Book Review – Revived by Barbara Avon

There’s an old Biblical saying that goes the wages of sin is death. The underlying interpretation wasn’t necessarily that if you sinned, you died physically, although that has been known to happen from time to time. Rather, the message was really about spiritual death; the loss of ourselves in our undying quest for gratification. I guess you could say it stands to reason that every little bad thing we do clings to us like a desperate, needy girlfriend with a drinking problem and a violent temper. Hooked into that theory is a message of atonement: Y’all done fucked up and need to fix it.

Years ago, I read a story about the Hellbound train where the passengers weren’t necessarily being dragged to Hell for eternal punishment because, let’s face it, that’s a dumb idea and a complete waste of resources. Rather, the passengers got to experience every little bad thing they did from the perspective of the recipient of those actions. A little experience goes a long way, especially when you get to see things through someone else’s eyes. Personally, I like to think my atonement will be brief, but I like to think a lot of things that aren’t necessarily true.

So, this leads us to the latest afterlife mindscrew from Barbara Avon. Recall, last year I did a review of her Owl Motel, which follows similar patterns. You die and – guess what! – all the bad shit you did in life is waiting for you on the other side. In the case of Revived, all the bad shit you did in life comes back to visit you after you come back to life after being dead for a while. That’s right; some things you simple can’t escape. Just like that clingy girlfriend, there are some things you can’t escape by simply dying. Some things require the afterlife equivalent of steel brushes and bags of lye. But, let’s be honest, you weren’t really using those top layers of skin anyway.

There’s a lingering scent of terror throughout the whole of Revived. It’s not necessarily a tale of punishment and redemption – in fact it could be argued that the main character never achieves redemption. Revived is a look back on a life that our main character thought was, at the very least justifiable, if not actually okay only to closely examine just how nasty it really was.

Like many good authors, Avon has latched onto a tale as old as time itself – the notion that there must be atonement – and used it to springboard into a modern, terrifying ale. Revived doesn’t pull punches. It gets in your face and shrieks at you like a coked-up banshee. It’s one hell of a ride and I loved every page of it. Even if you kick the morality subtext to the curb, there’s still a river of unexplored misery snaking through here and the kick in the gut that comes with exploring that misery.

If you’re looking for a story that doesn’t flinch at exposing the ugly, this is a good one. Well written, well paced, generally superb. Just don’t expect to let it slide off you because it’s going to hang out with for a while whether you want the company or not.

Escaping through the woods, he remembered the way he had disturbed tree branches and how the snow had fallen in clumps on his head as if God was smiting him for his sin.

Steven Gold was a man who turned heads. Men in suits wanted to be him. Women wanted to know him. Little old ladies wished to adopt him to fill the void of missing grandsons. His surname suited him. He lived an idyllic life with his wife of eleven years, Cassie, an artist whose passion for life was so deep, she blocked out the childhood memories that were the cause of her anxiety. On a rainy night, a celebratory dinner proved fateful when Steven was struck by a car. He died for a full 60 seconds. When they revived him, his sins followed him back. Set in 1994, “Revived” is a haunting psychological horror that reminds us that being sorry for our sins, does not free us from damnation, and that not even the ones we love the most can save us. He should have stayed dead. Some disturbing scenes.

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Book Review: Shiver by Gevera Bert Piedmont

Word to the wise: If you get a chance to hock your book somewhere, you take it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a book blast blog or some lunatic lying stoned out of his gourd in the gutter. If you get a chance to push your book, do it and don’t look back.

Why do I bring this up? Well, Gevera Bert Piedmont has a wonderful book about mermaids and sharks that I accidentally stumbled across on one of my many sojourns across the seedy side of the Internet. It may have been in a group on Facebook or it may have been one of the writers’ threads on Fark. At any rate, I saw it and something about caught my eye. Probably the fact that it had a mermaid on the cover and I’ve never read a book about mermaids. So, what the heck, right?

Well, what I found wasn’t entirely what I expected, but it was much cooler. So, yeah, mermaids. But there’s also snappy dialogue, a fun plot, and a wildly exciting ride with podcasters, a high-tech arm, crab cakes, and a self-proclaimed mad scientist. All set in a town that Lovecraft would have written if he had any sense of humor or ability to write fun, quirky characters instead of loquacious, brooding husks of people broken down by the unseen horrors of deep, dark madness.

Now, I won’t give away the plot because this a tight cross between horror and mystery and the rules are you never give away the plots to those genres. Suffice it to say: Mermaids. But not like you expect. Add an exceptionally clever way of turning the initial antagonists into likeable – or at least relatable – characters while turning the possible victims into ample antagonists, toss in some outsiders who use their heads to find a third way, and you get a story that starts off horror-ish, turns into a great mystery, and ends on a note that makes you pang for more of Mickey’s down-to-Earth relatability and Pris’s wild-on-the-stick energy even if we never do get see the energy-sucking fey.

All in all, Shiver is just a damned fun book to read. It carries its somewhat lofty notes easily and doesn’t get overburdened by itself. And, at the end of the day, a fun book is a far better read than a lofty tome that leaves you wondering if you should slit your wrists or someone else’s.

Get it and enjoy it. It’ll leave a smile on your face.

A 25-year-old one-armed woman, Mickey Crow, and her best friend, reluctant socialite Pris, are hired by a friend to investigate a mysterious midnight disappearance of a lifeguard trainee for their paranormal podcast, the Contrary Crowcast.

Shell Beach turns out to be an odd place full of strange people. Why does the diner’s waitress have a swimming pool full of sharks? Why is there no internet? Did that old fisherman with one leg really inspire the author of Jaws? Who is in the water constantly calling for help?

The answer will make you SHIVER.

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Book Review – Gods Are Born by D.W. Hitz

I love a good superhero story. I especially love the ones that break from the norm. The superhero genre is one of those places where it’s easy to go the established route. Guy (or gal) puts on tights and fights crime. Plug a little wiggle room into and you wind up someone in tights violently fighting crime. Maybe you get an anti-hero or two who are almost as bad – or worse – than the criminals they’re fighting. Toss in a supervillain to give the hero or heroine a need for their skillset and powers and do your best to keep making the stories crazier and crazier while avoiding calling it what it is: Gods fighting gods while the rest of us look on and wonder whether or not our insurance will cover the damage to our car when some asshole drops another car on it. Probably not. Act of god and all that.

D.W. Hitz, in his book Gods Are Born, does away with both the notions of tights and crime fighting and gives us some human character with very human flaws who had power foisted on them. Rather than immediately head out to make things right by punching evil in its sniveling little face, most of them are simply trying to survive like normal people. At some recent point in the past there was a devastating war between some of the gods that left the world a complete train wreck. Imagine an entire planet run by Texas and you’ll get the idea.

All the characters – gods, as Hitz calls them – have very normal human traits. Some want to rule over everything and have zero qualms crushing anyone in their way, others use their power to make a quick buck, while others use their powers to remain hidden away from the world. In other words, these are all people with all of the usual quirks and failings people tend to have. They’re not perfect and they don’t have some internal quest to fulfill. Most of them just want to be left alone. And that is a pleasant change from stories about people with a mad quest to save the world from itself.

Of course, this is a story, so almost no one gets their wishes fulfilled. In fact, a goodly number of them see their dreams crushed, often violently. Which bring us to the 400lb gorilla in the room. While officially marketed as superhero fiction and first contact sci-fi (there are aliens in the book, BTW, but they’re less interesting than the gods), the cover almost shrieks YA. Not that there’s anything wrong with YA, but Gods Are Born doesn’t feel YA to me. The cover isn’t necessarily bad, it just doesn’t fit with the book in my opinion. This is a mature read covering some dense turf and handling it well. So, ignore the cover and listen to the story: This is about people with godlike powers trying to figure out what to do. And not a single one of them has chosen to fight crime. It’s YA in the same way The Dark Knight Returns was YA. In other words, not really YA at all. Not that a younger audience wouldn’t be able to read it or appreciate it, mind you, it’s just written for an older, wiser reader. A serious story on serious Earth, if we were to look back at the bat again.

So, where does that leave us? Honestly in a good place. Ignore the cover art and focus on the story. There’s a good deal of exposition – mostly the bits about the preceding war – that is fertile soil for a novel unto itself. (Yes, D.K., I am asking for a prequel). More to the point, we’ve got fully realized characters striving to just make it in a world gone pretty bonkers. Superheroes, but not the goody two shoes kind we’re used to.

Definitely a good read and worthy of a prequel.

This is not the world you know.

When aliens crashed on Earth, everything changed. Humanity has been decimated by predators and plague. Electromagnetic waves render most technology useless. The survivors are afflicted by strange mutations—some troubling, others amazing.

Kaysa simply desires to live her life. When forced to use her powers, someone always gets hurt.

Tony loves being a hitman. The pay is good, and with his abilities, most jobs are a cakewalk.

The bloodthirsty King of the Republic is unsatisfied. A power greater than his own beckons to him from the beyond.

And to realize his destiny, he must bring the others to it.

Gods are Born follows the paths of seven extraordinary beings as they struggle to survive, to find peace within themselves, and ultimately to defeat the King…

…and something far worse than they can imagine.

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Book Review – Night Shadow by B.K. Bass

2019 was the last time the world was normal. Our president was loud-mouthed idiot, but we’d learned to make fun of him, everyone was still working in offices, and we didn’t have to wear masks everywhere or listen to mouth-breathers explain how vaccines turned us into mindless robots with 5g connectivity. Covid was lurking, but it was still in the shadows, and we all had heady expectations of 2020 being a great year instead of the massive cluster-fuck it turned out to be.

2019 was also the year I got to read B.K. Bass’s first entry in his Night Trilogy – Night Shift. It was a novella focused on taking a traditional hard-boiled detective and dropping him into a cyberpunk reality with all the fun gritty nastiness one would expect from such a mashup. Early 2020 saw the release of part two – Night Life – where the antes were upped and nastiness got, uh, nastinesser. Nastierness. Let’s just call it a good time in a city that likes to eat people.

Now 2021 is grinding to a halt and sharpening its claws for one last dig into our throats, but at least we’ve got the conclusion of Bass’s trilogy – Night Shadow.

Night Shadow finishes the adventures of Harold Jacobson, now on the run and hiding out while he plots his revenge. The world has other plans for him, though, and Harold finds himself stuck in the middle of fiery revolution that will leave the city quietly sobbing to itself in the corner. Being the badass that he is, ol’ Harold will find a way to use the revolt to his own gains.

While the first two books in the series focused on corruption growing like a cancer in the shadows, Night Shadow lets the cancer loose on an unsuspecting city. My guess would be Night Shadow was heavily influenced by the events of summer 2020 (see, there was a reason I was talking about last year). 2020 was the year the United States exploded. Too much pressure, too much uncertainty, and way too much fear and loathing. Bass manages to capture that powder keg atmosphere in Night Shadow and isn’t afraid to let it loose.

It could be argued that there’s a certain meta-ness to the story. A hint that while the revolution is of the people and for the people, there are plenty of folks out there who, for better or worse, have no qualms about using the chaos to their ends. The final entry in the Night trilogy is bigger and badder than the first two and takes us in an unexpected direction. It still feels like part of the trilogy, though, and that’s no mean feat to pull off.

Taken as a collection, it could be argued that there was a certain prescience in the trilogy. All the corruption and violence of the first two books only served to increase the pressure until an explosion was inevitable. The ethical quandaries of exploiting the explosion aside, the only question left to ask is whether Harold did the right thing for all the wrong reasons or the wrong thing for all the right reasons.

And questions like that are what cyberpunk/detective-noir mashups are all about.

New Angeles is in turmoil.

The government, the corporations, and the organized crime families have the city in an iron grip. As that grip tightens, the people decide they will not take it anymore. When the citizens rise up and the city burns, Harold sees an opportunity to exploit the chaos.

But is his crusade one of justice, or vengeance?

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Book Review – The Cauldron by Sirren Rossi

This was a departure from my normal reading fare, which is kind of odd if I stop to think about it. The Cauldron is billed as sci-fi erotica, erotic sci-fi, and sci-fi romance. All good-hearted people love sci-fi and most people can dig on erotica when the mood strikes. Yet, somehow or another this was a story I wouldn’t have sought out. But you meet other authors on Twitter, someone asks nicely for a review, and, well, the rest is history.

Long story short: I really enjoyed this story.

Now, for those of you who don’t think you can intertwine erotica and sci-fi, I’d suggest a little-known book called Altered Carbon, which contains more sex than the average Game of Thrones episode and without the ritual beheading at the end. Sex and sci-fi can play nice with each other if the author has a solid handle on both genres and understands how to intertwine them for the best effect. That doesn’t necessarily mean busting out the R-4310 Orgasmatron, either. It means linking science fiction – the best examples of which are about people not tools – and erotica – again, people not tools. Not saying there’s no room for the R-4310 Orgasmatron in erotic sci-fi, just that the story shouldn’t be solely about advanced sex technology.

So, enter Sirren Rossi, an author who gets that good stories, no matter the genre, always come down to people. And the people in this case largely revolve around one Commander Scirocco Piers who starts the story doing a little sex therapy for a crewmate and ends up showing a softer side of herself spending time with a friend. After fighting off an alien ship with all the gusto of a Klingon yelling, “Perhaps today is a good day to die.”

Ostensibly, The Cauldron is part one of a series and the novella does a good job of leaving us wanting more. It wraps up its own plotline nicely, but teases that’s there’s much more to the story than we’ve seen so far. One would hope Rossi is working on a sequel that will answer some of the underlying questions left behind as well as provide another opportunity to let Commander Scirocco spread her wings and fly a little further into the manic wonderland The Cauldron is setting up.

As an added bonus, like all good sci-fi, this one comes with detailed pictures of the ships involved. It’s like a bit of sex, a lot of action, and some cool nerding out to spaceship porn at the end. Everything you really need in one tight, taut, story about aliens, sex, and interstellar naval battles.

It is the 24th century. Deep in unexplored space lays the uncharted star system GS-104. The Terran Alliance starship ‘Lightning’ – a long range scout vessel – is tasked with surveying this far-flung system for potential colonization. The ‘Lightning’s’ Chief Intelligence Officer – Commander Scirocco Piers – part spy, part officer, and part sex therapist – expects another routine mission.

What she does not expect is that the Lightning will encounter an alien ship from a rival galactic empire – and that the ship will break a long-standing treaty and attack – stealing secrets vital to Terran security across known space.

Now, Scirocco is called upon to use her many and varied skills to attempt to retrieve the stolen secrets and prevent the enemy from getting away with them and putting the whole of the Terran Alliance at risk – all without starting a war.

But with her captain dead and her plans falling apart, Scirocco is faced with challenge after challenge – on the alien ship, on her own ship’s bridge, and in bed – forced to test all her skills with the fate of two empires hanging in the balance.

Can she find it in her heart to be what she must be and do what must be done?

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Book Review – The Devil’s Valley by DM Shepard

Back in May of 2020, I reviewed a great novel by DM Shepard – The Dark Land. Even though 2020 felt like it lasted twenty years, that was only a little over a year ago. The Dark Land was a horror novel set in that arctic hellscape we like to call Alaska – a place where the mosquitos are organized and voracious, it snows in July, and vampires stalk the long night to feast on the blood of the living. No. Wait. That last bit was the plot to 30 Days of Night, a movie which, um, had vampires in it.

Anyway, rather than rely on the trope of vampires as the prevailing monsters, Shepard did her research and found Alaska was already populated with far worse monsters than a 19th century gentleman in Ireland could come up with. Rather than sucking the blood out of victims and making women pine away for the vampire’s gaze, Shepard’s Tailed Men played soccer with human heads and turned women into zombie sex slaves. Perhaps the gentry of 19th century Europe found rejecting the church and drinking blood to be oh so gauche, something only the lower classes would do, while a gentleman was expected to avoid such tawdry things.

Alaska has a long and rich heritage of people living there for millennia. These were tough SOBs who would probably say, “Drinks blood? So what? Had bloodsicles for breakfast since I ran out of whiskey.”

By taking the sheer toughness of Alaskans and pairing it with a long native story-telling tradition (What else are you going to do when it’s 0 degrees Kelvin outside?), you get tough hombres facing off scary tough hombres in an epic hombre cage match. Only the cage is made of ice and the chill in the air will freeze your lungs.

The Dark Land ended on a relatively upbeat tone. Sure, a lot of people were dead, but it looked like the enemy had been pushed back across the 39th parallel and things would calm down for a while. In the fine tradition of sequels everywhere, in The Devil’s Valley we find that while the Tailed Men may have been pushed back, they were by no means down for the count. They come roaring – well, snarling, snapping, and chittering – back with vengeance in their dark little hearts.

Like The Dark Land before it, The Devil’s Valley is a terse thriller. It gives us believable characters stuck in a horrifying situation, but it’s not weighed down by subplots or other malarkey. Think of it as the Ariel Atom of horror stories. Pure, lean, mean, and ready to rip your flesh off. Which, frankly, is how horror stories should be. It fills in some details about the Tailed Men’s motives and expands on their general nasty demeanor while also giving us a bit of backstory about how this isn’t the first time the bastards have crawled out of their caves. The Devil’s Valley also hints at more stories to come and ends on a cliffhanger, so hopefully Shepard is hard at work in Alaska right now figuring out how to get her characters out of the pickle she left them in and also finding bigger pickles to put them back into.

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Five friends on a winter fishing trip discover that something bites harder than the Alaskan winter. Evil places earn their names for a reason, and were never meant for humans to trespass.

Rose and Ulrik must make a choice—return to the safety of civilization, or save the ones they love.

On the heels of their near-death battle with the legendary Tailed-Men at the Headless Ravine, Rose and Ulrik face a new challenge. The dead walk in the icy forest; leaving nightmares in their wake. Voices whisper in the darkness, driving people to question their sanity. Surrounded by monsters in a vast wilderness, the psychological warfare is now worse than the creatures’ obsidian claws and whip-like tails. When a group of their close friends on a winter camping trip are the next targets of the Tailed Men, Rose and Ulrik will risk everything to save them.

The answers to defeating the Tailed-Men hide behind the jade grin of an ancient and mysterious golden skull, and time is running out to unlock its secrets and save their friends. It’s a treacherous race against time and darkness to reach the north side of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park to a remote place known as:

The Devil’s Valley

The Dark Land is now waging war. The stakes are their lives…and the souls of the ones they hold dear.

Book Review – Land of Allusions by Andrew Davie

There are a couple things you need to do if you want to pull readers into a memoir. You can be famous – see almost every celebrity ever – or you can be good at writing – something a lot of celebrity memoirs lack. You can also be interesting. Again, something sorely missing from most celebrity memoirs. “On the set of x, y happened and omg isn’t that hilarious?” No, not really, but I wasn’t there so don’t take my word for how funny it was.

One of the things I do find interesting is stories from regular people. After all the billionaires and jokesters who manage to skate through life, finding someone who can tell a story – really tell a story – about dating or getting a first job, or suffering a debilitating brain aneurism is a breath of fresh air. These are things we’ve all done. Well, maybe not the aneurysm part; those things are thankfully rare. Surviving one is even rarer and it’s interesting to see the take a person who doesn’t necessarily have access to a team of highly trained research doctors has to say about it.

A lot of Land of Allusions is broken into snippets. Rather than large blocks of dense narrative, we get text messages back and forth, or letters, little bits of information that, on their own, don’t amount to much. But when you take a bunch of little bits of information and arrange them with all the patience of a master ikebanaist, you get a whole, cohesive story that sneaks into your psyche.

I won’t spoil the ending other than to say he wrote the memoir, so Andrew Davie managed to get on Lady Luck’s good side and stay there. Beyond that, you’ll just have to read it.

Land of Allusions will be released on June 29, 2021, but you can preorder it here.

Land of Allusions follows Andrew Davie as he negotiates life’s various pitfalls while making pop culture references. Whether he’s comparing his online dating experiences to Seinfeld’s George Costanza, discussing how the film Platoon is the perfect analogy for teaching, or finding solace within the pages of the books of Buddhist nun Pema Chodron during ruptured brain aneurysm recovery. Split into two sections: comedy and tragedy, you’ll discover the joy or sadness in any of these moments is just a matter of perspective.

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Book Review – The Heron Kings by Eric Lewis

I haven’t read much fantasy since I was in high school. Somehow or another, sci-fi knocked it off my reading list and then urban fantasy knocked sci-fi off the reading list. Eventually something will come along that will knock urban fantasy off. Probably crime-based horror erotica or something equally disturbing.

Anyway, back when I was reading fantasy, it was a different world. It was very much good guys in shining armor taking on the bleakest bastards the author could think up in fight to determine the fate of the whole planet. The good guys were really good and the bad guys were excruciatingly bad, so throughout the whole book – or series, those guys were big on series – you knew exactly who you were supposed to root for.

Those were fun books in their own way, but the meat in them was closer to supermarket bologna slices than a good slab of steak. Not to say they were bad, and I’m definitely not knocking the fantasy genre. Remember, I also spent a lot of my formative years reading Mack Bolan books, so I’m not exactly in a position to complain about someone’s literary choices.

Anyway, fantasy stories seemed like they were all about the good kingdom versus the bad kingdom and all the characters had high-minded ideals like “preserving love and freedom” or “making sure only good magic is used” or “slaughtering those insipid fools while they sleep”. Mighty armies march on each other, good is almost defeated but at the last minute someone who’s really, really good saves the day. Then it’s mimosas and brunch for everyone!

Meanwhile, there are a bunch of dead guys on the battle field and probably a whole host of folks on the bad guy’s side got roped into a bad situation and now they’re dying, too. The production capabilities of the countries in question were converted to wartime footing since arming and feeding the armies was of paramount importance and that left a lot of people with decaying infrastructure and no food. Even though the good guys won the day, they left a trail of wrecked lives behind them on their march.

That’s the fundamental reality of warfare: It wreaks havoc civilian populations who really couldn’t give a rat’s ass that Evil King Rottenbastard was insulted by Good Queen Gorgeouscheeks. Or that Good Queen Gorgeouscheeks repeated called King Rottenbastard a lard ass on the more than one occasion even though he repeatedly and politely asked her to knock it the hell off.

Good guys and bad guys. Kinda boring if you stick to the formula.

Eric Lewis understands this. He understands the toll war takes and he understands that the best stories aren’t the ones about Good Queen Gorgeouscheeks fretting away from her ivory tower. The best stories are the ones on the ground. Move a few pieces around on a map, worry about the outcome, and then retire for brandy by the fire. Way less interesting than the poor schmuck who’s sleeping in the mud because Good Queen Gorgeouscheeks’s army set fire to his house when they needed to stay warm.

The Heron Kings is a tale about royal courts going to war, but it’s less about the courts and more about the boots on the ground. Or, more specifically, the folks who not only weren’t soldiers but actively didn’t care who won. This is the story of the forgotten people of war, the ones pressed into corner and doing anything that can to survive another day so they’ll have the opportunity to survive another day. It’s the story of how far down the rabbit hole they go and the decisions they choose to make. And let me just say, that is way more interesting than which dress the queen chose for the ball.

Lewis threw me a curveball. I was basically expecting another gleaming armies bashing each other story. What I got was not only an exciting change of pace, but a well-thought pondering of the human condition in times of extreme stress. He doesn’t pull punches, either. And to make things even better, Lewis takes human nature into account. There aren’t many high-minded ideals in this book nor are there any people you can point to and say, “That’s the good guy.” This book is a shot of whiskey and a punch in the gut and it is worth every damned minute I spent reading it.

After a warlord slaughters her patients, Sister Alessia quits the cloister and strikes out on her own to heal the victims of a brutal dynastic conflict. Her roaming forest camp unwittingly becomes the center of a vengeful peasant insurgency, raiding the forces of both sides to survive. Alessia struggles to temper their fury as well as tend wounds, consenting to ever greater violence to keep her new charges safe. When they uncover proof of a foreign conspiracy prolonging the bloodshed, Alessia risks the very lives she’s saved to expose the truth and bring the war to an end.

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Book Review – Fate by Ryen Lesli

About a year and some change ago Ryen’s first book, River, found its way onto this site. River was the opening salvo in a series about a young woman plucked from normalcy and dropped into a fantasy setting where she finds out she’s a princess. Some people would say this kind of thing happens with alarming regularity, but I’m still waiting for my tiara. All I’ve got is this lousy paper crown I fished out of the dumpster behind Burger King and my subjects are a bunch of drunks and meth-heads. But, yes, it’s a commonplace story in YA fiction because I think almost everyone looks around and asks, “What is that beautiful house? Where is my large automobile?” It’s a universal thing but, let’s face it, just because something’s been done before doesn’t mean it can’t be good. “A Fistful of Dollars” was an excellent take on “Yojimbo”, even if Akira Kurosawa was less than impressed.

So, put all that aside and focus on the story itself and how it plays out.

Fate, like River before it, is a coming-of-age story set in a world where magic is a thing and our would-be princess absolutely does not get along with her mom. Lesli’s tales do not paint a pretty picture of ballgowns and easy life in the castle where the main conflict of the story is which china to use for the big gala. They’re grittier and Lesli has no qualms about getting into the muck with her characters. And that’s another thing – traditional princess stories focus on the princess and maybe her interactions with royalty and that one cute boy who sells potatoes and is secretly a foreign prince only he didn’t know it because his evil grandmother sold him into potato farming to cover her gambling debts. Lesli’s River – the character, not the book – spends most of her time with warriors and running from demons. It’s a YA romance at its heart, but the story and the character could easily be pushed into the adult world like some kind of awesome new Princess Punk genre. And River would probably be right at home hanging out with the spud-slinging prince of Potatostan, even if he wasn’t a prince. She’s that down-to-Earth.

Fate’s tale picks up almost where the events of River took off. She’s beginning to come to grips her new reality, even as that reality spirals out of control as the main plotline of the series takes off. We’re talking pairing, demons, trapped mermaids, and a whole lot of folk shuffling off the mortal coil. Frankly, as an action writer myself, I was more drawn in by the intrigue and fight scenes, but I understand some people get into that whole “romance” thing and there’s plenty of that to go around, too. All this in addition to River’s fun, snarky character.

So, if you like the idea of a hidden world that you secretly belong in but loathe the idea of glass slippers and chastising the help for minor infractions, check out Fate.

Secrets always lie…It’s only been a month since River’s world was destroyed and she was forced home to the ebb. Held prisoner by her uncontrollable power, River struggles with the long buried secrets of her forgotten past. When the Demon twins sneak into the Banyans clan, hunting for a sacrifice, Cat and Wolf must fight to keep River safe. After one of them falls to the deadly blade of fate, River spirals into darkness, one that brings her face-to-face with the Reaper. River must make a choice. Either drown in her pain or claw her way back to the light.

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Book Review – Timberwolf: Symmetry by Tom Julian

I really love sci-fi that doesn’t pull punches. All too often, sci-fi stories show a humanity that’s evolved beyond our petty differences and everyone comes together to fight some alien monster that represents our past prejudices or fears. Reality will probably be far different. We’ll likely upgrade our differences along with our tech and entrench our worst natures even further in the face of an emotionless void.

Back in 2015 – in the before times, in the long, long ago – Tom Julian released the first installation of what would become the Timberwolf saga. Now, five years seems like a long time, like Julian was pulling a Martin and painting his house, but the extended cook time has yielded the beginnings of what looks like it’ll be a great space opera. Think Peter Hamilton’s Reality Dysfunction series or Alistair Reynolds’ Revelation Space series. Gritty, nasty stories filled with less-than-stellar people doing what less-than-stellar people do best.

The basic gist of Timberwolf was a war between religious zealots, giant spiders, and everyone else who just wanted the religious zealots and giant spiders to go the hell away. Like all good wars, the war of Timberwolf didn’t end, so much as shift in ways no one expected it to. Now, in addition to the religious zealots and giant spiders, new elements have been added: the last remaining brother of Highland and a race of giant cats that were stuck in time for a few million years.

While Timberwolf itself was a complete story, it really worked as an intro to the larger story arc. It set up all the pieces and got the conflict going. Timberwolf: Symmetry points the car at interstellar war and stomps on the gas.

But it’s not just god, guts, guns, and glory. Julian takes the time to flesh out the characters and put them in positions that help justify their actions. Old enemies will become allies, at least for the time being. This is the gritty, nasty kind of sci-fi I love to read.

Civil war rages!

Between those that want peace with the rest of the galaxy, and those that want to conquer all they can see. As humanity tears itself apart, the Symmetry awaken – an ancient force that knows nothing but obliteration.

The question is… who woke them up and why? Timberwolf Velez has to figure that out and bring the fight to the most dangerous enemy the human race has ever known.

Action, twists, turns and great characters will keep you turning pages. Book two in the acclaimed Timberwolf series.

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