Alice Yeh

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Smashwords book reviews by Alice Yeh

  • The Ghost Of A Flea on Jan. 25, 2011

    Though initially unenthusiastic about what appeared to be a story of bitter men attempting to be philosophers, the The Ghost of A Flea quickly morphed into an intriguing tale of drug deals and the inability to know whom to trust. Red herrings abounded, and for the longest time, I was uncertain whether the main character, Roger, was hallucinating, confused, or caught up in some grandiose form of hypnosis. The manipulation around him was subtle and maintained that delicious sense of suspense that drives any good thriller. The language in this book was as hard and driven as the plot, allowing for important details without belaboring the point by being overly descriptive. Necessary items were introduced with the same straightforwardness as ones that were later revealed to be unimportant, and through it all, that sense of dread and fascination was maintained. There were multiple instances where "passed" was used instead of "past," and more than one instance of the you're/your and who's/whose confusion. All three are generally unforgivable faux pas in my book, and had the rest of the novel not been written so well, the whole work may very well have been written off. Characterizations here were absolutely flawless. Each person involved was distinctive, their traits consistent even with all of the acting and subterfuge woven in. Betrayals were believable, and revelations were informative without being excessively explanatory. Like any good villain, the "bad guys" had that self-defeating, hubris-driven tendency to monologue, which were like a lifeline when I, like Roger, was caught up in grasping at thin air for understanding. By far the most enigmatic character was Peggy, a woman whose loyalties were constantly called into question either to be bolstered or decimated by the contents of the following scene. The ending of the novel was satisfactory and tied up all loose ends without resorting to deus ex machina, for which I was quite thankful. As intricate as it was enthralling, The Ghost of a Flea is one of the most surprising books that I've come across. Nothing was as expected, and I was frequently left hankering for the next great reveal. If suspense and mind games are your cup of tea, then imbibe with pleasure as you work your way through this well-written work. Stimulated Outlet Book Reviews
  • The Gray and Guilty Sea on March 20, 2011

    Garrison Gage is a recluse in a tiny town, a retired private detective who looks at the world through a jaundiced eye. One could hardly blame him: his last case in New York left him a widower and a cripple. Passing his days with crossword puzzles and solitude, his gumshoe instincts are reawakened when he comes across a random dead girl on the beach. So much for retirement. In The Gray and Guilty Sea, Nolte draws us in right from the get-go. Everything after that is a fast-paced story that keeps you wondering what the next location or contact will reveal. The path is not so much twisted as it is hidden; there are no sudden surprises, but the mystery still takes some time, and a great deal of Gage's energy, to unravel. Woven into the fabric are subplots involving a love interest and an ailing neighbor, as well as said neighbor's teenage granddaughter. Nolte successfully develops these without detracting from the main storyline, adding depth to Gage's character without losing steam. With his crotchety personality and his love of getting under other people's skins, Gage is a good representation of a character who would be irritating to work with but thoroughly entertaining to observe. His analysis of those around him is spot-on, thus earning a reader's trust in his abilities as a private detective. Unfortunately, other parts of his persona were a bit less credible. Gage is touted to be a well-versed reader, a connoisseur of jazz, an appreciator of art, and yet a man of simple pleasures. This isn't to say that a person can't be that complex, but something about the presentation of these personality traits —subtle shifts in Gage's speaking style, perhaps — make them difficult to integrate. Instances of him reading philosophy or listening to Coltrane might have boosted the legitimacy of these claims. In a similar manner, the commonality of interests between him and Carmen is a little too perfect, and equally unsupported from his previous interactions with her. Mysteries have a tendency to turn readers into skeptics, digging deeper into characters than they might otherwise do; thus the bar for characterizations is set that much higher. In the end, I disregarded the extraneous information in order to avoid losing faith in the rest of the story. For the most part, the novel is well-written, with a delivery that is efficient without becoming brusque. It meshed well with Gage's voice, his inner monologues flowing seamlessly into his spoken words. Even so, there were scattered passages in which it was glaringly obvious that someone breezed through the editing process. Awkwardly worded sentences, as well as multiple issues with homophones (eg. "waved" for "waived", "not" for "naught") were bothersome, but what really got me were two instances in which characters' names were actually changed: "Tommy" for "Jimmy" and "Angie" for "Zoe". They jarred me right out of the storyline, and it took some effort to convince myself to ignore them long enough to rekindle my interest in the book. Nolte has a good grasp of emotion and human responses and credible actions. In that respect, The Gray and Guilty Sea is quite an enjoyable novel that engages a reader on multiple levels. The ending itself was more than satisfactory. Still, convenient coincidences and forced details diminished its plausibility. Methinks that Gage's cynicism is contagious. Stimulated Outlet Book Reviews (Review copy provided by the author)
  • Hazel Wetherby & The Elixir of Love on April 22, 2011

    In this wildly entertaining book, we follow a thirteen-year-old as she tries to deal with missing parents, stalkers, alien invasions, and a crush on the boy next door. (Technically, he lives across the street and one house over, but who really keeps track of these things?) A mixture of spunk, obstinacy, and a dangerously underdeveloped regard for personal safety, Hazel is every bit the believable "tween", equal parts endearing and infuriating for the adult reader, though young adolescents may see in her something more identifiable. First off, this plot was rather well thought out. Different "bad guys", "good guys", and the cars they drove were mixed in at various time points, introduced early on and then reintroduced with the gradual revelation of at least some of their motives and activities. While side stories can be distracting or unnecessary, they flesh out the story nicely here; they give the reader a better sense of individual characters' personalities and any significant circumstances. Suffice it to say that some of my suspicions proved more fruitful than others. The story is told from the perspective of a reasonably precocious thirteen-year-old, a curious combination of slang and high school level vocabulary. Somehow, the tone of voice still sounds age-appropriate, and I had no trouble believing that Hazel really is a middle school student, albeit one with a diversified mental bank of words. On the whole, Defelis proves himself quite adept at creating characters that are at once entertaining, consistent, and easily accessible. While middle grade fiction often requires a suspension of belief and the shutting off of adult thought patterns, I found myself skeptical more often than not about the things that Hazel was able to accomplish as a minor — renting an office space, for one, and avoiding visits from social services for another. The improbability of these and a few other things was a chunky pill to swallow, though it did eventually go down. Hazel Wetherby & the Elixir of Love is a book that I can see "tweens" enjoying. The plot moves quickly enough to maintain interest, while the story itself is engrossing. Even this grown up stayed up well past her usual bedtime just to find out how it all ends. Suffice it to say that a sequel would be greatly appreciated. Stimulated Outlet Book Reviews (Review copy provided by the author)
  • Promise Kept on May 31, 2011

    After the Passing, or the fall of the American government, a period of warlord rule was finally broken by the death of the last warlord and the establishment of the New Dawn government. Lives are heavily controlled, from food rations to intelligence tests for job placement. To avoid repeating the series of events that led to the breakdown of the previous government, archivists like psychic Lila Howell are sent to obtain "passings", or life stories, from the elderly who lived through the chaos. Susanne Newton, a legend in her own right, is Lila's latest assignment. One of the interesting parts about this timeline is that the blandly stated chronological list is later fleshed out through Susanne's recording sessions. The "facts" themselves are dry, but her flashbacks lend them substance and feeling, allowing us to see what it was like living under near-starvation conditions and trying to establish a life for herself when few options were available. These scenes also serve the secondary purpose of offering insight into Susanne's character, allowing us to see her as a more than a cantankerous old woman. Even more fascinating than this woman's life is the discordance between the New Dawn government and the rural homesteads. In many dystopian fantasies, controlling regimes are opposed by militant rebels or technological gurus. In Promise Kept, the source of trouble is the farms that are self-sustaining and have no need for New Dawn's offerings. The intricacies of this interplay are revealed as Lila tries to reconcile Susanne's stories with her upbringing in the government crèche. The internal conflict and eventual transformation remain my favorite aspect of this book. Unfortunately, all is not sunshine and roses. The novel is heavily in need of editing, from redundancies within paragraphs to awkward, confusing sentences that had me wondering what the author was trying to say. Words were split unnecessarily (e.g. "straight forward" for "straightforward") and stilted dialogue made several passages painful to work through. There was even one instance in which Lila underwent an unintentional change in her last name. The major plot twist was rather difficult to swallow given the world that the author had created up to that point. Equally befuddling was a sudden shift in Lila's personality at around the same time. In many ways, I felt as if I were suddenly reading a different book entirely. Luckily, some footing was regained by the end of the novel. Promise Kept is a great story for fans of Robin Hood and the idea of the masses fighting a government that has grown too big for its britches. A word of warning, however: the entire book is written in Courier font, and I was unable to change it to something more aesthetically pleasing on my Kindle. Stimulated Outlet Book Reviews (Review copy provided by the author)
  • Twenty-Five Years Ago Today on Aug. 29, 2011

    Kris Langley, an editorial assistant, stumbles across an unsolved murder while researching old editions of the Fremont Daily News. Drawn in by the similarities to a personal tragedy, she launches her own investigation, hoping for a featured article and the opportunity to bring closure to a grieving family. Even twenty-five years after the fact. I'm of two minds as I write the review. On the whole, I found the language to be accessible, and the storyline gripping. I was intrigued by the mystery, trying to piece together evidence and guess at the guilty party. Juba does a phenomenal job in engaging a reader's interest, focusing primarily on a fast-paced plot and her own insight into newspaper life. In spite of this, however, my friendly attitude towards the main character began to wane halfway through the novel. Her doubts and concerns felt contrived, as did the rushed development of her relationship with Eric. I confess that I was hoping for something that was a bit more drawn out, given his wariness and her supposed emotional unavailability. Equally disappointing was the final denouement; the resolution itself was fine, but I would rather that more of the information came from Kris's investigation, rather than information-loaded monologues. One of the strongest points of the novel is the dynamics of the newspaper staff. The power struggles are entertaining, and readers can easily sympathize with Kris as she tries to prevent skewing of the truth. More than once, I wanted to give Bruce a good verbal thrashing for his callousness and his immaturity. With that said, both Bruce and Jacqueline come across as one-dimensional, and while the author hints at a deeper explanation for Jacqueline's cutthroat attitude, this avenue is never truly explored. Twenty-Five Years Ago Today is an enjoyable, quick read for the mystery lover who likes a little romance and family drama tossed in. Juba as a great talent for setting up a good intrigue, and I look forward to reading more of her work. Hide and Read (Review copy provided by the author)
  • Encounters in Paris - A Collection of Short Stories on July 28, 2012

    Encounters in Paris explores a few key moments in the life of Ellery Roulet. Set in Paris, the woman's life is turned topsy-turvy as a result of two letters. The rest of the stories cover the ripples caused by those initial two events, exploring Ellery's emotional state and focusing on the decisions that she makes. Described as a book of short stories, Encounters is more like a series of vignettes. What makes these scenes works is the author's ability to evoke emotion and create an ambiance with these short interludes; despite the limited amount of information given, I felt like I knew exactly what was going on, and I was connected to Ellery in those moments. There is something easily accessible about the experiences that are relayed; the setting of Paris is more incidental than anything else. With a few particulars altered, these stories may just as well have taken place elsewhere. Perhaps what is most remarkable about this work is its ability to pull you into each story. In a matter of two or three paragraphs, one is drawn into Ellery's life just as surely as one would tumble into the world of a much longer tale. What is implied is as important, if not more so, as that which is stated outright. It's an effective reflection of a world in which most of our communication is nonverbal, and a single action can convey a mountain of words. Ellery's actions certainly speak volumes about her development as a character. The book itself is only about twenty-seven pages long. I would have liked to have seen more scenes, as the everyday does as much to establish a character as do major life events. Additionally, the style took some getting used to. The sentences were a little overdone in terms of their content—that is, too much information was crammed in, and not necessarily in a logical manner. The attempts at lyricism felt forced, and the story flowed best when the author wasn't trying quite so hard. Given the length of this work, there is only so much that I can say. It is a quick read, and the snapshots are easy to fit into a short wait at the doctor's office or the spin cycle on your washing machine. I managed to complete it in the course of a single lunch break. For those who want something that is easy to put down and to pick back up, this just may be the right fit for you. Hide and Read (Review copy provided by the author)
  • Quest of the Demon on Sep. 11, 2012

    As a teenage girl living in a modern era, the last thing that Darci expected was to be transported to an alternate world, one in which dragons, elves, and ogres live alongside humans. Drawn there through the ineptitude of an apprentice wizard, she finds herself embroiled in a battle against evil that will decide the fate of more realities than one. At least she gets a nifty weapon and some strong allies. First off, I will say that Quest of the Demon has an interesting premise. The idea of dragons maintaining the balance between good and evil is intriguing, and yet the goal of the supposed balance seems to be skewed to the side of good. At least, it's supposed to be. Add to this unbalanced scale some impossible odds and a strong sense of urgency, and you're suddenly invested in Darci and company and their quest to save the world, so to speak. The author did think up credible background stories for most of the main characters, and they explain a great deal about current behaviors and motivations. Unfortunately, the plot itself is a little disjointed, with subplots that go nowhere and asides that add little to the story or the development of the characters. Perhaps the story itself would have been easier to follow if it were more readable. Beyond the extensive array of grammatical errors, there was an abundance of proofreading gaffes that made reading the book almost painful at times. In all fairness, the writing quality improved dramatically in the last third of the story, as did the plot, but both flaws returned with a vengeance at the very end. There are only so many times that a reader can excuse the use of "bought" for "brought." Now, I received my review copy over a year ago, so hopefully the book has undergone some editing since then. If not, it sorely needs to undergo some revisions. On the whole, Quest of the Demon had a lot of unrealized potential. Due to violent content and sexual references, I would not recommend it to readers under the age of thirteen. (Review copy provided by the author)
  • Peace, Love, and Murder on Oct. 22, 2012

    It all starts with a simple traffic violation. Then they discover the body in the trunk. What follows is a desperate quest to clear the name of an innocent man, all of which seems to depend on gut instinct, a little army training, and sheer dumb luck. As the layers of illegal activity are revealed, it becomes exceedingly clear that Bo is in over his head. My first response after finishing this book is that it was surprisingly wonderful. I wasn't in the mood for a murder mystery when I started it, but the story soon changed my mind. The characters were engaging, and I felt completely at ease in their (imaginary) company within the first few pages. The author took care to flesh out the main players on her stage, revealing moments of brilliance mixed in with instances highlighting their very human flaws. It helped me to connect with people like Trudy and Ryan in ways that I wouldn't have expected. Then again, what I was expecting was a slew of murder mystery stereotypes. This was one of those rare instances in which I was thrilled to be wrong. As far as the mystery itself, the plot was well conceived. The author conducted her misdirection well, mixing in real clues with red herrings. One of my greatest pet peeves with murder mystery are illogical jumps in the would-be detectives' reasoning and plans of action. Bo's behaviors felt natural rather than forced, his thought processes believable and easy to follow. Some of his success fell upon serendipity rather than skill, but these events only required some light stretching of the imagination. That brings us to the writing. Even in this plot-driven story, the tone and word choices made me feel as if I were inside of Bo Forrester's head. The pacing was, in a word, comfortable, and the dialogue was particularly well done. Within the span of a short conversation, I could get a feel for individual characters' personalities, even filtered through the mind of a biased storyteller whose freedom is on the line. You won't find much lyricism or poetic waxing here, but then, Bo isn't exactly the type. Peace, Love, and Murder is one of those unexpected gems that one comes across every so often. There is much more that I could say in its favor, but in an effort to minimize spoilers, I will instead encourage readers to see for themselves. Hide and Read (Review copy provided by the author)