Book Reviews, Fiction Blog

Indie Book Review: Checkmate by A.M. Offenwanger

checkmateCheckmate by A.M. Offenwanger
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: I received a free electronic copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Checkmate is the third novel in A.M. Offenwanger’s Septimus series. You can read my reviews of the previous books, Seventh Son (Book 1) and Cat and Mouse (Book 2) by clicking on their titles.

While this review does not contain spoilers for Checkmate, it does contain spoilers for the first two novels. I should also note that Seventh Son is FREE at the time of this writing, so if you haven’t read it yet, download your copy from Amazon today!

Thus far, Checkmate is my favorite novel in the Septimus series. It takes place several years after Cat and Mouse, and shows Guy and Cat’s growing family fully settled in the Ruph community. The main action revolves around the return of Bina’s (formerly Bibby’s) cousin Rhitha and her family to Ruph, as well as the two girls’ growing friendship.

As with the other books in the series, Checkmate was well-written in what I have come to recognize as Offenwanger’s distinctive narrative voice: a balance of playfulness and poetry. My only criticism is that some of the chapters would start in present time, then jump back to the past-perfect tense for a scene or two. I would have liked to be “in the moment” with the characters (especially Rhitha) as some of that action unfolded.

Since I don’t want to risk spoiling anything about the plot of Checkmate (it’s that intricately tied and well-developed), I’ll touch quickly on the aspects that made this novel my favorite in the series so far:

– Meeting new characters to love (or love to hate), who fit into the story as if they were always a part of it.
– Reading from the perspective of new characters.
– The complex and realistic relationships between the characters (both loving and hate-filled).
– The development of Bina’s powers and how she learns to control them.
– Seeing Andy and Ben advance in their prospective fields.
– The themes of family and friendship, with the moral message that family can be chosen and friendship should be steadfast and loyal.
– Learning about new traditions in the world (such as trade/economics, other countries, and Ruph’s Solstice festival).

The ending of Checkmate? Perhaps one of the most fun and cleverly executed magical climaxes I’ve ever read. I adored it.

Overall, Checkmate is a heartwarming addition to the Septimus series that comments beautifully on family, friendship, and the importance of both. A fun and magical tale, it will delight readers of fantasy and young adult fiction.

REMINDER: As I said at the beginning of this review, the first novel in the Septimus series, Seventh Son, is FREE for a limited time. Download your copy now, then leave your own review for Ms. Offenwanger!

View all my reviews


checkmateIf you are interested in reading Checkmate. and would like to help sponsor my writing and research, you can purchase it at my Amazon Associates Store. By doing this, you will not pay a cent extra, nor will the author receive a cent less, but I will receive a small commission on the sale. Simply click the book’s title or the book’s image.

Book Reviews, Fiction Blog

Indie Book Review: Cat and Mouse by A.M. Offenwanger

cat and mouseCat and Mouse by A.M. Offenwanger
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: I received a free electronic copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Cat and Mouse is the second book in A.M. Offenwanger’s Septimus series and the sequel to Seventh Son. (Click here to read my review of Seventh Son.) Please note that this review does contain spoilers for Seventh Son, so if you haven’t read it yet, go download your FREE copy today. Seriously, do it now. It’s only free for a limited time. (Sorry future readers!)

The plot of Cat and Mouse picks up after Catriona (Cat) and Guy’s wedding. At first, all seems to be well for the newlyweds and the land of Ruph. Cat and Guy learn how they operate as a married couple, Bibby is her regular adorable self, and Guy even takes on an apprentice, a mute boy who Bibby names “Andy.” However, their peaceful life is disrupted by a plague of mice…and the appearance of a mysterious rat-faced man.

Back in the regular world, Cat’s best friend Nikky is dealing with her own drama. Sepp (Guy’s brother) has stuck around, and she finds herself slowly falling for him. Likewise, Nikky ends up with guardianship of her step-nephew Ben…who is also plagued by the presence of a mysterious rat-faced man.

I really enjoyed reading Cat and MouseAs in the first novel, the characters and the world of Ruph stood out as my favorite parts. Offenwanger has crafted realistic, complex characters, with profound and believable relationships in a relatively quick space. As a reader, I got to know the characters from the first novel even better, while still meeting a few new friends. My favorite character arc was Nikky’s, as she moved from being “Cat’s best friend” to taking on an important role in the story. Reading as Nikky played the protective aunt, discovered truths about herself, and braved her fears was incredibly satisfying.

Another great aspect of Cat and Mouse was learning more about the world of Ruph. This happens through Cat, as she explores new parts of the village and takes on an active role in the community. Ruph remains a beautiful mixture between a Renaissance Fair and a fantasy land, with an ever-expanding palate of magical abilities and intricate mythology to inspire the reader. I cannot wait to see what layers Offenwanger peels back in the next book.

As for the plot itself, it moves along at a steady pace. Pieces of the mice mystery, Andy’s quietness, and Ben’s panic attacks slip neatly into place. For the most part, I guessed the respective outcomes. (However, regular readers of my reviews will know that I don’t mind this in a novel.) Although, I will admit that there was one piece of the puzzle that I did not foresee, but very much enjoyed.

Overall, Cat and Mouse is a fitting second book for the Septimus series and continues much of what readers will have loved about the first novel. If you like medieval stylings, family relationships, a dash of magic, and folk tales, you’ll love Cat and Mouse.

QUICK REMINDER: As I said at the beginning of this review, the first novel in the Septimus series, Seventh Son, is FREE for a limited time. Download your copy now, then leave your own review for Ms. Offenwanger!

View all my reviews


cat and mouseIf you are interested in reading Cat and Mouse. and would like to help sponsor my writing and research, you can purchase it at my Amazon Associates Store. By doing this, you will not pay a cent extra, nor will the author receive a cent less, but I will receive a small commission on the sale. Simply click the book’s title or the book’s image.

Author Interviews, Fiction Blog

The 2016 2K Indie Book Tour: Wendy Ogilvie

Up next on my and Kate Evans’s 206 2K Indie Book Tour is women’s fiction author Wendy Ogilvie.

wendyogilvie_1441640180_4Wendy Ogilvie lives in Essex with her boyfriend Carl and their two dogs; Chinook and Storm. She has been a Personal Trainer for twenty years and has been writing training books and short stories in her spare time. The office in her new house is her favourite place to write as she can see the fish swimming in the pond and her two huskies digging up the garden! She is currently working on the next novel in the Wanda series called Wandering Among the Stars.

Here’s the synopsis of her novel, Wandering on the Treadmill:

WANDA MIKOS lives in Briford, England but has a dream to live in Los Angeles and become a Personal Trainer to the stars. She finds a way to make her ambition a reality by entering The Main Event competition. Unfortunately, she has a suspicion that her bitchy boss KAREN LESTER has entered too.

At work, Wanda is introduced to the new Health & Fitness Manager, the sexy MIKE DIAMOND, and in the same day she meets GARY. Mike begins flirting with Wanda but she thinks he is hiding something. Wanda finds out that Karen is not only competing in the same competition, but is also competing for Mike’s affections.

Wanda’s mother (NINA MIKOS) calls to tell her she has terrible news; her father is getting re-married. Nina confesses to Wanda that he is the only man she has ever had a relationship with. This is when Wanda begins to understand a little of why her mum has been so reluctant to move on since the divorce.

During a training session, Wanda injures her ankle and is put on crutches for a week. Gary gets in contact and they have their first date. Karen informs Wanda she is going away so the television crew who will be following them for the competition will be filming her first. Wanda has to hide the fact she hasn’t read the competition contract and was unaware of any filming obligations.

After a couple of encounters with Mike and a weekend away with Gary, Wanda asks Meg’s opinion on who she should be dating. They compile a Pros & Cons list to decide.

Wanda’s dad’s wedding is one week before the competition and when the TV crew turns up in Cyprus to film the event, Wanda worries about Nina’s reaction.

Back home, Mike tells Wanda that Karen has been to a training camp to work with the famous Neil Whettenhall. She freaks out declaring that the competition and dieting are getting too much she will have to pull out.

She eventually decides to keep up with her training and diet. When the competition day arrives, Wanda uses her wit during the interview as she always does when she is under stress. Karen’s routine is flawless and Wanda’s only mistake is a small stumble at the end. And the winner is — Karen Lester.

During the post competition meal, Karen asks Wanda about the guy she is with — Gary. Wanda panics that she will tell Mike about Gary when they get back to work.

Back at the flat, one of the competition judges calls Wanda to inform her they loved her enthusiasm and people skills and, although unconventional, they would like her to join Karen in Los Angeles for one month.

When Wanda tells Karen her news, Karen tells Mike about Gary. Wanda and Mike part ways and Wanda leaves with Karen to Los Angeles.

Sequel: Wandering Among the Stars – Due out later this year

And now here’s our interview with Wendy:

What was the inspiration behind your book?      

I wanted to put all my years of gym anecdotes into a story based around a Personal Trainer.

Who is your favorite character?    

Wanda, because I think there is a little of her in all of us.

What is one thing you want readers to know or “get” about your book?

The main character is a woman who also has to deal with ‘real world’ issues in her journey to becoming the person she wants to be.  I am hoping readers will relate to Wanda and laugh as they share in her misfortunes. And maybe be inspired by her determination.

Who is your ideal reader? Or, who will enjoy your book?

Female, but I don’t specify an age range.  One of my best reviews was from a woman who is 93. She said it lifted her out of a depression she had fallen into. I also think that anyone who has ever tried any sort of fitness routine will enjoy the book.

What three writing tips do you have for aspiring authors?

  • Write like nobody is going to read it then edit as though someone else wrote it.
  • Improve your grammar if it’s rusty.
  • Get into the mindset of being able to write anywhere at any time.

WanderingTreadmill3D (2)Where can readers buy your book?

Amazon: http://amzn.to/1NQOuBG

Createspace: https://www.createspace.com/5448532

Where can readers learn more about you?

About.Me: about.me/wendyogilvie

WordPress: https://wendyogilvie.wordpress.com

Website: http://fit2write.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Wendy_Ogilvie49

Author Interviews, Fiction Blog

The 2016 2K Indie Book Tour: Ben Y. Faroe

Wrapping up week two of The 2016 2K Indie Book Tour (co-hosted by Kate Evans and myself) is Ben Y. Faroe. Over to Ben:

Ben Y. Faroe Author Pic 2I live in Baltimore with my wife and two lovely daughters (aged 2 years and 2 months, respectively).

While I’m technically from New Jersey, I grew up overseas in Turkey, then met my Californian wife in Minnesota before whisking her off to South Carolina for a couple years.

I studied Greek and Latin in college and Bible teaching in seminary, so naturally I’m a data analyst for a health insurance company. I’ve founded a prayer room in the past and a publishing company in the present, and I expect to be writing and adventuring full-time within a few years.

Here’s a bit about his contemporary fiction/humor novel, The Dream World Collective:

The Dream World Collective is the story of five friends who decide to quit their jobs to chase what they love.

Sushi and her roommate Summer are tired of working dead-end jobs for corporate drone bosses. So when their friend Alex quits his job and his roommate Zen proposes a grand experiment, they rope in their geeky friend Otto and move in together to build a life of art and freedom and tea and scheming.

Of course, living each day to the full still takes hard work, especially when, technically speaking, rent still exists.

Sushi, a Japanispanglo firestorm of punches and creativity, pegs her hopes on the prize money from a local art contest. That gets complicated when she discovers that one of her competitors is brilliant, uncannily insightful, and, to make matters worse, gorgeous.

Zen would be dealing with romantic entanglements of his own, if he could only find any. But between his writing, his schemes for a philosophical restaurant, and his admittedly tenuous connection to the real world, he’s at least got enough to stay occupied until the right girl discovers his secret message. Hopefully the right girl.

Alex, meanwhile, is trying to figure out what the good life of freedom and human connection looks like when it turns out what you’re wired for is organizational management. And there’s always the question of how far he’s willing to go to bail out his less responsible friends.

Summer is eager to live out her dreams of communal living and gardening and neighborhood improvement, but gardening doesn’t pay the bills, especially in Minnesota in the winter, and communal living—even with your best friends and great intentions—inevitably has its emotional ups and downs. Especially when you’ve secretly got a huge crush on one of them.

As for Otto, he really wasn’t planning to be in on this at all, but with a new basement lair and all the Shasta he can drink, he’s ready to make it work. But soon the outside world starts worming its way in, and Otto finds himself under the tutelage—or possibly in the servitude—of an eccentric British gallery owner, a tutelage-or-servitude whose results will push him to greater heights than he’s ever achieved in a non-virtual world.

And there’s the evil next door neighbor, and the ninja party, and the garage incident, and the other garage incident. But that’s the great thing about living with your best friends. Whatever goes wrong, at least you’ve got each other. And usually pie.

Prequels/Sequels:

None yet, but there’s still lots to explore in this story and I’m planning to extend it into a series.

In the meantime, if you like The Dream World Collective, you’ll probably also enjoy my comedy series, Hubris Towers.

In fact, Zen from The Dream World Collective is a dead ringer for Jimmy Acorn from Hubris Towers. And both Otto and Jimmy have comforting foreign middle-aged salt-and-pepper chef confidantes. Hmm. I sense an impending fan theory…

Now, here’s our interview with Ben:

What was the inspiration behind your book?

This book was a sandbox where I played out some risky dreams and ideas. I wrote it because I wanted to see what happens when you quit your job to have adventures, only without actually quitting my job. At the time I was quite seriously thinking about starting some sort of communal living situation with my friends, but I was newly married and working as a delivery driver and it didn’t seem like a good idea to suddenly stop having an income.

So I started writing to explore what could happen if a few friends lived simply, worked together to make ends meet, and spent the rest of their time doing whatever meaningful, interesting, adventurous things they wanted.

And I was intrigued by what I found. They weren’t automatically happy because they quit their jobs, though it opened up interesting opportunities. They struggled with having to focus even more on money than before, since they didn’t have any reliable source of income. And they had to deal with the fact that relationships are always going to have ups and downs, even with people you love, even—maybe especially—when you can do whatever you want.

As for me, I still have a day job, but since I started writing this book several good friends and I have bought houses within a few blocks of each other. We eat meals together and watch each other’s kids and help each other pursue our dreams and make the world a better place. So it can be done, even if it looks different in every life.

Who is your favorite character?

If I had to pick just one, it would be Otto, the Collective’s geeky, pudgy, massively repressed technomage.* He’s such a cute combination of shy, grandiose, silly, and sweet, and I think he grows the most over the course of the book. I don’t want to spoiler anything, but by the end he’s actually expressing an emotion and everything.

He also, at various points, dons a griffin costume, encounters the Mario, mistakes a Brit for Edward Scissorhands, and teaches a five-year-old about Ninja Santa (or Saito Kurusawa, as he is more properly known). Can’t argue with that.

* (Not actually a thing.)

What is one thing you want readers to know or “get” about your book?

It’s a cozy and immersive read in its own right, but you can also read this book as a live experiment in community living. The main characters are intentionally quite different from each other, and they won’t necessarily always agree with each other, me, or you. That said, you don’t always have to agree with people to care deeply about them. Reading The Dream World Collective is a fun way to test out the highs and lows of full-time close quarters with real people.

Which, let’s be honest, is just a fancy way of getting you ready for the fact that Otto has imaginary gremlinoid friends, Zen talks with God, and Sushi punches everybody all the time. But they’re cool.

Who is your ideal reader? Or, who will enjoy your book?

If you’ve dreamed of quitting your day job, I wrote this for you. Alternately, if you know there’s more out there and you want to find it, if you’re into baking or tea or books, or if you care about creativity and quality and fun, you’ll enjoy The Dream World Collective.

Or we can really drill down. This book’s for you if:

  • you’re idealistic, optimistic, and/or visionary
  • you enjoy (or fantasize about) talking to strangers or leaving mysterious notes in public
  • you enjoy both Star Trek (or similar) and Jane Austen (or similar)
  • you care about making the world a better place, but not in a boring way
  • you don’t mind quirky humor and the occasional big (or made-up) word
  • you want to live like Amelie

What three writing tips do you have for aspiring authors?

Write more words. The best way to improve your writing is to write more. The best way to build good writing habits is to write regularly. Marketing works better when you’ve got more books. Do make friends, read books, build your platform, and learn new things, but mainly write a lot.

Find good writing friends. If you can find a few people who can give you genuine encouragement and also useful, objective feedback, you’ve struck gold. Value those relationships and make good use of them. If you don’t have writing friends, try checking the internet for local meetups or online communities. Or I can be your writing friend – drop me a line at byfaroe@gmail.com.

Google like the dickens. A year ago I was unpublished with no platform. Now I’ve published a novel, co-authored a series, hit Amazon Top 10 in Humor and in Fairy Tales, built a mailing list and a blog, started a company, built a website, published other peoples’ books, and made some awesome friends. I learned most of what I needed by searching the web and then trying stuff. This is a good time to be alive.

DWC-Ebook-Cover-1.0-196x300Where can readers buy your book? 

Clickworks Press

Amazon
Kobo
Barnes & Noble
Google Play
Apple iBooks
Goodreads

Where can readers learn more about you? 

The best way to get in touch (and try my books for free) is to join my list at byfaroe.com/updates. I also love hearing from people at byfaroe@gmail.com.

I’m terrible at social media, but if you still want to find me online, I’m byfaroe everywhere:

byfaroe.com

clickworkspress.com/byfaroe

facebook.com/byfaroe

@byfaroe

Book Reviews, Fiction Blog

Indie Book Review: Seventh Son by A.M. Offenwanger

seventh sonSeventh Son by A.M. Offenwanger
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: I received a free electronic copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Seventh Son by A.M. Offenwanger follows Catriona (Cat), a librarian in the midst of a (almost) quarter-life crisis, on a journey to a mysterious new world. While visiting a museum, Cat becomes captivated by a beautiful, turquoise pottery bowl. As she leans down to look at the bowl, Cat is suddenly whirled out of the museum and lands in the middle of a strange forest with no idea how it happened or where she is. As Cat encounters the locals and slowly learns about this new world, the mystery of her transportation there unfolds, and she must choose whether to stay with her new-found family or return to her own world.

Seventh Son wastes no time throwing Cat (and the reader) right into the action. For the first several chapters, the mysteries stack up on top of each other as Cat explores her surroundings and meets new people. Admittedly, it does take a while for Offenwanger to begin answering the reader’s many burning questions. However, once the answers start flowing, they do so at a steady pace that is satisfying but not a complete information dump. By the end of the novel, most of the questions are answered (except for those that lead into the second book), and the reader is fully satisfied.

The world Offenwanger has created is unique and a touch nostalgic. It hearkens back to years-gone-by with a slower pace of life and an economy that runs on craftsmanship and bartering. (To give you an idea, at one point the world is compared to a Renaissance Fair.) However, while some things are more primitive than Earth, they do have other impressive technologies, and of course, “magic.” What I especially like about the magic of this world is that it is subtle and the natives do not view it as “magical,” but rather as a spiritual part of individuals.

My favorite part of Seventh Son is the characters. Cat’s personality comes across strongly in both her narrative and dialogue and is well-rounded and dynamic. One particular tactic Offenwanger uses to accomplish this is to offset some of Cat’s thoughts or spoken comments in parentheses. Sometimes when writers do this, it reads oddly, but in this novel, the technique is so well-timed that it adds depth to and creates the perfect tone for the words.

In addition to Cat, the other characters in Seventh Son are unique and complex. Offenwanger does a nice job of giving the reader a strong sense of every character, even if s/he is only in a few scenes. Even Bibby, who is too young to communicate fully and the “villains,” who the reader should dislike, are given motives and personalities that allow the reader to empathize with, and in Bibby’s case, love them.

Together, the characters work even better. The relationships between the characters are realistic — fun, familiar, and appropriately emotional. When reading Seventh Son, I truly felt like I was experiencing the interactions of real individuals. The characters frequently made me smile.

My only critique of the novel is that I would have liked to have seen more romantic build up between Guy and Cat. While it is clear that they are interested in each other (and that the world demands a certain amount of conservatism), I would have liked to see a bit more flirtatiousness or tenderness between them. I like that the romantic plot did not overtake the main plot or fall into unnecessary physicality, but I almost felt like Guy and Cat were just meant to pair by default, and therefore, the romantic buildup was a little underwhelming. However, I still adore them as a couple (hence why I wanted more of their dynamic).

As far as the overall story line goes, Offenwanger sticks to the rules of the world and beautifully ties together the different individuals and objects in seamless ways. Some of the twists are surprises, and some an insightful reader will see coming — but they are satisfying nonetheless. The end of the novel is complete enough that it could stand alone, but it does leave enough loose ends to lead into another book (which it does).

If you enjoy light fantasy, a dash of romance, and solving plot puzzles, you will love Seventh Son by A.M. Offenwanger.

View all my reviews


seventh sonIf you are interested in reading Seventh Son. and would like to help sponsor my writing and research, you can purchase it at my Amazon Associates Store. By doing this, you will not pay a cent extra, nor will the author receive a cent less, but I will receive a small commission on the sale. Simply click the book’s title or the book’s image.