Category Archives: Four Stars

H.A.L.F. Origins

H.A.L.F.: ORIGINS (H.A.L.F., #3)

H.A.L.F Origins written by Natalie Wright is the third book in the H.A.L.F series. This book will please fans of the series, which is aimed at young adults. It takes a look at the characters that fans know and love, Tex, Erika and Jack Wilson. Tex and Erika are on their own adventures, running for their lives against the deadly alien virus that is spawning an epidemic around the globe. As well as predators attacking Europe and an organization whose conspiring to profit from chaos and forge a New World Order. It seems like these two have their hands full.

Tex and Erika need help from a Navajo healer when Tex falls gravely ill  The healer is their only chance at helping Tex live. Thankfully, Tex emerges from the experience with vital information which will help stop the predatory M’Uktah from overtaking the human population. Sounds crazy, hey! Very intense.

I really enjoyed that this book had a pronunciation and definition guide at the start of the book otherwise I would’ve had trouble keeping up with whose who.

Another thing I really enjoyed was the sweet acknowledgment at the start of the book, as many acknowledgments are at the back and I didn’t realize that she had written so many words (300,000 to be exact).

The story is really fast paced and throws you immediately into the deep end of the action. The writing is really clever and immerses the reader immediately into the world of the characters. You can really tell that the author has crafted these characters with care, as they’re all very different and have a different tone. I’ve noticed with some of the other books that I’ve read, authors tend to just reuse personality traits, but that was not the case with this book at all.

With The Makers and predatory creatures who want to enslave the human race, I found this book to be very enjoyable and action-packed. It was very sweet to read Erika and Tex’s budding romance, as he’s half-human and she’s into someone else. That was relatable as hell, I mean, apart from the fact he’s half human. These two broke my heart again and again. Why did they make everything so complicated!?

The complexity of the characters within this story is what kept me on the edge of my seat. Although I generally like it when characters are undoubtedly good or bad, it’s refreshing for me to read characters that aren’t always like this. This was the case with the main characters within this book, as you learn more and more about them as time goes on.

I really enjoyed this book. Is it the last one in the series? I hope not.

Pages: 377 | ASIN: B07263P84J

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A Dangerous Discovery

A Dangerous Discovery

A Dangerous Discovery by Zachary Brock is a thrilling book about two men, Ace and Zeke. Ace had rough beginnings as he grew up on the streets of Latin America and had to do things as a child that no one should have to do. However, there was a chance encounter that completely changed his life and he is now reaping the rewards.

Together with his best friend and mentor Zeke, they run an international corporation, constantly enjoying the perks of wealth, social standing and luxurious travel. A new buyout of a company in Peru should run as normal, except this specific company has a secret that the Vatican will kill to protect.

Sounds awesome, hey! It sucked me right in. I love conspiracy theories about things like this and reading this book just feeds my obsession even more. It was a page turner simply because I was hooked on the Vatican stopping at nothing to protect this secret from coming out. You eventually discover why they stop at nothing and oh boy, is it a big secret.

There are two stories going on throughout the entire book but they eventually come together in the end, so it all works out. It was initially hard for me to keep track of at some stages, but that’s probably because I was reading it so quickly. I would have appreciated a clearer break between the two storylines. I think it would have been better if one chapter focused on one storyline and then switched in the next chapter. Which would help me keep track of the story while I was furiously tearing through pages.

I enjoyed the banter between Zeke and Ace. I found it funny, especially considering that the first chapter immediately throws you into a conversation where Zeke is anxious about ‘doing a sixty-nine’ with a girl he’s on a date with. He doesn’t even know what it means but that doesn’t stop Ace from being in hysterics. Reading the banter between the two of them was like hanging out with my own friends, it was easy to read and funny most of the time. You could clearly read the bond between them, which is a sign of great writing by Brock.

The story gets dark at points, which gives the book a good contrast to the comedic banter. I really enjoyed reading this book. I hope there’s a second one. I’m giving it a 4 out of 5 stars for the clever banter and conspiracy theory that the Vatican runs the world and will stop at nothing to protect itself.

Pages: 280 | ASIN: B06XQ4ZB83

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Same Inside, Different Outside

Same Inside, Different Outside

In order to eliminate discrimination and promote inclusion, we need to start with our children. They are the future of this world and if they can learn to love and accept each other regardless of what they look like or act like, then the world will be richer for it. Deborah Hunt takes this idea and uses it in her children’s book Same Inside Different Outside. It’s a lovely short story accompanied by equally wonderful pictures to help bring the message home. The colors are bright and the lines are soft. The story takes place in a school setting which readers should be able to connect with. This makes the message more relevant and easy to understand. It’s a clever way to deliver a sometimes difficult message to such a young audience.

The representation of a medical professional as a woman and the teacher as a man is a nice and subtle way of breaking down gendered stereotypes when it comes to careers. In traditional books teachers are women and any medical or science-related job is played by a man. In a book about acceptance, this is a key idea to get across. The children in the book are aware of their differences from each other, which is a normal discovery at their age. The doctor who is presenting to the children in the book is kind and patient with them as she goes over the parts of our bodies under our skin. As they move through the lesson the children voice their concerns and are answered honestly. This is key for the story because it also teaches readers that it is okay to ask questions and you will receive an appropriate response.

I felt like the children had a vocabulary and an understanding of body parts that were a little beyond kindergarten. But this is a minor concern that does not impact the integrity of the message.

Deborah Hunt is able to deliver a sometimes difficult message with ease in Same Inside Different Outside. The illustrations are very nice and pleasing to look at. The content isn’t difficult to understand and the message is clear and easy to digest without being muddled. Children and adults alike will find that the message this book sends is one we have been trying to share for a long time.

Pages: 32 | ISBN: 1945175702

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Max

MaxMax, by Tom Donaldson, is the story of one exceptional little boy and the tumultuous turns his life takes beginning at the tender age of eight. Sheldon, declared a genius and allowed to skip several grades, experiences multiple losses and trials as he tackles high school, college, and the challenges of adulthood all while striving to become a world champion chess player. Sheldon and his parents become acquainted with Max, an exceptional dog in his own right, and are oblivious to the fact that Max will play a vital role in changing the lives of countless people over the coming years.

As I read the first few chapters, I was sure I had Donaldson’s story pegged. I believed the story line involving Max would turn out to be a minor one, as for several chapters, Max seems an aside to Charlie’s backstory and Sheldon’s budding friendship with the older man. Donaldson manages, however, to incorporate some touching and surprising plot twists with the parallel plots involving Max, Charlie’s long-lost savior, and Sheldon himself.

I was fairly certain the author had taken a wrong turn about halfway through the story by eliminating some vital characters. As, I continued to read, however, the pieces fell neatly together. I was more than pleased with the way in which Donaldson has tied Max together with the primary players as well as the late entries into the falling action.

Charlie’s history and the attitude of the neighborhood busybodies make for a wonderful plot line. I was able to immediately visualize Charlie as an almost reclusive sort of man hidden away not by his choice but by the biases and exaggerated fears of his neighbors. Donaldson had me rooting for Charlie from the first mention of the accusations leveled against him. The author has drawn some clearly defined lines between Charlie and the intrusive welcoming committee.

Sheldon’s mother, Maryann, reacts in much the same way any parent would upon learning of Sheldon’s friendship with the very real Charlie. Maryann is a highly relatable character and offers readers the opportunity to both sympathize and empathize with her struggle to overcome the obstacles bombarding her as a newly single mother of a highly intelligent and driven young boy.

I didn’t want to fall in love with Sheldon, Charlie, or Max, but I most certainly did. Donaldson has a knack for hitting sentimental nerves and playing upon the emotions. Sheldon, Charlie, and Max are unforgettable characters.

Max was a quick read that begged to be finished in one sitting and offers plenty of thoughtful scenarios that spark the desire to reread. Overall, it is a thoughtful, emotional journey I would recommend to any reader.

Pages: 182 | ASIN: B06XWFGZMQ

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The Biggest Little Crime in the World

The Biggest Little Crime In The World

The Biggest Little Crime in the World is the third book in the popular Ham McAllister Series and follows the lives of two LA Homicide detectives turned private eyes.

Once Ham walks his partner down the aisle to her famous love of her life, shots ring out and Russ Porter is shot. It’s rumoured that Porter has been shot and killed by an assassin with another unknown casualty at the scene. The duo go on the hunt to uncover the monster that did this and end up with a lot more than they bargained for. The duo uncover a crime that is quickly dubbed ‘the biggest little crime in the world’.

I enjoyed this book. It was fast paced, immediately threw you into the action and kept the suspense building from the first shot to the last chapter. This book kept me on the edge of my seat right until the very end.

I really enjoyed Drew Thorton as a character. I am a fan of strong female leads and that’s exactly what Thorton is within this book. She is multifaceted but also vulnerable and her character gets more dynamic as the duo go on a quest for revenge. When the revenge finally happens, I got chills.

However, the banter is a bit much to deal with at times between the duo. While reading this book, it felt like there was too much dialogue between characters that could’ve been explained in a sentence or two of descriptive writing. 

The descriptive language in this book is something I truly enjoyed. The author has a varied vocabulary and this comes across in a few choice sentences, such as ‘lights and siren its fateful companion’ when describing an ambulance speeding away. I’ve never heard it be explained like that before and it was refreshing to read fresh prose.

The relationship between Ham and his son Dylan is very sweet as well. Although it’s not at the forefront of the book, it’s a nice reminder every now and again and the dialogue between the pair is nice to read. It was a welcome break from the fast paced nature of the book.

As I am not very informed about the lives of private detectives, this was a very interesting read. I keep forgetting that the world isn’t as black and white as I think it is so when Ham bribes a hotel manager in order to get access to some video tapes, I was shocked and yet reminded that this is what happens in the real world. Therefore, it is clear that Kroetch does a good job of immersing the reader while informing them of a world they might not know about. 

Pages: 241 | ASIN: B0741PZ8SB

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Lockheed Elite

Lockheed Elite

Tyler Wandschneider’s Lockheed Elite is a thoroughly enjoyable sci-fi crime adventure akin to an episode of Firefly than anything else. We jump between the perspectives of a cast of intergalactic anti-heroes as they dance on the edge of the law, caught between the authoritarian Galactic Command and the ruthless criminal underbelly of the galaxy. The plot is spiced up with more than a few twists and thoroughly human and flawed characters that keep you engaged right up until the end. If you’re a fan of the science fiction genre, you won’t go wrong with picking up this book.

I think the word that really summarizes Lockheed Elite is: competent. The writing doesn’t sparkle off the page; it’s straightforward in its delivery. There’s a certain relief to not having to dig through layers of purple prose to find any kind of enjoyable story. It’s an easy read, especially if you’re already au fait with the science fiction genre.

The writing was absorbing precisely because it was easy to digest. I found myself chewing through ten to twenty pages at a time before I even realised it. If the goal of a writer is to engage the reader, then Tyler Wandschneider has certainly achieved it.

This is not to say the writing is flawless; it occasionally struggles with articulating emotions. Characters will pontificate on the stakes or over-explain themselves, even at points where the tension and pacing should be amping up. The effect is something of a stumbling block in some of the most exciting scenes, as we read through one character or another describing how and why they feel a certain way.

The book develops it’s characters slowly throughout the novel, letting them build into complex characters towards the end of the novel. Although characters don’t feel like they have their own voices in the beginning, it feels more real towards the end of the book.

Lockheed Elite is engaging, and it kept me reading all the way through to the end. Despite my above quibbles, I really did enjoy it. I think Wandschneider has done a great job in writing a solid, exciting book. I only wish that it perhaps had a bit of a stronger start and I think this would be a stellar example of a science fiction genre piece.

Pages: 416 | ASIN: B073VHM3QG

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Lockheed Elite

Lockheed Elite

Tyler Wandschneider’s Lockheed Elite is a thoroughly enjoyable soft sci-fi crime adventure – more akin to an episode of Firefly than anything else. We jump between the perspectives of a cast of intergalactic anti-heroes as they dance on the edge of the law, caught between the authoritarian Galactic Command and the ruthless criminal underbelly of the galaxy. A predictable plot is spiced up with more than a few twists and thoroughly human, flawed characters that keep you engaged right up until the end. If you’re a fan of the science fiction genre, you won’t go wrong with picking up this book.

I think the word that really summarises Lockheed Elite is: competent. The writing doesn’t sparkle off the page; it’s straightforward in its delivery. But straightforward isn’t a negative word in this context. There’s a certain relief to not having to dig through layers of purple prose to find any kind of enjoyable story. It’s an easy read, especially if you’re already au fait with the science fiction genre.

The writing was absorbing precisely because it was easy to digest. I found myself chewing through ten to twenty pages at a time before I even realised it. If the goal of a writer is to engage the reader, then Tyler Wandschneider has certainly achieved it.

This is not to say the writing is flawless; it’s occasionally hamfisted in its delivery, especially when trying to describe emotions. Characters will pontificate on the stakes or over-explain themselves, even at points where the tension – and thus the pacing – should be amping up. The effect is something of a stumbling block in some of the most exciting scenes, as we have to sit through one character or another describing how and why they feel a certain way. The characters, too, can feel generic. As with all genre fiction, a certain amount of archetypal cliché is to be expected, but it’s important to expand on those clichés too. The book takes too long to flesh those characters out, leaving many of them feeling like empty slates until it’s too late.

But I complain about these small things because I truly enjoyed this book and I see so much potential. It’s engaging and it kept me reading all the way through to the end. I think Wandschneider has done a great job in writing a solid, exciting book. This is a stellar example of a sci-fi genre piece.

Pages: 416 | ASIN: B073VHM3QG

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Steel, Blood & Fire

Steel, Blood & Fire

Dark, gritty, and altogether brutal, Steel, Blood and Fire is an archetypal dark fantasy novel. In the first chapter, one of the main character’s hands and feet are amputated, and the story continues in similar fashion from there onward. The setting is fantasy grounded in muddy reality, although there is a vein of consequential magic that adds a little sorcery to this otherwise swords-based world. If you’re familiar with Game of Thrones then you’re familiar with Allen Betchelder’s style; multiple character perspectives, inter-weaved story lines, and a healthy dose of murder. It’s a fantastic modern-style medieval fantasy, and a definite read for any fan of the genre.

When I began Steel, Blood and Fire, my first thought was, “Wow, this is a lot like Game of Thrones.” Then I began to think, “Or is it more of a Witcher book?” As I continued through the novel, I began to decide it was a blend of both. By the end, I thought that perhaps it was its own thing.

The book isn’t afraid to touch on the brutal. In fact, it seems to revel in it. Blood flows freely; rape is the buzzword of the day. It’s a mature novel for sure although it doesn’t quite cross the line, but regularly toes it. A lesser author would have toppled their novel over into prurient pulp.

The writing is well-executed, with the author’s own voice clearly shining through. There is one trap that Allen Betchelder tends to fall into, and that’s the ‘fear of said’. Every other sentence seems to find a new synonym – characters question, murmur, mutter, bellow, but words are never just ‘said’. It’s awkward to read, and tends to draw you out of conversations that should flow naturally.

In any perspective-hopping plot, characters are one of the most important factors. Fortunately, Steel, Blood and Fire features a strong and memorable, if slightly generic, cast. They come off as slightly one-dimensional, particularly towards the start of the novel, and the inclusion of a comedy group of village bumpkins – who of course meet with terrible fates – struck me as being an attempt at generating some frisson with the grim background. Other than those minor niggles, the diversity and depth of the cast begins to truly shine through around the midway point; from here onward they become much more than the sum of their parts.

Despite my above criticisms, I really did enjoy the story, and it quickly became engaging only a few pages in. If you’re a fan of the genre, particularly Game of Thrones-esque fantasy, you’ll certainly enjoy Betchelder’s offering.

Pages: 548 | ASIN: B00AW53RMQ

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The One Eyed Pug

The One Eyed Pug

It’s important to share messages of acceptance with children, but it can be difficult if you don’t take into consideration their level of understanding. What a child can understand is vastly different than an adult. The One Eyed Pug by Deborah Hunt is a cute little story about a pug puppy that has a slightly difficult life waiting for her. She has to go through the anxiety of being separated from her birth parents and then living with a stranger. While she does her best to adapt to her new life, change is right around the corner as her ‘mother’ ends up being unable to care for her and gives her to another family. Our little pug now has to deal with the uncertainty of a new home with new people without understanding why she was given up in the first place. Things seem to start going better for our pug until the introduction of a new friend and the terrible accident that follows close behind.

Using animals as a way to deliver important messages and teach important lessons to children is something that is not easily done, but delivered well in this story. Children seem to be able to listen carefully and understand difficult lessons when taught through an animal that can speak. Hunt uses the story of the pug to show children that change is not always bad. She also teaches them that while bad things may happen, there are good outcomes as well. Our pug has only lived for a short time yet she’s met with various changes and has to face the anxiety of the unknown each time. This story can also teach children compassion. Compassion for those who are different than us and compassion for those who are struggling.

There are several drawings throughout the book which can give the readers a nice interruption to the waves of text. It is important to keep children engaged as well as entertained. The drawings give more information on what the characters look like which helps the readers connect more to the story. The language in the story is very easy for new readers to understand. While this isn’t a first step book, it is definitely suitable for a child who has experience reading books with little pictures. The language might be too young for older readers, even though the message it sends is positive.

Deborah Hunt takes us on a trip to learn compassion and acceptance with The One Eyed Pug. This tale allows children to connect their own feelings of anxiety and uncertainty with things like change to the life of the protagonist, the little pug. It also allows children to see that dogs and other pets have feelings as well, even if we can’t always understand what they’re trying to tell us. Even when our little pug goes through a life changing situation, she comes out strong because she has the support of those who love her around her. This is an important thing for children to understand as well: we are all stronger thanks to the people who support us. This would be a great book for any avid young reader.

Pages: 80 | ISBN: 1945175788

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JACS

J A C S

A BOOK OF SHORT STORIES
GEORGE J. MARDO

JACS places people in hard or surprising situations and challenges the reader to accept when the characters do not follow a traditional arc. George Mardo writes in such a way that seeks to subvert the easy plot points and story lines most readers have been familiar with in most recent years. Typical of a short story collection JACS contains a variety of stories.

The first story, Jackpot, follows two older men who have a racehorse bestowed on them. The catch is that the horse has never entered a race and both men play the part but are surprised to find themselves happy when things do not go their way. The next is, Amy, where the reader follows a girl who has strange dreams and holds onto them. The story really gets underway when she tells her grandfather about them and he confesses to having the same dreams. Candera is a hard story to read, since it follows a nun that was sent to the Congo and her tribulations of being captured by terrorists, raped, and becoming pregnant. When forced to try, and send the child away to be adopted, Sister Candera refuses. The last, Sorrow Has No Opposite, is more of a short, fictional biography that follows a Iraqi boy named Boutros Suffady, who undergoes a horrific tragedy and eventually finds happiness in life that he thought he lost.

Mardo has a talent for needling into a character’s perspective and teasing out what emotional heart strings should be pulled for the reader. These stories on their face may sound overwrought or framed in such a way to be emotionally manipulative, as it would be usually expected but Mardo avoids this with clear heartfelt authenticity. If nothing else, the author captures the “slices of life” that some may take particular pleasure in.

Some of the stories tend to be stronger than others and that will depend on the reader who wishes to give this collection a chance. The stories would be considered more literary based on the more character focused stories and lack of any real genre conventions. These small narratives are not adrenaline bouncing thrillers, nor are they dark and mysterious mysteries or horrors. What these stories do capture is the grounded reality that all of us abide in and these experiences all these characters’ share are to enlarge our scope.

JACS is recommended to more mature readers who are seeking different experiences on the page. The stories provide a unique lens that the reader only dons for a short time but will be left wondering long after reaching the end.

GOODREADS | AMAZON

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