Category Archives: Book Reviews

Slay the Dragon

Slay the Dragon is an action-packed mystery about a man named Cesar Rosada. He is descended from a line of coffee farmers, a former professional athlete and now a rising politician with a single goal; to help the working class of his country. He is determined to fight for the rights of his people but there is one crisis he can not see a way out of, the opioid addiction. Working as the minister of finance he will stop at nothing to fight against corruption. This leaves him with a choice that will test his own morality.

This book was written by author Laura A. Zubulake who worked for years on Wall Street and is a frequent world traveler. She has written non-fiction before, but Slay the Dragon is her debut fiction novel. The prologue got my attention from the very beginning and is an engaging start to an intriguing novel that hits on a subject that is destroying families and individuals in America. Slay the Dragon does a fantastic job of using fiction to understand a complex problem, and helps you visualize the enormity of the opioid crisis today. I enjoyed how the world unfolds slowly, detail by detail, we get to piece together a seedy world reminiscent of the show Narcos. César’s character development reminds me of George R.R. Martin’s characters. They are characters changed, dramatically, by circumstances out of their control, and they’re just trying to adapt.

This story is exciting, dangerous, thrilling, and full of adventure. Cesar is the kind of character you can’t help but root for with his pure ideals and determination to help those around him. When his actions enter a moral gray area you can empathize. How do you find such entrenched corruption? Zubulake has written a world that feels real in its gritty depictions of South American politics.

From beginning to end this book held my attention and kept me guessing. This is definitely the book for you if you like political thrillers that leave you thinking long after you’ve closed the book.

Pages: 289 | ASIN: B07BH2VMNQ

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River’s Child

When Mavin Cedarstrom heads to the Svalbard Seed Vault for another day on the job, he can’t possibly imagine the turn his life is about to take. His former life gathering seeds as an assistant to his favorite professor pales in comparison to the life he leads working in the exclusive and formidable vault housing samples of every seed variety in the world. Mavin’s job helping to protect and preserve the future of the planet’s primary food source leads him on a journey like no other when he awakens to find himself in what he soon learns is the future–the distant future.

Right out of the gate, Mark Daniel Seiler introduces readers to an intriguing set of circumstances. He wastes no time in keeping his audience guessing as to both time and place. The opening pages of River’s Child reveal a scene with an amalgamation of characters with varied backgrounds. It isn’t until Mavin reaches the vault itself that the reader is treated to the splendors of technological advancements. Seiler springs this futuristic setting on his readers in a wonderful contrast with the opening bar scene.

Reading River’s Child is akin to reading three different books, but it works well. Mavin’s time working in the vault and the tragedy that befalls him when he reports to work that fateful fall day are a far cry from the way he is found and worlds apart from the scene that greets him when he is pulled from beneath Earth’s surface. Once he and his rescuer/guide, Simone Kita, make the year-long trek to civilization, the story takes on a completely different feel which somehow also makes sense. To say that Mavin has taken a step into the past would not be wrong, nor would it be wrong to say he is almost light years in the future upon being pulled from the remains of the vault. Seiler presents for readers a picture of an Earth recreated after its destruction and, somehow, simultaneously archaic and advanced.

Seiler’s choice to make males subservient and females revered in the new world is both refreshing and entertaining. Simone, a strong woman in many ways, teaches Mavin the proper way to show respect and how to remain demure in his foreign surroundings. The author has pulled from multiple cultures to create the portrait of a lesser sex in this futuristic world which blends ancient customs with the discovery and mastery of unique and highly developed talents. Simone’s amazing ability to control space and time is superhero-like and takes the reader as much by surprise as it does Mavin the first time she tries to discreetly display it.

Seiler offers readers a picture of  what is essentially a post-apocalyptic world that is different from any I have read. He takes readers on a journey that begins and ends with the soul survivor of a catastrophic event and allows them to watch as he struggles to find his place among those who now inhabit Earth. Seiler peppers his writing with the perfect amount of suspense and humor as he weaves this unforgettable tale.

Pages: 312 | ISBN: 1947003399

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Expectations: The Real World Behind the Curtain of Time

Expectations: The Real World Behind the Curtain of Time by [Sarah K-N]

Expectations: The Real World Behind the Curtains of Time by Sarah K-N is a Christian fantasy novel. Sarah spins a riveting, well written story of two brothers caught in an ancient battle of light and darkness. There is magic and ancient curses, angels, demons and other popular staples of Christian faith sharing a page with intriguing secret societies. Expectations uses the Christian faith to give us a story that is fun to read while not being preachy.

The novel opens up with an ancient tale of jealousy, locusts, an ancient pact and it just gets better after that. Ace Cadman, the main protagonist of the story, must battle the occult secret society and somehow stay alive in a world where angels and demons pop up on almost every page. But the main attraction of this book is the style that Sarah K-N carries to the very last page. Characters have motives that make sense and do not contradict the actions that took place just half a page ago. Expectations: The Real World Behind the Curtains of Time masterfully handles exposition, dialogue is lively, and Sarah K-N describes the world in just enough detail before having her characters take over the story.

Especially interesting is the way Sarah handles the divine characters – these beings feel older than time even though she spent only several sentences on their description. Their archaicness is an asset, not a flaw, in telling the story. For example, an angel with a flaming sword is a character that is very much out of place in the modern world but Expectations uses this to its advantage. Simply put, angles are supposed to be out of place in our world and when they do show up, just like their malevolent demonic cousins, they add weight to the situation that other characters find themselves in.

Perhaps the hardest thing that Sarah K-N had to do to make the story work is to bring the spirit of the Old Testament on to her pages. And she did it masterfully. This is not the world where angels and demons walk the Earth fulfilling some shallow, New Age tripe task. These angels and demons are forces beyond our comprehension, spirits of old, just like they were thousands of years ago to our ancestors. Angels are fulfilling the commands of their Lord and demons will shower mortals with impossible gifts and power but will snatch your soul the first chance they get.

The conflict between good and evil is masterfully done. You start to understand, even from the first pages, why someone would give their soul to evil. Their decisions, doomed as they are, make sense in the given moment and you will find yourself asking if you would make the same choice if put through the same tests.

This page turner is one of the most riveting reads you will ever find, no matter if you are a person of faith or not. The story, a classic tale of good vs evil, will keep you going for hours and will not disappoint.

Pages: 424 | ASIN: B0794LRWPN

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Voice of a Crimson Angel Part II: Poison (Reverence Book 6)

Voice of a Crimson Angel Part II: Poison (Reverence Book 6) by [Landeros, Joshua]

Joshua Landeros is at it again with a sequel to his prequel series with Voice of the Crimson Angel Part II: Poison. Julissa Marconi is ready to take on the ultimate villain, Chancellor Venloran. All that stands between the United Nation Republic and Mexico is the rebels, who seek to resist the tyrannical influence of the more powerful country. This struggle will not end cleanly as Venloran deploys his cyborg soldiers, which leaves Julissa questioning if she can really stop this assault. She may have to become what she fights.

And once again Landeros hits it out of the park with this novel and there is a maturing of his prose in a way that should greatly satisfy his readers. Poison centers around the conflict, or rather, Expansion, that the United Nation Republic is forcing upon Mexico. There is a resonance here with the current events of immigration and Mexico with the US, which does not make this seem like an accident on Landeros’ part. The engagement not only of the struggle of soldiers, but of entire populaces, bumps up the stakes of what has been up until now, a waltz down memory lane to contextualize his main Reverence series.

This installment breathes new air into the series and gives the prequel series more weight going forward. In some ways the look at the national conflict tends to make the conflict become too political and the characters are lost in the back and forth, but it eventually re-centers and the story becomes an intimate tale about identity and duty.

The style of Landeros is largely unchanged aside from his deeper engagement with thematic elements helping his subtle prose along. Robert Heinlein would be proud as would Atwood with his struggle to both dignify the society he has created, and draw parallels from our world to the world of Reverence. For the science fiction reader, there may be more thriller, political drama than one is used to, but we can always count on Landeros to bring the fight to us.

In the grander scheme of his series and world building, Posion begins to show the end game that will follow, since the Expansion is only a piece to Venloran’s ongoing long game. We all know the players who are involved at this point and it’s really just seeing it all unravel. Truly, a pulse-pounding thrilling read.

Pages: 226 | ASIN: B07BNTQRTJ

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The Matriarch Matrix

The Matriarch Matrix by [Trencavel, Maxime]

Buried deep within families from all walks of life around the world lies a secret. This secret is beyond the comprehension of most humans and would more than likely be rejected by the rest. Zara and Peter, two strangers with more in common than either is willing to admit, are united under the unique and all-powerful leadership of Alexander Murometz. When Zara and Peter are forced together in an effort to save mankind, the two learn much more about each other’s culture, their own weaknesses, and the value of their strengths than they would ever have believed possible. The Matriarch Matrix, by Maxime Trencavel, is the intricately woven story of our history and, to some degree, our doomed future.

The Matriarch Matrix is a unique blend of genres. Within its covers, Trencavel has managed to pull together a rich blend of historical accuracies and centuries of speculation regarding ancient alien invasions of the Earth. Furthermore, the author details each and every aspect of the characters’ religious and cultural restrictions and requirements. What makes Trencavel’s interpretation of events so different is an added layer of incredibly intuitive technological advancements juxtaposed with a glimpse into 9500 BCE. Alternating the settings and weaving the two eras together throughout the storyline, Trencavel manages to gradually explain the impact of a centuries-old affliction.

Of the various connected settings and storylines, I have to say that Zara’s kept me the most intrigued. The horrors she has endured to become a woman who is again true to her roots and a follower of her faith have left her hardened but at the same time caring and receptive to the feelings of those around her. She has built a wall around her that not many can penetrate and, when they are able, she becomes their biggest ally. Zara is a memorable character and one who is easily visualized.

The Matriarch Matrix is written in the present tense, and this choice by the author creates an especially engaging reading experience. I am a fan of the use of present tense, and Trencavel has chosen wisely here. The depth to which the characters are related and the constant shifts in time and place could lead readers down some confusing roads. The use of present tense throughout the story ties characters and eras together almost flawlessly.

As well-written as Trencavel’s work is and as intricately woven and engaging as the plot itself is, I did struggle with one particular facet of the story line. Those afflicted with sleeplessness and the burden of message-bearing dreams/nightmares must be comforted into a frame of mind which makes it easier for them to share their recollections. In order to communicate these messages, the afflicted must rely on heavy stimulation of the senses and sexual contact. The fact that this sexual stimulation was made such a vital role in recalling repressed memories temporarily changed the direction of the book from one chapter to the next. I saw the rapes and scenes of sexual slavery as a bit overdone. Much of the plot centers around this domination by oversexed beings, and the sexual overtones permeate the book.

Readers with open minds seeking mysteries steeped in culture and yearning for a complicated but readable plot will be drawn to Trencavel’s Zara and Peter and the intensity surrounding the immense task that lies before them.

Pages: 530 | ASIN: B075R2DD4Y

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Where Wildfires Glow

Where Wildfires Glow by [Katsonga, Mutch]

Discovering a young boy living in the wilderness would be an unexpected shock for anyone, just as it was for a local state trooper, but no one could have predicted the chilling truth that finding the boy would unearth. It’s this unexpected fact that evil thrives in, often striking in situations where we least expect it.

Mutch Katsonga’s latest book, Where Wildfires Glow, unexpectedly made me challenge my own personal view of the good and evil in the world. The introduction poses a series of deep, philosophical questions for the reader that I often found myself reflecting upon as I read the novel. I was skeptical at first as to whether the story would furnish me with the answers to these questions, particularly, considering that I deemed the start of the book to be slow. However, what I did not realize is that Katsonga was just setting up what was to come through his in depth descriptions of the landscape and natural world, and I found myself reliving these romantic descriptions during the climatic end. The child’s two contrasting encounters with the harsh wilderness are beautiful metaphors for the detrimental and damaging effects that abuse can have on a person.

The way in which Katsonga has narrated the story and not given the boy a identity means that as a reader, I struggled to form a connection with the character, regardless of the overwhelming compassion I felt. Whilst I thought that this made the story feel a bit empty at the beginning, I realised that this perfectly reflects the sense of detachment that evil inflicts on its’ victims. The writing is a bit unpolished with slight typos and grammatical errors which probably could have been avoided with thorough proofreading. Unfortunately the obvious mistakes often pulled my attention from the story, which was a shame at crucial moments, but this was definitely not to the point where I lost complete focus or the book was no longer enjoyable. Additionally, as the protagonist of the book is a young child, I felt that some of the words the used are too mature which I felt detracted from the authenticity.

However, the poignant moral behind the story is that evil can make us lose sight of who we are and taints our view of right and wrong. When we allow it into our lives, it will inevitably envelop us; our vision becomes tunnelled and focuses only on the negative. The cycle of abuse is unrelenting and will just keep going, manifesting in each generation, until something breaks it. Katsonga teaches us that evil cannot be fought with evil, and it is only the power of light and the power of good that can break the cycle. I believe that this book will challenge that way that every reader views negativity and the power that it can have on an individual and those around them. It made me more conscious about how my actions can affect others, and has encouraged me to make sure that I always give off a positive energy.

Pages: 160 | ASIN: B07CCJTGDB

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Damaged

Damaged by [Green, C. K.]

Kiera Blake is a girl running from her painful past in Damaged by C.K. Green. It has been eight years since she suffered an attack that left her paralyzed with fear and afraid to actually live her life. She survives by controlling her environment and not allowing many people to get too close. She basically has her job and one real friend, Anna. Her anxiety and panic attacks keep her from truly connecting with anyone though. Then, along comes Ethan Parker, someone she knows from the past. This unexpected turn of events sends Kiera spiraling out of control and frantically trying to suppress her feelings about the past.

At the begging of the story Kiera seems a bit shallow. She struggles with the trauma from her past but she is still focused on her looks, clothing and makeup. She was a character I couldn’t relate to, but I could empathize with. The writing at the beginning of the book seemed a bit forced and awkward. I noticed several places where it seemed like the the wording was changed but the superfluous words remained. But as the story progressed the writing became much more relaxed which helped it flow better. The last half of the book was a much more fluid and enjoyable read.

Ethan Parker’s character was more relatable to me. He was the police officer who found Kiera after her attack and is still haunted by it. I felt like the connection these two had because of it was haunting but deep. He went to high school with her so they have history together, with each secretly having a crush on the other. He started his own security business and relocates to Nashville because of the music scene and the need for personal security there.

Kiera and Ethan reconnect while out dancing and their chemistry is natural and explosive. From there, a deep love story develops. Some of the wording seemed a little cliché to me. There was a lot of “staring deeply into souls.” Despite that, as the story develops, I started to root for them, empathize with them, and (here’s a twist) I was able to relate to Kiera. It is clear they fit together in a natural and easy way. It’s one of the stories that makes you want to shout at them, “But you belong together!”, before you realize you’re shouting at a book.

Considering that this is Green’s first book, I think the few grammatical issues are minor and could be fixed in subsequent books. Also, Kiera’s personality grew on me as the book progressed. Despite not liking her at first, I found myself looking forward to seeing what happens to her in the second book. Plus, the last half of the book really did have me flipping pages quickly to see what was going to happen. This book takes a few chapters to grow on you, but when it does it’s impossible to tear yourself away.

Pages: 298 | ASIN: B079LZW642

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Stranded on Thin Ice

Sharon CassanoLochman’s Stranded on Thin Ice takes readers through a day-long class on Murphy’s Law. Anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Pre-teens Tanner and Richie quickly became fast friends on the day of an ice fishing derby. Tanner had bad luck at last year’s competition, but now has his eyes set on a brand new prize 4-wheeler and a fishing hut. Richie, a little less starry-eyed, is sort of dragged along for the ride with his uncle, at least at first. Reminiscent of John Reynolds Gardiner’s Little Willy of Stone Fox, the boys are thrown into a winter competition against big, burly, sometimes ornery grown men. They are met with one obstacle after another as they brace themselves against both the competition and the frigid, unforgiving weather conditions.

We meet loveable 12-year-old Tanner Phillips as he’s pushing his way through a mob of bearded, smoky-smelling men at Popper’s Bait Shop in an all-but-failed attempt to buy minnows. Tanner gets passed over time and time again as he juts his money out at Dom, the store owner. Tanner feels invisible to everyone over the age of 13. He feels overlooked by his father, the bait shop patrons, Dom, and basically everyone else in the world. He doesn’t feel like a little kid anymore, but he knows everyone else still sees him that way. He also feels that he is a failure in the eyes of his father. He made a pretty big mistake at last year’s ice fishing derby by letting a fishing pole get yanked down through the ice by a fish. He paid for it by staring into an ice hole empty-handed for the entire day, and still has not lived it down. He desperately wants to redeem himself and gain the approval of his father by winning the grand prize for the derby, a new 4-wheeler and a new fishing hut.

Tanner meets Richie Donald as he decides to just help himself to the minnow tanks. Richie is a tall, skinny boy in ill-fitting clothing. Not only are his clothes ill-fitting, but they are not a match for the frigid day he’s about to face. He is accompanied by a hateful uncle who doesn’t really want him around, but has been forced to spend time with him. He seems like he really needs a friend, and is lucky to have found Tanner.

It isn’t long before Tanner’s Dad has to leave Lake Oneida, leaving Tanner to set up the fishing hut and get started on his own. This is the first time Tanner will have to prove himself on derby day. It won’t be the last. Almost instantly, “whatever can go wrong” starts going wrong. Richie isn’t much help through most of the day’s obstacles, but they still work together to meet them head on. Together they face menacing competitors, an unrelenting winter storm, a fight against the possibility of frostbite, and of course, getting stranded on thin ice.

This fast-paced tale of determination, friendship, and redemption is great for readers of all ages. I cheered Tanner and Richie on from the edge of my seat as I watched them navigate through their horrific day. I also hoped for the redemption of some of the more menacing characters. Sharon CassanoLochman did not disappoint in either area. Comic relief provided by the boys’ dialogue keeps things from getting too heavy. The story is written brilliantly, and keeps interest piqued until the very end. I did not want to put it down.

Pages: 170 | ASIN: B07732BKVM

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Upon Broken Wings

Upon Broken Wings by [Reedy, E.L., Wade, A.M.]

Upon Broken Wings by E.L. Reedy and A. M. Wade is not a light read, but it is a read worth your time. This dark, cathartic story is a unique meld of many genres; coming of age, gay positivity, and family all interwoven with religious flavor, life after death, angels and demons. Reedy takes us on a journey through a small, overly conservative community all the way to Purgatory in a way that makes sense. If the story has any weak points it can all be forgiven by the enthralling premise of the novel.

The story follows several boys at the verge of of adulthood; Andrew, who suffers from Aspergers, and Keenan, a brave gay boy who is coming to terms with his identity. A series of unfortunate events will lead to a gruesome assault that will require all the strength of their family and friends, dead or alive, to help them resolve.

Upon Broken Wings avoids obvious descriptions of the worst that the characters have to go through but the indication is enough to leave me seething and demanding justice. Add to it is the slow burn of sadness, loneliness and isolation that the characters feel, all the misfortune and all the lost chances add up to a dark and emotionally heavy reading experience. Reedy takes us through mud so we could feel all the anguish that made his characters behave the way they do. So when he finally, mercifully, starts to get us into a somewhat better place we feel like we earned it.

His characters are the best part of the story. They feel like real people and their motivations seem genuine, even when they are no longer among the living. And that’s a tall order with all the elements or death, gay identity and angels in it.

I felt that the dialogue was disjointed and the characters, especially young Casey, sometimes feel like intentional Mary Sues. Casey, Keenan’s brother, is a boy wise beyond his years and can also see angels. We are never given a reason for this ability. It serves the story and paints an emotional picture but I felt that it lacks depth. Similarly, Andrew’s Asperger is important for the story but we never see how it affects him in his day to day life. We are told but we are not really shown the consequences of living on a spectrum. I think this would have helped flesh out the characters.

The angels give a distinct New Age vibe. Their shallow philosophy of forgiveness and understanding along with healing crystals and other cliches works well because angels should behave like that, which gives this coming-of-age and coming-out story interesting and unexpected religious undertones. Upon Broken Wings is not a perfect story. But it is an interesting and original endeavor in this day and age that is. A rare novel, certainly worth your time.

Pages: 199 | ASIN: B07BZXWNBJ

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Red and Blue: A Reimagined Fairy Tale

Red and Blue: A Reimagined Fairy Tale by [Dubriel, Jolie]

Jolie Dubriel’s Red and Blue is a fascinating, re-imagined tale that combines both classic fairy tales and nursery rhymes with many twists and turns. Dubriel takes old favorite characters and story lines you knew, loved, and memorized during your childhood story times and weaves them together as one beautiful story of secrecy, heartbreak, and the power of love. Obstacles and setbacks are sprinkled in along the way on the journey from once upon a time to happily ever after. Nostalgic characters Little Red Riding Hood and Little Boy Blue are now grown-up characters who play the lead parts. Humpty Dumpty, Old King Cole, and other classic figures also pepper this amazingly creative compilation.

Like any classic fairy tale, this book is not without tragedy. As is par for the course, there are separations of young children from parents and premature deaths of parental figures. There are hearts broken and healed. Red and Blue are coming of age characters who are growing up, discovering who they are, who they want to be, and who they begin to have feelings for. Stories from the past surface that throw wrenches in plans and change life trajectories. The story is full of conflicts and characters trying to solve them. The dynamic as old as time, good vs. evil, is also prevalent in parts of the story.

I love a good anthropomorphic animal or inanimate object, and those characters seen in the Kingdom of Rhyme do not disappoint in this area. Animals and objects are personified throughout the story. Fish, salamanders, cats, and dogs walk around in suits as servants and guards in King Cole’s castle. A dish runs and talks with a spoon through the forest. A cow jumps over the moon. These are the kinds of things that a nostalgic childhood reader will love. The half human/half animal or object cast of characters are reminiscent of those kinds of splits found in The Wizard of Oz, Beauty and the Beast, The Sword in the Stone, and Bedknobs and Broomsticks.

I like the twist that Red’s story takes regarding her relationship with wolves. Red and her grandmother have their classic encounter with the Big Bad Wolf, and miraculously survive. Later, her loving stepfather gifts her with a little wolf pup that grows to be her best friend and companion. It’s refreshing to see the girl have the upper hand over a wolf in one of these tales.

What classic tale would be complete without magic? The ultimate symbol of magic in this story is Little Boy Blue’s golden horn. He is unaware of its power, but has been cautioned to keep it with him always. Blue has grown up with the horn strapped to his back while working on a farm. It is only later that Blue will discover his true identity and the power that the horn truly holds.

I really enjoyed how Dubriel took so many classic and loved stories and characters and wove them together into one cohesive story. It is truly a feel-good kind of read. It is a love story that keeps its innocence. There is some tragedy and conflict, but I think it’s appropriate for pretty much anyone. Middle schoolers through adults will enjoy this book. Jolie Dubriel may have written a “new classic” with this book.

Pages: 192 | ASIN: B079WCF5ZF

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