Born in Orange, California, author Jason Cordova has written books ranging from the fantastical realms of fantasy to the militaristic side of science fiction. His latest should be out soon. Really. You should probably buy it. Check Amazon . Demand it at your local store. Pay for his kitten kibble.

Homepage: http://www.jasoncordova.com

AIM: WarpCordova

“Open Wounds” by Brandon Ford — Dark, Twisted Fiction

CoverBF01It’s not very often that I get to compare classic books to their modern brethren (and enjoy them, I guess I should add), so when I received Open Wounds by Brandon Ford, I wasn’t expecting what I got. What I’d been promised was “horror” but what I got instead was something dark, twisted, without any sort of supernatural beings in it and seemed absolutely true.

Let me reiterate: it’s billed as horror, but it could be any teenage girl’s everyday life.

That’s scary. Really, really scary.

Kate Montgomery was your ordinary 14 year old girl when her parents divorced. Her father, who started drinking, became violent one day and hit his wife, Kate’s mother. Soon afterwards, Kate is forced to move cross-country with her mother, away from the only life she has ever known, and into the old haunts and streets of her mother’s childhood neighborhood in Philadelphia.

Jobless and without any sort of training, Kate’s mother is forced to find work at a dive bar. Meanwhile, Kate struggles at school and tries to fit in. But a dark specter looms over the family past as Kate becomes very nervous and uncomfortable around her grandfather, a sullen and quiet man. This all is depressing, true, but this is all nothing compared to the Hell that awaits her when her mother brings home a new boyfriend.

Without giving too much away, I can say that Kate’s mom’s new boyfriend is a very evil man. He drags Kate and her mom down into a dark, hellish pit of despair and hopelessness, one that Kate sees but cannot escape. Her life continues to get worse and worse as every imaginable horror is heaped upon her, crushing her spirit and her psyche. She becomes a “cutter” and begins to leaves angry scars on her legs and thighs.

When I read this, I was instantly reminded of the 1971 classic Go Ask Alice. However, Open Wounds leaves little to the imagination as the reader is assaulted with the pure agony of Kate’s life, her struggle to remain human, and her loss of faith and family. It’s gritty, realistic and terribly frightening… and, quite frankly, perfect. I mean, it’s a horrifying story, but I think that’s what makes it so damned good. I don’t know from what dark, personal hell Brandon Ford dug this from, but he needs to tap into this reservoir more often. This is, by far, the best thing of his I’ve ever read.

The pacing is rock solid, not too fast, and builds steadily towards a satisfying climax. The character of Kate is empathetic, endearing, and achingly sad, and it pains the reader to see her go through all that she has to. The secondary characters are complex and chilling, even Kate’s best friend. The setting (late 70s’-early 80′s Philadelphia) seems to straddle the fence between gritty reality and a product of the author’s mind.

In the end, the story triumphs over all else, and leaves the reader thoroughly satisfied with Kate and her story. This book is a definite must-buy for any fan of the teen genre, or anyone else who likes a chilling, dark novel.

How good is it, one asks? Well, I sat down to read just one chapter before I went to bed, and ended up reading the entire book in just one setting.

Buy it. Read it. See what I’m talking about.

Grade: A

–Review by Jason


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The Six-Gun Tarot — An Amazing and Insightful Debut Novel

The Six-Gun TarotVery rarely does a debut novel make a lasting impression upon the reader. Usually, the first novel is the author looking for their voice and haven’t mastered the delicate art of building up the suspense. R. S. Belcher’s debut novel, The Six-Gun Tarot, destroys those preconceived notions.

The book starts with the young Jim Negrey leading his horse Promise across a barren wasteland of desert in 1869. Near death and with little water, Jim is on the run from the law for a terrible crime. However, before the law can hang him, Jim has to survive the desert known as the 40-Mile. His hopes were to find a railroad job in a new city under a new name. But a shadow, something more than a crime he committed, lingers over the boy. Between dangerous animals stalking him and the desert, he is doubtful he will survive.

Before the desert takes him, though, Jim is found by a strange Indian named Mutt and an even stranger man named Clay. The two men hail from the town of Golgotha, which is the closest town to where Jim wants to go. He accepts their ride into town when they are attacked by the coyotes which had been stalking Jim. Clay kills two, though the coyotes seem to be mildly nervous around Mutt. Jim is taken into town and, for the time being, will live another day.

Or perhaps not. As he’s getting off the wagon, Mutt (who is the deputy sheriff in the town) gets a call for help. A deranged and drunken man has taken hostages inside the general store, and Mutt needs to stop him before he hurts anyone. He deputizes Jim, and they prepare to try and figure out how to stop the man from hurting anyone inside. Before they can do anything which might end up with some bodies, though, the town sheriff gets back to town. Jon defuses the situation with Mutt managing to save an innocent woman’s life, and the town settles down. Jim, uncertain what to do next, is officially deputized by Jon and taken to get some food and some rest. For the first time in a long time, Jim feels like he’s somewhere he belongs.

Intertwined in the story about the crazy town of Golgotha is a deeper story about an angel who, while not exactly defying the Host, begins to doubt nonetheless. Because of this, he is tasked to stand guard over the sleeping darkness. Biqa, annoyed and angry, obeys, though it is evident that he is not happy with his punishment. After a time, though, his watch begins to take on a deeper meaning. Biqa begins to understand the little beings who exist around him, and begins to feel for humanity.

This book… wow. Just wow. There is a blend of religion and folklore in the book that drags you in and makes the reader really think without lecturing. The pacing is fantastic (as evidenced by reading it, for the second time, in less that five hours) and the characters are all very well thought-out and believable. The setting of the town itself is magnificent, and seems to be a character all its own, a breath of life in what would normally be merely a static piece of scenery in any other work. The darker undercurrent of the book, which both drives the plot and lends a creepiness factor to some characters, is wonderfully done. The overall story arc is absolutely rock-solid.

This book is a must-buy. I’d give this to someone asking me if I had read anything good and new lately. The author has done a tremendous job, and I for one can’t wait for the next round.

–Reviewed by Jason

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Tiger Gray’s “No Deadly Thing” — An nonworking mish-mash of urban fantasy and military thriller

No Deadly ThingTiger Gray’s debut novel No Deadly Thing takes place roughly during the Iraq War (2004 edition) and stars Ashrinn Pinecroft as a military veteran who is severely injured during the war. During the battle in which he was wounded, he gets the feeling for the first time of a “higher calling” and charges recklessly into the fight. After being injured in said battle and discharged, he is recruited into a mystical organization called the Order. The Order fights against “the serpent”, which is the symbol for evil across the board, thought this is (again) not explained well initially. Because of his military experience, Ashrinn is tasked to train the Seattle-Tacoma area group of the Order, which is just getting off the ground there. Beset on all sides by lack of experience and equipment, he struggles to bring the (children, really) under his tutelage to be ready for combat against the ancient evil before it is too late.

Meanwhile, his home life is an unspoken mess. His son, who doesn’t quite grasp his father’s mental and emotional war within, is struggling to go about his everyday life now that his dad is back from the war. Ashrinn’s wife, on the other hand, is thrilled that he is home and that he has finally discovered the power within him that the esoteric society (the Order) recruited him for. However, there is a taint to her aura, and Ashrinn suddenly realizes that he does not trust her or her own side of the power.

Let me get this out in the open right now: this book could have been amazing. Instead, it falls flat and is merely average.

The idea behind it, the concept and breathtaking research that the author delves into to bring the powers inside both the protagonist and the antagonists is amazing. There is talk of the Morrigan (Celtic goddess), dryads, Mesopotamian gods intermingled with Zoroastrian belief, western civilization and the modern world.

Excellent research into esoteric and ancient religion aside, there really isn’t any smooth transition points in the story. You never get a feel of right about Ashrinn, and his movements are wooden and do nothing more than to try and move the plot forward. It’s hard to explain, but bear with me for a moment. When Ashrinn talks, it doesn’t come out as honest and appealing. He’s a very unlikable  protagonist, and yet he doesn’t fit into the mold of anti-heroes that one can root for. He’s just there, and this is a crime unto itself. The background that should have been around him is not there. There is no reason to cheer him on. The strange conflict he has between his wife and a new recruit early on does nothing to make me like him more, and actually detest his weakness. I’m not demanding that he be inhuman and unfeeling, but the inner conflict inside him should be a little more evident, make him more appealing to the reader. Here is where the author failed.

The plot is convoluted but there, and the pacing is fast (a little too fast at some points, but who am I to complain about a fast-paced novel?) and doable. The right elements for a tremendous book are there, but something is missing. My gut tells me that it’s the main character. Plus, it’s about a military veteran, but what? Not every infantryman can teach people to become soldiers instead of fighters, for example. I just didn’t get the feeling that, despite him using the military to escape his eccentric family beliefs, he really never seemed to “be” the Special Forces operative that the author portrays him to be.

A mildly decent read, nothing to shout to the heavens about however. I’d borrow this one from the library, or perhaps look for it on an e-reader at a discounted price.

–Reviewed by Jason

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Earth Star — A sequel, and… that’s about it.

Earth StarI recently read Earth Girl (reviewed here by Barb) and thoroughly enjoyed the book. It was one of those novels which sucked you in, built up the suspense, and then hit you when you weren’t expecting it, built you back up, and finished with a grand conclusion,

In short, everything that the first book in a series should be.

Unfortunately, I’m not reviewing Earth Girl. I’m here to review Earth Star, which definitely suffers from the sophomore blues.

Jarra, recipient of the highest award available to mankind, is ready to return back to school after her harrowing rescue of the downed space ship in Earth Girl. She returns back to school and, surprisingly, runs into some issues with her being an “ape” — something that really didn’t crop up in the first book (except for one character, and this was developed nicely in terms of character growth, I felt at the time). She is shocked and surprised at her classmate’s reaction to her, but takes it as well as she can, since she still has her boyfriend/intended (the rules for marriage and such are very complicated). Just as she is preparing to delve back into her studies, however, she and her betrothed are both whisked away by the military.

Confused, Jarra and Fian agree to assist the military with a top secret project — identify the alien artifact that has suddenly appeared and is headed directly for Earth itself.

IN a race against the unknown, Jarra discovers that there is more to her life — and her mysterious birth family — than she could have possibly ever imagined. Unfortunately, that’s all this book does at this point — imagine how great it could be. A stagnant story line with echoes of promise, but nothing really going on as the investigation into the alien artifact is extremely drawn out, and life around Jarra goes on.

And on.

And on.

The ending feels rushed, and comes off as something that the author threw together once she realized that there was little more she could do building up the romance between Fian and Jarra. There is some tension there, but it feels contrived as the author introduces prospective interests only to throw them out the airlock as Jarra finds out she’s either related to them or they are already committed to someone and would never break that commitment.

The pacing is slow, but the characterization of Jarra is true to the previous book. However, gone is the toughened survivor out to prove everyone (secretly, I’ll add) that people are wrong about Apes. The story seems to be one giant build up, and then there is no payoff at the end — it’s almost a hand-off to the final novel, and really frustrated me. It’s a beautiful story, with lots of good prose and is technically sound, but… it’s lacking something.

Overall, not the best follow up to a breakout novel, but I’m willing to bet that, if combined with the eventual third book, it’ll be an astounding addition to the series as whole. I wouldn’t recommend buying it, however, unless you’re dead set on owning the entire series in print. Look for it when Kindle offers an ebook discount, or perhaps borrow it from the library.

Grade: C-

Reviewed by Jason

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Kaiju Rising — The Awesome Age of Monsters is Here

kaiju risingIt’s been a while since I’ve read an anthology that I haven’t been a part of, so when the psychotic nutjob social media coordinator  and anthology editor Nick Sharps over at Ragnarok Publications asked if I would be interested in reviewing a book featuring kaiju (Japanese for “strange creature”) and fresh off my complete enjoyment of Pacific Rim, I enthusiastically agreed.

I was not disappointed. Kaiju Rising: Age of Monsters was, overall, simply amazing. Instead of an overall review, however, I’m going to review each story individually, so that each author can be featured and their story dissected and given the proper space for the review. Edited by the aforementioned Nick and Tim Marquitz, it is a collection of tales that should satisfy every type of kaiju lover.

Big Ben and the End of the Pier Show (James Lovegrove) starts off the anthology, and is a story about a man who was stuck with a part of his family’s legacy that was driving him under: a tourist pier that his grandfather had built. He contemplates selling it, as well as burning it down. But just as he’s about to, he hears word that a kaiju nicknamed “Red Devil” is slowly making his way up the English Channel. The U.K.’s response? Big Ben, the lone fighting machine that is the only thing left that can potentially fight the kaiju head-on. A good, solid start with plenty of action, Lovegrove sets the bar fairly high for all the writers to follow.

The Conversion (David Annandale) is up next, and his story about the Eschaton, the Jewish “End of Days”, the name for the kaiju which is intent on destroying Manchester and the characters believe that faith can turn back the monster. Family conflicts abound here, but the primary story (faith vs kaiju) is a bit overshadowed by the slow build up. A decent enough story, though not one of my favorites. However, the ending of the little story more than makes up for the slow start and leaves the reader with a satisfied conclusion.

Day of the Demigods (Peter Stenson) was a humorous tale (for me, anyway) from the point of view from an actual kaiju who was struggling to make it in his own society. Rejected by his cousin/crush (I’m sure kaiju mating options can be limited at the best of times), Sweetgrass is determined to make it big in Hollywood, so he stomps into the city to audition for the studio execs at various production companies. Unfortunately, he can’t really talk to him, because his voice is so loud it blows out their eardrums when he tries to communicate. Mass panic ensues, and some hilarity as well, since Sweetgrass isn’t the smartest kaiju out there. A very well written story, and an interesting perspective as well.

The Lighthouse Keeper of Kurohaka Island (Kane Gilmour) is next and, quite frankly, is my favorite story in the book. It is the story of Shinobi and his father, who are lighthouse tenders along the many Japanese islands. It is their duty to ensure that all lighthouses and up and running, including the lighthouse on an island which is not mentioned on their maps but Shinobi’s father seems to know where it is located: Kurohaka Island. There, Shinobi is shocked t ofind many bones of enormous monsters and his father tells him that this is where the kaiju come to die. When Shinobi presses for more info, his father tells him the story of their family and how the firstborn boys always have the sight to see monsters, which includes fascinating stories about his grandfather who was at both Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which was the site of two kaiju battles and not nuclear explosions like everyone thought. This story is a sad and powerful one, and as I said before, my favorite.

Occupied (Natania Barron) was a confusing story about a woman and a kaiju who share a strange connection. A disjointed tale which seems to revolve around a magic pair of scissors and the descendant of the creatures who fell from the heavens eons before, it could be argued that the tunnels the woman featured in it represent her mind, but I’m not entirely sure that one was correct. After such a powerful story previously, this one was a bit of a letdown. I think it would have been better served elsewhere in the book.

One Last Round (Nathan Black) starts off differently, with a movie being filmed about the KRASER, a kaiju response machine and the… superhero(?) Colonel Ausum defending New Orleans against the kaiju Akoni, the devil of Tokyo. After the end of the scene, the star of the film discovers that the films about the KRASERs were being stopped, which would mean an end to the kaiju-fighting robots, since they rely on the movie proceeds to fund them. However, as the set is closed down and the KRASER is being removed, the kaiju alligator Grimmgarl attacks New Orleans, and it’s up to the KRASER team and Colonel Ausum to stop it before it “does what Mother Nature failed to do: level New Orleans.” A good, fun story.

The Serpent’s Heart (Howard Andrew Jones) is another good story, featuring a group of men who serve the Caliph and are drifting in the middle of the ocean after being attacked by a sea monster. They are rescued by a mysterious ship captained by an exotic, dangerous woman, and not all is as it appears. This is one of those stories that I can’t go too much into detail without spoiling it, so I’ll just give this one a positive grade and hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Monstruo (Mike MacLean) is about a kaiju about to hit Playa de los Muertos (fitting name for the beach, actually) and tells the story about how the kaiju are drawn to a selected “person” who had been marked by one of their scout bugs on the planet. In this case, it is a little boy. Task Force M operatives are scattered around the globe to eliminate the person “targeted” by the infiltrators, but unfortunately the hero of the story can’t bring himself to kill a little boy and the devastating effect his decision has on Mexico City. A good story, worth a second read once you get to the end and everything makes more sense.

The Behemoth (Jonathan Wood) is the story of a mech pilot who is the best at beating the kaiju when they attack. However, he risks losing everything when he discovers that his wife is chosen to be a Proxy — a person who runs the interface between the Mech and the pilot, buffering the pilot from the circuitry at the cost of all of the Proxy’s memories. The story takes the reader back through time and shows the mess that the pilot, who was once idealistic and fighting for the people, becomes as time wears on. The pilot has a plan to save his wife, however, though the cost could be too high for everyone involved. Great, great story here, and I really like how the author delves into the psyche of a warrior who has seen too much, been given too much power and how it can twist any man.

The Greatest Hunger (Jaym Gates) is another powerful story about a kaiju named Derecho and her handler, a woman with psychic powers who is a slave to the owner of the kaiju. She tries to keep derecho alive and motivated to fight in the arena, hoping to simply keep her friend alive. She devises a plan to save both her and Derecho, and exact their revenge upon their masters at the same time. Great story, if a little slow at first, but with a solid conclusion. The author has a great voice and would love to see more from them.

Heartland (Shane Berryhill) is a story I really didn’t care too much for. It was less kaiju and more virginal sacrificing, which is interesting but oddly placed in the book. Our protagonist must save her daughter before she is to be sacrificed by the elders of the city. It almost reads like a battered wife story, with a heavy-handed approach that comes off a bit awkward. Perhaps it’s the subject matter that turned me off from this story, but even the ending left me completely unsatisfied. Though I will again add that perhaps it’s just me, and others may like the twist at the end. I think it’s too Shyamalanian.

Devil’s Cap Brawl (Edward M. Erdelac) is a story of a shaolin monk and a kaiju which is accidentally awoken during the building of a railroad line through the mountains sometime during the late 19th century. Joe Blas was a rough man who was trying to meet his quota and build the railroad line, but his superstitious workers (mainly Chinese and Indian) slow progress down when they believe that they will awaken a great monster in the mountain. A slow starting story, it builds nicely as the reveal of the shaolin monk is made and the kaiju appears. Good story, if, as mentioned before, a bit slow to start.

Shaktarra (Sean Sherman) is a story about a powerful kaiju which is released onto unsuspecting Las Vegas, and a dimensional shift occurs and drags people into a dense jungle where the lizardmen worship the kaiju as a god. A decent story that was heavy on action but light on just about everything else, it’s an okay story that is supported primarily by the idea (wishful thinking on my part) of destroying Las Vegas.KaijuRising2

Of the Earth, of the Sky, of the Sea (Patrick M. Tracy and Paul Genesse) is a story which takes place in shogunate Japan and stars three slumbering kaiju who were, in ancient times, protectors of Japan. They are left to slumber, however, as their destructive capabilities almost outweighs their usefulness. This comes to an end, however, as gaijin (the British) arrive and begin to demand that Japan open their ports to trade. Using their ironclad ships and destroying everything in their way, the Japanese grow desperate and summon their kaiju to protect them — but at a terrible price. A great story, this is another one of my favorites in the book and has everything a reader could want — action, story, romance and loss. Good, good story here.

The Flight of the Red Monsters (Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam) is a story which was wrongly named. I got the impression throughout that it should have been “Fall Into Shadow”, which would have suited the story much better. The story is about revenge on both sides, as the red monsters who live in the oceans are pissed about their homes being polluted by humanity and the heroine of the story out for vengeance against the red monsters for killing her fiance. She loses herself in her quest for vengeance, and joins a shadowy group of people who are fighting back against the kaiju. A good story, though a bit confusing between the point of view shifts (those keep you on your toes), though it had another one of those twist endings. At this point of the anthology, however, I’ve started expecting them.

Operation Starfish (Peter Rawlik) is a story set just after World War Two, when nuclear “testing” is occurring in the South Pacific. The Russians, British and Americans have secretly teamed up to use their nuclear bombs to destroy kaiju as they appear from beneath the waves of the Pacific. The story is pretty good, though with a bit of “what the hell?” scattered within (the USS Miskatonic made me chuckle, however), it was a little confusing towards the end. Still, pretty good overall.

With Bright Shining Faces (J.C. Koch) was just weird. It tells the tale of a little girl who draws monsters, but the monsters aren’t there to hurt her classmates or her teacher. The teacher is mildly concerned about her student’s ability to start to take over the class, but doesn’t worry about it too much. Eventually it turns into a horror story straight out of Arkham as everyone begins to turn into nightmarish creatures. As I said, the best way to describe this one was “weird”.

The Banner of the Bent Cross (Peter Clines) was a fascinating look at ancient Greek myths, where kaiju have been hiding right beneath our noses. When the legendary Argo is discovered by Nazi Germany, it is put into action against the allied forces. Desperate, the allies seek out historians who may be able to help. Their come up with a suggestion: awakening the sisters Scylla and Charybdis, who have a hatred towards Jason and the Argonauts and desperately want revenge. Their plan works, but with disastrous results. A good story by the author, it’s possibly the most original one in the entire bunch, as it touches on something nobody has ever thought of before: kaiju have been mentioned since the time of the Greeks, just in a different form.

Fall of Babylon (James Maxey) is another brilliant story about the End of Days, though this one is kind of twisted. The Lamb of God is marching into New York City, and the only person who can stop it is a washed-up teen pop star. My confidence in her saving the day, obviously, was not too high. Nonetheless, the author creates enough twists and turns to make it work, culminating in a fight between  the pop star, her brother, a fallen angel, the great dragon and the Lamb. Great, fun story here.

Dead Men’s Bones (Josh Reynolds) is kind of mash-up of zombies and kaiju set in World War One. It’s almost kind of mystical story, though it does have some interesting characters, I think the author hit the shock factor a bit too hard. It was more of a tell and less of a show, though it did have parts in it that were okay. It was decent enough, but personally not my thing. Other may like it, however.

Stormrise (Erin Hoffman) is a story I tried to read, but couldn’t get into it. I tried, but it didn’t grab me. I can’t really review this one.

Big Dog (Timothy W. Long) is a story about Big Dog, a kaiju fighting machine built just after the fighting in World War Two ended. Crewed by a mixture of German, American and British, the Big Dog is tasked at defeating the massive kaiju that the Japanese Empire are sending out to destroy the rest of the world. With some internal tension among the crew of the Big Dog (the German is a former tank commander, the pilot’s husband was killed by a German tanker) it’s a good story with some solid meat to it. I enjoyed this one quite a bit.

The Great Sea Beast (Larry Correia) is the story of Munetaka and his encounter with the great sea beast. Discovered half-dead and poisoned by the son, his recollection of the events which led to the death of his father and many sailors of the Minamoto clan is discounted and he is ridiculed. He becomes a brilliant archer, however, and eventually begins to hunt the great sea beast himself. It’s a solid story with a very realistic portrayal of feudal Japan.

Animikii vs. Mishipeshu (C.L. Werner) is a story about two Native American kaiju who battle after one of awaken during a copper mining expedition in Canada. This was pretty good overall, though I kept picturing the Plains Indian Thunder God in place of one of the kaiju. A separation between the two could have really helped, or perhaps fully delving into that mythology might have. Still, fun story, and the only one to really take a look at Native American mythology.

The Turn of the Card (James Swallow) wraps up the book, and is a story about a kaiju which takes on London (the United Kingdom seems to be the target of choice for the kaiju in this book). In the midst of a city-wide evacuation, India 99, a helicopter crew, is trying to get a relative out before the kaiju who are fighting among themselves destroy the entire city. Packed with plenty of action and suspense, this story was near the top of my list as well, though not for obvious reason. The dialogue, something I usually don’t comment upon, was absolutely perfect for the characters, breathing a life into them that prevented the story from flopping. It’s a pretty satisfying conclusion to the entire book.

Overall, the book was very good. Most of the stories weaved seamlessly between each other and I was generally pleased with the stories. A must-buy for anyone looking for some kaiju-related books, or anyone looking for a fun, entertaining read. No link yet for those looking to purchase, but keep an eye out at Amazon for the book to premier.

Reviewed by Jasonkaijurising 3

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Pixie Noir — A Fun, Decent Little Novel

Pixie NoirPart noir, part urban fantasy, Cedar Sanderson’s Pixie Noir fun little story about the darker side of fairies that nobody ever wanted to tell you about.

Lom is a pixie tasked at retrieving one of the few surviving human/fairie hybrid princesses to Court in order for the King to chose his consort. Bella Traycroft is living in the rough wilderness of Alaska, which makes his journey even more difficult as he battles the frigid Alaska spring, hoping to convince Bella to accompany him back to Underhill, the magical lands of all fae folk. Along the way, Lom has to protect her from trolls, ogres, and any others who may not want the princess to arrive in court and be recognized.

Oh, and he has to teach her magic along the way. His life is tough.

After a few close shaves, they arrive in Underhill, where Lom, who suffers from a toxic reaction in his body whenever he uses magic, falls ill and is bedridden for a few days. Fortunately, the two of them are tucked away safely in Lom’s house, where his housekeeper Ellie keeps them both well-attended until the pixie is able to get up and present her to court. Lom also has to keep his feelings in check for the time being, because while he isn’t into tall women, women in glasses who knows her guns and is easy on the eyes,  well…

They have a few teacher/student bonding moments, especially when they discuss the dangers of Lom being a pixie bounty hunter and when he tries to teach her magic initially. They begin to bond in an unpredictable way, which could potentially lead to troubling developments down the road.

Pixie Noir is fun and breezy, though with a pacing problem that can detract a bit from the reading experience, it is a pleasant read overall. Some of the scene changes were jerky, including one in the beginning which completely threw me out of the story for a bit until I realized what was going on, but fortunately that only happened twice throughout the book. The book is written with Lom being the point of view character (for the most part) and does a fairly good job at showing the conflicting nature of the pixie and his charge/princess.

I did have one fundamental problem with the book early on, and it involved the main character. It felt at times that the author tried too hard to make him rakish and rogue-like, instead of focusing on developing him as a character overall. I found myself thinking (only in the early part of the book, mind you — once they get to Underhill, it’s an entirely different Lom) that if Lom had been a female pixie, the story might have worked better at some points. Overall, though, it worked in the end for both the reader and the author.

Overall, a fun book. I would recommend picking up the ebook.

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Nocturnal Interlude — The Pride Lives On

Nocturnal InterludeOne of the things I love about books with shape shifters in it is that once you get past their “origin” book, the subsequent books are simply awesome. Nocturnal Interlude, book 3 of the Nocturnal Lives series, tried to live up to the reputation. Granted, Amanda S. Green’s debut novel in the series, Nocturnal Origins was rock-solid (and previously reviewed here at SBR). But the subsequent books are almost always better.

Detective Mackenzie Santos (our heroine, and all-around bad-ass… oh, and enforcer) has just returned back from vacation when she is suddenly taken into custody by the FBI. Denied a phone call or any way to contact anyone, she is whisked away and placed in a windowless room and guarded by two annoyed FBI agents. Mackenzie, needless to say, is pissed off by the treatment. No sooner has she arrived, however, when she is pulled from their clutches by her cousin, Marine Captain Mateo Santos (we met him in Nocturnal Serenade, book 2 of the series, previously reviewed here). She is immediately moved into protective custody as she receives horrifying news: her police partner, Pat (who is also Mackenzie’s pride leader’s girlfriend/mate), has gone missing and Internal Affairs at the Dallas PD has informed everyone to not tell her for reasons unknown.

Now, to be fair and honest, this part of the book nearly threw me out of the story (indeed, I spent the rest of the book asking “What?” It became sort of a running joke between myself and the other secondary characters). Mateo informs Mackenzie that, in order to have her be able to work outside the Dallas PD jurisdiction to discover what was going on with Pat and others of their kind who have gone missing, she is going to be reactivated to her Marine Reserve officer status and work with him as part of the Department of Homeland Security.

Nothing, and I do mean nothing, in the books leading up to this point even remotely suggested that Mackenzie was a Marine. Nothing in her casual comments, nothing in her behavior or attitude ever hinted at the possibility. I about threw a fit (indeed, I went to the author and asked her was was going on) because that was something that appeared to have been pulled from her ass. Even my math couldn’t figure out how she found time to be a Marine reservist while in the Police Academy and nobody knowing about it. Even now, I can’t figure it out. Four years of college, six years of reserve duty (even though she went straight from college to the academy. I recall this from the first or second book), and… argh. It still bothers me. Okay, back to the rest of the review.

Much to everyone’s surprise in her division at the police department, she shows up as Marine Captain Mackenzie Santos and they try to get a grasp on the fact that she just found out about her missing partner (and her being a Marine). There is some internal squabbling between Mackenzie and the detective from Internal Affairs who ordered her not to be told, to which Mackenzie stomps on his toes and just about threatens his career in front of their respective bosses.  Turf war averted (for now), Mackenzie gets the rest of the detectives on her team prepped for a renewed investigation into the disappearance of her partner, Pat.

There is a shadowy group of individuals out to hurt pures and weres, though their reason is obscure, their goal is to break them and kill them. Their motive was never really explored, but it’s creepy enough on its own. Still, a little more depth into the “why” part of their kidnapping and murders would have been welcome, as well as the reasoning why their financier and backer wanted them to specifically avoid Mackenzie Santos (and why the two men doing the kidnapping who were supposed to be so smart completely botched that one).

One of my favorite things about this series is the pretty strict adherence to proper police procedure while balancing the urban fantasy side of the shape shifters and their place in society (hidden in plain sight, but still). Unlike other well-known police procedural novels, this one actually doesn’t feature the “lone wolf, do what I want” detective and show the importance of working with others as a team. It is smart, well-paced novel that has its ups and downs, but plants some very interesting seeds for the remainder of the series. A pretty solid little book, I would have liked a little more “I AM SANTOS!” and a little less “frustrated and impotent heroine”, but other than that, a good enough addition to your library.

I’d give it a recommended read, though don’t blame me when you reach the end.

Reviewed by Jason

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Liberty 1784 — Excellent Alternate History

1784With the execution of George Washington in the Tower of London, the American rebellion has seemingly faded to nothing more than a few leftover stragglers. The Loyalists and British troops have control of nearly all of the Atlantic seaboard and the rebels have scattered westward, been imprisoned in Jamaica, or dead.

All hope is lost.

Or is it?

The spirit of rebellion and liberty lives on in Robert Conroy’s latest alternate history venture, Liberty: 1784. With a strong cast of characters from American history melded in with fictional leads, the novel sweeps you off your feet as you are uprooted from the traditional sense and slapped back into the harsh reality of a land of failed freedom.

Will Drake is a prisoner of war on board a derelict ship, the Suffolk, and is certain that he is to die soon. Half-starved, he and the few survivors on the grounded ship have been forced to hide the bodies of their deceased fellow prisoners in order to have enough food to simply survive. Will is the beneficiary for one thing, however. The British, while knowing that he was an officer in the Continental Army, do not realize that he was a spy. For that he is fortunate. He couldn’t even begin to imagine just how mush harsher his treatment would be if anyone knew the truth.

Just as he has given up all hope, however, the Suffolk begins to break apart and sink. Will is lucky and manages to grab a piece of driftwood as he makes his escape, managing to hide from any pursuers as he is swept away from the doomed derelict and further along the coast. He gets wind of a place where the spirit of the revolution lives on, a town called Liberty, and, with the help of a free man named Homer, begins to make his escape.

Meanwhile, our second intrepid hero (heroine, actually), Sarah Benton, is awaiting punishment for daring to say something negative about King George III. Locked in a jail cell with her cousin Faith, she is awaiting her punishment: a day in the stocks. However, the disgusting Sheriff Braxton (a man who would play a more villainous role in the book later) offers her a way out: pleasure him, and not be forced to spend the day in stocks. Sarah is horrified by the prospect, so Braxton taunts her more by showing her that her younger cousin is doing so in the other room with his three deputies. Sarah, a widow from the rebellion, says no again, so Braxton locks her in the stocks. Her uncle and aunt, with whom she lives with, decide that it is high-time to get out of Massachusetts and that they all need to escape to the land of the free: a mythical place called Liberty.

The pacing of the book is excellent, and the historical notes all hit perfectly. I’d read other works of the author and have generally been left wanting, but this time Conroy absolutely knocks it out of the park. I can’t recall any time when an alternate history author actually executes George Washington and forces the others of the American Revolution to the forefront. Conroy mixes a tremendous historical event and a fantastic fictional novel into one, and plays to his strengths, which are the relations between the characters. He hits hard with combat scenes, something that I was personally pleased by. Too often do I find that alt-history writers gloss over the horrors of combat so that they can write more about the potential “What If?”. Conroy tells the “What If?”, and also forces the reader to look at the ugly underbelly of the Revolution, and the other reasons which drove a bunch of colonial farmers into open rebellion against the greatest nation in the world.

I loved this book. I can’t really say anything more than that. This one hit all the right buttons for me, and I didn’t even find myself nit-picking historical details that the author missed (and I didn’t find any glaring mistakes). The writing was tight and concise, and there were very few scenes which seemed to drag. The book is available for pre-order now, with it officially going on sale March 4, 2014. If you like the works of Eric Flint or Harry Turtledove, then you will definitely enjoy Robert Conroy’s Liberty:1784.

A must buy.

Reviewed by Jason

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The Doctor and the Dinosaurs — Fun Continuation of the Series

The Doctor and the DinosaursIt takes a lot out of a man, dying does.

Doc Holliday is on his deathbed, dying of consumption in a Colorado hospital. His recent adventures have taken quite a bit out of him, and there is little that 1880′s medicine can offer him anymore. As he lays in his bed, though, an owl which had been watching him from the outside flies into his room and turns into the great Apache medicine man, Geronimo. His past dealings with Doc Holliday lead him to know that the man, even on his deathbed, is a dangerous individual, and Geronimo offers him a choice: a longer life in exchange for stopping some paleontologists from plundering Indian lands in Wyoming. Of course, Doc is a little confused at this, because as far as he knew, Geronimo lived much further south. When Geronimo explains his reasoning, Doc agrees, and his mediocre health is partially returned.

Thus begins Mike Resnick’s latest Weird West tale, The Doctor and the Dinosaursanother fascinating take on the Old West — steampunked! (review of the first book in the series, The Buntline Specialthis link is for a review of the second book, The Doctor and the Kid)

Doc quickly finds the closest saloon (it’d been a long time since the man had a drink, and he gets cranky) and, while proceeding to enjoy the partial health restored by Geronimo, is greeted by his friend Thomas Edison, who had arrived with Ned Buntline to say goodbye to the man they had believed to be on his deathbed. Surprised, they find out the reason that Geronimo has kept Doc alive, and agree to assist him in stopping the two greatest paleontologists of the time — Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh — before the Comanches raise all of the dinosaurs in their sacred burial grounds and kill everything in the West.

As Doc arrives in Cheyenne, Wyoming, he quickly discovers that there is a title bout for the boxing heavyweight championship of the world between the champion, John L. Sullivan and a local champion, Bill Smiley. Refereeing the match is none other than his old friend Theodore Roosevelt, the main reason that Doc is interested in the boxing match at all. With Doc firmly entrenched in his mission for Geronimo, Theodore agrees to assist his friend, since it will be a good old romp of an adventure and, as the book moves along, that’s all Theodore Roosevelt really wants.

Part of the allure of the book (or the series, for that matter) is the careful blending of the steampunk within the Wild West as our memory and fanciful books portray it to be. There are less showdowns in the town square and more drinking and gambling, and while Doc Holliday is a stone-cold killer, he doesn’t go out of his way looking for fights. Indeed, one of the primary reasons that I love this series is the author’s portrayal of Doc Holliday. The only other man to ever capture my preconceived notions of the man was Val Kilmer. Resnick does a wonderful job showing the edginess of Doc without coming off as an unlikable character, primarily by surrounding him with a very likable cast of characters (Ned Buntline, for example, is a stark contrast to Doc Holliday, and it completely works).

While The Doctor and the Dinosaurs seems like a reach at first, the author does a wonderful job in drawing you in to the story while setting up the finale. The story does meander a bit as Doc travels between the two rival camps of paleontologists, but this is a temporary distraction and only slows the story down briefly until Doc Holliday and Theordore Roosevelt come face to face with a beast of nightmares.

Filled with suspense and drawing upon the legends of men and steam-driven machine, The Doctor and the Dinosaur is a highly-recommended read and wonderful addition to Mike Resnick’s Wild West series. Solid, solid work, and a must buy book for the lover of the Old West.

Reviewed by Jason


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Treecat Wars — A Beautiful Series Continues

Treecat WarsWith their usual wit and candor, David Weber and Jane Lindskold have another winner in their young adult (YA) Stephanie Harrington series, Treecat Wars

Stephanie Harrington, the discoverer of treecats on the planet Sphinx and newly appointed “provisional Ranger” with the Sphinx Forestry Service, is being sent to Manticore to with her friend Karl to participate in the Service’s accelerated training program. This is something of a shock to Stephanie, but a welcomed one, since she really does want to become a Ranger. However, a problem quickly arises — she cannot be separated from Lionheart, her treecat, due to their intense psychological and emotional bonding. She finds out that he is allowed to come, though not to every class she has, and some of her fears are eased. Her other fear, though, is her relationship with her boyfriend, Anders Whitaker would potentially end. But with his own imminent departure back home, however, it initially appears that everything would work out and they would be reunited sometime in the future.

Ah, like the authors are going to make everything neat and pat for us readers…

In the background, nefarious persons are still working to kidnap a treecat for study off world somewhere (subplots in both A Beautiful Friendship and Fire Season; A Beautiful Friendship is reviewed here). They realize that with Stephanie and Lionheart on Manticore, they will have an excellent opportunity to “prove” that the treecats are nothing more than wild beasts who deserve to be kept in private zoos for their own enjoyment. A plan is set in motion, one that could easily ruin what Stephanie and Lionheart have worked so hard to overcome.

With Stephanie off on Manticore studying to become a Ranger, the viewpoint of the book drifts a bit as the authors struggle to keep the book on point. This is the only part of the book where I was underwhelmed, but thankfully the drift doesn’t happen for too long as treecats, driven from their homes due to the fire season, accidentally encroach upon the lands of another clan. Starving and nearly destitute, they plead for help. However, they are not welcomed and are told to leave. They cannot leave, however, due to so many of their young being sick and weak. They remain, fishing and trying to survive at the edge of their rival clan’s lands. This leads to conflict, and the title of the book.

One of the most heart wrenching things about reading this book is the war between the clans. I’ve been a huge Honor Harrington fan for years, and my first introduction to a treecat was Nimitz, Honor’s treecat. The idea that the treecats war among themselves is a painful yet realistic reminder that even in fiction, life happens. It’s a horrible war, one that delves into the idea of the “mind sickness” that a treecat can suffer from (being natural empaths, it would only make sense that someone with a sick mind would hurt others in his or her clan) and how it affects others.

Stephanie Harrington continues to be the ideal teenage YA star, with her actions showing her bravery, loyalty and commitment to helping others, human and treecat alike. She is the right role model that young readers should be looking for, someone who is not entirely confident but still tries to do the right thing. As I mentioned above, this is the third book in the series, and I still highly recommend it for anyone looking for a new YA series that involves honesty, integrity and bravery. Books like this give me hope while being entertaining and exciting reads, and the young Miss Harrington has plenty to offer for any reader looking for something new and fresh to read. Definitely recommend for anyone ages 10 and up.

–Reviewed by Jason

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