Category Archives: Four Stars

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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The Lethal Legacy

The Lethal Legacy (The Legacy Series Book 3) by [Phelan, JL]

I really like a good mystery. The Lethal Legacy by JL Phelan was just that. I was flipping through pages as fast as I could. That is always my highest praise. The book opens with the discovery of a death on a beach in Costa Rica in 1914. The dead woman is an heir to the Mariani Cacao Company. Her name is Briana Mariani Delaney.

The story then jumps to present day to the interactions between Dr. Samantha Delaney and Karina Mariani Ortiz. They are the current heirs to the Mariani fortune. They do not know each other, but that is about to change as they try to unravel the mysteries surrounding the Mariani family. What starts as a simple curiosity to know more about family history soon becomes something else altogether.

One of the main draws for this book is its varied setting. It goes back and forth between New York City, Philadelphia, Miami, Costa Rica, Geneva, Caracas, Colombia, Paris, and Bordeaux. I found the descriptions of these cities very evocative. The action also moves seamlessly between time periods from 1881 to the present. Because of the skill with which the author moves between time period and characters, the reader never gets a chance to be bored.

Briana is at the heart of the book. She marries John Delaney and has 4 children. Despite the fact that she is a woman in a time when women did not take charge, she ends up largely running the Mariani family empire. As the Mariani family goes through many trials, Briana manages to keep them mostly on track.

Somehow, along the way, the family loses the company. This is the mystery that Samantha and Karina end up trying to solve. Along with the help of Samantha’s husband, Brett, Karina’s husband, Martin, and Karina’s father, Richard, they all become immersed in trying to find out what really happened on that beach so long ago. Nothing is what it seems though. Adding to the intrigue, they find themselves being anonymously threatened as well. Cryptic notes telling them to quit digging are left for them. They find themselves facing very real dangers along the way.

The book is very well written. It flows in a smooth and logical fashion, especially for a book with so many different time periods and locations. The author does an amazing job of keeping it all lively and interesting.

The only negative thing about the book is that, very occasionally, some of the dialogue felt stilted. At times, it seemed a little too formal. That was very rare though. It was very good. Any negatives were far outweighed by the positives. The fact that I could not wait to turn the page to see what was going to happen made this book a very quick read.

The book is also the third book in a series. I had not read the first two before reading this one. Reading The Lethal Legacy had me quickly adding the first two books to my “to read” list. That said, the book reads well on its own and didn’t require reading the first two to enjoy the story.

Pages: 296 | ASIN: B07C2973M1

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A Memory of Solstice

A Memory of Solstice (Dark Ocean Book 1) by [Chandler, Caleb]

A Memory of Solstice by Caleb Chandler opens in the middle of the night in a dark and eerie museum in Washington D.C. James and Billy are the night guards and the night will not be a successful one for them. There are some otherworldly forces at work; intent on retrieving a keystone the museum has in its collection.

This sets the stage for the reader’s introduction to Lincoln, a peculiar workaholic lawyer who lives alone with his three-legged dog, Sadie. All is not what it seems with Lincoln either. A strange man named Wes approaches Lincoln and starts a conversation about biology and genetics and genetic mutations.

Later, Wes approaches Lincoln again to inform him that the company Wes works for has been watching Lincoln for a while. He also tells Lincoln that he knows things about him that make him special. He then proceeds to ask Lincoln if he will help Wes and his company, Xelix, by approaching five more people who are like Lincoln to some degree.

While Lincoln is not happy at this intrusion into his life, he does finally concede and agree to help. He then goes on a journey to collect the others like him: Hannah, a woman who works with flowers and plants: Nathan, a paleontologist: Talon, a police officer: Bennett, a personal trainer for the body and mind: and Micah, a young, petty criminal who has not yet found his way in life.

They all find themselves gathered at Xelix. Nothing is what is seems and things quickly take a turn for the worse. The action really picks up at this point as the reader learns more about each character and different worlds are discovered and explored.

Although the story was a bit hard to understand at times, I think that can be attributed to the fact that there was so much going on. I think the book could benefit from differentiating the characters a bit more. At times, the way they spoke kind of ran together and I had to check to see who was speaking.

With that said, the story was very good. I found myself turning pages quickly to see what might happen next. The action never got boring. Each page brought more surprises and unexpected events. The book kept me entertained. The story felt very ambitious and although the twists occasionally were difficult to follow the author was able to deliver some moments that made me gasp.

I very much enjoyed this book for it’s thought provoking themes and elegant character development. If you like supernatural thrillers, this is the book for you. The story is especially effective when introducing new worlds and unusual characters that were fantastic but still authentic, which reminded me of Jim Butcher’s same ability in the Dresden Files. I was very impressed with the books attention to detail and the way the author painted pictures with words. Get ready for an adventure!

Pages: 503 | ASIN: B07D9WQXKQ

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The Ghost Years

The Ghost Years by [Katsonga, Mutch]

The very personal story of The Ghost Years by Mutch Katsonga will give you a first class seat straight to the heart of hell. And you will thank Katsonga for it. This first-person narrative follows the life of a young man caught up in the life of drugs in detail that is rarely found in literature. Katsonga is pulling no punches in showing us the mind of a junkie in this satisfying novel. While sometimes getting very close to it, The Ghost Years is careful not to put its characters into situations just to prove a point. What it does is allow them, and the reader, to grow as people in this hard-hitting and memorable study of the seedy underbelly of society. Several action scenes and a couple of twists and turns keep the story going to its well-earned conclusion.

I felt that many events that the main character had to endure do often seemed to be laid out just to have him fail. The character of Buzz, for example, with his never-ending optimism and somewhat expected twist revelation does come off as a narrative tool more than a real person. But still, somehow it works, and the story is better for having him in it.

Katsonga’s style of writing could be best described as “tell, don’t show”. I felt that exposition was overused to get us into the mind of the main character. Lines and lines of text are expended on questions about life, death and society. Because of this, I felt like the narrative and the view of the world appeared to be spoon-fed to me.

However, the advantage of this style quickly gets the reader up to speed. We are left with a great understanding of the motivation that drives the story line. The logic that his character follows is consistent and that was Katsonga’s goal all along. Some may not approve of the drug use in the story, just as in life, but we can give his character that one thing he was craving his whole life – understanding.

Previously moot and tired questions about the meaning of life get a whole new context when asked with an empty stomach and the craving for a new “hit”. The Ghost Years will have you asking about the reasons that make you get up in the morning – are you doing it because you are told to do so or because you choose to? How far do you have to drift aimlessly before you decide to take a direction for your life?

The Ghost Years by Mutch Katsonga gives us several clear and memorable lessons about the value of choice, life, drugs and society in this crude but honest and hard-hitting book.

Pages: 179 | ASIN: B079KSFGSS

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Seasons: Once Upon My Innocence

Seasons: Once Upon My Innocence by [Vandygriff, Lea Ann]

The first chapter of Lea Ann Vandygriff’s book, Seasons: Once Upon My Innocence, is entitled “A Quiet Little Town.” That’s exactly what Rhinehart is. Rhinehart is a southern ranching town where everyone knows everyone else and everyone else’s business. It is Mayberry-like and seems picture-perfect until things go a little off the rails. A tornado and a few menacing characters sweep through town wreaking havoc on the townspeople and shaking both their homes and their faith. Especially shaken are the town’s younger citizens who can’t reconcile one question in their young minds. “Why does God let bad things happen to good people?”

Vandygriff takes us through a season of disaster, desperation, hope, and forgiveness within this close-knit community. It seems like every time one thing comes together, something else falls apart. We are introduced to a cast of characters that range from sweet, Godly, and endearing to violent, neglectful, and unstable. Fortunately, there are more former than latter. Most of the book seems to center around 8th grader, Aubree, her brother Randy, and their parents, Clyde and Dolores. A large focus is also placed on a trio of brothers who have been dropped into the lap of their elderly grandmother.

Many parts of the book made me long for a time when neighbors were more than the people we wound up living beside. They were family. They were there at a minute’s notice to help with whatever was needed. Whether it was cleaning up after a tornado, helping an old lady with her groceries, or befriending the new kid with a bad reputation at school, the people of Rhinehart stuck together through it all. Being raised in a small, southern town myself, I found myself identifying with the town and the people. I saw myself and my family in the characters.

Vandygriff weaves a lot of scripture into her writing. Those who have suffered tragedies in the book are directed to the Bible for answers. Every meal in Aubree’s house is blessed. Prayer is always the answer. Church is a big part of the community. Aubree and her middle school friends find it so hard to comprehend why God lets bad things happen. They are always directed to the Bible and particular verses for answers, and reminded that forgiveness is a huge part of being a Christian.

One particular scenario did bother me in the book. Without going into too much detail, a man abused a young girl. There were no consequences for him. He was forgiven with hardly a blink. There was no accountabilty and no amends made, yet he was still allowed to be around the girl and her family as usual. I wouldn’t have been as forgiving. It was explained as the Christian thing to do, but I don’t know if readers will be able to reconcile themselves with this part. I couldn’t.

That being said, there are plenty of breaks thrown in to lessen the weighty themes the book contains. Plenty of comedy is exchanged through family dynamics and middle school friendships and drama. Often, situations in the book start out as tense and serious, but end with characters laughing. This eases the calamities and stress that the characters find themselves in.

There are some parts that are left intentionally unresolved. Some problems reintroduce themselves on the last page of the book. It is left open-ended. It definitely begs for a sequel.

I will say that there were several spelling errors that I think could have been caught with another once-over by an editor. I also had trouble, at times, pinpointing the era it is set in. Party line telephone circuits are mentioned, but other things seem much more modern in the story. Otherwise, the story seemed to flow well. The characters and the messes they find themselves in are interesting. I’d love to see what happens to the townspeople of Rhinehart next!

Pages: 274 | ASIN: B079647HZH

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Dragon Ascendants

Dragon Ascendants (Luminess Legends Book 1) by [Vaughn, Paul E. ]

Imagine if you will for a moment a medieval fantasy drama being brewed in a cauldron: throw in a measure of How to Train Your Dragon, add a dash of Game of Thrones, sprinkle in some of The Hobbit all topped off with a liberal dose of a King Arthurian legend, leave to simmer on a medium heat for few chapters and then you might have replicated Dragon Ascendants by Paul Vaughn.

So let’s get on to the plot, the setting and the highly descriptive cast of characters without creating spoilers for you.

Dragons, shadow-bats, elves, dwarves, bandits, skulduggery, betrayal, magic, fear, treachery, family discord, sibling rivalry, disappointment, parental disapproval, forgiveness, redemption and, lest I forget (although, how could I?) a very good measure of graphic violence – it’s all in there – so what more could I want from a fantasy novel? Perhaps a little romance? If it’s in here I missed it.

The action is all set in a mystical land, named the Luminess, which at first visit seems almost idyllic. That is, until the conflicts of this land are slowly revealed in the following chapters.

In these mountains live the elves, which have been there for centuries happily mining the gems hidden within. Their lives are occasionally interrupted by an assortment of other species, some for good cause some for ill.

Also, as within most fantasy novels, there is a power struggle between the forces of good and evil. From my reading, I felt that we are to consider these two grouping; one under the ‘command’ of the dwarf burrow’s hereditary leader, named Meerkesh, (representing the forces of good) and another under a very angry rogue elf, with unexplained issues, named Fearoc (representing the forces of evil).  Such is the power of the latter, we are led to believe that the world has, or is about to, come to an end for the dwarves.

But I am not totally convinced as to which side is really the good and which that of evil is. In this strange land, where sapphires, ruby stones and diamonds are used as currency and the internal ‘politics’ seems to be driven by greed and ruled by bloodshed. On the one hand we have a population that apparently eats nothing other than apples, whilst the baddie mainly feasts on his conquests, we have quite a lot of axe wielding violence, bloodletting, beheading, dragons blinding by fire and melting of opposite forces during this fight between good and evil. Both sides seem as driven by bloodlust as the other. And this interesting dichotomy lends to some thought provoking reading.

This novel left me begging for more. More answers, more character development, more world building. I want to know! Ah, the mark of a good writer I suppose. I look forward to the next book in Paul Vaughn’s Luminess Legends series.

Pages: 217 | ASIN: B07B8STMY4

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