Book Review – Queens by Patrick Hodges

I reviewed book I of The Wielders of Arantha back in May. Now, a scant four months or so later, book II has dropped. I’m truly not sure how he managed to write, edit, and release such a complex story in such a short period of time, but I have it on good authority Patrick Hodges might not exactly human. It’s entirely possible he’s a reincarnation of one of the greats of the 30s, a new Walter Gibson or Lester Dent, a man who can manipulate words with the best of them.

Book I found an Earth ravaged by alien invasion. The hated Jegg had shown up and basically torn up the joint. A final, last-ditch effort by some of the few remaining humans sent a ship to a distant planet in search of something that might save the planet and drive off the Jegg. On Elystra, Maeve And Davin found more than they bargained for when they stumbled across a society where people could control the elements and armies marched with powerful magicians at their head.

That first book ended part way through the story, which was my only real complaint about it. Book II, Queens, picks up exactly where Book I ended and ups the stakes.

In addition to being a cracking good story to read, Hodges spends some time exploring the way our preconceived notions drive the way we do things. Most of Elystra cannot comprehend a woman that can wield the elements, while the women who walled themselves off from the world have difficulty imagining men who aren’t complete jerks. It’s kind of like the battle of the sexes on a global scale, except they come to the conclusion that there’s no real reason to be fighting, especially since a greater threat has arisen.

That’s another theme to the story, the idea that the things we do can have extremely long-lasting repercussions, the kind of stuff no one ever saw coming. Themes like these make for a resounding story and Hodges – originally a youth/YA author – handles the adult themes with aplomb.

All in all, an excellent read.

A cosmic game of chess is underway, and the planet Elystra is the board.

Earth pilot Maeve and her son Davin have joined the Ixtrayu, hoping to avert the destruction that their leader, Kelia, has foretold. But will Maeve’s burgeoning Wielding powers be enough to thwart the machinations of Elzor and his lightning-wielding sister, Elzaria, before everything the Ixtrayu have ever known is destroyed in Elzor’s quest for ultimate power?

Queens is Part Two in the Wielders of Arantha trilogy. If you love science fiction or fantasy, then this series will thrill and enthrall you!

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Book Review – The Secret Six: The Red Shadow by Robert J Hogan

Okay, so here’s the thing: The Secret Six: The Red Shadow was published in 1934, so this isn’t going to be a traditional book review. After all, it’s not like an 84-year-old pulp novel really needs more Amazon reviews. The original pulp magazine that published The Red Shadow is long out of business and the author – Robert J. Hogan – died in 1963.

So, why bother reviewing this book at all?

The Secret Six was a short-run series of pulp stories about a group of people who get together and decide to fight crime. Think of them as the original Avengers without the tights and super powers. In a lot of ways, the pulp heroes of the 30s were the prototypes for the superheroes of today. Characters like King, the Key, Bishop, the Doctor, and Shakespeare laid the foundations for what would come later.

The 1930s was when the superhero was created, even if the term wasn’t commonplace at the time. Remember, Superman wouldn’t debut until 1938 (even though Siegel and Shuster had created him in 1933) and Batman wouldn’t don the gray tights and bust skulls until 1939. This was the era of Doc Savage and The Phantom and a panoply of other heroes both remembered and forgotten.

Obviously, not all of these pulp fiction heroes would be remembered down the road. The Secret Six falls squarely into that category. Of course, here it is 84 years later and I’m writing a review of their first adventure, so maybe they weren’t quite so forgettable.

Action stories are, in a lot of ways, all the same. Bad guys do bad things and good guys stop them. Like all pulp fiction stories, the bad guys in the Secret Six were completely over the top and the good guys were a bit less than angels. Even Doc Savage, who typically refused to kill anyone, had little compunction about letting the bad guys get eaten by giant ants or plunge to their grisly deaths off Aztec pyramids. So, next time you think of Batman’s anti-hero aesthetic as being unique, remember he was the natural evolution of people who were only slightly less anti-hero than him.

That’s why, at least from my point of view, it’s important to look back on the pulp fiction of the ’30s every now and then and remember where modern action stories came from.

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And now, for no reason whatsoever, bear knife-fighting

If you’ve never ready any of the pulp fiction from that era, it’s worth taking a look at. Don’t expect miraculous works of art, though. The people that wrote these stories knocked them out like machinery. As such, the quality is sometimes not exactly up to par with something crafted and honed over the space of months of years. Remember, a lot of these books were written in a couple weeks and it wasn’t unheard of for some of the pulp authors to write 10,000+ words per day in order to handle their twice a month book deadlines. That’s 60-70 thousand words each and every day and usually on mechanical typewriters. For those unfamiliar with word counts, a page is usually assumed to contain 250 words. At that level, people like Walter Gibson were writing 40 pages a day. It sounds easy until you try it.

The Red Shadow is fairly standard for most pulp fiction of its era. It’s just clever enough to keep the reader flipping pages, but while it has a lot to offer, it lacks multi-dimensional characters. In fact, some of the supporting characters could have been excised and no one would have noticed they were gone. The story itself was clever enough: A mysterious red force is killing people and it’s up to a rag-tag coalition of people to stop it.

By today’s standards, a red force that kills people doesn’t seem too outlandish, but in the 1930s the story must have bordered on science fiction. In fact, the term “death ray” is thrown around a couple times, even though it doesn’t turn turn out to be a death ray.

Take one part regular badassery, a teaspoon of action and gallantry, and a villain that’s still somewhat mysterious even after we find out who he is and you’ve got the recipe for a quality batch of cookies. Like a lot of the pulp stories of its time, The Red Shadow doesn’t offer a lot of depth, but that was never the point. Pulp stories like The Red Shadow were meant to be the Fast & Furious stories of that generation: they’re pure nitro-burning funny cars for a time when America really needed the escapism that can only come from mindless heroism.

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Say it with me: WOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

The actual magazine that printed The Red Shadow is, as noted above, long gone. Even the publishing house that purchased the rights to the Secret Six stories is gone. Fortunately, we live in the future, so finding a copy of The Red Shadow (and the rest of the Secret Six stories) is as easy as clicking a link.

Go get a copy, put your brain on screensaver, and have a little fun tonight. If you want to read a classic, you spend time with Ethan Frome or Ishmael (good books in their own right), or you can hang out with King, Bishop, and the Key, break out of jail, and bust up a budding criminal empire.

Get the complete Secret Six stories here.

Book Review – Everything To Lose by Gordon Bickerstaff

I’ve been meaning to get to Bickerstaff’s second novel since I finished the first one about this time last year. The adventures of Gavin Shawlins and the Lambeth group – an intoxicating mixture of science and action – are just too much fun to pass up. This time around Gavin is joined by Zoe Tampsin, a bad ass former SAS operative who has little compunction about beating the snot out of the bad guys to help the mission along.

The mission revolves around performance enhancing drugs and the big money that will stop at nothing to make them theirs. Any time you’ve got a lot of money and a lot of power on the line, people will do whatever it takes to grab that piece of the pie. At that point, the performance enhancing drug runner turn into straight-up drug runners with about the same level of ethics.

In a story that starts with simple questions about whether or not a new drug will work and rapidly drops us into a world of Nazi secrets, spontaneous human combustion, and human trafficking, Bickerstaff gives us a tale that never lets up and even introduces an age-old American conspiracy that dates back to World War II.

The beauty of the story is even though Bickerstaff takes Gavin and Zoe through a complete story of drugs, criminals, and greed, he introduces a larger story arc about conspiracies and politics.

All in all, an excellent read and well worth the time.

While chasing down illegal sports drugs, Gavin and Zoe stumble into the greatest unresolved mystery of World War 2.

University researchers claim their new product will boost the performance of every athlete in the world. The Lambeth Group send a scientist, Gavin Shawlens, to investigate the claim.

The product is stolen, top athletes disappear, and the research team are unaware that their product has a dangerous side effect. Gavin must stop the product launch before more people die horribly. When Gavin disappears, Zoe Tampsin, from the Lambeth Group, must find him before he becomes the next victim.

As if Zoe hasn’t got enough on her plate. Past events in Gavin’s life catch up with him. A powerful US general has decided that Gavin must die to prevent exposure of a 60-year-old secret capable of world-changing and power-shifting events. 

The chase is on…

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Book Review – Stealing Silence by E.A. Darl

It’s always fun to read someone’s first novel. For those of you who’ve never written a book, dropping it into the wild is a moment of wild hope and massive, bone-shaking panic. Fortunately, the people that make it far enough to get the book written, get it edited and formatted, and put together a cover usually have enough skill and gumption to put together a decent story.

As far as I know, this is E.A. Darl’s first book and just in case anyone is wondering, I thought it was pretty good. So, if you’re reading this E.A., you can relax a little.

Set in a not-too-distant future, Stealing Silence is the first of what will probably become a series of stories about a world that fell apart, a pair of girls who lost their parents, and the government that stomped on everyone. In some ways, it’s a parable for our times. In others, it’s a nice twist on dystopian fiction.

Most dystopian books – at least the ones I’ve read – focus on the world falling apart from war or some external input that tears the fabric of the world apart and spits on it. Darl’s precipitating event was ecological, a slow slide into chaos as the food begins to run short. The world ended not with a bang, but with a whimper, leaving everyone with too little to eat and an uncertain future.

Into this mix comes Avalon, a young woman trying to care for her sister and avoid dying by inches from starvation. After she gets popped for trying to steal food, Avalon winds up in the middle of a crazy plan to find out just what the heck caused the devastation and what can be done to fix it.

Stealing Silence does a good job with its protagonist, focusing most of the narrative on her point of view. One of the things I would have liked to have seen, and perhaps subsequent stories in the series will cover it, is getting a look at the world through the eyes of others. We get hints that there’s a lot going on outside of the main story, but the story is tightly focused. Not that that’s a bad thing, mind you. But I would like to see more of the world in future stories.

All in all, a fun read. It clocks in at around 95 pages, so it’s not a taxing read and has plenty of space for expansion. Like all introductory stories, it does a good job of introducing our characters and the world they live in while leaving us with enough questions to make us want more.

“Orphaned. Alone. Starving.
The land is dying. As resources dwindle, the population is placed at the mercy of a secretive government, which operates on its own agenda. Critical top-level scientists researching the ecological disaster have gone missing, their disappearance a cold case file that haunts the local constabulary.
Desperate for answers, the police captain hatches a plan to recover a critical key to the land’s survival. What they need is an experienced thief, and they know just the girl. Avalon is not just any burglar; she is an uncommonly good one. Caught in the act of stealing, she is recruited against her wishes to pull off the boldest heist ever: to raid the high security government facilities.
Can one young girl pull off the theft of a lifetime? Failure is not an option, for it will mean starvation for all.
Don’t miss out on this exciting new dystopian series! Download your copy today!”

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Book Review – A Subtle Agency by Graeme Rodaughan

It’s hard to come up with something new to say about vampires. No pun intended, but the bloodsucker genre has been done to death. They’ve been monsters, lovers, sex objects, monsters again, sparkled when the light hit them, exploded into dust when the light hit them, and hit on teenage girls. Sometimes they’re vicious killers, other times they’re morose mopers with chips on their shoulders.

So, it’s pretty cool when you come across something new.

Graeme Rodaughan has taken a look at extremely long-lived critters and wondered what they’d really do if they existed. The answer, of course, is consolidate power and lurk in the shadows. Rodaughan’s vampires are less romantic mopers or mindless monsters and more Machiavellian creatures. Don’t think Twilight, think more along the lines of Game of Thrones or House of Cards with a hint of Doc Savage thrown in for good measure.

The world of A Subtle Agency is very much like our own, only inhabited by vampires and the secret societies out to do stuff secret societies like to do. Like our world, most people have no clue the vampires exist and the secret societies are branded as terrorists. Into this mixture is thrown a kid who gets to watch his parents tortured by vampires.

After that, the hunt is on.

Full of twists and turns, action and martial arts, A Subtle Agency is a rollicking thriller that goes for the throat and never lets go.

Hunting Anton Slayne?

Just get in line behind the Boston Police Department, Chinese Triads, the Shadowstone Organization, the Red Empire and the Vampire Dominion.

Witness to a brutal murder, eighteen year old Anton is inducted into the Order of Thoth by the mysterious Mr Wu. He soon discovers that vicious local gangsters, determined Boston Police Detectives, and relentless Shadowstone operatives pale into insignificance as he is drawn into the machinations of the enigmatic vampire, General Chloe Armitage.

When mastery over Anton’s soul is at stake, survival is the least of his problems.

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Book Review – We Are All Monsters by Cassie Carnage

Twitter is a vast wasteland filled with all manner of bad hombres. Some would say build a wall around it and be done with the problem, but I say there are gems out there just waiting to be discovered. Such is the case with Cassie Carnage’s collection of horror shorts We Are All Monsters.

Now, in case you hadn’t guessed by her name and the title of the book, this isn’t romance or anything feel-good. It’s good, old-fashioned horror with monsters and all manner of bad things happening to otherwise decent folk. In other words, We Are All Monsters is great way to spend a couple hours letting your dark side rise up and enjoy life for a while.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m a horror fan. I’ve certainly enjoyed the horror books I’ve read in the past, but I usually don’t go out of my way to seek them out. This one popped up in my Twitter feed as being on sale and it looked interesting enough that I grabbed a copy. While I wouldn’t say any of them outright scared me (don’t worry, not much does), there were a couple that left a hint of that tingle of nervousness. In my world, that’s a win.

In any collection of short stories, you can’t really expect them to all be winners. Not that any of the stories in We Are All Monsters are necessarily bad, it’s just that a couple of them rise above the rest. Personally, and this is just my opinion, The Dying Light was a great tale that ends with such a twist it makes you wonder if it couldn’t be expanded into a full-length novel. Black Hearts and Bloodied Lips could also set the stage for a much larger world. Walpurgisnacht had a great concept, too.

All in all, an entertaining read. If you’re into horror – and this isn’t overly gruesome horror – it’s worth a check.

And, in case you’re wondering if those Twitter plug work; well, it would appear they sometimes do.

WE ARE ALL MONSTERS by Cassie Carnage contains 10 original stories from a unique new voice in horror, plus a bonus preview chapter of the weird west monster hunter book THE THREE THIEVES OF NIGHT, which introduces you to their dark, corrupted world of gun slinging magicians.

Horror Stories Include:

HER ROTTEN EMBRACE
What the swamp takes, she also gives back.

CANCER’S REQUIEM
Cancer comes back to collect a widowed husband.

THE RING
What would you do if you could see ghosts, and your best friend dies?

DROSOPHILA (a horror poem)
Are there fruit flies everywhere, or only in the demented mind of Malachi?

THE DYING LIGHT
Two kids hear an urban legend about a monster in an abandoned copper mine. When they break into the mine, they accidentally wake it up.

HOT WATER
Sometimes, it’s not your imagination. Sometimes, there really is something inside your water heater…

BLACK HEARTS AND BLOODIED LIPS
Two monster hunters discover unexpected package while investigating a nest of vampires.

THE CORNUCOPIA
A homeless preacher finds a way to feed the starving people of his flock. But not all is what it seems, as the magical golden box that leaves a feast each night only does so after a human sacrifice.

WALPURGISNACHT
A mummified saint’s body, a witch, and a terrible curse.

OF ‘SQUATCH AND MAN
Three college guys go camping during a full moon and discover that one of them is not quite human anymore.

THREE THIEVES OF NIGHT PRELUDE (Bonus Section)
A psychic swordsman and a con man with an incessantly itching wound that won’t heal discover that their brother-at-arms is missing.

If you like Tales from the Crypt, Clive Barker, Stephen King or Anne Rice, you will love WE ARE ALL MONSTERS.

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Book Review – Junior Inquisitor by Lincoln Farish

Not a lot of people know this, but I grew up Catholic. Anglican Catholic, to be more specific. I have since fallen from the purer faith, but, at least in my eyes, Christian religion is indelibly tied to Catholicism. I know that’s not the case for a lot of people, but it’s just how I perceive the Christian world.

Any time you talk about religion, you have to be careful – people take their beliefs very seriously and I’m not trying to knock anyone else’s faith, just pointing out the eyes I used to look at the world of Lincoln Farish’s Junior Inquisitor.

I’ll get the meat out of the way and just say this: Junior Inquisitor is a hell of a lot of fun and if you’re into action and mystery, go buy a copy now.

This isn’t a religious book, per se. In the world of Junior Inquisitor there is evil present in the world. Not abstract evil, either. This is Evil with a capital E; the kind of thing Mike Myers would pronounce “Ayveel. Like the frooits of the deveel.” In fact, that kind of evil pretty much hits the mark that Mr. Farish is going for. In this world, most people aren’t aware of the underlying evil slowly eroding the world around them, but the Catholic church is well aware of it, and has been for some time. The Inquisitors are the tools the church uses to purge this evil.

Junior Inquisitor revolves around one Inquisitor as he stumbles into a hornet’s nest of evil. Excuse me; ayveel. Most of the tale is about him as he tries to do his job, but the story ultimately includes more Inquisitors as Sebastian attempts to purge a host of witches from the face of the planet.

Now, it should probably be noted that Farish’s witches aren’t Wiccans. There’s nothing kind or gentle about the witches in Junior Inquisitor and the magic they do is based on power pulled straight from deals with various demons and devils. In other words, these aren’t nice people we’re talking about.

So, while Junior Inquisitor takes place in a world that feels like our own, it’s very much set in its own world. And that world is inhabited by some terrifying things that not only go bump in the night, they also capture you and enslave your soul.

As I pointed out in the beginning, I’ve got a Catholic background even though I no longer count myself as one of theirs. But that background – even though Farish is using Roman Catholicism instead of Anglican Catholicism – made this book all that much more tangible, right down to the bureaucratic nature of all large organizations.

Part horror, part action, Junior Inquisitor is all fun. Even if you aren’t Catholic (or religious at all, really), it’s hard to not cheer on the exploits of a character that faces down the terrible things lurking in the darkness and shoots them.

Brother Sebastian is halfway up a mountain in Vermont, hell-bent on interrogating an old woman in a shack, when he gets the order to abandon his quest for personal vengeance. He has to find a missing Inquisitor, or, more likely, his remains. He’s reluctant, to say the least. Not only will he have to stop chasing the best potential lead he’s had in years, this job—his first solo mission—will mean setting foot in the grubby black hole of Providence, Rhode Island. And, somehow, it only gets worse…

If he’d known he would end up ass deep in witches, werewolves, and ogres, and that this mission would jeopardize not only his sanity but also his immortal soul, he never would’ve answered the damn phone.

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