Thursday, October 26, 2017

Welcome to the Apocalypse: CyberNexis by D.L. Richardson

The excitement in Book 1 (Pandora) of the series, Welcome to the Apocalypse continues in Book 2 (CyberNexis) as the story shifts from being the end-of-the-world scenarios being played inside a computer game to real-life. The Yellowstone Caldera, a supervolcano located under Yellowstone National Park, blew while the 100 plus Apocalypse Games launch day players were ensconced inside their gaming simulation pods at CyberNexis headquarters in San Diego. This triggered volcanoes around the world to erupt as well. The survivors in the U.S. have been directed to central evacuation camps near major population centers. The gamers were discovered by remnants of the military after an unheard-of three months hooked up to the CyberNexis system, and transported to the old site of the Lunar Receiving Laboratory at the Johnson Space Center in Houston because the gamers’ simulation pods and their physical conditions are so similar to astronauts coming out of a long space mission. Not all the gamers survived the damage that the CyberNexis headquarters sustained when the caldera erupted. Those that did are experiencing muscular dystrophy and other ailments.

The main characters from book 1 make a reappearance: some alive, some as casualties. Kelly Lawrence and Reis Anderson are recuperating at the NASA location. The doctors there are having difficulty though disconnecting Kelly’s brother, Jack Minnow, from the simulation pod and Pandora’s hold on him. And Jack doesn’t want to leave the game. He’s found and developed a bond with another player, Sasha Vaness, who though still alive in the game, was one of the casualties in real life.

The Lunar Receiving Laboratory was only meant to be a temporary stop for the Apocalypse Game players. On their recovery, they are to be bussed to the nearest evacuation camp in Fort Worth. Jack refuses to leave the lab and Sasha’s personality trapped inside Pandora as does Reekha Soodi, another player from book 1 who believes her husband, Naresh, is also trapped within. Kelly and Reis are both anxious to find their way back to California to check on family.

While Jack and Reekha conceal themselves at the lab, Reis and Kelly leave with the other gamers on busses headed for the Fort Worth evacuation center. Along the way, the bus convoy is attacked by a band of end-of-the-world mutations or Primals: humans that have survived and been changed somehow by the caldera eruption. Those that survive the attack crowd onto one of the other buses and make their way to the evacuation camp only to be redirected to Austin: no room in Fort Worth. The story continues from Austin as Kelly and Reis get on a train headed west and their goal – San Diego and CyberNexis, and from NASA headquarters where Jack and Reekha remained.

I enjoyed this installment of the series, and yes, there appears to be a third book coming – Welcome to the Apocalypse – Primal Scream (yay!) I enjoyed that a good portion of the story was set in my state near where I live and work. Of course, I compared for accuracy and found big differences, but who knows how the landscape would have changed after a supervolcano erupted, right? I recommend this book and this series but readers do need to have read the first book in the series to enjoy this one.

I voluntarily reviewed an Advance Reader copy of this book.

Welcome to the Apocalypse: Pandora by D.L. Richardson

Three friends (since their teens) pay to participate in the grand opening of the next generation of virtual reality games called The Apocalypse Game. Players pay $5,000 each to be enclosed in a glass pod, interface with the gaming system to try and outlast an apocalyptic scenario of their choosing. Those that perish during the game wait out the rest of the 24-hour session in a “death dream” – a pleasant interlude tailored for the player while the clock runs down.

Of course, something goes terribly wrong and when Jack, Kelly, and Reis successfully survive the first game, they are sent into a second scenario. At first, players think they’ve been rewarded for their initial successes, but as they keep continuing into new games and the scenarios keep getting more bizarre, it becomes apparent they are trapped inside the system while their physical bodies deteriorate inside their glass pods.

The author touches on many different end-of-the-world game scenarios and it is very entertaining. The main characters all have interesting back stories that slowly come to light as the games unfold. Kelly, the young, grieving widow, looking to reunite with the spirit of her game programmer husband. Jack who is there to watch out for his sister (Kelly) and scope out the Apocalypse Game for his adventure tour company, undergoes some real soul-searching and revelations. Reis, Jack’s partner in the adventure tour company is, and always has been, in love with Kelly. Interesting NPCs (non-player combatants) and other players pop up throughout the various games, a few of whom I really became attached to. The story ends well but somewhat abruptly leaving several loose ends and questions. Only one of the three main characters (I won’t say whom) is featured in the ending and we have no idea what has become of the other two, let alone the rest of the players. Significant looks and pauses between others in this scene lead me to believe there was way more going on in the world than just a malfunctioning game though. I look forward to reading book 2 to resolve the cliffhangers.

I voluntarily reviewed an Advance Reader copy of this book.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Cookies, Corpses, and the Deadly Haunt by Rachael Stapleton

As an addict of the various TV remodeling, fixer upper, house flipping shows, I was already inclined to enjoy this series, and this first story was a lot of fun!

Former couple, Juniper Palmer and Jack Young, are business partners in the house flipping firm, Spirited Construction. In this first book in the new series by Rachael Stapleton, they have come to Jack’s hometown of Bohemian Lake to find their next project: renovating a spooky, old Gothic Revival house that has seen its better days. That project turns out to be the haunted “Doctor’s House” where 100 years earlier, the owner, the Doctor murdered his wife, Victoria, before turning a gun on himself.

Creepiness aside, the house really has potential and the partners are beginning to make some headway in bringing the old place back to life when Juniper’s best friend and former college roommate, Pike Hart, who also calls Bohemian Lake home, talks them into letting her hold the town's annual fundraiser Halloween Ball at the soon-to-be completed home. But before that can happen, Pike’s co-chair on the fundraising committee (and a descendant of the original owner) is murdered in the attic of the house. Strange music keeps playing, and the vision of a woman in white (the Doctor’s murdered bride?) is spotted on the grounds. Hunky police detective Cody Lumos is assigned the case and his interests include Juniper herself.

I liked the main characters – Juniper Palmer (from whose point-of-view we watch all the action), Pike Hart – her best friend, Detective Cody Lumos – her new love interest, and Jack Young, her business partner and former love interest. There are a number of plausible suspects provided, and a load of other interesting characters filling out the town of Bohemian Lake.

I really enjoyed this book even though I had a couple of issues with the execution of the book itself: point-of-view switches from first person to third and some grammar problems that can be easily cleaned up at some point. I was reading an advance readers copy so I'm sure some of these issues will not appear in the final edition. In spite of this, I still really liked this story and I'm already impatient for the next book in the series to come out. I will be seeking out books in this author's other series to tide me over.

I received a free, advance copy of this book from the author in exchange for my unbiased review.

Murder in the Art Gallery by Sandi Scott (A Pet Portraits Cozy Mystery, #1)

Oh, I am so going to like this series if this first novella, Murder in the Art Gallery, is any indication of what’s to come!

Set in Chicago, the story revolves around the 66-year-old twin sisters, Georgie and Aleta Kaye. Georgie, the older, more outgoing, and artistic of the two, has dragged a reluctant (but supportive) Aleta to the opening of a new exhibit of the hot, new Occhipinti Art Gallery. She is actually there to meet the gallery owner, Nate Stephenson, and discuss his interest in exhibiting her pet portrait artwork that he had admired in the neighborhood Earwax Coffeehouse. In addition to scoring some awesome noms at the exhibit, the sisters are front row & center when another local artist crashes the reception and loudly threatens to burn down the gallery and murder the owner’s financial partner, Jamal Landry.

The next day when the sisters return to the gallery to follow up with Nate regarding the details for Georgie’s proposed exhibit, they discover the Jamal’s dead body sprawled in one of the galleries.

I really enjoyed the sisters, their family and friends. The Chicago setting is presented and used so well I was ready to plan a vacation to go see the sights. I particularly enjoyed the back and forth between the sisters and between Georgie and her ex-husband, Police Detective Stan Toon. I was hoping for their collaboration and reconciliation from their first scene together.

I’m definitely looking forward to more titles in this series with more dogs, too. I can recommend this book to mystery readers that enjoy their mysteries on the cozy side and are looking for sleuths on the far side of 40.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Hello Again by Brenda Novak

Hello Again is the 2nd full-length novel in The Evelyn Talbot Chronicles featuring Dr. Eve Talbot and hunky Alaskan Trooper Sergeant Benjamin “Amarok” Murphy. Eve has regrouped from the previous novel where she was dealing with opening the program at the new maximum security research prison for psychopaths in Hilltop, Alaska. Along with the pressure of opening this facility in climate-challenging location where the local residents had not been enthusiastic, to say the least, she had also had to juggle the desires and egos of a high maintenance and difficult staff, the attentions of a stalker, and the murders of some of her coworkers. Just recalling all that had occurred up to this time, I was wondering what could possibly top that?

Hello Again delivered! This book is full of twists and suspenseful action throughout as well as the steadily growing romance between the two main characters. Being set in a prison specifically for psychopaths gives the story an immediate creepy factor. Every character behind those bars has the potential for a story of terror. This story features a lot from the viewpoint of Eve’s personal, UNincarcerated psychopath though: Jasper Moore. He’s getting closer …

I particularly liked how the relationship between Eve and the awesome Amarok progresses. She was such a damaged soul, and she’s concerned about being more than a few years older than him. He has turned out to be so much more patient, caring, and understanding than the usual romance novel hero – without feeling unrealistic, too.

I can wholeheartedly recommend this book (and this series) to romance and romantic suspense readers. It is great, and I can’t wait for the next is the series.

I received a free, advance copy of this book from the author in exchange for my unbiased review.