Category Archives: Three Stars

Glossolalia

Glossolalia: Psychological Suspense (The Agents of the Nevermind Book 1)

Nancy is like any woman in the prime of her life; active, engaged with hobbies, and busy with a normal day job. But underneath the surface, she is anything but ordinary. Plagued with a strange form of narcolepsy, Nancy can’t help but feel the grip of forces other than her own. With her uncle’s seemingly gracious help coming into question, she is soon exposed to the world of government conspiracy, mind control and espionage. It’s up to her to find out who’s behind it all, but can she get a grip in time to save herself and others?

Tantra Bensko’s Glossolalia is a thrilling and bumpy ride through the mind of a woman who comes off initially as relatively boring and normal. She’s crushing on a co-worker and at the mercy of jokes from her cube mates. She has her hobbies, piano and karate, and a good friendship with a girl named Alyssa. After Nancy’s parents died mysteriously when she was younger, her uncle Geoff took her into his care and provided her with a stable job at his corporation. Plagued with fugue states and narcolepsy her whole life, her uncle has also been giving her a steady supply of pills that she can’t seem to break her addiction to. She starts to question her uncle’s intentions and in an effort to break free from him and the pills, she coincidentally starts to reveal Geoff’s much darker agenda for her.

Initially, I began to question Nancy’s motives and her own sanity. The writing was quite scattered and jumped around enough to make me wonder if Nancy was just in a constant state of a psychotic break. In one moment her mind was scrambling for answers and in the next it was calm and reasonable. It took quite some time to figure out the relationship between Emily, Angela and Nancy, but the slow reveal did add to the suspense. Nancy’s tenacity and constant questioning of her life kept the book moving along at a nice pace. And there is plenty of references to the Nevermind, the CIA, MKULTRA, and other government groups which helps to build the psychological suspense of the novel.

Pages: 250 | ASIN: B01I8SLVTY

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Erinland

Erinland

Kathryn Berryman’s Erinland infuses Christianity into ancient rites while catapulting 21st Century characters into a 9th Century Viking war. Two teens, Amy and Richard, serve as threads in an intricate tapestry of historical fiction. Sharing the weave is Aiden, a monk protecting valuable antiquities with his life.

The story moves along through the points of view of one of the three most important characters. When Amy and Richard land in their respective, opposing villages, they are fully embraced. Both are long-awaited reincarnations of gods of the time. We’d expect the teenagers to feel displaced and confused, but they adapt quickly.

Berryman provides much in the way of Viking history, landscape, and relic description. Erinland is driven by her vast interest in these. We learn much lore through the tale of these ordinary, troubled children endowed with extraordinary powers from the glorious beings they represent. Berryman’s depictions of the cultures during the time are lovely and detailed as she describes their villages, clothing, and lifestyles. “The kransen, a gilt circlet worn on the head by unmarried girls, is removed from the young bride to be. It is a symbol of her virginity. The kransen is wrapped up by the bride’s attendants and put away until the birth of her eldest daughter who it will pass to.” (Page 194).

In Berryman’s desire to share her knowledge, she writes long monologues. These establish her as a credible authority on ancient history, but do so at the expense of natural dialogue. After suddenly being transported in time, the three primary characters are plunked down and force-fed tons of information. “Richard listened closely to Vagn as he spoke. It was a lot of information to absorb.” (Page 325).

The lack of meaningful exchanges sacrifices character development. This is particularly true for Amy, but less so for Richard. Relating to the characters is essential for us to want to read on.

Because war is the foundation of the plot, we may find it difficult to suspend belief when we are told the teens can learn how to become warriors in a few afternoons. Berryman relies upon descendent memory to take care of the problem. “Familiarise yourself with our ways. Your memories will return. A son of Odin retains his father’s essence and with it his memories and might.”  (Page 183).

In the end Erinland is a fascinating story that fuses mythology with well-choreographed battle scenes.

Pages: 278 | ASIN: B01MR9IAQL

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Embellished

Embellished (Chronicles of Orian Book 1)

Have you ever imagined what it would be like to live inside your favorite video game? Karen Glista’s novel, Embellished, the first novel in The Chronicles of Orian trilogy, takes us on a wild ride with a story about teens who find themselves inside the world of the M.M.O.R.P.G. game, The Battle of Orian. While playing the game during a lightning storm, Bekka, Travis, and Matt are suddenly transported into the antiquated world of Orian. Bekka, a teen suffering from a rare genetic disease, finds herself fully healed from her earthly ailments and rises up the royal rankings. Meanwhile, her brother, Travis, and his friend Matt continually search for an escape back to Earth. Their only hope for escaping this world is finding the only other human from Earth, also trapped in the game, before they’re all killed by dangerous creatures.

Embellished is so much more than a fantasy/paranormal romance with a fair amount of compelling, steamy scenes. Embellished transcends genre boundaries through incorporating elements of adventure, suspense, and gruesome battle scenes. What makes it even more exciting to read is the development of its deeply complex characters and intricately woven plot with twists that’ll leave you gasping.

The novel opens with a group of teens playing The Battle of Orian on a stormy night in Texas, when lightning strikes their home and catapults the teens into the world of the game. Little do they know that their real-life bodies on Earth are rapidly deteriorating. Luckily, they know how to defeat evil spiders, bears, and violent Vadarcs, a sub-human species.

While the novel begins by focusing on Travis, who becomes the leader of the group, the perspective shifts to his sister, Bekka. She starts as a somewhat timid, soft-spoken individual, as her body on Earth was ravaged by the rare Marfan’s disease, but once she begins to find her voice, Bekka truly blossoms into a bold, outspoken, and open-minded heroine. I thought that it made the story so much more compelling to give Bekka these strong character traits, since it added suspense to the decisions she had to make.

Glista does a great job of capturing the inner feelings that any person would have when faced with a love triangle. Bekka befriends Atharia and even becomes betrothed to Atharia’s brother, the devastatingly handsome Vallas. But during a harrowing attack, she and Atharia are taken captive by a belligerent Vadarc tribe. After she meets Zandar, a half-Human Vadarc who exudes masculinity and passionate sensuality, Bekka wonders if she can ever go back to her life with Vallas again. She has the chance to choose between Vallas and Zandar – attracted to the different qualities within both men, she is torn between her desire for passionate, romantic love, or for safety and security.

Glista also masterfully incorporates multiple themes that add multiple layers to the novel. For example, Bekka discovers that there are deeply entrenched discriminatory practices between the Humans and Vadarcs, and after learning the history of the Vadarcs, Bekka begins to preach open-mindedness to her Human friends.  I thought this was an extremely vital and current theme to have as it relates pretty directly to racial issues within today’s world.

As the first novel in the Chronicles of Orian trilogy, Embellished provides a bit of closure at the end, but it’ll definitely be interesting to see what happens to Bekka, Travis, and Matt in the next installment.

Pages: 302 | ASIN: B01M5BZVQ1

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Woofed Cookies

Woofed Cookies

Woofed Cookies by Greg Bauder is an entertaining, but short read. The story follows Peter Moon and his dog named Cookies as they go through a whole breath of conflicts and tribulations. His best friend, Tiger Moss, pressures him into smoking, a strange man keeps appearing menacingly, and Tiger’s little sister is enamored with him. Peter confronts all of these with Cookies by his side who is gifted with a neat little trick; throwing up everywhere at any time.

The book begins with Peter being down on himself for not having a puppy and being alone most of the time, since his mother is a nurse. This situation is rectified, and the book truly begins, when he receives Cookies on his birthday. Bauder does a great job of recalling what it was like to be a preteen and getting into trouble with your best friend. The joy of having a puppy is felt here, even if I question the mother’s recommendation of “flushing the dog poop down the toilet”? I mean, what happened to the garbage can? The rest of the book precedes with what you would normally expect. The story did take some turns that I was not expecting and the point of view with Peter is arm’s length, so you are never really sure what he is going to do as the reader.

I do think that the book reads a little “simple” for the audience I believe Bauder is aiming for, but I can forgive that for the fact he has an entertaining story. To take the everyday, messy occurrence of a dog throwing up and make that the title, is rather ingenious. It also steals the show away from Peter, because I found myself reading the pages looking to see what Cookies was going to do next. The lack of agency on Peter’s part was a little of a let down, especially as a children’s book, but I believe that the escapades of Cookies makes up for it.

The actual pacing of the book is a little choppy and does include two scenes that almost entirely mirror one another, which is kind of strange for a children’s book. I would love it if Bauder could make Woofed Cookies into a series of books of Peter and Cookies and I would not mind at all. There is something timeless about a “boy and his dog” and as a reader I could not get tired of that. This story is a classic paradigm with a new spin and I want to see what else Bauder has up his sleeve.

All in all, I believe that Woofed Cookies is an excellent book to give to your child for an afternoon of adventure.

Pages: 20 | ISBN: 1683946812

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Adam’s Stepsons

Adam's Stepsons3 Stars

Adam’s Stepsons by M. Thomas Apple is an interesting science fiction piece. We follow Dr. Heimann who designs the perfect super soldiers for the United America’s in their war against the Martian colonies. Heimann quickly discovers that he did not anticipate the brutal efficiency of the military, nor the attachment that arises from his creations. These clones are not only the peak of what the human form can do, they actually transcend humanity through intelligence and strength. They are the weapon that the United Americas will use to crush the rebellion on Mars. Dr. Heimann is shocked when one clone, Six, begins to call him “Father” and then the can of worms truly opens.

Apple’s novel is almost painfully short, only because I wanted to have more to read and dive into. He anticipates the future of inter-solar system colonization and the struggles that can arise, such as this between the United Americas and the Martian colonies. He does not neglect the complicated matter here or the scope considering the Terran governing force is losing the war and needs these clones to pan out.

The struggle between scientist and soldier is an old one, but one that takes on a new twist with the rise of cloned super soldiers. Apple goes along the lines of Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, but does not seek to critique war itself. Instead, the author goes further and asks whether these soldiers are “truly” human or are they  just “equipment” as the military officer Marquez calls them.

The conflict deepens even further when “Seth”, clone number six, as Dr. Heimann calls him when no one else is around, begins to call him “father”. The book bounces between the POV’s of the scientist and Six, which is interesting because as the book goes on Heimann becomes more and more unstable and uncertain of his mission of designing soldiers, who resemble the people that their genetic material comes from. Six, or rather, “Seth” becomes increasingly more confident in his abilities and his intelligence. All of this leads to a climax that may polarize readers, but one that will still make the reader ponder on far after they have finished the novel.

Overall, I enjoyed Apple’s prose. It reads crisp like that of Asimov or Heinlein, but I am still unsure if the short length of the work was appropriate. There is a lot of dialogue and not enough actual “action” going on throughout, so I was expecting more digging into the rich themes of personhood and philosophy of the soul. I realize that may be asking too much.

Adam’s Stepsons is a fun addition to the long canon of science fiction that dares to ask the “what if” of the future. It also seeks to ask the “should we, if we can” question that not enough science fiction is retrospective enough to ask. A good read for any science fiction lover, especially of the Heinlein or Asimov variety.

Pages: 92 | ASIN: B06XJRT8CS

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Fathering the Fatherless

Fathering The Fatherless by [Johnson, Todd]3 Stars

In a charming, short, non-fiction tale we read about the struggles one man has had in terms of understanding and becoming a father. Fathering the Fatherless is written by Todd Johnson who tells us his experience growing up in a fatherless home. He recounts how this impacted his life and shaped the decisions he has made. It is clear that this is a topic that has affected Johnson greatly as he attempts to convey how his life was damaged by not having a father present in his life. Johnson shares statistics regarding fatherless homes and lays out the potential damage that can be done with such a significant absence. Johnson details how he found God and in that Father he was able to come to understand what it truly means to lead and care for children.

The book is a short read and is written very earnestly. Johnson speaks from his personal point of view and lays out his argument that fatherless homes are becoming an epidemic in the United States of America. This is an issue he strongly believes in and he uses quotes from the scripture to remind readers what a father should truly be like. By sharing intimate details of his life Johnson creates a connection with his readers. We learn about his struggles, his poor decisions and the choices he has made in order to better himself. Johnson grew up in a fatherless home and almost inflicted that same pain on his own children. He details how finding God helped him see the potential he was wasting. It is clear that this is Johnson’s mission: his purpose is to enlighten others of their misguided ways and show them a path towards true fatherhood. All he wishes for is a world where children are cared for and loved by their emotionally and physically present mothers and fathers.

While the basis of this book is endearing, the execution needs work. A multitude of spelling mistakes break up poor grammar and fractured sentences. At times it can be difficult to follow what the author is trying to get across to his readers. Statistics are used to support certain points of view, however they’re not referenced properly, which makes it difficult to separate the statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau and the statistics provided by other sources. This book would greatly benefit from an editor and proofreader. It has a specific point it wishes to share with others, but that gets lost in the poor execution of writing and style.

If you are looking for an endearing, non-fiction read about how fatherlessness has been affecting children in the world, then Fathering the Fatherless by Todd Johnson is a short and sweet read. By seeing past the short-comings the reader can see how much care Johnson has put in to crafting his tale that reads more like an academic paper. At the end of the book there is a delightful interactive section that can help readers identify what fatherlessness is and how it can be addressed. There’s a little bit of something for everyone.

Pages: 60 | ASIN: B06XGHGDT7

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For Beau: The Sarah Ashdown Story

For Beau: The Sarah Ashdown Story3 Stars

The story begins in 2009, where an old woman is being interviewed to tell the story of her history as a fighter in the French resistance to the German army in the 1940’s. In the narrative told by Sarah Ashdown, the character that this history revolves around, readers are bounced seamlessly back and forth between the two eras, and listen as Sarah gives detail about the progression of her life. Simon Gandossi, the author of the story, allows readers peeks at Sarah’s life now as an elderly woman in a nursing home with friends and memories to pass the days with.

England marks the setting for the beginning of the story, but most of the events take place in France or other war zones. By following the reflective narrative of Sarah Ashcroft, an elderly woman being interviewed by a TV reporter about her actions in the war against the Nazis, you’ll learn about the horrific events that took place during the bombings and raids of World War II.

While the majority of the story focuses on Sarah, as she is the one re-telling it to those interested, you also get peeks into the lives of those of both in her past and present. A friendly nurse Patty makes a frequent appearance, and the disorganized reporter himself Daniel Warwick provides a sturdy companion to her as she gives him the story.

After leaving her English hometown and abandoning her family and friends after the disappearance of her husband and the loss of a dear friend, Sarah makes her way to France to help fight the German’s and do her part to end the war. Sarah is met with many difficulties, since she is a woman, but she is a beautiful character, full of strength and wit, and consistently her own worst critic.

Throughout the story, you get to see Sarah’s life in the present setting play out in her nursing home, and the toll of telling the gruesome tale of her war experiences is slowly made evident to the readers. Gandossi takes you on a thrilling, heart-wrenching ride of what life as a soldier in the 1940’s was like, and compels those to feel deeply for Sarah as she agonizes over her decisions.

This isn’t a cheerful story; as few stories about war are. In fact, it’s a heavy read, full of history and heroic deeds. I enjoyed it, but I’ve never liked stories that are sad even until the very end. It made me really think about how hard life was for those suffering through the war in the 1940’s, and it gave me unique insight I’ve never read before. The way Gandossi narrates the story through the voice of Sarah is inspiring and gives an intimate touch.

Pages: 435 | ASIN: B01N6JGBQK

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The Hunter’s Rede

The Hunter's Rede (Chronicles of Ealiron, #1)3 Stars

The Hunter’s Rede by F.T. McKinstry is a tale of adventure, mystery and deceit. Lorth is a hunter/assassin who obeys the Hunter’s Rede; a series of rules the dictate the isolated lifestyle of an assassin. He has never questioned their necessity; until now.

He is summoned home by the mysterious Mistress of Eusiron and arrives to find the region invaded by the Faerin army. Even more alarming; a member of the Keepers of the Eye has been assassinated.

Lorth must use his wits, magic, and sheer determination to escape being framed for the murder, find the perpetrator and defeat the invaders. All the while, he must juggle the Hunter’s Rede – a selfish code – with morality, loyalty, and love.

This is an enjoyable read for those who like suspenseful fantasy. The world building is strong and specific; a requirement in fantasy stories. The battling kingdoms, the Hunter’s Rede, and the Keepers of the Eye are all thoroughly referenced and explored by the author. However, the origins of the Rede are vague and difficult to visualize.

The characterization is fuzzy at first but the reader eventually becomes well acquainted with many of the characters who decorate the story. Lorth, in particular, grows on the reader overtime. Some of the most enjoyable characters are placed in the background and only dip into the story occasionally – such as the amiable Captain Ivy.

The plot is entertaining and ornamented with twists and tension. The story focuses on its characters and conflicts but also has a strong theme revolving around morality and sacrifice, which finds its way into the story. You could say that The Hunter’s Rede is inspired by the video game series Assassins Creed; as I felt that it dealt with similar concepts, story models and parallel titles. But I enjoyed the variances that allowed The Hunter’s Rede to have uniqueness.

While the story has some thrilling action scenes, at times they were either too cumbersome or unclear. Overall the story was clever and entertaining except for the romance moments which come off as less inspired. The Hunter’s Rede is one proofread away from being a fascinating and exciting read.

Pages: 303 | ASIN: B01LZS174X

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Ronnie and Lennie

RonnieandLennie3 Stars

Ronnie and Lennie are blood brothers in the realest sense of the word—as conjoined twins, they literally share the same circulatory system, connected at the chest for life. Set in the hippie days of 1960s and Woodstock, RonnieandLennie by Herb Schultz depicts the challenges (and sometimes the benefits) of being incredibly close to family at all times, along with the consequences of messing with nature. With a complicated backstory that provides some insight into the twins’ condition and emotional state, this novel takes the reader through a journey of understanding the prison of chronic adjustment disorder through the multitude of Ronnie and Lennie’s dangerous experiences.

Set in the 1950s through the 1960s, Ronnie and Lennie, the titular characters of Herb Schultz’s novel RonnieandLennie, are conjoined twins who grow up attached at the chest, held together by a band of skin that connects their circulatory system and their liver. Connie, their absentee mother, never figures out how the twins ended up this way, but she believes it was caused by fallout from an atomic blast that occurred close to her while she was pregnant. Schultz leaves out details of how the fallout may have caused their condition, but this sense of mystery also helps keep the plot from falling into a strict mystery novel format.

Instead of overcoming her struggles, Connie abandons her children in Statesberry, North Carolina, with her aunt Vera. The backstories of the minor characters throughout the novel left me wanting more, as questions about these characters (and the twins) do not feel resolved by the end. The jolty shifts between past and present made the novel feel more like a collection of vignettes rather than a fluid, linear read. Despite this, though, these backstories did provide a great foreshadowing for the dysfunctional futures of the twins.

While being a moody teenager is rough, Ronnie and Lennie make the best of it— they read and play music together and experience the drug culture of the 1960s. With numerous vulgar sex scenes and excessive drug use, the novel seems to exaggerate this culture; however, they help the reader with understanding the difficulty of being a teenage boy without independence. Resentment grows between the twins, but through fortuitous circumstances, the twins eventually end up separated, finally getting what they’ve always wanted: to have an unattached life.

This freedom comes at a cost— Ronnie is depressed while he’s off at school, and Lennie falls prey to destructive vices. When Ronnie learns more about his mother, he leaves school, only to find himself in perilous circumstances that cause him to go to jail. Lennie has a similar fate, ending up in jail for a period of time himself. Years later, they end up intersecting again in their hometown. Upon realizing they both have chronic adjustment disorder, which has been causing their impulsive behavior and depression for many years, they make a life-altering, permanent decision to never be separated again.

RonnieandLennie is carried by the unique titular characters who stumble through life experiences, sometimes falling really hard. But they ultimately blossom into introspective individuals with a future that will break away from the destructive habits of their pasts.

Pages: 238 | ISBN: 0982351607

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2PM On A Black Summer’s Day

2pm on a Black Summer's Day3 Stars

A mysterious box that cannot be opened. A line of witches and the melding of two very distinct spiritual ideals. Throw in the military while all these groups try to fight demons and you’ve got 2pm, On a Black Summer’s Day by IP Spall. An interesting story that takes place in a quite town in America spanning at least a decade while the true main character doesn’t make an appearance until later on. We begin with a normal teacher who is trying to make a few extra dollars from his eclectic collection of ‘junk’. It is Samuel that finds the strange box at a market but it will be his son Chris that opens it all those years after his father’s death. What begins as a drunken gathering unleashes forces beyond human understanding. Shadow creatures pour into the world of man from beyond a void. Their appetite is insatiable and they thirst for human blood.

Spall has a knack for the surprise. What first seems like a simple book about growing up and coming to terms with grief unexpectedly morphs into a supernatural thriller where no one knows who will die next. The surprise demon summoning is just that: a surprise. While we got an idea that magic exists and is relatively accepted in this world, there was no foreshadowing for the battle to come. The surprise works in Spall’s favour as it is executed quickly before the reader or the cast has time to react. This allows the reader to be pulled in and feel as though they are part of the story themselves. A clever tactic for sure.

There are some drawbacks to this book, however. Stylistic and grammatical issues aside, the story appears to take place in the United States of America. This isn’t clarified until a chapter or so into the book but it comes as a surprise. While reading how the characters talk and the description of the town, it feels as though this book takes place in England, perhaps in a small village or hamlet. There are certain phrases and ways in which the characters talk that do not occur in everyday American speech. This is not relegated to a single family, but affects all in the story. This is a bit confusing for the reader. Had the story taken place in England or anywhere else in the United Kingdom it would have seemed natural.

This jarring bit of speech aside, the entire flow of the book seems as if it has been sped up. Time passes in a blink and characters whose point of view we were reading from on one page are dead on the next. It fragments otherwise good storytelling and detracts from the overall tale as a whole. A massive battle occurs and then the story is just over.

Those who delight in reading about magic, the macabre and the quintessential fight between light and dark are sure to enjoy IP Spall’s book 2pm, On a Black Summer’s Day.

Pages: 139 | ASIN: B01MXPZ9TW

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