Sunday, August 24, 2014

Blade of the Samurai by Susan Spann

In this second installment in the Shinobi Mystery series, Matsui Hiro and Father Mateo return to try and find the killer of one of the shogun’s chief samurai. Set inside the shogun’s mansion and grounds, the story features murder, political intrigue, and romance within another mental trip to medieval Japan for the reader. This book is just as entertaining and interesting as the first in the series and once again, we get an authentic glimpse into the life and culture of 16th century Japan.

My only disappointment with this series is that the next isn’t due out until 2015, of course. I highly recommend this to historical mystery fans especially those that have enjoyed the Sano Ichiro series by Laura Joh Rowland.

Claws of the Cat by Susan Spann

When one of Father Mateo’s congregation, the lovely, young entertainer in a geisha house, is accused of the murder of one of the samurai patrons; Matsui Hiro, Father Mateo’s Japanese translator/bodyguard (and undercover shinobi or ninja) lends his skills to find the real killer. The murdered man’s son gives the pair 3 days to discover the murderer or face death as part of the son’s traditional revenge.

This is a great mystery set in 16th century Japan, and you can almost feel, hear and smell the setting and live the story right along with the wonderful lead character, Hiro and Father Mateo. The story is sprinkled with memorable supporting characters as well: Ana, the curmudgeonly housekeeper, and Luis, the Portuguese merchant and guest in Father Mateo’s home.

The story is filled with authentic sounding and feeling details, and the author certainly has the chops to assure you of their genuine nature. This was a fabulous reading experience, and I do mean experience. I feel like I just returned from a trip to medieval Japan I was so immersed in the story. I highly recommend this to historical mystery fans especially those that have enjoyed the Sano Ichiro series by Laura Joh Rowland.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Girls from Alcyone by Cary Caffrey

Like many other children in this bleak, future America, Sigrid is sold into indentureship to pay off the debts incurred by her parents to the Kimura Corporation. However, Sigrid’s got something in her genetic makeup that makes her and other girls like her “special.” She is sent to The Kimura Academy For Girls on the planet Alcyone to be educated, physically trained, and surgically enhanced. Sigrid and the other girls are a successful experiment that other corporations are willing to steal, kidnap, and kill to get their hands on.

Cary Caffrey has created a dark, moody future world where corporations truly rule everything. The story of the special girls growing up away from their families is a sad one. The 21 girls form alliances among themselves with the typical “mean girls” and their followers, and Sigrid, the youngest and weakest, is at the bottom of the pack. Tormented, Sigrid is ostrasized from the larger group until she is befriended by the stronger, popular Suko. Under Suko’s protection, Sigrid is able to mature and grow and develop into one of the most accomplished of the group. The relationship between Sigrid and Suko eventually develops into one of a romantic and sexual nature but they are parted while still attempting to sort out their feelings for each other.

As their training comes to a close, the girls begin to receive their “contracts,” their assignments where they will work and begin to repay the debts their parents racked up even before the girls were born. Some are sent to Kimura operations, others to the naval service until their very existence is threatened by the Council for Trade & Finance, the governing council of the Federation of Commercial Enterprise. Called “abominations,” the council wants all the girls turned over to them to be used for their own mysterious purposes.

There is a bit of the geek fantasy about the novel with young girls achieving mental and physical perfections and skill levels in fighting hand-to-hand, flying planes, and operating any weaponry under the sun (as well as the aforementioned girl-with-girl romance.) It is a fun and entertaining tale that I would recommend if you’re in the mood for a fun, light, entertaining space story. I probably would not recommend it for the younger, young adult fans because of the few scenes of a sexual nature. This is the first in a series (The Girls from Alcyone series). Book 2 is already released and titled The Machines of Bellatrix. I'll probably be picking that one up soon.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Annihilation of Foreverland - A young adult novel with a dose of horror!

Author Tony Bertauski has created a paradise of an island in the south Atlantic Ocean where adolescent and teenage boys roam, fish, play state-of-the-art video games, anything they want to their heart’s content, except leave. Each is watched over, coached and guided by an elderly man of dubious health known as an “investor.” Every couple of weeks the boys are herded into “The Haystack,” a building that is the gateway to “Foreverland” where every impossible dream can come true but not without its price.

The Annihilation of Foreverland is told through the eyes of multiple characters but mainly by Danny Boy, whom we first encounter as he wakes up on the island devoid of any memory of his past. In fact, none of the boys remember who they are or where they came from. Another viewpoint is that of Reed, an older boy who has steadfastly refused to succumb to the promise of “Foreverland.” Finally, we get insight from the mysterious island owner known only as “The Director.” The old men or “investors” vary from supposedly kindly and caring to downright creepy and cruel. There is a psychotic bully among the boys which adds more tension. The characters and their pasts are gradually revealed over the course of the novel. The suspense and horror grows until we have a satisfyingly full picture of each.

The storyline is a unique one in which technology, privilege, money, and power all combine for an exciting, thought-provoking, ethics-challenging tale. The author added exquisitely creepy little details that absolutely made my skin crawl. These small details added a whole other level of “eww” to the story. Thankfully, the villains get their “just desserts” and we can leave the island with the knowledge that things are going to work out right. With a marvelous setting, interesting characters, and nice plot revelations, I recommend this to the young adult readers that like theirs with a good dose of horror.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Excellent for home or in the classroom!

The Take Back of Lincoln Junior High by Roseanne Cheng is a fun, yet thought-provoking novel for the middle school years. The author builds her story around the timely topic of the growing practice of commercial sponsorships (and financial support) of public spaces, in this case, a junior high school. As the story unfolds, it reveals both the positive and negative aspects of the impact that such sponsorship and product placement has on the school in a manner that is easy to read, understand, and enjoy.

The pre-teen protagonists, Andrew, Hannah, and Jackson, are highly likeable characters and act true to age. The setting, situations, and the interactions between the characters felt genuine and actually took me back to my own junior high experiences. It felt that real.

The Take Back of Lincoln Junior High not only delves into the issue of commercial sponsorship but addresses the everyday problems of being a kid and growing up. There is suspense and mystery. Who is the mysterious new student, Liam, and what’s he up to? Will Andrew get the girl? Will Andrew and Jackson resolve their problems and become true friends?

I think that this book would be enjoyed by young readers, the middle school crowd, and parents reading along with their children. The author's writing is clear and simple for the younger folks and interesting enough to hold the attention of adults. Additionally, it would be a great classroom tool, and to that end, the author has included a study guide at the end of the book with specific activities designated for each chapter as the story unfolds.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Second Chance at Life

After 103 excruciating days in the hospital recuperating from a botched suicide attempt, Ryan Farnsworth returns home to pick up the pieces of his life. However, the car wreck that almost killed him successfully robbed him of his memory: of his family, his friends, his past, everything. Erased, by Margaret Chatwin, is the excellent telling of Ryan’s second chance at life, his discovery of who he was and his desire to become someone better.

As the story unfolds, we slowly get glimpses of what kind of person Ryan was and what kind of life he led. We see the vestiges of his past relationships with his family and his friends and how they attempt to pick up where they left off although Ryan has undergone more changes than just those that physically apparent. Ryan tries to make the most of his chance to makeover a life that he had obviously found more painful than death.

Chatwin has created some memorable characters and memorable scenes as if she’d been a witness to their happening. The interactions and dialogue seem genuine, and the eventual resolution of the story is quite satisfyingly real. Ryan’s ultimate confrontation and confession to his father is emotionally tough.

Erased is a great story with good characters, and well worth the experience of reading. There are some consistent grammar and word choice problems that keep me from giving the novel a higher rating but there is nothing that a competent editor wouldn’t easily repair.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Prison Nation by Jenni Merritt - Justice gone very, very wrong

In this view of the future, the United States has become a land of "mega-prisons" where a large majority of the population lives out its days laboring at jobs to sustain the prison population (and society's elite we later discover). Millie 942B is a "Jail Baby," born in one such prison - Spokane - to "lifer" parents. She has spent her entire existence within the walls of the prison never having experienced the outside world, touched a tree, or studied the stars.

The story begins as she is approaching her 18th birthday and her impending release to the outside when she is discovered and stalked by a senior prison guard, Carl. Carl wants Millie for his own purposes, and all Millie wants is to be a citizen, good and strong, and free. However, free means leaving everything she has ever known behind in the prison including her parents and her secret friends, Jude - a young night guard and Orrin - an inmate in a nearby cell - both of whom she's never actually met face-to-face, only through the grill of the closed cell door after "lights out." And "outside" may not prove to be as free as she's been led to believe.

Prison Nation is a fascinating vision: horrible, threatening, and exciting to read. The characters Merritt has created seem like ordinary people surviving under extraordinary circumstances (that have become the new normal). Millie is "street-smart" in the prison and naïve (yet wary) when she gets outside. She is a nice, regular girl - someone that you'd like. The supporting characters are well-developed and give us good variety. Carl, the villain, is suitably evil and creepy, and single-minded in his pursuit of poor Millie.

Fans of young adult dystopia should enjoy Jenni Merritt's creative story of the United States in the future where justice has gone very, very wrong. The setting of Spokane to Portland is both changed to support this future and familiar enough to make it all the more devastating a vision. The story ends at an appropriate place but poised to continue with book 2 - Lady Justice - coming sometime, I most fervently hope, in 2014.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Lord John and the Private Matter by Diana Gabaldon

Lord John Grey (apparently a popular character from the Outlander series) discovers quite by accident that his cousin's fiancée, the Honorable Joseph Trevelyan, is afflicted with "the pox." As he struggles to come up with a way to break the engagement without ruining Olivia's reputation and future chances at another good marriage, he becomes embroiled in a murder mystery, espionage, and missing persons.

Lord John and the Private Matter has a fast-paced and intriguing plot, and Gabaldon's dialogue sparkles and entertains. The Recorded Books version is wonderfully performed by Jeff Woodman who magically makes these characters come alive.

You will not be disappointed as the plot takes sudden left and right turns keeping you guessing the entire time. I think you will even be surprised when "all is revealed" at the end.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Open Minds by Susan Kaye Quinn - action, adventure, young adult medical mystery

In this vision of our future, humans have developed the ability to share their thoughts telepathically. However, every now and then a child is born that does not have this capability; they can neither read someone else’s thoughts, the collective thoughts of the group nor can anyone read their thoughts. They are known as “zeroes,” and are ostracized and distrusted by the rest of humanity.

Sixteen-year-old Kira has not yet undergone the change that brings the mindreading ability like her friends and is already feeling the shame and humiliation of being different from everyone else. Her anxiety that she may never change is abruptly exchanged for fright when she discovers that she has other, more powerful abilities. Rather that changing into a “reader,” Kira has developed into a mind-jacker, and can control the thoughts and actions of the mere readers. However, “jackers” are considered a danger by the government and when discovered are rounded up for imprisonment and study.

The author has created a fabulous story of being different and not fitting in with the crowd at school. Her depictions of the simple day-to-day realities, the rejections and humiliations, Kira’s thoughts and feelings were dead on. She skillfully builds in how Kira’s relationships with her friends were before and after their own changes, and gives Kira at least one true-blue friend, Raf, who stays by her side no matter what.

The story has action and mystery, villains and heroes, family and young love. It is a fast-paced, young adult story that keeps you wondering where it is going to go next.

This is the first book in the Mindjack Trilogy.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Great story with a great backstory!

Honestly, I don’t know which I liked more: the novel itself or the story behind the writing of Virulent: The Release. Written as a challenge from a student to create a post-apocalyptic young adult story set in their high school, English teacher Shelbi Wescott surely has a win with this terrifying tale inside what is normally seen as a safe haven.

The action and danger is non-stop. The characters act, speak, and interact as you’d expect teens to – even under such horrifying circumstances. Adults that are looked to for protection act crazy or fall apart at the seams. Strangers end up being the compassionate saviors.

The author builds a close-knit family unit and immediately separates our main character from this safety net as well. I worried right along with Lucy about whether her family was alive or dead. I agonized over the come-and-go cellphone signal and the meaning of the text messages and their timing. I wondered if Lucy’s brother, Ethan, was really coming to the rescue or if he’d never made it at all.

The larger setting is Portland, Oregon with its urban setting, its rivers, and the farmland only a little ways out of town. Clues the characters discover at Lucy’s home tell them to flee to another part of the country and we’ll have to wait until book 2 in the series to see if they can successfully do this and whether or not the rest of the family has survived.

I highly recommend this zombie-free young adult novel to those fans of both young adult in general and post-apocalyptic fantasies as well.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Rain, rain, that didn't go away leads to a great new series:The Rain by Joseph A. Turkot

I have to admit a bias toward the author’s use of rain as the catalyst for the crumbling of society in this book. I have been the storm water program coordinator for my hometown for the past 20 years dealing with water quantity, quality, conveyance and regulatory compliance so going into this I figured I was going to LOVE it or HATE it – probably no middle ground (heh heh). I am happy to report: I loved it.

Written from the viewpoint of Tanner, a teenage girl that was found and rescued as an infant by a friend of her decease parents, the story is a narrative, with very little dialogue, of her journey across the treacherous, flooded land that was formerly Wyoming to Colorado. She and Russell, her adopted father, have survived the rain, rising water, and the dissolution of society for the past decade plus but not without some bumps and bruises, terrors and tragedies as they’ve worked their way cross country from Philadelphia to the mythical “rain-free” city of Leadville, Colorado.

The settings are familiar (having traveled in the general locations) and horrifying in their depiction of collapse and ruin under the impact of the unrelenting rain.

Turkot has given us some genuine characters to get behind: the single-minded, unwavering Russell and our heroine, spunky Tanner who is emotionally growing up before our eyes. The villains are frightening monsters: both the obvious ones (the “face-eaters”) and the ones that are not so apparent on first meeting.

I felt Tanner’s struggle and panic to survive when Russell suddenly becomes incapacitated and her yearning when coming into contact with a teenage boy her own age for the first time. I thought the author wrote “young teen girl” really, really well.

This is the first story in a series, and I will definitely be reading further.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Prequel to The Narrowing Path - The Cruel Path

The Cruel Path is an excellent prequel to The Narrowing Path, and the series by David Normoyle. If you hadn't decided if you wanted to read the series, I think this would positively cinch the deal.

As noted, this occurs 30 years prior to the incidents beginning in the The Narrowing Path and I believe gives you a fair grounding on the world of Arcandia and its way of life. Characters appearing in The Cruel World reappear in the series.

Having said that, I went back and reread this story after completing The Narrowing Path, and enjoyed it again for the glimpses of how the characters changed after 30 years had passed.

The Narrowing Path by David Normoyle - Great story – Great characters – Great beginning to the series!

Thirteen-year-old Bowe is the last surviving member of the Bellangers, one of the four ruling families of Arcandia. Soon after his birth, the entire clan which was on the cusp of financial ruin committed mass suicide/murder. Somehow, the baby Bowe, survived or was missed only to be discovered by leaders of the other families as they surveyed the tragedy inside the Bellanger mansion. One leader takes the baby back to his family to be reared by one of the childless wives of the harem as her own.

Every six years, the course of the moon (Helion) causes the planet to come so close to their sun that every living thing on the planet would burn up if they did not seek safety in a series of huge caverns that extend under the ocean. However, the capacity of the caverns are not infinite, and to keep the population size suitable for their sexennial retreat to safety, young teenage males of the ruling families are tested with 8 selected for entry to the “Refuge.” All the others are left to burn up and die or kill themselves.

“The Green Path” is the 50 day test of the boys’ skills, ingenuity, and potential usefulness to the families. Some are good fighters. Some excel at building alliances and trading. Others are assassins and seek to kill off the competition. At the end, each family will select one boy who will then make his own selection of another ‘green’ to accompany him into entry into the family and the safety of the caverns for the 2 week period of the Infernam.

As the only surviving member of a lost house, Bowe has always known that he was to be killed the first day of the test and, consequently, is ranked at the bottom of the list of boys for selection. At 13, he’s at the youngest age of the competitors and unskilled as a fighter. When another boy is suddenly killed on the traditional first day of the test, Bowe begins to understand that he may be able to find a way to survive. The game, and the action, is on.

The author has developed an interesting world with a harsh environment and rigid traditions for his characters to populate. There are some mysterious subplots which give the main storyline an added robustness. These subplots are not reconciled but lead us to book 2, The Treacherous Path.

One thing I really liked is that the author pretty much kept action, dialogue, and reaction true to the age group. Yes, the characters faced a horrible situation – one that they were trained from birth to expect, fear and agonize over. They had to do grown-up things and make grown-up choices earlier than what we would expect but when confronted with a girl his own age in a romantic situation, Bowe stuttered and stammered, blushed, and wondered what to say like most boys of that age and experience level.

The story will keep you guessing as to who will live and who will “fall from the path,” die. (Spoiler: The author is not afraid to kill off major characters.) It is fast paced and intriguing. I think it will hook you from the very beginning and have you staying up past when you should have shut down your Kindle for the night.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Stitch by Samantha Durante has a surprise waiting inside for you

Stitch, Book 1 in the Stitch Trilogy, begins life as a good ghost story. Alessa Khole, a freshman at Eastern State University, is living in an old house that is the Zeta Epsilon Pi sorority house. But as schools begins, so do Alessa’s eerie and brief sightings of a young man dressed in clothing from an earlier era in her bedroom. There one minute but quickly fading from sight, the young man stares pensively out of her bedroom window unaware of Alessa and evoking in her overwhelming feelings of grief and longing.

Alessa's life, this past year, has been tough. Both parents were killed suddenly in a car accident sending her, a previously stellar student, into a downward spiral of depression, where she eeks through her senior year of high school. Instead of the coveted entrance to a previously guaranteed prestige college she finds herself begging for a place in any second rate university that will take her. She ends up at ESU and things here aren't what they seem to be on the surface. For one thing, there are security cameras literally everywhere.

Then with limited living spaces available, she and another freshman, Janie, are forced on the Zeta Epsilon Pi sorority house by the university administration. Neither girl fits in, and aren’t particularly welcome. And then there is the ghost ...

Just as Alessa begins to unravel the mystery of the ghost, the story takes an amazing, “out of the blue” left turn, and the action really takes off. Fans of the young adult, dystopian novel should enjoy this very, very different story, and I look forward to the next installment in the trilogy myself.

daynight by Megan Thomason - a tense, young adult dystopian story

daynight is based on the intriguing premise that Earth has a “sister” world, Thera, where those that have had their lives cut short can go for a second chance at a longer life. Specially gifted individuals can go back and forth via portals between the two worlds (without having to die). Kira Donovan, is unknowingly gifted with this ability and as her tragic junior year of high school year ends (110 of her classmates, her boyfriend and best friend were all killed in a house explosion at an after party for the Winter Dance), she chooses to complete her final year as a recruit of the SCI - the Second Chance Institute. The Second Chance Institute is the corporation that makes possible the "second chance" at life for the deceased.

Blake, a classmate that also escaped the house explosion, signs on with SCI as well but he has a secret agenda behind his decision. Ethan, the son of a prominent family on Thera, attends college on Earth during the school year and interns with his father in the Theran government during summer break. The three main characters are united on Thera and an angsty love triangle develops.

Life on Thera is governed by strict rules with harsh consequences for non-compliance. It is also a physically, harsh environment with the outside temperatures reaching 150 degrees during the day. As an adaptation to the heat, the inhabitants live their lives and are awake during the cooler hours of darkness and sleep during the heat of the day.

The Second Chance inhabitants are unaware of their previous lives on Earth. They come to Thera the same age they were when they died with no memory of their past. When Kira realizes that her former boyfriend, best friend, and many of her former classmates are now on Thera as Second Chancers, it becomes a stressful struggle for her to maintain the pretense that they are meeting for the first time and have no history with each other.

The story is an adventure, a mystery, a romance and thriller all blended to create a highly enjoyable reading experience. The main characters are flawed, yet very likeable; the situation on Thera, tense; and the machinations behind the scenes on Thera, frightening and dangerous. All of which will keep the “pages” turning.

Monday, June 02, 2014

The Wrath of Potter - Finale of the Blood Thirst Trilogy by Stephanie Jackson

The Wrath of Potter is the concluding installment of the Blood Thirst trilogy by Stephanie "Tate" Jackson. It is a very good finale for this very good story. It ties up the stories of Beck and Richard, Potter and the hunters, but still leaves the door open for another go should the author ever decide to revisit this series. Very enjoyable story again with vampires, vampire hunters, fighting, gore, violence, time travel machinery, romantic love all over the place!, and even a witch this time around.

The book could definitely benefit by having an editor give it a good look. There are just so many misspelled or misused words that could easily be fixed and give this so much more polish. Still, I fully intend to read more by this author.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Series gets better and better

Blood Thirst is the second installment in the vampire trilogy of the same name by Stephanie “Tate” Jackson. As with the first book, The Undead Heart, there is time travel, vampires, and out of the blue, we have angels (possibly - and hopefully - tying this book to another one by Jackson, When Angels Fall). I think the series just keeps getting better and better, and I have book 3, The Wrath of Potter, queued up to read next.

In the author’s bio, I read that she wrote this book for her niece and uses her family members’ names and descriptions for some of the main characters. In addition, she lives in the location where the story is set. I think I enjoyed the book a little more just for this.

Blood Thirst is in no way a “stand alone” novel. You really must have read The Undead Heart to understand and enjoy this installment in the series. Most of our favorite characters return, although some experience some changes as book one ended after a battle and with a massive cliffhanger. But the non-stop action continues from where it left off and additional characters enter the story and liven things up (i.e., Wes, Ester.) Characters from the previous book return (i.e., Detection Eaton.)

I had problems following the dialogue in the first book but that was fixed in this one. The same issues with grammar, verb tense, spelling, and word usage continue, and still only needs the soothing touch of a good editor.

As with the previous book, this one ends even more abruptly and you’ll have to go on to book three to get closure to the story. (And I believe you’re going to want to do just that.) Blood Thirst definitely won me over to the series and this author. I will have to pursue the conclusion to the trilogy and invest in her other novels as well.

An entertaining story of vampires, time travel, and a love that lasts through centuries

In The Undead Heart, author Stephanie “Tate” Jackson has crafted a very entertaining story of vampires (or vampyres as used in the novel), time travel, and a love that lasts through centuries.

The story opens with a mysterious man appearing at the high school graduation of our main character, Rebecca Stockdale. Seems this mystery man has appeared in “Beck’s” life before: always in time to save her from accident or injury. With this, the story captured my interest right away.

The novel boasts a vast array of interesting main characters and fresh minor characters that come and go throughout. The variety really gave the story depth and color. I particularly enjoyed Potter, and of the minor characters – Ester.

The settings change from current time in this country to the London of Jack the Ripper, and the Ripper mystery plays a major role in the book. Most of the action, however, occurs in Clarksville, Tennessee.

The execution of the story does have some problems but to me seemed easily fixable. The most problematic for me was the formatting of the dialogue. I found it difficult to follow character conversations when the paragraph would begin with one character speaking and then continue with the other character’s input. I had to reread a LOT to determine if the second bit of the dialogue was continued from the first speaker as it conventionally is, and mostly, it was not. This was almost enough to make me quit reading altogether which would have been a shame; I would have missed out on a good book.

Also, there are grammar problems, verb tense issues, misused words (i.e., the word “to” is continually used when “too” is what is meant, bazaar for bizarre, peaked for piqued.) Not biggies, but these things tend to “throw” me out of the story and interrupt the reading experience. Once again, this kind of thing is easily fixed by using a good editor.

Still, I think if you like vampire stories, time travel, romance with sex scenes, you’ll enjoy this book. However, to get the complete story be prepared for the long haul and the investment of some time. Book 1, The Undead Heart, ends with a cliffhanger and you must get your hands on the second in the trilogy, Blood Thirst to find out what happens next!

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Ice Age by Iain Rowan - a new favorite!

Ice Age is a great short story collection in the horror genre. Each of the eight compact tales is a gem! Mysterious and believable, they come from everyday common place occurrences as well as dystopian futures. The results are somewhere between totally unexpected and delightfully, horrifyingly surprising.

For myself, I am so glad that I ran across this author – a happy acquisition as a free Kindle book! (There are JEWELS in those offerings!) Of course, this taste of Iain Rowan’s work sent me on a shopping spree for more.

Ice Age contains

Lilies, where we encounter a city at war and a young soldier that can see dead people. In this situation however, he is not alone…seems like it’s a regular thing.

In The Call, a man escapes to the coast from a city filled with memories of his lost wife and daughter.

A story that begins simply with a broken window in a vacant house along a commuter’s daily walk to work can be found in Through the Window.

A typical couple lost among country roads at night is the starting point for Driving in Circles.

Sighted takes us to another city at war and the dead that won’t stay that way.

In The Circular Path, a man revisits an early childhood home and confront his mysterious past.

Here Comes the New Way gives us a vision of a hard future and a horrifying “new way” that is sweeping the impoverished and starving populace.

Finally, in the title story, a man left by his wife of 11 years begins to freeze, trapped in his own private Ice Age.

If you enjoy this genre, do yourself a favor and find Ice Age. You will not be disappointed.

Paralan’s Children is a thoroughly enjoyable cross-genre adventure!

The story focuses on two protagonists: rookie Galactipol Inspector Vera Anemona Staven, a female Terran, and PD Joloran Durim Brunàhgan – a male Paralan investigator. The mystery/thriller is the kidnapping of 15 Paralan female children or “wee-ones,” the disappearance of a highly respected Paralan matriarch (and Joloran’s egg-partner), and the murder of a number of Terrans living in the research station and space port. The Science Fiction/Fantasy is the setting on the ice planet, Paralan, space travel, a matriarchal alien culture of furry creatures (the Paralans), and the male-dominated future Terran society that PIO Staven is attempting to enter.

The author has created an interesting and complex world both on Paralan and on future-Earth or Terra. She has characters from two distinctly different cultures, both of which are disdainful of the other. Prejudices abound on both sides: the Paralans call the Terrans “hairless apes,” while the humans routinely refer to the native inhabitants as “snow bears” and “animals.” This story brings the two cultures together to find common ground as well as capitalize on each one’s strengths in order to come to a successful resolution to the kidnappings, disappearances, and murders.

The setting on Paralan is a harsh one from the Terran point of view, and few human characters venture to the surface of the planet to the frigid temperatures and the company of the native population. Little is known about the Paralan culture by the humans and their prejudices keep them from gaining such knowledge. The same can be said of the Paralans who only suffer the presence of the Terran “tourists” because of the desperate need for ingredient twenty-two oh seven found only on the Terran home planet.

POI Vera Stavens is a plucky young woman yearning to be let loose as a fully functioning Galactipol investigator. She silently and maturely deals with the misogynistic hierarchy and idiot male coworkers while slowly learning her profession. She loves living and working on the ice planet and is glad when she is teamed up with a Paralan counterpart to help find the missing wee-ones.

Joloran is the “not-so-glad” male Paralan counterpart assigned to the children’s disappearance. He automatically sees Vera as a weak link but a necessary evil to gain the cooperation of Terran leads and witnesses. But Joloran is highly motivated to solve this case – one of the missing wee-ones is one of his grand-daughters and the missing matriarch, Munara, is the mother or egg-partner of his children.

The story is chockfull of the day-to-day implications of such two diverse races coexisting and working together from how they deal with each other’s temperature or climate requirements to what a simple “smile” might mean.

I highly recommend this to book to anyone that enjoys their science fiction less technical, their fantasy with talking furred beings, and mysteries with elements of the aforementioned. For me it was total enjoyment.

Hudson Owen's The Romantic gives us a man of two worlds

Sebastian Cloud is a man of two worlds. To the patrons of the Rock Island Casino & Resort – Live Arena, he is “Strike,” the champion gladiator of 27 matches against man and beast. At home, he is thoughtful, deliberate, spiritual, romantic, and completely comfortable in his own skin – physically, mentally, and emotionally (almost). Fighting to pay off a debt to the Yakuza, he is close to realizing his goal when a new partner in the resort pits him against a new gladiator robot. During the bout, Strike destroys the robot and wins the sympathy and heart of the partner’s beautiful, gladiator-in-her-own-right wife – Virgina. The adventure ensues and suspense mounts as Sebastian and Virgina attempt to outrun her husband’s (Volton’s) wrath and revenge.

The author has packed adventure, suspense, and romance into a compact 75 pages. The Romantic is a fun story, cinematically told, that you can pick up and enjoy from beginning to end in one sitting. (I highly recommend reading this at one go from start to finish.) Author Hudson Owen builds a complete adventure without leftover fluff giving us the minimum information to establish setting (the northwest), history, and character back story. It was quite a satisfying drawing me back for a second reading less than two weeks after first. My first experience was completed piecemeal, and I enjoyed it, but I picked up much more (the building of the relationship between the two protagonists for one) when reading was uninterrupted.

The story is presented in such a way that it is almost like watching a film. Sebastian is introduced to us via glimpses of his day. Also, dialogue follows naturally speaking and conversational patterns. Characters switch topics when talking to each other rather than completing one idea before going on to the next just as people do in real life. This took me some getting used to but when I began to “hear” the characters speaking, it really felt more believable.

Elements of the book – the dialogue patterns, the lack of side-bar details, and extraneous exposition - just may not be everyone’s taste, but I don’t want to warn anyone off this very good adventure. Relax and just enjoy. I think that it will entertain anyone that picked it up. (Parents, there are scenes of intimacy so this is not for children.) And if the author even decided to redevelop this as a longer work leading into a series I think he’d have a winner that way as well. I know that he’d get my attention, cash, and time.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Dissever by Colee Firman offers a wild ride!

Addy is a teenage girl living with her grandfather among a special race of human-like beings called the Akori. Her grandfather, Fate, is The Overseer and manages the Estate (the Akori homeplace which magically moves locations all over the world every couple of years). Addy, as her grandfather’s only descendant, is to take on the role of Overseer upon his death, and this last move of the estate (to a beach in Florida) has really taken its toll on Fate. Addy must wrap up her preparation to become the first female Overseer – it has always gone to the oldest male heir – while she watches her grandfather weaken more each day.

Starting out quietly, with Addy watching her grandfather slip further and further away, Dissever gradually picks up the pace and delivers action, romance, excitement and a crescendo of a cliff-hanger ending that leaves you scrambling for book two in the series.

The author slowly builds us a picture of the world of the Akori – hidden in plain view of humans. Dialogue is snappy, contemporary, and fun with a number of references to current pop culture. The teen protagonists dance around each other figuring out their relationships with one another and their places in the scheme of things and those of the adult Akori that have decided it is time for a change back to the way things were before there was an Overseer.

Dissever is very well written, unique, and imaginative. There are some minor issues with grammar and spelling that some additional editing could easily clear up though. If you enjoy young adult fantasy series with an entertaining dose of contemporary life deftly woven in, you’re not going to want to miss Dissever.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Imperfect people, imperfect pasts

Come Home to Me by Brenda Novak is not a story about beautiful people. In this sixth installment in her Whiskey Creek series, the focus is on the hell-raising Amos brothers (Aaron and Dylan) and the flawed Christiansen sisters (Presley and Cheyenne.)

Former wild child, and subsequent drug addict, Presley Christiansen, returns sans spouse with secret baby in tow to the only home she’s ever known. Her sister, Cheyenne, has made a good life for herself here with her beloved husband, Dylan Amos, the eldest of the rowdy Amos brothers.

Both families have grown to adulthood without the benefit of kind, caring, loving parents. The Amos boys, on their own under the watchful eye of Dylan, lost their mother at an early age for most of them and their father has spent the last 20 years in prison for murder. The Christiansen sisters grew up living in cheap motels or cars dragged along by their now-deceased prostitute, drug addict mother, Anita.

But Presley, too, has turned her life around. With the responsibility of a baby riding solely on her shoulders, she’s straightened up, worked hard and saved up enough money to move back to Whiskey Creek and her only relative to open her own business – a yoga and massage studio. Unfortunately, the clueless father of baby Wyatt – Aaron Amos – who was supposed to have relocated to Reno to open a satellite location of the thriving Amos automotive repair business – has come face-to-face with Presley and decided to stay in town a little longer and perhaps, rekindle their former relationship.

The Amos brothers and the Christiansen sisters are carrying around enough baggage to open a Samsonite outlet (if they could ever be enticed to unload some of it.) The decisions made in the past weren’t the best and the decisions being made in the present by these very real characters rival those for the problems they create or will in the future. We’ll have to wait for the next book in the series for some of those chickens to come home to roost! (A couple of interesting subplots are left hanging and we will have to wait for their resolution.)

If you’ve enjoyed the Whiskey Creek series up till now, you really should read Aaron and Presley’s story: previous books have alluded to these characters and their history. Characters from those previous books also make brief and incidental appearances in this one and creates a feeling of connection to this growing and familiar place, Whiskey Creek.

But this story is not a fairytale populated with perfect people. Come Home to Me is about grittier folks with problems, flaws, tough pasts, intense passions, and a doozy of a moral dilemma and decision that may put some readers off. But there is also redemption here, and that is what will keep me waiting anxiously for whatever comes next.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Homeless by Nicolas Wilson

A frightening unseen infestation of deadly creatures has invaded the world! Sweeping across the country from the east coast, the “blight” take over enclosed places – homes, businesses, even tents, and vehicles left closed – and violently destroy any humans that come close enough. Society has collapsed as people have been forced out into the open spaces – abandoning the built environment to the blight – for exposure to the elements, not only of the weather and temperature but of the worst of what remains of humanity.

The creatures die if exposed to sunlight and the open air so a new occupation has arisen: “wall-bangers” or “crackers.” These new entrepreneurs know about the making and setting of explosives to “crack” open infested buildings to make the accessible once again to humans when the blight infestation inside dies. The local populace can then raid the contents of the cracked building for essential items or those that can be used to trade for essentials.

The only other way to obtain these goods is to coax a “runner” to race through the infested building, retrieve the needed treasures, and hopefully, escape with their life. A dangerous occupation, few runners survive their first or second attempts.

A third occupation linking the settlements of society’s survivors are the expressmen. Similar to the postal service, the expressmen travel the devastation between the colonies of survivors with letters and requests for runners and wall-bangers.

The story follows the interactions of a wall-banger, a runner, and an expressman, and the different colonies they encounter in their part of the Pacific Northwest: the remnants of a college town, bandits, and an urban militia that has taken over an abandoned military base which happens to have a stockpile of much needed artillery and ammunition.

I thought the author’s take on the cause of society’s apocalyptic collapse – the infestation of the blight – unique and terrifying. We only get hints of what the creatures are like until the near end when a quick, horrifying description is given when the wall-banger, Mitch, has a near fatal face-to-face. I think the “not knowing” really gave the story a suspenseful edge.

The characters backstories are sketchy at best and also lends something of an unknown quality to them and to the realism of the situation and their encounters with other groups. The book builds from a horror story to the suspense of a real thriller and ends in such a way as to leave room for sequels.

I recommend this story to anyone that likes post-apocalyptic tales. Explicit sexual references might offend some and would remove this from the young adult genre. A little time spent with an editor fine-tuning some spelling, word choices, and punctuation would really polish the final product.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

History of the Timelaws - imaginative and engaging for young adults

To the human world, 15-year-old Elizabeth is a regular teenager growing up without her parents in a pretty rough neighborhood. However, in the world of magic, she is the powerful leader of a team of “Darks,” and holds the fate of humankind in her hands.

History of the Timelaws by Marise Ghorayeb is an imaginative story for young adults that marries magic-laden fantasy with science fiction adventure. And although I enjoyed the story, I had to work hard to follow all the different storylines and miscellaneous characters. (I had read the prequel story, Sorcery in the Alleys, and was already hooked so I wanted to stick with it.) There is time-travel involved and action takes place in 2 different times simultaneously. This was not a problem however, at times there just wasn’t enough explanation to why things were occurring to keep me straight. Characters appeared and it seemed they would play a major role but then nothing. Others performed critically significant actions in the storyline but seemed to come out of nowhere without any relationship to the main character. I am hoping that they are to feature heavily in future sequels.

A little more editing is still needed here but because the characters and plot were engaging, it did not disrupt my reading experience.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Sorcery in the Alleys - prequel to History of the Timelaws by Marise Ghorayeb

My friends and family are aware that I'm a "reader." They realize that I'm a bit quirky in what I pick up and that when reading series books I have to start at the beginning and read the books in order. So when I realized that I'd requested to read and review a book that was the 2nd in a series, there was no joy.

Luckily the author of the book popped into the review forum and I asked if it were possible to get a copy of the the story that is the prequel to the young adult novel under review. She agreed but cautioned me that the current edition of Sorcery in the Alleys needs editing before being released. This turned out to be true but the meat of the story is still there and it is a dandy: very imaginative and addictive. I even brought lunch to the office so I would have time during the break to read rather than using the time up driving home and back. I definitely recommend this nice start to the series when the new edited version becomes available.

Thank you to Marise Ghorayeb for giving me the copy to read before her next in line - The History of the Timelaws.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

David Estes' Fire Country is 1 Year Old!

Today, Fire Country by David Estes turns one year old. In the first year since Fire Country was born, so much has happened. David signed with an agent, sold more than 10,000 books, wrote five more books and published a further three). He knew he just had to celebrate and he'd love for you to be a part of it! David owes so much of his support to the blogger community, and he wants everyone to have the chance to be a part of the Fire Country Birthday Bash.
Everyone goes home a winner, simply follow the prompts below and swipe your eCopy of Fire Country from Smashwords. Read and leave a review on Amazon if you enjoyed it. Feel free to share the code with your friends, family, neighbours and literary inclined pets.
Coupon Code: WH62C
Expiration: March 1, 2014
What's a party without prizes? Yes, David is not only giving everyone a chance to download their own copy of Fire Country, book one in the Country Saga for free, but he's also giving you stuff too. You could win an Amazon giftcard open internationally, U.S residents can win a signed copy of the David Estes book of your choice, or a handful of David Estes eBooks of your choice. Awesome.
Visit David via his Blog  Facebook • Twitter and via Goodreads
Pay Perry the Prickler a visit on Twitter and Goodreads

A great adventure set in a great “new-to-me” part of the country!

Fugitives from Northwoods by Chris Bostic is a great young adult, survival in the wilderness adventure story set in the Northwoods. For those of us that don’t know, the “Northwoods” setting mentioned in the title is a broad region of northern Minnesota (also Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ontario around the Great Lakes). Historically, according to Wikipedia, this region was home to logging operations and later, lodges were built as fishing camps and lake resorts.

Author Chris Bostic has taken these historic uses and twisted them to nightmarish proportions creating a landscape with massive areas of beautiful, yet dangerous forest, appalling regions devastated by clear-cutting, forced-labor work camps filled with conscripted teenagers, and built a desperate vision of a post-societal-collapse U.S. The story’s main characters escape from one of these work camps and flee the camp pursuers through the wilderness toward the hope of freedom across the border in Ontario.

Besides being a great adventure and tale of survival in a wonderfully described locale, Fugitives from Northwoods has good, solid characters. We get a pretty good feel for each and every one of the teens and their relationship within the group.

I liked the way the author incorporated the well-known Robert Frost poem Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening into narrator’s (Penn’s) thoughts. The inclusion connected this nightmarish future world to our reality.

Author Bostic is apparently an actual outdoorsman himself, and brings that experience and knowledge into his debut novel giving a feel of realism that similar stories may lack. I particularly liked the tidbits of nature information sprinkled throughout (i.e., the presence/absence of earthworms at the lakes and assorted other fishing tips.)

Although I couldn’t find confirmation of it, Fugitives from Northwoods felt like the start of a series. I, for one, hope it is.

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Devil Made Me Do It

Gary A. Caruso’s Our Souls to Keep is a young adult, horror story of the dark side of all these YA books about demons that have been published over the past couple of years. It’s a compact and exciting story about 17-year-old Wake Reynolds who trades his soul to Satan to prevent his mother (who has committed suicide) from eternal damnation. Naturally, the deal with the devil does not pan out as hoped and Wake finds both he and his mother consigned to Hell with Wake working as a collector of teenage souls.

The story is an exciting race to beat the devil’s minions, break Wake’s contract, and save the soul of a pregnant teenager bearing a child critical to the upcoming showdown between Heaven and Hell. There are elements of horror, suspense, teenage romance, and even some humorous dialogue (especially between Wake and his mentor, Nevin). Ultimately, however, this is a tragedy. I highly recommend reading the short story prequel, The Promised Land, before Our Souls to Keep but even if you don’t, I think you’ll get enough backstory from the glimpses of how Wake got to be where he is as the novel opens to have a very satisfying reading experience.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Forager by Peter R. Stone Is A Brilliant New Australian Post-Apocalyptic Tale for YA

The earth and society has been decimated by World War Three. The surviving members of the human race have clustered together in settlements on the Australian continent in the former state of Victoria.

Eighteen-year-old Ethan Jones has grown up in one of these city-settlements, Newhome, on the outskirts of what is left of Melbourne. He leads a successful team of 5 friends that forage for metals and other useful items amongst its ruins.

Ethan, however, has a secret. Ethan is a mutant with enhanced hearing and echolocation abilities that would earn him a death sentence if the powers-that-be found out.

The success of this team (far outstripping that of the other forager teams) attracts the attention of the “Custodians”: the militaristic overseers of the city and the guardians of the status quo. Under the pretext of protecting Ethan’s team from the horrific marauders known as the “Skels” that haunt the Melbourne ruins, a team of Custodians accompany them out of the city for a day of foraging.

While working, the two teams must come to rescue of a trading party from the distant city-settlement of Hamamachi that has been attacked by the Skels. The party’s only survivors are Counsillor Okada and his young female translator, Nanako. For Ethan, life as he knows it is fixing to change forever … again.

The author has given us a fully developed, post-apocalyptic world and populated it with great characters. The plot is imaginative and I was absorbed with the story immediately. The society of Newhome, highly structured with rigid and unforgiving laws and traditions, sets the stage for the variety of characters and their hopeless lives (although the ambitious can aspire to entry into the privileged and mysterious part of the city known as “North Gate.”)

The mix of actually existing items like the Custodians’ Bushmaster vehicles and Austeyr assault rifles add a touch of our present to Ethan’s reality, and I found that fun. I also liked that the characters used actual Melbourne street and place names on the foraging trips. I imagine if the reader actually lived in Melbourne that would be pretty cool.

The action was tense, tight, and held a number of twists that I never saw coming. As I read, I did not want to put the book down, respect the clock, and get on with what needed doing (sleep, work, etc.) in my day-to-day. I just needed to read “one more chapter.” I truly enjoyed this book and will have to build up my stamina for when the Forager sequel – Infiltrator – comes out later in 2014.

Bravo to the author for a great start to his trilogy.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

It's a Mad World at Wakefield

Wakefield by Erin Callahan & Troy H. Gardner is told from the differing perspectives of several of the main characters, and is a tightly written (and well edited) tale of teenage residents in one wing of a mysterious psychiatric treatment facility. The story begins as we are introduced to the facility's students and staff members upon the arrival of its two newest residents: Astrid Chalke & Max Fisher.

There is mystery, teenage angst, paranormal/magical elements, superpowers, and even the budding of teenage romance: all the makings for a very engaging story and an enticing start to the Mad World series.

Action and mystery begin immediately and the back stories of the characters are slowly revealed so the reader learns and feels the heartbreak and circumstances that led to the children’s placement at Wakefield. I found I developed a definite investment in the characters as story progressed: even for those that I didn’t view very sympathetically at the start.

The story closes at a great jumping off place for the second book in the series, Tunnelville. I enjoyed Wakefield so much that Tunnelville is now on my “To Read” list.

Friday, January 17, 2014

TOKEN by Ryan Gresset - the debut book in a YA Dystopian series - very good!

Let me begin right off by saying that I REALLY liked this book and enjoyed the author’s writing style.

The plot was GOOD. I wanted to keep reading (disregard what the clock is showing) and will be anxiously awaiting the next book in the series. I originally felt the prologue was too vague – I was unsettled by the lack of knowing what was going on – but I pushed on into the story and was rewarded with a nice, gradual unfolding of the world's history.

The characters were interesting although I kept forgetting that the leads were in the 15 – 16 year old range and not a good 10 years older. I enjoyed the camaraderie of the 4 shack mates while they were on the island and kept envisioning them as the Zoolander roommates in the movie of the same name. The relationships between the shack mates later in the story are the source of much tension, anxiety, and ultimately, sorrow. I am still concerned over the outcome for one, Nayze, who was left in a real cliffhanger situation at the close of this book. I hope to see him later in the series.

There are twists and turns in the storyline that I never saw coming. Reading through again later, I found a couple of clues dangling out there that should have given me a hint though. I love that.

I did have some issues with the book though. This book is in great need of a good editor. A couple of typos here and there are okay, but the reading experience for me suffered from instances of misused words. For example, in The Prologue, “Kloe begins to hastily make her way back to the shanty hole she has been hulled up in over the last seven months.” In this case, “hulled up” probably should be “holed up.”

Things like this stop me while reading totally interrupting the flow of the story. Token has quite a few of these BUT I still REALLY liked the book. If these had been cleared up, I’ll bet I would have been blown away.

If this kind of thing doesn’t bother you, and you’re a YA dystopian fiction fan, you’re looking at solid story and a possible 5 star read. Bottom line, I recommend Token by Ryan Gressett, warts included.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Jump on this one for a good young adult read

Jump When Ready by David Pandolfe is a well done after-life story about 14-year-old Henry who accidentally drowns while wading in a river during a teen party. He finds himself in the company other “dead kids” and an older woman, Martha, in another place – a nice, “normal” place that changes according to the desires of the kids and Martha. The kids have their own home together, each with their own private room that suits their personalities and interests from the lives they just left. A food court provides any type of meal.

As part of the process of settling in to his new “life,” the other kids take Henry to his own funeral. Although undetectable by the living, Henry discovers that by really trying he can make his family hear him talking to them in their heads – if only they would believe it was really him! What begins as Henry desperately trying to get through to his family and make them understand that his death was accidental rather than suicide becomes a critical ability when his older sister, Bethany, is kidnapped and held for ransom by a sinister online acquaintance.

Henry and his new friends attempt to save Bethany and bring her captors to justice as they come to understand their afterlife, begin to develop their newly discovered ghostly skills, and avoid becoming ghostly shades trapped in their former lives.

The author’s vision of the kids’ afterlife was great and well described. Explanations of “how things worked” were gradually worked into the storyline so there was a nicely drawn out feeling of discovery. Henry is initially confused and the gradual unveiling of the story was nicely done and progressed at what I felt was a natural pace.

I really liked the main characters. The author provided a nice variety of young teenage characters to populate the new surroundings, and their voices, attitudes, and actions sounded true and appropriate to their ages and situations.

The gradual “reveal” of what heaven is, what hell is, and the soul was gentle, positive, and hopeful, and left me interested in knowing where things might go next for all the main characters.