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All In

All In - Joel Goldman, Lisa Klink All In was some serious fun reading. Straight up, all action, no fluff. I was worried when I requested this on NetGalley, because I detest watching poker on television. All the boring that’s on ESPN2 is gone from this story. Did I mention it was all action? All In is Leverage meets Rounders. And let me tell you, Cassie Ireland is an awesome protagonist. I liked her more than Jake Carter. Strong female characters are becoming more prevalent, but still lacking in modern literature. I really liked All In and I'm holding five stars.

Vengeance Road

Vengeance Road - Erin Bowman It’s time to reveal a secret: I didn’t know what Vengeance Road was about or where it took place. I only knew that the very talented Erin Bowman wrote it, and it was gonna be an awesome western. I sometimes like westerns. It’s kinda hit-or-miss. I saw VR on NetGalley, and was all “mine!”

Anyway, here’s my review, and keep in mind that my very few criticisms would be missed by something like 97% of readers – I only know because I live in the area. There be minor spoilers here, so keep that in mind. Let’s start with my complaints: In the paperback, each chapter begins with this faux-cursive font that is sometimes hard to read. It’s no big deal because only three or four words are formatted that way. But, there is a letter from to the protagonist that is a page and a half of this font. Instant headache. If you’re reading the electronic version, just override the font, and you’re good to go.

The novel is written with this old-west drawl, which is cool, and the dialogue is fun to read, but there is an Indian scout that seems to speak perfect European English. Not a major gripe, but it happened, and I’m calling Erin out on it. The last complaint I have is there are some factually inaccurate events during the story. Once again, no biggie, I only know them to be incorrect because I live there.

Now on to the stuff Erin got right: everything else. The story was fun to read, I knocked it out in two sittings. The characters are completely believable, and the events happened pretty much as if a few Arizona historians said it would’ve happened. I know Erin came to Arizona and saw the sights, which is unfortunately rare in writing.

The action was taut, and exciting. The stuff that happens betwixt the action are thoughtful and built on the rich history that Arizona has to offer. The sexism and racism of the time is handled tastefully, and it almost becomes a character of its own.

Vengeance Road will appeal to fans of westerns, young adult, and adventure. When it comes out on September 1st, you better get it, or there’ll be trouble.

Armada

Armada - Ernest Cline Armada was a great read. I hadn’t read Ready Player One, so I only knew that everyone seemed to like Ernest Cline. First, lets talk about the dust jacket for Armada. I’m glad I received the hardcover from Blogging For Books. Opposite of the cover is a blueprint of the Sobrukai Glaive. Although my dust jacket was folded weird, I usually remove it before reading anyway. The blueprint is pretty cool, and if you’re a super nerd, it’s suitable for framing.

As many have said, Armada isn’t anything new story-wise. The Last Starfighter is often cited, and for good reason: the premise is identical. But Cline does such a great job telling the story that it really doesn’t matter. The action is great, and the story mostly believable. Being former military, the idea of kids getting field ranks of lieutenant and captain is laughable, but hey, it’s fiction.

I had planned on only reading a few chapters before writing projects, but five hours later my wife was forcing me to eat dinner. Very few books these days can enthrall me to finish in a single sitting, so it was cool to do that. I didn’t get much writing done, but hey, that’s life, right?

Armada was chock full of pop culture and video gaming references. I even LOL’d at a specific interaction between the protagonist and his mom. I got all the references with little difficulty, so I guess this book was written for someone like me.

I loved Armada, and recommend it to anyone who is a gamer. If you can pick up the hard cover, it has the cool dust jacket. Otherwise, read away and immerse yourself in the story.

The Zeuorian Awakening

The Zeuorian Awakening  - Cindy Zablockis The Zeuorian Awakening had a lot of issues. First, like a lot of self-published books, there was a lack of editing. Missing words, incorrect tense usage, and verbosity permeated. It tried to be a kinda sci-fi, maybe paranormal romance, sorta mystery, but it doesn’t seem to rock any of those genres.

And the angst, OMG it was hard. I considered quitting this story several times due to too much melodrama. The protagonist was unlikeable and had no agency. Everything just happened to her. She was the damsel in distress who had a suite of white and black knights to protect her.

Giving this story two stars seems harsh, because fans of angsty melodramas will probably like it. I’m going to assume a solid copy edit will fix a lot of issues, and I’d still be interested in reading a sequel to see what the characters and the author learned since the first book.

Second Street Station: A Mary Handley Mystery

Second Street Station: A Mary Handley Mystery - Lawrence H. Levy The odd computer-generated cover caused me pause when I saw it on Blogging For Books, but I’m a fan of some historical fiction, so I decided to give it a shot. Mary Handley would fit in just fine in today’s society, but in the 19th century, she would’ve been considered brash, abrupt, and definitely not lady-like.

The merging of the fictional character, Mary, and many real period-specific people was smooth and the interactions were believable. I was a little confused at first with the sequence of events in the first two chapters, but once I figured it all out I was all-in. Smart and clever women are a rarity in literature, so I was pleased to read the exploits of Mary Handley, and I look forward to the next book due out in January 2016.

There were a scene or two that failed the suspension of disbelief, namely ricocheting bullets and wardrobe sequences, but they were a minor affront. The best thing that Mary Handley has over Sherlock Holmes is that she’s tougher, more fun, and less cerebral.

Awarding four out of five stars is easy and I hope to read more from this author.

The Ancillary

The Ancillary - David Kristoph I read book two of TOADS – The Ancillary after the author sent me a copy after my review of book one (TOADS SOP) I hadn’t cared for the ending of book one. While the TOADS series doesn’t end with The Ancillary, I definitely liked the ending better than SOP.

The Ancillary storyline was tighter, and I feel much more interesting than SOP. It been my experience that the sophomore book isn’t as good as the debut, but The Ancillary is a great book and a great story.

I went from reluctantly reading The Ancillary, to looking forward to Sword of Blue. I rated SOP three stars, and I’m gonna bump the rating for The Ancillary to four stars because David Kristoph upped his game.

Bradstreet Gate: A Novel

Bradstreet Gate: A Novel - Robin Kirman Bradstreet Gate was a difficult book to read. There was plenty of stuff happening, and the writing is excellent. The non-linear storytelling was nothing new, and this reading didn’t offer any new insights to the craft or of storytelling.

At times, the story seemed to drift aimlessly. The book really isn’t about the murder of Julie Patel, but a chronicling of several affluent Harvard graduates and how they deal with privilege and the many ways to squander their lives in only ten years.

The ending of the book left me wanting, and none of the many subplots were resolved. Now that I write about it, this entire book is all about various subplots.

Although the characters are well thought out, and implemented in a way that allows us to see them as real people, the story itself is uninteresting. Not enough for me to not finish, but enough for me to be glad the book has concluded.

I’d still give it three stars, as the characterization is worth the read. I received a copy from blogging for books in exchange for this review.

Contract of Defiance

Contract of Defiance - Tammy Salyer I love a good space opera. Tammy Salyer combines that with a dystopian totalitarian government akin to the Union of Allied Planets from the awesome TV series, Firefly.

The pacing is tense, and scenes are described so perfectly, I felt as if I was watching a TV series. The protagonist did lean toward the broken-soldier cliché, but following her adventure was still a blast.

I’m looking forward to reading more from the Spectras Arise trilogy, and I can only hope that new books, like this one, make their way to NetGalley.

Trust No One: A Thriller

Trust No One: A Thriller - Paul Cleave When I saw this on NetGalley, the bold cover and use of negative space intrigued me. The blurb is excellent, with just enough information for me to want to read to see what happens. And down the rabbit hole I read.

Did he or didn’t he? Real or imagined? These are the questions we think about as we read. I found myself covering the entire pendulum swing between yes and no; real and fake; ruthless monster and helpless victim of circumstances. The format follows a pattern of “present day” and “past journal entry” for each chapter. Once of twice it deviated from this pattern, but I assume it was just an odd formatting issue with my eARC. I predicted the twist ending about ¾ of the way through, but the last quarter of the book changes gears and is worth the build up. I found myself doubting my conclusion all through that last quarter.

The ending left me a bit confused, but I think I like it that way. It plays on the helplessness of the protagonist, and it open to interpretation. I’m awarding five stars, because fans of multiple genres will enjoy this book.

Broken Lies (Broken, #1)

Broken Lies (Broken, #1) - Claire Vale I requested a review copy from NetGalley, since the blurb sounded interesting. The wording was a mix of US English and UK English. I was able to discern what was going on with unfamiliar words and slang from context clues, but I did have to read more than a few sentences more than once to figure it out.
While the protagonist and her YA contemporaries were going through zombie-killing boot camp, I was reminded of some of my own experiences in NAVY Basic Training. We obviously didn’t train to kill zombies, but I was actually filled with a sliver of nostalgia for some of the good times in Basic Training.
The story did have some excellent themes of the young adult “finding their own way,” but much of the writing just seemed odd to me. It could be that my brain was trying to grapple with the US/UK English thing.
The story had just too much angst. The protagonist seemed to be too crippled by indecision and teenage angst to be a really likeable character. I felt more connected to her YA posse.
The last few chapters elicited a groan from me. It was as if the book didn’t know if it was a zombie story or what book two is obviously going to be. (I don’t want to spoil it.) It ended with a cheap cliffhanger, and obviously there will be at least another book. When this book is through, nothing of importance will be resolved – you gotta wait for book two or three for that.
I’m still awarding this three stars, because I suspect once the remaining books are written, it’ll be a fun read all the way through, despite the apparent change of genre in the last chapters.

The Returned, Part I (Star Trek: New Frontier)

The Returned, Part I (Star Trek: New Frontier) - Peter David When you read a certain kind of book, there are expectations. The author has to work hard to meet those expectations, and it is great when the author challenges those expectations.

One of the expectations I have with Star Trek books, is that the book include ‘main’ characters from the television series. While reading this story, I kept having Déjà vu. I was already familiar with the characters, and I already knew some of the plot as it unfolded. I can only assume I had read the books preceding this one.

The story contains several minor characters from the TV series – some infamous, and some were just ‘that one character from that episode.’ More than one plot point was predictable, but as a die hard Star Trek fan, I expect the novels to remind me of the series which is formulaic. The episodes and books that challenge that formula are the ones that fans remember long after they were aired or printed.

There are no glaring plot holes or continuity issues. The writing is well done, and I had no problem following the story. All the way to the end. Which is where I have to protest. I already knew this was to be an electronic trilogy, but I find the unresolved cliffhanger to be a poor substitution for good storytelling. You can wrap up most of the story and pull the rug out from under the reader, and I’ll give you props, but to just end the story and figure I’ll just buy the next one is offensive.

Cliffhangers are a cheap plot device, and I would expect writers of such an intellectual franchise such as Star Trek to realize this. The world of Star Trek is full of rich and powerful writing that escort the reader along in wonder and expectation. I just wish the ending of this story were better written. It seems to me like this is a longer work that was just cut into three pieces in order to reach into my pocket again.

I realize I received my copy for free via NetGalley, but I’m still mad at the unsatisfying ending. I’ll still read the other two parts if I see them on NetGalley, but I wouldn’t purchase these for myself. Especially with the haunting feeling that I've somehow already read this story.

Starfire

Starfire - Paul Preuss I enjoyed Starfire, by Paul Preuss. It does drift into ‘hard’ sci-fi, but over all, it was an easy read, and ‘soft’ sci-fi fans won’t get bored.

There were a few dated references, but that’s to be expected for a thirty-year-old novel. Another aspect that frustrated me was about three or four lengthy flashbacks that just didn’t seem to help the story. I can appreciate the author trying to fill in the back-story to a few characters, but they derailed the story. I found myself angrily swiping pages to get through the boring back-story. On the final flashback, I just skimmed until it was obvious the flashback was over. It seemed almost as if the flashbacks were shoehorned in to reach a word or page count.

I really love the paperback cover. It fits the story perfectly and makes sense during the read. I don’t know if the art didn’t have the proper license, but the new electronic edition art, while it conveys that this is a sci-fi space adventure, just doesn’t work as good as the 1988 cover. (I grin when I see the 80s-style title font.)

I’m not too worried about spoiling a thirty-year-old book, so I’ll say that this space disaster is reminiscent of movies like Armageddon or Gravity.

I’m on the fence on this one in terms of star rating. It’s a great read, but the flashbacks just made me angry. If I did half stars, I’d say 3.5 stars, but for the purpose of Amazon and Goodreads, I’m gonna award it that extra half and say four-stars. If you’re a sci-fi fan, you’ll like this book.

Dexter Is Dead

Dexter Is Dead - Jeff Lindsay I’d never read any of the Jeff Lindsay Dexter books. I enjoyed the television series, but never ventured into the books the series was based on. I was hesitant to read the last book in the series without reading any of the previous, especially knowing that television series and the books they’re based on are often divergent.

My biggest issue with the book was not that I was a little lost due to the diverging stories from the show and the books, or that some of the plot seemed far fetched, but the author’s constant use of description and repetition. The prose didn’t quite veer into the purple zone, but it got mighty close.

I found Dexter’s dialog to be stilted, but I presume that was intentional. It was fun to see characters from the show in this book, and this is a far better fitting ending for Dexter than the hideous television series finale.

Jeff Lindsay fans will obviously enjoy this ending to the series, and fans of the show will appreciate this way better ending. The casual reader who hasn’t read the series or watched the show might find this read a little stilted and heavy. Over all I did enjoy the read, and I’m glad I requested this title through NetGalley.

The Ugly Stepsister

The Ugly Stepsister - Aya Ling I absolutely loved The Ugly Stepsister, by Aya Ling.

Kat is a female protagonist that takes ahold of the story and pushes it along through the power of her will. She’s not a damsel in distress. She doesn’t allow the story to happen to her, but shapes the story as she marches towards the end, forgetting stereotypes and what a ‘proper’ lady should do. And she’s flawed. She makes mistakes. She falls on her bum. She asks for help when the odds are insurmountable.

Another awesome aspect of this light romance is that Kat isn’t supposed to be gorgeous. It’s easy to write a love story when pretty people think they might want to hook up with other pretty people. Perceived beauty has been a demarcation of a person’s status for as long as people cared to gossip about such things. Kat catches the eye of the prince with sheer will and personality.

Sex is not even a theme in this story. In a world of little girls dressing up to emulate the latest titillation, there has been a trend to over-sexualize childhood ideas and fairy tales are no different. The Ugly Stepsister adheres to a propriety that’s been out of favor in recent years, and it’s refreshing to not have to wade through sexy-this or sexy-that.

The story, while a retelling of Cinderella, has it’s own voice and its own uniqueness. The author uses what we know and expect of Cinderella, and molds our expectations to trick us into complacency, only to twist the tale a little bit more. As a unique story, the only other book I can even think to compare it to would be Household Gods, by Judith Tarr.

I read half the book in one sitting, and gave serious thought to just finishing it and calling in sick. I ended up stopping, dragging myself through the workday knowing that the reward of finishing this delightful tale awaited me. I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants a light fairy tale with romance with threads of girl power.

Wake (An End Times Novel)

Wake (An End Times Novel) - Maia Sepp I was already a Maia Sepp fan from reading The Migraine Mafia. When I saw that An Etiquette Guide to the End Times was available, I put it on my TBR list, but never followed through. When Wake popped up as available on my NetGalley dashboard, I knew I had to get it and read it right away.

I would classify Wake as a dystopian, but there are some soft sci-fi elements and a very soft whodunit. The eighteen months since she released The Migraine Mafia, Ms. Sepp has improved her writing. Plus, with Wake being a prequel to AEGET, it allows the reader to keep going in the story universe. There was even a link in the eBook to download AEGET, which I promptly did and can’t wait to read it.

The only complaint I really have with Wake, is that the villain seems all Snidely Whiplash clichéd. When the villain was revealed, I was just “Oh, okay,” and I moved on. There was no thundering of the gods while I kicked myself for not figuring it out sooner. In retrospect, I think I suspected who the villain was less than half way through the book.

One thing that frustrated me (but in a good way) was a certain level of ineptness from the protagonist, but like the lovable misfit, Stephanie, from the Plum series by Janet Evanovich, or Mel Parker by Jennifer Gilby Roberts, Camilla just works.

Wake was a fun read, and anyone who likes Evanovich or Gilby-Roberts will definitely like it.

The Harvest (The Heartland Trilogy Book 3)

The Harvest (The Heartland Trilogy Book 3) - Chuck Wendig The epic conclusion of the Heartland Trilogy floored me like a punch from Mike Tyson in his prime. Books one and two seemed to move along steadily. In book three, Wendig must’ve pressed the button and injected nitrous oxide leaving me with a surge of speed akin to the wheelie-popping scene from Fast and Furious.

When I saw The Harvest was available via NetGalley, I immediately downloaded it and moved it to the top of the to-be-read pile. I tore through his words in less than twenty-four hours and was satisfied with the ending.

All the familiar characters are there from the first two books, and they continue to be written in a compelling manner that makes them likeable, despicable and above all real.

The adrenaline rush from the opening prologue to the epic showdown between the Heartlanders and the Empyreans was only topped by a new villain that was both scary and sympathetic. Cael made this villain in such a way that reminded me of the Batman/Joker dynamic.

The ending of The Harvest wrapped up the series, but still left a thread of more stories to come if the author so chooses. I for one would like to continue reading the aftermath of The Harvest and its epilogue.