Thursday, June 11, 2020

A Holiday in Hell - Lorin Morgan-Richards' "The Goodbye Family and the Great Mountain"

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Title: The Goodbye Family and the Great Mountain
Series: Weird West Tales
Author: Lorin Morgan-Richards
Published: February 2020
Publisher: A Raven Above Press

Goodreads Blurb: 
The Goodbye Family and the Great Mountain follows the lives of Weird West undertakers Otis, Pyridine, and their daughter Orphie. Pyridine is a witch and matriarch mortician, Otis is a brainless but bold hearse driver, and Orphie is appointed grave digger for her strength of twenty men. Through bumbling, Otis discovers his neighbors are turning into zombies, a mystery that is directly affecting their burial business. In their backyard cemetery, they travel to the underworld for answers and uncover a plot to surface the evil entities that would otherwise burn in the Lake of Fire, have risen again through oil pumps that are bottled up as a tonic medicine for the ground above. The tonic goes fast, and the host takes over the body when the body perishes. Can the Goodbyes hilarious gaffes and revelations plug up the works? Find out in this fast-paced carriage ride through the underworld.

My Thoughts:
This book is weird, it's wacky, funny, clever, and also pretty gross. It follows the Goodbye family as they learn of the current zombie invasion, and deal with it by taking a trip to Hell, (well, the underworld. I think. Pretty sure there were living people there as well . . .). I found myself laughing out loud (or at least exhaling from my nose) at many of the clever and ridiculous lines in the book. Otis and Pyridine combined are a force no one wants to be on the wrong side of. Otis is great at throwing out sentences that are so confusing any villain (living or otherwise) must stop in order to process. Pyridine is where the brains of the family truly lies. She even tells Otis at one point - "I've never been under your leadership, you know a witch is always in charge." Orphie was also a delight. The strength and utter ridiculousness of her character was charming and highly entertaining.

One of my favorite scenes was when the family had to sneak by the man-eating plant disguised as an outhouse. Where does Morgan-Richards get this stuff?? Another lovely part was Orphie and Fleck creating more inhabitants for the city of Unabridged. The plot itself was solid, and the extra characters added to the frivolity and general wonderfully weird feeling of the story. A fun read, and something that younger fans of Addams family, or Eva Ibbotson would definitely love. Or really any kindred spirit of Orphie's with a similar love for the macabre and disgusting. 

I, however, am not a fan of the macabre or disgusting. In fact I believe I have a lower than average gross tolerance. There were quite a few spelling or grammar mistakes in the book, and some parts that didn't quite make sense structure or plot-wise. However, if this sounds like something you would like, then I highly suggest it. As for me, I give it 3/5 trees.

Rating: 3/5 trees

Thursday, May 28, 2020

A gritty sci-fi thriller: Review of 'Dust and Lightning' by Rebecca Crunden

Title: Dust and Lightning
Author: Rebecca Crunden
Genre: Science Fiction
Pages: 121

What Goodreads has to say:

In the near future, humans have gone beyond simple space travel. By the year 4054, multiple solar systems are inhabited, and taking a spaceship is as commonplace as taking an aeroplane.

Unfortunately, not everything about the future is so advanced. The central planets, led by Earth, have risen high at the expense of cheap labour on distant worlds. Dissent is widespread and arrests are common. Sometimes prisoners are released; sometimes they disappear without a trace, sent to labour camps in other solar systems.

When Ames Emerys receives a letter telling him that his brother Callum has died en route to the remote planet of Kilnin, he takes the first ship he can off Earth, desperate for answers. But the secrets Ames uncovers prove far more dangerous than he could have imagined.

And trouble isn’t far behind. 

What I have to say:

Dust and Lightning was a fun read that kept me engaged and guessing right up to the end. The characters are sympathetic, the settings exciting, and the action non-stop. 

From the very first sentence, I was intrigued. A man stands on a platform waiting for a space shuttle to arrive. But he's a mysterious figure and it's obvious he's on his guard. He's ready to spring up and run at the first sight of danger--and he fully expects danger to follow him.

The man's name is Ames Emerys, and it turns out he's searching for his missing brother--someone who wouldn't hurt a fly but has somehow got on the tyrannical government's bad side and been arrested, deported, then declared dead. 

Aboard the space shuttle, Ames meets Violet--a lawyer who's surprisingly eager to stick it to the government and join him on a quest that will take them to unforgiving climates and strictly off-limit prisons. In other words, she's boss.

I really enjoyed the action and the world-building of this story. The pacing was relentless in a good way: hardly were the heroes out of one scrape when they found themselves in another, and every time they thought they were safe, government agents would descend on them again. 

There are also some cool sci-fi concepts in this story. Without giving any spoilers, I'll just say I'm definitely a fan of Stranger Things vibes. 

Having said all that, I'm handing out three trees for this story that was well-written and well-paced, but maybe could use a little more fleshing out and polishing. Or, it could just be that I tend to steer clear of stories this gritty and gory, and/or that at this point I'm just a little tired of futuristic dystopian stories that all feel like they run along the same basic plot lines. That's not a reflection on the author, it's just a matter of taste. (And to be fair, I was warned in advance about the gore and it really wasn't that terrible.)

Regardless, Dust and Lightning is a fun, action-packed read that I think fans of gritty sci-fi thrillers will appreciate.


Until tomorrow.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Spellbinding short stories in 'Voyagers: The Third Ghost'

Title: Voyagers: The Third Ghost
Louise MacBeath Barbour 
Roland Clarke 
Bish Denham 
Rebecca M. Douglass
Sherry Ellis 
Katharina Gerlach 
Charles Kowalski 
Beth Anderson Schuck
Yvonne Ventresca
L.T. Ward
Genre: Short stories (historical fiction, fantasy, mystery)
Pages: 168 

What Goodreads has to say:

Journey into the past…

Will the third ghost be found before fires take more lives? Can everyone be warned before Pompeii is buried again? What happens if a blizzard traps a family in East Germany? Will the Firebird help Soviet sisters outwit evil during WWII? And sneaking off to see the first aeroplane – what could go wrong?

Ten authors explore the past, sending their young protagonists on harrowing adventures. Featuring the talents of Yvonne Ventresca, Katharina Gerlach, Roland Clarke, Sherry Ellis, Rebecca M. Douglass, Bish Denham, Charles Kowalski, Louise MacBeath Barbour, Beth Anderson Schuck, and L.T. Ward.

Hand-picked by a panel of agents, authors, and editors, these ten tales will take readers on a voyage of wonder into history. Get ready for an exciting ride!

What I have to say:

What do slave ships, ghosts, time travel, Pompeii, WWII, aeroplanes, and the Iron Curtain have in common? 

They all appear in this absolutely fantastic collection of short stories by the Insecure Writer's Support Group. 

"Voyagers" is an appropriate title for this collection, since most of the stories involve a journey of some kind. A journey across the sea. A journey across the border. A journey back in time. A journey to the afterlife.

But they're not just physical journeys. These are journeys away from innocence, away from safety, toward understanding, toward acceptance, toward redemption.

The genres vary, but for the most part these are works of historical fiction. Thus, there's a story about a young boy traveling aboard a slave ship to meet his father, a story about a Ukrainian girl whose sister flies with the Night Witches (an all-female bomber regiment in WWII), and a story about a family who tries to cross the Iron Curtain to spend the holidays with family. 

But many of these stories have a little something else thrown in. Thus, there's a story about two travelers who encounter a Yamamba (a mythical Japanese creature) in the mountains, a story about a young orchardist who talks to trees, and a story about a boy in the 1980s who keeps seeing ghosts.

By turns intriguing, gripping, funny, and poignant--these are masterfully told stories by a first-rate group of writers. Their imaginative powers put me through the whole spectrum of emotions: 

  • Shivers ("The Third Ghost", "Simon Grey and The Yamamba")
  • Amusement ("The Ghosts of Pompeii," "Dare, Double Dare")
  • Horror ("The Blind Ship")
  • Awe ("Return to Cahokia")
  • Joy ("The Orchard")
  • Suspense ("A World of Trouble")
  • Tears ("Feathered Fire," "Winter Days")

A shout-out to those last two, which I found unexpectedly moving--especially "Feathered Fire." The story of a Ukrainian girl reunited with her sister, interwoven with the Russian legend of The Firebird, was absolutely beautiful and a masterclass in storytelling.

And I can't resist a final shout-out to "Return to Cahokia." This story of the Native American weather gods returning to their summer home was unique and powerful in its imagery. I enjoyed reveling in the vivid, richly woven world the author has created.

In short, this is a great collection of short pieces that are fun to read but lend themselves to pondering. A hearty round of applause to all the authors who contributed to this spellbinding tapestry of stories.


Until tomorrow.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

The Bookish Hero - Anay Ayarovu's "STAZR The World of Z: The Dawn of Athir"

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Title: STAZR The World of Z: The Dawn of Athir
Series: STAZR The World of Z
Author: Dr. Anay Ayarovu
Publisher: Stazr
Published: February 2020

Goodreads Blurb: A strange and mystical prophecy was found in the city of Treebarad. On a piece of parchment, old long-forgotten events come back to life, the memory of which was intentionally erased. A mysterious prophecy now gives hope to the twisted ruling race that the power they seek lies behind an ancient gate. On the reverse side of the oracle are coordinates to the location of the Chosen One.

Lael is an introverted and naive writer who grew up with a book in one hand and a quill in the other. All his life, he has lived in a peaceful solitude, reading and writing his short stories and dreaming big of one day becoming a prestigious author. To his surprise and delight he must now become savior of the Stazr people and take the journey to find answers that do not exist in books.

My Thoughts: This book is a mix of high fantasy and science fiction. The lore is pretty heavy stuff and never fully explained, so prepare to be confused. Ayarovu reveals information just enough to give things names, but not enough for the reader to be able to give a full definition. In this way Stazr is as alien and backward for the reader as it would be for an actual human visitor. Even days, hours, minutes and seconds, as well as other numbers, have different names, which requires the reader to learn new words and phrases. In this way the story is quite immersive. Let's move on to the characters.

Lael is the main character and (arguably) hero of the story. I didn't like him. I don't think I was supposed to. He comes into a world he knows little about and imposes his philosophies and ideas on people and situations he has never lived through or experienced in any way, shape or form. He let's "destiny" sweep him along because he figures it will be good as a story later. He relies mostly on harsh logic and societal customs to make choices instead of feeling his way, or even reasoning. For example, he easily straight up and personally murders several people in order to fulfill a prophecy he knows little about and hardly believes in, because it makes him look good to the higher circle that he badly wants to impress. There is no effort to find a way around killing, and hardly any remorse after. This man is broken, and would fit better among robots than feeling creatures. He firmly believes "lesser creatures" (different races) were created only to serve his, and should have no other aspirations or desires than to meet every demand of a Great. Lael disgusted me.

Kharis didn't seem much better. While he seemed to dream of slight changes, he still hardly questioned any authority or societal rules even though he felt it was deeply wrong. Because of his very slight deviation from the norm he is cast out and severely punished. This society is ruled by old men (because apparently there are no women of their race??) who detest communication or compromise. There is clearly a reason they are dying out - any free thinkers are almost immediately done away with. Also disgusting.

I wasn't a huge fan of the characters, but the plot was fine until the last chapter when everything suddenly got super sexual. In a weird vision about the beginnings of their planet (I think?) Lael and another Great are witness to a human couple having sex in a forest, and then green monsters ripping limbs off of humans and raping a woman after tearing off her arm and leg, and then ripping off her jaw. Yuck. The strange sexual turn seemed fairly out of place with the rest of the story, and was fairly graphic. Double yuck. (yuck yuck). In the end I'm pretty sure Lael got his heart ripped out by a green monster, but is still oddly alive, and the group is off to make more terrible decisions.

A Note - I am fully aware that I am not the target audience for this book based on my reaction to it. My review and rating are a culmination of my character, ideals, and beliefs, and should not be seen as ill will toward any author or creator. I would've given this 2/5 trees, but because of the yucky sexual stuff at the end I'm dropping a tree.

Rating: 1/5 trees

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Dreams may be overrated, but 'Enemy of the Gods' is not

Title: Enemy of the Gods
Author: C. Hofsetz
Genre: Science Fiction
Pages: 376 

What Goodreads has to say:

Unbeknownst to most humans, there is a place where our consciousness drifts when we sleep. An ancient alien race of self-proclaimed “gods” calls this realm Pangea. For millennia, they needed no intervention from us. Until now.

Oblivious to the world of dreams, neuroengineer Zeon is busy being in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. But when Pangea’s deceitful “gods” contact Zeon, he has no choice but to dive headfirst into their war—a war complicated by a band of human rebels led by the last person he’d ever expect.

If the war is lost, it’ll be the downfall of Pangea—and without a world to dream in, the entire human race will die with it.

What I have to say:

Um, a sequel to the absolutely riveting, mind-bending, all-around amazing debut novel Challenges of the Gods? Does this sound like something that will automatically get a five-star rating from me? The answer is yes.

OK, let me qualify that: no book "automatically" gets a five-star rating on here. But when I heard the long-awaited sequel to Challenges of the Gods was ready to hit bookshelves (or my Kindle, I guess), I was pretty sure I'd love it, just as I'd loved the first one.

And I was not wrong.

Everything I loved about Challenges of the Gods is back: an interplanetary struggle, apocalyptic battles in a manufactured dream-sphere, last-second surprises, and of course, a wry, sarcastic narrator who's both powerful and vulnerable.

From the first chapter, I was glad to be back in the competent hands of master storyteller C. Hofsetz. He knows what he's doing, people. Well, OK, I'm not sure any of us writers exactly know what we're doing, but those of us who are successful do a really good job making it look like we know what we're doing, and Hofsetz is amazing at this. 

The story starts in an intriguing place: our hero is stuck in a sophisticated if isolated prison and several missiles are heading straight for him. Yet in this high-stakes moment, the storytelling is so great that while I'm dying to know the outcome, I'm also laughing at Zeon's witty asides, self-deprecating humor, and really smart robo-cat named Harry. (Ask me later.)

That blend of humor and high-stakes intensity sets the tone perfectly for this story. I've heard it said that The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy sometimes errs on the side of humor at the expense of story. And while whether or not I agree with that is also a topic for another time, let's just say Enemy of the Gods walks a fine line between humor and plot--and the thing is, it never loses its balance.

(Look, you knew it was only a matter of time before I mentioned Hitchhiker's Guide, right? I mean, am I wearing my Zaphod Beeblebrox for President shirt as I type this? You decide....)

On top of that, our author has done in this book what some might consider self-sabotage: telling a story that contains multiple parallel worlds. This means some characters have not one, but two or more dopplegangers from different worlds--and they are all stuck in the same dream-sphere, battling each other. 

But hands together for Hofsetz, who presents this in a way that is not only not confusing, but very entertaining and surprisingly easy to follow. I absolutely loved a certain scene where two parallel characters (John and Jonathan) are absolutely thrilled to meet each other and immediately become best friends for life, while Zeon is left shaking his head. 

Speaking of characters, they are also great. Clearly, I'm biased in favor of Zeon, main character and narrator, as I absolutely love his narratorial voice, but there are strong characters all around. Jane, Zeon's love interest, is awesome, and Primavera--a little girl with crazy supernatural abilities--is fantastic. 

Words cannot express how fun, funny, and awesome this book is, but I might as well end this here because I don't know how much longer I can just gush about this story before my readers start to roll their eyes and tell me to move on.


Until tomorrow.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Musings in Hades - JB Dennis' "Heir to the Underworld"

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Title: Heir to the Underworld
Series: New God of Olympus (book one)
Author: JB Dennis
Publisher: Kristi King-Morgan
Published: January 2020

Goodreads BlurbFourteen young mortals find themselves the unexpected heirs to the powers of the ancient Greek gods. Benjamin Darke, the new god of the dead, soon discovers that being a god isn’t as easy as one might expect.

My Thoughts: First off I would like to congratulate Dennis on their excellent portrayal of the major Greek gods and goddesses, minor Greek gods and goddesses, complete underworld, and basically everything else pertaining to Greek mythology. I can only imagine the plethora of hours of research that went into that. 

While it may seem like Greek myths have been redone hundreds of time, and that there are many "Percy Jackson" spin-offs, this is not one of them. Somehow Dennis took the myths and characters of legend and created something new. The story is exciting and engaging.

Fourteen+ main characters is a lot to keep track of, and there were a few times I got lost. Thankfully the new gods have many of the same personality traits as their mentors, so after a few sentences you can usually figure out who's talking. So I'm gonna list those new gods and what I thought of each one. Starting with the new king of the gods, Andrew.

Andrew St. Cloud is taking over for Zeus. He's a leader, jock, and  generally good guy, which is why it's a bit strange that he's replacing Zeus. Or maybe it's not. Zeus often overlooks his bad qualities, maybe when you take them away you get Andrew. We didn't get to see much of Andrew because he was very busy with sports.

Ashley Queen is Hera's replacement and a total snob. Also stuck up. Also apparently super powerful and secretive. She's seems like a good Queen. 

Samuel Poole is Poseidon's heir and super awesome. He's by far one the the friendliest and kindest of the group. 

Benjamin Darke is heir to Hades and the Underworld. He's quiet, but courageous and saves everyone's butts multiple times. Ben was, of course, my favorite character, this book is mostly about him, so that makes sense. I loved how well he jived with Hades and Persephone. 

Sara Gardener is taking over for Demeter. I honestly got Sophia and Sara mixed up a lot. I did think the scene with Sara's father was very touching.

Ana Maria Sabio is Athena's replacement and she's ready for it. Inquisitive to a fault, Ana Maria is not someone to be taken lightly.

John Strong is Ares' heir and he sucks. He's mean, rude, homophobic, and a jerk. Which, also sums up Ares. (maybe minus the homophobia)

Sophia Hunt is replacing Artemis, she's boss, loud, and not afraid to speak her mind.

Mathew Golden is taking Apollo's place, and no title could fit him better. He's fabulous, kind, dazzling, and gay. I mean, that's Apollo, right?

Renée Hart is almost as lovely as her mentor Aphrodite. Renée is of course beautiful, and charming, but also generous.

Lance Smith is heir to Hephaestus. He shoots fire from his hands a few times, otherwise I kind of lost him in the crowd.

Gavin Swift is replacing Hermes, but where the god is mischievous, confident and cunning, Gavin is more quiet, shy, and unsure of himself. He also demonstrates selflessness and care.

Vincent Hops, heir to Dionysus seems to live only on alcohol. Seriously, how does this boy not have liver damage? He's also generous, almost to a point of carelessness.

And, last but not least - Irene Adler, replacement for Hestia. Irene was by far the most mysterious. She disappears at odd hours and then lies about where she's been. I assume we'll learn more about her in another book.

SO, there you have it, the New Gods of Olympus. How they all managed to share a house and not blow everything up is a mystery to me.

My last few thoughts I wanted to dedicate to Hades and Persephone. I LOVED their fight scenes in the Underworld. I loved how their magic complemented each other and gave them strength. I also really loved Hades true form. Basically I just loved the entire jail break and throw-down with Medea. It was riveting.

This was a solid first book in seems to be a promising series. I look forward the the further exploits of the new gods of Olympus.

Rating: 3/5 trees

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Anna's a Super Genius - Nadeau's Death By Midnight

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Title: Death by Midnight
Series: The Secret Life of Anna Goode
Author: Nicole Nadeau
Published: November 2019

Goodreads Blurb: Anna Goode is a teenaged-genius with a secret—her homemade inventions that she only shares with her best friend, Jake. But when a shadowy figure kidnaps Anna’s parents, she is forced to help him carry out his mysterious plan. With her inventions and Jake by her side, Anna must use her gifted mind to save not only her parents, but countless others. And she better hurry. Because the clock is ticking.

My Thoughts: Guys, this book is awesome. The story is gripping with enough twists and turns to keep the reader satisfied, and to keep the plot racing. Also, super timely. Hats off to Nadeau who wrote a book about a super virus just a month before Covid-19 broke out across the world. Made me wonder if some saboteur is behind the whole thing. (Zoom, I'm looking at you.(JK. unless . . .)). ANyWaY, maybe the reason I enjoyed this book so much was because I share a name with the protagonist, and I do have a good friend named Jake (well, Jacob, but still). It was quite easy to drop into Anna's world and run along side her. 

The plot of Death by Midnight is well thought-out, and the writing is good. The complications and risks the CIA must deal with by getting involved is very real. As is the fact that large organizations often ignore individuals in crisis so that they can save the majority. And that's good, but it doesn't make it any less horrible. In order to save the USA from a supervirus, the CIA is willing to sacrifice Anna's parents - 2 lives or millions of lives? The answer seems simple. Except when those two people are your entire world. To Anna, the world won't matter if her parents are gone, which is why they're very lucky she's a genius. Nadeau makes it very clear that the whole situation would have been much different without Anna. Sure Anna and Jake wouldn't have been there to steal the vials for Komarov, but I'm certain he could've easily blackmailed someone else to do it. We'll assume the vials would still be obtained, and the device built, but there is no other outcome where the victims live, and the virus is not released. Anna is the only variable that could make that outcome occur. But man, was it down to the second!

I was a big fan of Anna's and Jake's friendship, and how they worked together and depended on each other. It was refreshing to have a hero actually need support. I also liked how easily Anna could be manipulated, because that's how real humans are! Most people would do anything to spare their loved ones harm. Humans tend to protect their own people, not complete strangers, so it was nice that Nadeau recognized this and reflected it in Anna.

I would definitely recommend this book to readers who like espionage, strong female characters, and grounded fiction. I look forward to book 2!

Rating: 4/5 trees