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Monday, December 31, 2012

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Friday, December 14, 2012

Amongst the Dead by David Bernstein

Amongst the Dead by David Bernstein
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Suspense/Mystery, Futuristic
Length: Full length (220 pages)
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Young and alone against the living dead.

Riley has lived alone with her dad in an isolated cabin in New York State for as long as she can remember. It’s just safer. Her dad’s told her about the time before the zombies, but she can only imagine it. Instead of playing with friends, Riley became a crack shot with a rifle. And she’ll need that skill now that her dad’s been bitten. She’ll be forced to leave the cabin and fight off zombies all on her own. She’s twelve years old. There’s a lot she’ll have to learn about the world she’s never really been part of. She already knows how to kill zombies. But now she’ll learn just how dangerous the living can be too.

How does a twelve-year-old survive on her own in a post-apocalyptic, zombie-infested world?

Few things are more frightening than a child fending for his or herself. To be honest I winced more than once as the author brings Riley through a series of terrible events. As much as I enjoy this genre experiencing zombie attacks and unexpected meet-ups with other living people through the eyes of someone so young and vulnerable brought fresh horror to scenes that are rehashed in almost every zombie-pocalypse.

Riley runs into multiple men who want to rape her. Readers who have personal experience with this type of assault should be aware that while these scenes serve important roles in the plot they are eerily realistic. It’s unsettling to think that adults would not only be attracted to a petite, young girl but would act on that urge in such a violent manner. Is this a realistic assumption about human nature in a post-apocalyptic society? Maybe. The vast majority of the people I’ve known - men and women alike - would find that reaction to stumbling across a terrified girl completely unthinkable, though, and even though Riley also meets good people I would have liked to see more examples of the latter. Miscreants will always be outnumbered by the majority of us who’d never harm anyone.

Luckily the plot twist revealed later in this book made it well worth reading. While I figured out what it was fairly early on it was fun to see Riley piece together the clues.I only wish more time could have been spent on the logistics of how certain events came to take place and what happens to Riley and her family in the future. Hopefully Mr. Bernstein will write a sequel one day as I’d be interested in learning more about these fascinating characters.

Amongst the Dead fuses classic undead tropes with a few curve balls. It’s the perfect story for anyone who has ever watched a zombie movie and wished he or she could know what happens to the characters after the credits roll.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Road of Things to Come by Benson Phillip Lott

The Road of Things to Come by Benson Phillip Lott
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Short Story (38 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

When Sheriff Keylee discovers escaped mental patient Simon Fielding wandering down the desolate road of Shepherd's Pass in a sleepwalking trance, he takes him into custody with the intent of returning him to Jessup County Hospital with few questions asked.

The sheriff's dispatcher Debbie is a bit more curious. She has looked into the matter of Mr. Fielding's escapes and come across some unsettling information regarding Jessup County Hospital and a former psychologist who was believed to be involved in a patient’s escape attempt from the hospital twenty years earlier.

Dr. Douglas Grover, a clinical psychiatrist on the ward, is a particularly strong advocate for Simon's discharge. He meets with him for sessions on a weekly basis where they continually discuss the haunting dreams that Simon has convinced himself are glimpses of the future. These visions involve an illuminate figure that appears on a brightly lit path and produces a series of images, the most disturbing of which involves a terrible car accident on Shepherd’s Pass, which Simon believes is the revelation of his death.

Dr. Grover is suspicious of the images and wants to know more. He reveals to Simon his own personal investigation into the history of Shepherd's Pass and even admits to having remarkably lucid dreams where he too is confronted with his own demise. He further confesses to have encountered a bizarre book, detailing several accounts of complex dreams similar to the ones that both of them are experiencing. The common denominator is, of course, the road: Shepherd's Pass.

As the doctor and patient continue to exchange theories, a decision is made to return to the Pass for further investigation. What happens next will forever alter the men's lives.

How do you know you’re not dreaming right now?

I started The Road of Things to Come confident that I knew what was going on and more or less what was happening to each one of the characters. I was wrong. No sooner would I formulate a new hypothesis based on the latest twist than I’d realize that I still hadn’t figured anything out. It isn’t always easy to blend the scifi and mystery genres but Mr. Lott combined the best elements of both effortlessly in his latest work.

It’s difficult to talk about Sheriff Keylee, Simon Fielding, Dr. Grover and everyone else without giving away spoilers but sufficed to say these guys kept me on my toes. First impressions here are about as likely to be correct as they are in real life. Some folks are exactly whom they appear to be. Others may surprise you.

The concept of this book is intriguing. It reminds me of a vivid dream that follows you into the waking world. In the moment everything in it appears to make sense and you’re eager to find out what the unusual imagery or unexpected plot twists actually meant. Unfortunately certain loose ends never quite come together again and I walked away confused about which scenes were real and what actually happened in a few of them. By no means do I expect a tale like this to answer every question for us but it would have been helpful for this reader to have a little more guidance on which narrators can be relied upon to tell the truth.

To be honest this isn’t the easiest thing I’ve ever read and I wouldn’t recommend it for people who prefer more easily digestible fodder. Follow the plot to the end, though, and you’ll find a story that cannot be forgotten. Ultimately this is where The Road of Things to Come shines. There’s something to be said for fiction that pops back into your mind days or weeks later and even with the questions that have yet to be answered about these characters I’m so glad I met them.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Mountain of Ice by Richard C White

The Mountain of Ice by Richard C White
Publisher: Musa Publishing
Genre: Action/Adventure, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Short Story (29 pgs)
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Aloe

Never play cards with a wizard . . .

I knew I should have checked his sleeves . . .

One wrong turn of the cards and I find myself trying to scale a frozen cliff to break into a castle to steal an item to pay off that damn wizard. Oh, did I mention that I’m stuck with three other guys who’ll probably try to kill me and keep the reward for themselves? And that the castle is heavily guarded? Plus, there’s an evil spirit rumored to lurk on the mountain? And I have no idea what the item is or what it looks like?

Yep. My luck is holding steady. All bad.

First off, never play cards with a wizard. After all, you know he’s not going to lose, right? And secondly, don’t offer to do a quest unless you know more about it. It sounded simple, but it wasn’t…

Mr. White’s main character is like a mercenary. He’s strong, nimble, smart enough to still be alive, and not afraid of much. He’s also willing pursue a beautiful woman when he runs across one. Fighting demons he can’t see is another story.

This author has woven a story set in the cold that is descriptive enough to give you a shiver. As if the main character hasn’t challenges enough, he is going on his quest with the others gaming at the table with the wizard. They’re not stellar companions and most likely are going to try stealing the item he’s trying to retrieve, but they’re all he’s got.

The whole story has a mysterious setting and none of the characters are what they appear to be. They have secret talents, surprises up their sleeves, and they are only interested in themselves. Well, they do have some interest in the Queen’s slave since she’s beautiful and seductive. But is she interested in them or only using them?

This is fast paced story filled with surprises. I admired our hero, empathized with the Queen’s slave, and hated the bad men, just like the author wanted me to. He kept my interest, made the story a bit spicy, and made me hope I might read more by him. He writes a good tale and he could easily write a sequel to this story. I’ll be watching for it.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Worlds Away and Worlds Aweird by James Hartley

Worlds Away and Worlds Aweird by James Hartley
Publisher: Musa Publishing
Genre: Action/Adventure, Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (175 pgs)
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Aloe

Stories from one end of the universe to the other, and off into the realm of Faerie, too.

A collection of Fantasy and SF short stories. Space travel, time travel, aliens. Witches, wizards, ghosts, vampires. Oh, yes, and a bit of a look at what happens when the paranormal impinges on high school romance.

Here is an interesting collection of short stories that are sci fi/fantasy in nature. Mr. Hartley has a very good imagination and gives you a nice variety of stories with varied endings. They are exciting enough to keep your attention, quick to read, and leave you hungering for more.

He uses space travel, witches, wizards, time travel, aliens, even some ghosts and vampires in the stories. When you start a story you’re not sure who you are going to meet or what type of character they might be. Even if the one you start with is normal, you know a strange one is going to drop into the story soon.

My favorite stories were: Rain (an evil enchanted rain), The Ghost in the Bookstore (want to spend the afterlife in a shopping mall?), Too Damn Cold (it’s getting so cold they have to wear clothes), and The Letter (she knew very well where he lived but not when). These are nice example of the types of stories that live within this anthology.

I love the world of fantasy and none of these stories are alike. Each is walk in another world, with some humor, a bit of romance, a touch of horror, and even some irony. Mr. Hartley is comfortable with the short story form and can give you enough details and action to make the story complete in a few pages. His characters take from with a couple of paragraphs. I found all his stories fun to read and look forward to reading more of his work. He’s a good author, give him a try.

Monday, December 10, 2012

City of Demons by Kevin Harkness

City of Demons by Kevin Harkness
Publisher: Tyche Books Ltd.
Genre: Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length Full Length (234 pages)
Rating: Best Book
Reviewed by Orchid

Demons haunt the cities of the South. Even the smallest demon can freeze their prey with a choking terror that few can resist. Once paralyzed, a soldier, even a hero, is helpless before the claws and teeth of the beast. For the first time in the history of the peaceful Midlands, demons have appeared.

Hope lies in the Demonbanes of the Five Cities in the south. Composed of men and women who have had to face their own fears and conquer them, the Banes are the only protection for the citizens of the South... and now the Midlands as well.

Garet, a poor Midlands farm-boy, is one of those who can fight back. Now, to become a Demonbane he must journey to the Southern city of Shirath, a walled metropolis filled with opportunity, danger, and conspiracies. But will an outsider be accepted by the tradition-bound Banehall? Garet must find friends and allies quickly, for Shirath is threatened not only by the murderous demons, but by forces within its own walls that are trying to tear it apart.

Garet loses his temper and kills a demon. The demonbanes come to search for the one beat the demon fear and offer him the chance to become one of their own. Garet's new life starts here.

Demons breed fear in any humans they come near, then feed off that fear to make themselves strong. Now there is a new demon, the type of which has never been seen before, as well as political intrigue within the king's court. Only the demonbane can protect mankind, but the demonbane have their own in-house fighting to sort out before they can save the city.

Garet has a natural ability when it comes to fighting demons and he picks up knowledge at a phenomenal rate which pleases some of his masters, but angers others.

This book reminded me of David Eddings fantasy series. The author has taken a great deal of trouble to ensure the continuity of the story is correct. The planet is well thought out and I felt as if I could step across the dimensions and be at home there. I saw no editing errors at all and the story locked together superbly. Can you tell I really enjoyed this book?

I love fantasy books but haven't read one of this quality for some time. There is a little bit of romance in it, but the fighting of demons and Garet's emergence from a gawky country boy to a young man skilled in the fighting of demons is the mainstay of the book. I could go on and on about how I liked it, but that wouldn't necessarily encourage a fantasy reader to try it. I will say if you like fantasy, you shouldn't miss this one. Take the plunge and give it a try. It will knock your socks off!

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Boy Who Called God "She" by Nancy Springer

The Boy Who Called God "She" by Nancy Springer
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (10 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Derek relishes being the bully of his Catholic school, and when Julian arrives with his purple hair, he seems like an easy target. When Julian starts asserting that God might actually be a woman, Derek is immediately enraged and becomes determined to get Julian to recant his thought, no matter the price. It soon becomes apparent that perhaps Julian has some strength Derek isn't quite prepared for, and that the boy with the purple hair knows something more than he's telling.

Does God change? How can you know what he or she really thinks about humanity?

I’d never thought about viewing society through the eyes of a bully before. Derek is definitely not an easy guy to like. He seems to know exactly how to sniff out the weaknesses in others and manipulate them to to best suit his agenda. In Derek’s mind there is no space for vulnerability, creativity or admitting that you’re wrong in any circumstances. The world is a dualistic beast and the only way one survives is by staying one step ahead of everyone else. It must be terrible to be confronted with someone, then, who defies all of the rules you thought applied to everyone.

This is where the story grows even more interesting. A freethinker and budding intellectual, Julian disrupts all of Derek’s assumptions about how life should work. It is through the clash of their ideas that I ended up finding sympathy for Derek. Bullies gather strength through fear, silence and intimidation. It is only when this illusion of agreement is broken that everyone sees their true faces.

Derek’s eventual reaction to his interactions with Julian seemed disingenuous. In my experience most people retain the same personality, character strengths and flaws throughout their lives. Barring serious emotional trauma the core of who someone is and how he or she interacts with the world at fifteen is almost always the same twenty, forty or sixty years later. As much as I wanted to believe the ending I kept waiting for Derek’s true self to emerge once again.

The Boy Who Called God “She” contains more questions than answers. If you like asking questions and following each inquiry as far as it will go this is a good book to spark your imagination.