Review: Kick by John L. Monk

kick

This is the first in a series where I talk about some of the best books that I’ve discovered and read in 2014.

Earlier this year, one of my favorite authors, Linda Welch, did a post on her blog about a book by John L Monk called Kick. John Monk was a delightful interviewee with a sense of humor and I know Linda has great taste in books, so I bought the book.

Well! I devoured the book, tracked Mr. Monk down on Twitter and basically said, “Please, sir, may I have some more?” In fact, I have to confess, several times, I have actually tried to sit down and write a review. But, every time I would start to skim over the book for talking points for a review, I’d find myself re-reading the whole book all over again. Yeah, it is that good.  So this time, I am just going to jump in from memory and not tempt fate.

The book is about a dead guy by the name of Dan Jenkins who takes over and “rides” the bodies of serial killers. There are a few rules: he has to stop the killers from hurting anyone and at some point, Dan gets kicked out of the killer’s body. In exchange, Dan gets to live for a bit in the body he is riding.  Who Dan is and how the rules get changed in the middle of the game are part of the mystery (and the fun) of this book.

Understandably, Dexter and Quantum Leap seem to come up a lot when people review this book. But that doesn’t mean that you can oversimplify this book and sum it up as Sam leaps into Dexter. John L Monk is an exceptional writer and there is a lot of subtlety and nuance in this story.

Several things made this book totally amazing. Dan Jenkins’ character was so solid, so interesting and very easy to relate to.  He had a moral center but he wasn’t always a nice guy. Sometimes he was whiny and sometimes he was an ass. Sometimes, he tried so hard to do the right thing that my heart ached.  Tight writing kept Dan Jenkins’ voice strong, clear throughout the entire book. No matter where Dan was, or whatever body he was in, we never allowed to lose sight of his character. And because of the nature of  Jenkins’ circumstances, the conflicts that arose were really believable. That made it impossible to predict where the plot was going, which of course, made this book a lot of fun to read.

And did I mention that this was an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award manuscript ? This is definitely a book worth reading!

It turns out that the very talented Mr. Monk has now written the sequel, Fool’s Ride (The Jenkins Cycle Book 2). You can find out more at John’s website, john-l-monk.com or follow him on Facebook.  John is also on Twitter as @johnlmonk and has been known to occasionally haunt Goodreads. 🙂

This is a tough novel to categorize. Fantasy? Paranormal Mystery? Thriller? Suspense? Let me know where you think it belongs in the comments!

Breeds by Keith C. Blackmore – a review

Breeds cover Breeds is a really tough book to write about with no spoilers! This was also one of those books: at times I found myself unable to put it down. At several points I was sobbing. I have been hesitant to start reading another book because thoughts about this one keep popping into my head. In short, this book was pretty amazing.

When you open the book, the first thing you see is a warning from the author that if you are a dog lover, do not read the book. I am an animal lover, but I decided to ignore the warning. And actually, I was glad that I did because what I expected to happen when I saw that warning was not what the book was about at all.  I really would have hated to have missed this story because of what might have been.

I love stories that surprise me, and this one did! This is not your typical werewolf story that starts off with the protagonist camping out in the woods, gets bitten by a wolf and things get crazy from there. This is one of the most original werewolf stories I have ever read, totally unique. I would rate this one right up there with Stephen King’s Silver Bullet and  Whitney Strieber’s The Wolven.

Inherent in the werewolf genre is the exploration of man’s animal nature and the conflict between the higher and lower selves. Keith Blackmore’s approach to this is both unique and multi-faceted. It is not as simple as just tossing around some anthropomorphic themes. This book forces us to look at questions of identity and community, and challenges assumptions about fitting in. It makes us ask which part of ourselves is the animal and which part the human…. and I am still not sure how I feel about the answer.

And, just for the record, I really would like to see a sequel to this. There is a some great back story here that would lend itself to more exploration. I’d love to hear more from and about some of the characters in this book. And filmmakers, if you are listening, this would make a GREAT movie!

Keith C Blackmore is probably doing for Nova Scotia and Newfoundland what Stephen King did for Maine  — not sure I am up for a visit to the area, LOL! He writes horror, sci-fi and heroic fantasy. He is the author of the excellent Mountain Man zombie series and currently working on Mountain Man 4. You can check out his Amazon Author Page here for more of his books. You can also visit his website at keithcblackmore.com.

Disclosure: A copy of this book was given to me by the author with no expectation of a review.

The Strain Trilogy: A Review

strainThis has been on my TBR list for a long time. I used to love reading vampire books. Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot and Robert McCammon’s They Thirst are my two favorite vampire tales ever. (Don’t judge me, but I like dark, gritty vampires, so I totally skipped the Twilight books!) I stopped reading for a while, simply because the overwhelming numbers of vampire stories out there put me off the genre for a bit.But the premise of this one sounded really interesting. And co-written by Guillermo del Toro? Who could resist?

I moved this up on my list because I found out that they are making this into a TV series on FX, scheduled for the summer of 2014. I wanted to read the books and give it time to settle before the series came out.

The Strain (Strain Trilogy): Five stars. I really enjoyed this novel. The characters were interesting to me. I loved the approach to vampirism as a virus and the CDC team involvement was a nice touch that really sold the story for me. The story was exciting and  fast paced and I found it hard to put down.

There were a couple of minor problems. There were a few typos. One was the repeated use of the word agonal. It is an unusual word to use repeatedly in a book. I also noted that sometimes the descriptions were a little stilted and didn’t flow. But since the story was so interesting, these were minor and I was really looking forward to the next book in the series.

The Fall: Book Two of the Strain Trilogy: 3.5 to 4 stars. I liked this book much less than the first. The authors spent way too much time rehashing material from the previous book. Much of the rest of it was spent in backstory. It  drug the pacing of the narrative down and made some parts extremely boring. And that repeated work use and stilted language I was saying was minor in the first book? There was a lot more in this one.

The Night Eternal (The Strain Trilogy): Three stars, tops, if I am being kind. By the last book, I was ready for this series to end. In fact, I think the only reason I finished this one was that I had invested all the time reading the first two books. But by the time I got to this last book,  I did not like who some of these characters had become. And, without giving anything away, I absolutely hated the ending.

The weakest parts of the books were the plot and the exposition. From a reader’s perspective, the overuse of words in the novels really bothered me.  Seriously, how many times can you use the word “agonal” in a series? It came up in each and every book. I found myself asking, “What was the editor of this series thinking?” Poorly written phrases. Typos. And here’s one for the bad writing textbooks: the author referred to the sky as “the troposphere over Manhattan.”  Technically correct, but… ugh. For a book from a major publisher (Harper Collins), the errors in this book were, IMHO, pretty amateur.

So, do I still want to watch the TV series based on these books? Yes, actually I do. I honestly think that the storyline for this would be much better suited for a movie or an ongoing TV series than it was for a book series. Done correctly and with the right casting, this could be a visually stunning post-apocalyptic TV show.

FX is hoping that fans’ recent interest in zombies will translate into viewers for The Strain. Here’s the teaser that ran during an episode of The Walking Dead:

Here’s a look at the trailer for the series:

Miserere: An Autumn Tale – A Review

Teresa Frohock’s Miserere: An Autumn Tale was an absolutely amazing book!

And, ironically, I have actually had it on my Kindle since it first came out. Why did I wait for so long to read it? I am still kicking myself over that one….

Truth is, I am much more of a straight sci-fi fan and I have to confess that Dark Fantasy is not exactly my favorite genre. It is generally…. well, dark and then there’s all that evil.  And usually, lots of swords and hard to pronounce names, too. So, generally, I have to be in just the right mood to read it.

But I realized that this book might be more than I thought it was when I read this review on GoodReads and the review’s opening lines had me totally enthralled:

From the start, I went into this expecting it to be a fantasy novel. I mean, the cover? Fantasy! The name? Fantasy! The blurb? Fantasy! So I was a bit shocked when, after a gripping and very fantasy-esque intro, we are plopped right down into a conversation between some teenagers leaving a ballet class and walking home. Wha…? Color me intrigued, and excited, and totally, totally hooked!

So, I read the book. It was sooooo good, I immediately started over and read the whole book again, this time slowly savoring. And I came to the conclusion that the cover and the blub for this book simply don’t do it justice. Seriously, that is the only reason I can think of for why this book is not a runaway best seller! The description only covers maybe the first chapter anyway….

So what can I say about this book? As a writer, Teresa Frohock has a lovely voice; the beauty of some of her prose is just stunning. Doubly amazing for a debut author! The characters?  Rich, fully developed, interesting. Lindsay’s character is so real, I can see why some people (erroneously) tried to classify this as young adult.  I wanted to meet her. I felt protective of her. I want to read more about her. (That’s code for she better be in the next book, LOL!)

Despite what the blurb might suggest, this isn’t a romance in the usual stereotypical or genre sense of the word. It does have an element of the feeling of a medieval romance: In the Middle Ages, a romance meant an adventure, a quest, one with themes of honor and/or redemption. This one fits the bill perfectly!

The exploration of Christian religious myth in this book fascinated me. The book never proselytizes.  But, as you might expect from a reality that exists to keep the fallen angels from taking over earth, the religious themes permeate both the world-building and the world view. It adds an additional delightfully authentic “touch of medieval” flavor to the book.

This book should be definitely be made into a movie – the story (and Teresa’s writing) really lends itself to a visual interpretation.

Okay, enough fan gushing! You: Read this book! Tell everybody you know about it! As for me, I want to read the sequel… now is good…. I’m waiting….

You can learn more about the author at her website, Teresa Frohock.com.  She is also on FaceBook and Twitter.

 

It’s 10 minutes past the apocalypse. Do you know where your children are?

I started reading apocalyptic fiction at a very young age. I have to admit that it had its effect on me: I like to be prepared. Add in some real life experience with blizzards and power outages. The result: a tendency to stockpile certain things.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I don’t buy things that I won’t use in the normal course of events. I wouldn’t buy a generator, for example. Eventually, the things I buy do get used. I mean, I have almost used up all the stuff I stockpiled for Y2K.

But all those things I keep on hand—the food, water, flashlight batteries, etc—well, I keep all of them at home. After all, that’s where I am going to need them, right?

Wrong.  ASHFALL blew all that out of the water.

In ASHFALL, 15 year old Alex is left at home alone in Iowa while his parents visiting family in Illinois. The supervolcano underneath Yellowstone Park blows; Alex’s home is destroyed. And that’s just chapter one!

This wonderful book, the first in a planned trilogy, follows Alex’s struggle to not only survive but to try to find his family.

These characters are incredibly well-written. As the mother of two sons, I can tell you that Alex is a very believable character with a lot of nuance. Yes, Alex has some serious martial arts skills. Alex has a good heart. But Alex is also inexperienced and makes some really dumb decisions. As a mother reading this book, I could totally buy Alex as a real kid with all those mixed qualities – that he could be that difficult, that kind, that fierce, and, sometimes, that naive….

Darla also is an incredible character. She has great survival skills. I loved the fact that she was actually better at a lot of things than Alex was. She also tended to be more practical than Alex and, in many ways was a much more suspicious character, fiercely protective. And in the world after Ashfall, that just may be a very good thing.

As a mother, I would be incredibly proud of both of them.

This really isn’t a book just for boys nor is it a just for girls book. The fact is, Alex and Darla were both strong characters that any reader, boys or girls, men or women, could identify with.

There were a lot of things about this book that disturbed me and that I haven’t been able to get out of my mind since I read it. This is not one of those post-apocalyptic books where the main characters seem to magically find everything they need in an abandoned convenience store. There are real problems in the world of Ashfall and the characters must solve problems, endure real hardships and make hard choices.

Animals do not fare well in this book. (Indeed, they don’t in most apocalyptic fiction.) And the government? Well, you need to read that one for yourself, okay?

There are a lot of unanswered questions, too, that I am eagerly looking forward to hearing more about in the sequel.

I started to tell my youngest son about the book. He happens to live in New Mexico. He listened, then said to me, “Yeah, there’s one of those underneath Albuquerque.”

Talk about hitting where you live…. I think I am going to be hoping for apocalypse by zombie instead….

You can read more about author Mike Mullin and ASHFALL at his author website. Check out some of the great interviews and an awesome fan-created book trailer while you are there!

The sequel to ASHFALL, ASHEN WINTER, will be out in October, 2012.

Disclaimer: I won a ARC of this book in a charity auction, but my review is based on reading the Kindle edition which I purchased.

Broken – A review

Every so often, if you’re lucky, you come across a book that reminds you of everything you love about reading science fiction—and why you started reading it in the first place.  Broken is one of those books.

It has all these delicious elements: A dystopian world set in the future. A superhero who has lost her powers. A scared young man who can see the future.  The future of mankind at stake….

But don’t let the description fool you. This is not your typical stereotypical superhero story. This is an amazing book and an exceptionally fun read that I found almost impossible to put down. Susan Jane Bigelow is an extremely gifted writer who knows how to tell a story. She avoids the pitfalls of tedious world-building and long descriptive paragraphs that just drip with voice. Instead, she allows the reader to organically experience the world she has built for us through the story itself and the actions of the characters.

The characters themselves are interesting, fully fleshed out and beautifully written. They felt like real people, people you want to care about. Bigelow skillfully plays with stereotypes and expectations in a way that adds depth and dimension to the characters.

The story is cohesive and tightly written without feeling “plotted.”  Bigelow does a great job of keeping you guessing. I can usually tell right where a storyline is going, but this was suspenseful throughout. The author also has a delightful sense of humor that occasionally she allows to peek through.

While this one is definitely a fun read, the book also was thought provoking and deals with some serious themes: the concept of names and labels, identity, self, responsibility and courage.  It was difficult to let go of the characters and the events of the book, even after I finished reading.

In short: I laughed; I cried. I finished the book and wanted to immediately hit the go-to-beginning button on my Kindle and read it all over again.

I took a sneak peak at the author’s blog, where she hinted that there was a sequel in the works. It will definitely be on my to-be-read list.

I found it difficult to believe that this was Susan Jane Bigelow’s first novel. She is definitely a writer to watch in the future. I am definitely looking forward to reading more of her work.

Brokenwill be released on January 25, 2011. It is only avalable in a digital form.

Disclaimer: An ARC of this book was provided by the publisher, Candlemark & Gleam,  who had no idea that I would fall completely in love with the book! 🙂

The Patron Saint of Plagues – A review

As a long time fan of authors like Robin Cook and Michael Crichton, I LOVE medical thrillers. The more viruses, bacteria, plagues, and epidemics, the better, at least as far as I am concerned.  Just mention etiological agents and I get really interested.  So, I started reading The Patron Saint of Plagues with a lot of excitement and was more than prepared to like it.

Unfortunately, I was tremendously disappointed in this book.

First, I might argue that this book was mischaracterized by calling it science fiction – realistically it was more of a combination speculative fiction/mystery. It was set 50 years or so in the future. The author did a poor job of world-building here and I spent the first half of the book asking myself why it was set in that time.

The characters suffer from the same lack of development as the world-building does. The characters are unbelievable and barely fleshed out.  They are also constantly contradicting themselves for reasons which are never explained.

The protagonist, Dr. Henry David Stark is a perfect example. At various times in the book, he is referred to by three or four different names. Also for no apparent reason, he sometimes (and only sometimes) speaks a pidgin English that no one else in the book (including his family) speaks. This is never explained.

What the reader gets out of this are plastic, predictable characters doing predictable things leading to a predictable ending. The only surprises were the parts that didn’t make sense.

I found this book poorly edited – and by this I don’t mean spelling and grammar errors. Those things were fine. I mean the guidance an editor SHOULD give a writer. Little things like telling him when the story doesn’t make sense. Or when a scene should be cut. Or when the dialogue isn’t working. Or that the story isn’t flowing. Or that he has thrown information out there and never followed through with it.

The description for this book said that author Barth Anderson has won awards for his short fiction work. Since this was his first novel, he may not have been ready for long form writing. Although, honestly, the reviews for his second novel, The Magician and the Fool, were not much better.  I think one that of the reviewers for that novel summed it up best by saying, “Barth Anderson may be a skilled writer, but he is a terrible storyteller.”  Unfortunately, I have to agree.

This book is available in a Kindle edition.

Three Days to Dead: A Review

Three Days to Dead

It was one of those strange things:  I saw this ad for Kelly Meding’s Three Days to Dead and I swear my spidey-sense started tingling. I just knew that this book was going to be great and that she was going to be an author who was really going to go places.  Then I read the first chapter online and was really hooked.  Waiting the three months until the book actually came out was agonizing!

But, boy, was I right!  Three Days to Dead is one of those rare debut novels where the author’s tremendous talent shines through from the very beginning. In this novel, you find everything that a reader looks for in an urban fantasy.   Great characters?  Check.  Excellent story telling?  Check.  Superior world-building?  Check.  Non-stop action?  Check.

Triad Hunter Evangeline “Evy” Stone wakes up in someone else’s body.  She has no idea how she got there.  And she only has three days to find out before she dies.  Again.  So begins this riveting tale of conspiracy and betrayal where the balance of power depends on Evy’s ability to remember how she died and discover how she was resurrected. 

Personally, I love the storytelling device of one character in another person’s body. Combined with the Evangeline’s memory loss, it allows for interesting reading.  Things that might normally be viewed as insignificant  take on a sense of urgency and importance as we try to understand Evy’s character, the people around her  and the events that happened to her.  And author Kelly Meding does a fantastic job of making us care about both Evangeline and Chalice. 

The supporting cast of characters is first rate and includes every time of beastie you would want in an urban fantasy, including trolls, gremlins, fairies, vampires and goblins. Kelly’s writing style is a joy to read and if you like urban fantasy that is smart, funny, thrilling  and fast-paced, I highly recommend this novel. 

A big plus for me were the two short stories set in the Dreg City world that were posted on Suvudu’s website just before the release of the novel.  The Hoarders offered a great opportunity to get to know Evy “in her own skin,” as it were, before we meet her in Chalice’s body.  The second story, Pride Before Fall, really helped to establish the politics of the world Evy lives (and died) in. Reading these stories before I read Three Days to Dead was extremely helpful.  Kelly Meding has also written a missing scene from 3D2D that you can find here on her website

The sequel, As Lie the Dead,  is due out in the summer of 2010.  Three Days to Dead is also available in a Kindle edition.

You can learn more about Kelly Meding (and her cat) at her blog: http://chaostitan.blogspot.com/  and her website:  http://kellymeding.com/.  You can also follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.

Day by Day Armageddon: A Review

31I6DaHu2aL__SL160_J.L. Bourne’s Day by Day Armageddon is a interesting book that tells the story of the zombie apocalypse from the point of view of a military officer who is struggling to survive it. The novel originally began as a series of blog entries by the author that gained quite an audience on the web.  The book was then self published and eventually picked up by Pocket Books.

The reactions to the book are certainly polarized; people either love it or hate it.   There are certain criticisms that seem to come up repeatedly regarding this book.  Among them are:

People compare it to World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks: I can’t tell you how many times I have read, “I read World War Z and liked it, so I thought I’d read this one….”  In this case, this is a recipe for disappointment.  I think that Max Brooks’ book is absolutely brilliant, and it is certainly at the top of my zombie reading list, but the book is really atypical for the genre.  Just because a person likes one doesn’t mean that they will necessarily like the other. DBDA should not be criticized for NOT being like World War Z.

People say it lacks character development: The criticism that there is no character development is also somewhat unwarranted. Because the main character’s nature is not really effusive (he’s a military man, remember?), much of what is written in the book is about events, rather than feelings. Often, the feelings about the events are not stated directly and generally do need to be  inferred.  Other times, the feelings are very direct and evocative, such as when the main character wonders if his parents have survived or if he could manage to get to their home to check on them.  Throughout the book, the characters do act in ways that are consistent with their nature.

I think that part of the difficulty in perceiving the development stems from both the lack of a baseline and the limitations of the journal format.  In the book, the narrator starts keeping the journal right as the zombie outbreak begins.  We have very little material written before the outbreak which means we have little information with which to judge any level of character growth. 

People say it has an extremely boring plot: I personally find criticism that the plot of this book is boring to be somewhat amusing.  Rather than having a frantic paced activity level, the author (very effectively, in my opinion) uses inactivity to good effect to create tension. By using prolonged waiting to get the reader to almost a fever pitch, it heightens the suspense. Because of that, there are parts in this book that are so suspenseful, they are scary.

The journal format itself is, as others have noted, both problematic and limited and may help foster the idea of a slow moving plot.  Most zombie movies and books are usually told in the present tense.  A journal would of necessity be written after the events in question have already happened. A certain immediacy is lost because of this. And since DBDA is predominantly a survival story,  the author is more concerned with telling a story about survival than he is with telling a story about zombies.  Typically in a zombie book, there are lots of scenes of people getting eaten by zombies, and like the films, much of the emphasis is on blood and gore.  In this book, the author seems to pay more attention to describing the MREs, guns and ammo than he does the zombies.

People say it is too full of typos and grammar errors:  There are definitely two schools of thought on this one.  Some people think that the grammar errors are deliberate; others think that they are examples of extremely poor writing/proofing/editing.  I myself am torn on this one.  The author’s website and Twitter entries are generally grammatically correct.  However, the book contains numerous instances of poor punctuation and spelling (such as “putting on the breaks” instead of “putting on the brakes”).  I have never in my life been so tempted to take a red pen to a book and would have loved to introduce the author to the proper use of the comma and the semicolon. And I read the book on a Kindle!

If these errors are deliberate, it would be extremely helpful for the author to note that in a forward to a future edition.

People say the ending is horrible: I have to agree that I do not like the ending to the book at all. Without spoiling the ending, all I can say is that it ends too abruptly and that it could have been handled in a much better way.

Despite the some of the issues with the book, this is an interesting and compelling read that is enjoyable.  If you are a true fan of the zombie genre,  this book is too important to miss. A sequel, Day By Day Armageddon: Beyond Exile,  is currently in the works and is due to be released in July of 2010.

You can learn more about the series at the author’s website,  http://jlbourne.com/.  You can also follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jlbourne.

The Demon Hunters: A Review

The Demon Hunters
The Demon Hunters

This is the second volume in Linda Welch’s Whisperings series. And, believe it or not, as good as Along Came a Demon was, this sequel is even better.

In The Demon Hunters, Tiff Banks has made some major changes in her life, including starting a new detective agency with her partner, Royal.  But as Tiff tries to move her life forward in a new direction, things don’t exactly go as planned. When money becomes an issue, she is reduced to rescuing a kidnapped kitty for the reward–with the help of her faithful Scottie, MacKlutzy, of course.  And she discovers that she may not have as much choice as she would like in choosing which jobs to take, or how to handle them once she’s gotten them. 

As the book unfolds, a lot more is revealed about Tiff’s past and how she uses her gift. The book also introduces the demons known as the “Dark Cousins,” an interesting group that I hope we learn a lot more about in future volumes in the series. And, of course, her roommates Jack and Mel are irrepressible.

Author Linda Welch is always a talented, thoughtful writer and does a great job with the writing of humor–the kidnapped kitty section is hilarious.  Most impressive is the skillful recreation of a period journal that provides a vital clue to solving the mystery.  It is so well written and feels totally authentic. Like the first book, this one is a suspenseful, fast paced, fun read that I highly recommend.

Like the first volume, the book is available for the Kindle at a very reasonable price.

At the end of the book is a preview of the first chapter of the next book in the series, Demon on a Distant Shore. That volume promises to give some insight into the background of at least one of Tiff’s ghostly roommates.

You can learn more about the author, Linda Welch, on her blog where she posts updates on the Whisperings series.  You can also follow her updates on Twitter.  There is also a fan page on Facebook for Whisperings here.