Thursday, August 25, 2016


Wolves of the Northern Rift by Jon Messenger
Wolves of the Northern Rift
(Book 1 of the Magic and Machinery Series)
by Jon Messenger

Dark fantasy and steampunk collide in Wolves of the Northern Rift, the first in the Magic and Machinery novels by Jon Messenger. Detailing the exploits of a royal inquisitor named Simon and his apothecary companion named Luthor, Simon—under the request of the king—is dispatched to the northern continent of Ocker and the city of Haversham to investigate claims that werewolves have appeared from something known as the Rift: an immense magical portal which has spilled into the world to let loose demons and other monstrosities. Though Simon and Luthor have spent the past two years debunking such claims of the supernatural, something about this case seems different. A veneer of secrecy lies throughout the beginnings of the investigation, as the man whose mining properties are under attack seems hesitant to reveal certain information, and it is only a matter of time before they realize that magic—an abomination that must be removed from the world—holds a far greater case than they could possibly imagine.

Wolves of the Northern Rift is undoubtedly fantasy at its best. Told in an omniscient perspective not often found in fantasy novels, it details the happenings of two very unique and completely dynamic characters in a way that shows a practiced writer who has obviously honed his craft. As the first book in a series, it’s always important to hold the attention of the reader, and Wolves of the Northern Rift does all that, and more. The world-building is immense, the writing is crisp, the execution flawless. Its blending of steampunk and magic is utterly enjoyable and is done without making it come across as cheap. The world is fully integrated with both magic and machinery (as its title states,) and though we don’t see much of the latter in the novel, we definitely see a lot of the former, especially when the book begins to speed up at the end.

If you like fantasy with a sense of mystery along with your adventure, then Wolves of the Northern Rift is the kind of book you’ll love.

* * * *
4 Stars

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Monday, September 14, 2015

RIPPLER by Cidney Swanson

Rippler by Cidney Swanson
(Book 1 of the Ripple Series)
by Cidney Swanson

Moving swiftly, downstream, while kayaking with her swim team, a girl reacts to her stupendous joy the only way her body knows: by turning invisible. Panic ensues, a search is made. Then something extraordinary happens: she appears, ashore, completely dry and unharmed.

Thus begins the story of Samantha Baker, the genetic inheritor of the Rippler gene.

Rippler by Cidney Swanson is a hard book to describe. Part urban fantasy, part science-fiction, with a tad of mystery, it's a novel that escapes easy classification--and, as a result, allows an organic narrative to flow. Unlike many novels -- who would introduce a protagonist with complete understanding of their powers -- Rippler begins as an origin story and details a young girl's discovery of her powers. From learning 'how' to become invisible, to how to control it, to the consequences of particular actions and the spiraling results that can come as a result from them, it is incredibly engaging and sweeps you along at an incredible pace. It is, as a whole, an extremely difficult book to review in-depth, as the scope of its plot is quite short, but it has a bit for everyone and those who enjoy the young adult genre will find it extremely enjoyable. It's the first in the promising series, and one I will be sure to continue in the very near future.

* * * *
4 Stars

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Friday, August 7, 2015


Jacob Smith is Incredibly Average
Jacob Smith is Incredibly Average
by Erin Hayes

In most science-fiction and fantasy stories, we like to believe that our heroes are special—that they are destined by fate, chosen by the Gods or the Universe, or simply possess something that makes them able to overcome astounding obstacles. This, as a staple in literature, has been seen throughout generations. But in Jacob Smith is Incredibly Average, that role is completely reversed—because our hero is, in fact, anything but extraordinary.

Enter Jacob Smith—a twelve, almost thirteen-year-old boy. In the grand scheme of things, he isn’t anything special. He gets average grades, does average in sports, is average in height and intelligence. He’s even statistically average when it comes to the number of siblings in an American household. Normally, we wouldn’t think anything of this. Average people aren’t normally capable of anything extraordinary. But what if an alien species was able to use that to their advantage—to ‘harness’ the average in order to potentially take over the human race? That is the challenge Jacob Smith faces in Jacob Smith is Incredibly Average, and the driving point of its plot.

As a mid-grade/young-adult novel, Jacob Smith is Incredibly Average nails every aspect that the genre requires. It’s easy to read, its pace is fast and the plot doesn’t meander, and it features likable characters and scenarios everyone can relate to. Where the novel truly stands out is as a science-fiction piece. The wonder presented in the novel is slow to creep in, but once it does, it hits you full force. But unlike many sci-fi novels (where, even in YA, the reader can become confused and overwhelmed,) Jacob Smith makes sure to introduce the fantastical aspect of its narrative slowly and simply. Aliens are usually described in minute detail. Technology is only explained in what it does and not how it does it. The action incorporated within is exciting but not in the least bit gruesome and its fast pace speeds the reader throughout the narrative at a near-unstoppable pace. I had trouble putting Jacob Smith down even when I was completely exhausted. It’s fun, energetic, and definitely something I wish I was able to read as a kid. I highly recommend it.

* * * * *
5 Stars

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Sunday, March 23, 2014

NO RETURN by Zachary Jernigan

 No Return
by Zachary Jernigan

On the warring continent of Jeroun exists two dominant beliefs: those who bask in the God's benevolence and those who believe in his eventual wrath. Our hero is the latter. A member of the Black Suits, Vedas' sole purpose is to fight the White Suits who oppose his order's belief and convert those to the Anadrashi faith. History has proven the God’s disdain for humanity, and for Vedas, that gives him all the more reason to fight, though a lifetime of training meant to prepare him for battle unexpectedly falls short when a pupil of his dies. Grief-stricken, his position becomes unclear—marked with question over the meaning his life—until he is chosen to represent his order in the great fighting tournament of Danoor -- and by doing so, proclaim to the world that their God is not merciful.

No Return is one of those books I find hard to review. As a writer, I am complete enthralled by its world-building and the skilled turns of phrase Jernigan is able to pull. As a reader, I was instantly pulled in by the imagery of a god hovering over His world—physical in every respect to those on the planet below, and whose judgment can be swayed by the simplest of actions. This is, undoubtedly, high fantasy, though that may be the novel's greatest weakness. Oftentimes, the author presents and then develops his characters through the use of time jumps that deviate from a traditional linear narrative – which, combined with a complex history and a cast whose surroundings sometimes never intersect, may deter readers unfamiliar with high fantasy from picking the novel up. Does it have a map? Yes. Does it have an atlas? Yes. Even I will admit that my transition into the novel was somewhat daunting, though the grand exposé immediately detailed in the prologue eventually proves its necessity as we enter the meatier portions of the story. It isn’t long before we understand the plight of the people on this lonely planet, of their harsh world and the unforgiving god who floats above it—who, at any moment, could wipe the planet clean, if only out of boredom. That, undoubtedly, is No Return’s crowning achievement. You feel a sense of awe as locations of impossible magnitude are described, wonder as its geography is revealed, terror over the monsters (human and not) that walk the lands and unease over the world’s complex and harrowing history. This, combined with a diverse cast of characters whose roles are not determined by gender, race or sexual orientation, makes Jernigan’s entry into the genre a breath of a fresh air.

No Return is a remarkable epic among the casual fare of sword and sorcery novels. While not for everyone, if only due to its unprecedented but lavish world, presents fantasy with a gritty realism I feel the genre is unfortunately lacking. Five stars to an excellent first novel, and a beginning that only promises future marvel.

* * * * *
5 Stars

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in hardcover (left) or Kindle (right)

Reviewer's notation: I received No Return for review from the author.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

JENNY POX by J.L. Bryan

Jenny Pox
Jenny Pox
(The Paranormals, #1)
by J.L. Bryan

Avoid her
like the plague.

It’s hard for me to be utterly blown away by anything anymore. With most of the common themes being rehashed to death and abck again, there's literally nothing that comes out of the woodwork and strikes me right in the face. I'd heard about one author who was making big strides in the Kindle publishing world, and had even read a bit of his novel I'm about to review before I actually sat down and read it straight through months later, but I never would have anticipated being so impressed.

Let me tell you, I'm so glad I did.

Jenny Pox is to 2000s like Stephen King's Carrie was to its time period--raw, visceral, gritty, a dirty slate amongst the commonly-portrayed 'good times' of high school. Told from the view of Jenny Morton, who possesses the power to cause infectious disease and then kill with her touch, we follow her story through her sophomore year of high school and the trials and tribulations that come with it. Ashley--mean girl number one--is amping up her game, and when Ashley's boyfriend, Seth, forms an unusual relationship with Jenny after a chance incident along the side of a winding road, Jenny will come to find out that the roots of her small North Carolinan town may be filled with more than just the greed for money and power.

I'll start off by saying that Jenny Pox is not what you'd expect. Going into it, I thought I was about to read a young adult book (given the age of the characters and the overall scenario,) but quickly found that to be quite the opposite when mentions of cannabis, alcohol, graphic depictions of sex and brutal depictions of gore came into play. I compared it to Carrie for a reason. This isn't your run-of-the-mill young adult novel. This is fully one for the adults, which I think makes it so much more powerful. Told from a young adult perspective, this would've been a much weaker book, as it would have glossed over the realistic details that are far too prevalent within the real world. The power wrought within Jenny's condition and her overall coping mechanisms in a town where everyone knows and despises her makes her an extremely dynamic character that you feel instantly connected with.

The writing--genius. It's striped down in a way that strikes envy into the reader. It isn't often coated with rich, verbose description--the purple prose most associate with the idea of writing talent. Rather, it's armed with the casual, straightforward tone that a young girl would use -- and for that it paints the picture within in a much more realistic light. The shining moments of clever description are true gems within this novel and truly mark J.L. Bryan as the witty, clever and masterful storyteller that he is.

Finally, though, I have to mention: the ending. I won't spoil it for you, but let me just put it this way: this is the way Stephen King's Carrie should have ended. The complete refusal of censorship makes this one hell of a shocking ending, which instantly left me wanting more.

Brutal, intense, unrelenting in its portrayal of the human condition--Jenny Pox is what Carrie should have been, and is absolutely terrifying while doing so.

* * * * *
5 Stars
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Reviewer's notation: I downloaded Jenny Pox for free on

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Valley of the Dead by Kim Paffenroth

Valley of the Dead
(The Truth Behind Dante's Inferno)
by Kim Paffenroth

During his lost wanderings, Dante stumbled upon an infestation of the living dead. The unspeakable acts he witnessed--cannibalism, live burnings, evisceration, crucifixion, and dozens more--became the basis of all the horrors described in Inferno. Afraid to be labeled a madman, Dante made the terrors he experienced into a more "believable" account of an otherworldly adventure filled with demons and mythological monsters. But at last, the real story can finally be told.

It’s hard for me to swallow anything that even remotely resembles a mashup. With Pride and Prejudice and Zombies having been the first, most after seem nothing more than imitations, which is why I initially had reservations about reading Valley of the Dead. Given Kim’s debut novel Dying to Live, though, I was willing to give it a try, and I’m glad I did.

Valley of the Dead follows the pseudo narrative of Dante from Dante’s Inferno, in which he and a ragtag team of other survivors (including but not limited to a pregnant woman and a soldier from an army who is attempting to eradicate all life in the great valley) seek to cross a mass of land in order to escape the ravenous undead. This plight isn’t new—oh no. Such outbreaks of the ‘plague,’ as they call it, have happened time and time again. Almost everyone alive has at least one memory of the plague, or an instance where a plague-ridden victim has stumbled into their life asking for help. This time, however, the outbreak has grown far more severe—far worse than anything anyone has ever seen—which makes the situation all the more grim.

In the past, the army has dealt with the plague and things have gone back to normal.

This time, it seems, things might be taking a turn for the worst.

Valley of the Dead by Kim Paffenroth is written in a classical style. Straight-to-the-point but glistening with its varying phases of simplistic description, it’s not hard to awe over the tone that inhabits the novel. There’s always this sense of dread, which I believe most every writer strives for and which all readers grow to envy, and it never slips out at any time. Even in the more humanistic portions of the text there is still that primal depravity that undeniably exists in any horrible situation, which I feel is the greatest strength of the work.

With that being said, I do feel there’s a few things working against Valley of the Dead­—most notably, its style. It’s written in a very classical way and could easily divide audiences. This isn’t a book I would heartily recommend to someone who couldn’t read what is considered more classical literature, and for that it’s hard to recommend it to a horror fan because it suffers those same complications. That in itself is more of a personal stance rather than a true reflection of the work, but it limits its reach in doing so.

The other thing I would like to point out is that, throughout the story, a staccato beat begins to develop. I believe I only noticed this because it only started to occur more frequently in the latter half, but after second thought, I realized this pattern is almost a blueprint for the events that happen in the book. They walk there, they get there, something happens, they deal or don’t, they leave. Repeat that and it eventually becomes the scope of the book—which, in hindsight, can be considered all right to those who approve of and love such adventure-style storytelling, but may dissuade others.

In full, Valley of the Dead is definitely a work that stands on its own. With inspiration from Dante’s Infero, it weaves a story through the old world whilst following a group of people who must survive both the physical and moralistic implications that such a scenario has to offer. It’s not for everyone, but for those it is for, it’ll definitely be an enjoyable read. 

* * *
3 Stars

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 in paperback (left) or Kindle (right)

Reviewer's notation: I received Valley of the Dead for review from the publisher.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013


The Seven Habits of Highly Infective People

by William Todd Rose

I’ll be perfectly honest—I don’t like time travel stories. The few I’ve tried to read which I’ve thankfully forgotten have always been a mix of one thing or another: convoluted, nonsensical, unrealistic (in the sense that they are staying true to the times they are travelling to,) that sort of thing. That isn’t to say that all of them are like that, but The Seven Habits of Highly Infective People was not a book I would’ve willingly picked up based on its description. But given that I usually try to give all books with a unique idea a chance (especially, in this case, time travel mixed with the undead,) I decided to give it a go.

Boy, I’m glad I did.

The Seven Habits of Highly Infective People begins with a narrative that might appear as off-putting as it is interesting. Told from the perspective of whom we initially assume is a crazed druggy, the novel begins by telling us of Bosley Coughlin’s exploits with a great ‘Eye’ that shows him a vision of the distant future, which is not pretty in the least. Even he can hardly believe the idea of an America and a young girl who, at only fourteen, is struggling to survive and starving amidst the undead, but when a woman he knows begins exhibiting what he calls ‘The Seven Signs,’ the future becomes a distinct possibility, and he must do all he can to stop it.

Perhaps the most distinct and well-done thing about William Todd Rose’s The Seven Habits of Highly Infective People is its ability to seamlessly transport you between not only two different characters, but two different settings. Told, as I said, partially from Bosley’s view in the present, the narrative shifts to the future where we run into Ocean, the fifteen-year-old girl whose fate our present-day narrator desperately wants to change. This presents us with an incredibly-easy and cohesive story to read. It seems like it could be two distinct tales, yet at the same time are intertwined; one plotline is so radically different in idea from another they don’t seem to make sense; and the two narrators, an older man and a young girl, seem completely unlike one another, yet here’s the thing: it’s so seamless that your subconscious allows the two to merge to make the story one. That’s no easy feat, all things considering, but Rose’s power not only lies in interconnecting plots. Suspense, here, is key. Never is a chapter ended on a cliffhanger that doesn’t make sense, and while in some cases you would rather just skip ahead to see what was going to happen, Rose wrote the suspense so deliberately that the events coincide with one another. It’s like watching two rows of dominos fall at the exact same time. The pace never falters, the dread never lets up, and the mystique of the matter continues all the way up until the end, and persists even after it.

The Seven Habits of Highly Infective People is one of the best genre novels I’ve ever read. I can’t call it just sci-fi, and I can’t call it just zombie-horror, but I sure as hell can call it amazing. Five stars to this incredible work of fiction. This marks Rose as a name that has to be watched.

* * * * *
5 stars!

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Reviewer's Notation: I downloaded The Seven Habits of Highly Infective People for free on via a publisher promotion.