Friday, October 20, 2017
Author:Matthew Davenport and Michael Davenport
Pages/length: 202 Pages/ 6 hours, 23 mins (Audio)
Release Date: 2016/August 2016
Publisher: Crossroad Press
Narrated by Carson Beck
Imagine that after the death of his parents, Bruce Wayne decided to become a masked vigilante. Not hard to imagine, obviously. Now imagine if Bruce Wayne wasn't rich, wasn't a child, didn't have unlimited resources, as well as years with which to train before he started fighting crime. That's the premise of this story, where an ordinary young man named Jason Night decides to start fighting crime after a personal tragedy.
When his mother is murdered in the family hobby shop in front of his eyes by a man who randomly killed her decides he wants fight crime. He takes MMA lessons, learns Parkour, and build himself a suit with off the rack components, consisting of a cowled mask, bullet proof vest, padded gauntlets, with kevlar sleeves, with tonfas for weapons. Stuff a guy who owns a hobby shop can afford. He then starts fighting crime in the local neighborhood, stopping break ins, stuff like that. When he runs across a break in at the local Chinese restaurant, with a group of guys just busting the place up, he stumbles across a conspiracy that he is ill equipped to handle, since these guys travel in packs, and are armed with guns. That bullet proof vest comes in handy, although getting shot still hurts a lot! This group is on orders, and Jason needs to find out who's behind the break ins that are terrorizing his neighborhood.
Jason also has to deal with problems in his real life. His father has Alzheimer's Disease, and Jason and his sister Amy have to care for him as he deteriorates further. Amy has dealt with the tragedies by diving into work at the tech company she works at, and has no idea Jason is moonlighting as the vigilante the news dubs The Darden City Guardian. As the pressure from these break in continues, and the danger increases each run in, Jason has to decide if he can continue. The fact a villain has discovered who he is and where his family is increases his doubt that he can continue as the Guardian, since it is endangering his family and friends.
What follows is a hard fought battle for Darden City itself, as the true power behind all the disturbances makes itself know in a quest to further their plans to take over the city. This includes an army of super villains that Jason and his friends need to face in order to stop the insanity gripping Darden City, and someone will make the ultimate sacrifice to help stop the insanity, all leading to a pulse pounding, action packed ending you wont want to miss!
This is an interesting book, since while it is about a superhero vigilante, its also about family struggles, friendships and sacrifice. The characters are well thought out and come across as real people, with real problems and successes. They are people you can really get behind. The villain actually comes across as realistic, even in this setting. The master plot actually gets you sucked into the story, and is actually pretty original. The training flashbacks are really good, with his sister making fun of him for getting beat up in MMA classes, and his broken arm from his parkour accidents is handled a funny way as well. It is a very humanizing touch. The world building is well drawn out, giving you a first hand look into Darden City. You get a feeling of fighting crime on the streets. All told excellently done.
The narration duties are handled ably by Carson Beck. He brings a real warmth and is believable as the various characters. He really has a good pace, and his narrative voice is smooth and well paced. excellent work.
Any fans of comics should really enjoy this story, as should fans of writers like Drew Hayes, CT Phipps and Jim Bernheimer. I can't recommend it highly enough, and can't wait to see where book 2 goes!
Friday, October 13, 2017
Author: Matthew Davenport
Pages/Length: 182 Pages/ 6 hrs, 38 Mins (audio)
Release Date: September 24, 2017/March 24, 2015 (Audio)
Publisher: Macabre Ink
I had a friend recommend this author as someone to watch. After listening to this, I wholeheartedly agree! In a landscape filled with Dresden Files clones, someone willing to look at urban fantasy more like Brian Lumley is a refreshing change of pace. Moving the story back to WW2 era Europe helps give the story a flavor all its own.
Andrew Doran is an Archaeologist, a minor mage and former instructor at Misketonic University. He is called in by the University's Dean, since it seems the English translation of the Necronomicon has been stolen by the Nazis and taken back to Germany, to have its secrets unlocked by the Thule Society. Well, as much as Andrew hates the Dean, he knows that those evil spells in the hands of madmen bent on world conquest is bad. Traveling to Nazi occupied France, Andrew is connected up with some members of the French Resistance, including their beautiful leader. They escape the Nazis in France to travel to Switzerland, where they can find a source who can point them to the Necronomicon's location. What they find is a twisted nightmare that almost kills them, although they do find the information they need.
They are captured by the Germans, though, and are brought into Germany in chains. However, you cant keep a hero down, and in a scene reminiscent of the truck chase and fight scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark, they manage to escape, and make their way to Berlin where the book is being kept. What follows after they arrive is such a wild scene of chaos, dark magic, harrowing chases, necromantic rituals and discovery about the true nature of his ally. The ending sets up more books in the series, but it is a stand alone. A very satisfying ending with a great twist you won's see coming.
I was impressed with the world building in this book. It is obvious the author researched the era thoroughly, and is also familiar with Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos. The setting is very natural, and you get a real sense of being right in the thick of the action, in a WW2 era Europe. The hopelessness and despair, the suspicion and terror they lived through, as well as the otherworldly threats, really give it a palpable sense of tension, dread and menace.
The characters are top notch, with Andrew Doran being conflicted about his own power, and the accessibility of powers better left unknown by man, but knowing its better to use the power for good than let the bad guys win the day. His allies are well fleshed out and described, and are believable in both their motivations and actions. The villains are especially fun, reminding me most of the Nazi's from the aforementioned Raiders of the Lost Ark. We know what their motivations are, and its very easy to loathe them. So, good job with the villains as well, even the surprise villain, who shall remain nameless.
As far as narration, Shaun Toole is effective. He really nails the main character, but did seem to struggle a bit with accents. That being said, the narration was smooth, and it is very listenable. I wouldn't let a minor quibble keep you from listening to it. Again, I highly recommend this book.
All in all, I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a change of pace from the Dresden clones. Its a great combo of urban fantasy and a period thriller. I am very excited to see where the next book goes.
Tuesday, October 10, 2017
Author: James Hunter
Pages/Length: 440 pages/ 13 hrs, 57 mins (audio)
Publisher: Shadow Alley Press
Release Date: March 8, 2016/ August 2, 2016 (audio)
Narrated by Armen Taylor
I will say first off that I am a huge fan of of this author's Yancy Lazarus urban fantasy books, so when I heard there was a spinoff in the same universe, I just had to check it out. I am glad I did, because this one went in some wild directions even Yancy Lazarus doesn't go! I am now a huge fan of this character as well, and hopefully, you will check it out and discover how good it is!
Levi Adams is trying to be a good person. He goes to church, tries to live a simple Mennonite life, and keeps under the radar. Unfortunately, he has an unfortunate addiction: murder. Well, not just any murder. You see, since awakening in a shallow pit grave in a death camp in Nazi Germany, Levi, who is a stone golem, has been killing bad guys ever since, starting with the Nazi scum murderers. Levi just want to live in peace now, to atone for his "sins", but sometimes he just needs to kill bad guys. To do that, he goes into The Sprawl , the secret home of the supernatural. There, he can find monsters aplenty doing evil deeds they need to be killed for.
While doing a little seasonal cleanup by murder of some Kobocs, some evil little blue skinned monsters, Levi, also known as Mudman, comes across their shaman about to perform a human sacrifice. The sacrifice, Sally Ryder, is on deaths doorstep when Levi uses his own blood, the elixir of life, to save her. After a hair raising escape, Levi and Sally are off to try and figure out whey Sally was being sacrificed. The answer is terrifying. Someone is trying to break a hugely powerful biblical baddie from the ancient high tech prison in the far end of the Sprawl's wasteland. This does lead to the origin of Atlantis, which was a great shock of a scene. After Sally is recaptured and the ritual is then attempted, Levi and some new allies break in to attempt to stop what will basically lead to an apocalyptic event. Levi also discovers who his creator was, and it is not at all who he expected, although if you have read the Yancy Lazarus books, you will know who it is. Levi has to make some sacrifices if he want to have any chance of stopping these threats, and its a close run thing. Levi has to determine if he will be what he was truly created to be, or if he is a free thinking creature, regardless of instincts. The climactic battle basically determines Levi's course for the rest of his existence.
Like all his book, James Hunter really lavishes attention on his characters. Well described and drawn out, you can really get into their thoughts and motivations. Especially with Levi, you can feel his struggle to fight his instincts to be a monster killing machine, that he feels true guilt and remorse for all those he has killed since he was created. OK, maybe not the Nazis so much, but the others. Their physical descriptions are also top notch. You can really see Levi in his multiple forms in your head, as if he was standing right next to you, as well as Sally, or Dr. Hogg.
The setting, the world building, is an extension of the Yancy Lazarus books, taken in new directions. The prison setting was especially creative, as were its guardians. The underground Koboc Warrens are well described, and not something you'd see in the Lazarus books, because no way would a human, even a mage, want to go down there. Levi, though, can go where others can't. All in all, an excellent addition to this universe.
The narration was handled by Armen Taylor, who also narrated the author's Viridion Gate LitRPG series. He brings a real voice to the monster that is Levi. Speaking without a lot of inflection without becoming monotone is tough, but he hits just the right notes bringing Levi to life. His voice work with the other characters, whether it be Sally Ryder, Dr. Hogg or even the
villain, was all spot on, and really got you into what the characters were doing. Definitely a top notch effort.
If you have read the Yancy Lazarus books, this book should have a familiar feeling, while bringing in all new elements that flesh out the universe. It hits all the right notes, and makes you want to see what comes next, something every author should hope for. I can't recommend this book highly enough.
Tuesday, October 3, 2017
Author: Jon Del Arroz
Release Date: October 3, 2017
Publisher: Jon Del Arroz
Being a fan of this authors previous novels, I saw the premise of this and decided I had to check it out. I am so glad I did. It brought to my mind memories of watching and talking about baseball as a kid with my dad, some really good memories. It is an engaging story, sure to hook fans of baseball and those who like character driven stories.
Hideki Ichiro, Commissioner of the World Baseball League (WBL) has a dream of expanding the league, since revenues have flattened out
and attendance is starting to wane. The league has really topped out at 250 teams, with nowhere left to expand. Nowhere, that is, on Earth. Hideki's dream is to expand the league to the lunar colonies, an untapped market. unfortunately, the lunar gravity is too light to allow proper play, so the dream seem like it wont be possible. Hideki also has personal reasons to try and see the expansion come to fruition, since he has befriended a Lunar child with cancer on a make a wish type charity meeting, and he promised to do all he can to get a team on to the moon.
Hideki's is now facing a revolt in the league ownership about the moon expansion, the declining revenues, and a rogue owner of a small market club that wants to move into another larger teams territory. He is faced with the very real possibility of being ousted as commissioner when he receives a call from a University of Michigan professor of physics that may have the very answer to the problem with gravity on the moon. A huge sponsor also has the other piece of the puzzle to unlocking the moon expansion. In the end, we see whether Hideki's dream comes true, and how the league will continue into the future.
I really enjoyed the characters in this story. They really resonate as relatable, real people who have real problems and real interactions and relationships. The settings are well drawn out, with the various cities and the moon being described in such a way as you can imagine being there in the seats, watching the game. The backroom politics nature of baseball ownership is explored really well, with all the competing interests really shown in full color. The plot also moves along at a good clip, never slacking or leaving the reader bored. All in all a top notch effort I heartily recommend, and the cover by Shawn King is another example of his fine cover work as well!
Wednesday, September 27, 2017
Author: Paul Lavender
Release Date: September 12, 2016
Publisher: Paul Lavender
This is one of those books some friends of mine recommended as a decent grimdark story. I decided to give it a shot, and I am glad I did. It is a completely different take on elves. No longer the wise, graceful elder race, these are gritty, at times petty and prejudiced. They can't stand the half elves, and give them a raw deal, and they are not too sympathetic.
The Orcs are much different than the fairly sterile ones Tolkien created. Yes, they kill indiscriminately, but this author's are so much worse. They don't just kill. They torture, humiliate and will rape anything they can hold still. They plunder, despoil, keep sex slaves and are generally the worst sort of evil race I have ever seen put to page that is not demonic, and these actually give other writer's demons a run for the money, and these create the background tension in the story.
The story starts 5000 years ago. An elvish battalion has been almost wiped out by a horde of orcs. The last seven elves are surrounded by the horde, protecting a pregnant human woman, about to be wiped out when a miracle occurs. The warriors are imbued by the seven elven gods with magic weapons and armor that they become bonded to for life, that allows them to defeat the orc horde. These are the Orcslayers, the scourge of the orc hordes, and the orcs would tremble in fear at the mention of them.
Now 5000 years later, the orcs haven't been seen in numbers in millennia. The South is at peace, with 5 forts guarding the passes between the orcs in the north and the elves and humans in the south. In the orc lands, and orc chieftain with dreams of uniting the tribes and conquering the south, sends his half-orc son, Bazak, to spy on the leadership of the Southern kingdoms, and help set up the invasion. He makes it down south and seduces a captain in the guard of Ashen Falls, gaining valuable intel.
Enter Saethryth. He is one of the two Orcslayers currently active. The roles have been passed down over the years. He follows the half-orc and confronts him as he is about to kill his duped captain, and saves her, although the orc gets away. He then decides to help her get revenge on Bazak by inducting her into the Orcslayers, realizing their numbers need to be increased, and she takes the new name Tierra.
The other storyline follows Melress, a half elf battle mage who is actually
Saethryth's half brother, unbeknownst to them both. Melress is sent on a mission to support the fort at Knight's Reach if the Orcs actually are invading. While he is on the way to the fort, he comes across a farm that an orc war band has despoiled, and he uses his power to save a young woman who was recently killed. He has a unique power to raise the dead, which is a priest's power, not a mages, and this plays an important part in the story later. He also unintentionally raises her parents, but they arise after he and the girl leave, and the parents quest for orc vengeance provides some hilarious moments in an otherwise grim story. Talk about gallows humor! We also discover that there might be a little more to the Elven pantheon than the seven accepted gods.
The story lines converge at Knight's Perch, where the one of the forces of the orcs is invading. What follows is a well drawn out battle scene, with surprising combat, monsters rampaging, heroism, courage and barbarism in steady amounts, as well as some betrayal you don't see coming. Bazak and Tierra meet again, although Bazak doesn't enjoy the meeting for long. We discover Melress is married to someone rather important, and that there is a grand conspiracy moving events far bigger than the orcs, looking for vengeance long denied. The story ends with us getting a glimpse at the larger world the story will be taking us in to in future books.
The characters and setting are real strengths of this book. Saethryth's world weary cynicism, Tierra's need for revenge and to protect her homeland, and Melress's innocent earnestness, with just a bit of a chip on his shoulder due to being half elven, all make them endearing. The side characters are also well fleshed out, making you interested in their interactions throughout the story. The villains are just loathsome. There is no other way to describe them. They are Orcs as would make Tolkien shiver just thinking about them. They are not sympathetic in the slightest, although they are interesting, as in wow, that train wreck sure has a lot of fatalities way. You just cant take your eyes off of them, even though you want to.
All in all, this was a very good debut novel. Grimdark as all hell, great characters, an interesting backstory, and a fully fleshed out world that has a grander conspiracy awaiting discovery. Is it a perfect book? No. There are some editing issues, such as punctuation, things of that nature, that are kind of usual in a lot of first time indy books. Its not something that will ruin your enjoyment of the book. I recommend this book wholeheartedly for dark fantasy fans.
I will mention one more thing. This book shows the orcs in a very visceral, graphic way. They keep sex slaves, and will slaughter, rape and humiliate any and all of their victims. This includes ALL of them, so gender and age do not restrain them. There is graphic talk of sex, and the aftermath of their raids is described, so if you are looking for clean, sterile fiction, this isn't it. I had no issue with it, since the author basically took the gloves with the orcs, and depicts them as I always imagined orcs to behave. Fair warning.
Monday, September 25, 2017
Release Date: October 12, 2017
Publisher: Crossroad Press
I was very excited to hear that this book was being written. I gave the first book in the series, I Was A Teenage Weredeer, a glowing review. It was easily the best book I had read this year. That is, until this book, which actually surpasses the first book in all ways. I know the authors have more planned out in the series, which is in the same universe as CT Phipps's Straight Outta Fangton Series, so there are is a lot of potential stories in this series and universe.
The story starts a year after the last book. Jane is 19 now, and is basically the shaman of Bright Falls with her parents being hidden in Witness Protection. She is kind of muddling along in her job and in her love life, with FBI agent Alex Timmons out of town, and her attraction to Bright Falls bad boy Lucien Lyons put to the side, no matter how good looking he is, or what may have happened one drunken night! This is Jane's life as the story gets going.
While on a picnic with her best friend, the werewolf Emma O'Hara, two monster hunters sent by Alex come upon them, since they need some help on a case. Jane and Emma go with them, and discover a true horror: A mass collection of dead infant skeletons. This discovery sends Jane and crew on a quest to determine who left them for dead, and they are determined to stop it from happening again. Enter a charismatic immortal preacher, who is looking to kill Jane's mentor, Kim Su. Well, Jane's not down for that, either.
So starts a wild ride of a story, in which we discover Bright Falls has an actual god living in the woods, we meet a new character, Robyn, who's mysterious past is linked to the entire mystery. We also discover that there really was a King Arthur, although not quite like the stories say, as well as who Merlin really was. Jane's potential as a mage is explored, and her growth in power and skill are noticeable. The crew has to deal with a variety of challenges to find the truth about who is responsible for the deaths, and they find out the problem is a lot bigger than they could have ever imagined. Alex being accused of murdering the preacher? That's the least of the problems.
We also discover just what Alex went through in his abusive household, and his story is fleshed out more, and his relationship with Jane is more firmly defined. This all leads to the final showdown with the villain(s) and the results will effect the characters and the broader world. The final chapter has Jane meeting with the villain from the previous book, and settling that issue, but discovering that the world is a lot scarier than they expected. New opportunities are open to Jane and Alex, and we'll see where they go in book three.
Like book one, the characters are a great strength of this story. Jane is a fantastic character: Strong, with attitude to match, but still with moments of vulnerability and self discovery. She is a pop culture quote a minute machine and makes you like it, finding a quote for every situation. Alex is more fully fleshed out; his back story is truly tragic, and that gives insight into his motivations. The new additions, Robyn, and the hunters David and Yolanda, all add a new depth to the story, with Robyn really shining and sure to be a fan favorite, being a good foil to Jane. Learning more about Kim Su really fleshed her out as well, giving a view into her motivations. The villains are well drawn out as well, with realistic motivations (or lack of motivation) within the story line, which added to the level of threat to the heroes.
The setting of Bright Falls is probably one of my favorites in urban fantasy. The small lumber town that was the secret home to the Shifter leadership is a stroke of genius. The same town and leadership having to deal with the rest of the world after the Reveal of the supernatural is interesting, in the way that they now have to deal with tourists looking to take selfies with werewolves! Also, those same tourists are wanting to go into the surrounding woods on the look out for magic, of which Bright Falls has more than its fair share. The description of the town is so vivid, you can imagine it vividly in your mind. The new settings, including the Grove in the woods, are just perfect for the story. You'll see what I mean when you read it.
Ala in all, this book improves in every way on an already fantastic book one. The characters are more fleshed out, as is the setting. It has some interesting twists on mythology and really expands upon the themes of book one. Jane also shows just how far she's willing to go for justice, and that is pretty damn far. This may be my favorite effort by these authors, and that's saying a lot, since I am such a fan of their previous work. I can't recommend this book highly enough!
Monday, September 4, 2017
Author: CT Phipps
Publisher: Crossroad Press
Release Date: September 21, 2017
Based in the same universe as the Straight Outta Fangton vampire series, I Was A Teenage Weredeer has the same comedic sensibility, but tackles a completely different aspect of the supernatural world. That would be the world of wereshifters, drug in to the spotlight with the vampires when the vampires bailed out the US government during the last economic meltdown, in exchange for equal rights and protection. Unfortunately for the shifters, they weren't included in the deal. Only two states, Michigan and New Hampshire, protect shifters from being killed outright. That's where the story picks up, in Bright Falls, Michigan.
Bright Falls is the unofficial capitol of the Shifter world. The heads of the 12 shifter clans are all there, from the powerful werewolf clan to the selkies, weredeer and werebears. The main protagonist, Jane Doe (pun fully intended) is 18 years old, and works at her family's restaurant. She is a member of the weredeer clan. Her parents are John and Judy Doe, which is a funny way of introducing a weredeer weakness, puns. Jane's sister is romantically involved with one of the Werewolf clan, and unbeknownst to Jane, so is her brother, the only member of her family not to be a shifter.
When Jane's brother is arrested for the murder of his girlfriend, Jane and the girl's sister Emma, who is actually Jane's best friend, start their own investigation to find out who really murdered her. What they find will shake the foundations of the town, and the balance of power throughout the shifter world. helping them along the way are Alex, an FBI mage who is kind of spacey, and Lucien, who happens to be the local gangster, and has some secrets of his own. As they continue down the rabbit hole, they discover evils perpetrated in the town by people they trusted, all in the name of the "greater good".
They discover the true nature of the evil infecting the town, and in a series of climactic fights, discover that the side of the angels might not be the clean side after all. Jane has to make some incredibly difficult decisions, that may include hurting the ones she loves the most to get to the truth. Oh, and she's had a vision of her in an intimate encounter with Lucien, and also finds Alex intriguing as well. Awkward!
I have to admit I am a huge fan of CT Phipps. I have loved every one of his books, and have them all. That being said, this one was something special. I think Jane Doe may be his best character to date. She is strong, independent and stubborn enough for a dozen people. While she has special abilities because she is a shifter, she relies on her brains to get through most problems, rather than battering them into submission with stronger than human strength. That being said, she has her moments of weredeer badassery too!
The supporting cast is also excellent. Emma is a great friend character, and her romantic feelings for the very straight Jane adds an extra dimension to their relationship. Alex's spacey kind of good guy is a lot of fun, as is Lucien's bad boy allure. Alex being a mage and Lucien being a...well, you'll see, adds some real spice as well.The villains are excellently crafted as well, bringing a real sense of grand danger as well as having realistic and somewhat sympathetic reasons for their actions, at least in the case of the biggest threat. The town of Bright Falls is colorfully and carefully described, actually feeling like a character itself. Characters have always been a strength of this writer, so that's no surprise.
All in all, I feel this will appeal to a wide variety if readers, from teens to adults, male and female alike. I know this is a project of love for the author, and he is almost done with book two. Any fans of his other books should really be able to dig in and enjoy this one. I can't recommend it highly enough.
Total Rating: 10/10.