Category Archives: Four Stars
When live-action-role-playing adventure goes horribly wrong it’s up to our battered group to save the day! Dale, his girlfriend Jane, sister Katie and friend Gavin are off on a LARPing adventure. Dale isn’t used to this style of play and is finding himself wishing it was bit more interesting. One must be careful what they wish for in The Barrow of the Damned by Jonathan J. Drake. After a few days enacting their scenes the group is presented with a special module by Mr. Stephens, their coordinator. He leads them to a barrow where they will go to combat with other friends in an orcs-versus-adventurers play. They’ve even got a game master to keep them in line. All seems to be great, until the group steps foot in the creepy crypt for the first time. It’s dark, foreign and crawling with things that go bump in the night. Will they survive? Where are they, exactly? Finally, who is the one pulling the strings behind this adventure? Be careful what you wish for.
The story begins with a shock as a young man meets his end inside the barrow. This poor fellow will play an important role in the tale to come so it’s a good idea to remember him. The story isn’t too long with short chapters that serve to change up the perspective now and then. We get a good glimpse at what is going on from the viewpoints of all involved. There is a lot of blood and gore in this story, so if that’s not for you it would be wise to steer clear. Those who like a fantasy-adventure tale with a bit of horror will find this tale is right up their alley. The story appears to take place in the United Kingdom, although definitive places are never mentioned. Based on the terminology the characters use and the way they speak it is assumed that is where our tale unfolds.
While the story is relatively entertaining with shadows of J.R.R. Tolkien and some black humour dabbled about, the overall execution could use some polishing. There are grammatical errors and strange capitalization on words that pop up here and there which detract from the overall story. There are some key elements that aren’t explained very well that can leave readers with more questions than answers after completing the journey. Questions like, why are the Fates, who have origins in Greek mythology, in some barrow in what appears to be rural England? How did they get there? How long have they been there? From what we read, it seems like they have been there for a while, trying to steal something from a spirit who was created by the gods. With a name like O’Fleistus it’s assumed this spirit would be of English origins, but it’s not really explained. We get a bit of an explanation, but it could have been fleshed out much more instead of being revealed in fleeting conversation.
A little bit of blood and horror can dress up any LARPing event. What began as fun and games quickly turns into mayhem in The Barrow of the Damned by Jonathan J. Drake. This book has some very good potential if it had been fleshed out a bit more. There is opportunity to expand and explain more of the black-humoured story found on these pages. Aside from these minor drawbacks, it’s a fun and quick read. This tale is quite gruesome for the faint of heart. If that’s your cup of tea, you can’t go wrong venturing into this Barrow of the Damned.
Pages: 263 | ASIN: B00B79MVZA
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Globes Disease by Lance Keeble is an edge of your seat thriller! We follow Jodi and several of her friends as they deal with an affliction affecting all of them. Their small town is under siege by a Vampire, who hunts those with such an affliction and government agencies promising them a cure. This strange mix of individuals must come together if they hope to survive. They will not only have to fight for each other, but fight to keep their humanity in the process.
I did not know what to expect going into this book. The cover art was interesting, as was the title, but once the story got going I was more mystified by what genre this novel fits into. It’s not quite science fiction, even with the disease device. It does not feel paranormal with the vampire and lycanthropy. Even with the suspense/thriller elements thrown in, they alongside with all the other speculative fiction elements do not define the book entirely. For the indiscriminate genre reader, this book is for sure a treat, because it plays with all the familiar conventions found in those respective genres.
From page to page, Keeble’s prose is electric. The characters jump off the page with each thought and action that they conduct. And to some degree, I felt like I knew these characters at one point in my life, because of the breath that Keeble can breathe into them. I was amazed. Some of the names had me scoff, like the characters, Quake and Ano, but as time went on the names kind of went with them and felt natural.
All in all, the pages read very easy and the reader shouldn’t be surprised when they find themselves twenty pages in after a blink. The pacing Keeble maintains is one that I admired, since it lends to the novel’s suspense and thriller architecture. And it is not only that, but the mystery that exists within the early pages of the book, because as the reader you want to know how all these various characters get swept up into this awful mess.
There were some hang ups for me as a reader, mainly along the lines of how many points of view Keeble chose to follow. It makes the chapters very short and it can ready almost choppy at times, since we are jumping from head to head. This flaw is only saved by how well written his characters are.
The final verdict is this: if you are looking for an interesting and pulse-pounding read than I would recommend this book. If you are searching for a book that defies genre convention and definition than this is the book you are looking for. If you desire a book with a fun case of characters bound in a common mission and goal, when the world is so divided, then this is the book for you. If any of those reasons apply to you then I would very much recommend this book.
Pages: 353 | ASIN: B01F0D0GVY
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Another Summer, written by Sue Lilley, tells the story of Evie and Joe, a married couple who have hit a rocky patch after uncovering lies and secrets within their marriage. Evie escapes to Cliff Cottage, a house left by her grandmother to do some soul searching whilst Joe stumbles through the countryside in an effort to find her. Old and new romances will be sparked as the couple reflect on their marriage and the twists and turns of their relationship. Will they reignite their old romance or will the lies and deceit be the final straw for Evie and Joe?
Another Summer begins with an awkward phone call that will change the marriage of Joe and Evie forever. Evie manages her grief through running away whilst her husband, dressed in expensive Hugo Boss attire, drowns his sorrows in a bar contemplating his next move. Prepare for a rollercoaster of emotions as Joe decides to chase after the leading lady of his life.
Summer flings, beach shacks and indie bands will come together for a teasing storyline that at times is hot and heavy with its seductive characters. Though the plot is steamy, the pace of the book is a little slow at times. I believe this was intentionally done to drive the readers to develop a burning desire to learn more. Another Summer questions the integrity of relationships and whether you would return to a partner after deceit. Many of us perceive relationships to be black and white, however, this love story opens the door to the possibility that love may be a grey area instead.
Sue Lilley’s ability to bring the characters to life left me feeling genuinely concerned for the fate of each character and their relationships. Even the small roles of the story had their own individual plot that I quickly became invested in. One of the characters, Lisa, is a lost and lonely teenager, desperate for answers and acceptance of a male figure in her life. Even though she seems like a lost cause, the reader will be inclined to fall for her sweet demeanour as she tackles her own demons alongside the ride with Joe.
The dreamy Jake will enter Evie’s life at a time where she feels the most vulnerable. With his boyish good looks and charming personality, it’s hard not to find yourself hoping he ends up whisking her away on a much deserved romantic holiday! But just like all of us, Jake is only human and has his own flaws and nuances to match.
I enjoyed how the story paralleled real life with places in the present sparking memories of the past for Evie and Joe. The flashbacks into the past will remind the reader of their own teenage romances and the hormonal dramas that came with first kisses, parties and summer romances.
I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys a romantic novel that questions whether relationships have the strength to survive the test of time. Does time heal old wounds? Should Evie return to Joe? Only time will tell.
Pages: 215 | ASIN: B00R9S9TFI
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False Gods is a classic tale of angels and demons with a modern twist. Following his adoptive father’s untimely death, young Cormac is inducted as the Seventh Sentinel. Under archangel Michael’s celestial watch, Cormac acquires a team of quick witted, and often-times humorous, powerful beings. Sworn to protect mankind and his loyal sentinels from the ever-impending threat of demons and evil forces, he is thrust into the steep learning curve of what it means to serve his Lord. Cormac must now confront not only his worst nightmares, but the missing pieces of his past as well.
In the first few pages of False Gods, I felt much like what I imagine Cormac did in his first few days as the Seventh Sentinel; confused and unprepared. It felt as if I had been dropped into the halfway point of a dense novel. At first, it drove me crazy. I couldn’t keep characters straight, and between the jumble of formal language and modern day jargon it took me a while to surmise this was taking place in present day. Not to mention Cormac and his team are traipsing all over the globe to the point where I had to drag out a map. Albeit, I started to enjoy the confusion. As small pieces came into focus I quickly became fully invested in Cormac’s journey.
Cormac, young and freshly out of being sworn in as the Seventh Sentinel, quickly realizes that his life is now filled with danger at every turn. He acquires a team of powerful individuals, each with their own strengths. The reader watches as Cormac stumbles through his first few weeks of this new position under the watch of mighty angels. Like any hero’s journey, he is given a quest, one that will lead Cormac and his team all over the world in search of artifacts. That is, unless demons get to them first.
This book was so poignant and filled with emotion that it left me wanting a bit more at times. False Gods is on the razor’s of emotional drama and a non-stop celestial action with faint notes of romance and intimacy.
The writing is skillfully crafted around Cormac and he comes to life right in front of you, his disposition immediately so infectious in a way that makes you wish you could be one of his paladins. The loyalty of his team and his emotional confrontation with his past grips you harder with each page. The quiet and intimate moments between characters, such as Noelle and Connor, or Cormac and Rachel, are visceral and evocative. Cormac’s team of gifted paladins are a bit hard to keep straight, the descriptions come to light very quickly in the beginning and are easily lost as the story becomes more involved. However, their personalities start to differ, and by the time the book comes to a close I found myself touched by each individual’s support for their Seventh Sentinel and clinging to Cormac’s unwavering determination.
Pages: 312 | ASIN: B01B7FMFDG
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Upon entering the book, The University of Corporeal and Ethereal Studies, the reader is immediately greeted with an acceptance letter. Wolfgang Edwards uses this as a sort of introductory to foreshadow what is to come: you are literally stepping out of our own reality and into this new one and this letter serves to summarize that. What follows is the collections and stories of various students and characters who attend this university. Set in a fictional, sometimes bizarre, universe, Edwards explores various facets of the supernatural, blending fantasy with characters who have very human traits.
I think an interesting way to categorize this book is like taking Harry Potter to the next level. You sort of get that feel because of the setting that it’s in. It’s not magic per say, but exploring otherworldly things, some of which I was unfamiliar with before learning about it. So that’s really the closest way to describe it, although it goes far beyond that. I learned a lot because certain things piqued my interest which I honestly have never heard about before. The book is intriguing and I became more interested the more I read. One such example was a chapter titled ‘The Oneironaut’ which is based off a concept called oneironautics. I learned that this is the concept of lucid dreaming, or being able to control your dream, whether it is trying to wake up from a dream or make something happen within the dream.
The actual story is divided up into a number of different perspectives from each character. Some had more relatable stories and more developed characters than others; some were truly fantastic. It reads like a dark adventure of disconnected people that the author is able to draw together for a bigger purpose – much bigger, and much more dangerous. Throughout the various chapters, we learn of different schools within the University, from which the different characters attend. There’s the School of Coin, School of Metallurgy, School of Engineering, etc. Each school is headed by a dean; and one sticks out in particular. Dean Merkea – an unpleasant man with an ugly, tattered demon dog who even urinates on a character’s shoe at one point. My favorite chapter, Prisoner from Beyond, ties together Dean Merkea, a curator, and unravels the launch of a very unique exhibit at a museum.
Despite its setting, the author manages to piece together a few solid pieces of insight every so often that can be just as intriguing as the story. One such example was of Arakatzeko, a character who can be related to someone like Socrates today: deceased, but full of wisdom. As Araktzeko is studied, we learn alongside the characters: “the true rulers of the royal palace were the cats, who were said to live through every change in royal families without incident”. Such tangible reliefs are welcome and help humanize an otherwise crazy setting.
As the book progresses, you get a feeling it’s heading towards something – just not sure what. The unique stories of each of the characters has surely got something for everybody, admittedly some more than others. It is guaranteed to stay fresh and new until the very end, which may leave you wishing that the author could’ve just kept going.
Pages: 720 | ASIN: B01MUAKPM3
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Dining and Driving with Cats – Alice Unplugged by Pat Paterson tells the story of Patterson and his wife, Alice, driving from the Mexican border to Atlanta, Georgia, with their two cats, Munchie and Tuffy. Along the way they use the opportunity to sample as much as they can from their pre-researched food-stops. The book will take you on a journey as they try countless dishes, meet unexpected people and attempt to tame their two beloved cats – who, there is no doubt, are definitely in charge.
While reading the book, Pat and Alice’s Honda Fit feels somewhat like home – you can almost feel yourself squished into the back with the two cats roaming around, as the two of them drive to their next destination. The tone is always kept light, making this an easy read and giving the reader a sense of comfort. While there are many descriptions of the food they eat and the antics of their two cats, the real theme in this novel is storytelling.
Patterson’s goal is to use their long trek to Georgia to tell stories along the way. The stories of the people they meet are interesting to a point, but you do find yourself feeling slightly removed as there is no real tie to them.
The best stories told are the ones about Pat and Alice; how they met and eventually fell in love. Not only does this insight make the reader feel more connected to them, but the stories themselves are sweet and witty and good enough material to be made into a Hollywood romance.
The best thing about the whole book is definitely Alice. I almost want to call her a ‘character’ of the book because that’s what she feels like. Her smarts and determination, coupled with her calm composure and uncanny ability to cajole the cats to bend to her will, makes her seem almost too good to be true. She seems the type of person who, if you were married to them, you would want to write about.
The only down side to the novel is the actual travel aspects. While mildly interesting to start with, it becomes slightly mundane, and all the descriptions of the food they eat becomes repetitive – it can’t all be as delicious as described, surely? However, this may just be because the Alice and Pat stories are so good that it leaves you craving more. The food is unimportant; you just want to hear about Alice and Pat!
Overall this is an enjoyable read, and the way the stories of the couple are intertwined with them visiting familiar places, is expertly done. The cats are sweet and their antics add an entertaining element. This is a great book for storytelling and memories, and will leave you feeling sentimental and warm and fuzzy inside.
Pages: 260 | ASIN: B06XD7XGGH
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The Reaper opens with the revelation that the King of Akala is missing, and the new Queen, Leah, is now in power. She meets with President Inaeus Janu of Shaweh to offer a peace treaty that brings their long war to an end. Janu suspects the Queen is a figurehead and focuses on the mysterious Lialthas who seems to have an undue influence over the Queen.
In the meantime, refugees from Akala reach the city-state of Shaweh seeking asylum. The group includes the missing King Darius, his half-sister Moriene with the child Hannah in tow, General Victor Ikharson, and Sefas, once called Meddiah when he was an Empty One. They are shadowed by the black-clad Zacharias who used his magic to help them escape from Lialthas. When the Akalan’s gestures of peace turn out to be empty promises, President Janu and the Akalan refugees are whisked to a secure location as war resumes.
This is the second book in the Fallen Conviction series, and it wasn’t hard to catch up when the asylum-seekers told their story to Janu. This gave me the chance to get up to speed on the plot if you haven’t read the first book.
The interplay between Darius’ group of refugees and the leadership of Shaweh are the primary drivers of the plot. Character-driven stories are a big draw for me, and the author has a knack for showing the complex, often antagonistic relationships between all of these strong-willed characters. My favorite characters in this book were Moriene and Sefas, who were once under Lialthas’ control. Both escaped his grasp and recovered from being “Empty,” yet both still seem to be fighting the battles of the past.
I also enjoyed the high-tension setting. Being locked in a bunker with people you don’t like but are forced to trust is hard enough, but if that trust is tested, things are going to get violent. The situation erodes when Zacharias reveals that there’s something even worse that Lialthas out there, and they may not be able to stop it.
The first thing that struck me about The Reaper was the unusual formatting. At first, I thought it was a typesetting error, but it became clear that the line numbering was meant to give it a scriptural feel. Some of these passages have archaic sentence structure with rhyming words at the end of sentences, but it’s not always consistent and that can be frustrating for those expecting poetic meter. However, the nod to scripture isn’t surprising because gods and religion play a major part in this story.
Don’t assume that because this is written in poetic language that it won’t be exciting. This is a place where magic and technology that we would recognize today are both present, where battles are fought with WMD strikes as well as mind-bending magical attacks. War is gruesome, and the author doesn’t pull his punches when it comes to violence and mayhem. In this world, magic is fueled by blood, fear, and suffering, so whoever wields this power must harm others in order to succeed.
If you’re looking for a novel that offers both a unique style and a reading experience that challenges and defies “the usual” in fantasy, give this book a try.
Pages: 340 | ASIN: B06XRS3SFD
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The Passer by Robin Christophersen is a welcome genre-blending story by a first-time novelist. We follow Dr. Eleanor Bouchard, accomplished actress and professor, attempt to put her life together after the death of her boyfriend. On the one year anniversary of his death she is visited by an otherworldly visitor with an unsettling message. Eleanor is then thrown into a mystery where she must not only figure out the message’s meaning, but also understand herself. New powers begin to awaken in her for the first time, which only adds more murkiness to dark waters. Matters become complicated further when a former flame, Daniel Archer, who has suffered the tragic loss of his wife comes stumbling into her life along with his step-daughter, Amelia. Eleanor begins to feel strange connections to the two of them and discovers that their meeting may not be so coincidental in the first place.
The Passer is an interesting read. Christophersen mixes romance, paranormal and even a bit of mystery to make an increasingly intriguing story. You would not suspect it even being an indie read, given the polish that is displayed on the pages. I was not expecting to be hit with so many “genre” elements, but they all manage to work well and complement one another. The book itself is a fast read and I was a dozen pages in without even blinking.
Eleanor as a protagonist is easy to follow, even if she is almost “too” accomplished, given her two professions. The professorship and her role as a Shakespearean actress seems almost intimidating, even to the reader, but her grief and struggle gives the reader a very tangible doorway into her mind and soul. The fact that she is on her own path to self-discovery despite being so accomplished is an excellent technique to use for the reader to be carried alongside the character on her journey.
The novel is deftly paced and reaches a satisfying conclusion. There were points that felt drawn out, but I think Christophersen balances this with the other genre elements. The quotes from Shakespeare, I feltm were heavily on the nose, considering what Eleanor does, but I could let that go, Christophersen clearly has a passion for Shakespeare and I can make a little room for the Bard. The plot may even be weighted down with the extra elements and confusing plot tangles, but by the end Christophersen untangles these and gives the reader a very satisfying story.
Overall, I believe The Passer to be an excellent read for those looking for not only an interesting plot, but a book that brings something new to the table of genre-blending. A very satisfying debut novel from a brand-new author. If this is the first book that Christophersen produces, readers should be on the lookout for the next.
Pages: 444 | ASIN: B00G2QC69Y
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The Battle of Barkow tells the tale of dark vs light, good vs evil, from a world where magic is not all bad, and religion is not all good. He takes readers into the mind of his characters and through them shows the good and bad of society. In the words of Paul Simmonds, “Two men will embark on a journey that will change their lives forever, if there is a forever at all. For in the world that they live it is not named nor is it entirely different from that of our own early world” (Simmonds: prologue). The characters are intricate and plagued by the same assemblage of emotions as any other person; kindness, compassion, greed, hate, bigotry and evil. This superb confluence leaves you wondering who is going to come out on top in this novel, the simple man of God, the magician, the girl that doesn’t speak, or the dark forces that are mounting?
The story starts out with a man, hidden in a cloak speaking with an elderly woman. No names are used, but it is clear the women is a sorceress and he is there for her assistance. He is angry, he feels he has been wronged by others and denied his rightful riches and power, this woman offers him the vengeance he so greatly desires, but warns the price he will pay will be high. While she does not disclose the price, it is implying that it will not be all together pleasant for the man, but he hesitantly agrees desiring his vengeance over all else. From here the story jumps 125 years later. We meet Bolan, a simple man of God. He takes no excessive pride in his status and simply ponders life as it comes, he does not dwell too much on the past or the future. He agrees to take on an assignment for the church delivering holy books to the neighboring towns. With him goes his longtime friend and magician in training Hogarth. Hogarth can do simple magic but longs to learn more, to become something great in world that will make a difference. It is on this journey that they meet Sterre, the young women that does not speak but communicates in a form of sign language and drawings. Sterre has the gift of visions and has predicted a great danger to the city of Barkow. Barkow is the capital of sorts for this world, it is where the Pope lives and where all their laws begin. Towns outside of Barkow are not as strict as in the holy city. Bolan, Hogarth and Sterre travel to the city of Barkow to warm them of the impending trouble that Sterre has foreseen. While they are traveling to the city, the dark forces are also headed there as well. They have no names to start, as readers we only see their evil and destruction, wiping towns out, stripping them of all life leaving no one alive to bear witness to what has happened.
The journey that these three take brings them in contact with many others, some are willing to help fully, others offer veiled advice. Some are strong war heroes that have their own battles to fight but ultimately must decide between their own personal gains or the greater good. We are left looking at a vast cross section of people whose characteristics could be anyone in modern society. In The Battle of Barkow Simmonds is able to show us that their may be darkness in us, but being good is a choice, and often times we fall somewhere in between.
Pages: 240 | ASIN: B06XK7YDBX
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Lydia is a sixteen-year-old girl living at a boarding school. Her mother died when she was young and her grandmother Maria raised her. On her sixth birthday, Maria gave Lydia a bronze mirror and told her to treat it like she would treat herself. She grew up on the run, moving at a moment’s notice, trying to stay one step ahead of a killer with a scarred face. Maria thinks Lydia will be safe at the school, so she leaves her there, then disappears. The boarding school is reserved for students with mirrors like Lydia’s. Unlike regular mirrors, these show the reflection of a spirit. Lydia learns to talk to the reflection that she calls Phoebus. She has a few friends, but she’s obsessed with finding her grandmother.
When the headmaster of the school forces Lydia to compete in a mirror contest, Lydia and Phoebus hatch a plan to run away and find her grandmother. They escape after the contest, and a helpful stranger sets them on the trail of a conspiracy that goes back centuries. But the Managers of the reflections are in pursuit, and Lydia becomes a fugitive. She and Mario—a friend of her grandmother—chase clues all over Europe. They discover the truth of Lydia’s past, and uncover a hidden power that could change the world.
There are some good things to like about this book. Lydia is a strong-willed, independent teen who takes matters into her own hands. Growing up like a fugitive has taught her to be resilient and resourceful, the same skills she needs to uncover the secret of the mirrors. It’s not hard to understand Lydia’s plight or her determination to get to the truth. Many of the people she meets are also in hiding, traumatized by the past, or possibly lying to her to keep her from the truth.
The story is wonderfully original, a unique take on magic mirrors that’s vastly different from the fairy tale version. I also enjoyed that friendship plays such a big role in the story. Calypso, her dearest friend at school, helps her understand her own mysterious mirror, and they become as close as sisters. Mario is the son of a man who died to keep Maria and Lydia safe. Together, Calypso and Mario give Lydia the knowledge, strength, and courage that keep her going. There’s a nice glimmer of budding romance with Mario, and that was fun to read as well.
The biggest problem with this novel is the translation. The translator has done the author a great disservice, and my poor reading experience was in no way Ms. Musewald’s fault. She has written an original, exciting story that is completely overshadowed by the translator’s errors. There are multiple problems on nearly every page, with bad spelling, punctuation errors, missing words and confusing sentences. The novel was a chore to read, but I stuck with it because Lydia is such a strong young woman and her story is so compelling that I had to see it through to the end.
Pages: 231 | ASIN: B06XFM4N9H
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