Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Gargoyles: they're not just for Disney anymore

Life, as we know it, comes to a screeching halt when giant, green gargoyle-like creatures start cropping up and eating people beginning with the president of Mexico in front of the world at a large public event. Never appearing alone - just like cockroaches - where there is one, there are many!

The author of Dawn of the Apocalypse, E.S.P., has one vivid imagination for inserting this most bizarre invasion into the mundane day-to-day. In the subway, on the Queensboro Bridge, the boroughs of New York, she takes the reader from zero to crazy in nothing flat!

I really liked and rooted for the main characters, Cliff, Angel, and Hunter. The teenagers were scared and acted like teens, but underneath it all, they are strong survivors. There are creepy adults throughout that challenge the kids. A story aspect I really liked was that Cliff is the older teenage brother to the much younger sister, Angel. Having read a number of books where an older sister is the protector and stabilizing element to younger siblings, it was fresh to see an older brother in that role.

Early in the story, Cliff and Angel are separated from the rest of their family. Cliff does his best to keep himself together and protect his young sister while trying to survive. He is aided by a stranger, a teenage girl named Hunter, whom he meets during an attack in the subway.

Besides good characters, the author's apocalyptic catalysts are not zombies as is currently popular but GARGOYLES. Personally, I've always enjoyed looking for these carvings on buildings and liked the Disney cartoon characters, but these are the stuff of nightmares. (Literally. I understand the author was inspired by a nightmare!) These big boys are scary, green, vengeful, oblivious to bullets, and hungry.

Additionally, I am a sucker for a good story setting, and New York is a natural. The author has well known locations for action and all seems so comfortable until the gargoyles enter the scene.

Just like the characters, the reader will feel somewhat bombarded by action and the confusion that it brings. It makes for a fast paced story and a feel for what the characters are going through. But stay with it!

I recommend this very quick, entertaining read, however the text could benefit from a little clean up editing. But if you ignore that and just go with the flow of a good action tale, you'll be very glad.

You can find this ebook at

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Very Easy Story to Enjoy! (And it's a series!)

A Shade of Vampire, Book 1 – Bella Forrest This very imaginative tale told in first person from the perspective of two main characters features our world with vampires living in seclusion on a hidden island fortress. Their leader, Derek Novak, after establishing the secret sanctuary has been asleep for 400 hundred years. But Derek is scheduled to wake up soon. The vampires of this coven leave the island periodically to kidnap human to use as slaves and their source of nourishment. In preparation of Derek regaining consciousness, his sister and brother kidnap several young and beautiful girls to serve him in his harem, and in doing so select Sofia Claremont who was discovered walking along a deserted beach on her 17th birthday after having an argument with her best friend, Ben. When Derek awakens, he is taken with the young captive as he fights to control his blood hunger, and eventually they become emotionally involved with each other. The story has interesting characters with unusual back stories. Sofia has grown up under difficult circumstances, and was taken under the wings of Ben’s family. She was falling in love with Ben. Derek was once a hunter of vampires and was “turned” by his father. Derek’s older brother, Lucas, has been passed over to rule the coven in favor of Derek courtesy of a prophecy. The island protection against discovery by the vampire hunters was set in place by a powerful witch, Cora, whom Derek wooed to the vampires’ side. Cora, dead for centuries, was succeeded through the years by her own descendants, currently by one named Corrine. Ben also reappears to further complicate the story. The setting is fun and imaginative, too. The island itself, known as “The Shade,” is kept in eternal night by a spell crafted and maintained by Cora and her family. Prisoners are kept in “The Cells” and slaves in “The Catacombs.” A medieval town (“The Vale”) and “The Baths” serve as the meeting, shopping, and social centers of the coven. The members of the first vampire families are known as “The Elite” and live in modern, fantastic tree houses or villas with the members of the royal family residing in the best of the best – “The Penthouse.” Mystery, murder, a foiled escape attempt, and romance all serve to spice up this fairly short (152 pages) and quick introduction to the world and characters of this series - A Shade of Vampire. I look forward to the next installment - A Shade of Blood! This is just a very easy story to enjoy!

New Look on an Old Legend - The Impaler's Revenge by Ioana Visan

In this story, vampires are a known part of society, “living” amongst humans and going about their own business everywhere except … Romania (Points for the setting!) which closed their borders to the undead over five centuries previously. However, the country’s elected President has ordered a secret (and highly treasonous) operation allowing one 1,000 year old vampire, Maximilien Hess, into Bucharest. The operation is secret even to the vampire’s minder, Liana Cantacuzino, and her cadre of pandurs (trained vampire killers.) Liana is a descendant of one of the oldest noble families and is a member of the Little Council – the power behind the president. Liana and her pandurs have been trained from birth to despise and eradicate vampires from their country. She obeys the order but is not happy about it. The Impaler’s Revenge is the debut of her story told in the series, The Impaler Legacy, and it is a good one. Back stories slowly and naturally unfold to fill in the details of the characters’ lives. I thought the plot was a fresh take on the “vampires among us” theme, interesting and entertaining. The author brings out a different telling of the history of Vlad Tepes. I found myself liking the main characters and at the conclusion of this story I wanted to know more about them and what was going to happen to them. This sent me looking for the next installment in the series: Sweet Seduction (The Impaler Legacy #1.5). Then, too, is the great setting – Romania – and from an author that is familiar with the location. My only hope is that the stories are some day combined into one longer novel. I would so read it all again.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Red River - sequel to Kelly Van Hull's Tent City

I want to thank the author for a sneak preview at this very satisfying sequel to Tent City.

Red River follows up on Dani, her family, and her Tent City crew in this series about life after the food chain in the United States is destroyed and the government collapses, and gives us a better idea of what happened, how, and why.

After the first book, I felt really invested in knowing what became of the kids and their families, and to learn more about the back story of the characters.

The author does this for the reader and more. Some great new characters are introduced. Love interests are sorted out and teenage angst plays out (without getting boring or on my nerves anyway!) Interesting new "advancements" appear and grow. Villains come to light that were previously unknown.

This series reminded me a little of the Tomorrow, When the War Began series by John Marsden with the story revolving around teenage survivors, and I really liked the South Dakotan setting a lot.

I look forward to more from Kelly Van Hull!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Short, but oh so good!

Just read Fifty/Fifty, a short story collection by Belfast author, Matthew W. McFarland which I received in return for an honest review. SCORE! Comprised of 11 vastly different short stories, each shared a couple of common bonds; they were clever, entertaining, and smooth, smooth, smooth. Several of the phrases he used continue to stick with me out of the sheer delight I experienced when reading them – “Fir missile” and “special robot socks which make him go fast” are two in particular. I loved both for the visual imagery invoked but also for the connection I had with them (I’m a mother of 3 boys.) The author mentions in an Afterword that “Some of the stories in this collection are complete fiction, and some are closer to reality than you might imagine.” I’d love to know more about which are which. Complaint? I’ve finished reading them for that first time! I already know that this will be my new “share” book to talk about with family, friends, and strangers after we’ve exhausted the weather situation.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Romance, mystery, teen angst, and ZOMBIES!

Just had the pleasure of reading Out of Darkness (The Starborn Saga #1) by Jason D. Morrow. This is a great story set in a time at least 60 years after society as we know it is destroyed. Humans huddle together for safety from the marauding “greyskins” in isolated villages or concentrated in cities protected by skilled guards under the direction of the powerful, Jeremiah. Mora leaves her grandmother and younger brother, Jake, in her besieged village, Springhill, to seek out and negotiate protection with Jeremiah. Along the way she encounters the brothers, Connor and Aaron, in a protected city of Salem, and discovers new abilities within herself. Additionally, secrets regarding the “greyskins” and the death of her parents are revealed. The story has everything: romance, mystery, horror, engaging characters, an entertaining story, secrets hidden and secret revealed, teen angst, and zombies. I loved it, and look forward to the next volumes in the series: If It Kills Me(The Starborn Saga #2) and Even in Death (The Starborn Sage #3).

The 5th installment in the Whiskey Creek series is another winner!

This episode tells the story of Ted and Sophia – characters introduced in the previous series’ entries. The unthinkable has happened – Sophia’s husband, Skip, has defrauded almost the entire town of Whiskey Creek and accidentally killed himself while sneaking away in the night. (He slips off his yacht while vacationing off the coast of Brazil thinking to swim ashore and run away leaving his innocent and unknowing wife, Sophia, and daughter, Alexa, behind to suffer the consequences – including the ire and treatment of the inhabitants of the town and the FBI.) This story is Sophia’s gradual metamorphosis from alcoholic, abused spouse to a capable, independent woman and mother. Yes, alcoholic – Sophia had escaped from her hard marriage through a wine bottle, and the story realistically presents her battle with addiction. The change from the icy, privileged princess of the high school memories of the series’ core characters to someone you can really get behind and root for is satisfying and a pleasure to experience. I expected this to be a hard sell but I thought the author really nailed it. The dialogues and emotions are real ones, never contrived. The daughter’s former friends act like kids do sometimes. Ted’s mom has trouble accepting Sophia back into her son’s life. And the relationship between the Whiskey Creek’s inhabitants and Sophia isn’t all wrapped up with a bow for Christmas – although positive steps are made. I was hooked by this story (this entire series) from the very first page to the end.

Monday, October 21, 2013

A thoroughly enjoyable story from beginning to end!

I recently read Through the Smoke, a new historical, by Brenda Novak. The story begins with a breakneck race through the darkened countryside in a horse-drawn carriage, and although the pace of the story does let up, the mystery and suspense remain. One of the things that I appreciate about this book (and all of this author’s books that I’ve read to this point) is that characters have normal reactions to events and take reasonable actions accordingly. Conversations make sense (and do not feel contrived) and move the action along. Suspense builds. Characters develop. This story includes details about the coal mining industry of that era which was interesting and frightening at the same time. Supporting characters and enough story left over after a satisfying ending that a sequel would be possible and welcomed.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Tasty and addictive!

Centalpha 6 – Part I by James Todd Cochrane is an interesting, fun and suspenceful start to a new science fiction series suitable for adults, young adults, and so far, older children already reading chapter books. I might even be tempted to try this one with some reluctant readers given its bite-sized, serialized format. Set in the future, Breyden Pry, the son of a senator and a high-level commando, is 16 years old and coming to the end of his military academy training. He and his friends are looking forward to accompanying the older cadets on raids against the “subs” – people that lurk in the background undermining their perfect society. But Breyden is a “star,” a natural until he uncovers something he shouldn’t on his first training raid. With good descriptions of characters, settings and blow-by-exciting-blow action scenes, I felt I could “see” the story. I think it seems like it would make a good movie or television series. While reading it, I got overtones of not only 1984 but Starship Troopers – an interesting and fun mix. My only complaint is that this little bit (Part I) is just enough of a taste to hook you and leave you wanting the rest of the story … now.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Untethered by Katie Hayoz

UntetheredUntethered by Katie Hayoz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Interesting story featuring astral projection and out-of-body experiences!

Sylvie has been struggling with a strange disorder where she suddenly "leaves" her body behind where it crumples to the ground alarming family and friends. She and next door neighbor, Cassie, best friends since they were 10 years old, find themselves at odds over a boy: both like the same one and he has settled on Cassis. After discovering that there are other people out there like herself, Sylvie researches astral projection and finds that she may be able to control her disorder to her advantage, and this is when things get even more interesting.

Good characters with typical teenage problems (dealing with divorcing parents, siblings, fitting in, and loyalty) intermixed with the paranormal to give us an exciting and hard-to-put down young adult novel. I highly recommend this book and fervently hope that the author gives us more!

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Monday, September 23, 2013

The Underlighters by Michelle Browne

The UnderlightersThe Underlighters by Michelle Browne
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Make no mistake, this tale is for adults.

The Underlighters by Michelle Browne presents an interesting concept reminiscent of the children’s series - The Chronicles of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau – but make no mistake… this tale is for adults.

The author introduces a variety of characters that I really thought I would like. There is a diverse group of 18 year olds with a wide range of talents, skills and employment including electricians, child care workers and prostitutes. I would have liked to know more about the characters.

Quite a bit of time was spent introducing characters working in the sex industry but I was still confused by some of the distinctions – a sugarplum is a what? (As opposed to a “C” girl. Sorry, the actual term used throughout the story, is graphic and jarring.) And too, they all seemed just so young!

There were not enough backstory woven into the telling for me to comfortably immerse myself in the story. I remained pretty foggy over exactly what had occurred to bring them to where they were at the point of the story even though it was no mystery or secret apparently to the characters. I had the impression from the chapter headings or diary dates that less than 50 years had passed since they’d had to flee the surface.

Where were they exactly? They seem to be in a basement under an apartment building – a huge basement with access to the surface of the world via elevators that existed prior to whatever happened up there. However anytime the author described a location within the city or on the surface, the story really developed an atmosphere and a sense of place. I could “see” the bars they gathered in and the house where they ran into the spider-dogs. Superior.

I had a lot of questions left about “the Dust.” What was known about “the Dust” – was it just on the surface, did it leak through to the city, or was its appearance in the tunnels strange. Was the dust sentient? Did they know this or suspect it before the confrontation on the surface at the end of the book? And how did the dust affect people that came in contact with it? What was “Dust Fever?”

Having said all this, I would absolutely positively read more about these same characters and any further developments. I still want to know where they’ll go from here, whether relationships will develop, their future below the surface of the planet, how the “Lost Ones” or “Sandmen” will survive or be incorporated into the community. In addition, I look forward to reading more by Michelle Browne especially after the teaser at the end of this one about And the Stars Will Sing. I have been hooked.

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Monday, September 09, 2013

Tent City (Tent City, #1) by Kelly Van Hull

Tent City (Tent City #1)Tent City by Kelly Van Hull
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A plague of biblical proportions hits the US – literally – when giant swarms of locusts descends on America’s Midwest destroying the food supply for the nation. Because of its similarity to one of the plagues in the Bible, religious leaders take charge of the country (as “The Council”) when traditional institutions fail and fall to the wayside. A mandate goes out that all surviving children between the ages of 5 and 18 are to be gathered into “safety camps” to be protected from rampant starvation. A rumor hints that older youths will be placed in to “reproduction” units to safeguard against population extinction.

Seventeen year old Dani and 5 year old Brody’s parents don’t agree with the strategy and determine to hide their children in the Black Hills at their former summer cabin. The parents remain behind on the farm with fake death certificates for the children to, hopefully, remove them from The Council’s radar.

Dani, Brody and best fried, Kit, make their way to the summer cabin only to find the area already being used as a hideaway for other teens trying to escape internment in the safety camps. The story revolves Dani, Brody, and Kit and the continued operation of the massive and secret “Tent City” under the leadership of Bentley, Callie, and Jack.

I liked so much about this book. The author has given us a variety of interesting and well-defined characters. Each has their own background that is gradually revealed (or kept as a mystery yet to be solved) as the story goes on. Characters display genuine and believable emotion and responses to events. The setting in the South Dakota is different and interesting, and I enjoyed the camp atmosphere. The author introduces real challenges, inherent to having large groups of young adults living together away from civilization, for the characters to overcome.

There were a couple of things that I didn’t like. One, Dani’s parents seem weak. This was the best they could come up with? Pack some food and send your kids to the cabin on a 4-wheeler with absolutely no “intel” beforehand. I just think that more realistically strong parents would have taken a more hands-on approach to getting their children to safety. Two, Dani seems to leave Brody behind and in the care of others way too often and too easily. Granted, she wears herself out about her choices later in the story. (But then goes off and leaves him again later.) And finally, the relationship between Dani and Bentley seems to go from animosity to infatuation overnight. I felt that there should have been more of a build up there. Bentley is pretty moody and Dani does question what’s going on with him but then it seems the next thing we know – he’s totally into her. These are nitpicky, and having said this, none of these issues were enough to keep me from really enjoying the story and wanting to know what happened next.

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Friday, August 09, 2013

Gateway to Reality by Becca J. Campbell

Gateway to RealityGateway to Reality by Becca J. Campbell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Something is off-kilter in Wes Teague's world.

Wes feels like life has an unreal or dream-like quality whereas his dreams are so much clearer (even with their acid-trip chaos). As the truth unfolds, he discovers that his dream world is actually real and what he's thought of as reality is an extremely addictive "construct" of his artistic imagination.

Friends in the real world or "The Existence" people Wes's dream world or "Logiverse" (LV, for short) in both similar and widely divergent roles. His best friend, Andy, is also his best friend in his dream world of Chicago. However, the girl he only longs for from the sidelines in “The Existence” is his long-time girlfriend in the LV.

Wes is an artist in the LV; a CREATIVE (or world builder) in “The Existence.” These created worlds - private imaginary spaces - are open to anyone that can find them (all you have to know is the name of the world). Wes and Andy (who has an especially lively world - Andy's Awesome Zone!), travel between locations in “The Existence” by means of portals and dodge black holes that suck people into non-existence along the way. Other inhabitants have their ways and means of travel. Desired girlfriend, Emily, travels in a puff of green smoke.

Author Becca Campbell has created an amazing multi-faceted world herself, and you don’t have to exude green smoke to get there. With interesting characters, mystery, and most definitely some romance, I can honestly recommend Gateway to Reality to other readers. On another note, this book reminded me of the 1970s fantasy series by Roger Zelazny - the Amber Chronicles. The last of those novels was published in the early 90s (I believe) so I was delighted with the elements that made me think about those great stories. Other fans of that series may also enjoy this updated, contemporary tale.

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Friday, August 02, 2013

Home to Whiskey Creek (Whiskey Creek, #4) by Brenda Novak

Home to Whiskey Creek (Whiskey Creek, #4)Home to Whiskey Creek by Brenda Novak
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another seamless entry in Brenda Novak’s Whiskey Creek series!

Home to Whiskey Creek, Book 4 in the Whiskey Creek series by Brenda Novak, is the story of Adelaide Davies and Noah Rackham. This satisfying installment is about tragedies of the past that continue to wreak havoc in the lives of those in this community in the future: a gang rape, the truth behind the death of the town’s favorite son, and a young man’s heart-wrenching dilemma about whether to tell his secretly adored, life-long friend about true nature of his sexuality.

Characters from past books make appearances giving continuity to storylines running throughout the series and welcome updates to the lives of those featured in the previous books.

The story opens with action! Noah rescues Addy from a mine reuniting her with the object of an immense high school crush, Noah himself. The tension between the two is immediate although they become easy-going and comfortable with each other early on in the story even as she pushes Noah away and insists to herself that she cannot become involved nor stay in Whiskey Creek. The author has Noah and Addy take two steps forward and one step back maintaining our suspense but with the underlying feeling that this could only come to a satisfactory conclusion. As I was rooting for this couple from the very beginning – yay for that!

I recommend this good story to readers who have enjoyed the previous books in this series and anyone looking for a wonderful second chance romance.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author.

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