Category Archives: Four Stars

Zombie Mage

With Zombie Mage Jonathan Drake has moved beyond the tiered story lines of your basic flesh eating zombies and brings a fresh take to the zombie genre. Zombie Mage is the story of Olligh, who is known as a Walker. He is a zombie that can travel the cosmos and transcend time and space. A group of cultists, called the Dark Cloaks, have trapped the Walkers claiming to be helping them find finial death and peace. They enlist Olligh to help them bring back five Walkers that have gone missing in exchange for his and his wife Laura’s final death together and an end to this life as zombies.

I found it difficult in the beginning to understand what was going on. There was a lot of shifting from one location to another as well as change in time periods. Going from ancient times to modern and then into the future. I was thrown off a bit at first because there is not much context given. But the story really starts to pick up after we are introduced to the characters and the order of the Dark Cloaks. This brings the story into focus and kept me flipping pages. I was fully invested in the story once we discover that Olligh is a mage and the possibility of magical zombies or, zombie mages, existed. This was unique to me and is a novel approach to the zombie genre.

Olligh’s one goal is to reunite with his wife Laura who is also a zombie. She wants nothing more than to be with Olligh as well and makes life difficult for the Dark Cloaks on several occasions in her insistence to be reunited with her love. I felt that this was similar to Romeo and Juliet where they want to be together but circumstances keep them apart. It is sweet that they were so dedicated to one another even in death.

Marvin is probably my favorite of the missing Walkers, all that remains of him is a skull, one disconnected eye, and his brain in a jar. This doesn’t stop him from having a great sense of humor and a love of playing practical jokes. His sarcasm adds much needed comic relief to the novel at a time when Olligh is so serious and focused. The novel does a famtastoc job showing Olligh’s internal emotional struggle. I felt that Olligh’s struggle was an example of humanities constant struggle to find balance a balance between good and bad while fulfilling ones own selfish desires. The love story that develops throughout the book is well developed and adds a another romantic layer to what is otherwise a bleak genre.

Zombie Mage by Jonathan Drake is a fresh twist on the zombie genre. It has all the ingredients of a great story and combines them into a tale that is consistently entertaining. Don’t worry, there isn’t too much gore; Drake often uses humor and sarcasm to accent the gruesome parts of the novel. Overall a fantastic new take on the zombie genre.

Pages: 220 | ASIN: B00A4HQM42

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Black Inked Pearl: A Girl’s Quest

Black Inked Pearl: A Girl's Quest

An epic tale spun from erratic thoughts placed into text and delivered to the world. That is the sense that readers will get from Black Inked Pearl A Girl’s Quest by Ruth Finnegan. Our protagonist, Kate, is searching for something. She is on a journey through years and lifetimes as she seeks out this piece that is required to complete her. We see this world through her eyes, her thoughts and her experiences. The tale is epic not only in page count, but in content as well. We know that Kate has lost something, that she is searching for this thing, but we don’t know exactly what it is. We are left with speculation and can only turn the next page to find out if she has achieved her goal. With songs, poetry and influences of dreams long past, this tale is one that is begging to be heard.

The way this book is written, with its dream-like prose and fractured sentences, allows this epic fantasy novel to be told in a stream of consciousness style of writing. The thoughts are thrown at the reader: fast and unforgiving. At first glance, the reader may think that our protagonist, Kate, has simply gone mad and the first chapters are from her point of view. However, the entire book reads that way and, if you are not paying close attention, you may get lost. Readers are quickly taken from scene to scene and thought to thought with barely a lull. Perfect for readers who like to be fully engaged in a story.

The words are very beautiful. The poetry both original and borrowed lends a mystical air to the story. If you view the entire book as a sort of waking-dream, it begins to make sense. This writing style is wonderful for conveying emotions and we can get a better sense of how Kate is feeling as she continues her search. The blending of a warped reality with a warped sense of fantasy lends well to the thought of this being a dream-like state that Kate has found herself in.

A whirlwind of a read is what you’ll find between the covers of Black Inked Pearl A Girl’s Quest by Ruth Finnegan. The mystical sense of the book is intriguing. This is a book recommended to be finished in one sitting as you may find it hard to pull away. The dream-like madness that seems to grip the pages make for an exciting read, but this can also be overwhelming. This may be a book suited to seasoned readers who are looking for a dreamlike story of epic proportions.

Pages: 286 | ASIN: B0158VRF26

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Do A Day

Do a Day: How to Live a Better Life Every Day

Do a Day by Bryan Falchuk is written from the author’s own experience of turning his life around – losing weight and eating healthier. He has turned his method into a general philosophy, which he wants to use to help others with achieving their goals and improving their lives. The book is organized into relatively short chapters, so that it can be read a little each day. In order to help readers who want to leave the book and come back to it, each chapter has a helpful summary at the end.

Do a Day is appreciative of people’s differences and faults – the author doesn’t write as if he expects everyone to live exactly as he does now. He even shares where he went wrong on his journey so the reader can learn from it. These semi-autobiographical sections are one of the strengths of this book, for me.  It added interest and a more human element than lists of instructions.

I felt as if some parts were over-explained, such as the metaphor of the chapter entitled “Before My Dawn”. I enjoyed the humor that I read, but there was too little of it, making the book a little more serious than it otherwise could have been.

The chapter order was well-chosen to guide the reader through the author’s philosophy, and I appreciated the references to scientific studies and other data that lent some credibility to the method, which was otherwise based on anecdotal evidence.

The content of the method itself was not revolutionary, but I felt that in this form it might be more accessible and inspirational to some people who might otherwise not care or not have the opportunity to learn about it. Do a Day felt like an honest account that didn’t promise any quick, or low-effort fixes.

Mainly, the book gives sensible advice. It covers how to apply the described way of thinking to every aspect of daily life – exercise, eating, parenting, work, and getting through a bad day. It’s very thorough, and feels like a natural fit for each.

Overall, it contains useful advice with interesting sections of autobiography and is well-explained and is accessible and inspirational.

Pages: 137 | ASIN: B06W9L9NDT

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Entrancement: The Consciousness of Dreaming, Music and the World

Entrancement: The Consciousness of Dreaming, Music and the World

If you’ve ever wondered where your mind goes in those moments when you’re not quite awake or when you’ve been staring out the window for just a tad too long, you will find some clues to an answer in Ruth Finnegan’s Entrancement. This collection of essays from educated professionals will expose you to different viewpoints on the topics of dreaming, trancing and the collective unconscious. Fashioned the same way a textbook might be, readers will gain insight into various hypotheses on what happens to our minds when we enter these states. Exploring the world from a slight occultist view, readers are privy to personal stories from professionals in the field of the social sciences who have backed up their personal experiences with data and sources. Investigate how music and dreaming contribute to artistic expression; identify your own personal cues and what might draw you into a trance.

Finnegan begins with her own personal experience with trancing. During her sections at the beginning and the end of the book she uses language that is friendly for non-academic readers. The same can be said for all of those who have contributed to this piece. By using common language, Finnegan has opened up the potentials for her audience. Anyone who is interested in this topic will find useful information within its pages.

There are some typos in the book which were distracting in such a highly educated piece. But the errors are few and can be easily forgotten. The presentation of the book leaves a little to be desired. The table of contents could use some formatting and the pages between essays could have been laid out better. These are all minor things, but they impact the reader experience.

It is interesting to read a collection of essays on a somewhat supernatural topic that is rife with research. For someone who is studying psychology or the other social sciences, Entrancement by Ruth Finnegan would be an excellent resource piece to read. The abilities of the mind have been studied for decades and we are no closer to unraveling the secrets now than we were in the beginning. If you’re a beginner doing preliminary readings or research on this topic, you will find this book useful. The content is not only useful, but the suggested readings in the back open up a whole library of future readings. For those who hunger for more information, who want to explore this world and our place in it, this is a delightful bonus.

Pages: 288 | ASIN: B06XVD9WKM

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Hatching Charlie: A Psychotherapist’s Tale

Hatching Charlie: A Psychotherapist's Tale

Charles Creath McCormack’s book Hatching Charlie: A Psychotherapist’s Tale is quite a book: a frank autobiography centered around the theme of the pursuit of happiness and a meaningful life, from a man who has sat both on and beside the psychotherapy couch; or as the author himself describes it, “a story of the follies and wisdom’s of the human condition”. Mr. McCormack is fully aware of both the theories and the realities of mental health, although the book contains no technical language at all. It’s an accessible account covering every stage of his life, from his youngest years into his partial retirement. Not to give too much away, but as the imagery of the title implies, his tale starts in darkness, and concludes with a breakthrough, with all the usual human drama of a life lived fully.

I found the style of writing very interesting; it perhaps relates to his experience as a psychotherapist. He makes use of imagery, not frequently, but when he does it’s usually a long, in-depth passage. Thankfully they don’t feel convoluted, because they exemplify his points well.

The imagery adds well to the overall narrative, which is compelling. If I’d had more time, I’d probably have read it in one sitting. Although the author references forward and back to events distant by dozens of years and pages, I was never left feeling confused or lost, so it was neatly accomplished. There was a clear sense of reflection as to what the reader may be thinking, and at points it almost felt like I was part of a conversation. However, I thought that near the end the narrative became a little unfocused, with some unnecessary repetition and description of his family that doesn’t always feel directly related to his main subject – his state of mind.

I want to describe it as a generous story, because I was given extremely honest details about Mr. McCormack’s life that many would have found embarrassing to tell. But he hides no faults or uncomfortable thoughts, and constantly admits when he was wrong. In one chapter the author relates the unfortunate stories of some of his patients. In this way, the book truly covers the full gamut of human experience – warmth, love, friendship, loneliness, unhappiness, violence, despair: life and death.

Despite the author’s wishes that we might take responsibility for our happiness, his book is not a manual for how to obtain it. Observant readers might pluck helpful wisdom from its pages, but this isn’t written as advice – just as he says he does with his patients, he places no obligation on us to try it.

Overall, I would recommend this to any adult reader who is willing to confront life’s uncomfortable truths and those who enjoy a fly-on-the-wall tale of other’s joys and sorrows. I enjoyed trip.

Pages: 373 | ASIN: B06XFG5G3M

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The Seasons of a Giant

The Seasons of a Giant

The Seasons of a Giant by Pamela Hartley is a fun read! We follow Isabel LaDuke, known as Izzy, as she tries to discover who or rather “what” is stealing her family’s cows. A young girl with no real talents or skills unless you count her courageous heart. She eventually finds her quarry, but then soon is transported to the home of Behemorphs, giant shape-shifters, and their world Skyworld, which rests above the clouds. For Izzy to find her way home, she will have to team up with the monster she hunted. Her disappearance intensifies a conflict between her people, the Groundlings, and the Behemorphs, which will mean she may have to make a fateful choice…

With 250 pages, one would think this would be your average children’s novel, but I was pleasantly surprised. A fun twist on Jack and the Beanstalk, Izzy is a fun take on the heroine trope, although I may have enjoyed it more if she was more self-actualizing then what occurred in the story itself. I think the courage that Izzy embodies is brilliant and an excellent message to children. I think the “journey of self-discovery” is a classic tale to come up again and again and is given fresh legs by Hartley’s narrative.

The classic turn of “foe turned friend” is great because it allows Izzy to then reflect upon herself and evaluate her own strengths and weaknesses. The character, Boone, is great because he is everything she is not. She is small and weak with too few real skills. A Behemorph, he is larger than life and has his own magical abilities of shape-shifting. The juxtaposition is almost too pointed, but Hartley saves this with humor and keeping the story pace brisk and fast for even the most anxious reader.

Hartley’s prose reads well and both her voice as the author and the voice of her characters come through. Izzy is a great heroine to follow and I hope there’s another story on the way with her being the lead character again. There is something very relatable with a character who is not talented and instead has to rely on what she has on the “inside”. Again I believe that sort of theme and message is perfect for children and adults.

Overall, the pacing was spot on. The ending was unexpected, but well developed. I believe that Hartley has a gift for story, especially when telling children’s stories. The world she has built was fun and enjoyable and overall it will make a great read for anyone looking for an entertaining weekend read.

Pages: 250 | ASIN: B06XSN4JG3

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In Between… Life

In Between... Life: Selected Poems

In Between… Life by Luiz Valério de Paula Trindade is a collection of 30 of the Brazilian poet’s English-language works. Each poem is headed by a full-page, colour photograph that is related to the topic of the poem, showcasing the poet’s other loves of photography and travel. In the introduction, he states that his vision for the collection was to capture a range of human emotional experience in the most apt words possible, but without making the poetry feel inaccessible and distant. It’s supposed to feel like a conversation with a friend.

I loved the idea behind this collection, of sharing poetry as widely as possible. I can certainly imagine philosophising about some of the topics late into the night with a friend. Unfortunately, in places this aim detracted from the poetry itself, leading to the telling-rather-than-showing, shallow exploration of Human Dignity, or some of the repetitive, clichéd references to an unapproachable woman in impenetrable armour.

In other places, though, there was evocative imagery that I instantly related to; Turning the Page is a mature description of unrequited love, and it’s expressed as a rounded story. Many of my favourite poems appeared in the latter half of the collection, and most had this same characteristic. The well-chosen order of the lines and stanzas of You Don’t Know allowed me to travel with the main character as their feelings developed, and the ending felt like the cliffhanger in a novel – I wanted to find out what happened next!

Love is a common theme, but I felt as though more aspects of it could have been covered besides the romantic one – Especially For You was a notable exception.  Within the romantic poems, Today stood out for me, written with a beautiful simplicity that was still deeply imbued with meaning. The repetition of similar phrases has a strength of several other poems. How combines this with descriptive imagery which really got me feeling its frustration! The rhythm adds to this nicely, but I thought the ending of it was a little awkward. I put this down to the occasional, unnatural syntax. I can imagine that in the poet’s native Portuguese these phrases would flow smoothly.

The last two poems I want to mention are Why I Write and Words. As a writer, their content resonated with me, and I think their description of the process and the importance of writing could help people who have different creative outlets to understand why I spend so much time doing it!

Overall, I believe the collection did cover a range of aspects of the human experience, and although it didn’t work for all of them, the poems that did benefit from the simple phrasing were very effective in bringing the emotions alive for me.

Pages: 94 | ISBN: 154303988X

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The Testimony of a Villain

Testimony of a Villain: A Raw, Dark, True Crime Thriller by [Harrell, Aaron G.]

The Testimony of a Villain by Aaron Harrell is a dark, slick ride into the gritty alleys of the inner city. The book is not your typical crime thriller but one with a social lens that can only be given substance by one who has lived it. The reader follows Manuel Doggett, a boy who lost everything to be formed by the streets and remade in its’ dark image. He is out for retribution not redemption when an opportunity arises to have his vengeance on one of the murderers of his family.

Harrell provides a fresh and new take to the “true crime” thriller. His style is so firmly set in the bitingly grime reality of the inner city that the reader could even give this novel a new sub-genre of socio-economic thriller. The new threads do not stop there either, because the plot of the book itself is almost like a hero’s journey in reverse. Manuel is the classic anti-hero and one that does not once look to the audience for sympathy. Instead, there is only apathy towards almost everything, except towards the memories of his past.

The weaving of the inner city struggle and the complex inner life of Manuel makes this novel a stand out for readers of not only crime thrillers, but also those who wish to delve into the dark, broken mind of a man walking the line between light and shadow. The writing is fraught with graphic images of both violence and sex and is not for the weak-hearted.

I found myself enjoying the book from the start, because of the quick and realistic dialogue and the meta conversation about corruption, justice and social strata. There are a lot of binaries at play here, between the poor and wealthy, justice and injustice, and morality and immorality. Harrell does a fantastic job with surveying these issues, touching on them just enough without becoming too explicit. I can only guess at what Harrell’s personal experience has been with the inner city, but I very much appreciated the taste of authenticity that he lends to the narrative.

I find Manuel to be a compelling character. Most readers may find something akin to the backstory of Batman here, but there is a real human struggle that Harrell puts on display often.

Overall, I do believe that The Testimony of a Villain stands up to the best the crime thriller genre has to offer. It makes for a pleasurable read for any fans of such novels!

Pages; 489 | ASIN: B06XG6FYVH

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Girl Unseen

Girl Unseen (Beyond The Grave, #3)

Athena Daniel’s Girl Unseen is a paranormal suspense novel that will have you hanging on to every word.

Pia Williams is a gifted medium who works for a television series, Debunking Reality. Girl Unseen begins when Pia and her crew are asked to investigate possible paranormal activity in a family’s home. While they record footage for the show, a spirit of an angry young girl appears to Pia. In a fit of rage, the entity kills a man. Pia is taken into custody and held for questioning by a detective who has no patience for things unseen. Looking for help she calls ex-Special Forces detective Nate Ryder. With Nate and the Debunking Reality crew by her side, Pia sets out to uncover the terrible truth of what happened at the old lighthouse keeper’s cottage.

Girl Unseen is the third installment of Daniel’s Beyond the Grave series and a fantastic addition at that. The novel offers suspense, twists, action, and romance – everything a story needs to make it impossible to put down.

In the first chapter, we meet the Debunking Reality crew and witness a murder. I was instantly sucked into the story by such a riveting beginning! I immediately wanted finish the novel so I could find out what happened! Each page kept me wanting to read more as Pia uncovered more and more about Sarah’s past and death.

The plot of Girl Unseen kept me guessing the entire time. The majority of the novel is from Pia’s point of view, so we only know what she knows. As she tried to solve Sarah’s mystery, I tried to guess along with her, but was surprised every time. Occasionally, Daniel switched to Nate’s point of view to give us another perspective. This helped me immerse myself in the story, because I was seeing characters and situations through different eyes.

Daniel’s characters are well-developed! They seemed like real-life people you could meet anywhere. Every character had a defined personality, and their actions reflected that.

There were very few things about Girl Unseen that I did not like. I do think that it could have been longer. It was a quick read with great ideas and intense action scenes, but I think more detail and depth would add more to the story. Also, I was a little annoyed about how frequently Pia’s resistance toward relationships was brought up. I understand why Daniel mentioned it – Pia’s trust issues were vital to the romantic tension – but I think there was a different way to create the same effect. It seemed like Daniel kept repeating the same thing, which made it more redundant rather than helping you understand Pia better.

I thoroughly enjoyed following Pia and her crew. Girl Unseen is the perfect book for someone looking for a quick read with lots of suspense.

Pages: 274 | ASIN: B071Z1RMZ1

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Protector of Thristas

Protector of Thristas: A Lisen of Solsta Novel

Hart St. Martin takes us back to the lands of Garla and Thristas in Protector of Thristas, a novel that takes place fifteen years after the tumultuous One Day War. Rinli is the daughter of Korin and Lisen, and due to a prophecy created at her birth, she’s destined to be the Protector of the desert land of Thristas. While trying to guide Rinli on her path to becoming Protector, Lisen is faced with something far more challenging than ever before: she must do everything in her power to gain her teenage daughter’s long-lost sense of trust.

After becoming so invested in the Lisen of Solsta trilogy, I was thrilled to grab a copy of Protector of Thristas. There’s nothing I enjoy more than watching a fantasy world evolve over generations. Lisen and Korin have three children – Rinli, Nasera, and Insenlo – but Rinli is the only one who has a prophecy that she must fulfill.

Through highly emotional moments in the novel, the story definitely emulates how exhausting it is for the whole family when they are all separated. The story jumps between Avaret (the city where Lisen rules as Empir of Garla) and Thristas, where Rinli is required to stay for periods of time. The two lands have a very tense relationship, which forced Lisen to designate Rinli as the Protector of Thristas in an attempt to resolve these issues. As a result, Rinli and Korin must travel between the two lands several times a year.

As a sucker for romantic subplots, I loved seeing how fifteen years of marriage has impacted Korin and Lisen – due to the constant traveling on Korin’s end, they’ve grown even closer than they were in the first trilogy. Their bond even causes Korin to develop psychic-like powers, where he can sense when something bad is happening to Lisen or Rinli.

One of my favorite things about this novel is how Rinli has Lisen’s stubbornness and Korin’s perceptiveness, and her development throughout the novel kept the story captivating and fun. Something that separates her from her mother is that Rinli has an affinity for the desert land of Thristas, and her loyalty to Thristas is compounded by her close relationship with Madlen, her most trusted companion. She is especially resistant to the idea that she has her mother’s magic abilities, and this gets her into trouble at a few points in the novel.

Themes of forgiveness and trust pop up throughout the novel, highlighting the tense mother-daughter relationship between Lisen and Rinli. Hart weaves this tension throughout the entire plot, bringing the reader closer to these characters. Lisen can’t forgive herself for sentencing Rinli to her fate as the Protector of Thristas, while Rinli struggles to trust her mother. When Rinli discovers she may need her mother’s wisdom in order to understand her responsibility as a Protector, the two begin to develop a relationship.

Protector of Thristas is an emotional rollercoaster, to say the least, and it’s a breath of fresh air in a sea full of action-forward fantasy novels. As entrenched in fantasy as it is, this novel does a beautiful job of capturing raw human emotions of happiness, anger, sadness, anxiety, and fear, especially when dealing with challenging mother-daughter relationships and the connections between a parent and a child. The cliffhanger ending left me feeling some of those emotions myself, and I can’t wait to see if Hart will continue sharing more adventures from this world.

Pages: 452 | ASIN: B01E7NYLRI

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