Review: Humanity’s Hope

61xgk4YJOsLI enjoy zombies in games and in movies, but very seldom in books. Far too many people fail to understand what makes a good zombie story—good zombie stories are about humanity… people. A lot of writers either rip off Walking Dead, making a superb story just a cheap copy, or they write about zombies, making a story just as lifeless and soulless as the subject matter. Humanity’s Hope, by Pembroke Sinclair  suffered neither of those trappings.

Not only did the protagonist, a 17 year old boy named Caleb, have heart and character, but he was thoroughly human. The story telling was tight with great editing and dialogue. As young Caleb tries to navigate a world rebuilding following the zombie crisis (a difficult order even in our current, nonzombified world,) it gets even harrier as certain mysteries unfold at Zomtech—both about the world and about himself.

If you like Warm Bodies (which I thought was superb) then this is the sort of book for you. It has heat and soul… and braaaaaiiiinnss… Go check it out by clicking here.

Review: The Magician’s Workshop Vol. 1

51nkAO8J0zL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_It was quite clear from page one that this book was somewhere on the spectrum of YA/Middle Grade… probably more on the upper middle-grade side of things, in my opinion, and it drew fond memories of the kind of books I read at a younger age. Right away in the first chapter we meet the protagonist, Layauna, and discover the difficulties that she deals with (including expectations, parents, and little brothers.) The family dynamic and imagination of it all reminds me, in fact, of one of my favorite classics for this age group, A Wrinkle in Time (though this book is more perhaps more magical than Madeleine L’Engle’s brand of adventure,) and The Magician’s Workshop has that same kind of staying wonder as L’Engle, making it a keen read for any age.

I read it during a fundraising/work weekend that frequently called my attention to other things for short whiles. I kept thinking of the story, however, after I’d put it down. I don’t have many criticisms of the book; I was surprised, though, that the nature of magic was quite unlike the expected norms and had more psychological ramifications than real-world implications. In O’Ceea, magic impacts the mind, rather than reality. Of course, films like Total Recall and The Matrix inform us that the mind’s power over reality can still have intense (and lethal) implication… but it took me a few pages to wrap my head around the nuanced change.

This might just be one of the best books I’ve reviewed in 2017. You’d be missing out if you didn’t pick up a copy. Get yours here!

I did receive a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Darkwater by d.w.Johnson

41OM7gN6hyL.jpgI was pretty intrigued by the premise of this book. It promises to be book 1 in the Xenkur chronicles and I always love a fresh take on familiar tropes. My wife saw the cover and went “meh.” But I loved the cover. It was simple, clean, and the symbol that dominated the front flap looked like an homage to the Quake logo.

The cover does need some work (there was no spine text and it had a very “beta copy” feel to it. A quick read of the back cover matter had a few errors on it—too much to be a stylistic choice. Opened the cover of this seriously thick book (over 400 pages but I estimate an approximate word count of 85,000,) and spotted lots of white space. Broad margins, double spaced text (not that there is anything wrong with that, and I love the feel of a thick book, but it makes for an unnecessarily expensive book with a new formatting scheme more in keeping with market norms.)

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The Original Version

I promise you, I really did like this book. I thought the story felt like a brilliant blend of Forgotten Realms and Shannara. Johnson did not waste time beating a dead horse with unnecessary descriptions or info-dump character backstory (it felt like our plane was diving that direction a few times, but Johnson pulled up at the right time and avoided those pitfalls.) However… it was first person POV. Those who follow my reviews understand that it’s the bane of my existence. I’d pledged to refuse reading any more 1st Person POV this year—and probably next year too, at this rate… but I think I agreed to read Darkwater before I made that moratorium.

Onto the story—I really did love it. It felt immersive because of the environment and the familiar tropes (not because of the POV—which the author actually let slip on many occasions… even breaking completely away from it and having long sections of 3rd person omniscient POV. Other little inconsistencies needled me through the text, like the adjective orcan instead of orcish.)

All in all, I think the book is fun, especially if you aren’t reading it with a critical forethought… and while it doesn’t have an over the top YA feel to it, I got the sense that teenage fantasy fans might really enjoy this one. Maybe even an old grouch like me, too. I think this book needs stronger editing and is about two drafts from being a 5/5 rating, but I’d give it a solid 4/5 (after all, there’s more to story-telling than following rules—but I do like those rules.)

Go purchase your own copy by clicking this link!

Review: Wrestling Demons

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I finally got around to reading Jason Brick’s Wrestling Demons after the ARC sat at the top of my reading list for a few months. The book felt very familiar to me—I feel like I’ve seen many iterations of this exact book before. In fact, I wrote this book, or one so very similar. This one, however, is better than most… even if it’s written in a first person POV (which, if you follow my reviews, you would know I detest.) The POV does seem to drop at times, but it’s not highly noticeable and far better than the forced perspective many shoehorn authors write a story into.

The writing is tight and the YA nature of the book is appropriate and authentic. The protagonist, Connor Morgan seems like a real person and his situations (and responses) feel real. Connor discovers that there is a kind of demonic presence permeating his school. Brick writes this supernatural realm with a detailed hierarchy that is rooted in far eastern mythology and Connor is dragged into this world (this is a familiar trope, and you could look up the comic book I worked on called Warrior Gift of Sight a decade ago to find my own take on it—but Brick executes the story well, perhaps better than most.) I did appreciate the line about how his demonic oni are attracted to drama and misery and that’s why Connor’s school is basically an all-you-can-eat buffet.

The story has a great cast of characters and is paced well (though it started a little more slowly than I preferred, but that might be due to the POV demanding a few extra steps to establish characters without an info dump/as-you-know-bob which Brick resists.)

(I got a free copy in exchange for an honest review.) I’d recommend this story. You can pick it up by clicking here.

Review: Visions of a Dream

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I have always had a fickle interest in Alexander the Great. My problem is that while he is such an incredibly interesting figure I’ve been so disappointed with how he has been portrayed through Hollywood and other media. I won’t go into it in great detail, but I’ve always found modern portrayal either lacking in substance or too fixated on one feature or another that I lost all interest. That said, I found Justine Hemmestad’s Alexander to be very interesting as the man struggles with philosophy and deity (which is a very Greek thing to do!) but while still remaining the beloved conquering hero. Spiritual themes intersperse the narrative in an interesting way as the intrigue of his court unfolds and he conquers the known world—but yearns to conquer another: the one inside him.

Hemmestad has obviously done her homework and more than Alexander comes to life in the story which includes many of the key players from his era as he wars across Persia, Egypt, the far east, and more. Her Alexander feels both historically accurate, and like a real man—a difficult balance to achieve—and it flows well. If you enjoy Greek history with a kind of Stephen Lawhead flair, this book may be a worthy read.

Pick up a copy of it here.

Review: Shadows of the Dark Crystal

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So I just finished Shadows of the Dark Crystal by J.M. Lee which I kind of picked up on a whim. As an author who found immense inspiration as a child seeing this film, I’m always drawn to anything about it (or anything from the 80s involving MotU, Thundercats, etc.) I was in a Twin Cities bookstore with my daughter (an aspiring teen author) and was telling her about the movie, which she hadn’t seen yet when another customer told me that Lee was also from MN and how he’d won a writing contest sponsored by Henson’s estate which eventually turned into a book deal… it turned out that was the author’s mother. I couldn’t very well not buy the book after that. (also, my daughter watched the movie the next day.) Perhaps my favorite part of the book is actually the dedication page—as a father whose tried to influence his kids with some of my favorite films and stories, I connected with that right out of the gate.

On to the story.

The first two chapters felt confusing because of the total immersiveness into the gelfling culture. I didn’t find the glossary until I’d completed the book (I found the second glossary when I looked the first time but didn’t see the terminology page.) By the time the third chapter came round I’d learned most of the common terms by context and so it came easier. The story was wonderful and very much in line with the film.

This book is #1 in a series and there promises to be more. From what I gather, Lee’s story may have some kind of connection and relevance to the new Netflix show coming in 2018 (maybe the only thing that could, in my mind, be a greater original series than Daredevil or Stranger Things.) The expansive nature and the worldbuilding Lee has accomplished certainly leave room for lots of story and exploration in the new show—and that’s even if the world feels small (perhaps my only complaint—though, the map and appendices in the book don’t necessarily limit the world of Thra. (I especially loved the expansion on the gelfling clans, their differences, and the race’s hero legend of Jarra-Jen).

I assume that Lee has been active in online Dark Crystal communities and read the other source material (perhaps even some of Henson’s notes not readily available to the community at large) in order to achieve the mythopoeic level he’s achieved. But what amazes me is how he did it in this format: the book’s flow, language, and characters are so easily accessible that this is a book with an upper-middle-grade audience. That takes both skill and savvy editing. I will definitely pick up the next, and perhaps some of the other books and explore the rest of the larger mythos (Legends of the Dark Crystal and Henson’s Creation Myths,) before Netflix really expands the story in the original medium.

Pick up this book. While you’re at it, go ahead and pre-order book #2, Song of the Dark Crystal which releases in exactly one week. Follow my blog for more reviews and info!

Review: Dragon Teeth

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This was almost my Searider Falcon

I was super excited to come across Dragon Teeth in a bookstore while I was setting up for my own book signing. As a teen I read any Crichton that I could get my hands on, starting with Jurassic Park and Andromeda Strain. For my fellow SF fans, I felt an awful lot like Admiral Adama from Battlestar Galactica as he finally completed Searider Falcon, a book he read often and never allowed himself to finish until Roslin (his love interest) asked him to. Adama never read further than a certain spot because he “didn’t want the adventure to end.” So many feels as I read.

The story is solid Crichton. Some spots are less polished, which seems likely to be the a reason that he hadn’t yet sent it to publishers… it did feel like a second to last draft in some respects, but it’s still worth a read and it makes it almost more endearing than less so, given the post-humous publication. I felt much the same as with Tolkien’s Song of Kullervo (though Dragon Teeth is much more completed than Song of Kullervo was and I can see why Tolkien seemed to have abandoned the work).

Some have speculated that this book is either a money-grab by Crichton’s family or that the book was mostly ghostwritten and has garnered some negative reviews. It’s no Sphere or Jurassic Park, but it certainly has the language and feel that Michael Crichton writes with… some of those criticisms may come from the first 30% of the story which is decidedly less polished and less important to the narrative which reads simpler. (I wonder if this was an earlier draft than we’ll ever guess and editors did all the polish work to keep us from knowing that this was his first phase for the story which would’ve been later layered with greater subplot—it is certainly shorter than any of MC’s previous dinosaur stories, but he has written with this linear plot style before [I’m thinking Andromeda Strain.] That feeling does come out with how hurried the trickery comes and goes between Wyatt Earp, Johnson, and Emily as they try to get beyond the post-Deadwood encounter with Professor Marsh.) As far as a money grab, I don’t even care. As a fan, if I knew that there was a nearly finished manuscript being held from the fandom because it wasn’t finished, I’d be upset.

If you haven’t gotten your hands on this one yet, get down to the library and reserve a copy… or better yet, click here and pick up a copy in print or ebook. And I barely even mentioned it—but it’s got Wyatt Earp in it! How cool is that. Dinosaurs and Indians.

 

A second look at the Ultimate Ending (review)

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Last week I got to a book on my reading list, Enigma at the Greensboro Zoo. It’s a Choose Your Own Ending book from Ultimate Endings. I did not survive… but I was inspired. (It’s partly behind the series of CYOA blogs this week at Inside the Inkwell.) All the feels and nostalgia were present in the book.

I did like this title a little less than the one that I read last time. That might’ve been due to the theme, I’m definitely a SF/F reader above all other genres and the “weird” elements didn’t seem very quick in coming on this title (the Enigma part of the story—experiments on the animals under “Project Fusion”.) Also. I pepper sprayed a penguin…not my finest moment.

The action did seem a little more drawn out than other that I’ve read and it took a few more pages than I would’ve liked on the initial run up and between choices. Maybe I was just feeling a little ADD when I read it, but I enjoyed the book nonetheless. I admit, I cheated, too. I did skim the book after coming to a few endings and found the Ultimate Ending. I had to know what was happening in this freaky zoo.

If you like CYOAs as a kid, like I did, check out their website and find a title that intrigues you! I love the format and design of the UE books, where some endings are bad, some are good, and only one is the Ultimate.
http://ultimateendingbooks.com/

Review: My Golden Bridge Adventure

51VrFvbTdQL._SY346_So the noir cover with red lettering made me think of the MCU’s Black Widow right away (who is something of a sexualized character) and the third word of the official description is “school girl”… I expressed concerns to the UK author Maisie Brown that My Golden Bridge Adventure’s title uses a slur for a three person sex act and I wondered what kind of book I was being asked to review. She assured me it wasn’t like that and explained a little more about the golden bridge which isn’t nearly as nefarious a thing as some crude American comedies have made it out to be.

The book is written in a kind of “steam of consciousness” approach, which means first person POV. If you follow my reviews, you know it’s not my favorite, but the voicing is done with such candor and wit that it stays enjoyable and there are many amusing little things. (In this parallel dimension setup teenagers still read Seventeen and had Myspace). There is the occasional passive narration as the inner voice monologues. A part of the book I enjoyed was the language which might’ve only been possible in the author’s particular POV—some of the word selections were simply perfect and articulate but without danger of being written in the purple-prose that too many authors think impresses others while getting in the way of the actual story (I had to quit reading one recently because of just that—this story was succinct and colorful—here’s a great example, “I grabbed Russell Crowe and all I could breathe was a fusty body odour.” The language can be as intricate as it is enjoyable.)

Over all it had a kind of YA feel and continually reminded me of one of my favorite Dr. Who episodes (for a variety of reasons including the setting, language, time-travel, monsters, and plot [see the Father’s Day episode]) from the first season of the new Whoverse. This story has the same sort of character-driven introspection as that episode—if that’s the sort of story you are into (a potpourri mix of adventure, action, and sci-fi) then I highly recommend it.

The author gave me a free copy of the book in exchange for a review. You can check it out here.

Review: Edge of the Future

edgeThere is much to love in Andria Stone’s Edge of the Future. I was excited when she asked for me a review since books somewhere on the “hard sci-fi” spectrum have been pretty light in my request/query pile lately and it’s one of my favorite genres and there is much that she really does well.

First off, the cover is great—too many indie authors skimp here and either fail horribly and opt for a CC0 piece of free art with just a distant planet or something similar… or else they fail to capture the scope of their sci-fi story which, as a genre, has many niches. Edge of the Future jumps around our solar system with space travel, mechanical bio suits, nanobots, gun toting cyborgs, etc.  and so the cover really does it justice, letting us know that Earth (or Terra, in her future universe) is not the only setting for this story.

The characters are great and there’s a great chemistry between Mark and Axel—I even laughed out loud at the conversation these two guys had after waking in the hospital following an “accident” where one is shot in a… sensitive area. Stone really captures the essence of how guys relate to each other.

I also appreciated how things like racial diversity weren’t lost to humanity even though the world is pretty cohesive (along with populations on the moon/Luna and Mars,) and the diversity didn’t feel forced or cliché. The book had a feel very similar to the human interactions of Mark Cooper’s Merkiaari Wars series, which I enjoyed very much.

It’s a little less heavy than The Expanse, but takes place in a world with a similar feel, sans the injection of dour noir mystery and instead focusing on the adventure and plot (like the Star Trek movies have done). If you liked The Expanse, you will like this book.

I did get a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. Check out Edge of the Future by clicking here!