Monday, May 30, 2016

School of Deaths

I received a print copy of School of Deaths from author Christopher Mannino for review.

School of Deaths is the first installment of The Scythe Wielder's Secret series, and a great first installment I might add.

This young adult novel is a well crafted story that will appeal to readers of all ages. Our heroine is a thirteen year old girl who has been snatched from the real world and taken to train to become a "Death". She is literally the only female in a male world (not a spoiler, it's on the back cover).

At the School of Deaths we have a coming of age story set in the land of the Grim Reapers (Yeah, there are more than one). We also have mystery, romance, violence and intrigue. We have mystical creatures, divided loyalties and a game that makes the game from Harry Potter look like Tiddly-Winks. A case could be made for drawing similarities to the H.P. books I suppose, but aside from a school and a vicious game, the similarities disappear.

Author Mannino does a good job of taking a setting that would by definition be very dark and creepy, and making it our new reality. We quickly accept the world of the Deaths to be real, and life there does go on more or less normally.

There are hints as to what is coming down the pipeline, The Scythe Wielder's Secret is a series after all. The local history includes dragons, so I am hoping they will make an appearance in future episodes. Mysteries are solved in this book, and there are mysteries that continue (I suppose that's why it's a series, can't get anything past me).

Some of the violence is graphic, but not exceptionally so. There are passages of terror and danger, and budding romance. School of Deaths is a good clean read with out being watered down. It treats the reader as if they are intelligent and sophisticated. It does not talk down or condescend (Yeah I know, same thing) to the reader. This is what makes it good for any age. 

I would not have a problem letting any young reader who can understand the concept of "fantasy", read School of Deaths by Christopher Mannino. I, for one look forward to reading more of this series. Enjoy!


Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Gathering: End's Beginning

First the disclaimer: I won a print copy of The Gathering: End's Beginning by Randy Lindsay in a Goodreads Giveaway.

I have more mixed reactions to this book than probably any book I've read in quite some time. The most important (at least for me) , the story is very good. The plot moved along at a pace that kept me reading. In fact I read it in one day. The story line is engaging and will hold the readers interest.

Now for my other reactions.

The Gathering: End's Beginning is a pre-apocalyptic novel. Preparing for the end days. Definitely a favorite genre of mine; pre, post, mid, if it has to do with the apocalypse, bring it on. This story is told from a Mormon, or LDS perspective. That is fine. I don't profess to know a lot about Mormon doctrine so obviously can't comment on such issues.

However, I would say that this book is written to Mormons rather than about Mormons, if that makes any sense. I didn't get the feeling that it was meant to convince anyone to become a member of the LDS Church, but to separate the church from the rest of society. Not a bad idea as most religious denominations suggest the very same thing.

What threw me was the "discussion questions" at the end of the book. They are directed at someone with a more than passing understanding of Mormon doctrine. My reaction was to feel like I had been "tricked, duped, horns-waggled (choose your own adjective)" into reading a "tract". It left me feeling a little uncomfortable. I hold no particular antipathy towards the Mormon faith, or any other faith for that matter. I have my own Christian beliefs and see no reason to start any argument here.

The other glaring problem for me was in the way characters were handled. Of course church members were portrayed very favorably (makes sense, not a problem). Various Church leaders were always presented by title, President, Bishop, Area President, etc. Fine so far. But then the political characters; President, Vice President, Secretary of State, were rarely identified as such. President of the United States Boggs was usually referred to as just "Boggs". It was a jarring counterpoint in the story for me.

The politicians behaved as badly as one would expect, caring more for their political position than for the people they were supposed to be serving.  No problem there, pretty much the view I have of politicians in general, but the blatant disrespect for their title was difficult for me when church titles were respected. A little propaganda-ish for me.

The story is ended in such a way as to prepare the way for more. "End's Beginning" does suggest more to come. Thanks to author Randy Lindsay for not succumbing to the dreaded "cliffhanger".

So, bottom line, a mixed bag. Good story, but in my opinion, directed at a specific audience. Enjoy!


Friday, May 27, 2016


Author L.D. Beyer provided me with a print copy of AN EYE FOR AN EYE, for review.

AN EYE FOR AN EYE is the second Matthew Richter Thriller offered by L.D. Beyer. I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in the series, In Sheep's Clothing. So, I was expecting to enjoy this book as well. Well... I was not disappointed! Beyer elevates the franchise with this political/action thriller.

This L.D. Beyer guy may be on to something with this series.

As with the last book, it is refreshing to read fiction where the government is not populated by liars, cheats, and ego maniacal sleaze-balls. The politicians in this book are honorable people actually concerned with the welfare of the people. Well, it is fiction.

Matthew Richter is a well presented hero. He is not overly macho, not full of false bravado, not ego driven, not even a womanizer. He is a man uncomfortable with the mantle of responsibility placed upon him. Truly, the reluctant hero. His character is well developed, as are the other characters in this story.

Of course, he is the person who can resolve the problem at hand (It is his book after all), though he is not a one man army. He works and plays well with others. It is great to see that the military personnel, he works with are competent, intelligent people. Well trained and devoted to their duty (another rarity today).

This time around, Richter is matching wits with a ruthless Mexican drug lord (is there any other kind?). The action is fast, the violence brutal and graphic, but not gratuitous. Romance plays a part as well, but you really can't label this a romance by any stretch.

AN EYE FOR AN EYE does not rely solely on anger, hatred and violence to tell its story. There are very powerful, emotional moments that will break the heart of the reader (ah, ah, spoilers here).

If you are looking for an action oriented read that will play with your emotions, AN EYE FOR AN EYE by L.D. Beyer fits the bill admirably. Enjoy!


Friday, May 20, 2016

Mercer Street

Author John Heldt gave me an e-version of Mercer Street for review.

To start with, let me say I chose Mercer Street, the second entry in the American Journey series to review this time because, are you ready...?

This is my 100th blog post! YAY! Thank you, Thank you. Okay, back to the book.

So, I chose a book by John Heldt because so far, and this is the fifth book of his I have read, his books have been great. I wanted a great book for my 100th and figured he was a good shot. Right again!

I have to say though that I am starting to wonder a little at the coincidences I have with John Heldt's books. His first series Northwest Passage takes place in my general part of the country, the Northwest (yeah, me and several million other people). One of the books; The Fire is set in Wallace, Idaho four miles from where I live (ok, still me and 1500 or so other people). Now, in Mercer Street, the main characters live in Lake Forest, Illinois. When I was in the first grade, my family lived in Lake Forest, in a house right behind Knause Motors. A lot of coincidence from one author.

Mercer Street is up to John Heldt's usual standard. The characters are well developed and easy to become attached to. I have to admit, I was a little concerned at first because the set up is very similar to September Sky, the first book in the American Journey series. When I understood that both of these books occur simultaneously, it made sense there would be similarities.

The story lines of the main characters draw the reader in fully, as Heldt does so well. And of course, there are multiple problems the characters must resolve. There are twists and turns on the way to the ultimate climax, but the final twist blew me away. Did not see it coming at all.

There has to be romance, duh, but there is much more, the uncomfortable knowledge of things to come, and not being able to say anything. Mercer Street is very emotionally satisfying, the story is more family oriented than usual, if that is possible. It is definitely a life affirming read.

Fortunately our author does not hold with those pesky rules other time-travel stories follow, most notably those in the movie Time Cop. I won't say more there, but, I enjoy not being bogged down with a lot of time-technology. The time-line of history is apparently not as fragile as we have been led to believe. I like that.

We have good strong, independent female characters here. They are more than able to deal with the situations that arise without becoming comic book superwomen. They are realistic, believable, and sympathetic. All this accomplished without falling into the portrayal of men as crotch-scratching buffoons.

Heldt is particularly adept at giving us characters who can tug at our heart strings at will. The "plot complications" are not as apparent, at least not as obvious from the start. We don't know what conflicts are going to face our travelers. Other readers may, but yours cluelessly didn't.

I guess what I really want to say here is; Mercer Street, like all of John Heldt's books, is a good, clean, nice read. I think that is the highest compliment I can give this book. Enjoy!


Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Chrono Spasm

Chrono Spasm by James Axler is book #109 in the Deathlands Series.

The Deathlands books are my guilty pleasure in the book reading world. I have to pay for them, oh well.  They are not great literature by most standards, but I find them immensely enjoyable reading.

We know Ryan Cawdor and his companions are going to be abused, beaten and otherwise mistreated, but they are going to kick butt before it's all done and over. C'mon it's their books after all. The question, as always, is how are they going to pull the fat out of the fire this time, and what new twisted adventures have the authors inflicted on them.

Chrono Spasm is one of the better offerings in the Deathlands Saga. As most everyone who follows this series knows, there is no James Axler. Several different authors write these books. It's not difficult to find out the actual authors name for each book, but I don't. I just go along for the ride.

This time the story is set in far north Alaska. There have been others set there as well (What are you gonna do? 50 states 120 books, you do the math). This time though there is a really good twist. Think Stephen King's The Langoliers. Not the same but similar.

As always, lots of graphic violence, of course those "chilled" mostly deserve chilling. There are, as is often the case in Deathlands, sexually twisted sickos, less than intelligent sheep who follow demented leaders, and the helpless victims of these people.

As the title Chrono Spasm would lead one to believe, the story does have to do with time manipulation, so Doc Tanner figures predominantly in this edition.

Post apocalyptic fiction is one of my favorite genres, if it is one of yours, The Deathlands Saga is great escapist reading (probably says something about me). Chrono Spasm by the ever mysterious James Axler, is a good entry in the series. Enjoy!


Friday, May 13, 2016


Author Lee Ducote gave me a print copy of his book Waterproof for review.

Waterproof was fun on so many levels. First, it is a treasure hunt story. Replete with pirates, voodoo women, and maritime intrigue.

Next, it is the story of a romance decades in the making. Our heroes, childhood friends take many years to unite. Oops, I guess that could be a minor spoiler, but you learn that right away.

Set in the bayous of Louisiana, Waterproof it is the story of a voodoo curse, tormenting a young woman in love, spanning more than a hundred years.

There is action/adventure, romance, crime, intrigue, sex(romantic, not gratuitous), even some rock 'n' roll (no drugs). The multiple story lines weave through past and present seamlessly. Our heroes are well developed, sympathetic characters I found myself rooting for immediately. I wanted to scream at Spencer, (the main character) "TELL HER!". You'll see.

On one level it is a story of trust and loyalty. On another, it is a story of coming to terms with the past.

I find it hard to talk about any negatives with Waterproof. The story is tight and the characters are well developed. The setting for a treasure hunt is terrific, the bayou, and Cajun culture just plays so well with the story. It even sets itself up well for a sequel without resorting to a cliffhanger ending. I loved it.

If you are in the mood for a treasure hunting, adventure romance, you will be hard pressed to find a better read than Waterproof by Lee Ducote. Enjoy!


Tuesday, May 10, 2016

September Sky

September Sky, book one of the American Journey series, was given to me in e-book format by author John A. Heldt. I include his middle initial because there is another author, John J. Heldt who writes totally different books.

September Sky is the fourth book by John A, I have had the pleasure of reading. Like his Northwest Passage series, the American Journey is a time travel series. Mr. Heldt is still bringing fresh ideas and plot lines to the time travel genre. As I have said before, one of the things I like most about Heldts' writing is that he does not spend inordinate amounts of space on the technology of time travel. It is possible so we go with it. Of course the main characters have to be convinced it works, or we would have an awful short book.

A big difference in September Sky is the time travel is more purposeful, limited and directed rather than accidental. Our heroes know when and where they are going. Naturally, they stray from the intended why, and therein lies the story. We have a big mystery to contend with, two romances, a little non-graphic kinky sex, action and a time-travel conundrum to deal with. Our heroes have knowledge of an impending natural disaster; so what to do? You know I'm not telling.

I surprised myself and actually guessed one part of the mystery. I thought then that I had figured out the whole story, WRONG! I should know better. There are twists and turns. We know from John A. Heldts previous work, that we are going to ultimately have a happy ending. The always confusing thing is how he's going to pull it off.

September Sky is a deceptive read. The flow is smooth, encouraging the reader to join in for the ride. At the same time there are undercurrents of plot lines ( I think some people refer to them as "plot complications") that kept me engaged. The book does not end in a cliffhanger (way to go John). We know there is more to come but we are not left with the uncomfortable feelings cliffhangers create.

I guess the best way I can describe the feel of Heldts' books is, that while they are sci-fi time travel stories, they are presented in a comfortable readable style. I know, sci-fi means not real, but this author has a way of convincing us to suspend our disbelief and accept the reality that he creates. The suspense and tension increased until I found myself reading well past my usual bedtime in order to finish the book.

If you haven't guessed by now, I have become a great fan of John A. Heldts work. I do already have the available books in the American Journey series and will be reviewing them soon.

For all fans of time travel, history, action, romance, and good fun reads, John A. Heldts September Sky, book one of the American Journey series is an excellent entry in the genre. It will, at times, break your heart, then quickly renew your spirit. I think you will find his work very entertaining. Enjoy!


Friday, May 6, 2016

Scenario's Inc: Holo Haven

I won a print copy of Jill Thrussell's Scenario's Inc: Holo Haven in a Goodreads Giveaway.

The first thing to say is author Jill Thrussell has come up with a great story. Holo Haven although not at all the same story line, reminded me of the sci-fi classics Westworld and Futureworld. The book reads to me, like a logical next step technologically speaking. Using holograms (Holo Haven) instead of robots. And of course there is a sinister plot behind it.

On the minus side there are editing/proofreading issues. The author is in the process of doing a re-edit so I expect those issues will be resolved.

This is the first book in the Scenario's Inc series. Mega-thanks to the author for not succumbing to the dreaded cliffhanger ending. She came to a logical stopping point while setting up future installments of the story, bravo!

So, bottom line, very high marks for story originality, but my copy was held back by the editing.

If you like sinister sci-fi with action, a little mildly graphic sex, budding romance, and youthful exuberance, you will probably enjoy Scenario's Inc: Holo Haven by Jill Thrussell. Enjoy!


Thursday, May 5, 2016

Hell is Empty and All the Devils are Here

Author Mark Rounds gave me an e-version of Hell is Empty and All the Devils are Here for review.

I want to start by saying that this is another case of an Indie gem. The big publishing houses are missing an opportunity with this new author. Amazon does a good job of supporting Indie authors, Barnes and Noble, not so much (Wake up B&N).

Hell is Empty... is a great representation of the Zombie Apocalypse genre. The story is in how the zombies came to be, so I leave it to you to read the book and find out. As a conspiracy theory, post-apocalyptic, wanna be prepper, survivalist, action lover; Hell is Empty... has everything I enjoy in a book. People struggling against long odds, making a stand and not rolling over. Thinking and acting with some intelligence. Intrigue, romance, humor, defiance, kicking butt and taking names. Definitely an action readers book.

I'm not a military expert by any stretch, but it is good to see that the military is not portrayed as a bunch of impotent, idiotic wimps, or testosterone flooded Neanderthals. Good guys, bad guys, and fence sitters a plenty. Kind of like what happens in a real catastrophe.

Hell is Empty... caught my interest immediately and held it throughout. For me there were no dead spots, no places where the story bogged down. The tension is maintained well between all out action sequences. The action is graphic and intense but believable. Not overblown, we are not dealing with comic book heroes or villains here.

A couple of negatives: First (and foremost); the ending it is kind of abrupt. My e-reader (like everyone's e-reader) shows what percent of the book is done. I saw 100% coming up and didn't see an ending setting up. Second; (with tongue firmly planted in cheek) some of the characters are really disrespectful to Spam (I like Spam)(Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam wonderful Spam! Thank you Monty Python).

All the main characters are well developed. Both villains and good guys are introduced in stages, their virtues and shortcomings set up rather than; here are the good guys, here are the bad guys. Character development is part of setting up the story.

So cliffhangers and my possible copyright violations aside, Hell is Empty and All the Devils are Here by Mark Rounds is an awesome read. I hate having to wait for the sequel. Enjoy!


Sunday, May 1, 2016

Sleeping Giants

I won a print copy of Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel in a Goodreads giveaway.

This is the first time I have read a book presented in this particular format; interviews and journal entries. I can see how this would be a detriment to many stories, but it works well for me here.

I liked Sleeping Giants, although to be fair, it did not turn out to be the kind of story I expected. I expected the story to focus on the Giants, but it is more of a political intrigue story. This was not a deal breaker for me as I enjoy political conspiracy theory type books, but I was expecting a sci-fi/aliens story. So I wound up feeling a little misled.

Sleeping Giants is the first book in the Themis Files series, so perhaps we'll get more true sci-fi in future installments. The characters were well realized in my view. The creepy man pulling all the strings was sufficiently evil and dispassionate. The main female character has a serious attitude problem, especially for a military person. Perhaps a little more on her back story would have made her more sympathetic, but that's really quibbling when you get down to it.

The rest of the supporting cast is well done, and not cliche. It does have a cliffhanger ending, but at least not obnoxiously so. I can live with it (big of me isn't it?).

So, we have the beginnings of an ancient alien story (where's Giorgio Tsoukalos when we need him?), a secretive and sinister manipulator of people and countries, a hint at romance, a little bit of sex, and several scientific interventions to contend with.

All in all, I think Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel is worthy of your time, as long as you understand what it's true genre is. By extension, the Themis Files will be worth following as well. Enjoy!