This page contains, in reverse chronological order, the book reviews I post on my blog. These relay my impressions of books I have read and enjoyed. I love it when readers take the time to review my books. Here, in a small measure I practice what I desire. Most of my reviews will focus on indie authors since they need all the support we can give them.
- #BookReview: Two Sci-Fi Adventures with Compelling Female Characters
Today is a first. Rather than post individual reviews, I give you my brief thoughts on two SciFi stories featuring strong, compelling female characters. As I’ve written before, as I get more into the SciFi genre in my own writing, I have been sampling some of the great stories that current authors are writing. These two I share with you today form part of that survey I have been conducting. The fact that they feature strong female characters is a bonus, since, as you may also know, I like to have a lot of those in my stories.
Start Nomad, by Lindsay Buroker
In Star Nomad, I got to join a heroine stuck on the wrong side of the galaxy, wishing terribly to find a way to get back home to her daughter. Along the way she will “requisition” a ship by this story’s namesake and surround herself with a cast of characters, each with their own concealed motivations. The story-telling is really top-notched: ... » Read more »
- Review: A Facet for The Gem, by C.L. Murray
What happens when evocative writing and compelling storytelling collide and fuse together? You get a powerhouse novel like C.L. Murray‘s A Facet For The Gem, a tale unfolding in a generously described and developed world.
We enter this world through Morlen’s viewpoint. We find him struggling to make his way among people who have rejected him, living in a land in the midst of unrest and on the verge of far worst. An outcast, Morlen will gradually uncover his true identity and discover how his nascent yet to be unveiled power may provide the key to arrest the dark forces threatening to overpower two kingdoms.
Before I go on, I will note the things that bothered me, namely point of view hopping and frequent, somewhat lengthy backstory exposition through dialog. As most readers won’t notice these nits (or indeed, might expect them in this genre), and given how the writer’s fluid style glides right over these imperfections, I will move on to say there’s much to commend in this story.
First and foremost, the narrative comes through with a strong, often lyrical voice. I must confess it took me ... » Read more »
- Review: The Somniscient, by Richard Levesque
I picked up The Somniscient, by Richard Levesque, looking forward to an interesting read. After enjoying his prior work in Strictly Analog, this story’s blurb promised more of the same fun insight. In general I wasn’t wrong.
I will note at the outset that in places, the story lagged a bit. Starting with a tad too much exposition in the first chapter, and stopping here and there to mask exposition in lengthy explanatory sections of dialog, I didn’t feel as in the moment as I prefer. Add to this one too many of what I call short-term flashbacks—recounting of events that happened within hours or minutes, and hence could have occurred in the inline narrative—and I must say regrettably I struggled to get through certain parts of the story.
But here’s the thing… I don’t read book merely for entertainment value, or to get dazzled and pizzazzed by an author who cliff-hangs and twist-turns a story with ease. I read to examine. I read to be confronted and challenged with fresh points of view and ideas that demand my ... » Read more »
- Review: Strictly Analog, by Richard Levesque
In Richard Levesque’s Strictly Analog I was once more pleased to find an innovative story of provocative imagination. Set in not so distant future Los Angeles and Orange County, California, the story presents itself as a noir private investigator romp. Indeed, the beginning may seem to meander a bit to show us the main character doing his strictly analog shtick before the meat of the action drops on our table. But what we have experienced during the first course provides us with a seamless all-show-very-little-tell story that introduces us into quite a world.
Our protagonist has thus far managed to survive in a society where corporations run for elective office—governor even—everyone is interconnected through a myriad of electronic to human interfaces, which in turns means those who can tap all their data streams can see what they can. Who needs surveillance cameras if you can access what each person can see? But our gumshoe has made it his brand to avoid all that connectivity. How? By staying strictly analog. He doesn’t avail himself of all those wearable and ... » Read more »
- Review: Derelict by LJ Cohen
You may have noticed I haven’t posted many reviews of late. Given my rule that if I read a book and don’t like it, I don’t post a review, I’ll let that stand as my answer as to why. I’m pleased to report Derelict by LJ Cohen has broken this dry spell. Yes, I’ll break the suspense now and say, I liked it! Why?
Well, first, while managing to keep the story moving and entertaining, the author succeeds in building an intricate, vividly drawn world. If you love technical details about artificial intelligence, coding, and hacking, you will get it here. And if your interests lie elsewhere, not to worry: the story and its characters will still pull you along with near irresistible force.
Second, and perhaps most notably, we meet distinct, strong characters, each with their own flaws and struggles, all of them intertwining to produce a credible and compelling narrative. Starting with Ro, our protagonist, we meet a rag-tag team of youngsters thrown together by circumstances, and ultimately, the failings of the adults in their lives. Oh, yeah. And then there’s ... » Read more »
- Review: Pentecost (Stone of Fire) by J.F. Penn
While I must confess it took me a few chapters to get into Pentecost by J.F. Penn, eventually the story grew on me. The story of a scholarly female protagonist who somewhere along the line also learned how to kill and defend herself efficiently seems a little overwrought. Add to this the fantastical, mystical element of twelve stones, one for each of the twelve disciples who gathered on the day of Pentecost to receive the Holy Spirit, and you start wondering whether you have enough suspension of belief in you to get through it.
For a bit, I feared the tale would turn into a poor Dan Brown scavenger hunt imitation. Twelve stones hide throughout the world, in the hands of various keepers. Our protagonist counts herself as one of them. The bad guys—two different teams, as it turns out—want them for, well, evil purposes, because these stones allegedly carry awesome power. A third team, steps in to save our protagonist and offers her a chance to help them ... » Read more »
- Review: Murder out of the Blue, by Steve Turnbull
If you can’t put up with a story that doesn’t start with a bang and careens forward without letting you catch your breath, you might not deem Steve Turnbull’s Murder out of the Blue worth the trouble. You might start on the first few pages and think nothing is happening. Except something is. The rich, descriptive prose is immersing—or rather, permeating—you, into a Steampunk journey that will feel very British Empire and Orient Express, with a Faraday device thrown in.
By the time the body drops on or about the second chapter, not only are you flying along in partial weightlessness in Turnbull’s world, but you have achieved empathy with his lead character, Maliha. Her in-between half-Indian, half-Scott cultural plight has become yours. Her insight and intelligence as she conducts her unofficial, but rather more efficient, sleuthing draws you along as well. In particular you appreciate her sensitivity to the personal situations surrounding the case, and how in many ways, they mirror her own station in life.
I won’t say much more for fear of spoiling the tale. Suffice ... » Read more »
- Review: Scarlet Angel by C.A. Wilke
Scarlet Angel by C.A. Wilke is the kind of story where one should hold on for dear life with little concern or notice for what transpires on the periphery. For the parts where it delivers the blistering, action-based pace that maintains unrestrained reader compulsion to keep turning pages, it works rather well. Overall, in spite of its demerits, I found this a compelling story I’m glad to have picked up.
Things launch with a bang. Our heroine finds herself in great peril. In an attack against her life, Scarlett comes face-to-face with a past she can either not recall or is too eager to forget. To avoid endangering her adoptive family, she goes on the run and into hiding with Neil, a master fighter and assassin who takes it upon himself to protect her, train her, and/or use her—we can’t quite tell, and that’s part of the intrigue, fun, and at times, confusion.
Here the story takes a breather to explore the relationship between Scarlett and Neil, which is at first acrimonious—she sees him as a captor more than a protector—then ... » Read more »
- Review: Stone Age, by ML Banner
For a while, with no small degree of admiration–OK, and a tad of envy–I have watched M.L. Banner’s progress as an indie author. Whatever I may say in the rest of this review, his storytelling has demonstrably engaged a great many readers. Launching off with Stone Age, his books have landed on the upper echelons of Best Sellers lists. Regardless of my opinion, his readers get him, and there’s a lot to be said about that.
Delivered as a sobering warning to what could happen should electromagnetic pulse (EMP) energy from the sun burn up the whole earth’s power grid and destroy all electronics-based technology, Stone Age is well worth the read, if nothing else, as a cautionary tale, and, I hope, a call to action. Collectively, we should do something to mitigate against the risk of natural and manmade EMPs. As such, Stone Age gives us a story driven primarily—and strongly—by a compelling, larger than life (and perhaps death) concept.
But is it enough? It was for me.
It was strong enough to overcome the story’s faults, several of which would ... » Read more »
- Review: Brass Giant, by Brooke Johnson
For the past few months I have looked forward to Brooke Johnson’s debut novel, The Brass Giant. Somewhat familiar with her writing (Dark Lord in Training), I was curious to see what sort of story she’d deliver in the increasingly popular steampunk genre. I was not disappointed.
The Brass Giant certainly lives up to the expectations of steampunk fans, thanks to the world and details that Johnson ably portrays in her narrative. But the story also incorporates a strong—and I should say, at times predominant—romance component, along with political intrigue and a message against war and those who would seek to profit from it. Before I go on, I must say that at times the story felt over-heavy on the romantic side of the ledger. I will stipulate that not being a strong lover of romance-laced stories, my bias may color my impressions.
Tied to this romance—at the causal foundation of it—lies a question of motivation, namely why our protagonist, Petra, and her to-be love interest, Emmerich, join forces in the first place. If like me you’d ... » Read more »
- Review: The Geneva Decision by Seely James
With The Geneva Decision by Seely James, I finally get to review a book in my beloved thriller genre. Though in spots I had some mixed feelings about the story, overall, the author delivers a story lovers of the genre will appreciate. At its heart, this story is also a mystery. Someone is killing people in the banking world, and it appears the murder spree seeks to cover up a conspiracy.
Structured as a fast page turner with lots of action and intrigue, The Geneva Decision takes us through the Pia Sabel’s initial journey as she transitions from a life as an international soccer star to a post at the top of her own international security agency. It is with Pia that this reader found the most enjoyment and also, at times, a mild level of frustration.
On the one hand, given her troubled past and the challenges suddenly thrust upon her, I found her a sympathetic character. She’s no female weakling, either, and I appreciated her assertiveness and fearlessness as she took on threats and difficulties from ... » Read more »
- Review: Elysium by Georgia Cline
Elysium comes to us as Georgia Cline’s debut novel. It falls squarely in the Dystopian, Apocalyptic, YA (Young Adult) genre with Science Fiction sprinkled on top. All right, that’s three genres mashed together, so maybe “squarely” is the wrong word. Let’s say it falls in line with a great deal of popular and successful fiction that incorporates similar patterns. As such, one might ask how it matches up against the likes of Hunger Games and Divergent. Such a comparison would be unfair and miss the point. Elysium stands on its own—even, if it unfortunately shares its title with a number of books and a rather successful motion picture.
What is the story about?
A genetic experiment has gone terribly wrong. In its wake earth is left with two kinds of people, those who succumb to the plague the experiment left in its wake, and those whose bodies carry immunity to the scourge. The latter, when discovered, become enslaved and literally drained of their life-giving blood. This injustice at the core of the moral struggle that drives the story and its characters.
Our protagonist, ... » Read more »
- Review ~ Sanyare, The Last Descendant, by Megan Haskell
After reading Pixie Tamer by Megan Haskell, I dove into her novel, Sanyare: The Last Descendant, with high hopes that Haskell would expand my view of the world she introduced in the shorter prequel. She does not disappoint. Inside a world of elves, pixies, portal travel, and a tentative peace between two powerful realms, Haskell drops her protagonist, Rie, into immediate danger.
Someone tries to assassinate her while she’s delivering a message in the human realm. The reason is, of course, unclear. Who would want to bring her harm and why? She’s nothing but a third class citizen, a mere human allowed to serve as a messenger (a mail woman with limited portal privileges). Fortunately, her ward has trained her with some crazy fighting skills, which she uses to thwart and dispose of the assassins. One problem: they hail from the Shadow realm, and by law, mere contact with her foreign attackers means the death penalty for her back home. She must chase after whoever hired the hit men in hopes that by uncovering the conspiracy, her king will grant ... » Read more »
- Review: Pixie Tamer – Megan Haskell’s Invitation to a New World
If you’ve been following me for a while, you know I don’t talk much about fantasy. I don’t read it much, and I certainly don’t (can’t!) write it. My entire fantasy literature experience sums up in two titles: Lord of the Rings by Tolkien and Fire and Ice by GRR Martin. In reading Megan Haskell‘s Pixie Tamer, I know I have discovered a new favorite.
Written as a prequel to Haskell’s upcoming Sanyare: The Last Descendant, this story, more than a mere introduction, invites us into a world the author has envisioned for her protagonist, Rie, and her not so cute, but ultimately (well, we’ll see in the full novel, I guess) endearing sidekicks–the pixies. I won’t say much about them except, think tiny barracudas with wings.
As one possible demerit, I’ll say the story felt a tad short. I wanted to see more about Rie and her environs, maybe throw up some confetti and beat a piñata, or whatever they do in her Elven world when it’s your birthday. But maybe that’s not such a bad thing. ... » Read more »
- Review: Old Hickory Lane by DL Keur, penned as EJ Reuk
Good stories entertain. Exceptional story-telling transports you to new, unfamiliar worlds and gets you to care for its characters, their struggles inspiring you to overcome your own. If you’re after pure entertainment, Old Hickory Lane may at times disappoint. If you seek a smart, engaging story, you should read DL Keur‘s tale.
Set in Cedar Falls, Idaho, Old Hickory Lane shows us the life a veterinarian prodigy, Warren Jeffreys, as he kick-starts a career specializing in horses, while taking detours to serve other species of farm animals and their owners. Served as a string of tightly connected vignettes, one might note this story lacks a central conflict of the sort we might observe in a TV crime procedural. Missing will be the murder mystery, or the conspiracy to raise doped up, genetically engineer stallions. While some of those elements appear, they remain a sideshow to the real conflict we might miss when looking for simple entertainment.
Warren must grapple with a choice between his dream to become a big time veterinarian in world class horse show circles, or ... » Read more »
- Review: A Good Car by Julia Proud, A Well-drawn Noir Character Study
In this story, we meet Ed Valenti over a card table. There, half-drunk, mostly uninterested with the game and life as he’s living it, he wins an old Model T Ford from a kid with too little sense to know when to fold them. In the midst of a winter that may well reflect the state of his rudderless soul, that Model T takes him on a journey—and not because it runs terribly well—that will turn him into the character of Julia Proud’s novella, A Dead Man.
As such, I recommend you read this substantive short story as a character study. Read it for insight into Ed Valenti the person. If, as I mistakenly did at first, you go in expecting a bit of an investigative romp with some underworld moodiness thrown in, you will come away disappointed. And you will lose a lot of what Ms. Proud offers us in this story, as I almost did. I’m ... » Read more »
- Review of Missing, Assumed Dead, by Marva Dasef
Kameron McBride reluctantly heads out to a far-flung part of Oregon to settle estate affairs for a distant relative. She learns he has been missing for quite some time and is now assumed dead. Hey, that sounds like a great title, doesn’t it? Something like, Missing, Assumed Dead, perhaps…
Without the benefit of a death certificate, much less a body, Kameron will soon suspect that her relative succumbed to foul play. Of what sort and for what reason? Well, that’s what the story is about. Suffice it to say that people in high places have staged a small town cover up that Kameron will have to unravel. The mystery elements in the story develop alongside a romance with Deputy Mitch Caldwell and an ongoing relationship with a deceased woman, who keeps appearing at opportune times to render warning of impending events. Holding mystery, romance and the supernatural in balance is no small undertaking, and the author must at a minimum receive commendation for telling a coherent story that carries that triad.
Marva Dasef keeps the pace peppy and moving. Information gathering, procedural style, ... » Read more »
- Review: ‘The Minus Faction’ by Rick Wayne, flaws don’t diminish a compelling story
Rick Wayne writes with such skill and unassuming ease, his prose is worth the reading if nothing else for the clarity and spark of it. But for two bothersome flaws, the Minus Faction would earn my full five stars.
I was first drawn to Wayne’s story, The Minus Faction, wanting to see how he wrote a novel in serial form (the Novelsode, #NOVELSODE). However, I soon transcended this curiosity to meet a troubled, struggling, broken warrior seeking to put his life back together and figure out whether to make up for his physical shortfalls with a certain skill he’s picked while overseas. This character, John Regent, is by himself worth the price of admission. If you’ve been following that other wounded warrior I’ve been writing about, you will appreciate why I connected with John.
The flaws I mentioned? First a technical nit with regards to in-scene character point of view hopping. Had it happened once, I would have ignored it. But it happens often enough as to merit mention from this student of the writing craft. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, ... » Read more »
- Hipstopia: a Fast-moving Story with Promises for more to Come
Hipstopia by R.A. Desilets tells the tale of a group of disaffected youngsters who under the leadership of a cult-like leader rebelled against the structure of modernity and carved out Los Angeles as their refuge from the world they disdain. There they must “quiet” dissenters who are themselves rising against the order that Murphy, Hipstopia’s leader, has erected.
We see this world though Jay, a head Quieter who becomes increasingly disenchanted with his life. Two key incidents I won’t spoil force him to face a decision that leads to the end of this story – or is it the cliff-hanger leading to the next?
That question expresses the potential difficulty with Hipstopia. If you come into it with expectations of a fully drawn and resolved story, you’re likely to be disappointed in some ways. Desilets structured Hipstopia as novella that is also episode 1 in an ongoing Young Adult fiction saga. As such, the story will at times feel incomplete in two ways: not yet finished and without all the back-story. Personally, this only bothered me marginally as I can look forward to future installments to fill in the missing ... » Read more »
- Dreamlander: a Work of Thought-Provoking Imagination
K.M. Weiland’s Dreamlander launches from a conceptual query: what if our dreams reflect the life we experience in a parallel world? From this question, K.M. Weiland formulates a dynamic story which but for two minor flaws, would get my full five star treatment.
Before I go on to expand on why I loved this story, let’s get the nits out of the way. First, we fall in love with Lael, the parallel world where Chris Redston’s dreams take him. Earth/Chicago, however, can’t quite match up, and when I went there, back from Lael, I had to fight the urge to skip ahead. The action in the “real world” felt pedestrian and at times almost besides the point. Without giving away the ending, that’s especially a problem once we swipe the last few pages. For a second, lesser nit, I’ll note that the story takes several time jumps that come across as evidence of a heavy editor’s hand, keen on removing fat, perhaps to stay under a prescribed word count or in order to enforce a good galloping pace, without smoothing out ... » Read more »