REVIEW - Among Those You Know (Joshua Valentine)

Among Those You Know"Vivid and thoughtful, a character-driven piece from a new young author!"
RainHand Rating:
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(Review appearing for the first time on!)
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked this one up – the synopsis makes it sound like a hard-boiled crime novel, or not. But hey, you really can’t judge a book by its cover, and sometimes you just have to dive in. I think I’ve come out the better for it.

The first thing I can say I appreciate about this story is that it’s first person, written by an author that understands how first person is supposed to work. Yes there are large chunks of narration in it that may require you to take breaks here and there, but that tends to come with the territory. We’re kept on task with our narrator and his take on the facts, and we’re drawn into his life until we feel like we know him – like he’s there with us in the room, telling us his tale. I appreciate that, and as it turns out the mystery I was looking for is not only there, but it’s there really well.

My main issue with this story was a personal one. It just feels…young. No, that’s not a bad thing. But it’s on an edge that I’m not really on anymore in my life, and as a result I found myself not quite able to hit a sweet spot in terms of my interest. That’s a personal misgiving, but I think a somewhat younger audience demographic is better suited for this story.

There are some technical issues that would lead me to suggest another runthrough by the book’s editor, but in general, neither that nor the above issues aren’t enough to ruin the story, so if you’re up for it, I would still recommend this read.

Note that there’s a big focus on gender and sexual identity in this book. Not a good or bad thing, just it might be good for a reader to be aware of. The story leans a bit more towards character study than it does hard-boiled mystery work.

About the Author: Joshua Valentine began writing 'Among Those You Know' at the age of 14 and finally published it earlier this year at the age of 16. Primary influences for Joshua's written work(s) include a wide range of things, from musical taste, to life experiences, and all of the way to a passion for politics. As a young member of the LGBT community, Joshua has a passion for writing about LGBT characters, and exposing the countless injustices faced in their community.
('About' info abridged from

REVIEW - The Sapphire Eruption: The Sword's Choice #1 (I.M. Redwright)

Her Name Was Abby"I got yer sweet piece of narrative world building right here!"
RainHand Rating:
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(Review appearing for the first time on!)
Ah, sweet worldbuilding, thou art my nectar. There are stories written in our world, where we have to mind all sorts of things to keep the situation realistic (which can be quite a challenge if you’re not necessarily up on every modern trend). There are stories written in worlds similar to our own, where we authors still have to keep our feet on the ground. But you know what’s great about writing a story in your own world? Nobody to check up on you. It’s a clean slate to paint on, and the sky is the absolute limit to what you can bring to life. Of course, this privilege is not without its trials. For one, being responsible for everything means that you are, in fact, responsible for everything. And that’s no mean feat. People, places, ideas, concepts, faiths…it’s all on you. And there is something to be said for how you tie it all together. Just having facts is never enough, you’ve got to turn it into a narrative.

The Sapphire Eruption lives up to that narrative feel. There’s a lot going on here – several independent nations, each with their own personalities and outlooks on life vie for attention, and of course we have our main cast of characters to mind. This book is on the chunky side and I often say how that can be a bit of a concern for the potential for losing your reader, but ample time is spent developing everything the way it needs to be, from landmasses to cities, and on down to the cast of people we need to care about in order to become invested in the story. It’s a tangled web of a story, but a sweet one if you don’t mind getting tied up.

Mind, however, that fantasy is never the same snowflake twice, and thus there’s no promise this flavor is going to be to your liking. The concept of elemental kingdoms is certainly nothing new under the sun – so not new that it miiiight just have turned me off from picking this up had I seen it on a shelf at a store, just because such an angle is so, well, done. You’re going to be reading high fantasy here, with all the swords and sorcery and thievery and so forth theretofore pertaining. Make sure that’s what you’re after, because the inside of this book is what it looks like on the outside.

That really isn’t much of a criticism, I suppose. Well, there’s not much here to complain about. Spare a few minutes for it and it’s sure to wrap you up – just make sure you have the time to invest in it all!

About the Author: I.M. Redwright didn't know he wanted to be a fantasy author, instead, he had a story in mind and had the urge to write about it. He could have made things easy but that wouldn't be fun, so his first novel had to be the first volume of a series, which by the way he expects you will enjoy.

As a fantasy book fan, having his own fantasy series is just fascinating. However, when he wakes up every day he still thinks it was all a dream.
('About' info reprinted from

REVIEW - Her Name Was Abby (Peter Martuneac)

Her Name Was Abby"You didn't think it was over, did you?"
RainHand Rating:
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(Review appearing for the first time on!)
Well, for once I got to start at book one! It’s always troublesome to review a sequel when you’re coming in cold. This time I didn’t have to. Her Name Was Abby is the second book in Peter Martuneac’s “His Name Was Zach” series, and adds enough to the story to suggest it be given an overall name beyond just that of the first book. I’ll say the same thing I say just about every time – start at book one, you’ll be glad you did. As a worthwhile read from word one, you really need that backstory from the first tale to appreciate the second. I’m still more a fan of the zombie movie than the zombie TV series, but there’s no option for that by the time we get to this sequel, so I’ve just got to take it for what it is.

Her Name Was Abby is book two of the series, and weighs in at just about the same chunky length. We’re swept right back up into the story by an applause-worthy prologue – this is what a good prologue should be. Short, sweet, smacks you upside the head and demands you take notice. Abby, now in the spotlight by herself, is nowhere near any sort of resolution, and it’s time to head off on another adventure in the hopes of getting her there. We already know Abby and so not as much initial character development is required here, but I still felt well invested in her and her situation. Once again, you’ve gotta care enough to want to root for the hero/heroine. And so I do.

Length, however, is still a double-edged sword, and I still think this series is in need of some shaving down. It’s not always a good thing to pack in every possible detail, and there’s something to be said for the psychological advantage of a reader feeling as though they’re making good progress, which becomes tougher the more they have to get through. Again, detail is not a bad thing per se. It’s a question of quality over quantity.

Writing, like any craft, is always improved upon with experience. In the second installment I saw some marked improvements of things I was critical of in the past. I no longer feel quite so alienated by the excessive attention to military/firearm details. They’re still present, but they didn’t toss me off base so far this time. Then again, maybe I know what to expect now and so perhaps I just wasn’t noticing as much. Overall the author’s technique has improved all across the board – if there’s a part three to this, I’ll look forward to checking out that continued progress.

In short – if you liked the first one, definitely keep up with the second. If the first was meh to you, then you should probably leave it at that. So anyway, can I spoil the ending now, can I? …fine, just read it already.

Nice cover too, by the way. So simple and yet says so much.

About the Author: Husband, father of two, Boilermaker alum, and former United States Marine. Ever since reading The Lord of the Rings at a young age, Peter has wanted to be a writer. "His Name Was Zach" is his debut novel, followed by the short story prequel"Abby: Alone". A second novel is in the works, entitled "Her Name Was Abby".

Peter's writings tend to share a theme that focuses on PTSD and the different ways people cope with trauma, some healthy and others not. He also writes about redemption, and not being chained to your former self.

P.S. Martuneac is a Romanian name, and is pronounced "Mar-TOO-knee-ack", for all those wondering.
('About' info reprinted from

REVIEW - His Name Was Zach (Peter Martuneac)

His Name Was Zach"It might be just what your desiccated flesh is looking for."
RainHand Rating:
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(Review appearing for the first time on!)
‘His Name Was Zach’ looks, on the outside, to follow the now very overdone formula (overdone since long before things like ‘The Walking Dead’) of a standard dystopian zombie apocalypse. And yes, related tropes are present. But the reason something becomes a ‘trope’ to begin with is that the formula generally works, and such stories attract people who are not bothered by that expectation – that’s exactly the kind of story they’re looking for. To that end, if this is the kind of story you’re looking for, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

I will admit that this isn’t the most ideal setup for my interest in zombie stories, but that’s a personal matter. I prefer zombie movies to zombie TV shows, because to me it’s all about the shock of the undead hordes as they mow society down (movies don’t typically have the run time to go beyond that part of the story). This book is more like a zombie TV show, due to being set two years after the outbreak. Post-apocalyptic, as opposed to apocalyptic. His Name Was Zach is closer to TWD, or possibly The Last of Us, than it is to a Romero flick. I just wanted a few more scarifying zombie encounters and not as many scarifying people encounters (perhaps I, too, like my tropes).

There’s a lot to appreciate in this lengthy tale. Our two main characters, that we are introduced to immediately on the very first page, have a lot of time to grow as people and in their familial relationship to one another. We, in turn, are given ample reason to become involved in their story – to appreciate their challenges, their emotions, and generally root for them. What happens to them matters to us, and to me that’s a key tenant of good writing. Don’t just show me a bunch of characters, invest me in them. Make me care about them. I won’t give away the ending of course, but I will say that it’s worth the journey that takes you there, so stick with it. Points for all of the above, good show.

The longer a story is, the more difficulty arises from maintaining the audience’s attention, and I did run into a few instances where I felt mine wavering. There are a few scenes that appear to go on far longer than they need to in order to be effective (a certain game of Texas Hold ‘em comes to mind). Also, not being a firearms or military hobbyist/enthusiast, the excessive attention to detail on these things made the story feel a little more distant to me. It’s enough to tell me that the pants are camouflage, the knife is a combat knife, and the handgun is of the 9mm style. I really didn’t need the production years, manufacturer names, what that particular camo pattern is officially called, and so forth, although to someone specifically interested in these topics, such information might be desirable. Detail is good, but this sort of detail didn’t feel relevant to the story. As a writer I know firsthand that it’s hard to cut up your baby. But some scraps just have to end up on the cutting room floor, in order to fit the runtime.

Beyond the above and a few technical issues here and there (a bit heavy on ‘tell’ at some points and some instances of more than one character speaking in the same paragraph), there’s a worthwhile post-apocalyptic zombie tale here, with enough going on between characters and plotline events to keep you reading. If you’re daunted by the length, all I can say is just dive in to the pond and wait for that hook to dig into your desiccated, decaying flesh. It doesn’t take long!

About the Author: Husband, father of two, Boilermaker alum, and former United States Marine. Ever since reading The Lord of the Rings at a young age, Peter has wanted to be a writer. "His Name Was Zach" is his debut novel, followed by the short story prequel"Abby: Alone". A second novel is in the works, entitled "Her Name Was Abby".

Peter's writings tend to share a theme that focuses on PTSD and the different ways people cope with trauma, some healthy and others not. He also writes about redemption, and not being chained to your former self.

P.S. Martuneac is a Romanian name, and is pronounced "Mar-TOO-knee-ack", for all those wondering.
('About' info reprinted from

REVIEW - Child of Fire, Child of Ice: The Waljan Chronicles #1 (J.B. Trepagnier)

Child of Fire, Child of Ice"Creative premise, good story idea. Just needs stylistic/technical work."
RainHand Rating:
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(RainHand Books will be beginning its new review initiative soon - there has been some delay in the wake of the COVID-19 situation. For the time being, please enjoy a selection of my previously published reviews of books by self-published/independent authors, appearing for the first time on!)
Let me begin by saying that the premise of this book is a good one. There's nothing really new under the sun anymore in my opinion - it's just a matter of what unique spin we can put on the tried and the true. I felt that this tale was able to be different in a pleasing way, and the way that it seeks to mix the feel of sci-fi and fantasy together was successful. In that respect, I thought there was a solid story here with a lot of potential.

The trouble I had with this book appears to have already been mentioned in a number of comments so I feel as though I'm reiterating, but for the sake of a complete review I believe I ought to include it. In short, this book is in need of an editor's eye. I found it rather difficult to parse some of the text for the following reasons:

1) Run-on sentences.

2) A jumble of rapid-fire pronouns that make it difficult to determine which characters are being referred to.

3) Lots of 'names' all at once;.

4) Short, choppy sentences that would flow better if combined.

5) Large infodump sections that could stand to be broken up throughout the story so as not to appear pedantic.

6) Less "tell".

Note that some items on my list above seem contradictory - in some places I speak of excessively long sentences and too many pronouns, whilst in others, I talk about sentences that are too short, and too many names all at once. What I think this book needs is to strike a balance between the two in both cases. Merging of very short thoughts, setting of commas to or breaking up very long thoughts, and taking care to consider which characters of what genders are in each scene, so a mixture of names and specific pronouns can keep the reader dialed in to who is where, and saying what (this is especially important when all the characters being referred to are of the same gender, since the obvious assignment of 'he' and 'she' is lost). I think it would be of some benefit to trust the reader a bit more too, in terms of letting them form some mental images and come to some conclusions in their head. This can be a daunting task, but there's a definite balance between setting a scene for the play, and just acting it out one's self.

About the Author: JB Trepagnier is a huge liar. She first started lying as a child when someone asked who colored on the walls. She later went on to major in art, so they really should have framed it instead of sending her to the principals office so many times. When she was fourteen, she wrote a very large lie into several notebooks, which later became her first book, Midnight's Sonata. Rather than dabbling in politics and possibly ending up in jail for lying when it counts or under oath, JB chooses to craft elaborate lies into word documents and use them for entertainment rather than harm because she is really batman, just without all the money to fight crime ('About' info reprinted from

REVIEW - The Shapeshifter's Tale (Laura Koerber)

The Shapeshifter's Tale"Start at book one, you'll be glad you did."
RainHand Rating:
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(RainHand Books will be beginning its new review initiative after the first of the year. For the time being, please enjoy a selection of my previously published reviews of books by self-published/independent authors, appearing for the first time on!)
I feel I may have done this book a disservice by coming in at part II. With the separate plotlines going on and some things I had to infer, I probably ought to have started at the beginning. Can't exactly fault the story for that though, and I found that what was going on in this book kept me reading anyway, so that's a plus, and a nod to good storytelling. Overall I found that I quite enjoyed this. Shapeshifters and their quandries are always of interest to me, and the dance of the two plotlines, even if I would have liked more perspective from the first book, still made me want to see where things were going in the next chapter. A little emotion is always a plus too, for I cannot care about the plight of the characters unless I'm given reason to. Many books fail at this. This one succeeded.

I have a few technical issues, some I will admit are matters of opinion, but they were a tad tricky for me all the same:

1) Pretty fonts aren't really the best thing over easily readable ones in prose so I'd change the title/TOC font to something more manageable (the one used for the actual word 'Contents' at the top of the TOC would be excellent).

2) Italics are certainly fine for internal dialogue, but there's way too much of it here (goes beyond just dialogue), and even then, using more than one font in the body of the text is jarring, so at least stick with an italic version of the same font. For monologue, italics aren't really good at all.

3) Perhaps a tiny (say 6 point) lead between paragraphs, to make things a bit easier on the eye.

4) Changing perspective from first to third person in the same story is a tough pill to swallow from the standpoint of a reader.

Overall, a fine read. I thank you.

About the Author: Laura Koerber lives on a island in the Puget Sound with her husband and dogs. She is a retired teacher, presently doing in home care for disabled people while volunteering at a dog rescue. Her degree is in art, and she is a painter, graphic artist, and ceramic sculptor. Her writing started about five years ago, a surprise to herself and everyone who knows her, since she had never written anything before. Laura learned to write by reading. She is a voracious omnivore of books. ('About' info reprinted from

REVIEW - The Lazarus Men (Christian Warren Freed)

The Lazarus Men"A good story for those willing to put the time in."
RainHand Rating:
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(RainHand Books will be beginning its new review initiative after the first of the year. For the time being, please enjoy a selection of my previously published reviews of books by self-published/independent authors, appearing for the first time on!)
Well, I can say that I'm always a fan of world-building, but the kind of building presented in a story like The Lazarus Men can be an even bigger challenge than that of, say, a fantasy novel where the entire planet is fictional and can be molded to whatever desire the author pleases. Where stories set only a few centuries in "our" future are concerned, one has to be more careful with their nods to the real world, and connecting everything together from what we know, to what we're about to experience, cleanly. I think Mr. Freed has done a good job of that, and for it I applaud him. We have plausible advances in technology, secret organizations, and even at least one non-human race - a proper nod to the idea that by the 23rd century, we might just encounter a few.

I'm a bit undecided on how I feel about the pacing of this story. At some points I felt myself being sufficiently drawn in to the action, and at other points, I found things to be a bit plodding, with perhaps a bit too much in the way of explanation. There's a fine line between making sure you paint a good scene for your readers and 'telling', as the 'show vs. tell' debate goes. Sometimes the battle was won here, and...sometimes not so much.

I believe this has been said in other reviews so I apologize for reiterating, but I admit that I'm also not a huge fan of the idea of an 'everyman' being roped into a world of intrigue, who seems to be able to keep up a little too easily. But then, I like underdog characters who have things stacked against them. I just feel that the aforementioned setup makes for a great opportunity to frustrate our protagonist, by forcing him to learn as he goes. Further, it helps to make a character relatable (and a fantastic plot device) when they don't have a proverbial clue anymore than we do. Gerald doesn't have all the answers, sure...but he sure has a lot for the kinda guy he is.

I know there are some folks out there who twitch a bit over the concept of changing perspectives within the same chapter or the same story at all, but I for one find very little wrong with doing this - indeed, it's rather commonplace in many literary classics, and helps to get inside the head of multiple characters from a third person perspective. It definitely happens here, and though it's possible for it to be done in a jarring way, I felt the instances of this were acceptably small. Just be advised that it does happen, if that sort of thing causes you ulcers.

Despite my concerns, I'm happy to have read this, and I would consider pointing others towards it. I think there's enough going on here to attract an interested sci-fi reader to the story, and perhaps even hope for more at some point.

About the Author: Christian W. Freed was born in Buffalo, N.Y. more years ago than he would like to remember. After spending more than 20 years in the active duty US Army he has turned his talents to writing. Since retiring, he has gone on to publish over 20 military fantasy and science fiction novels, as well as his memoirs from his time in Iraq and Afghanistan, a children's book, and a pair of how to books focused on indie authors and the decision making process for writing a book and what happens after it is published.

His first published book (Hammers in the Wind) has been the #1 free book on Kindle 4 times and he holds a fancy certificate from the L Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest. Ok, so it was for 4th place in one quarter, but it's still recognition from the largest fiction writing contest in the world. And no, he's not a scientologist.

Passionate about history, he combines his knowledge of the past with modern military tactics to create an engaging, quasi-realistic world for the readers. He graduated from Campbell University with a degree in history and is pursuing a Masters of Arts degree in Digital Communications from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

He currently lives outside of Raleigh, N.C. and devotes his time to writing, his family, and their two Bernese Mountain Dogs. If you drive by you might just find him on the porch with a cigar in one hand and a pen in the other. You can find out more about his work by following him @ or on Twitter @christianwfreed.
('About' info reprinted from