The Angel of a Madman, by Ricky Dragoni

At its core, Angel of a Madman is a touching story about how helping someone else, even when you’re having your own problems, can help you as well. Maybe not in the way you want or expected, but in the way you need.

After escaping a maximum security facility, Bracket finds himself in the care of Gabriel, a young man with problems of his own. As he digs deeper into Bracket’s past, second chances become all important…especially since he won’t get one.

This novel alternated between Bracket and Gabriel with a lot of overlap. The story would be told so far through Bracket’s POV, then switched to Gabriel’s. However, each POV covered everything that already happened, just from the other perspective. There wasn’t too much information contained within that the reader couldn’t have done without, so really it felt like reading the same thing again and again. Dialogue was also awkward and clunky. Really formal in a lot of places—to the point where the characters sounded the same and blended together.

With an explosive beginning and a good ending, the middle of the novel was one big lull. We got to know the characters, but things didn’t really start picking up until about the last quarter. Once that ball got rolling though, it didn’t stop. The ending was sad, and appropriate I think. Especially given the backgrounds and motivations of characters. The author did well to hide some of the backstory until it was necessary, which kept the reader interested and asking questions.

There’s still some polishing that could be done for the overall writing that I think would improve the story. Sometimes the style just didn’t fit the tone of the narrative. It pulled away from the emotions that it was supposed to be evoking in the reader. It was still a touching tale, however. The plot was a compelling one. Still a relatively enjoyable read overall.

Abraham, by Daniel Backer

I sort of feel like I just read someone’s account of their most recent acid trip. There’s a whole lot of weird spirituality that goes on in Abraham, and it stems from a giant gash in the back of his head. No clue where it came from, but it put him in the path of an eccentric monk that’s determined to heal him. However, Tom’s methods and ideas of healing are…suspect.

The first thing that stood out about this novel was the fact that it was written in second person. I think it would have been slightly better utilized if the character that was “you” wasn’t as defined as he was. Abraham was a set character, and it felt out of place to hear him described in second person rather than first or third.

There’s also a lot of weirdness that goes on. Some of it suited the story well—it was meant to be weird and strange and it succeeded there. I felt like scene and time transitions happened at odd times or without much warning and it knocked me out of the story. It was usually pretty quick to recover, but it would take me a while to get back into the flow of the story.

As for the story itself, the premise of the plot was unique. It’s definitely not for everyone, let me go ahead and say that. It was entertaining for sure, and the odd series of events made sense in weird ways. The characters were odd, and by the time you reached the end, you’re left wondering if any of them were even real. Or wondering if you yourself are real.

This novel had its good and bad. I’m all about different—I try to go out of my way to celebrate that fact when I come across it. This novel was definitely very different, and mostly in the right ways. However, I feel as though there were some areas that could be improved to build upon the strengths already present.

The Dream Recorder, by C. M. Haynes

Life after death is certainly more exciting than Abby could have hoped for. Being a Dream Recorder means that she watches and records dreams. At least, until something goes awry and suddenly they’re inside the Dreamscape, affecting billions of people worldwide.

The novella is a rather delightful one, featuring a wonderful cast of characters and a well-executed plot. Everything felt smooth from start to finish. The world was planned well and the writing style suited it excellently. There were so many creative, nuanced things that helped enhance the narrative and keep the reader incredibly interested. I had a hard time putting it down.

I will say there are some minor edits needed, mostly involving tense change from past to present. However the rest of the novella is pure quality so those factors can be overlooked.

Definitely a good read. I enjoyed it very much.

The Die-Fi Experiment, by M. R. Tapia

If I had to summarize this in one word it would be: brutal. The extent to which social media has taken over our lives is demonstrated with a live-streamed game show of Saw proportions.

A back and forth of happier times as the main character reminisced and tried to distance himself from the horror he was witnessing and participating in, giving the reader background without overload. The description was on par with horror novels as the contestants are worn down in graphic detail. The writing style is done in such a way that social media was integrated very well into the actual narrative. Brilliant use of hashtags and mentions not only drive the point home, but also serve as a wonderful literary device.

This is a graphic one. Beautifully suited to the theme of the novel and executed very well.

Single in Southeast Texas, by Gretchen Johnson

Just when you thought the dating scene could get any worse, along comes a little town called Beaumont: the cringe-worthy dating tales inside are bound to make someone feel a little better about their love life.

Paige was a delightful protagonist—one that had a firm grasp of not only herself, but what was important to her. And she wasn’t afraid to let her gentlemen callers know it, either. Each chapter was a standalone tale of one man dated (with the occasional interlude) and the outcome. They are both hilarious and realistic. The writing style is well-suited to the almost tongue-in-cheek narration of Paige’s love life. There’s a variety of situations to choose from; many of which I think would look familiar to many people, both men and women alike. A knack for excellent back-and-forth dialogue as character exploration let these encounters feel much less tedious than long, winding paragraphs and exposition. A whole story is told, with lots of character development, through each chapter, as disconnected as they might have felt.

My heart goes out to anyone that’s gone on a date like those mentioned in the novel. I cringed. I laughed. I sighed. I swore. It remained lighthearted, something that suited the tone well. This was a good read. A very good read.

Jake and the Dragons of Asheville, by Brian Kacica

Jake Winston, son of a heroic fire fighter, lives in a town where legends of dragons are everywhere: good ol’ Asheville. Secret government installations, a mysterious agent named Black, and ancient prophecies propel this youngster into a lifetime of adventure.

The novel started well. Dragon integration with the world seemed to be pretty seamless. Legends were accepted, of course, but everyone scoffed at the notion for the most part—the usual for locals, of course. Jake was at that age where life still held mystical wonders and was easily sucked into all the chaos. He was a personable character. One that interacted well with the world around him. His supporting cast of friends, like Arnie, I thought were excellent as well. They were meaningful to both the story and to Jake, and so they served to push the plot ahead.

The back story of the dragons, and how things used to be, was woven well into the main conflict. I liked the fact that while they were powerful, they still had many limitations. They were at a proportionate disadvantage against humans so things never felt either too easy or too difficult.

Getting on towards the end, however, things started to pick up. I don’t just mean plot pacing—the story itself felt a little rushed. Things started jumping around quite a bit to accommodate shifting perspectives and let the reader know what was happening on all fronts. Doing that, though, I felt like some explanations were lost. I still had some questions at the end.

Overall it was a good story. It had dynamic and interesting characters, excellent and realistic dialogue, as well as a nice writing style. It’s a series I could definitely see myself getting into.

True Grandeur, by Cal R. Barnes

Stereotypes for artists exist for a reason, and Conrad manages to hit many of them. While searching for his big break, the romanticism of loves’ ideals captures him. Caught deep within tendrils of his heart, Conrad must fight for both his budding career and the affections of the woman he loves.

The whole novel feels like one of those old black and white movies of the Hollywood elite and their inner politics. An overall tone of romanticism and whimsy permeate the author’s writing and ultimately spills directly into Conrad’s character. With the way the story was spun, I honestly expected some sort of Twilight Zone ending.

With only a handful of characters to really keep up with, their interactions felt a lot more meaningful. It allowed the author to explore characters deeply without overwhelming the reader. Conrad’s obsession with Gracie shows the darker side of what one could call love, and it proved to be an interesting dynamic not just between them, but simply for Conrad himself. There were occasions where his overwhelming love for Gracie came off as too much, borderline creepy given the length of time he’s known her, though the tone was meant for something different.

True Grandeur was an interesting exploration of Hollywood and what goes on behind the scenes. I think the writing style definitely fit the tone of the story. It’s one that will get into a reader’s head with very specific imagery.

James Fisher and the Bird Witch, by Simon Corn

Every little town has its own story of a reclusive older person that legend says is some kind of mystical being. Well, for James, there’s no exception. After fleeing from some bullies, he ends up on the doorstep of none other than the Bird Witch.

An endearing tale, Bird Witch teaches many life lesson: love, loss, hope, and a bit of redemption. As a kid, James endured a lot. He was resilient, though. A little too resilient and positive sometimes. I liked his character, and his development. He was an ordinary kid living an ordinary life, even though circumstances didn’t always seem so ordinary for someone his age.

Mental illness was handled in a relatively good way. It wound up being a bigger theme in he latter half of the book, and I think it was done respectfully, by someone who cares enough about accuracy. There were a lot of emotions to deal with. They came out well in both the characters and readers. It also highlighted the importance of something very easy to forget: how much a support system can help. We see the dynamic there in James versus Daisy (even Shaz) and how the circumstances of their lives changed because of who they have to talk to and the people there for them.

It was long, and there were plenty of ups and downs. James is an interesting and well-written character to follow. The interactions and friendships found along the way made for good learning experiences. It was easy for the reader to put themselves in James’ shoes, no matter how old.

Megan’s Munchkins, by Pamela Foland

This was an incredibly cute tale of a young girl learning responsibility, as well as the fact that every action has consequences, no matter how good the intent.

Megan really wants a pet. Her parents don’t think she’s responsible enough yet. Megan finds some abandoned kittens, so what does she do? Takes them home, of course! Now the race is on to prove that she can be responsible before her parents find out.

There were many, many good messages to young adults contained within the book. The writing style was age-appropriate for the target audience. It seemed like a good book to read with parents, too. In fact, I think there were lessons that even parents could learn from it regarding how to handle situations such as that. I really liked the communication between parents and Megan. Things felt realistic.

The story was complete and the resolution was one that left readers satisfied all the way around.

Southwest on the A303, by Adam Gary

Sometimes taking a journey is the best cure; grief, loneliness, or just a clear headspace. After losing a very important uncle, Alex is gifted a van and an opportunity to travel. With some gentle encouragement from his mom, he sets out to see sights and experience things that will change his life.

Southwest on the A303 is about conquering anxieties, learning to let go, and learning how to just live life. Along the journey Alex is reluctant to take risks, but his Uncle Bill left beyond some very convincing arguments for Alex to just go for it.

At its heart it’s a sad tale. Loss is difficult for anyone to handle and some people cope better than others. Some have an immediate silver lining to their situation while others have to really search. A303 provides a lick of hope for those still searching that they’ll be alright one day.

Buy it here!