In 2015 I joined The Book Review Directory and have since had a steady stream of requests from international authors wanting me to read and review books.
The reviews are now shown below in the year date I read and reviewed them.
If you can send a PDF and a small $5 fee.
I enjoy reading children, young adults fantasy, science fiction books, children’s and picture books.
2015 – Unknown Sender by Ryan Lanz
Her dorm roommate Aubrey, a pretty blonde who barely studied but still passed with A’s and B’s, was getting ready for a party. Her boyfriend Ricky was having the party at his rental house and had invited a friend Chad to be Jessica’s blind date.
After Kevin had disappeared when Jessica had mentioned marriage, she wasn’t sure if she really wanted to meet anyone.
While Aubrey was in the shower Jessica got a weird text from an unknown sender.
[Do you lock your doors at night?]
That was the first of several texts that began to unsettle Jessica. They weren’t coming from Aubrey’s phone, she checked. Besides, Aubrey was in the shower.
They were ready for the party and heading to the car. Jessica knew she would end up being the designated driver as she hardly drank while Aubrey could keep up with the best of them.
Ricky’s rental was luxurious. He pointed out the features of the main bedroom, a fireplace, a balcony and a hot tub. Although embarrassed and objecting to going in the hot tub with strangers, in a borrowed unflattering bikini, Jessica sat there with Aubrey, Ricky and Chad. After an awkward few minutes, while Aubrey had gone to the toilet when she returned, Jessica got out to check her phone.
[Are you having fun?]
[You talk as if you know me.] Jessica messaged.
[How do you know I don’t? Things aren’t always as they seem. You look nice tonight. Purple is a lovely colour on you.]
Ricky had left the hot tub so Jessica decided to confront him, sure that it must be him because of the crazy way he looked at her. People were standing around chatting when she shoved Ricky and began shouting. Aubrey came out to see what was happening. They left the party because she was so upset. Jessica explained about the texts in the car on the way home.
The texts kept coming.
[It’s too bad you had to leave early. Were you not having a good time?]
[No, I wasn’t. Not with you harassing me like this.] Jessica replied.
Now at this point as a reader and reviewer, I expected the story to be along the lines of cyberbullying. I’ve read several coming of age stories on this theme. As a mother and Grandmother, I find cyberstalking and bullying pretty confronting.
However, this is a novelette and as Ryan did tell me a horror. So this is where the story took a twisting turn.
Aubrey suggested she and Jessica go away for the weekend to a lake house out of mobile range. So that Jessica could get away from her unknown sender, but could she?
I’ve been a judge of several short story competitions and one thing I look for is a twist that leaves a mark, a lingering memory or haunting thought that makes the story unique. This story does have that twist. Well done Ryan. The cover gives the reader a clue to the tale of Jessica in water, lake water, where she can really be herself.
SOL of the COLISEUM review by Jill Smith
This book is set in an alternative universe with some very familiar feeling old Roman style cities and culture filled with both good and evil.
I was hooked from the first page, it really got me in. I worried about Sol and wanted him to win even though the battles in the Coliseum were brutal. The promoters controlled his life and he was destined to die inside the place that he’d only known as his home. The evil in the mercenary Linsk was almost stomach churning. The ending was a gruelling and unexpected escape. I liked that Sol discovered he could hope and find friendship in the awful place. Moreover that he could be a crowd pleaser and incite the crowd to rebel against the oppressive rule of the Empire. I’m sure this will be the start of a series I look forward to reading.
The book blurb on Goodreads reads:
Deep in the bowels of the Coliseum of the mighty Astrolian Empire, the orphan, Sol, is raised by a makeshift family of guards and fellow slaves to become the most famed Gladiator in all the land. Alongside K’nal, his giant Frorian fighting partner, Sol must battle cunning warriors and fantastic beasts to delight the crowd and stay alive. But when an oppressed populace transforms Sol into a revolutionary folk hero, the Empire sends its most ruthless assassin to put an end to the uprising. Sol’s only chance is to do what no slave has ever done: escape from the Coliseum and the only home he’s ever known.
SOFT ON THE DEVIL by Robert Lampros
Review by Jill Smith©Dec16
Ian Phillips is an ordinary kind of guy, at twenty-four he works in the local Earth Way grocery store. He is very keen on promoting good quality merchandise. He works hard and gets a promotion. Things are looking up when he meets Amy and a relationship blooms.
All this is a backdrop to his deep faith, reading the bible daily, and trying to figure out what happened to Cindy Myran, a woman who lived in his apartment block who disappeared. Everyone thinks she’s was dead. Ian wasn’t so sure. She turns up at his place, afraid of being followed and asking for help to get to Bradson City. She was supposed to be dead already. Was this his hallucination? He had to find out more.
This is an unusual tale, all in the first person. I find it difficult to write in the first person. There is always something I want the reader to see what’s in the next person’s point of view. Robert Lampros has pulled this off admirably. I have to say I expected a different outcome but the ending was fitting.
Robert Lampros is an author of Christian poetry, essays, and fiction who lives in St. Louis. He earned a Bachelor’s in English Literature from Washington University in St. Louis. His books include Fits of Tranquility, Afternoon, Last Year’s Resolution, and Undivided Lines.
The Gift-Knight’s Quest by Dylan Madeley
The summary of the book gives a clearer picture of the overall story than this reader could gain. I had trouble getting into it.
I found Derek who became the Gift-Knight a restless wanderer and couldn’t like his attitude of indifference to his father and ingrained history of the Free Plains. It all started to make sense over halfway through the book. Chandra, the illegitimate daughter of King Jonnecht the ruler of Kensrik, lived a solitary and unloved life. That is until her spiteful stepmother committed suicide and her father joined his wife in death because of an ancient precedent. This left Kensirk in turmoil.
I’m happy to say I did like Chandra and her loyal followers, Captain Jan and the seamstress Ophelia.
I did find the political manoeuvres by firstly King Jonnecht himself, his barbed tongue wife, and then the former Kings advisers who became Chandra’s enemies plots and schemes left me feeling the world Dylan Madeley had created was a cold one, filled with characters who were full of duplicity. Then, of course, that could be said of the political world we live in today.
The ending came without fanfare. There was a hint of further instalments in the tale. I have hopes that Derek will show more of his true metal in the next book.
By Jill Smith©April 2017
Title: There’s a STINKY GOBIN in the shed
Author: Andrea Kaczmarek
Illustrator: Eva Kunzel
This is a quirky children’s book and I loved the whole concept.
Twin boys Jerry and Jacob are twins, but they don’t look the same. Jerry has curly hair and Jacob has spiky hair. They are different in nature too. Their Gran looks after them a lot because mum is away often. Gran has a shed and they decide it would be the perfect place to have a secret den. Gran is happy for them to use it as long as they clean it up. They set to work and Gran rewards them with a trip to the shops to buy sleeping bags and things including a hammock to make it comfortable. They decide that now they’ve got it set up a walk in the park behind Gran’s house in the middle of the night would be a great adventure. That’s when they meet Hob the smelly green goblin who is hungry all the time, chases things and generally makes a nuisance of himself. They have to get him back to his home. When they finally help the bad mannered and messy guest back home, they think everything has returned to normal, however, they have another surprise coming.
This is a chapter book for middle readers with great illustrations throughout the book by Eva Kunzel. I think Andrea has hit her target audience mark perfectly.
Writing, as I do for children, as part of The Ten Penners, it’s good to read other authors stories for inspiration. I read this as a request by Andrea Kaczmarek through The Book Review Directory, so it is unusual in that it is not an Australian author or book. I’ve now started following Andrea on Goodreads.
Goodreads review by Jill Smith July 2017
This book starts with a simple fantastic story well told by a student in front of his class.
Drew Morris has his audience is spellbound as he describes his life and death struggle, until, the class laugh and dismiss the whole story as fantasy. Only two of members of the class believe the tale could be based in fact.
Eevie and Tommy are inseparable best friends who tell Drew they believe his story. They decide to get proof that the knarled and creepy tree in the local park could really be killing people. They don’t plan on being trapped in a cavern facing menacing obstacles. The dangers they meet are simply horrendous but their devotion to each other overcomes the odds.
The ending is perfect in that their escape should mean an end to the ordeal, but, is it? Clearly, this is the first book in series. This is another surprising book that I wouldn’t normally read but for The Book Review Directory review requests.
This is a well-written polished book. I enjoyed it very much.
2018 – Tummy Rumble Quake
Lily and Niko Rabbit’s childcare class learns about the Great ShakeOut™ and about earthquakes. They learn what causes earthquakes and how an earthquake feels like shaking and sounds like a really loud tummy rumble. They practice the three safety steps – drop, cover, and hold on. At the end of the day, they know how to be safe during an earthquake.
My brief Goodreads review:
This is an instructional book for children.
Lily and Niko’s childcare learn what to do in an earthquake. The illustrations are colourful and the characters are animals, rabbits, racoons, foxes and the teacher Ciena is an owl. Children will be engaged when this is read to them by an adult. The message is a serious one and the different scenarios are clearly explained.
Childcare facilities would benefit from reading this to children, particularly if they are in an earthquake-prone area.
Book Review by Jill Smith©Jan18
Title: Rarity from the Hollow
Author: Robert Eggleton
Publisher: Dog Horn Publishing
Lacy Dawn and her best friend Faith play in the cardboard box that had contained her grandmothers’ fridge when it arrived. Her best friend DotCom is making her smart and she’s helping Faith get good grades. They live in a farming backwater in America called the Hollow.
All Lacy Dawn wants is for DotCom to fix her family.
Her father Dwayne is a Gulf War Vet with PTSD which has reduced him to a wreck of a man. He has a name for each of his Switches (whips) and enjoys releasing all his pent-up distress beating up his wife Jenny and Lacy Dawn. Jenny has rotten teeth. They live off the Welfare system because Dwayne doesn’t work the farm much. He spends most of his time trying to fix his wreck of a truck. After switching his wife and daughter he goes to bed crying. His mate Tom down the road supplies his marijuana.
Lacy Dawn talks to the trees and to Faith who is dead now as her father switched her to death with her mum sitting nearby watching.
At this point, I thought the Rarity from the Hollow was Lacy Dawn talking to ghosts. But this book is full of constant surprises. It’s unpredictability it the catalyst for continuing to read. There is a lot of dark humour in this book.
DotCom lives in a cave in a spaceship and he needs to educate Lacy Dawn so that she can fulfil her destiny and save the universe. He helps Lacy Dawn with plug-in lessons and DotCom corrects Dwayne enough to help him stop being so angry. He also takes Jenny and Lacy to his home planet which is a huge shopping mall. Jenny gets new teeth. The Manager of the Mall is the most powerful being in the Universe and DotCom’s boss.
Lacy Dawn gets a team around her to shop and get the best sale prices so they can save the Universe.
I finished this book with the huge hook at the end. It’s not really finished the tale, but this part of the adventure has been completed. I think once you’ve started this madcap journey you’ll want to continue. So watch out for the next book.
Robert Eggleton has written a dark comedy sci-fi fantasy, and I’ve no idea how he could market this. I like unique and this is definitely that. Thanks to Robert’s persistence my file of many review requests from The Book Review Directory had his request three or four times over a couple of years. I’m glad I decided to read it.
This is another of the backlog of book review requests from The Book Review Directory. I’m so glad I had the opportunity to read this book. I do hope Nicholas feels my review is worth the wait. March 2018
Gabriel Schist wakes up not knowing who he is, or where he is, or why he’s almost naked. He’s afraid and he sees the fear in the eyes of those around him, but he has a brilliant mind, so he uses a technique to help him remember. A sequence of numbers and photos on the wall of all the people he needs to remember, his daughter and the staff.
He finds little solace in the smoking area as it gives him the sound and smell of the sea that he cannot touch. He’s not allowed to go out, even escorted, to the seaside. His daughter visits infrequently and he really does try to concentrate on what she’s saying when she comes.
Beneath the photos on the wall of his room, he has his Nobel Prize for creating the AIDS virus vaccine. Everyone else at Bright New Day Nursing Centre takes the vaccine, everyone except him. Now his best work is behind him, or is it? The Black Virus has struck the nursing home and many of the patients are being struck down by this terrible disease. He has to find a cure.
His mind may be playing tricks on him but Gabriel comes to listen to the advice of the bugs and his chess-playing friend Vincent. Are they real or not? The leader of the tiny creatures is man-sized Michael who takes him outside to find a clue to the Black Virus. For a brief walk on his crippled legs, he stumbles along after the huge creature. He’s outside, he could be free. He touches the saltwater and savours seeing touching the waves and the sunrise. He has a lab in his room that he’s been given as the Black Virus has become a worldwide epidemic and he’s the only one who realizes what the illness is.
At the beginning of this book, I thought it would be sad. It focuses is on Alzheimer’s disease and how it affects people. The story does expose the feeling of helplessness this illness causes but completes an amazing journey to leave the reader feeling hopeful that the patients can be treated with respect as human beings.
Great cover, great book. I gave it 5 stars on Goodreads.
This is another book I’ve read from The Book Review Directory authors requests. Again I’ve enjoyed reading this YA’s stylebook. March 2018.
At Chalk House the alarm sounds, they have a new arrival. Doctor Nicholas Rose goes to help ease a young girl through Heartsease and into her new life beyond death. She can just remember her name is Clemmie, everything else is confusing. She has temporary amnesia.
She looks at the man with long hair and the woman with him he calls Aunt Eliza. She is scared. How did she die? The answer to that question is something the doctor hopes to discover.
The twist is that Clemmie’s arrival heralds a change in the history of the alternate dimension she’s arrived in. Doctor Rose explains that he runs a home for dead children. Most of the children at Chalk House had been murdered. They discover that to return their world to its original history they need to find out exactly what happened to Clemmie and if possible prevent it from happening.
Clemmie discovers that Chalk House is full of technology she has never seen in the world she came from. She finds it hard to accept others guiding her life, her new friends are kind and that’s something she doesn’t remember having in her past life. The home is a loving and caring environment for the children and staff alike.
Although, this book is quite long for middle readers, at 468 pages, the unique way Rosie introduces concepts of alternate dimensions, time travel, and the family-friendly environment make the tale a delight.
Book Review by Jill Smith©Jan19
Title: Far Away and Further Back
Author: Patrick Burns
This is a collection of anecdotal short stories about one man’s working life and journey around many countries.
His life in business as Human Resources rep for a large company would seem innocuous at first, but, as in all aspects of living, the people around him and the journey he takes to become the person he is in each point in time, is the story.
The memoir is not in chronological order but that enhances the jigsaw frame as each story contributes to the whole picture of who Patrick Burns is and how he faces each stage of life. From being a small boy at a birthday party and being charmed by the host, to enduring family visits with his grandparents who are literally from another age. Having unpleasant interviews in China with a zealous Police Inspector, with a definite, will I get out of here feel. Then the recollections of his early ex-pat days when he moved from England to live in America.
His stories are enchanting and I’m sure he relates his adventures with gusto to those he speaks to. This book is just like a conversation, and one I’m glad I had the opportunity to read.
Book Review by Jill Smith©May19
Title: Carrie’s Flight
Author: Lois Wickstrom
Illustrator: Francie Mion
Being a Grandmother, I could relate to this book, that I truly love. If I downsized and moved, I would love to leave behind boxes of treasures for my granddaughter to touch so she could feel close to me. It would be magical to be able to leave feathers that she could put on and fly to me. These are the dreams we all share that make this book emotive and its beautiful illustrations by Francie Mion, so delightful. I also enjoyed the educational aspect at the end of the book about Starlings. I’m certain that many youngsters are taken to the sky, wearing imagination wings, when they read this book.
Book Review by Jill Smith©May19
Title: Chicken Little Investigates
Author: Lois Wickstrom
Illustrator: Francie Mion
A twist on a tale, this book using the same characters in Chicken Little. This time the little chicken investigates and comes up with a name for the discovery of something dropping to the ground. Henny Penny, Ducky Lucky, Goosey Loosey and Turkey Lurkey came up with different names. They all outsmarted Foxy Woxy, who’d lured them into his den. Then they all went to the King to name their discovery. He was wise and did his own experiment and came up with his own name. This is a cute book with lovely illustrations by Francie Mion. I think this is a great modern take on ‘the sky is falling’ original classic, and one young children are sure to enjoy.
Book Review by Jill Smith©May19
Title: Dinopotamus Goes to School
Author/Illustrator: Lois Wickstrom
This is another cute book by Lois Wickstrom who is also a talented artist.
I can see children enjoying a book about a dinosaur coming to school. The images of the children simply accepting a big red Dinopotamus coming through their schoolroom window and joining in their lessons. The teacher and the other students showing him how to adapt because he couldn’t speak charming. They didn’t want him to be upset when he couldn’t join in. This is a reflection on how youngsters act when meeting something or someone different, they adapt. I liked it.
Sam is running for her life. Crashing through trees and at the point of exhaustion, she comes across a treehouse. Once inside her host, an older woman called Theory allows her to recuperate. Sam is a shattered person inside and out, barely coping with the abusive situation she’s come from. The treehouse becomes her sanctuary. She recovers slowly physically as Theory encourages her to open up emotionally to face her trauma and find a way to face the horror of her upbringing.
The journey is a difficult one. Sam is constantly worried about her abuser finding her to finish the job. She’s also terrified for her sister Nova, she left behind. She’d made a friend in Doger, in her past life. He was as close as a friend could be, and he’s is coming to the mountains where they have arranged to meet. The questions Theory asks start Sam on a journey of self-discovery to find a strength that she didn’t realise she had. Not only does Sam recover but she goes on to be a leader and a healer.
This is an amazing book, full of thought-provoking optimism and life-changing ideas. At first, I couldn’t see how anyone living in such frightening circumstances would be able to survive. I know people do although I couldn’t imagine how. This book takes the reader through the counselling sessions Sam has with Theory. This book shows ways to recover and move forward. Such powerful stuff.
Sarah Mendivel’s background with a master’s level behavioural health interventionist and researcher provides the knowledge of real-life lessons given to abused children. She has devoted her life’s work to advocate for children and teens with trauma backgrounds. Sarah was the founder of the child life publication, Light Spinner Quarterly. She enjoys hiking and motivational speaking and currently resides in the Pacific Northwest. Sam’s Theory is her debut novel.
Sarah has waited patiently for me to do this review. I certainly feel this book is one that leaves a message with the reader. People can recover from trauma’s inflicted by others.
In this Coronavirus world, we all need to focus on the positives. We live on an amazing planet, the place we’re in is unique and precious. We can get through this. – Jill
Book Review by Jill Smith©May2020
Title: It’s Music Time
Author/Illustrator: T.C. Bartlett
This story is told through the intricately crafted illustrations and minimal words.
‘Now don’t dillydally in the woods, young man, or you’ll be late for your music lesson.’
The boy is laden with a drum that is as big as he is. The illustrations are monotone grey he’s walking away from Cooke Home along a path. He looks up at the signpost. To Music Lessons one way and the Woods the other. He stands and ponders which way to go. You guessed it! Climbing and swinging in the trees is fun until something dramatic changes. There are sounds coming towards him and the grey colours are infused with colours. He catches the sounds and colours. Animals are singing! He gets his drum to join in. Then a lion comes along, and his loud note carries the boy away. The lion saves the boy from falling over a cliff. They all dance and sing until they reach the edge of the forest where the world goes grey again. Mr Sticks is not happy the boy arrives at his music lesson late.
I loved these illustrations and the delightful tale of a boy letting his imagination take flight.
We’d all live in a grey world without the joy of music and imagination.
Title: A Dog named Zero and the Apple with no name
Author/Illustrator: T.C. Bartlett
This is a delightful counting book with a twist.
Zero has friends he can count on.
Zero slowly gets closer and closer to the apple with no name.
Once they finally reach it, a Bee named Charlie,
(who was cross with the Scottish Bear named Nine)
for taking honey without permission, arrives.
The bear gets stung on the bee-hind and calamity follows.
The illustrations are as joyous as the story.
I’m sure adults reading this book to their children will laugh at the antics of Zero and his friends.
Book Review by Jill Smith©May20
Title: You Can’t Tickle Me
Author/Illustrator: T.C. Bartlett
There is a Tickle Monster in my house.
My mother doesn’t believe it. My father doesn’t, either.
The boy is searching the house for the tickle monster. He can’t find him anywhere. He hunts high and low. He knows he’s there. When he turns off the light the Tickle Monster taps on the window. He’s not afraid.
Each page is a scene of a room, the lounge, the boy’s bedroom, the dining room, complete with parts of the Tickle Monster peeking out. The boy is not impressed by the monster showing off. I loved that the boy introduces the monster to his parents at the end of the book.
This is a delightful story with detailed illustrations. T.C. Bartlett draws on memories of his childhood toys and he gives a rundown of the toys on each page that he played with.
I can see parents reading the story asking the child ‘where’s the…’ to search the drawings to find that toy. It’s a magical journey for children and fun for the adults sharing the story.
Over The Edge Studios – Picture Book Properties by T. C. Bartlett
Title: Earth Angel
Author: Chris H Stevenson
Publisher: Winged Publications
Daryl is a beautiful woman, with an elfin face, in love with a cop. Detective Dean Fowler is a good man who becomes obsessed with his cases. Daryl has been wanting to get married, but it’s been delayed by Dean’s cases.
The current case was driving Dean to the edge of a mental break down. Daryl is having a hard time bringing him back. The Tooth Fairy cases in Riverside County are gruesome and growing in number. There seems to be no connection to the teenage girls’ slaughter other than their deaths. The mystery of how the perpetrator gains access to the girls’ rooms and kills them mercilessly, taking a tooth as a trophy, has stumped the Riverside Police department.
When an attempt to bring some levity to their lives turns into an assault on them both, Daryl and Dean are gravely injured and left to recover from physical and mental scars. Daryl must have an eye transplant which leads to a change in her outlook on life.
There is much more going on, and Daryl and her best friend Abby Fry, share a secret and explore the ramifications of Daryl’s second sight. Will this be a help or a hindrance? Will anyone believe Daryl is seeing spirits? It also changes the way Dean and Daryl view the crimes.
This romantic suspense thriller is a great page-turner. I thought of it as a crime/murder mystery with a supernatural twist.