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Verdict: 5 Stars

Seth MacFarlane is a true Renaissance man. As the creator of the animated series Family Guy and co-creator of American Dad, not to mention the voice talent of many of those shows’ characters, he achieved a measure of notoriety for the genre of stupid and mildly offensive humor. But MacFarlane is also a Grammy-nominated singer, director and producer of one of the top-grossing movies of all time for its rating, and of course, bestselling author of a first novel that has already been adapted for the upcoming film of the same name.

A Million Ways to Die in the West is not for everyone. As a very loose rendition of historical fiction, it requires an ability to enjoy the suspension of belief in order to appreciate the humor, as well as an ability to look past the few offensive remarks to that are both poignant stabs at the time period as well as timely interpretations of the fact that prejudice and racism are far from dead.

Albert Stark is a sheep farmer in the town of Old Stump, a miserable place that makes the show Deadwood look like the Vegas strip. The title of the book comes from the very real understanding in Albert’s world that every single day is an exercise in not letting something random kill him. Snake bites, cholera water, gunslingers, wild animal attacks, and all out nastiness are just a handful of the myriad ways that one could end up dead in that time and place; of course, if the actual disease, crime, or accident doesn’t kill you, the doctor’s attempts to save you will certainly finish the job.

Interestingly, MacFarlane’s take on history and humor is actually a beautiful love story, with the lives of several intertwined characters playing out on the page. He gives the same attention to the backstories of side characters that he gives to Stark, all without dragging down the pacing in any way. My favorites must be Edward and Ruth, a mild-mannered cobbler and his fiancee of six years (the town brothel’s employee of the year) who have yet to have relations because it would be ungodly, what with them being Christians and all.

In some ways, the best aspect of the book is the fact that the author’s ingrained sense of humor shines through, but it is ultimately far more intelligent than what plays out each week on his television shows. While somehow meeting at the crossroads of asinine and genius, the book is a fantastic, in-one-sitting delight.

Verdict: 4 Stars

Mystery writers have a whole new audience to write for considering the number of crossover fans who are picking up thriller titles today. McGilloway doesn’t disappoint, considering this title has elements of literary fiction, family relationships, current thematic elements, and even travelogue.

D.S. Lucy Black is investigating a missing girl case for the Northern Ireland Police Department when she accidentally finds an entirely different missing girl, alone and wandering in the cold. The girl cannot tell police what happened, and seems to be unhurt despite being found covered in blood. As important as the case is, though, Lucy’s own personal life keeps disrupting her work, with both of her divorced parents having career histories in law enforcement.

One thing that may be a put off for die-hard thriller fans but may actually appeal to the crossover fans is the pacing. While there are intensity moments, the story doesn’t move too quickly, and actually drags just a little bit in places. The abundance of characters involved in both missing girls’ stories can make it a little hard to follow in places, but having a notebook handy might help.

One way in which this story is somewhat out of the ordinary is the personalities that come through in even the most hardened characters. Mystery fans might appreciate the depth of development that McGilloway attributes to these seemingly ordinary characters.

Every time the dust settles on the most recent examples of author bullying and reviewer bashing, something occurs that makes headlines again, thus starting the firestorm all over again. In this case, the news is that anti-bullying champion and bestselling author Anne Rice is one of approximately one thousand names on a petition to Amazon, demanding that they strip away the anonymity on their site that allows these alleged bullies to prey on authors.

What is more interesting than the same battle that has been circulating since groups on Goodreads and a grassroots effort called Stop The Goodreads Bullies first began waging organized warfare on authors or reviewers is that Rice is no casual observer of the issue. Apart from lending her famous name to the petition by signing, Rice has posted a fair amount of commentary on the issue on her Facebook page, much of it in response to people who are taking the argument–and their derision of the issue–to the comments section of her page.

“I’m optimistic. I think we will achieve something good here with our protest,” wrote Rice in response to one commenter. “And I will continue to draw attention to the petition. I see no reason ever to accept bullies as a part of life we can’t change…Systems evolve. We can change things in this world for the better. I will never accept evil or injustice as just the status quo.”

While some commenters went on to scoff at the “fruitlessness” of asking Amazon to step in on this behavior, others went to the length of attempting to discredit a somewhat-controversial group that Rice openly supported in her post, Stop The Goodreads Bullies. Like the supporters of the petition, Rice feels that requiring verification at log in will go far in stopping the abuse in reviews, much in the way that author Lynn Shepherd’s books have come under attack for her pointless and poorly planned essay railing against JK Rowling.

“To get back to the essence of the problem;” wrote Rice on her timeline, “if Amazon will revise its policy on anonymity the problem will be helped greatly. These gangster bullies rely on anonymity for their multiple screen names, and their underhanded voting tactics. They could not [do] the same level of damage to others if they had to use their own names.”

Verdict: 1 Star

Congratulations go to Ms. Catton, as she has the distinct honor of being the first-ever recipient of a one star review from Good e-Reader. Even Willie Nelson’s literary diarrhea musings from his life on the road while high got two stars, mostly for having a cool-looking cover. I’m sure she is not all that affected by the news, having won the Man Booker Prize for this book. Sad, really. I wasn’t aware the pool of eligible titles was so abysmal this year that this book somehow rose to the top.

As with many prestigious award winning books, this one has everything that makes it stand out in the eyes of a snobby, musty committee of literary judges: it’s got a Victorian setting, a unknown journey, gratuitous and inexplicable violence, and opium. Last but not least, it’s 800 pages long. The committee must have awarded it based solely on the sheer amount of effort that went into writing it.

Am I being overly harsh and unnecessarily critical? Of course. Is it because I have a chip on my shoulder about the prize itself as it not only forbids self-published titles but also requires the publisher to throw in 5,000 pounds towards the advertising of the book’s status as a shortlist prize nominee? You betcha. Yes, the Man Booker Prize not only goes to a book published in the UK by a “formal” publishing house (don’t worry, just in case you’re confused and think your book is eligible, the rules are nice enough to state further down that you’re not welcome), but also expects the publishers of the six books whittled down to the shortlist to foot the bill for advertising to the world that this book made it to the finals.

And somehow, this book won.

The best quote on the entire internet about this book is from a review by Sarah Skoletsky: “Here’s my takeaway – gold mining is terrible work, opium seems pleasant, a dress weighing over 5 pounds should be looked into, and it rains a lot in New Zealand.”

I hate to make my negative impression of the book all based on the fact that it’s just another droning example of what passes for prestige in the world of legacy publishing these days, so there are actually valid points to make. The writing is about as wordy as it can possibly get, and the endless cast of characters make it nearly impossible to follow the story line. And just for fun, it has a rather unrefreshing plot–man strikes out for the unknowns of New Zealand to seek his fame and fortune and finds that the rest of the world is also trying to enjoy the prosperity that a whole new economy can offer–that has been done often and done well. This just isn’t one of those times.

Verdict: 3 Stars

Donna Tartt’s book The Goldfinch, has over 4K reviews on Amazon, and the ratings are fairly well divided among each of the different ratings. Sadly, comments among the three-, two-, and one-star reviews tend to run along a common vein: the book just didn’t live up to the hype from the industry.

And truthfully, it takes a really special work of literature to maintain the drama and lure throughout well over 700 pages. The word I would actually use is “exhausting.” While Tartt crafted very compelling characters and a story line that gripped readers, the pivotal painting on which so much of the story relies actually disappears for hundreds of pages at a time, only to be casually mentioned later.

The real problem for me was the style of editing. To go so far (as some reviewers did) and say that the book was wholly unedited would be horrifically unfair, but there may have been too much liberty taken with the writing style, allowing a fragmented and disjointed style to run roughshod over what is a compelling story. The very eloquent passages, unfortunately, only serve to make it seem like the editing wasn’t completed by the same person throughout the manuscript.

Possibly the worst flaw was the utter lack of redemption, the void of any quality that makes up for the suffering. While not every book requires its happily ever after, some sort of light at the end of the tunnel would have been helpful.

The Goldfinch is available from major book retailers.

Verdict: 3 Stars

Self-published sensation turned traditionally published romance/erotic romance author Abbi Glines has created a side story in the book Take A Chance that pulls several characters from an existing series of hers and offers up some insight into their relationship.

This new adult title, though, falls into the trap that has plagued a number of other titles in this genre. While the NA category was originally created by authors to give an edgier sense of realism to young adult and to differentiate between titles that are decidedly for preteens and teens and those that are intended for a more mature audience, it’s disturbing that the genre has been hijacked into erotica featuring people who may very well have not been old enough to vote in the last Presidential election. Characters in this book and many others being released recently–even by major publishing houses–feature some entirely too descriptive sex scenes (including unbelievably detailed and awkward “firsts,” usually for the female main character) involving characters who are under twenty-one years of age.

Glines’ latest title is no exception. While finally treating her readers to the love story between two side characters, there were tones and details reminiscent of a famous and often talked about book by EL James.

However, kudos do go to the author for breaking from tradition and not insisting on the pat formula that so many romance titles fall into. She carved out her own story line and arc, as well as her own unique ending.

Take A Chance went on sale yesterday.


Verdict: 3 Stars

This book points out many of the things that are wrong with the romance genre. First, back up and understand that the popularity of a book such as this is the supposedly real-life scenario of a woman informally engaged to a man whom she’s been dating for six years (longer than many marriages last these days) who seizes the opportunity to have a wild one night stand with an insanely gorgeous wealthy (aren’t they all, these days?) man. The story line speaks to readers whose own lives are certainly no 50 Shades, but thrusts them into Kasie’s wild-but-temporary adventure.

Unfortunately, Kasie makes just about as many stupid decisions as she possibly can, and it almost felt like an insult that the readers are expected to identify with her and cheer for her. Not only does she stay with her fiance long after he begins emotionally and verbally abusing her for her (skanky) indiscretion, but she cannot bring herself to decide what it is she wants out of life.

While billed as sizzling compliment to one very famous work of erotica starring a billionaire control freak, hasn’t that story line been done to death? Even the fans of the genre have cooled in their pursuit of inexplicably wealthy, unattached, youngish men, mostly because the genre just keeps feeding them the same story lines.

What is actually interesting about the book is its long journey to publication. It was written originally as three digital-only stories that have been woven together and made available in print, displaying the power of readers to make a bestseller out of an e-series prior to the publisher investing in paper.

Just One Night was a perfectly pleasant, although tired, read, and is available now.

Verdict: 3 Stars

The bizarrely addictive love story that Glines started in Twisted Perfection comes full circle in the follow up title, Simple Perfection. And despite the alternating POV on a chapter-by-chapter basis, coupled with the overly simplified view of mental illness, it was a fun, quick read.

Having said that, Glines followed suit like so many of her contemporaries and pulled a plot-twist fast one for us, one that was a little jarring at both its suddenness and its departure from the story line of Woods and Della. There was also a very rushed feeling to this book, almost as though the story was spilling forth; considering Glines’ vast fan base, however, it’s also likely that the rush was due to the need to satisfy her fans’ desire to learn the outcome.

What has been fun to see in this genre is the way that authors are exerting more control over their characters and story lines, especially in the era when authors and readers are connecting like never before. Despite the publisher of this series and the industry’s former rigid adherence to tried-and-true romance plots, Glines has been able to construct the story that she and her readers wanted.

Apart from those issues, Simple Perfection was a pleasant read with just the right amount of tension, romance, genuine horror on a variety of levels, and the requisite happily ever after, at least for some characters. The title is available now.

Verdict: 4 Stars

When you’re up for a digital book innovation award at the Digital Book World Conference and Expo and you lose out to the powerhouse that is Scholastic, Inc., that’s still pretty impressive. Fortunately for Light Publications and their ebook Cinderella Spinderella, what makes their book great isn’t just the full-color illustrations, audio read-aloud, realistic page turn, or any of the other typical things we’ve come to expect from enhanced ebooks. What makes this title so great is how much thought and effort the creators put into the actual representation of the story.

Exhibit A: Cinderella is in a wheelchair, something that her evil stepsisters laugh at her for. Then the fairy godmother–who is actually a homeless woman–shows up and dresses Cinderella in a magical black garbage bag.

Exhibit B: When Cinderella does get to go to the ball, obviously…well…she can’t dance, at least not on those ridiculously impractical glass slippers. But the prince is so intrigued by her that they sit and play cards all night, talking and getting to know each other (no silent staring into each others’ eyes and not speaking…looking at you, Disney).

Exhibit C (and the most profound thing of all): With the download of this one book, the reader gets to pick Cinderella’s and the prince’s ethnicities, a fact that makes me prouder of Light Publications than I have been of any other digital publisher in a long time.

Along with other bonus features, this book is an educator’s dream and is sure to delight any reader. The need to download the book to a computer or laptop first and then transfer it over to the phone or tablet was a minor annoyance, a factor that hopefully the creators will take into consideration down the road. But overall, the book and its 25 possible story versions was pure genius that speaks to readers of any background.

Cinderella Spinderella is available at lightpublications.com/dropcard.


Goodreads launched its Goodreads Author Program and verified author pages only a half a decade ago, but is looking to its 100,000th author user this week. While the site itself remains firmly a place for readers to share and engage thoughts on books and content, users have enjoyed the ability to interact with authors and content creators.

In a blog post from Goodreads, Patrick Brown stated, “Many authors keep their pages updated with news of upcoming books and, because all writers are also readers, they also share their reading lists—another great opportunity to discover new books on Goodreads! For instance, Rick Riordan includes This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel in his list of 44 “Favorites”, along with Dune by Frank Herbert; L.J. Smith appears to be a huge Agatha Christie fan with over 50 books of hers shelved; and Khaled Hosseini gave Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain 5 stars. Members can browse authors’ bookshelves to find out which titles they have in common, and discover which books inspired their favorite writers.”

Goodreads’ viability for authors has been called into question with the recent news of reviewers and author conflict, typically referred to as “author bullying.” While Goodreads has enacted terms of service that require a modicum of respectfulness when posting reviews of books or categorizing titles on personal shelves, the fact remains that Goodreads is only useful to authors because of this innate ability readers have to openly share and critique books, creating a deeper level of discussion than can just be found on a product review page.

To celebrate its milestone, Goodreads has unrolled a special gift for member authors in the form of a verified badge for author pages. This badge lets readers know that this is the verified author and is therefore the actual user account of someone to interact with and engage with surrounding authors’ content.


Verdict: 5 Stars

It seems that recent and current global events have made readers absolute suckers for end of the world doomsday predictions, and with good reason. The what-ifs involved in medical science, experimentation, and technology come together to form an entire world of possibilities, and many authors are crafting interesting takes on the concepts.

In book two of the Origin Mystery series, author AG Riddle spins the possibility of not only a worldwide epidemic that kills billions, but a battle between big name pharmaceutical and an organization that is convinced that this pandemic is the natural course of evolution for the human race. Not only will the disease reduce the global numbers, but the ones whose DNA is changed by the disease will become a stronger breed of human. Therefore, their only logical course of action is to let nature have its way with the planet.

At times taking stabs at the ineffectiveness and greed of the pharmaceutical industry and making light of very real think tanks who believe in the superiority of some individuals over others, the book is a fast-paced thrill ride of pandemic proportions.

The Atlantis Plague is available now, as is book one in the series, The Atlantis Gene.

Verdict: 3 Stars

Shepherd’s second title, The Poisoned Island (Washington Square Press), had an incredibly intriguing premise, but it dragged. The action got lost in chapter after chapter of descriptive narrative filled with back story, as opposed to dialogue and sequences. On the plus side, and at the risk of a vast spoiler alert, there is a tremendously intelligent juxtaposition between addiction to a substance and to a way of life.

Set with the invasion of Tahiti by the English–and invasion is probably the incorrect, impolite term here, as evidenced by their exploration and later gathering of tropical plants; of course, once the captain of the ship rapes the daughter of the tribal king, it’s an invasion–the story follows the drama back in England surrounding the mysterious deaths of several members of the ship’s crew when they return from the island addicted to “leaf.”

At times both compassionate and brutal, the story simply didn’t need four hundred pages to dole out the details. It was, however, a very human book, and I kept reading in hopes that the right people were brought to justice, or at least suffered at the hands of karma. It’s hard to feel much sympathy for the crew who helped spread contagious diseases, venereal and otherwise, among one of the many, many cultures that the English destroyed throughout the reign of the empire.

One very important and enjoyable aspect of the book was Shepherd’s attention to accuracy. Both this book and his first title, The English Monster, were very obviously well researched, and the author’s knowledge of not only the setting and geography but also the time period are very evident.

Fans of highly detailed stories complete with minute descriptions will possibly enjoy the book, if they can endure it. The Poisoned Island goes on sale on January 14th.


Verdict: 5 Stars

In the final installment in the series which Clayton started with The Unidentified Redhead and The Redhead Revealed, “older” actress (she really hates to be called that) Grace Sheridan has a hit new series, a heartthrob sexy actor boyfriend, and a new house in LA. Unfortunately, she also has all of the baggage that goes with it, including stalker paparazzi, a manager who insists that Grace and Jack not take their relationship public for business reasons, sleazy egotistical fellow actors, and a producer who’s at his breaking point that she hasn’t lost another twenty pounds.

Add to that the blogs, Facebook posts, and Twitter rants from fans who are outraged that the studly star of the hottest movie franchise of the decade is dating this Sheridan “cow,” and Grace is ready to turn her back on the dream she worked so hard to achieve. When Jack’s superstar behavior takes him down the path of all-night partying and illegal drugs, Grace is ready to give up on him, too.

In a book series that is both highly sexually charged and hilarious, Clayton has managed to create a girl-next-door persona out of a major name actress. As readers who watched Grace’s star slowly rise through the first two books, we are both enthralled and surprised when she makes it big in Hollywood. This feels more like reading a text message conversation with our best friend than a novel about the lives of the Hollywood elite.

If there was any criticism to dish out, it would be that Grace is far too willing to let Jack off the hook, sending the mildly irritating message that celebrities get special treatment. Ironically, Jack hits rock bottom for that very reason when he tires of being treated as a superstar everywhere he goes.

All three of the Redhead books in the series are available now.