Beginning January 1, 2013

Stop by the new site and take a look around.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Another Journey by Michael Sutherland

Another Journey by Michael Sutherland
Publisher: Musa Publishing
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Short Story (13 pages)
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

They wouldn't dare get in that machine themselves, but you? Who the hell cares what happens to you?

They stick you in a machine and send you on another journey, and they don’t care if it kills you.

Sometimes it’s easier not knowing what the future holds.

Mr. Sutherland certainly knows how to capture a reader’s attention by painting a vividly unforgettable picture in one sentence:

“Graffiti monsters lunge out of shadows, furies frozen in a flash of Day-go pink and lime, and yellow curves, and sherbet orange pikes, and everything is edged off, caged in a halo of lies, in scarlet and black so serious it makes my eyes ache.”

As much as I wanted to piece together the mystery I kept jumping back to reread certain passages. The images that popped into my mind were so imaginative and unexpected that I wanted to experience them again before moving on to the next page.

I really wanted to give this book a higher rating. The concept behind it is intriguing and the plot starts off with a bang but I was repeatedly distracted by the narrator’s flight of ideas. He jumps so quickly from one thought to the next that I had a difficult time differentiating between important and potentially irrelevant information. At one point I even wondered if the narrator could be trusted. Was his interpretation of the events swirling around him correct? Are readers intended to believe him or come to the conclusion that his impressions were at least partially influenced by mental illness or mind altering substances?

This piece have worked better if the narrator’s state of mind was explained more clearly either through one of his thoughts or by having one of the other characters comment on what was or was not actually happening.

Another Journey is a roller-coaster ride through the mind of one of the most interesting characters I’ve never met. I’d recommend this book to anyone in the mood for a mystery that is not easily unravelled.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Tartarus Incident by William Greenleaf

The Tartarus Incident by William Greenleaf
Publisher: Mundania Press
Genre: Action/Adventure, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (167 pgs)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Aloe

"Somebody get us the hell out of…"

This is the last transmission received from Caitlin Palamara's audit team. What could never happen is now a terrifying fact. The five-person crew of the ISEA audit ship jack-a-dandy has vanished during a routine skip from sector ship Graywand to the planet Sierra.

Palamara and the others find themselves stranded on a hostile, undeveloped planet that bears no resemblance at all to Sierra. They've lost communication with Graywand, and their drive system is dead. Just when it seems that things can't get worse, John Wheeler, who feels a connection with a mysterious alien presence, wanders off and stumbles upon the sprawling ruins of an ancient city. The others have no choice but to go after him.

The place is more than a little spooky. But there's no real danger, right? The city is long dead, abandoned eons ago. Right?


For Caitlin Palamara's small audit team, it's the end of their comfortable routine, and the beginning of the interstellar nightmare that becomes known in ISEA archives as The Tartarus Incident.

It was just a routine mission until they landed on the wrong planet…

Mr. Greenleaf writes a good old-fashioned science fiction tale that has the flavor of those written in the 50’s by some of the world’s most talented sci-fi authors. He gives you a brief look at the world of the future and creates a crisis that is one of my worst fears: Finding yourself in an unexplored place with no idea of what’s out there and what it eats for lunch.

It all starts when Gordie had a hot date and was required to stay and repair a pod before he could go home. He didn’t want to miss out on his chance with her and the pod’s wiring was corroded. He decided to short cut it and put a jumper wire on the connection. That made it function. It was missing some safeties and wasn’t a long term fix but he’d take care of it the next time it came in. Sure…

As time goes on and a crew gets in the pod and heads out to audit books on another planet, they suddenly find themselves on an unknown planet with a pod that no longer functions. The worst part is that such an accident can’t happen. Pods only go where they are programmed and they were programmed for Sierra. Such an error can’t happen, but it has.

The author takes these two incidents and builds the entire story from them. The dispatcher at home is trying to trace the pod and its occupants and the crew is trying to repair the pod. Mr. Greenleaf expresses the uncertainty and fear of the crew very effectively. You empathize with the characters as they do their best to survive and you feel the frustration of the dispatcher who finds no one else senses the urgency he feels to solve this problem and save the crew. There can’t be a problem, you see.

I’ve had occasion to work with bureaucrats in the past, so it was easy for me to relate to Lars (the dispatcher) and his frustration. I’ve also felt like I was all alone in a new world a few times, so I was rooting for the crew in the pod. Mr. Greenleaf does a very nice job of drawing you into the story and making you care about his characters. His imaginary world seems realistic and dangerous. I’m going to look for more by this author. Why don’t you taste this story and see if it pleases you, too?

Monday, September 24, 2012

Dreamfisher by Nancy Springer

Dreamfisher by Nancy Springer
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Historical
Length: Short Story (13 pages)
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Ostracized for speaking her mind and standing up against a man she doesn't wish to marry, a young girl is cast out of her village and forced to fend for herself in the mountains. When she ventures too closely to a lake and nearly drowns, she is rescued by a man from Athens who introduces himself as Herodotus. What transpires after the rescue is an education for the young girl, providing names for the things that surround her. When an encounter with a fish leads her to discover her own true name, she soon discovers the gift she can take back to her village to be accepted once again.

Is it better to walk away from a community that hurts and rejects people it doesn’t understand or to stay and attempt to transform it from the inside out? There’s no one right answer to this question. Every individual who has been discriminated against or hated for who they are must decide what works best for his or her life.

The tension between the way things have always been and how they could be improved upon is something almost everyone will experience at one point. What makes Dreamfisher unique, though, is that the main character isn’t influenced by what anyone thinks of her choices. It takes an incredibly strong will to resist the labels human beings often paste on one another and I deeply admired her unwavering self confidence.

I do not know if Ms. Springer intends to write a sequel but I would be quite interested in learning more about the pale-eyed man that the main character meets after being exiled from her village. Readers are given just enough information about this gentleman to whet our appetites. While it wasn’t necessary for plot development I would have enjoyed seeing how certain scenes played out from his point of view and actually caught myself imagining what the pale-eyed man had to say about the girl he met when he returned to the city or village where he lived. These two characters will remain lodged in my imagination for a long time and I hope one day we will know more about their adventures!

Dreamfisher is a modern day parable. Brew a pot of tea, invite some friends over and read it aloud after dusk. This is a story best enjoyed and understood in the company of others.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Gift of the Snow by Anne Brooke

The Gift of the Snow by Anne Brooke
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal
Length: Short Story (9 pages)
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Lavender

When Andi moves into her new house, she knows from the outset that it's different. One autumn night, she discovers how different it is when she wakes to find that her past, and the woman she left behind so long ago, aren't quite so far away after all. Will she succumb to her own fear of the unknown or will an old love be strong enough to protect her?

This is a story that starts with a little bit of mystery and ends with a little bit of magic. Andrea, “Andi” lives in an odd house with an Inuit name meaning “Frost”. In this short story, it's shown early on that Andi has a heart, making her a likeable character. Andi is single, in her early fifties, so has a bit of maturity, which she’ll need for the adventure ahead of her.

This tale has a storybook style to it, creating an air of mystery with its old-fashioned presentation. It's a bit wordy, even for such a short story, and some telling rather than showing is seen throughout, giving it an on-the-surface feel at times, but it is suspenseful. Weird things happen, making it unpredictable. What direction is this story going to take? Will it turn into something scary, something magical etc.?

Mystical, sensual details at times add some up-close sensations. These could have been spread out throughout the whole text.

A reader may find her or his self asking often, “What is this?” or “What’s happening to Andi?” It’s very strange. Andi shows courage, facing the mysterious creature. Near the end, the reader discovers that she had a female lover. Negative memories come back to Andi; then these melt into something nice. There is a bit of sensuality in these memories, adding a touch of spiciness to the story. Symbolism is used well here, and the tale has an interesting ending.

It’s an unusual story, not like many others of its genre.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Lady Mechatronic on the Cannibal Island by Arabella Wyatt

Lady Mechatronic on the Cannibal Island by Arabella Wyatt
Publisher: Devine Destinies
Genre: Action/Adventure, Historical, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Short Story (75 pgs)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Aloe

Guess who is going to be dinner?

Trapped on the infamous Cannibal Island of Bajea, Captain Hartwell must lead his evolving crew of cybernetic pirates through the cannibals' jungle to safety. With danger all around, is this the time to be concerned with his relationship with the alien cyborg Lady Mechatronic?

The adventures of the steampunked pirates take a turn to the dark side.

Can Hartwell lead them all to the light?

Captain Hartwell and his crew have been left to fend for themselves on an island; his crew mutinied. It might not be bad, but this happens to be Cannibal Island…

Ms. Wyatt has written an action packed tale with steampunk influence and a good fantasy touch. This was the first in this series that I read, and I quickly became engaged with her characters.

The one that really drew my attention was Lady Mechatronic. She’s robot in nature, but has been imbued with some emotions. This confuses her because she’s never felt them before and isn’t sure how to handle them. Captain Hartwell, on the other hand, is familiar with emotions but has no time for them. They are on a journey and any inattention on his part can result in his men dying. He accepts responsibility for events beyond his control and refuses to let it go. As a result, he tells her while he’s attracted to her, nothing can happen because of his duties.

Pete is another character I admire. He’s already been “harvested” by the cannibals on the island and barely escaped alive. Now when the cannibals capture the crew, he’s hauled away to be killed. He finds enough strength to fight his fears, kills the cannibal and goes back to fight for his fellow crew members. They had saved him and had been kind to him; he’s going to repay his debt.

What really ties all this together is that the crew members are developing odd skills. Lady Mechatronic fell from the sky and landed in the ocean next to their boat. Somehow that infected them all with mechanical abilities they are just developing. Those odd abilities are what keeps the crew alive and makes the novella very interesting to read. The author has done a nice job of making this story unique and compelling. Ms. Wyatt makes you want to read about her characters because they seem so real, even if this is fantasy and their powers are “out of this world”.

I enjoyed reading this story and hope to read the next in this series. After all, Lady Mechatronic is not giving up on Captain Hartwell.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Bones by Pat Murphy

Bones by Pat Murphy
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Historical
Length: Short Story (38 pages)
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

The Irish Giant – that’s what Londoners called Charlie Bryne, an enormous country lad standing 8 feet tall in his bare feet. He made his fortune by exhibiting himself, but Bryne was far more than a human oddity. He had the magical power of healing, a deep connection to the natural magic of the earth, and the blood of Irish kings in his veins. In 1782, he came to London with a single goal — to bring the Irish home to the island they had left.

John Hunter was a man of science and insatiable curiosity — a surgeon, a natural philosopher, and a tireless collector of natural oddities. With analysis and dissection, Hunter strove to understand the natural world — and he wanted to add the bones of a giant to his collection.

To quote Elie Wiesel, “some stories are true that never happened.” That is, certain stories speak so clearly about the human experience that the difference between truth and fiction becomes meaningless. What matters is is the hope and joy they ignite in anyone who reads them. This is one of those sagas.

Charlie’s quest to bring Irish people back to Ireland sounds like a traditional folk tale in the best possible sense of the term. It sounds like something that has been passed on from one generation to the next for as far back as anyone can remember. The imagery is so vivid and memorable that the events softly unfolded in my imagination. I didn’t read this so much as I experienced it.

Is Charlie mentally ill, a charlatan, or is he exactly who and what he claims to be? The opinions that swirl around him about his identity and intentions brought a touch of humour to this piece. The men and women who doubt him have good reasons for their assumptions. In their shoes I’d be just as suspicious of a tall stranger who wants to take me back to a land my parents or grandparents left many years ago. It is in these interactions where Mr. Murphy’s writing shines the brightest.

The only issue that kept me from giving Bones a higher rating was the large number of secondary characters that were rapidly introduced to the plot. While nearly all of them eventually came to be important witnesses to or participants in Charlie’s adventures I did have a little trouble keeping them straight at first as well as getting to know their individual personalities and quirks.

Even with this dab of confusion Bones easily made it onto my top five reading list of 2012. It’s a heart-warming, rib-tickling romp through a world I so desperately wish I could visit in person.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Cerberus Rebellion by Joshua Johnson

The Cerberus Rebellion by Joshua Johnson
Publisher: Joshua Johnson
Genre: Action/Adventure, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length Full Length (164 pages)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Orchid

One hundred years of peace and prosperity. War changes everything.

On the world of Zaria, Elves, magic and mythical beasts coexist beside rifles and railroads. The futures of two nations hang in the balance as rebels and revolutionaries trade gunfire with loyalists and tyrants.

Eadric Garrard was raised to believe that as the rightful King of Ansgar, his loyal nobles and fearful subjects answered to his every whim, no matter the cost or consequence. His decision to send his troops thousands of miles away will test that fear, and loyalty.

Raedan Clyve was ordinary until an Elven ritual involving a griffin’s heart turned him into something more. Twenty years later, he still struggles with the magics that rage through his body. His mentor holds him back from his full potential and he faces pressure to find a suitable wife and father an heir.

Hadrian Clyve has picked up where his father left off and works to expand his family’s influence amongst the Ansgari nobility. His aggressive negotiation of alliances and shrewd choice of marriage agreements has earned him respect, and resentment. When his King calls his troops to arms, Hadrian has other things in mind.

After a century of scheming and decades of preparation, Magnus Jarmann is ready to bring his family’s plans to fruition by launching a war of independence that will free his people and return his country to its rightful place among the nations of Zaria. The King’s call to arms creates an opportunity that Magnus cannot afford to miss.

In a war, little is held back; in a revolution, nothing is safe.

Ansgar is a medieval world with trains and guns from more modern times. King Eadric Garrard is the ruler but some of his lands have been taken by his ancestors by force and their people wish to separate from Ansgar. Eadric trusts no one. He's convinced if he relaxes his guard someone will try to kill him. In direct contrast he also believes his people love him and are loyal to him, despite the fact he refuses to come to their aid when they need him.

The rebels' chance comes when distant countries ask for Ansgar's help and Eadric orders his nobles to call their troops to arms. The western Dukes and their followers call their levies but instead of marching to the King's aid, they begin an attack on his armories and borders. Meanwhile the people of Kerberos also strike for independence.

The Cerberus Rebellion is set in a well thought out world and the characters are true to life. I did find so many characters quite confusing as it was difficult to keep them straight in my head. Also, it slowed the story down when the author told us in detail the color and type of clothing each character wore. This wasn't really necessary and less detail shown as part of the story would have been better.

I enjoyed the progress of the story, particularly the introduction of the ancient members of the elf nations who acted as advisors to the humans. I really liked Raedan, Baron of Broken Plains and would read the sequel to find out what happens to him. His magical abilities brought life to his character as it gave an insight into this thoughts and actions.

The author has developed his idea of The Cerberus Rebellion well and this fantasy novel is definitely a good read for lovers of the genre.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Blood Mercury by Malachi King

Blood Mercury by Malachi King
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (11 pages)
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

The whole world has been terrorized and we wallow in terrible fear of getting sick. We placed our faith in medicine and now we pray for redemption. That’s why our police kidnap the sick and send them to the furnaces.

After we conquered a return of the Black Death, our scientists celebrated the triumph of modern medicine and the awesome power of antibiotics. But our bodies became weaker and the bugs became stronger and soon they were immune to anything our doctors could throw at them. It wasn’t long until just the right conditions, high mercury levels in our food to be precise, came along and gave the super germs the breeding grounds for the elimination of the human race. That’s what’s happening to the United States; that’s what happening to my family.

First, Dad went missing, presumably dead overseas, then Mom caught the common cold and the Sanitary Police came and took her. Now I’m all alone. And I’m tired of wasting away, day-by-day, waiting for my turn to fall ill and be taken to the incinerators. I’ve decided I’m going to rescue her, even if it means the death of all of us. She deserves it. I deserve it. And the whole world deserves another chance to live.

How far would you go to save a loved one? At what point does a mission become a lost cause?

Some dystopian stories are about watching the characters disintegrate under pressure. This one’s about love. Caleb’s attachment to his mother is endearing without ever crossing the line into something too mushy for the average teenager. The interactions between these two characters are heartfelt and provide a real sense of urgency for Caleb’s mission later on in the plot.

The action was well-paced. Just enough details were given about what was happening in the rest of the world to keep this reader interested but I never felt bogged down by unnecessary subplots. The information that was provided could easily be expanded into a sequel or full-length novel in the future, though, and I’d be excited to read it if Mr. King ever decides to return to this universe.

My only criticism involves the explanation for how everyone’s health was so quickly weakened. Although an overdose of mercury can affect one’s immune system I didn’t quite understand how this poison spread through the food supply so thoroughly and from where the super bacteria originated. I found myself mulling over alternative theories rather than continuing on to see what happens next. I would have preferred to either have no explanation or for more time to be spent detailing how such a thing could occur.

Blood Mercury is a chilling glimpse into a future populated by fear and death. I’d highly recommend it to anyone who has ever wondered how he or she would really react to a highly communicable and fatal disease that was killing everyone around him or her.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Dog Tails by Tara Chevrestt

Dog Tails by Tara Chevrestt
Publisher: Tara Chevrestt
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Short Story (29 pgs)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Aloe

Meet Lola, Pudgy, and Jazzy, three canine cuties that will warm your heart and make you laugh.

In Thank Dog It's Friday, Lola and her human mommy, Trisha trade bodies for a day! Can they cope with their new bodies and prevent Trisha's husband from throwing her into a mental institution?

Pugnacious introduces Pudgy, a very pugnacious pug. She takes her job in a dog bakery very seriously and when the bakery is robbed, it's up to her to save the day, the cash, and the canine cookies!

In Tail of Terror, Jazzy does the unthinkable and she runs away. If she can survive the mean streets, there may be a lesson in store for her and she may make a new friend.

Dog Tails is intended for dog lovers everywhere, but even cat lovers will smile and fall in love with Lola, Pudgy, and Jazzy.

This author is a dog lover. She puts herself in the mind of a dog and creates cute, humorous stories that are a joy to read. If you’ve ever owned a dog, you’ll be able to relate to these “tails”.

Ms. Chevrestt has used her own dogs for inspiration to inject realism into her story. Even the fantasy story has a ring of truth. You don’t have to love dogs to read these stories, because you’ll find yourself being charmed by her pet characters anyway. One of my favorite touches is how the author points out dogs think we have God wrong. It should be dog. They consider that the almighty being, thank you.

The first story is my favorite. The dog’s lady owner wishes she could trade places with her dog and not have to deal with her human life and all the work associated with it. Be careful what you wish for. The author’s descriptions are right on and how she envisions the human acting in the dog’s body is hilarious. The dog’s reaction is great, too: “Oh my Dog!”

The author gives you a body exchange story, a canine cookie robbery, and a life lesson for the pampered dog. Another story or two might have rounded it out a bit more, but the stories within are gems.

Her stories show the differences in breed personalities. The gave me a smile as I followed along in the story. Don't be surpriesd if you laugh-out-loud in a couple of spots. They’re short and sweet and easy to read quickly. If you’re having a down day, this book will pick up your spirits.

Monday, September 3, 2012

One of Us, Old Boy by L. Joseph Shosty

One of Us, Old Boy by L. Joseph Shosty
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Short Story (10 pages)
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

A wise old professor, facing forced retirement, passes on his greatest secret to his protégé in this moving story of two disparate generations affected by war.

Whether we die as children, adults or senior citizens nearly all of us are going to leave behind the loose ends of everything we weren’t able to finish in time. What if this didn’t have to be the case, though?

As someone who has several very ill relatives this wasn’t an emotionally easy tale to read. It’s difficult to accept that a loved one may not be around in the near future or that not everyone in this world is destined to live a long and healthy life. Don’t let this scare you off, though. Sometimes sad stories teach lessons that less somber tales would never be able to communicate as effectively.

Dr. Trotter and and Thomas’ interactions were the lynchpin of this piece. From the first paragraph I felt as if I was standing in the room listening to their conversation. The relationship between a professor and his or her pupils can be tricky to explain to the outside world but Mr. Shosty did an excellent job capturing the nuances of the professional and personal connections that can develop in this type of situation.

To be honest the ending caught me off guard but it fit in well with the tone and characterization that had been established earlier.

I would have liked to see some sort of explanation given for how a certain object works. It’s presence was the lynchpin of the main character’s interactions and while I understand that there wasn’t room for lengthy backstory it would have been nice to read a few sentences about where this item came from and why it works the way it does.

One of Us, Old Boy stirred up memories and emotions I’d long since forgotten. I’d highly recommend it to anyone who has ever taken a nostalgic glimpse of his or her past.