Book Review – Copper Pennies by Carrie D. Miller

There used to be a theory that a story should take place over fairly short amount of time – weeks, days if possible. I think most people gave it lip service and went on to do whatever they felt like doing anyway. Besides, there are some stories, especially those that don’t feature Bernie, that can be told over the space of a weekend. Some stories span generations and to condense that into a weekend of action and massive amounts of exposition is to take a dump all over the story. And no one like dump-covered stories.

So, enter Carrie Miller’s Copper Pennies, a story that takes place over around a hundred years, a few generations, and at least a couple of planes of existence. The amazing thing about it is even though it sounds mind-bendingly complicated, Miller does a fantastic job of keeping things simple and concise, so the reader doesn’t have to keep a notebook full of names and what they did so when they pop up a few decades later no one has to flip back through the book.

And, frankly, what a story. It’s easy to whip up a tale of black magick and betrayal; it’s much more difficult to add layered depth, interesting characters, and enough history to make it come to life. Copper Pennies breathes. Its breath isn’t always pleasant, but no good story comes to life when it’s been drenched in mouthwash.

So, if you want something gritty, a story that doesn’t hold back or paint its characters as perfect, try Copper Pennies. It’s one of those books that feels so real the characters and places stick with you after you put it down.

Magda stands in the moonlit cemetery waiting for the spell to work, for her lover to return. But what’s done can’t be undone, and Magda will learn she should have left him in the ground. 

When twins Avery and Chloe Parsons receive a cryptic letter and a sinister-looking book filled with illegible scrawls from their grandmother, the sisters set out for Prague to check on her. 

Drawn to a cracked crystal ball in a curiosity shop, Chloe discovers it harbors the spirit of their grandmother, who tells them a horrific tale of lust, naïveté, betrayal, and… demons.

Armed with a book of dark magick they can’t read and a cracked crystal ball, the twins must stop Magda’s resurrected lover before he releases an unstoppable force that will consume the human world.

Across continents and nearly a century, follow the adventures of three strong-willed women: one seduced by evil, one struggling to withstand the lure of power, and one trying to save her family—and the world.

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Book Review – River by Ryen Lesli

A few fun facts about Ryen Lesli

  • She haunts Twitter as “The Witch”
  • She has epic fingernails
  • She likes the word “Fuck”

All of these are good things in my book. Any witches down with dropping F-bombs are worth looking into.

That said, Ryen recently released her first book, a dark fantasy romance about a young woman who finds herself plucked from the world she thought was home and dropped into a magical new world where things are, shall we say, different. Normally, I’d look at a plot like that and yawn, but Ryen handles it beautifully and introduces her own twists to the genre. It’s true, there really isn’t anything new under the sun, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take a story and make it amazing with some sleight of hand and a little supernatural chicanery.

Which is exactly what one should expect from someone who calls herself “The Witch”. So, take that sentence about yawning and toss it away; that was me not paying full attention to the writer telling the tale. There’s new life in this story and a protagonist that isn’t going to headline a Disney princess story anytime soon.

And I think that’s what made it most interesting. I’ll be honest, fantasy and romance aren’t really my genres, but as the saying goes, a setting is just a setting. It’s the story that matters. Take “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” or “The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus” and set them in video arcades or space stations and you won’t necessarily have arcade-punk and sci-fi, you’ll still have cracking good stories that just happen to have settings in space or 80s arcades.

By the way, arcade-punk is mine. Stay away from it.

And that’s how I started to view River. Rather than being just Fantasy Romance, it’s a good story that happens to be told in a Fantasy Romance setting. If you’re looking for a romantic triangle or a protagonist that doesn’t bend herself to immediately fit into her new surroundings or even a little magic, River is a good (and fun) book to look into. Even if you’re not necessarily into the genre. Perhaps the best part is, we’ve got more of River and her coterie coming down the pipe.

Does she have a secret life? One even she doesn’t know about?

Ever since seventeen-year-old River can remember, she’s always had the sense that she is in the wrong place—that SHE is wrong. Because of this, she battles a constant restlessness that consumes her. Running is the only thing that helps. Another reason she knows she’s wrong? She can see the light around a person. Everyone gives off energy and somehow River can see a bit of it. She instantly knows when someone’s good or bad. She just doesn’t know what a blurry light means, like the light around the scary new kid.

Upon seeing him, something inside her breaks open; a crack along some forgotten wall that frees a painful wave of raw emotion, faint visions, and an emerald-eyed boy that River doesn’t remember, but knows she should. After the new kid reveals his violent, supernatural side, River’s world explodes and everything she thought was real, fades away. Taken from her life in Georgia, River is forced into the dangerous, beautiful, self-sustaining, power-filled, live-in-the-trees-like-Robin-Hood Fair world that has been impatiently awaiting her return.

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You can also find River on Kyanite Publishing’s storefront

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Book Review – What They Deserve by Sam Hendricks

There’s this running meme that’s been popping up lately about talking on phone in the 50s and being concerned that the line was tapped. Flash forward to 2019 and you’ve got a woman asking Alexa, “Hey, wiretap, what’s a good recipe for pancakes?”

It’s possible to debate the ins and outs of tech like Alexa, Siri, whatever Google’s calling their robo-assistant lately, but it’s not possible to debate the unintended side-effects of having a box sitting in your living room that’s listening to everything you say. Nor is it wise to debate the fact that you just paid good money to give every advertiser on the planet direct access to your house.

Now, I honestly don’t believe big tech has any nefarious plans for Alexa beyond finding new and exiciting ways to sell you shoes and non-stick pans, but what if that weren’t the case?

Sam Hendricks took that scenario, shook it up a little,  and added a hefty dose of mystery and crafted something uniquely terrifying not because of monsters or the existential threat of nuclear annihilation, but because of the extremely close proximity to our own world. A world where tech can provide a sense of security, much like a wall that keeps the bad guys out and controls the sanctity of the Reformed United States.

It’s control that’s the key to the story. Walls can be climbed or flown over or even tunneled under, but a good piece of tech can be even better at keeping people under control. And it’s into that world that Hendricks drops us with a smile and a wave.

What They Deserve is relatively short story, along the lines of a novella, but Hendricks packs it full of information. In the tradition of good writers, she doles out bits of data a byte at a time rather than giving us a full tedious, historical dump. Aside from being a nervous-making tale of technological and tyrannical woe, it’s a fun story that might leave you wondering about the technology we use every day and how it could impact our lives. I’m sure Alexa will have more information about that, though.

Highly entertaining, well-paced, and fun. This could be the start of a great series, if Sam was so inclined to write it.

SEATTLE, WA: 2053.

Summer Wilkins, the official spokesperson for the Reformed United States, is still grieving the loss of her son when a shocking murder rocks the city. After her husband is implicated, she’s drawn into a rebellion that’s ready to do anything to find out the truth behind the new “Inevix patches” being distributed to the public. Murder, mystery, and politics abound as Summer finds out that the biggest secrets are being hidden in her own family.

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Book Review – The Clockwork Detective by R.A. McCandless

Steampunk was never really my bag. It’s far too easy to fall into the trap of detailed explanations of how clockwork and steam power and mold the world. At some point in some Steampunk stories, the tech gets advanced enough that you find yourself reading about how tiny switches bring intelligence to artificial creations. When that happens, I often wonder why the hell the author didn’t just write a cyberpunk story and call it good. Maybe it’s the lusty allure of pocketwatches and good old-fashioned steam-powered cars. You know, all the stuff we see every day, only run by analog water vapor.

Those are the stories where it’s obvious the author was just trying to cash in on the steampunk genre rather than adding something unique to it.

I’m pleased to say The Clockwork Detective doesn’t fall into that trap. There are a few descriptions of a steam-powered world – Aubrey’s leg, the dirgibles that plow the skies like iron ships across an ocean of air – but mostly R.A. McCandless just lets the story be the story. As a result, it’s not the tedious read that some Steampunk falls into.

Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m not knocking the entire genre. There are some great stories out there that use the Steampunk world as a character unto itself, but there are others that just shove a story into that world and describe every gear and steampipe mercilessly while leaving the reader wondering why it was so important that the antagonist drove a clockwork El Camino.

R.A. takes the genre in a different direction. Some stuff clicks and clacks, but mostly the story is about the story. He’s also done something I hadn’t seen before in a steampunk novel.

Urban fantasy, as a genre, tends to blend the mundane world of right now with the magical world you only find when you’re tripping balls behind a 7-11. There are normal El Caminos, there are 7-11s, but there are also magical things like ghosts, devils, and all manner of bugaboos either lurking in the shadows or running hot dog carts on Central Ave down by the university. Again, getting stuck in the details in urban fantasy is easy trap to fall into and the best at the genre manage to make it work.

What R.A. has pulled off with The Clockwork Detective is an effective blend of Steampunk and Urban Fantasy. I’d say Steamfantasypunk, but that’s a mouthful and no one would ever think it’s cool enough to become a thing, so let’s just say it’s a new direction in Steampunk and call it good.

And that’s exactly what this book is: It’s a great fusion of two disparate genres handled with the deft touch of a master who really believes in what he’s doing. That belief shines through in a text that draws you in and keeps you in its world even after you close the book. Well-written, engaging, and flat-out fun to read. This is a perfect summer book that doesn’t shirk its responsibility of taking the reader to new places and letting them wander around in a fleshed out world.

It’s like tripping balls behind the 7-11 without the fear of the dreaded brown acid.

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Aubrey Hartmann left the Imperial battlefields with a pocketful of medals, a fearsome reputation, and a clockwork leg. 

The Imperium diverts her trip home to investigate the murder of a young druwyd in a strange town. She is ordered to not only find the killer but prevent a full-scale war with the dreaded Fae. 

Meanwhile, the arrival of a sinister secret policeman threatens to dig up Aubrey’s own secrets – ones that could ruin her career. 

It soon becomes clear that Aubrey has powerful enemies with plans to stop her before she gets started. Determined to solve the mystery, Aubrey must survive centaurs, thugs and a monster of pure destruction.

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Book Review – Echoes of Olympus Mons by Eric Malikyte

There aren’t that many sci-fi horror stories that I’m aware of. Someone please correct me one what I’m missing because I really enjoy the genre. On the movie end, I can think of Event Horizon, the original Alien (Aliens, great as it was, was more action than horror) and, uh, Predator, I guess. And, let’s face it, Predator was just a badass retelling of Beowulf with an alien and guns, which is why it won the Academy Award for Best Movie Ever Made.

I’m sure there are more out there, but those are the only ones that come to mind.

Anyway, like I said, the sci-fi genre is rife with possibilities for some good horror stories, especially ones that introduce a brand new kind of bad guy. That’s why Eric Malikyte’s Echoes of Olympus Mons was such a treat. It wasn’t just that it was well-written with some suberb character development and a hefty dose of science, it was the fact that he came up with a monster that hasn’t been done before. I won’t spoil it by telling you, but it’s a genuinely unique take on sci-fi horror.

Malikyte keeps you guessing throughout the book. Even though the action is spelled out, he leaves enough wiggle room to make you wonder if what’s happening is really happening or not. He paints us solid, real characters who are far from perfect charicatures, and gives us a vision of Mars that shows a red planet that frankly doesn’t give a rat’s ass about us.

If you enjoy well-written horror that doesn’t go over the top and descend into straight gore – although there is plenty of that – pick up Echoes of Olympus Mons and get ready to spend a few nights with a book you can’t put down.

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Once they see you nowhere is safe.

Olympus One colony students Hal Leon and Akio Sato have made history. Their invention, a camera that images dark matter, has had its first successful test; but what it reveals may put human life on Mars in jeopardy. 

Hal believes that the strange animalistic silhouettes hidden in the dark matter web prove his theories. The wiry, inhuman forms appear to look to the sky at some invisible threat before they’re wiped away by a wave of nothingness that resets the dark matter web to normal, until it all repeats again—a never-ending cycle. 

That is, until something else appears in the dark matter web, and students and colonists alike start dying under mysterious circumstances. Can Hal and Akio figure out what’s causing these grisly murders, and does the dark matter camera somehow hold the key to the mystery?

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Book Review – A Hell of a Christmas: Dear Satan by Padraic Keohane

Padraic Keohane has a wicked sense of humor and a clever wit. He always has, at least as long as I’ve known him and that’s been quite a while now.

I reviewed one of his books – a collection of short stories – back before I had this blog up and running. That book, Stories of Sagacity and Wit, was a fun read and I highly recommend it. Padraic’s latest work departs from the adult level short stories and splashes head-first into the kids’ books department. True to form, he approaches his story from a different perspective than most and has given us a children’s book that would actually be fun to read to a kid. In fact, were my son still of that age group, he’d probably think it was a hoot. Nowadays, unless it’s King, Matheson, or Horowitz, he just ain’t that into it.

Which is a pity, because A Hell of a Christmas: Dear Satan was a fun read. The general gist is Billy sends a Christmas wish list to Santa, but transposes some letters and hilarity ensues. Without digging too deep into the weeds, what you get is a story about the ultimate force for evil making the ultimate force for bike riding and giving it away because he’s really not that bad of a guy.

Aside from the obvious spelling lesson, there aren’t any treacly lessons about this, that, or the other thing snuck into the story, it’s just a fun little story about a kid who accidentally asks Satan for a bicycle. If you have young ones – and they have the right sense of humor – you’ll likely find this book is a blast to read to them.

“Billy is a good boy, but not a good speller. He wants a bike for Christmas, so naturally he writes to Satan. Will the devil and his crew get into the Christmas spirit? An illustrated storybook for the older kids and adults.”

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Book Review – Close Your Eyes by Paul Jessup

One of Orwell’s key ideas in 1984 was the notion that language shaped thought. It wasn’t an altogether outlandish idea, even if he used it in sinister and double plus ungood ways. We need words for our brains to conceptualize things and explain them to other people. Without arguing the efficacy of communication or whether the intended meaning is delivered along with the rest of the message, it’s easy to understand how the languages we use can shape the way we think. Even Abbot’s Flatland touched on this idea when one of his characters was trying to describe the concept of “up” to a group of two-dimensional beings.

As I recall, Abbot’s character got locked up for the heresy of discussing extra dimensions beyond the required two.

Language is at the heart of Paul Jessup’s Close Your Eyes – a collection of two novellas and one short story stitched together into a novel. Each bit has its own flow, but they all work together to tell one meta story.

Jessup uses language as both the crux of the story where language is a virus and he uses language like a surgeon wields a scalpel as he weaves together the tale of a ship adrift in an ocean of stars. In the course of their adventures they stumble across a particularly virulent strain of language that rends sanity in twain. It would seem that even in a world of automatons made of wax and hyper-intelligent ship’s computers, the bug that strikes people down was something no one expected: Language.

It’s a unique way of dealing with diseases. The language in question is almost like a computer virus that infects, propagates, and ultimately consumes its victim’s minds. The novel alludes to the fact that the language has already decimated entire planets.

Jessup has his own style of writing that is unique in all the books I’ve read. At times it’s punchy, direct, and almost Spartan in its usage, at other times it flows with the symmetry of poetry. As if his concept of linguistic viruses wasn’t enough, he uses language to great effect to heighten the more surreal aspects of his world.

Think of Close Your Eyes as sci-fi with a purpose. It would be easy to say the ship’s AI is reminiscent of HAL from 2001 or the linguistic virus as similar to Stephenson’s Snow Crash, but Close Your Eyes goes in different directions. Even if the idea that there is nothing new under the sun is true, that doesn’t mean existing things can’t be rearranged into new and exciting things.

All in all, a good read.

“Language is a virus. Open this book. Read the words. Feel them infect you. Identity is a disease. Flip the pages. Stay up all night. Watch it transform you. You cannot deny it. You cannot close your eyes and shut out the changes. You know you want to. You really want to. But it’s too late. You can’t.

Critically acclaimed author of weird fiction Paul Jessup sends puppets to speak and fight for their masters. Welcome to a far future universe that stretches the imagination to breaking, where a ragtag crew of post-human scavengers rage and love on a small ship in the outer reaches of space, and moon-sized asylums trap the unwary in a labyrinth of experimentation in both identity and sanity.

Welcome to Close Your Eyes, a mind expanding surrealistic space opera that not only includes the out-of-print classic Open Your Eyes, but takes it to whole new level in a much awaited sequel.

Go ahead. Pick it up. Read it. Let it infect you.”

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