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The Voyages of Ralf, Vol. 1: The Arc of Purchaser

The Voyages of Ralf, Vol. 1: The Arc of Purchaser by [R.M. Kozan]

If you looked up “hapless” in the dictionary, chances are you would find a picture of Ralf, science officer with the Space Corps. He didn’t do things so much as things happened to him. It had been that way his entire life. However, the things happening to him seemed to escalate at an alarming rate during his service aboard the starcraft NOSFERATU. In an increasingly absurd series of events, Ralf finds himself repeatedly faced with the very real possibility of his demise, only to be saved time and time again by yet more absurdity. All that’s missing is a spiritual crisis, but Ralf will find that in due time as well.

The Voyages of Ralf, Vol 1 follows the reluctant protagonist on his travels as he traverses the universe, is brought aboard multiple ships, and serves on a variety of crews. Author R.M. Kozan displays a masterful use of language as he creates his story and uses wordplay reminiscent of Douglas Adams or a Monty Python sketch. Although the story is divided into three separate parts, they read as one linear story and the overall tones of absurdity and cynicism are nearly palpable even through the written word. At the same time, the variety of galactic species introduced throughout provides an ever increasing collection of characters that prevents the story from ever getting stale. Kozan walks a fine line between absurd and just plain nonsensical, and while he does occasionally slow down the narrative by veering into the territory of the latter, it’s never enough to completely derail the enjoyment of the book. Ralf himself is written in a way that almost seems paradoxical. He is clearly the main character and it was a pleasure to see where his adventures led next, but his bland and almost apathetic existence made it hard to feel much about him one way or another.

Although there are some religious undertones to the book, especially in parts 2 and 3, they are approached in the exact same ridiculous way as the rest of the story. It could probably be argued that the book is a satire about religious beliefs and the fact that they have caused so much strife throughout history. Despite that, it doesn’t come across as condescending.

Ralf’s voyages are so imaginative, it never faltered in its pace, and it kept things light hearted throughout. (Always a plus these days!) Not to mention, it was a healthy amount of bizarre and just plain fun to read!

Pages: 237 | ASIN: B08F4HV7NP

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Pandora’s Gardener

Pandora's Gardener

John Cranston had no aspirations to be a spy. He was a gardener for goodness sake, and enjoyed the mediocrity that came with the job. But as is often the case, the unexpected came knocking and suddenly John found himself in the middle of a plot involving an old friend, the Russians, secret societies, and crooked cops- just to name a few. To make matters worse, they all seemed to think he was on par with them in regards to secrets and skills. As each day pulls him further from his business as usual, John has to uncover and help stop a sinister conspiracy that is revealed to be a matter of world security. 

Pandora’s Gardener by David Mason is a fun and fast paced thriller that tows the line between the serious espionage of James Bond and the absurd escapades of Austin Powers. With each new obstacle that John comes across, Mason does an expert job of weaving the stories together until the reader is effectively hooked. To keep the mood from getting too heavy, even the situations that provide a real degree of danger are met with a ridiculous sense of humor that helps keep the events moving right along. It’s a classic tale of “good guys” versus “bad guys” but crafted in a way that makes it difficult to determine which is which, since so many of the characters are delightfully charming. The notable exception of course is our unlikely hero who insists, time and time again, that despite his apparent skills, he really is just a gardener. No one believes that, and hijinks ensue.

The sheer amount of plot lines, characters, and double crosses could potentially make for a dense and unreadable story, but instead everything works in perfect synch. As mentioned before, Mason is superb at crafting the story, ensuring that there is always something new around the corner, even as other loose ends are resolved. Every character adds a distinct flavor to the story, no matter how briefly they may appear, and while some of them aren’t given the resolution they may deserve, it doesn’t affect the tone of the book.

Pandora’s Gardner was enjoyable and fun to read from start to finish and if there is any complaint I have, it’s that it was long enough to consistently surprise me with its new developments, and that it never fully fleshed out John’s past, which was referred to occasionally. Even at that, I was never disappointed. It maintained an excellent balance between goofy and serious while John consistently plays the part of reluctant spy perfectly.

Pages: 466

Remnant

Remnant by [Daniel Peyton]

Anna is an unlikely but intriguing combination of being both a secret Chrstian and an astro-geologist. She is known as a Remnant, the last of the religious in a world that does not allow religion to exist. She is accompanied by her endearing and adorable sidekick, the robot Z. They both find themselves on a deeply challenging and mysterious mission that is taking place on a new moon, where life has been discovered. This new life also seems to contradict the knowledge that Anna has been fed so far- especially by one influential Dr.Syke.

Remnant is an enthralling yet charming read. Some of the ideas behind the faith vs science conundrums were handled in such a fascinating way- without insulting the intelligence of the reader. It sort of reminded me of a few scenes in the classic HG Wells novel, The War of the Worlds, in the manner with which it dealt with these potentially controversial subjects.

Although I would have loved some further explanation for the motivations behind the Planetary Science Commission’s decision to ban religion- I felt like it was smoothed over too quickly. I would have liked a deeper exploration of the debate between science and religion, but they are satisfying enough to move the plot forward and give Anna’s character motivation. This turned out to be better for me because I was skeptical going into a Christian science fiction book. The novel makes interesting points, but remains accessible to anyone.

The humor and dialogue in this book saves itself from too much seriousness and it’s a relief. Z was an exceptionally fun character and I think more science fiction novels should do themselves the favor of including a can’t-help-but-love-him/her sidekick. The pace was breakneck and the plot stuck around in my head a while after I finished it.

I’d recommend this one to anyone who wouldn’t mind their science fiction with a bit of religion. I felt more curious and attuned to the mysteries of this world and others after it after reading Remnant.

Pages: 482 | ASIN: B07SPCXCG8

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As the Daisies Bloom: A Novel

T. P Graf’s As The Daisies Bloom is as enchanting as it is charming. The story is intimately and poetically told. Like a well-written symphony, it has a rhythm and magnetism that is undeniable. It is especially hard not to fall in love with the main character, August.

While it is a work of fiction, this novel gives a heartfelt account of August’s life that is so touching, so authentic, and for lack of a better word so human. It is clear that this character was so thoroughly thought out, his experiences so beautifully brought to life.

Although the book starts with a chance encounter between August and a young family just freshly arrived in town, it ends in an interweaving of lives that we never see coming. The author also does well explaining the details of August’s life before this chance meeting and how the past has spilled into the present in interesting ways.

The fact that this book is written in August’s own voice, even with the accent and all, gives it an authenticity reminiscent of a memoir. What is more captivating though is that the author has managed to use this man’s seemingly simple life to draw attention to serious societal issues.

By easing us into topics like racism, sexism, faith, patriotism, and homophobia, he has personalized them, given them faces, invoking empathy and deep introspection. With neither insults nor judgment, he has made me think deeply about what it means to be human, to love, and to be loved.

Apart from the use of descriptive and almost poetic language, I also love that the author took his time to fully develop the characters in this book. Even though they are described as seen through August’s eyes, I could clearly picture each character. And not just physically, but who they are as a person.

It was clear what each one stood for and what was most important to them; something difficult to fit into 184 pages. Unexpectedly I found myself laughing with the characters and mourning with them, their struggles seeming so real to me somehow.

Pages: 193 | ASIN: B08CMPHL28

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Worldshaper

Worldshaper (Worldshapers Book 1) by [Edward Willett]

Worldshaper by Edward Willett is an exciting supernatural adventure story that builds on a unique premise to deliver a mesmerizing story. Set in a small town, the book delves into the life of Shawna, a seemingly normal woman whose perfect life takes a suddenly deadly turn. Her best friend is killed. But after experiencing this horrific event it’s erased from existence, including her friend. Shawna then encounters a mysterious stranger that  helps her understand what is happening to her, her world, and comes to find out that all of it is threatened by an evil entity.

Worldshaper has one of the most unique setups to a story that I’ve read this year. Shawna has a supernatural ability to shape worlds to her liking, although she doesn’t know it. This sets up the story to be a learning experience where we as the reader learn along with Shawna as she’s learning about it. Delivered in the first person we get to see Shawnas wit and charm first hand. She becomes endearing and fun to follow. Shawna starts out as somewhat of a reluctant and naive hero, a bit cliched for the fantasy genre, but what makes this novel stand out from the rest is the extraordinary journey that she goes on, exotic worlds that she visits, and the dramatic twist at the end. To say I didn’t see the twist coming at the end would be an understatement. I don’t think anyone will see it coming. You should read this novel for the fantastic ending, if for nothing else.

What I liked the most about Worldshaper was the world building, but it was also something that slowed the story’s pace a bit. Edward Willet has obviously put a lot of thought into building not just one world, but a universe of shaped worlds. It’s all presented to the reader up front, which can be a lot to take in, but readers who enjoy deep world building and unique design will enjoy the meticulous development of the backstory. Sprinkle in some offbeat characters and dramatic turn of events and you have an exceptional supernatural story that is highly engrossing.

This is book one in Edward Willett’s Worldshapers series. This sets the bar high for the series. With most of the Worldshaper mythology established here, other novels are surely primed to deliver non-stop fun and entertainment. Worldshaper is thoroughly entertaining, rarely dull, and always fun.

Pages: 368 | ASIN: B0782XSM22

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Devil Days in Deadwood

Devil Days in Deadwood (Deadwood Humorous Mystery Book 11) by [Ann Charles, C.S. Kunkle]

Devil’s Days in Deadwood by Ann Charles is a fun supernatural thriller. The story delves into the life of Violet Lynn Parker a seemingly normal human being who works as a real estate agent but is involved in the supernatural as a ghost hunter. The protagonist is part of an agency that is tasked with defending Earth from the evils unseen by normal human beings. The compelling heroine of the story faces a formidable foe but she requires help from and engaging cast of characters in order to overcome the exact definition of evil incarnate. The story is set in the alluring town of Deadwood, a town plagued by mysterious happenings since time in memorial ranging from ghosts to haunted houses.

Ann Charles has invoked various stylistic devices that highlight her writing skill and made this novel stand out in the paranormal genre. Although this is book eleven in Ann Charles’s Deadwood Humorous Mystery series, I think new readers will be able to jump right in as I have. What I particularly liked about this novel, and Ann Charles’s view of the supernatural, is the satirical lens that it is all viewed through. It’s a stimulating blend of humor, mystery, and paranormal that all come together to make the reader alternate between gasps, laughter and furiously flipping pages. It reminded me of the writing style of Douglas Adams or A. Lee Martinez.

Violet is an exceptionally well defined character, someone we can relate to as a mother who works hard to provide for, and protect, her children. But in the same vein of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, she’s a demon executioner who risks her life to defeat some truly vile, other worldly, beings. While I understood Violet’s motivations, and her emotions, I did want a little more backstory. The world created here is interesting and I wanted to explore it more, though I suppose I could by reading the other novels in the series.

I was excited about this novel from the very beginning, based on the short synopsis of the book. I was thoroughly entertained and may have found a new series to while away the time in quarantine. Fans of supernatural thrillers will find an exceptional piece of literature that offers a unique voice to this genre.

Pages: 393 | ASIN: B0884DJ4MP

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The Spark That Started Metal Bones

Kathleen Contine Author Interview

Metal Bones follows two story lines, one following brothers on the hunt for a cure to a ‘steel elbow’ disease and another following a man with a cannon for an arm who’s looking for his long lost father. What was the inspiration for the setup to this thrilling science fiction story?

The spark that started Metal Bones was a song called ‘Alive’ by Phil Lober. When I listened to it I pictured a scene in my mind that I had to write a story around. I was also watching Star Wars a lot at the time and I think some of those themes crept their way in as I was writing.

Leo and Gaeth were intriguing and well developed characters. What were some ideals that guided their character development?

Thank you! The main thing that guided their character development was the dynamic between an older sibling and younger sibling. Leo wants to help Gaeth get better but Gaeth doesn’t want to be the one who has to be taken care of all the time. I used that to guide their decision making throughout the story. 

I enjoyed the unique world you’ve created for your story. What were some themes that were important for you to incorporate in your galaxy?

 I’m glad! A big one was family. Obviously Leo and Gaeth are a huge part of that, but I wanted to explore it with Tank as well. Even though his family isn’t blood related, I believe it doesn’t have to be and can even be stronger than biological family at times.   

What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?

I’m currently working on the sequel to Metal Bones! I don’t have a specific release date yet but it’ll be 2021.  

Author Links: GoodReads | Twitter | Facebook |Website

An incurable disease, a deadly ceremony, four questionable heroes, and a galaxy who needs them.

Leo Spearman cares about one thing: getting a cure for Gaeth’s “Steel Elbow”. Yet, when they decide to leave Earth to cure him, they realize they may have to break galactic law to get it. Leo believes everything is going according to plan but when their new ally Sonja comes along, Leo becomes more and more dedicated to Onyx, a group set on stopping the Sol Empire from taking over the galaxy. As Leo and Sonja’s connection starts to grow, Gaeth begins questioning his brothers’ dedication to finding his cure.

Across the galaxy, an alien named Tank is determined to win the Ceremony, hoping to find out what happened to his father, who won before him. Only when he finds the answer, he is forced to escape his home, losing his hand in the process. After being saved by Enzu, she equips him with an arm cannon, the only expense being to work for her and protect a small boy named Myca at all costs. Tank is grateful for Enzu saving him, but the more time he spends at Bisekt, it makes him question everything and who to trust.

However when an outside threat forces Tank and Leo to work together, they’ll discover if they’ll be able to save the ones they love or if it’s already too late.

Fans of Mass Effect will love the first installment in the Metal Bones series!

Becoming God

Daniel Maunz Author Interview

Daniel Maunz Author Interview

Questions of Perspective follows an unenthusiastic lawyer whos only friend disappears, sending him on an existential journey. What was the inspiration for the setup to this thought-provoking novel?

I knew from the outset that I wanted to write a story about a person becoming God, and specifically, what a person should do if granted infinite power and knowledge. I also started writing this novel after leaving a profession as a litigator that was unfulfilling and left me without the time or energy to do much creative writing. I wanted to capture some of that personal struggle in the novel as well. I saw an opportunity to merge those two inspirations by having a mortal’s brief exposure to omniscience serve as a catalyst for that individual to reexamine their own life with fresh eyes, and take stock of what is important (and what is not).

Dave is an intriguing and well developed character. What were some driving themes you wanted to capture in his characters journey?

I, like a lot of people, spent a lot of years on autopilot, devoting my entire existence towards a career for no apparent purpose. That is also where Dave starts off at the beginning of Questions of Perspective. I knew fairly early on that Dave’s brief exposure to Godhood would be the triggering event that drove his journey, and I spent a lot of time thinking about how Dave would be changed as a result of that experience. I felt it would give Dave a greater perspective of his place in the universe (hence, the title), and a greater appreciation of just how valuable the gift of life can be (and how easy it is to take for granted). I also envisioned a reawakening of Dave’s ability to empathize with others, which, again, was the result of him being briefly connected to all of existence.

Dave’s odyssey of self-discovery is wrought with questions that are difficult to tackle. What were some ideas that were important for you to explore in this book?

This novel tackles a number of difficult, age-old questions that have no clear answer: What is the meaning of life? Why does God let bad things happen to good people? Why does anything we do matter when we will all ultimately die anyway? Rather than try to provide a definitive answer to these questions, I thought it was interesting just to establish a framework, through fiction, that allows these questions to be addressed in a fresh light. I think the answers to these questions are unique to every individual, but I’m hopeful that Dave’s journey may help some readers come up with their own satisfactory answers to these questions.

What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?

I am currently revising a screenplay that I co-wrote, which is a mystery-comedy. We had hoped for it to film this summer, but now I’m not sure when that will take place in light of current events. The next novel I’m working on focuses on the notion of family, which is something that wasn’t fully explored in Questions of Perspective with its largely isolated protagonist. As in Questions of Perspective, my goal in the new book is to tackle some large, universal themes through a quirky narrative. It will also have a female protagonist, which is a writing challenge I’m enjoying so far (and I will be heavily relying on my wife on that front). I’m probably too early in the process to even guess at when it may be available.

Author Links: Twitter | Facebook | Website | GoodReads

No one knew it at the time, but April 19, 2011, was the most important day in the history of the world.

After his only friend and colleague, John Manta, disappears without a word, Dave Randall further entrenches himself in the humdrum life of an unenthusiastic lawyer. But once he begins to understand what happened, he embarks on a journey to uncover the deeper meanings and implications of John’s fate.

Accompanied by Peaches the cat, Dave uproots his life and reinvents himself in the midst of his search. Along the way, he is haunted by his piecemeal understanding of John’s fate and what it means for his existence. Little does Dave know, his journey of self-discovery will have ramifications that extend far beyond the borders of his own little life.

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