REVIEW - Life Force Preserve: Anna and the Resurgent of the Precious Blood #1 (Courtney Leigh Pahlke)

Life Force Preserve“A thrilling premise in need of TLC.”
RainHand Rating:
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(Review appearing for the first time on!)
To be fair, I’m going to say off the bat that I had a little difficulty with this book. As I’m not in the habit of providing an opinion without elaborating I’ll certainly do so, but first, let’s talk about the strengths of Life Force Preserve.

There is most certainly a compelling story to be found in this book. You’ve got suspense, tension, danger, and conspiracies; all focused around our intrepid protagonist and her secret bloodline. The storyarc makes reference to a great span of human history dating all the way back to ancient Egypt, and has a healthy dose of “Ancient Aliens” to boot (if you’re into that). If you’re patient, there’s a reward to be found here.

Now, my elaboration. First and foremost, I’m quite concerned regarding the frequency of technical errors in this book. The fact that there’s a grammatical error in the *title* was the first warning sign: “resurgent, precious blood” or “resurgence of the precious blood”—not “resurgent of the precious blood”. The punctuation error in the short plot description posted to both Amazon and Goodreads was the second sign. In reviewing the text itself, I found myself subject to myriad errors in everything from spelling, to grammar, to tense, and back again, to the point that I can’t bring myself to believe that this manuscript was passed under a solid proofreader microscope before it saw publication. As a reviewer of fiction I’m well aware that even the most well-polished books by the most careful professional publishing houses will always have an error or two—it’s just not possible to catch them all. With that in mind I maintain a certain threshold of acceptability, but this book went way over my limit, to the point that I found myself unable to reconcile myself to the idea that this is a finished piece, ready to be enjoyed by the reading public. The fact that the story is described as ‘gripping’ and ‘able to draw readers in’ despite the fact that almost nothing action-packed happens in the first four chapters (until chapter five I wasn’t even sure what the plot was) doesn’t help, especially when combined with such jarring inconsistences as a shifting perspective that goes from first person, present tense, all the way to to third person, past tense (without the presence of our narrator at all).

Don’t get me wrong: Life Force Preserve has potential. Additional beta-testing and a solid proofread would do wonders for bringing this story to life. Unfortunately, in its current state, I can’t in good conscience recommend it to discerning audiences. As for the award the book won, I can’t speak to that, other than to work from the assumption that I may have been given a draft version of the manuscript? That doesn’t appear to be the case, but if there is a more polished version out there, I’d be willing to give this book a second chance!

About the Author: Courtney Pahlke graduated from the University of Iowa with a degree in psychology and a secondary in creative writing. She worked at the Crisis Center in Iowa city leading to graduation day, where she went back home to Illinois with a plan. Courtney hoped to gain her masters degree in forensic psychology at a school in Chicago, while working for her dad, to pay for school. After the first year working for her dad’s company, she decided not to continue on with school and grow the family business instead.
('About' info abridged from

REVIEW - Lapse (Alex Rodriguez)

Lapse"Time enough at last, or time enough for more."
RainHand Rating:
Find Lapse on Amazon, and Goodreads!

(Review appearing for the first time on!)
Oooh, timecrimes!

Well, the title and the blurb were enough to get me interested in this title even if it hadn’t been shared with me in return for an honest review. If I picked this volume up off a shelf at Barnes & Noble (or certainly the library) I’d be tempted to take it home with me, and there’s always something to be said for that. Since I’m on the aesthetics, I’ll also add that I really appreciated the clear, clean layout of this book, the readable typeface, and I always like to see cleverly-named chapters. You might think some of that is to be taken for granted, to which I can only say: “Not necessarily.” Especially on the independent circuit.

I felt that the action scenes moved well and kept me reading, with downtime placed at good intervals. If I’m counting the pages rather than being surprised by how many I’ve read there’s a problem, but not so here. I finished this one up rather quickly, and though going through a book too fast can be lamentable, it does profess to a good story. Time travel stories aren’t easy to write due to the need to keep all your ducks in a row (so as not to create an unintended paradox), but the author laid that all out well here, leaving little (at least insofar as the plot is concerned) to misunderstanding. I can’t say I became heavily attached to Nora (who I would prefer never to cross for her combat prowess), Mason, and the crew, but they were solid enough characters with enough depth to make me want to see their story through.

And that brings me to my first issue—the ending. In order to avoid spoilers I can’t say much, other than to express a certain lack of fulfillment. If this is meant to be book one of a longer story so be it, but I went in without any such understanding, and if it ends here…well, I was hoping for more. We’re not talking about a brick-wall cliffhanger tease here; I was just left turning the page, looking for chapter 31.

Next up—and I can only be so forgiving about this in a fully published work—always make sure to do a careful proofread, and then another by someone other than yourself, before a book goes to print. There were simply too many typos in this manuscript for my taste—I’m always willing to forgive a few just because that’s the nature of the publishing beast, but this book went well over my allowable threshold. Further, a number of passages were a bit difficult to follow along with for grammatical issues and a general lack of flow. This made the whole thing feel like a rushed project to me, which does justice neither for the author's prowess (of which I can clearly see storytelling power here) nor the potential reader base. I consider the third star a bit of extra for the honest attempt.

In short—Lapse is a good story with a clever premise; one that the eye of an editor could do a lot for. I hope it gets another edition in the future with the technical work it needs to really shine. If there is a sequel at some point, I’d be interested in checking it out.

About the Author: Born and raised in the Chicagoland area, Alex Rodriguez grew up inspired by action packed stories of science fiction and the adventures of superheroes. She graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Psychology. Now a Wisconsin resident, Alex enjoys spending time with family and friends, walking her dog Titan, attending writing classes, and discovering new books/TV shows to fall in love with. An occasional reader, Alex enjoys novels in the realms of historical fiction, romance, sci fi, and YA. She also dabbles into thrillers and fantasy.
('About' info abridged from

Musings - Of Niches and Book Reviews

Hello from RainHand!

When I was taking those #2 pencil Scantron tests in school way back in 198x-199x, there was always one specific instruction in bold text at the end of every section--not that we really needed to be told this mind, as we were quite eager to comply--but it went something like this: STOP HERE. PUT YOUR PENCIL DOWN. Words to live by? Perhaps not, but I still have something to learn from them. (Don't worry, this is a good thing for you if you're looking for a book review! Read on to find out why.)

See, I like to tell stories, and I like to write. I like these things so much that I have never before been able to stick with keeping a journal, until I chose to write an ongoing story just for myself during 'journaling' time instead. Why babble about my day when I can indulge in the struggles of the vast realm inside my head?? (Incidentally, I have no idea how long that journal-story is, but I've filled up at least one college-ruled composition book and will be on to the next soon.) In my time publishing stories online, I've had some trouble with readers who take in a short sci-fi tale, come back tomorrow, and find fantasy, horror, or even romcom as the next thing on my list. Doc Brown once claimed to be a student of all sciences. I'm a student of all (or at least many) genres, and I like changing things up to take on new challenges whenever I can. I spent three years working on an opus-level adult high fantasy novel that tipped the scales at 144,000 words (a big bite for an agent, I know). It doesn't have a home yet, but I became quickly distracted from finding it one by my next project...a middle grade contemporary adventure story that clocks in at about six-figures less. I'm surprised at how well the latter rolled out of my mind and off my pen. It was fun to compose, and as there seem to be many more agents looking for such things now, I believe I'll be focusing on a home for that one first. But see, that's the thing--I need to put my pencil down. So, I'm trying to keep my ideas for a potential sequel on the drawing board while I shop manuscripts. I wonder how long my muse can be kept at bay.

In the meantime, less drafting time for me means more reviewing time for you. I hope to step-up my reading schedule, and continue to make RainHand a voice for the indie author community. There have been a lot of fascinating reads in the past--I can't wait to check out more!

REVIEW - Whiplash: The Rust Chronicles #1 (Morgan Quaid)

Whiplash“CAUTION: SHARP. Handle With Care!”
RainHand Rating:
Find Whiplash on Amazon, and Goodreads!

(Review appearing for the first time on!)
Whiplash is a ‘sharp’ story—it goes right for the throat with neither apology nor restraint both in content and style. Short, piercing sentences, darker vocabulary choices, basic metaphors that don’t leave you much to ponder, and a narrative that dives right in from page one without any sort of lead-in. You’ll be introduced to young Jack at the outset, but you’d better make sure you strapped in before you cracked that cover, because you’re not going to see the “keep your hands and arms inside the vehicle at all times” warning light come on again. That said, I can’t possibly have come up with a more appropriate title for this book!

At first glance you might be a bit off-put by the somewhat cliché idea of ‘young person suddenly thrust into a fantasy world’, but I ask you to stay your concerns and give this book a chance. To be honest I really don’t even like using the word ‘cliché’ when reviewing new content because, like most buzz words, it’s overused and has outstripped the original meaning; now often peeled from the backing paper and applied to any work that isn’t 15465887789.492% original. Folks, really…everything’s been done before. The thing to look for is innovative ways of mixing up existing ideas, and in that, Whiplash succeeds admirably. The use of dreamscapes, the sudden left turns that toss you across the deck when you think you’ve found your footing, and a good shuffle of character types keep this ball rolling, or dribbling…or hurtling through the air towards a barbed-wire fence at Mach 1.

As for criticisms, our hero, Jack, didn’t really pop for me overall. Call it a matter of personal preference, but I was sort of hoping he might grow past the snide commentary and saucy one-liners as the stakes rose. Perhaps that’s my own fault—expecting a young man who was never really intended to be a white knight to begin with to mount his horse at some point. Hopeless romance won’t help you much on this ride, I guess. Other than that I feel the author did not disappoint in the bold employment of first person/present tense, save for a few bits here and there where characters who are in the moment seem to know a bit more than they should for their perspective. In fairness, it’s a very bold way to construct a novel-length piece to begin with. Hats off.

Whiplash is a high-octane caffeine high, not a subtle journey through complex flavors. The latter may be golden for some, but I think we could all use a blast of the former from time to time. If that’s what you’re looking for in your next story, then by all means I recommend it, but it may not be to taste if you’re going in looking for a deep-developing, paced-out epic.

About the Author: Morgan Quaid is a writer of speculative fiction, specializing in comics, graphic novels, short stories and fast-paced, first person novels. Quaid’s writing tends to blend concision and fast-moving plots with epic sci-fi/fantasy themes, creating stories that often have more in common with film rather than traditional novels.
('About' info reprinted from

REVIEW - Enoch's Thread (John Aubrey)

Enoch's Thread“A conspiring brew – you’ll try it, won’t you?"
RainHand Rating:
Find Enoch's Thread on Amazon, and Goodreads!

(Review appearing for the first time on!)
I’ll admit up front that I’m usually not a huge fan of conspiracy stories (be they occult/religious or anything else). Still, I was intrigued enough by the premise to give this one a try, and it was worth the time. For one, I have to appreciate all the work that went into generating such a narrative. Despite the ‘work of fiction’ disclaimer at the outset, it’s clear to me that such a piece could not have been properly conceived without a lot of research on the author’s part, and it shows. The ‘threads’ of religious apocrypha, scientific theory, and climatological concerns spin together well; resulting in a colorful, clever tapestry revolving around characters complex enough for me to care about and become invested in. I’m not particularly knowledgeable of the subject matter aside from some past encounters/experience with the LDS church, but I didn’t have to be, and so I stuck around for the end. Yes, I know it’s only fiction…but it’s real enough to leave you wondering, and I can’t think of a more successful feeling to instill in a reader when they walk away from such a tale.

I can’t really find a whole lot of fault here. Some technical issues; minor enough to be beneath specific mention. The biggest one for me was the terseness of the prose, which occasionally left me feeling as though I was reading a report (I’m more of a flowery, literary fiction type). This in turn resulted in a bit of trouble keeping my focus, although relatively short chapters (and thus more opportunities to take a break) helped. There are a number of intimidating ‘text-walls’ throughout that might benefit from even a minor 6-point lead between paragraphs. I can’t really think it fair to make something like that a formal criticism however, since it’s no ‘error’ – just a reader’s preference.

I hesitate to bring up the Da Vinci Code as a reference point here since that’s sort of a least common denominator approach, but I really could see Enoch’s Thread held in a similar vein – perhaps even on the big screen, someday. In previous reviews I have often said something along the lines of ‘if this sort of thing is your cup of tea, go for it’. This time, however, I think it’s fair to recommend that folks try out a new flavor. Even if you don’t end up switching your daily brew over entirely, I think you’ll be pleased to make Enoch’s Thread your refreshing cup of exception.

Oh, and John Aubrey the writer, writing about John Aubrey the writer who is writing a book…well done. I can’t say it three times fast, but I can certainly read it through.

About the Author: Writing this book became part of a larger plan to use occult practice against disaster capitalists who endanger us all; because Art creates Life.
('About' info reprinted from

REVIEW - Scribbles of the Mind (Elie Azar)

Scribbles of the Mind“When is a word worth a thousand pictures?"
RainHand Rating:
Find Scribbles of the Mind on Amazon, and Goodreads!

(Review appearing for the first time on!)
Scribbles of the Mind is not a linear narrative - it is, rather, a book of poetry, and given that it is my first opportunity to review a collection of verse since RainHand began, I was eager to get into it.

Each poem is presented with complimentary illustration in the form of simple, minimalist line drawings that mingle with or accentuate the text, helping to bring each short verse together. Also present (on their own pages, after the poem they relate to) are a number of color photographs; most of which provide a thoughtful visual aid for the reader to ruminate upon after experiencing the work in question. I found the simplistic format refreshing. A picture may indeed be worth a thousand words, but good words can stand on their own, and I feel that Scribbles of the Mind would have been done a disservice by adding too much distracting images. As it stands, I appreciate the emptiness – it’s just what my mind needs to clear up and think about what I’ve read.

Within these pages are a number of, to say the very least, heartfelt words, and I though I do not know the author personally, I feel that I have learned something intimate and touching about them through what they’ve allowed me to see. I felt generally uplifted by Elie Azar’s words on family, friends, love, and all the happiness and sorrows of life. Each of these poems is a small-relatable story, easily applied to daily living, and the entire book is, well…easy to just pick up and read, as opposed to a deeper narrative that requires a larger commitment. Need a daily affirmation? Pick this up off the shelf and peruse it with your morning beverage of choice!

It’s difficult to apply the technical criticisms of prose to a body of poetry, since, unless your plan is to stick to iambic petameter, there’s really no ‘wrong’ way to write a poem. Perhaps the author meant to convey a specific emotion. Perhaps to queue a certain school of thought. Perhaps neither. I can’t say for sure, and thus I can only gauge based on what I, in particular, got out of it. That said, I’ll point out that certain portions of Scribbles of the Mind were a tad confusing for me. Some of the images-for example, an image depicting a camera placed after a poem that had mostly to do with music-focused my thoughts on likely the wrong thing – I began to wonder what the significance of the camera is and how it relates to the piece (maybe I was supposed to think about that, but I doubt that was the intention). As I look back on it I consider that perhaps the camera had to do with ‘memories’, but that didn’t occur to me at the time, and as such the whole thing felt it a little jarring. Again, it was probably my own lack of understanding, so I can’t judge too harshly. Poetry is a lot like visual art in that way – we can compare a fresco of a beautiful sunset to other frescos of beautiful sunsets, and if the painter has declared a specific inspiration we can compare their work to that, but otherwise…who are we to judge, really?

The above said, I have pointed out in the past that the purpose of my reviews is not to simply bring glory (or infamy) to an author and their work. They’re intended to help readers find their next good read. And so, if you’re a fan of soft, simple, heartfelt verse, I think there’s something for you to enjoy here, and I suggest you give Scribbles of the Mind a try.

About the Author: I am 27 years old, born and raised in Lebanon, I currently work as a financial reporter and I am a licensed (non - active) CPA from the state board of accountancy of the state of New Hampshire. To me, writing is a safe space where I can freely express myself and let my emotions be. A place where I forget my own gender, age and race, a place where my heart is the only boss. Throughout the course of my life, writing has been my coping mechanism, writing about people and things that happened with me, and how I wish things could have been, gave me this sense of power and freedom. Every time I write, I feel like I broke the chains of my chaotic silence.
('About' info abridged from

REVIEW - The Curse of the Spider-Riders: A Magical Adventure (Michael Dane)

The Curse of the Spider-Riders: A Magical Adventure“Punch him in the throat!"
RainHand Rating:
Find The Curse of the Spider-Riders: A Magical Adventure on Amazon, and Goodreads!

(Review appearing for the first time on!)
Really, how can you argue with a book that starts with ‘punch him in the throat?’

Getting young folks to sit down with a good book these days can be somewhat more challenging than it was many moons ago. We all know the drill – technology, attention spans, whatnot. Grabbing the interest of your audience is more important now than ever. Maybe some throat-punching is exactly what’s needed, but there’s more to this tale than just the threat of bone-snapping and a few dog turds. (And that’s only page two!)

The Curse of the Spider-Riders does indeed have rideable spiders. And wasps. And beetles. And slugs. Not to mention faeries, talking rodents, talking squirrels, and some critters you may not have heard of before, like thistle-wraiths. We’ve got war, a very healthy dose of action to keep those pages turning, some thought-provoking moments, and a taste of mystery to keep curious minds trying to work out a thing or two as they read. (Sorry, can’t give that away!) All of it set against the backdrop of a refreshingly unique fantasy world. But as I’ve said, there’s more to your wild fantasy ride through bug-infested skies here. Our hero, an orphan boy who always wanted a family of his own, has some difficult choices to make, and he won’t be making them without an abundance of scary and heartfelt moments alike.

On the technical side, I was as happy as always to find a mid-grade book with chapter names. Frankly I think the practice of putting a mini-title to all those mini-tales that occur inside a larger work helps to excite any reader to read on (so long as they don’t give away too much, of course), but it’s that much more of a delight for younger audiences. The book is constructed well for a mid-grade piece, with short chapters, easy language, readable font, and good pacing. Personally I like seeing a table of contents so we can review all the delicious looking chapter headings, but the absence of one is certainly no deal-breaker.

As for issues, I did have a few grammatical ones here and there. The odd sentence that didn’t sound quite right, a few misspellings or omitted letters, such. But it wasn’t enough to detract from the work. There is some language present that while passable for YA, might be a tad strong for mid-grade (words like ‘murder’ and ‘slaughter’, references to blood, phrases like ‘shut up’, and so forth). Fair warning that parents might want to give this book a once-over before handing it down the chain to their kids.

This story is on the short side, and I think that’s good too. It reaches out with some action and doesn’t let go, but manages to hold you just long enough to appreciate its nuances. I would certainly recommend it even for the most finicky of young readers.

About the Author: Having served 15 years in the Australian Army, M. Dane turned to writing children's fantasy as a means of unwinding at the end of a difficult day. He quickly fell in love with the process, along with the magical world of Hemoertha and all of its inhabitants.

His journey began in 2017 when he published The Traitor in the Trees (MG fantasy). This was followed up with The Other Side of Blood (fantasy), and he is most excited about his recent release of The Curse of the Spider-riders (MG fantasy).
('About' info reprinted from