Friday, July 18, 2014

Starliner, David Drake

I've been on a sci-fi jag lately. Hopefully I will find a fantasy book that rings my bells soon--but I can't seem to find any good fantasy that I haven't read already.  Show me some fantasy with an original plot and a great cast of characters, a book that's not full of cute, romantic fluff, thank you. I want to promote indies, but come on authors--you have to work with me! Write me something original or I'll go mad. I hate to be just killing time with my reading, and I refuse to blog about books that bore me. 

So I was cruising the cheap fiction in the Kindle store--and this one was free!

Starliner, by David Drake is another hard science-fiction tale. The ebook was first published In 2013, but it was first published in june of 1992 by Baen. Somehow I never saw this book, so it's new to me.


The Empress of Earth

Finest passenger liner in the galaxy —
Brightest link in the chain that binds the starflung civilization of the 23rd century—
Six thousand lives in a single hull, trembling through multiple universes to land on raw, often violent worlds, each with its own history and wonder —

The Empress of Earth

Neutral pawn in an interstellar war!

When hostile necessity knows no law, Ran Colville and the rest of the complement of the Empress of Earth must bring home their ship and the passengers entrusted to them. From the Captain on his bridge to the Cold Crewmen who work in conditions that differ from Hell only by name, they'll have their work cut out for them this voyage!


Now this was an intriguing tale, an action adventure, written in a leisurely style. Politics, racism, and the privilege of class and wealth dominate this tale of a cruise gone bad. There is the sort of attention to detail that one might find in an Agatha Christie novel, if she had decided to write political thrillers set in interstellar space. It is a period piece.

The main character, Ran Colville is a poor-boy made good, a man who saw an opportunity to change his future and who seized it, though it is a secret that could destroy his career.  He is efficient, and determined to be as cold and heartless as the world he came from, but he has this annoying ability to care what happens to the people around him, though he refuses to admit it.

The crew is an interesting mix, and consists of people who would be found working on any high-end cruise ship. They are good at what they do, and serve with varying degrees of love for their ship and the passengers they carry, ranging from mild lip service to fanatic devotion.  

The passengers are drawn like caricatures, which in a book with as many walk-on parts as this, is the only way to describe them in the paragraph they are given, but they serve to illustrate the atmosphere aboard the starliner, Empress of Earth.
There is violence, and there is a military precision to the recounting of the action scenes. Juxtaposed against the backdrop of the wealthy  and the not so wealthy, it is a compelling drama that unfolds slowly, but eventually takes off with a vengeance.

If you want your books filled with action happening at all times, with no 'info dumps' this book is not for you. David Drake breaks all the rules of modern genre writing: There are many long passages of background information that is slipped into the middle of conversations--again, rather like an old-fashioned novel. It could be jarring to some readers, and while I normally don't approve of large injections of heavy background,  I felt it added to the atmosphere in this tale.

Starliner is most definitely not a one night read, as it takes a while to work your way through it. I did enjoy it, and all in all, I give this book 4 stars. 

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Martian, Andy Weir

In some ways, this is an old-school space-opera. The Martian by indie author  Andy Weir is one of the best science fiction stories to come out of the last 20 years.  A real adventure story from the get-go, this story of an astronaut inadvertently left behind is gripping from page one.

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.

Now, he's sure he'll be the first person to die there.

After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive.

Chances are, though, he won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old "human error" are much more likely to kill him first.

But Mark isn't ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

Mark Watney is hilarious. He is the sort of man who gets through life by finding something positive in every disaster, and mocking the hell out of everything that is negative. A horrendous storm destroys much of their base, and his team is forced to abort their mission.  During the emergency evacuation of the Ares 3 landing site, he is severely injured in an accident that appears to have killed him. His body is unretrievable, and unaware that he is still alive, he is left behind. His companions begin the long journey back to Earth, grief stricken at his sudden death.

At first he has no communications, so it is a long while before NASA realizes he is alive, and that is only because a low-level scientist, Mindy Park, who has been assigned to monitor images returned by the Mars satellites decides to look at the Ares 3 landing site and realizes that human activity is still occurring. there, which can only mean he is still alive. Mark Watney is an astronaut, so of course he is extremely resourceful. He does what he has to in order to survive his injuries, and then figures out exactly what he must do to stay alive until the next mission.

A botanist and mechanical genius, eventually, Mark does the math and concludes that not only will he have to survive for more than a year, he will have to travel across Mars to the next mission’s planned site, with no GPS. He figures out a way to do that, by growing potatoes, and turns his habitat into a farm. He survives many near disasters in his attempts to supply his basic needs, and figures out a way to communicate with Earth, despite the fact that the communications array was destroyed in the storm that “killed” him.

The events that take place at NASA, the people there, and the way they pull together to figure out a way to rescue him before he runs out of food and water are gripping. The in-fighting is realistic and true to the way we humans are in real life, and the lengths some people go to in order to get him home are also both realistic and heroic.

If you only read one book this summer, I highly recommend The Martian. Originally self-published in 2012, the Martian is now set to be a movie and in May 2014 it was reported that Ridley Scott was in negotiations to direct an adaptation that would star Matt Damon as Mark Watney.  

Friday, June 20, 2014

Antithesis, by Kacey Vanderkarr

Antithesis is the first novel by indie author Kacey Vanderkarr, and is the second book of hers that I have read. She has become one of my favorite authors, and  has one of the best, most intriguing covers I’ve seen in a long time.

The Blurb:

My name is Gavyn.

Liam doesn’t care that I only have one arm. He actually likes my red hair and 
freckles. I might forgive him for kidnapping me.

My name is Gavyn.

I lost my Liam. I’ve lost them all. And now it’s my job to make sure they don’t show up again.

My name is Gavyn.

I had a life with Liam, but he couldn’t give me what I need. Then I killed his father. I don’t expect he’ll forgive me for that.

My name is Gavyn

My Review:
I just want to say, I loved this book. It’s nonstop action from page one, Gavyn is awesome and Liam is hotter than a tin roof in august.  Nothing got done yesterday, because I had to read this book.

Gavyn has one arm, and while it’s irritating and an inconvenience, she just gets on with her life. Her wild red hair is more of a problem in her eyes.
Liam is exactly the egotistical badboy you don’t want your daughter to date, much less travel around with for months on end, alone.  Things do get hot and steamy between them, but this is technically a YA sci-fi/romance.

The story is fast paced. Liam and Gavyn race through many different dimensions, and in each one they must deal with radically different versions of themselves, and Gavyn’s best friends, Lena and Demetri.  Some versions are out to kill them, and some versions must die.

Vanderkarr has done her homework on dimensional theories, and all of her plot twists, theories, and fictional science have a genuine, plausible feel to them. She never loses control of the plot, and it remains good science fiction from cover to cover.

This was an excellent read. Now I’m practically hopping from foot to foot, looking forward to her next release, every bit as much as I am the next Tad Williams book.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Destruction: The December People Book One, by Sharon Bayliss

Today we will be exploring an urban fantasy by Sharon Bayliss, Destruction: Book 1 of the December People Series. This is one of those books that you don't want to start if you are not going to be able to just sit down and read with NO distractions.

David Vandergraff wants to be a good man. He goes to church every Sunday, keeps his lawn trim and green, and loves his wife and kids more than anything.

Unfortunately, being a dark wizard isn't a choice.

Eleven years ago, David's secret second family went missing. When his two lost children are finally found, he learns they suffered years of unthinkable abuse. Ready to make things right, David brings the kids home even though it could mean losing the wife he can’t imagine living without.

Keeping his life together becomes harder when the new children claim to be dark wizards. David believes they use this fantasy to cope with their trauma. Until, David's wife admits a secret of her own—she is a dark wizard too, as is David, and all of their children.

Now, David must parent two hurting children from a dark world he doesn’t understand and keep his family from falling apart. All while dealing with the realization that everyone he loves, including himself, may be evil.

On page one, you discover a family of real people, people who do the best they can to do good in the world, and people who do not always behave as well as they would like. This is most definitely a morality tale.

David's marriage is not perfect, but he loves his wife, Amanda, and together they have 3 children, Emmy, Patrick, and Jude. His and Amanda's children are not perfect, David's business is not perfect, but they are what he has, and he is determined to keep them at all costs.

Despite the fact he loves Amanda fiercely, he had an extramarital relationship with another woman whom he also loved, one that produced Evangeline and Xavier. They are nearly the same age as 2 of his children, and older than his youngest daughter. He is desperate to keep his children together. His love for Crystal had nothing to do with his love for Amanda, and while he refuses to examine that too closely, he is determined to make his new situation work.

When Crystal dies, David is contacted by the authorities. He brings the two children home. things go to hell, but Amanda is determined to keep and raise them along with their own. They are also raising the daughter of friends, and this makes 6 children, ranging in ages from 12 to 18 -- six teenagers under one roof.

The disintegration of the marriage, and the reconstruction of the family into a much stronger unit is a real journey into both betrayal and forgiveness. David is not alone in having kept a serious secret. Amanda is a caring person, but she is obsessed with control, and is ruthless when it comes to keeping the children together. There is nothing she won't do to achieve her goals. The worst aspects of human nature, things that cop up even in the 'nicest' families is dealt with here.

This book is gripping. It is a stand-alone book. It is the first in a series, but you get a proper ending for all your time spent in their world. I really enjoyed this novel, and it stayed with me for a long while afterward. I am really looking forward to the next installment.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Reflection Pond, By Kacey Vanderkarr

Today I am reviewing a fairly new book, Reflection Pond, by indie author Kacey Vanderkarr. It is an urban fantasy, centering around the concept of the fae world, juxtaposed against the mortal world.

The Blurb:
Sometimes you find home, sometimes it comes looking for you.

Callie knows a lot more about pain than she does about family. She’s never belonged, at least, not until she falls through a portal into her true home. The beautiful faerie city of Eirensae doesn't come free. Callie must find her amulet and bind herself to the city, and most importantly, avoid the Fallen fae who seek her life. Seems like a small price to pay for the family she’s always wanted.

Then she meets cynical and gorgeous Rowan, who reads the darkness of her past in her eyes. He becomes Callie’s part-time protector and full-time pain in the ass. He has secrets of his own for Callie to unravel. What they don’t know is that the future of Eirensae lies with them, and the once peaceful city is about to become a battleground for power.

My Review:
This was a book I might never have come across if it hadn't been for a little serendipity. I happened to meet Kacey Vanderkarr via her book review website. I was hoping to get a review of Huw the Bard, and while she declined to review my book,(it is definitely not YA which is all she reviews) the premise of her book intrigued me, so I bought it. 

The blurb makes it sound like a full on romance, but it is not—it’s an adventure with a romance, and there are adult themes mentioned, but it’s not graphic.  

Callie is portrayed realistically, and her reactions to the situations she finds herself in are quite true to the way a person with her history might react. Rowan is also quite realistically portrayed, and he too has a painful history.

The politics of Eirensae and lust for power displayed by several of the fae who guard her is well plotted. The fae don't raise their own children, instead they are raised as orphans in foster homes by mortal who are unaware of their true origin. When they come of age, they are brought back, and then they must find their amulet, or be cast out again. That is a really original take on the old changeling myth, one that made sense to me.

This is a good story. There is something about this little adventure that kept me turning pages, ignoring work I was supposed to be doing. 

Vanderkarr writes with power. Her narrative sucks you in, and doesn't let you go. My one and only complaint is that while it did have an ending of sorts, it's a set up for the next book, and who know how long before she can get the next installment written. Still, it was a full day’s entertainment, and what more can a person ask for out of a book than that?

I highly recommend it as a New Adult Fantasy, and give it 5 stars.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Extinction Point, by Paul Antony Jones

Extinction Point, (Extinction Point Book 1) by Paul Antony Jones is an interesting take on the traditional post apocalyptic thriller. It starts off a bit slow, with a little too much background info in the first pages, but stick with it, as it kicks into gear and quickly becomes engrossing.

The Blurb:
First comes the red rain: a strange, scarlet downpour from a cloudless sky that spreads across cities, nations, and the entire globe. In a matter of panicked hours, every living thing on earth succumbs to swift, bloody death. Yet Emily Baxter, a young newspaper reporter, is mysteriously spared—and now she’s all alone.

But watching the happy life she built for herself in New York City slip away in the wake of a monstrous, inexplicable plague is just the beginning of Emily’s waking nightmare. The world isn’t ending; it’s only changing. And the race that once ruled the earth has now become raw material for use by a new form of life never before seen…on this planet.

With only wits, weapons, and a bicycle, Emily must undertake a grueling journey across a country that’s turning increasingly alien. For though she fears she’s been left to inherit the earth, the truth is far more terrifying than a lifetime of solitude.

My Review:

Emily is an interesting character. At the beginning, she seems like a girl who wants to be streetwise, and as events begin to happen, she grows as a character.  The author details the environment well, and also her reactions to the situations she finds herself in. Her observations about the red rain and subsequent evolution of the alien invader give the reader the sense that they are finding things out when she does. There is a sense of impending doom that builds as the story progresses, and I wanted to know what would happen next.

It's not a real long read--I read it in three hours--and the tale continues in book two, so there is no real resolution which was a bit disappointing, but many authors seem to be dividing one book into two or three installments nowadays. 

It was hard for me to decide what I think about this book, as while there is sometime too much information in long dumps and a bit of repetitious narrative, I can forgive those failings because it's a good, gripping story. It's an indie book, but frankly it's no worse than some of the traditionally published genre fiction I've seen lately, and the narrative has moments of being downright stellar. 

Despite the fluff and info dumps that could have been edited out and the lack of a good ending, I'm giving it four stars, because its an awesome concept for a tale, and Emily is a great protagonist. I'll definitely read the next installment, because I'm curious about what happens next.

Friday, May 23, 2014

And Soon the Song, J.D. Hughes

And Soon the Song is a modern fantasy-horror novel by one of the best indie authors in the business,
 J. D. Hughes. This is his second novel, and is action packed; awash in a sinister atmosphere.

The Blurb:

‘Hearthstone Hall came into sight; not a light showed. It stood, black and massive against the sky, blacker than the night, a mouth of darkness waiting to suck in the innocent.’

Charlie Chelford, hotshot New York photojournalist, is tasked with an unwelcome assignment to photograph billionaire businessman, Sir Marcus Tilling, in England. She has no inkling of the ancient terrors that are rushing to meet her and will change her life, forever.

Fresh from London’s Wormwood Scrubs prison, penniless ex paratrooper Tom Buchanan struggles against the odds to keep on the straight and narrow. He finds a job as a security guard. But there is no security for Tom as he uncovers the mystery of his lost childhood and faces the ultimate test against a supernatural entity that seems to have limitless power.

In an East Harlem cell, gang member and killer Angel Diaz feels the desperate need to escape. He needs a miracle, but then he does have divine help.

Ex-fashion model Elyssia Jordan, locked in an Ashbourne mental asylum, finds an unconventional way to get out… and get home.

And, eyes full of the moon, a huge, black dog dreams of the song, dreams of death.

Deep in the wilds of Derbyshire, England, mediaeval manor house Hearthstone Hall draws them to its cold stones - the boy, the girl, the dark man and the others. They will have no choice, for they will all hear the song and the hunger will be assuaged.

Lost to the gaze of God, Hearthstone waits.

Waits for the guests.

Waits for the children.

My Review:

UK author J.D. Hughes has a gift for conveying the sense of place with an economy of words. The book begins with setting the scene through several action sequences, and while the narrative jumps around a bit at first between people and times, it soon comes together. Charlie is a strong female protagonist, an orphan with a murky past. Her photo-shoot in England does not go as she thought it would (yay for us!) and the way she and all the other characters react to the evolving nightmare is well-conceived and real.

There is evil here, and it is really frightening.

J.D. Hughes explores the concept of deeds done in the distant past influencing the lives of the present, building the tension and sense of danger with every turn of the page.

This is a novel with substance, not a quick read, even for me--but it is well worth spending a day or two at it. If you love horror and supernatural thrillers, you will definitely be glad you did.