing magic, fae, religion, legends, demons, the offspring of fallen angels and much, much more, yet it never becomes muddled. History, fantasy and existing legends – sometimes religious, sometimes not – are interwoven seamlessly, and the whole makes for a wonderful ride that often has you on the edge of your seat. The heroes are likeable, the villains suitably loathsome, and the story is never boring.

I’m still not entirely sure how plausible it is for a tenth-century monk to be as enlightened and to have as much knowledge as Donall, but his background is plausibly written, so I was happy to accept it. The only real gripe I have is that the ending was rather abrupt, but other than that I really, thoroughly enjoyed this book. I’d definitely recommend it.

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I Am Not a Cop! ~ Richard Belzer, Michael Black

  • Title: I Am Not a Cop!
  • Author: Richard Belzer, Michael Black
  • Genre: Mystery
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: Olga
  • Rating: 4 out of 5

Description:  When Richard Belzer meets Rudy Markovich, nyc medical examiner, for dinner in Brighton Beach, he has little reason to expect anything more than a friendly bull session. But in the next twenty-four hours Belzer finds himself in the middle of a vicious street brawl, splashed across the tabloid headlines as an out-of-control celeb, and fearing for the life of his good pal Rudy — who police assume is sleeping at the bottom of the East River.

As Belzer finds himself increasingly required to call upon the resources he taps to portray Detective Munch on nbc, he maintains his sense of humor and carries us along on a rollicking ride through the underworld of New York City. With Rudy kidnapped, or worse, it falls to The Belz to track him down and solve the riddle to the vanishing act.

The lives of Detective Munch and Richard Belzer collide and mesh in “I Am Not a Cop” as one of America’s great comics and TV cops brings all of his talents to bear in book form and provides a triumph of the mystery genre.

Review:  I loved this book. Written by Richard Belzer in collaboration with Michael Black, it is inseparable from Belzer’s persona. Although it is a novel, the protagonist is Belzer himself. A fictional account of a real person is not a new concept. There are novels aplenty about many historical figures, but Belzer’s opus is unique: he portrays himself as a fictional character – with irony and wit.

Just a reminder: Richard Belzer, a TV actor and stand-up comedian, is mostly known for his role of Detective John Munch in Law & Order and the series’ multiple spinoffs. In fact, he made television history as he played that same role for 15 years in 10 different TV shows. Besides acting, he also wrote several other books.

This particular book, his first novel, belongs to the rare fictional genre of comical thriller. Richard’s friend Rudy, a medical examiner for the NYPD and former Russian immigrant, disappeared. A couple days later, Richard receives a letter from Rudy, containing a riddle. The police seem less than enthusiastic to proceed, so Richard decides to take the matter into his own hands. He investigates Rudy’s mystery himself.

As an actor who has played a policeman for 15 years, he knows many New York policemen personally. One of them, Max, a real-life police detective responsible for Rudy’s case, keeps reminding Richard: “You’re not a cop. You just play one on TV. Leave it to the professionals.” Aware that he is not a cop, Richard is still adamant to solve the riddle and find his friend.

As Richard stumbles from one mad escapade to another, the story capers head over heels like a mad TV series, involving a sleazy reporter from a New York tabloid, the Russian mafia, diamond trade, Russian spies, and Chinese martial arts. Disregarding dangers to himself, using everything he knows as a fictional policeman and a real actor – from police procedures to diamond lore – Richard barges ahead in search of his buddy.

Belzer weaves a sophisticated tapestry from its many interconnected threads. As a veteran actor, whenever Richard trips on a kink in the plot line, he moans for the script to learn how the story unravels. As a comedian, he often inserts small comical routines in the midst of his Russian-diamond-mafia conspiracy. And as a writer, Belzer populates his tale with various menacing secondary characters, tangling the plot considerably, before it is resolved in the last chapter.

With self-deprecating humor and real finesse, Belzer paints his imaginary self-portrait: a suave actor, a bumbling comedian, and a home-made hero. The only sour twist in this delightful mix of genres is the writer’s handling of Russian words and names. They are often jarring for a Russian ear. One would think that such a well-known performer and author would make an effort and hire a real-life Russian consultant to check the spellings.

On the whole, it is a small price to pay for the pleasure of reading this unusual novel. The action gallops, the intrepid hero valiantly totters through the labyrinth of intrigue, and the reader enjoys the ride in the best thriller tradition.

Five Tips for Revising and Editing by Michael Pryor

January 17th, 2013

Tip 1: Use Word’s ‘Find’ feature (or ‘Advanced Find’ in Word 2010) to highlight words you use too often. Plug in the word, click on ‘Reading Highlight’ and then skim through your ms to get a stark visual overview of how often the word appears. An abundance of yellow might mean you need to vary your vocab a little.

Tip 2: Try editing from back to front. After working through my ms a number of times, I get the feeling that the first chapters get the most attention. I know my attention shouldn’t flag but I’m sure it does. The chapters toward the end probably don’t get the same scrutiny. Therefore, near the end of the process, I do a backward edit – I start with the last chapter, then when I’ve finished with it I go to the second last chapter and so on. It re-frames my revising and it’s remarkable what I pick up.

Tip 3: Use Word Lists. I have a number that I use when revising/editing. One is a list of words I tend to overuse (see Tip 2). Others are lists of contextual vocabulary – historical slang, technical jargon, foreign words – that can be added while revising.

Tip 4: If your habit is to revise/edit on a print out, try one pass through on screen. And vice-versa. If your practice is to revise/edit on screen, try a pass through using a print out. Working in a format you’re not comfortable with or accustomed to can put you on your mettle.

Tip 5: Read your dialogue out loud. There’s nothing like this to highlight whether your characters are talking naturally or not. If you find yourself reading in one character’s voice, uninterrupted, for five minutes – you might have a mouthpiece instead of a character.

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To find out more information on Micheal Pryor and his work, please visit his website.

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Alpha & Omega ~ Patricia Briggs

  • Title: Alpha & Omega
  • Author: Patricia Briggs
  • Series: Alpha & Omega #0.5
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy
  • Format: Paperback
  • Source: Own
  • Reviewed by: Olga
  • Rating: 5 out of 5

Description:  Anna Latham never knew werewolves existed, until the night she survived a violent attack… and became one herself. After three years at the bottom of the Chicago pack, she’s learned to keep her head down and never, ever trust dominant males. But when she discovers wrongdoing in her pack, she has to go above her Alpha’s head to ask for help.

Charles Cornick is the son — and enforcer — of the leader of the North American werewolves. Now his father has sent him to Chicago to clean up a problem there. Charles never expected to find Anna, a rare Omega wolf — and he certainly never expected to recognize her as his mate…

This novella was originally published in the anthology On the Prowl.

Review:  This novella is a reread, probably my favorite of all the Briggs’s stories set in the world of Mercy Thompson and her werewolf friends. I own the anthology On the Prowl, in which Alpha and Omega is included, but every time I re-read it (at least twice already) I read only this one story.

The heroine of this short tale, Anna, is a recently turned werewolf in Chicago. Changed against her will, constantly abused by her new pack mates and bewildered by their brutal treatment, she is afraid of her own shadow, until Charles blows into town to investigate the local pack.

While Anna is a new character for the readers, we know Charles from the previous Mercy novels. He is the son of the Marrok and the executioner of his father’s will.

Anna’s and Charles’s short association – only a couple of days – is studded with danger and courage and tinged with the beginning of sensual interest. While the action-filled plot zips ahead without pause, the protagonists’ romance unfolds tentatively, reluctantly, as if, like Anna, it is afraid to bloom.

The story is tightly written and sharply focused, everything extraneous ruthlessly pared off. Despite the low page count that doesn’t allow for a very deep characterization, the reader sees Anna and Charles clearly. She is kind and compassionate, learning to accept her new status as a shape-shifter. He is ruthless and just, determined to keep her safe. The result is a charming portrait of a young female werewolf who is gradually coming to terms with what she is.

By the end, the reader is left bemoaning the shortness of the story and hankering for more.

The UnTied Kingdom ~ Kate Johnson

  • Title: The UnTied Kingdom
  • Author: Kate Johnson
  • Genre: Romance
  • Format: Kindle
  • Source: Own
  • Reviewed by: Olga
  • Rating: 3 out of 5

Description:  The portal to an alternate world was the start of all her troubles – or was it?

When Eve Carpenter lands with a splash in the Thames, it’s not the London or England she’s used to. No one has a telephone or knows what a computer is. England’s a third world country and Princess Di is still alive. But worst of all, everyone thinks Eve’s a spy.
Including Major Harker who has his own problems. His sworn enemy is looking for a promotion. The general wants him to undertake some ridiculous mission to capture a computer, which Harker vaguely envisions running wild somewhere in Yorkshire. Turns out the best person to help him is Eve.
She claims to be a popstar. Harker doesn’t know what a popstar is, although he suspects it’s a fancy foreign word for ‘spy’. Eve knows all about computers, and electricity. Eve is dangerous. There’s every possibility she’s mad.

And Harker is falling in love with her.

Review: 
Unexpectedly, I enjoyed this book. It could be billed as a time travel romance or a dystopian romance. Neither is my favorite genre, but the book engaged me on the visceral level. It held me under its spell and sent my nerves tingling, as I followed the heroine’s harrowing adventures.

Although the novel has many flaws, including mediocre language, interchangeable secondary characters, inadequate world building, and lapses in logic, the story was superb, filled with risks, betrayals, friendships, and star-crossed lovers.

The protagonist Eve is a former British pop star, currently in trouble with the tax office. During a glider accident, she falls through a gap between worlds and ends up in a parallel universe.  England is different here – a poverty-stricken third world country with no television and no computers. British Empire has never existed. America was settled by the Japanese. And nobody has heard of Shakespeare. To top it all off, there is a civil war going on, and the country is under military rule.

Of course, the military brass suspects Eve of being a spy: she was flying over the Thames after all. Or maybe she is plain mad: the way she spouts nonsense about internet, Beatles, iPods, or reality TV. Disoriented and utterly alone, Eve is sent to a prison/asylum. Falling into despair, she even begins to doubt herself, when one of the top army officers, Major Harker, is charged with a secret mission to capture a computer from an enemy stronghold.

Harker is a typical alpha-male hero, gruff, unkempt, and absolutely dependable. He has a reputation: he never leaves his men behind. For his mission, he picks Eve as one of his select group of soldiers. She might be a spy or crazy or both but at least she seems to know computers. None of the others has ever seen one.

The group’s journey across the hostile territory serves as the background for the unfolding love story between Harker and Eve. Both resist their burgeoning attraction as long as they can, while the danger builds and the tension mounts. Their personal clashes reflect the chasm between cultures. He is a career soldier, used to issuing and following orders. She is an artist, a product of democracy, where freedom of choices is valued above all else.

Their verbal spats were fun to read, while their sufferings and sacrifices made my heart beat furiously in sympathy. I wanted for Harker and Eve to find their happily-ever-after, but sadly, their love looked doomed from the start. Too many obstacles stood in their way: the oily, devious antagonist, the thick-headed, relentless general, even the lovers’ own frequent misunderstandings. And of course, their alternative realities.

The ending disappointed, although on the surface, it was a good one: Harker follows Eve into her world. But think about it. If Eve was distrusted and suspected in a computer-less England, what would’ve happened to Harker in the computerized England of today? Without a birth certificate or immigration papers, he wouldn’t have fared better in our world than Eve fared in his. Maybe worse. The joy of marriage and family would still be denied them. In any modern country, the lack of proper documents is a disaster practically impossible to overcome, unless one is willing to resort to criminal means. The author should’ve thought this through. How would Shakespeare handle such a situation, I wonder?

The Sweetest Taboo ~ Carole Matthews

  • Title: The Sweetest Taboo
  • Author: Carole Matthews
  • Genre: Chick-lit, Romance
  • Format: Paperback
  • Source: Own copy
  • Reviewed by: Erica, Guest Reviewer
  • Rating: 3 out of 5

Description:   A story of love, life and going completely la-la in LA, from the internationally bestselling author of Bare Necessity and For Better, For Worse, Carole Matthews.

One girl in love with two guys…
Isn’t that the sweetest taboo?

Sadie Nelson knows that falling in love can be big trouble – especially when she discovers that the best things in life are never free. Her heart starts causing trouble when she first lays eyes on Gil McGann, the sexy and powerful Hollywood producer at the London Book Fair. In no time, Gil is whisking her away from her dead-end job and drizzly old England to join him in the land of the perfect suntan. Then there’s Tavis Jones, an irresistibly endearing — and criminally good-looking — actor who’s soon pulling her heartstrings in a different direction. Suddenly the choices facing Sadie in the home of the famous and the desperate-to-be-famous are enough to drive a good girl insane — especially when no-one is quite what they seem to be. It’s not great to find out that Gil has a sticky ex who won’t let go or that Tavis’s uncertain orientation may permanently cast him in the role of “good friend”. With her real life turning rapidly into a mad movie plot, what does a slightly crazed woman two much in love do?

Lights, camera, action…

Review:  Well, I’d never heard of Carole Matthews before, and then I read two of her books in a row. Unfortunately I found this one to be the weaker one.

Sadie used to have a job in the high-flying banking world, until she was laid off. Since then she has been forced to grab every temporary job that’s offered to her in order to make ends meet. During a stint of handing out leaflets at a book fair she is approached by Gil McGann, a Hollywood movie producer who is on his last day in London, and they end up spending the night together… sitting on a sofa and talking, then falling asleep.

This marks the start of their rather unconventional romance, which ultimately results in Gil sending Sadie an open-ended ticket to Los Angeles because he misses her too much. Sweet, right? There’s just one problem: Gil hasn’t actually got round to divorcing his wife yet.

To his credit, he’s not the type of guy who knowingly messes around with another woman while still being married. He does genuinely seem to want to move on with Sadie. Unfortunately he’s also a spineless idiot who ends up continuously being manipulated by his almost-ex-wife, which makes it hard to root for him and Sadie getting their act together.

Sadie herself I found a bit… Well, I’m not sure what I thought of her really. I didn’t dislike her, but I can’t say I really liked her either, and as the book progressed, the situations she ended up in became progressively more convoluted and groan-worthy. She meets a drop-dead-gorgeous young actor, Tavis, and throughout the rest of the book she constantly bounces between him and Gil, never getting anywhere with either of them even though they are both crazy about her.

The writing in this book was excellent, I have no qualms with that. The problem lay with the content. It was enjoyable on the whole, but it just became increasingly difficult to suspend my disbelief, and the ending was rather meh.

Read if you don’t want to think too much, have no problem with cringing your way through a book and can handle the very British atmosphere that permeates it, for all that it mostly takes place in Hollywood.