Wednesday, September 16, 2020

The Dark Portal by Kyle Belote

The Dark PortalThe Dark Portal by Kyle Belote
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dark, atmospheric, and unsettling first-contact tale!

When Dr. Darrovan Weiv, an alien theorist, was unceremoniously dragged from his bed in the dead of night, he thought his life was over, another casualty of the secretive and oppressive government. Instead, he was taken to a secret research facility harboring an alien presence or “miasma,” with whom the project’s director wanted Darrovan to try and communicate. Surprisingly, Darrovan’s first attempt yields immediate results but perhaps not the results for which everyone was hoping.

The Dark Portal is an eerie and atmospheric tale of alien first-contact. The main character’s unease and fear oozed off the page and created a deliciously unsettling story. You just KNOW something’s not right, and things are not what they seem. Even the complex layout of the mysterious facility or “Dome” leaves you a little off-balance, and that creates some emotional havoc later during the height of the action.

I absolutely loved the slowly evolving and subtle depictions of Darrovan and his coworkers. Let’s just say there were no humans harmed in the making of this story. Additionally, there are enough sidebars and subplots mentioned in the story that, if explored, could expand this to a full-length novel. I recommend The Dark Portal to Sci-Fi readers that enjoy the theme of alien-first-contact, non-human characters, and plenty of dark, scary, fast-paced action.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving a copy from the author.

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Monday, September 14, 2020

Engage at Dawn: First Contact by Edward M. Hochsmann

Engage at Dawn: First ContactEngage at Dawn: First Contact by Edward Hochsmann
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When the Coast Guard cutter, Kauai, is dispatched to investigate a disabled sailing vessel off the Florida Keys, they find an abandoned, derelict cabin sloop, the High Dawn, deck awash, and kept afloat by the masses of water-tight packages of illegal drugs in the hold. There is no evidence of a collision or an explosion but the ship has been wrecked, the mast broken completely away and gone, and there is a days-old corpse floating in the flooded cabin. However, the starboard side is crushed in like it had slammed against a flat, brick wall, and with the massive amount of damage the High Dawn cannot be towed to shore without breaking apart. The Kauai is ordered to stand by and guard the wreck until the arrival of the buoy tender Poplar that is equipped to remove the wreck properly. In addition, a chopper has been sent to retrieve the deceased and deliver a top-secret VIP passenger.

Dr. Peter Simmons with the Defense Intelligence Agency, is an astrophysicist. Over the past three days, he and his team have been searching for the cause of a gravitational wave which they believe may be the arrival of an extraterrestrial spaceship. He inspects the condition of the High Dawn to determine if its wrecking may be related to this same event. The Kauai and her crew are to support Dr. Simmons in his investigation as soon as they are relieved from oversight of the High Dawn.

With dangerous drug smugglers hunting for them and their missing product and Dr. Simmons’ top-secret search for the location of a possible alien spacecraft, the cutter’s captain, Lieutenant Samuel Powell and his XO, Lieutenant Junior Grade Benjamin Wyporek valiantly strive to fulfill their varied missions while keeping the Kauai and her crew safe and sound. This exciting story unfolds in these two exciting, interwoven strands: the search for a possible extraterrestrial vehicle and drug smugglers trying to recover their ship full of product that was accidentally destroyed when the alien ship materialized near it in waters off Key West. As I had previously read the prequel to this book, Vis Major, I knew some of what to expect in the extraterrestrial plotline, and I almost squealed with delight when the "old beachcomber" and shack finally appeared. The drug smugglers' plot is also exciting and very intense. I realized I was holding my breath at several points along the way, such as when the crew was working with a bomb and while Frankle and Bell were watching the path to the escape boat at the terrorists' hideout awaiting the "GO" signal.

I loved the peek inside the Coast Guard's operations and appreciate the "civilianization" of some of the dialogue to make it easier to understand what was going on. There were so many new and interesting things mentioned along this line that I googled quite a few phrases or object names for more information. For example, the mention of the 'fouled anchor' incorporated in the Kauai's crest is a very familiar image, yet one that has its own story and tradition I'd never known. The author writes excellent banter and includes some fun yet cynical and slightly irreverent jesting regarding military nomenclature.

I also appreciated the depiction of the Kauai's crew as multidimensional individuals with lives and concerns outside their duty stations. The crew is comprised of both male and female members, and I thought the various working relationships were natural and true-to-life. I quickly connected with the characters and empathized with how they worried about balancing home life with their careers.

ENGAGE AT DAWN: FIRST CONTACT is very well written, which made this exciting and action-packed story easy-to-read and hard to put down. It can be read solo, but I highly recommend starting with the prequel, Vis Major, which is the flipside story (the aliens' point-of-view); it is excellent. I was delighted to see that there is a sneak preview of the next book in the series, Engage at Dawn: Seize and Destroy, included at the end of this volume. So, YAY! More to come! I recommend this book and series to readers that enjoy military adventure stories, Coast Guard-themed fiction, and first contact tales.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advance Review Copy from Reedsy Discovery.

See my original review on Reedsy Discovery!

Saturday, September 05, 2020

Deathload: The Highway of Destruction by Cy Young

Deathload: The Highway of DestructionDeathload: The Highway of Destruction by Cy Young
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What everyone is saying is true: you'll only want to close this book when it's over, OR you need to catch your breath!

When Vincent Fazio's only son is killed during Desert Storm by friendly fire, he swears revenge on the military and the commander-in-chief for the horrific mistake. But as a former CIA operative and multimillionaire truck magnate, Vince is in the scary position to follow through on his threat. He envisions and hires a genius computer programmer to help him build two massive machines of destruction: two mammoth, self-driven 18-wheelers equipped with the capabilities to take out entire Air Force bases in seconds. And then he lets them loose from the desert in the desert outside Phoenix, Arizona, with a mission of death and destruction.

Phoenix Police Detective Manny Breen has just left work to take his sister to get a new car. In his rearview mirror, he watches as the two large, black trucks scream up behind him, but even though he's able to get out of their way, his sister ahead of him is boxed in the lane with nowhere to go. He watches in horror as the lead truck smashes her off the highway to roll and tumble and burst into flames. Grief-stricken, unable to rescue her from the burning vehicle, he sets off after the trucks already miles down the road. What follows is the story of his determined pursuit of these deadly instruments of terror.

The premise of the two unstoppable and seemingly indestructible 18-wheelers is a crazy concept, but it works, and I ended up loving every minute of it. Once they get rolling, it is pure entertainment of the action film variety. I've read books before that I would describe as having "non-stop action," but Deathload seriously holds the title. I read this book in one sitting because I literally didn't want to put it down.

Vincent Fazio, the villain behind the trucks, the multimillionaire with CIA connection, may seem a sympathetic figure at first. His son, a likable young man we meet at the start of the story, was tragically killed by mistake. However, you soon realize the father's revenge is based on what he feels is an insult to himself rather than any grief over the loss of his son. There are really no mitigating circumstances in what he is doing.

Two strong characters, Phoenix Police Detective Manny Breen and Helicopter Pilot Sharon Kramer, lead the story in trying to stop Fazio. He is a witness to the death of his beloved sister by the mammoth trucks. Sharon joins the hunt when she is dispatched to where he has wrecked out while following the massive machines. Together and separately, they are unrelenting in their pursuit of the deadly trucks.

The driver-less trucks tear up the southwestern United States as they attack Air Force bases located across the rugged, hot, and remote terrain. The destruction starts outside Phoenix, Arizona, and follows a path through New Mexico and Texas as they bear down on their ultimate destination: the White House. The villain's revenge is single-mindedly about death and destruction. As the story progresses, thousands upon thousands of military personnel, law enforcement officers, and civilians are killed. The story includes graphic depictions of some of the deaths.

I recommend DEATHLOAD to readers that enjoy action-adventure stories that never let up. I was thoroughly swept up by the book and carried along by the continuous and intense action. I could easily see this story kicking off a series featuring the two leads, Manny and Sharon. This was entertainment.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from Reedsy Discovery.

See my original review on Reedsy Discovery!