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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Book Review – Pawns by Patrick Hodges

I used to have this story rattling around in my head about a ship from the future that gets damaged in a firefight and crashes on a planet where magic was very real and very dangerous. It would have been an interesting examination of the inherent equality built into technology versus the inequality where magic – and therefore power – was concentrated in the hands of the few. At some point or another, I may still write it, but the key point of high-tech coming into contact with high-magic was the unique part about it and Patrick Hodges just beat me to the punch.

Such is life.

Patrick Hodges has finally made the jump from YA fiction (which was very good stuff anyway) in the real world to more adult YA fiction centered in a fictional world. This is a very good thing as far as I’m concerned. Joshua’s Island was an excellent examination of bullying and the general crap people deal with when they’re growing up, but Pawns is a much larger story. Some of themes are still there, at least in a nascent form, but the themes are background to the story instead of the driver of the story.

Pawns – Book 1 of The Wielders of Arantha saga has, at its heart, the same kinds of studies of growing up and learning to adapt, but packages it in a sci-fi realm where magic and technology are suddenly thrust together. So, now my opening paragraph makes sense.

Pawns is a unique mixture of sci-fi and fantasy, set on a faraway planet where the rules are different from what our intrepid Earthlings expect. It’s a tightly woven story told from multiple points of view and, while it’s the first in a series, gives us a solid tale.

And that’s the only real downside to the story. This book, like most first books in a series, is primarily here to introduce the characters and situation and get the ball rolling. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a solid story here, but Pawns’ primary purpose is to build a world. And, to be fair, it’s a heck of a world, richly detailed and populated with interesting characters. I don’t know how many books Hodges has planned for the series, but this one will definitely be the one to start with.

The fact that it’s a great read is just icing on the cake.

Seven hundred years in the future, the Jegg – a powerful alien race – invade Earth, wiping out half of the Terran Confederation.

In a hidden base under the Sahara Desert, a team of scientists works to mount a resistance against the invaders. Their plan is to fit an Earth ship with Jegg folding-space technology, and travel to the other side of the galaxy to find a mysterious energy source… one that could help them defeat the Jegg.

But just before departure, catastrophe strikes. Only two of the crew survive and make it to their destination: the team leader’s wife Maeve, and her teenage son Davin. What they find on the distant planet will forever change both the future of their family and their planet, as they enter a race against time… and against impossible odds.

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Book Review – Mudmen by Shitij Sharma

Mudmen: The Quest for Humanity is one of the more unique books I’ve read. It starts with a question I think everyone has asked themselves at some point or another point in their lives: could I do a better job than God?

Don’t worry, the jury is still out on that one.

I think at some point in their development, every writer goes through a deeply philosophical phase. Most books don’t go too deep into philosophical territory for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is takes a steady hand to make such huge things small enough for most people to wrap their heads around.

Mudmen follows the events that take place after the world comes to an end and the whole of humanity is reduced to ashes. One person winds up with the ability to rewrite reality and sets out to do exactly that. Unfortunately for him, reality isn’t as easy to recode as, say, editing the text on the back of a box of cereal or pirating music. Reality, it turns out, is complicated stuff. Lot of ins, lot of outs, lot of interested parties, as the saying goes.

Out of the miasma this little guy creates comes something altogether unexpected: The resurgence of humanity. Of course, the humans do what we’re best at: steal the power of the gods for ourselves, even though we’re completely incapable of figuring out what to do with it.

This is book one of a three book set. Truthfully, it weighs in at 88 pages or so, so novella may be more technically accurate. Not that such triviality is all that important. The important thing to realize is this is just the first third of a longer piece. Truthfully, I would have like to see the whole work released as a single installment, but that’s just me. This first third gives us an introduction to the characters and rules of the Mudmen. Presumably, the remainder of the series will fill out the world more. Sharma asks some big questions in book one; let’s hope he provides some big answers as the story continues.

Rich in metaphor and deeply layered meaning, Mudmen isn’t a story to be undertaken expecting a few gun fights, a car chase, and some steamy sex. This is musings on the nature of being, the nature of the universe, and the nature of humanity.

What if you thought you could play a better god than God?

Mudmen is a story unlike anything you have ever seen before. It all starts with a half-crazed dwarf scribbling furiously on a piece of paper while the world outside his little cottage is ravaged by a great storm. There is an artifact in his possession which gives him power over all else, but that artifact is stolen by the very creatures that he gave birth to in his frustration – these creatures are what we come to know as the Mudmen.

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