My Book Reviews

Hello, and welcome to my book reviews. I want to emphasize that most of what I include in my reviews is simply my personal opinion, and encourage everyone to read and experience a book for them self. You may have a completely different experience than me. Which is why one reviewer isn't right while another is wrong. Very few things in life are that black and white. With that said, here are the parameters  by which I critique:

5 star books - are books that grab me and refuse to let go. They are difficult, and painful to put down, and offer blindsides, laugh out loud, or tear jerking moments. In the end, I reserve my 5 star rating for books that change my perspective on something, tickle an old fancy (nostalgia), or immerse me in a rich new world. In other words, socks, or mind will be blown.

4 star books - are books that I really like. Perhaps they rehash a popular trope, and attempt to spin it in a new direction. These books don't always connect with me on the level of 5 stars, but they are still rich, guiding narrative. Oftentimes, flaws in writing or story will account for a drop from 5 to 4 stars.

3 star books - a 3 star rating is under-appreciated in my book. I consider these enjoyable reads that offer an enjoyable reading experience. Yes, there may be flaws, but I am not going to pull the plug on a book simply because of that. After all, to err is human. (I err plenty on my own). A 3 star book is one I enjoyed, but didn't always connect with. Still, a quality read.

2 star books - I reserve 2 stars for books I don't enjoy. There may be characters I can't connect or empathize with. There might be a story arc reused from other literature, a weak antagonist, or a general lack of originality. I will never denigrate a person's attempt at writing fiction, as it is one of the hardest things to do, but with that said, not every story is for every person. These are books that aren't for me. Rest assure, I will always tell you why, so that in the end you can formulate your own conclusion.

1 star books - As a rule, I don't issue or write 1 star reviews. If a book warrants 1 star in my mind, I won't finish it or write a review. I believe there are enough people out there willing to overuse this designation (trolls usually don't read, they simply hang out under their bridge and fling turds as everyone else walks by). I will leave the overly critical evaluations to professionals trained to critique.

Hell Divers (Hell Divers #1)Hell Divers by Nicholas Sansbury Smith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Hell Divers, by Nicholas Sansbury Smith, promises a lot from the onset:

Post-apocalyptic setting - check.

Heroes diving into the battered remnants of the old world to support humanity - check.

Conflict - check!

But does it deliver? I mean really deliver? I won't make you read all the way to the end of this review to find out. The answer is, hell yes (pun intended).

The premise for this series was easily enough to hook me. The remnant of humanity lives in giant lighter-than-air platforms, floating above a war ravaged earth. And this really is the last bits of humanity. The premise also is Hell Divers' greatest attribute and Achilles heel, as it takes some really big risks. But in my experience, the authors willing to take those risks are usually the ones worth following!

Big questions plague our protagonists from the onset - our home is a giant, floating platform in the sky, so we need to either grow, build, or generate everything we need to survive, or (big “or”) we need to somehow scavenge it from the surface. Here's where the thrills and chills come in. Skydiving sounds thrilling and treacherous enough, but skydiving into a radiation blasted, war-torn wasteland sounds almost like lunacy. Enter the Hell Divers. Smith did a wonderful job establishing these characters. Yes they are heroes to their people. Yes they perform heroic deeds, but they are also complicated people, sometimes broken by the sheer magnitude of their task (they dive so humanity survives – could you imagine having that pressure hovering over your head?). Plus, they've got a shorter than normal life expectancy. Enter X, our main character, a diver who's spit at the odds and survived more jumps than any other diver - by a mile. Without spoiling the plot, adversity sets in, forcing humanity to start taking some real risks...like dive into a place nicknamed Hades, or mankind joins the extinction list. It really is as compelling as it sounds.

Life on the surface is more complicated and dangerous for the Hell Divers than we might at first believe. After all, they have to survive freak electrical storms just to get to the surface, where they are faced with erratic ice storms, unpredictable temperatures, and off the charts radiation. Does the science get a little light in places? Yes, but in this kind of novel, the plot doesn’t live or die off the science, so it works. We don’t need to know the exact chemical or mechanical processes for separating and collecting helium, we only need know that these people have a method, and that it works. X and his fellow divers are forced to jump to the surface for items such as reactor fuel cores and pressure valves – the kind of tech needed to keep their way-out-of-date platform in the sky. This felt like a little bit of Fallout (which might have been why I liked it so much), as X and the divers are forced to pick through the rubble of the old work, looking for just enough tech to prize humanity another week, or month. But they discover that the danger on the surface has evolved, literally. Now, a predatory race of creatures is roaming the landscape, hunting…well, anything and everything. These creatures make each dive that much more dangerous, each diver that much more important, and the lynchpin for humanity’s survival even more difficult to obtain.

Hell Divers is a riveting book. Smith crafts quality characters, with just enough personality and depth for us to genuinely come to care for them. This is rare in books of this genre, as the pacing affords very little time for backstory or character development. The conflict and peril feels real, too, as we are propelled through the story, driven to find out how this remnant of humanity will survive. In the end, this is a thrilling, fast-paced adventure that will leave you wanting more. I really enjoyed Hell Divers, by Nicholas Sansbury Smith, and recommend that you give it a try!

Footnote – I was perusing the reviews of this book before I started it and was generally disappointed with some of the notes left by others (more than likely trolls). One such reviewers scorned Hell Divers, stating the author obviously didn’t pay attention in High School science class, as a floating ship full of Helium in an electricity storm sounds like a very bad idea. I think this particular reviewer had confused Helium for Hydrogen, and forgotten that Helium, is in fact, not explosive. They might want to jump back into their history book and read up on the Hindenburg disaster. Please disregard these reviewers, as I found their arguments lacked any credible foundation. These are just my unbiased thought, and I hope they help.


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Fear the Sky (The Fear Saga, #1)Fear the Sky by Stephen Moss
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Fear the Sky sounds interesting enough. The synopsis hooked me, after all, and being on a huge sci-fi kick, I eagerly added it to my Audible library. Oh boy. Disclaimer: I gave up on this book at 20%, roughly 12 chapters in. You might say, "you didn't give it a chance." But I counter, at 20% in, I had already dedicated over 4 and a half hours! If a book can't hook you in that time, there is a problem. Or many problems!

Fear the Sky moves at an arduous pace, not unlike tree sap in the cold seasons. Copious exposition is used to describe the "object" moving through space, the odds of its trajectory, and how it would unlikely hit earth, and if it did, the odds of it making impact with the ground. This part wasn't uninteresting, but I grew impatient, wading through gobs of information and waiting for the story to start. Then we're introduced to our main character, or at least one of them. He's a PhD student working at a USAF monitoring station, and splitting his time between complaining about insufficient bandwidth and using government computers to search for porn. This is how memorable he is as a character - that I cannot remember his name. It should be no wonder, though. If you read the synopsis for the book, not only is the entire plot of the book spelled out for us, but nowhere are any of the character's of interest mentioned! Seriously? Strange. I know there are a lot of characters, evidently, but a story has to pivot around a few, strong, character's voices, and one would think they at least be included in the synopsis. Instead, we are treated to a spoiler-filled description, which like Moss's writing style, leaves absolutely nothing to the imagination.

That brings me to my next point - the writing. Moss's prose isn't bad, or he has a really good editor. But he insists on spoon feeding us every, tiny, bit or detail. Anything he feels we need know, we know. Even, mind you, information that isn't recognizable to the characters moving the plot along. We call this unearned information, and there is a lot of it. There is no nuance, - please don't mistaken nuance or subtlety for snarky or clever writing. Clever or snarky writing for its own sake is simply self serving. While reading, I found myself constantly imagining how the scenes, or elements, could have been written, and how the right approach could have crafted an incredibly intriguing and mysterious story. But that's just it, there is no intrigue, no mystery. Instead, the 3rd person/omniscient point of view jumps into every character's head, tells us exactly what they are thinking, and ultimately leaves absolutely nothing to the imagination. Good writers craft stories of people who are close to, or are affected by mysterious happenstances, and the story unfolds around them to reveal the larger plot at work. This story, gives us pretty much everything upfront, holds our hand along the way, like an automated, slow moving, guided tour. Achievement unlocked: imagination disengaged. For me, once that happens, I officially remove myself from the book.

R.C Bray isn't a horrible narrator. He has a good voice, But I found his tone to get a little monotone, and at times, it, mixed with the writing, lulled me into a stupor. It is one of the first audiobooks I've ever listened to that didn't hold my attention, and when I realized that I had missed something, or been distracted, I wasn't worried about backing up and investigating what I'd missed. I won't bother with any more of Moss's books. Granted, this is all my personal preference. Take each review for what they are, a person's personal reaction. If it's all the same, I recommend moving along, or giving the sample a good, hard listen. This book is not for everyone.

This is the first book, in any medium, I have ever returned.

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Glory RoadGlory Road by Robert A. Heinlein
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Judging and reviewing "Glory Road" today is an interesting, and somewhat difficult, task. Written in 1964, the height of Heinlein's literary success, it becomes apparent very quickly that this story, and its characters, are from a different time, when gender roles were viewed differently, but also when politics and foreign military action were viewed and received differently. Just consider the themes: E.C is drafted and serves in a "foreign military policing action", as the west reacts to the "red scare" that former French colonial territory Indochina, afterwards known as Vietnam, would transition fully into a communist state and shift the balance of the post-WWII, cold war era world. Believe it or not, I considered most of this when I set out to read this book - and unlike some people, whom were insulted or offended by the overtly sexist bits, or Heinlein's more conservative views towards government and the military, I found them fascinating, as if not only looking back onto this masterfully crafted story, but also the time period and sociopolitical undercurrents that shaped it.

I didn't find E.C "Scar" as likable as most of Heinlein's protagonists, and yet, he wasn't entirely unlikable either. His confidence-sometimes bordering on arrogant demeanor made him less relatable for me. But then again, I must also make concessions. This is a young man taken from his home, shipped overseas, and thrust into a conflict people couldn't understand, or support. When considering this, his attitude starts making more sense. A person who looses control of their destiny, or more realistically, their short-term future (draftees) might come back and seek to not only retain some semblance of control over their lives, but also struggle reintegrating into a culture that they are either ill equipped for, or were never allowed to acclimate to before joining military service. This is a concept broached by many authors - and it is something that young men struggle with this very day.

Scar's relationships with Star and Rufo are interesting, and definitely drive the plot, especially when you mix in later twists. Scar's attitude towards women is a mix, as at times he comes off as a misogynist, threatening Star with spankings (not only the hand variety, but with her own sword), but also with how they interact. At other times, Scar slides towards the other end of the spectrum, noting his distaste for the idea of young Vietnamese women (or little sisters as he refers to them) who offer themselves to men at a price. This theme is confronted again while the trio is questing, as Scar is offered a small group of female bed mates by a local lord, as hospitality. Heinlein briefly confronts these issues of sexuality, even confronting legalized prostitution - noting that our earth is the only one in an expansive system of inhabited planets to engage in the barbaric tradition. For the most part, Scar functions as the "A" typical man, exerting control, and thus dominance, on the others in his party. The interesting question that continued to pop into my head is this: Is E.C this way, because that was the male gender role of the time - the strong, dominant, head-of-the-household type that makes women sub servant, or, is this the post military, combat veteran reestablishing himself in a world void of strict military discipline, rank, and chain of command? Was he trying to retake control of his life? Or was this ingrained or learned misogyny.

Story wise, Heinlein mixes equal parts fantasy and science fiction, which work very well together. The plot moves at a crisp pace - and I love that he didn't end the story at the cliched moment "quest complete/item retrieved, hero and heroine return to kingdom and live happily ever after." Yes, some people will fault the ending as weak, but I found it intriguing. It speaks to Scar's character, the relationships he builds with Star and Rufo along the way, as well as a natural, intrinsic wanderlust suffered by people whose lives have been altered by war or dramatic change. The Glory Road, much like the soldier's path tears down much, if not all, of what a person's knows or expects. It changes their views, their ideals, but mostly, what they will come to expect and demand out of the world, and the people around them. You don't simply live through something like that and expect to go unchanged - no, you will be a different person. I believe that is one of the central themes Heinlein was trying to confront in this book. How the conflict of the road for glory changes us, and thus, how and where we fit into society afterwards.

In the end, I found Glory Road a fun, engaging read well-worth my time.

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Alien: Out of the Shadows: An Audible Original DramaAlien: Out of the Shadows: An Audible Original Drama by Tim Lebbon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Alien (the original movie) shaped my understanding and appreciation for science fiction very early on. I loved Cameron's follow up, Aliens (although I concede that I was a little disappointed with the incredibly linear direction he took to the story, as well as the reduction of the Xenomorph to "bugs" essentially).

I became a rabid fan once Fox and Dark Horse started expanding the universe, gobbling up every Alien comic book and canon novel I could get my hands on. The direction of the movie series disheartened me, as Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection showed an inherent lack of focus, and a desire, by the studio, to cash in on cheap thrills and gore, rendering Ridley Scott's classic, horrifying "Big Chap" monster into something hollow and two dimensional...a slasher flick back guy. Gone was the mystery, the myth, and the subtlety that so actively engaged our imaginations. By the 3rd movie, the Alien was stampeding through a prison colony killing anyone that got in its way. I will always argue with those that defend it - it's bad, and not just for the skin-deep blemishes, but also the flaws right down to the bone, that cheapens and degrades one of sci-fi's foundational monsters. For me, Alien canon ends when Ripley, Hicks, Newt, and half of Bishop return to cryo after surviving LV426 and the stowaway queen.

Enter Alien: Out of the Shadows. Due to a hiatus from the series, I only recently became away of these books, Out of the Shadows, Sea of Sorrow, and River of Pain. I purchased River of Pain in softcover not realizing that it was the 3rd canon novel, so I decided to go back to the beginning and start with Out of the Shadows. I noticed the audiobook in audible, but wait, it was more than simply an audiobook. It was an ensemble production, by Audible Studios no less. After giving the sample a quick listen, I dove in.

First off, the production is top notch. Audio quality is excellent, sounds effects drive you right back into the Alien universe, and they spared no expense on the cast - even locking up Rutger Hauer. The story pulls us into an altogether different world, LV178, where we finally get to expand the canvas. (NO spoilers). The commercial mining support vessel, Marion, is orbiting the planet, where an active Traminite mine expands into a "natural" void underground and stumbles onto something. Gee I wonder what!

I loved that this story gave us enough taste of what made Alien so horrifying originally, but dared to step foot off LV426, and even teased us with some revelations buried deep underground. Scott oversimplified the "space jockey", attempting to explain them away as humanoid engineers in Prometheus. I think he really dropped the ball there, and could have spun some really interesting backstory and depth. This book feels like it is pushing back against Scott's vision in Prometheus, and I have to admit that I am glad it does. My only complaint with the production is the delivery of details, and this isn't the fault of any of the performers, or directors. In order to adapt this to theatrical audio, the script had to be rendered down and altered, so many of the details we would otherwise read and digest ourselves, have to be performed for us. Even after listening to Alien: Out of the Shadows, I want to pick up a copy of the book and read through it. I can't help but feel that I will gain a deeper understanding of the story, and the significance embedded within it. I was also nervous when they brought Ripley into the mix, as this story falls 37 years after Alien, and 20 before Aliens. There was some creative story elements in play to explain it, and in the end it worked. yes, most of it was a little too convenient, but it didn't hurt the story in the end.

Is Alien: Out of the Shadows going to hold the same appeal to non-Alien fans? No. If you have never seen Alien or Aliens, or you weren't a fan, then this probably isn't the book for you. Does this feel like fan service? It sure does, but like mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving, I will hold up my plate and enthusiastically ask for seconds. In the end, Out of the Shadows provides a quality extension to the Alien universe. It is a far more palatable follow up than Alien 3, Resurrection, AVP, or AVP Requiem. I only hope they take the breadcrumbs they spread out for us in this novel, and lead us a little deeper down that bio-mechanical looking rabbit hole.

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Dawn of Wonder (The Wakening, #1)Dawn of Wonder by Jonathan Renshaw
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Alright. My mouse hovered over Dawn of Wonder many times, as I shopped for the next book to experience. Something about the cover, and the synopsis, threw me off. Maybe it looked and felt too Young adult? Maybe it was something I can't entirely explain. Eventually, I bit the proverbial bullet, and dove in. Boy am I glad that I did.

Jonathan Renshaw teases us a bit with Dawn of Wonder. It starts with a fairly pedestrian tale of a young man living a fairly routine fantasy existence. He's got a best friend (who's a girl), some buddies, and is evidently not as brave as some would like him to be. The first part plays out like a short story, or in reality, another book all of its own. Introduce bad guys, some well placed skills handed down from hard-to-like father, and we are gifted with both Aedan's quest ambitions, but also his crutch. The rest (meat) of the story is Aedan's ultimate coming of age story. It flows smoothly, wrapping around you like waves, propelling you towards an end you will undoubtedly not be ready for. I know I wasn't ready.

The prose is good, and achieves a healthy balance between succinct and verbose, utilizing just enough exposition, environmental character interaction, and dialogue. It could have tipped very easily, as it is far easier to info dump when world building, letting your narrator fill in all the blanks, than properly utilizing your players to set the stage. Bravo to Renshaw in that aspect. By the end of Dawn of Wonder you will know enough about this world to paint it in your mind. Have a firm enough relationship with Aedan to know what makes him tick, why he is the way he is, and what will likely drive him forward. This was probably my favorite aspect of the book. Renshaw uses a deft hand to weave Aeden as a character, infusing him with a complicated, but completely relatable history. I cannot wait to see how his exploits unfold moving forward. If you are a fan of fantasy, epic stories, and root for the underdog, coming of age stories, Dawn of Wonder is for you!

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We Are Legion (We Are Bob) (Bobiverse, #1)We Are Legion (We Are Bob) by Dennis E. Taylor
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A book should succeed, or fail, based off its merits. Risk management. Some authors play it safe for that very reason, telling the same story as countless others, just in a slightly different way, or perhaps through the lens of a slightly different character. Dragons, soon to be decommissioned ship first contact with Aliens and has to save the day, young adult trying to find their way in this hostile world while finding out they are the last remaining spawn of famous vampire hunter or part god...yada yada yada. The list goes on and on. And then you stumble across a book that sounds so wildly different that you almost dismiss it out of hand. Just like I did with We are Legion (We are Bob). I am so happy to say I second guessed myself.

We Are Legion (We Are Bob) is the story of Bob, who just so happens to sign a contract with a cryo company, then up and steps in front of a car while in Las Vegas for a science fiction convention. He wakes up some time later, removed of some vital, physical components. A.k.a, his body. He discovers that his consciousness, through the passage of time, and some corporate acquisitions, has become the I.P of a faith based business state. Their plan for him? Load him into a special probe and launch him out amongst the stars. The rest is legend, and fantastic storytelling. (No spoilers).

We Are Legion (We Are Bob), is riveting science fiction. It melds detail oriented storytelling, with compelling characterization, and does it with a cast of characters that share so much (base code) in common. The idea of Bob making copies of himself, and then keeping them all straight both fascinated and terrified me...from a storytelling perspective, that is. But Taylor does a magnificent job of building each subsequent Bob up as their own character, provide them with just enough individual quirks, and then drawing on the character's science fiction upbringing to give them their own identities and names. The writing is clever, lending the proper snark, witty, and sometimes dry voice to Bob(s), mixing with a fast moving and very interesting story. Taylor has achieved very good literary balance between prose, dialogue, and story. Did it end too soon for me? Yes it did. Do I hate waiting for sequels? Yes I do. But wait I will.

I didn't have any complaints with this book, save for one. I wish I had learned about it years down the road, when I could binge through the entire series of books. Taylor has obviously set himself up for a long-running science fiction series here, and I can't wait to read more. Two very enthusiastic thumbs up! P.S. I highly encourage people to skip the written version of this book, and go for the audio book. The narration lends so much to the different characters (versions of Bob), and wound up being one of the best audio books I listened to this year. Which is saying a lot!

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The Spaceship Next DoorThe Spaceship Next Door by Gene Doucette
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I picked The Spaceship Next Door as my next read because I was feeling the sudden and inexplicable need to read some good science fiction. The concept drew me in. It is intriguing, mysterious, and promises much more. Unfortunately, that promise falls flat due to clunky delivery and bloated, exposition (egregious) heavy narrative.

Are the characters good? Yes, they are. But none of them really stuck with me afterwards. Is this because none of them did anything particularly noteworthy? Partially. But also because they get swept up and drown in disappointing story telling. I knew I was in for a long read early on, when the narrator stops and drops into a disturbingly long expose about not only the history of Sorrow Falls, but more specifically the man that founded it. All of this triggered off a character glancing at a painting. Is it backstory, and in some way necessary? Yes, but it completely pulls you out of the action, and in fact, is rather clunky in its attempt to transition back in. This trend continues, dumping unearned information on us by the truckload, every time the characters encounter something the author feels is noteworthy or interesting. Doucette doesn't use the character's dialogue organically here, which is a shame, as Annie's voice would have been perfect for the task.

At about the halfway point, I couldn't help but feel that the actual story was only getting started, even though I'd already read a substantial number of pages. If I am being honest, I was bored and almost put the book down at this point. But I persevered, noting that it did improve as the action picked up. The science in Doucette's science fiction is pretty light, just like any violence or conflict isn't particular heavy. There is an indecisive hand at play with this story. It doesn't want to go too hard with the sci-fi, just like it promises a little horror, but backs away as soon as things could have gotten wonderfully dark. Focus blurs at many points, leaving us with a rather vague, dettached understanding of how things really stand for the town in general. I never felt much fear for the characters, unfortunately, nor was I particularly drawn into the plot. I continued almost purely out of curiosity. I wanted answers to all the "why" questions this story is built off of. We are rewarded with answers to most of them, but my response to the big reveal...flat. I won't spoil it, but I was disappointed.

Doucette is obviously a good writer. The prose is good, and the dialogue feels natural and does adequately build the characters, and to a point helps to support the greater concept at work, but unfortunately, for my money, it was spoiled by the overly padded delivery. Although not a horrible read, I found that The Spaceship Next Door requires an acquired taste. The end result here is a book full of clever writing, versus an engaging story.



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Nemesis Games (Expanse, #5)Nemesis Games by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Nemesis Games...The Expanse #5. Where to begin? To start, I thoroughly enjoyed Leviathan Wakes and Caliban's War, but I struggled with Cibola Burn and Abaddon's Gate. Whereas the first two books stayed relatively close to the primary characters, and only strayed to add series mainstays like Bobby Draper and "Chrissy", books 3 & 4 drifted, almost aimlessly at times. New characters didn't add as much, and at times only served to pull us away from Holden and the crew of the Rocinante. Me thinks that the authors listened, and thus gave us, Nemesis Games. I'm always a big fan of rotating perspectives (as long as the characters can carry the weight), and this format, and this story, it works perfectly. I loved each individual subplot, and found that I was growing more invested in the story each time it shifted from Amos, to Naomi, to Alex, and finally back to Holden again. This installment doesn't necessarily build the universe, but it digs deeper into these character's pasts, complicates them, and as a result, allows us to invest that much more into them emotionally. I didn't cringe when the perspective shifted, as I sometimes did with characters like Anna, or the Ganymede outcasts turned colonists, turned relatable terrorists. I just didn't connect with those characters to the same degree. That doesn't make them bad characters, but I also don't believe that they should have necessarily carried so much of the story. Off track. Nemesis Games corrects much of those problems, by bringing the compelling characters that we've grown to love back to the forefront. I'm also okay that this book is slightly shorter, although I did groan when the pages flipped and I realized that I had run out of story. This is a book I was not ready to be done with. Needless to say, the story ended, but I was not ready for it to be over. Achievement unlocked: reinvestment in the series.
It is obvious that these authors have a grand story planned out for us (more than they have already provided I should say), with what feels like dozens of volumes yet to come. If they continue like Leviathan Wakes, Caliban's War, and now Nemesis Games, I will be one of the first in line to gobble them up as they come out.

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Cibola Burn (Expanse, #4)Cibola Burn by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Better than Abaddon's Gate, but still a shadow of Leviathan and Caliban. On a bright note, it does add "Death Slug" to the universe that brought us "vomit zombies".
The gang of the Rocinante get to stretch their legs a bit when they are roped into playing mediator, between a group of interloper colonists (Ganymede refugees that decide to settle on one of the new gate worlds), and the big bad energy company and the crew of scientists that are dispatched to explore and or investigate this new world. I get it, big corporations bad, little guy good. Preaching.
There is a lot of political tension in this book, with some subtle, and some not so subtle allusions to current and past political and religious issues. Hence: A group of outcasts settling in a land that another group feels is their's because they have the more valid claim. Yes, Royal Charter Energy has been granted rights to the planet by the U.N. The RCE ship is also called the Edward Israel - after the crusading prince/made king Edward I who charged himself with the task of cleansing the Holy land of the "infidels", and Israel, the post WWII Jewish state set upon that very same contested ground. I get it, and this story definitely establishes who the bad guys are. I'm sure most readers will pick up on the lessons included. The gun toting RCE security lead is just a tad too cliche for my taste. He's rigid and inflexible to a fault, no doubt a jab at a certain political ideology.
There is plenty of conflict here, but I found that by the end of the book I was exhausted by it. Man versus man, man versus ancient aliens, man versus environment, and so on. It all kind of feels jumbled together. The conflict I was truly interested in, that of this alien scourge that somehow wiped out the now long-dead race of universe expanding gate builders, gets relatively little attention for most of the book. Ideally, I would have liked to see this story line get the lion share of attention. Not a horrible book, but not the best in the series so far.

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Abaddon's Gate (Expanse, #3)Abaddon's Gate by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Definitely a step down from Caliban's War. Abaddon's Gate feels like too little butter spread over too much bread. Although I did find the conflict engaging, I found the pace to be a detriment. This is definitely a slow burn novel, and there isn't nearly enough Jim Holden, Naomi, Amos, and Alex to save it. Note for future volumes: if you're going to introduce new characters at expense of established crowd favorites, the story had better be top notch, seat-of-your-pants material. Abaddon's Gate hasn't soured me on the Expanse series as a whole, but I definitely feel that it is a speed bump along the way.

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Caliban's War (Expanse, #2)Caliban's War by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved Leviathan Wakes. Holden and his crew is a lovable collection of misfits. Amos and Alex regularly make me laugh out loud, which doesn't often happen when I'm reading. I like that the story picks up where the first installment ended. Plus, we are introduced to bad ass Bobby Draper. Oftentimes new characters introduced into a running series won't always live up to the standards created by the mainstays. Not here. Prax can be frustrating at times, but Bobby more than makes up for it. Big bad Bobby in her power armor kicks all the right kind of ass. she's a keeper.

The writing in this volume is just as good in the predecessor, although I do think that some of the conflict, especially the space battles, suffers from what I like to call pull back. The writers pull back, and instead of using their character's voices and eyes to show the action scenes, turn to excessive amounts of exposition. Just another form of show versus tell, but in this case I think the tense moments could have been so much more. This is just a writer's nit pick.

The ending is a gut checker, and forced me to grab Abaddon's Gate to find out exactly what the proto molecule has in store for Holden and the rest of mankind.

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ResthavenResthaven by Erik Therme
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My honest thoughts on Rest Haven, by Erik Therme.

Rest Haven is targeted at teens, that much is very clear. At its heart it is centered around a group of girls that decide to have a sleep over. It turns out, the sleep over is going to be a scavenger hunt in a creepy, abandoned nursing home. Uh, creepy. Knowing that, I was on board.

The writing is very concise and efficient, and the linear story moves along at a frantic pace. This is one of those books that is very easy to burn through in one or two sittings. The characters were hard for me to connect with, then again, I am not a teenage girl. I will relent that point.

Therme's writing is very professional, although I do believe that he waters the writing down just a tad too much. Then again, I consider the age of his target readers and consider this a necessary evil. In the end, Rest Haven is a well rounded, slightly suspenseful offering that will no doubt draw in the pre-teen, teen, and young adult crowd. For me, I needed a touch more fright in the mix. Perhaps more atmosphere and jumps. But that's just personal preference. In the end, I would highly recommend it, and will undoubtedly pass it along to my own daughters.

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Leviathan Wakes (Expanse, #1)Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I changed things up. I watched the first season of the adaptation on Syfy network first. In fact, I didn't even know about the books until I started watching the show. So this might be one of those cases where the two different mediums actually supported one another. The show encompasses the first half of the book, so I knew what I was in for, to an extent. Now onto the book.

Leviathan Wakes is the science fiction equivalent of epic fantasy. Lets call it epic sci-fi. And that isn't merely because of its length (although it is a lengthy book), but more for its expansive (ha ha, nice pun) list of characters, although the meat of the story is told exclusively through the lens of both Jim Holden and Detective Miller. I like this, as I get bored when I am stuck with just one character's perspective. I need to jump around, see more of the world, and get into more than one character's head. How else can you effectively build a large, substantive world? Holden and Miller presented differently enough that their separate voices worked well, especially once they come into contact with each other. I really liked Miller. He's burned out, cynical, and quick on the trigger, but he feels real. You can tell that he is looking for something. Something that is very clearly missing from his life. I found this enduring. I like Holden, but there were moments where his cowboy-esque attitude rubbed me a little raw. He is rash and impulsive, and more often than not, gets those people closest to him into more trouble. But that is who he is. I may not have always liked him, but I can appreciate him. And I can't be a hypocrite and say I wouldn't do the very same thing if I were in his shoes.

The story moves along at a fairly even pace, although I did think the earlier part of book drug along, especially during the attack on the Cantebury. This was one of the moments where I feel that the producers of the show made a change for the better. This entire sequence is too long, and takes entirely too long to reach its conclusion. In effect, it removed almost all the emotional significance for me. And yet, once the story moves beyond that initial conflict, things pick up pace. Especially once the book reaches the final twist (won't spoil it, but I loved it).

In the end, Leviathan Wakes is an exciting introductory volume for a riveting new space-opera series. You will surely be motivated to jump directly from book 1 to 2, and so on. Lucky enough for us, there are 5 books, plus a number of intermediate novellas to burn through. Highly recommended for science fiction and thriller fans.

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Morning Star (Red Rising, #3)Morning Star by Pierce Brown
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow!~ What an epic conclusion to a truly fantastic series. I wavered a bit once I started Red Rising, but by the time I started Golden Son, I was hooked. Although his prose falters at times, marred by a reliance on passive voice, Brown has crafted one of the best trilogies that I have ever read. Morning Star is filled with intrigue, character development, betrayals, triumphs, and resolve shattering losses. I feared how this series would be drawn to a close. Mostly because a resolution felt so far off, but Brown did not disappoint. The ending is realistic as well (no spoilers here), and sets the table for an entirely new series for these wonderful characters.
As an aside, Sevro may just be one of my new all-time favorite characters. There were so many moments where he made me genuinely laugh out loud. Howlers fall in!
In the end, this is a highly recommended read.

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Golden Son (Red Rising, #2)Golden Son by Pierce Brown
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What can I say about Golden Son? It is fresh, riveting, and completely captivating. I am thoroughly invested in Darrow and the other characters now. Brown's style was difficult for me in Red Rising, but I can say that it has grown on me, and I can't wait to start book 3.

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Red Rising (Red Rising, #1)Red Rising by Pierce Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a difficult book to review...why? Because ultimately, it feels like 2 completely different stories. The first segment follows Darrow, his young wife, and their life together as lowly miners slaving to make Mars habitable. This portion of the book was wonderful, once you get acclimated to the accents, dialect specific language, and exposition-heavy writing. (It gets thick) The second part took me by surprise, as it veered off into a strange, hard pg-13 version of Harry Potter meets Ender's Game, plus a dash of Game of Thrones. Darrow is remade into a gold and thrust into the institute, which is essentially a medieval version of survivor, meets capture the flag. The dialog was good, but became scattered at times. I listened to the audio book version, and got lost in some conversations because of a lack of dialog tags. The writing is really the hardest thing to overcome in this book as it was written in a style I am not entirely used to: 1st person - present tense.

With that said, the story really did grip me. Sufficient time is spent building Darrow as a character to understand his ambitions, the events that drive him, and his ultimate goals. Those, in part, are why I ultimately bonded with him as a character. He isn't perfect, despite the fact that he is trying to play "the" part, amidst a sea of elevated peers. Darrow is relatable, flawed, and ever aware of those facts.

The uses of colors was one thing that confused me early on. There are references to his, or her, red hair, and even eye color, but without sufficient detail, I was left with a number of questions. Are these classes of people (reds, golds, pinks, whites, obsidians, and grays) always wearing their color? Are their bodies these colors as well? If not, how are these people identified by their colors, and resulting class? Also, the action receives the lions share of attention, forcing the setting to drift into the background, sadly forgotten and out of focus. I love to inhabit the worlds created in books. Red Rising promised a rich one, and in some ways it delivered, and others, failed. There are castles, forests, sprawling, gravity defying cities, and an underground mining community that would make the original Total Recall proud. Yet, it is all painted in broad strokes. We read about things like fry suits, burners, and grav boots, but it was like I was supposed to already know what these things are, and what they look like.

In the end, Red Rising is a relatively fresh take on the Y.A. hero elevation trope, buts its all been done now. Harry Potter, Maze Runner, Divergent, the list goes one. They all deal with young people thrust into a new world, sorted, trying to find their place in this society, and ultimately fighting an unjust world or structure, but Red Rising doesn't pull any punches. The darker, grittier tone works well, as it represents the harsh realities of life for these people. By the end of the story, I was hooked. If you decide to read, stick with it. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

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Cove (Orchard Book 2)Cove by Jed Quinn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Cove is a worthy follow up to Orchard. The story picks up right away, and avoids the clunky transition that so many second-in-series books suffer from. Orchard is more effectively fleshed out, and the world Quinn is building gets deeper and more complex. Relationships are tested, duties are questioned, and the scene is set for the finale. Bravo.

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The Summer JobThe Summer Job by Adam Cesare
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I enjoyed The Summer Job, but had some issues with both pacing and the story's climax. Kudos to Adam. His writing is sufficiently snarky and sarcastic. His prose is crisp and clean, although there were some chapters that felt significantly more inspired than others. He lends Silverfish the voice she deserves in this particular story, which truly is a credit, as writing the opposite sex can be challenging to say the least. The tone is dark, yet hovers just above the murk, where I think this story really would have shined. That tentativeness is what holds this book back. Yes there are some dark moments. There is some violence, but it feels reserved, or held back. When reading horror, especially one about devil worshiping cults, I expect some shock value. The Summer Job hinted in this department, but didn't deliver in others. The pacing is both a detriment and a success to the story. A good thriller, or horror offering, should be menacing and relentless. It should stalk you through the pages, allowing the reader to develop a false sense of security, only to pull the rug out from beneath them at key moments. The Summer Job simmers and smolders. The pacing feels right, but there aren't enough flashes and flares to surprise. The ending didn't stir me like I was hoping. There was no twist, or jarring moment. This resulted in a fizzle, fizzle story with no flash - bang and resulting (and usually necessary) catharsis. The Summer Job isn't a bad book, not by any means. It just wasn't particularly moving horror/thriller offering. I want my horror/thriller stories to scare me/force me to question something/or cause me some disquiet while I'm reading it by myself at night. If you are a fan of classic horror, I definitely believe The Summer Job warrants some consideration.

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Threads of Malice  (Dubric Bryerly, #2)Threads of Malice by Tamara Jones
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Threads of Malice warrants an emotional, gut response, because…well, it’s a book that demands one. Dubric, Lars, Dien, and Otlee all return in this book, traveling into the Reach to investigate some rather alarming rumors. The story that follows is a methodical, gut wrenching, and at times heartbreaking, thriller. Backstory deepens, characters bond, and our bond with them is strengthened in effect. It is shocking and gruesome, but for a reason. Don’t listen to anyone that tries to tell you otherwise. There are moments of agony, moments of triumph (you go Lars), and moments that just may bring you to your knees. I felt emotionally tethered to the story, and the characters, which is something I can’t often claim. Threads of Malice doesn’t just suck you deeper into the Jones’s vivid, fantastical world, but it forces us to address some of the more deeply seated and less oft explored sentiments: what it means to be human, and the chaotic and horribly complex components therein. As I said above, gut wrenching and undeniable, and in the end, masterful. Bravo!

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Ghosts in the Snow (Dubric Bryerly, #1)Ghosts in the Snow by Tamara Jones
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I picked Ghosts in the Snow as my January 2016 book of the month. Yes, I liked it that much! I just finished Ghosts in the Snow, by Tamara Jones, a week or two ago, and I had to jump right into the second one right away. There are so many reasons why Ghosts in the Snow is a perfect fit for January. It is a dark, engrossing read. Part mystery, part thriller and crime procedural, Ghosts in the Snow is the perfect pairing to cold, dark days, ankle deep snow, and the kind of wind that whistles and howls outside your house like an angry beast. Be forewarned, it is graphic, in a no holds barred manner, after all, real life doesn't sensor itself to pg or pg-13, why should good literature. Killers are brutal, deranged psychopaths, driving the need for well developed, likable heroes. And they are heroes as you know them in the real world. They preform the duties no one else wants to, get elbow deep in the wretched, visceral, and vile, and in the end, sacrifice themselves to keep everyone else safe. I connected with this book on so many levels, and thoroughly recommend it.

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The Gifted (Gifted, # 1)The Gifted by Anna Kathryn Davis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I started reading "The Gifted" without an preconceived notions. I only knew what I heard from others. That the author, Anna Davis, wrote it when she was a teenager, and that it was the first in a trilogy. I was intrigued, as Christopher Paolini's "Eragon" series, which he started at 15, was inspirational in my early writing career. The first part of The Gifted struck me. It introduces Rose, and in my opinion, is the strongest part of this novel. It details a young woman, living alone in the wilds with a tiger, and struggling to deal with what sets her apart from the rest of humanity. In my opinion, this could have been the entire book. It is dark, it is mysterious, and it is intriguing. Her backstory hints at real, driving conflict, but also a world that is not quite right. The story changes very quickly however, introducing more gifted characters, and expanding the world beyond her sanctuary. Rose is introduced to the "Infestation", which sounds terrifying enough, especially when merged with the idea of giant insects bursting out of people's bodies. Being a fan of all things dark, horror, and science fiction, this excited me.

Some of my concerns: A great amount of time is spent on the teenage romantic entanglements. This conflict/relationships work, at times, but at others they detract from what I felt was the greater threat. Also, I struggled at times to paint the world in depth. The action and flow of the story are good, but I found myself reading details and questioning what I thought I already knew. How bad is the infestation? Is it worldwide? Has it already taken everything over? If so, that would make a resistance make sense, but I never got a good enough sense of the world they were traveling through to make those distinctions.

What I liked: I have no concerns with Anna's writing ability. Her dialogue is crisp, concise, and very well written throughout, and her prose is top notch. Like i said earlier on, the first part of the book is fantastic. Rose could be afforded her own novel, just to explore her complicated and interesting backstory. She is a character that struggles with personal relationships, and who can blame her, she spent some of her formative years living in self-inflicted exile. I also like the overall story arc. It introduces us to a terrifying, predatory alien presence, and a humanity either unprepared or unaware of their presence.

All in all, The Gifted is a quality introductory novel, from an author I am confident will scribble great things!

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Prisoner (The Traveler Chronicles #2)Prisoner by Dennis W. Green
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Prisoner picks up right where Traveler leaves off. We learn that there is a multi-dimensional war brewing, and unfortunately, Trav Becker is smack dab in the middle of it. I was fortunate to read Prisoner as a manuscript, and feel qualified to say that Dennis W. Green is one of the most polished writers I know. His execution of 1st person feels more natural in Prisoner, like he has grown into the style. And that should not be taken as a knock on Traveler by any stretch of the imagination. His integration of detail is another strong suit. Unlike some other 1st person offerings, Prisoner contains that "right" amount of detail. And by right amount I mean both the quantity of it, and the quality. Prisoner doesn't bog you down with superfluous detail, but neither does it parade you through a stark and utterly devoid canvas either. Trav Becker's world is fleshed out, familiar enough to be the next street over from where you live, and effectively utilized. This helps Green maintain one of Prisoner's greatest attributes: it's pacing. There are no slow downs or lulls plaguing the story, and no doubt makes Prisoner a book you will consume rather than read. Green will take you deeper into the science fiction of Trav Becker's world of multi dimensions. Where running into another version of oneself isn't only plausible, but believable. You will see the science at play deepen and grow more complicated, adding rules, but also, ramifications. This opens the story up to travel in any number of directions. Oh, the options! If you are like me, you will hit the last page and curse. Not for any flaw in the story or writing, but because it has come to an end, and now I must wait for the next book to be released!

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Boom TownBoom Town by Glenn Rolfe
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Boomtowns sprung up across America in the mid-19th century, usually focused around concentrations of natural resources. Ironically enough, Glenn Rolfe’s science fiction novella Boom Town shares the same name, but for a different reason. Or, is it? Rolfe has injected some subtle themes throughout. Ones which will undoubtedly keep your gears turning well after you finish reading.

Born of equal parts “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, “Fire in the Sky”, and “The Blob”, Boom Town sets out to forge its own distinctive mark with science fiction and horror fans. It starts out in the year 1979 (the year I was born, yes, I was probably dropped here on earth by the same aliens) in small town Eckert, Wisconsin. There was an encounter of the unidentified flying object variety. A strange craft hovered over Hollers Hill, and subsequently blasted a blue beam into the ground. Strange rumblings have shaken the town ever since.

Fast forward to present day Eckert as we pick up with young Brady Carmichael, and his best-friend Kim Jenner. They feel like your average pre-teens. They go to school, they have their special haunts, and they may or may not hold secret flames for each other. Brady and Kim are both great characters. They are complicated and deep, Brady especially. His history of tragedy and loss guides his actions and makes him an incredibly compelling character.

The face of evil is well represented. Locals, contaminated by the mysterious blue slop, begin carrying out foreign desires “Take them. Bring them. Ascend”. They’re actions are savage, brutal, but not without reason. The alien presence behind the scenes in Eckert has designs. It has a plan. But what is the strange alien goop? Why does it affect Brady so differently than other people? What does it mean by ascend? Oh the mystery. If you are like me, you will undoubtedly be left grasping at the meaning behind it all. Grasping at what this alien intrusion into Eckert, Wisconsin means to the small town’s people, but in a broader sense for mankind in general.

Rolfe utilizes the short word count masterfully, spinning efficient prose into a science fiction amusement park ride that will leave you tapping the next page button at the end. But thanks to the story’s oblique nature we are left to ponder much on our own. Some readers will undoubtedly be seeking tidy conflict resolution, an ending which ties it all together with a bow so you can cleanly move on to the next story. But that was not Rolfe’s design here, and I have to say it is what I loved most about Boom Town. It engaged my imagination, and upped the sense of dread and foreboding. It left me with more questions than answers. In short, it kept me thinking long after I had finished reading. Who knows, Maybe Rolfe will journey back into the Boom Town universe in the future. I can say that if he does, I will readily, no eagerly, dive back in. If you are a fan of science fiction, horror, thrillers, or fiction in general, I highly recommend that you pick up Boom Town and give it a read!


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Pirate LatitudesPirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Michael Crichton has been one of my favorite authors. When I discovered that Pirate Latitudes was discovered, and published posthumously, needless to say, I was excited to read it. Although not quite up to par with some of his other releases, Pirate Latitudes definitely includes some of Crichton's DNA. I am a fan of historical fiction, swash-buckling pirate stories, and Michael Crichton. With that said, this book did not disappoint. I found it to be a satisfying read, and wholeheartedly recommend it.

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Rule of the BoneRule of the Bone by Russell Banks
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Rule of the Bone is an intriguing field study into the human coping mechanism. Chappy, also known as Bone is a damaged young man. He is the product of a broken family, sexual abuse, drugs, and parental apathy. His story is one of self discovery, maturation, and the loss of innocence. With that said, I found Rule of the Bone a fairly engaging read, not without its difficulties. It is told from the perspective of an under educated, drug using 14 year old boy, so naturally the language itself is going to be a bit touchy. Rendered in a lengthy, run-on stream of consciousness style of writing, Rule of the Bone may lose you from time to time, and force you to stop, backtrack and reread to gain the proper understanding. It is not perfect, then again, it is not intended to be. Complain all you want about the style of writing, but Banks delivers the story how he intends to. He gets you into the head of Chappy/Bone, and thus give you the closest possible vantage. Was this the easiest book to get through? No. Do I think it provides us some important lessons about human growth, maturation, and the loss of innocence? Definitely. With that said, I recommend you give Rule of the Bone a read.

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The Dark ServantThe Dark Servant by Matt Manochio
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Dark Servant – a review.
The first thing I noticed about The Dark Servant was the cover. Admittedly, I have a thing for monsters. I must also confess that when I first picked up this book to start reading I knew next to nothing about the Krampus folklore. Boy was I in for a treat! Also known as the “Christmas Devil”, Krampus was the dark side to St. Nicholas’ light. Where Nicholas rewarded good children, Krampus punished the bad, and so on.
With that understanding firmly in place, I sat down and dug into Matt Manochio’s debut novel, hoping for a thrilling treat. I can say that I was not disappointed! Set in present day New Jersey, The Dark Servant follows Billy Schweitzer, the youngest son of the local police chief. Kids start disappearing, and all that is left behind are massive hoof prints in the snow. Okay…strange. Off we shoot on an adventure of fear, repentance, and self-discovery, as their small New Jersey town is thrown into a crushing blizzard.
The Dark Servant is an engrossing read. You quickly empathize with the characters, especially Billy and his (wish she was my girl) friend, Maria. They gather the facts and surmise Krampus’ identity before anyone else, and struggle with the realization that they are dealing with a supernatural monster. And how in the world are they going to convince the adults?
Krampus is truly an otherworldly character, and comes to life for a whole new generation of readers in this story. I really enjoyed The Dark Servant, and highly recommend it!


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Antivirus (The Horde Series Book 1)Antivirus by Michael Koogler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Time and time again we see thrillers rehash familiar scenarios. Perhaps it is a viral outbreak. Or maybe it is a mysterious killer, or the threat of a devastating terrorist attack. They all seem pretty straight forward. But what if there was a twist. Say, combine them all together. Now that would really be something.
Enter Antivirus.
The first solo release from author Michael Koogler, Antivirus is a bold new addition to the techno-thriller genre. It is centered on daring new innovations, black ops military contracts, and a frightening new meeting point between humanity and technology. The concept at work here truly is Antivirus’ greatest strength. I can admit that I was hooked before even opening the cover.
Koogler spins his tale with masterful story telling. Not only does it grab you from the start, but it refuses to let go until the very end. And like so many good thrillers, Antivirus maintains a blistering pace. There are no flat spots, slowdowns, or rest stops to catch your breath. Once you start, you are in for the duration. I also found myself connecting with the characters, which only pulled me deeper into the conflict. As a result I found that I could not put this book down.
Koogler has crafted a wonderfully creepy and precautionary tale about the meeting point of technology and the human mind. It pays homage to thriller greats such as Crichton, Koontz, and King, while propping itself up by its own fresh perspective and ideas. I highly recommend this book!


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The Mosquito CoastThe Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A wonderfully complicated story about a man at odds with society, and himself. Allie Fox isn't your average American dad. He prefers to build, and live life on his own terms. He uproots his family and sets off in search of utopia, and risks losing everything in the process.

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SporeSpore by Tamara Jones
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Spore: "A primitive usually unicellular often environmentally resistant dormant or reproductive body produced by plants, fungi, and some microorganisms and capable of development into a new individual either directly or after fusion with another spore" (Merriam-Webster).

I included the Webster's dictionary definition to emphasize one very important point: Spore is not about zombies. In fact, if anything it is about the exact opposite. As a novel, Spore doesn't try to cash-in on current fiction trends. It isn't riding the coattails of the last great book as so many attempted with Harry Potter or The Hunger Games. Instead, Tamara Jones has presented us with a gripping and wonderfully singular novel. A not-zombie novel.

As we know, a book is only as good as its plot and its characters. I can honestly say that Spore earns the highest marks on both. We meet Sean Casey in quick order. He is a wonderfully sympathetic main character that you can't help but fall in love with. Sean is relatable and well-layered. We share in his triumphs and his defeats, and through him glimpse the darker side of human nature. Jones doesn't leave Sean Casey to drive the narrative alone however. She introduces us to two of my new favorite female characters. Mare, Sean's girlfriend is a loving, no nonsense young woman. I love that she doesn't shrink from conflict, or suffer from catastrophic indecision as so many female characters do. Instead, she is only too willing to meet adversity head on, aluminum baseball bat in hand. To contrast Mare, we are introduced to Mindy. Without a doubt, Mindy was my favorite character. She is wonderfully complex and provides the greatest range of character development from cover to cover. Through trials of life and death, Mindy becomes the standard bearer for the oppressed and mistreated, all the while proving that a person really can reforge their identity.

Spore’s plot is crisp, clean, and well-paced, sparing us from needless exposition. There is no run up either, as the intrigue starts right away. Perspective transitions often and seamlessly, providing each of Jones’ characters ample time in the humid Iowa sunshine. Jones also integrates some wonderful and very subtle elements to this book. Each chapter header contains bits and blurbs from social media mainstays such as Twitter and Facebook. These inclusions aren't simply cosmetic. Through these small social glimpses you are afforded a deeper, or in some cases a wider grasp of the plot as it unfolds. The premise, although decidedly complex, is not bogged down by the science at work behind the scenes. But that doesn't mean that the science is disregarded either. It comes into play when it matters most, and oh boy, will you have some revelations! Like so many good novels before it, you learn on the fly with Spore, and as soon as you think you have it figured out, Jones pulls the rug out from underneath you. Speaking honestly, I can say that Spore has some of the best hooks and twists I have seen in fiction, period. Yes, this is a lofty statement, but I stand behind it. I was fully invested in this book within 5 minutes, and struggled mightily to put it down.

I highly recommend this book. And by highly, I mean you should read it!


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TravelerTraveler by Dennis W. Green
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Traveler, by: Dennis W. Green.

I met Dennis Green at a recent science fiction & fantasy convention. I asked him to pitch Traveler to me, while chatting at the author meet and greet. I have to admit, I was hooked before he paused to take his first breath. We decided to swap books, read, and review the other’s work. Here are my unbiased thoughts on Traveler:

Sometimes, authors can get carried away with the ideas and concepts that constitute the science of their fiction, yet on others, they focus so intently on the spatial backdrops, or otherworldly settings, that the story inherently suffers. But in some cases, the author is able to balance the scales and achieve a harmonious blend with what is known to us and that which is abstract, or foreign. On occasion, it is that perfect amalgamation of genres that captivate our inner science fiction geek, while at the same time fulfilling our need for suspense and good old fashioned mystery. Enter Traveler.

At its heart, Traveler seeks to examine the complex relationships between probability, reality, and choice, while also keeping its feet relatively close to the ground (literally, not figuratively). This is some heavy science to confront, and done differently, could have tipped the scales and completely changed the dynamic of the story. With that said, Green hits the sweet spot (in my opinion) and has crafted a story that is equal parts human interest and mind bending science.

It is a credit to Green, as both an author, and a storyteller, that the confluence of moving plot pieces comes together to form such a clean, well-paced, and captivating plot. The science is dissected and presented in such a way that it is easy to understand, while also believable. Part of this success lies with its characters. Trav Becker is a great main character, but so are Trav Becker, Trav Becker, and also, Trav Becker. Never before have I been presented with the same character in such different ways, and thanks to concise writing, kept them all straight. Trav Becker is flawed, contrite, and as far as leading men go, top notch. We learn some valuable lessons about life from him, such as the weight of the decisions we make, the lasting effect of consequences, as well as the idea of forgiveness. All of this is thanks to his various iterations.

Sam is another strong character, and counteracts Trav’s Captain Kirk as a more logical and emotionally controlled Spock might. He is a necessary function for the plot, as he provides both back-story, and the implications of the science itself. I found Sam to be likable, well-formed, and generally easy to care about. Mary presented a very unique opportunity within the plot, as in one instance, she represents a love lost, while in another, a love fulfilled. I really like the dynamic she represented, and how she was utilized within the story. Morgan is another personality that makes the most of her limited page time. She provides a classic, non-scientific link to Trav’s predicament, while also squashing many of the stereotypes associated with female characters in fiction. I am confident that Morgan will win a place in many reader’s hearts, just as Trav, Sam, and Mary (and Morgan) have in mine.

I found Traveler to be an intriguing, addictive, and heart wrenching read, and can honestly say that its story, and its characters, will stick with me. I have read some reviews that criticized the book because of its various interludes. After the first such break in action, I was prone to agree. Yet, as I progressed through the story, and learned more of the science woven into the plot, the more I started to appreciate them. Through these interludes, Green is able to expand the scope of Traveler, and also provide some tangible links to the science of a multi-dimensional world, both to significant events in world history, but also to pertinent achievements or events within the plot itself. I found these interludes wildly creative, and very successful at building the lore behind the science.

I give Traveler 5 stars. It is an engaging, genre-bending story with just the right amount of twists and turns. It offers wonderfully flawed and relatable characters, a vivid setting, and some clever music tie-ins (for us music lovers). I strongly recommend this book!


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Sand and BloodSand and Blood by D. Moonfire
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(Disclaimer) - I received a copy of Sand and Blood from the author, Dylan Moonfire, in a book swap, read and review.

I picked up Sand and Blood, and was hooked within the first 5 pages. I am a big fan of fantasy and science fiction, and I love books that blur the lines between the two. Sand and Blood is technically a steampunk fantasy, but does not fall victim to the trappings of the oft-used, and slightly worn out Victorian England. Instead, Moonfire graces us with some creative world building, and a setting that feels as fresh to us, as it is historically rich to its characters.

The book takes place in Fedran, a land built upon the bones and ashes of a more sophisticated society. This is implied, rather than stated openly, as we glimpse antique machines, as well as monolithic stone structures, all of which are used by the various clans. I love stories with depth; ones that allow us to peel back surface layers to explore the historical events that helped shape the people, and the world. I hope that this aspect of the world is explored in greater detail going forward, as we are offered a relatively small glimpse.

The plot is very linear, and moves quickly. The writing is crisp, and clean, although the character names, which are clearing of Japanese inspiration, can slow the read through. This wasn’t an issue for me until the character count started to rise. This resulted in a case of literary-vertigo, where I lost track of who was who, and what their significance was to the scene. This did clear up however, and as I progressed through the book, the vernacular started to feel more natural.

At the story’s center are five teens, all members of the Shimusogo clan. They partake on a journey, and are subsequently abandoned in the desert. The resulting conflict between the environment, each other, and rival clans, constitutes the bulk of the story. At its heart, Sand and Blood is a coming of age story, one of three teens fighting for survival, and in the process, forging their new identifies as adults. I found this dynamic very compelling, and relatable. I felt the pain, desperation, and triumphs from every situation. The world is stark, and dangerous - but only to a degree. Fedran itself felt like it could have been the greatest antagonist to the three teens, but instead, it took on a more passive role, and allowed the human characters to dominate the conflict.

I became quite fond of both Chimipu, and Pidohu, yet struggled to connect with Rutejimo, the story’s primary. Chimipu exudes strength and confidence, which is a stark contrast to Rutejimo. There is only so much whimpering I can tolerate from a main character, and time and again I found myself growing frustrated with him. I can only hope that, as the series progresses, we will see a more confident and mature Rutejimo emerge. Pidohu quickly became my favorite character, as he is dealt the lion’s share of adversity, and refuses to give up. He is a wonderful example of determination, and the embodiment of the will needed to survive life’s hardship.

Despite my divide with the story’s main character, I found Sand and Blood to be a thoroughly entertaining read. The world is rich with antiquity, and magic, and holds much promise for the various clans that call it home. I look forward to the next book, and only hope that Moonfire unearths some of Fedran’s history, and thus, its secrets. I give Sand and Blood a solid 4 out of 5 stars. If you are a fan of fantasy, science fiction, or steampunk fiction, I strongly recommend you give this book a read.


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The WarriorThe Warrior by Ty Patterson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The good, the bad and the verdict. #1
For my first book review I have chosen The Warrior, by Ty Patterson.
First, the Good: The book starts out in the Congo. Where our protagonist, Major Zebediah Carter is on assignment for the "agency." What ensues plays out like fantasy for most of us. He witnesses something unspeakable, is ordered to do nothing about it, and completely ignores those orders. Zeb goes on a Jason Bourne"ish" vengeance spree. Interrupting dastardly men doing dastardly things to women and children, but in the chaos, several of the bad guys escape. The Warrior starts out strong. You are thrown right into the action on page one. There is no warm up, cuddle with your hero "get to know you" back story lead-up or other frivolous fluff. The pace moves along at a fast clip and only stalls out in a few spots where you might have to put it down to look up something on google. Our hero engages in a therapeutic form of percussion that I admit I only understood because I looked it up. Perhaps its time to broaden my horizons. The writing in the book is tight and spares flourish for only a few small spots where Patterson seeks to set mood or allow the reader a wider gaze of spacial awareness. Side characters are introduced to ground Major Carter. Some offer depth and development, while others appear at times only to move along dialogue or tie together scenes.

Secondly, the bad...guy(s) Zeb doesn't fight off waves of bad guys in The Warrior. Conflicts are strategic but sparse. This may disappoint readers looking for gratuitous violence, but I found it refreshing. Especially considering some thrillers devolve into heroes sliding from fist fight to gun fight right into another fist fight with machine-gun like regularity. With that said, there is actually story here. The main antagonist is Holt, a former military, turned private security contractor who led the group of willy nilly booty-plunderin bad guys in the Congo. As the story moves from the jungles of Africa to the concrete jungles of New York, Zeb's focus narrows, although a cleverly introduced journalist presents a "bigger fish," character that ties together the subplots nicely. Along the path for revenge, and ultimately redemption, Zeb is joined by "Broker" a private intelligence specialist who turns out to be Zeb's swiss army knife. After all, what would a thriller be without gadgets. The other characters that are introduced along the way add a little depth, although you probably won't get too attached to any of them. If for no other reason than the book's fast pace.

Lastly, the verdict. Anyone capable of raping and torturing women and children deserves to die. We are all thankful that Zeb Carter feels the same way. Ugly deeds reap quick deaths, but in this case the quick pace of the book is almost a detriment. Some moments are highly anticipated, but flash by too quickly to appropriately savor. Tension builds effectively and it speaks to Patterson's writing that you genuinely start to care about the character of Zebediah Carter. This should speak volumes, considering at the start of the book you are prone to ask yourself:what sets this hardened, ex-military bad ass apart from Reacher and the others. Patterson effectively teases with his sullen and introspective leading man. Providing a delightfully flawed but deathly effective killing machine that hasn't completely given up on humanity yet. Like so many characters in similar books, you can tell immediately that he is a tormented soul. His clip, terse and sometimes painful dialogue speak to a scarred and traumatizing past. That mixed with his lethal combination of talents makes Zeb the character you ultimately want to learn more about. Small flashbacks and perspective breaks are used to add depth, but the real revelation comes in the end. Don't worry, I don't do spoilers. I picked up The Warrior on a Friday night and finished it only a few short days later. I found it a crisp, clean and thoroughly enjoyable read. I look forward to reading future offerings from Mr. Ty Patterson.

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