Monday, May 30, 2011

Inexpensive Kindle Books - MODEL AGENT $2.99


Average Rating - 4.6 Stars


by Sean Sweeney

The human body consists of two-thirds water.

As concertgoers on a steamy day in Boston find out, water can kill as much as it gives life.

A terrorist attack at City Hall Plaza has the authorities perplexed. The government, in response, sends in a capable but young agent – an agent born from the ashes of terrorism itself – to handle it.

But as her partner dies and the terrorist strikes again, Jaclyn Johnson – code named Snapshot – finds herself in a situation she has trained a decade to face: She’s up against a man with enough money to finance a war against his competition. With a deadline in place to stop him – and with a car holding enough hidden tricks to evade capture – Snapshot infiltrates his hidden installation and finds out her target’s true end game, a secret that could have the world fighting over water.

Purchase Model Agent for $2.99 at Amazon.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Inexpensive Kindle Books - THE SHOP 99¢


Average Rating - 3.8 Stars


by J. Carson Black

When former Navy SEAL Cyril Landry and his team of assassins enter a chalet in Aspen, Colorado, he recognizes the pop star Brienne Cross asleep on the couch. As he is about to kill her, she wakes and looks into his eyes.

There is that one moment between them. And then she is dead. Someone with a higher pay scale than Landry has been ordering celebrities killed. Now he wants to know why.

At first glance, the shooting death of a police chief in a rundown Florida motel room appears to be an assignation gone wrong. But as detective Jolie Burke plumbs deeper into the crime’s murky undercurrents, she unveils a conspiracy shocking in its scope.

In her relentless pursuit of justice, Burke follows a byzantine path that will take her from the lottery-driven fantasies of a yard maintenance worker to a Panama City Beach missing-persons case and finally to the island compound of her estranged uncle--the Attorney General of the United States.

The death of a celebrity in Aspen has set the table for an orgy of death, destruction, and infamy. As the stakes rise, Jolie finds herself teamed with a killer. Only Jolie and her unlikely partner, Cyril Landry, can dismantle the shadowy entity known as The Shop--before it strikes again.

Purchase The Shop for 99¢ at Amazon.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Inexpensive Kindle Books - NASTY LITTLE F!#*ERS


Average rating - 4.2 Stars


by David McAfee

Eight scientists and one ex-marine accept an assignment to study the effects of deforestation in Aroostook County, Maine. It’s a routine job, and everything seems to be going according to plan. But when one of their number goes missing, leaving behind only a severed foot as evidence, former lieutenant Colby Phillips must lead an expedition to find him.

What they find instead is an entirely new species. A large breed of insect whose ravenous larvae display features and abilities never before seen in nature. The scientists’ amazement turns to fear when they find themselves at the bottom of the food chain. Can Colby lead the survivors to safety? Or is it already too late?

Of course, escape would be much easier if the dead would stay that way.

Purchase Nasty Little F!#*ers for $2.99 at Amazon.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Review: Blood of Requiem (Requiem Fire I) by Daniel Arenson

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

When I like an author, I read books by that author. Sound like a simple statement? Well, it’s not as easy as it sounds, especially when you have a review blog to run. There are many books out there, by many different talented (and some not-so talented) writers, and you want to believe that, as a reader, they each deserve equal time under your eyes.

Well, the truth is, I have my favorite authors, but sometimes I feel the need to push aside the books these fine scribes send me in order to give everyone a fair shake. Yet there are also instances when doing so is a detriment to the book I choose to read, because from the moment of that decision onward, that book will be compared – perhaps unfairly – to the one I postponed.

This is why when Daniel Arenson, one of those aforementioned “favorite authors”, asked me to beta read his new book, Blood of Requiem, I gladly set everything else down and picked it up. He needed it finished by a certain date, you see, which took the decision of what to read next completely out of my hands.

I’m SO glad I did.

Blood of Requiem is the sad tale of the Vir Requis, a race of humans with the magical ability to become dragons. Sounds interesting already, right? And it is. At the very start of the book, we’re introduced to the fact that the Vir Requis are on their last legs. They’ve been hunted to virtual extinction, and they make one final stand against an army that far outnumbers them. The Requis are killed off, one-by-one, leaving seemingly only one survivor – Benedictus, the king of his people. Their home, the land of Requiem, is left in ashes.

From there, the story jumps into the future, where Dies Irae, the leader of the army of griffin-riders who destroyed the dragons, continues his reign of terror. It seems that there is another survivor of the Vir Requis genocide – a boy named Kyrie, now a teenager, who was rescued from the battlefield, injured and dying, by Mirum, a kind woman whose family was slaughtered by Irae and their land taken. Kyrie has grown up living in fear while locked away in a tower, hidden from sight. On only rare occasions does he brave the world and spread his wings, but it is because of one of these voyages outside that his reality – and safety – is shattered.

Dies Irae discovers him and seeks him out, and Kyrie is forced to flee. He traipses across the land in search of Benedictus, who most have written off as dead.

Kyrie eventually finds Benedictus, finds out that the old king’s wife and daughter are still alive, and together the four of them flee the searching Griffin hoard. There is great tension here, including a kidnapping and a search for the “true dragons” embarked upon by Kyrie and Benedictus’s daughter, Agnus Dei. The imagery is fantastic, the world the author built is wonderful and full of strange, dark forces, and the Salvanae, the “true dragons”, are a wondrous sight to behold. It all adds up to become a magnificently subtle world, with shades of Martin’s bleakness and Pratchett’s ingenuity.

But once more, with Arenson’s work (and the work of the other authors I admire), it is the premise that quivers just beneath the surface of the tale that brings it to life, battle scenes and melodrama be damned, and it all centers around the principal villain of the story, one Dies Irae.

You see, it turns out that Irae was born into Vir Requis royalty. He was Benedictus’s older brother, the rightful heir of their father the king’s throne. Yet the unfortunate Irae was born at a disadvantage – the magics that allowed the Vir Requis to take wing and fly were absent in him. He was abandoned by his father, left to live his life as a joke passed down upon their family. Stripped of his birthright and constantly told how worthless he was, of course Irae grew up to be a damaged person. Even the only one who loved him – Benedictus, his younger brother – treats him with a certain amount of pity rather than true love, as if he’s a charity case, not blood. He sees everything his brother has been handed, from the throne to his future wife, and despises the “Poor guy” attitude his admittedly supercilious brother displays.

Taking this into account, is it any wonder that Irae turned out to be such an asshole?

In other words, even though this novel does have a hero, in a twist that I appreciated greatly, there are really no true heroes to be found. All are tainted, either by pain or anger or despair. The great enemy that Kyrie, Benedictus, Lacrimosa (Ben’s wife), and Agnus Dei are fleeing from is a monster of their own creation, or at least the creation of their people. This is a pertinent aspect of storytelling for today’s world, especially those in the States, what with virtually every enemy the U.S. now faces being individuals who we nurtured and helped bring to power. Now, I’m not saying the author is making any judgments on this particular facet, just saying that he recognizes it exists. And that makes what the story brings to the table that much more important.

But even greater than this is the theme of hate spread through lies and fear. It’s everywhere in the book – the people of the land hate the Vir Requis because of the lies they’ve been told, just as Gloriae (the daughter of Benedictus, kidnapped by Dies Irae as a young child and raised as his own) is. This is such a heartbreaking development, and one that Arenson milks for all it’s worth from all angles, from the parents to the kidnapper to the child, herself, who has grown up with this hate imprinted on her soul and wears it like a badge of honor. And then there is Dies Irae, who honestly believes that his quest is justified and good because he’s convinced himself, through his own lies and deceit, that it is so. I’d go on about how much this line of thinking means in modern society, but I don’t think you have to look too far to see examples sprout up all around us. They’re everywhere, from the Middle East to fundamentalist churches to backwater towns and so many other places. It’s frightening, it’s disheartening, and it’s real, which gives the book that much more potency.

Blood of Requiem is an outstanding first book in a series, and by the end, when both the heroes and villains have been put through the absolute ringer, we see how much farther this story has to go to reach its conclusion. Sure, there is a major victory won, but that victory does not come without a dire price.

In all, this is a fantastic book that I couldn’t put down, and I can’t wait for the second volume to be released, because with all the loose threads, both emotional and dealing with the plot, that Arenson has left hanging, I know the intensity of the tale will only heighten. This is a special book with an original premise and a dark and gritty storyline, a book that will excite you and make you feel something.

And that, folks, is what it’s all about.

(Note to say that as a beta reader, I find it unfair to post my usual rating breakdown, so I’m simply going to give Blood of Requiem 4.5 stars. And it deserves it.)

Purchase Blood of Requiem in ebook format:

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Review: Dismember by Daniel Pyle

Rating: 5 out of 5

Last year, the offer was put out to me to review books for Shock Totem Magazine. Of course I gladly accepted, and immediately went out looking for material.

I didn’t have to look far. I’d reviewed Down the Drain, the fantastic novelette by Daniel Pyle, here in the Journal, and, knowing that he had a full-length novel out, I took a chance and requested a copy of Dismember from the author.

I am so glad I did.

Dismember is a special book, an oddity in the most wondrous of ways. It’s odd because it bucks the trend of “horror” without losing its niche in the genre, for horror isn’t always about slime-drenched creatures (or bathtub monsters) leaping out and torturing the innocent. No, when horror is done properly it deals with the more important issues, those that keep us commonfolk firmly entrenched in our lives, everything from family to death to the loss of personal freedom. When this happens, as it does in Dismember, the terrors on the page grab hold of you and cause your heart to skip, not because something might jump out of the darkness, but because it lets you know just how thin the thread separating life and death really is.

Dismember is a brisk, almost meditative story of purity corrupted. The tale takes us on the twenty-three year journey of Dave Abbott, the only survivor of a terrible car accident that occurred while traveling with his family in the Colorado Mountains when he was seven years old.

Davy has lived a life of seclusion and fear since that day, trapped in a rickety old house by a twisted mountain man who is only called Mr. Boots. Very few details of Davy’s captivity are explained in the book, but you get the impression that Mr. Boots performed certain illicit acts on little Davy that society would most certainly not condone. I appreciated the lack of exposition in this regard, because I haven’t the desire (or stomach) to read the particulars of child abuse, be that abuse of a sexual nature (which the text suggests) or not. In fact, these circumstances are handled with style, using cursory hints dispersed through the story in flashbacks, which stick with you simply because of what we are not shown, for what our minds create to fill in the blanks is almost always more disturbing than overdone exposition.

The story picks up with Davy on his thirtieth birthday. It seems all those years in captivity haven’t done wonders for poor Davy’s sanity, because he’s hatched a plan to reassemble his dead family through any means necessary. Once this re-gathering begins, Pyle tells his story through five points of view: an eleven-year-old boy named Zach, Mike and Libby Pullman, a divorced couple trying to retain a sense of the familiar after the dissolution of their marriage, Trevor, the Pullman’s son, and Davy, himself.

Of all the different emotional threads in this novel, I found the interplay between the Pullmans to be the most fascinating. At last we’re given a divorced couple who show each other respect instead of filling the air between them with venom and petty discord. Sure, you can tell right off the bat why their marriage failed, but to them raising Trevor, their son, the correct way is paramount. Neither would ever even think of using their child’s adoration as a manipulative tool against the other, which is refreshing…and unusual in a usually cliché-riddled genre.

Despite this aspect of the plot, the driving theme of the entire book is the death and disfigurement of innocence. In a brilliant sliver of storytelling, the author contrasts Davy’s childhood terrors with the stresses he inflicts on Zach and Trevor after he abducts them. This phase of the novel reinforces Davy as a sympathetic scoundrel. On many occasions I found myself openly rooting for him to realize that what he was doing was wrong, because I realized that his state of mind wasn’t his fault. This is a guy who grew up segregated from society, under the watchful eye of a cruel guardian. His only education was through pain, and his only joyful memories are those that he experienced before he was seven years old, leaving a stunted and incomplete person. Even with the amount and degree of brutality he enacts on people, he demonstrates a massive capacity for love and thoughtfulness that actually makes his cruelty seem all the more brutal, for this is a man with psychological arrested development, and it isn’t his fault.

The differing points of view in this book were beautifully executed. The shift between the children and adults were convincing and real-to-life – the kids were kids, and the adults were sufficiently imperfect. The blood and gore is there, and it is vicious, but it doesn’t overwhelm, instead pulling you even further into the story and making your gut clench as you experience these frights alongside the characters. And the ending is a thing of beauty, as well. I was stunned by what happens, not necessarily because it’s laughable or frightening, but because it’s haunting in its unexpectedness (and simplicity). I won’t go into details, but let’s just say Daniel Pyle is a very brave man to end this book the way he did, for I’m sure there are some out there who won’t appreciate it.

This reviewer, however, thought it was brilliant.

To finish things off, I’ll say that Dismember is an unbelievably good book. It reads quickly, as I constantly wanted to flip the page just to see what happens next. It’s a story about life that centers on the mundane and how much we might overlook those simple pleasures given the freedom we’ve been blessed with. It’s a tale of the fractured soul and how much we rely on, and mimic, the family that sprouted us. But most of all it’s simply one hell of a ride, one that I am so glad I took. And for that, this reviewer must give Daniel Pyle some well-deserved congratulations on receiving only the fourth perfect score I’ve ever handed out.

Plot - 10

Characters - 10

Voice - 10

Execution - 10

Personal Enjoyment – 10

Overall – 50/50 (5/5)

(Reviewer’s note: A version of this review appears in Shock Totem #3)

Purchase Dismember in the following formats:



Sunday, May 8, 2011

Review: Kafka's House by Gabriela Popa

Rating: 3.3 out of 5

I find it wonderful to read about a slice of life that is separate from my own, a sliver of reality alien to me in setting and social construction yet human enough to allow me to feel for the characters and wonder what it would be like if I, myself, lived under these circumstances.

In Kafka’s House, Gabriela Popa transports the reader to Romania in the 1960’s, a land where old ways are beginning to be ushered away at the onset of communism. In this tale we meet Sylvia, a precocious 10-year-old with a wandering mind, love of stories, and the unquenchable urge for knowledge apart from the everyday life she’s always known.

The story is simple. Sylvia lives in a small town with her parents and younger sister, Mirela. She spends her time (both in school and out) with her best friend Duck and avoiding a young boy named Florin who she dubs “the enemy”, the perpetrator of much of her youthful angst. She is constantly sent to pick up bors from a pair of older ladies down the street, Ana and Crina. Ana in particular captures Sylvia’s attention, as she is a woman of travel. Ana tells the girl stories of Prague and lets Sylvia see postcards from other countries, as well as occasionally smuggling snippets of wonderment (in the form of pages from a diary) into her bags. Sylvia laps this all up and her thirst for adventure is only heightened.

The most brilliant aspect of the plot is that while her thirst is heightened, Sylvia is inexorably trapped by her everyday life. Her parents are overprotective and the simple truths of her country’s conversion to a communist state and the ever-present threats from neighboring countries don’t exactly make it safe or practical for this child to explore her inner voyager. So she spends much of the book trapped in her own mind, questioning the reasoning for what happens around her and using fairy tales to try and come to grips with what she doesn’t understand.

Author Popa creates a Romania that is wonderfully unfamiliar and yet atmospheric. We the readers are transported to this land and by the end we come to at least a modicum of understanding of what life in this time, in this place, might have been like. She uses a delightfully innocent voice that gives the book the feel of being an autobiographical memoir rather than fictional tale, which this reviewer will go ahead and assume is done on purpose. With the intimacy with which Popa describes these people and their surroundings, this reviewer will go ahead and assume this is a story based directly on the author’s life.

But this voice is also part of the problem with the book. Whereas the story is told through Sylvia’s eyes and in the present tense, there are contemplations and language used that effectively pulled me out of the story every so often, for there is no way a sheltered girl of ten could be possessed of such worldliness. I wish the book had been written in past tense and constructed more in the way of a reflective memoir, because each time I was yanked from the wonderful atmosphere it canceled out what the writing is trying to accomplish.

The format and language used in the book was also a problem for me. Commas are abundant and often misused, words are constantly mashed together, grammar is spotty, and there are sporadic indents and spacing. Also, the author doesn’t use quotes around dialogue, instead relying on an em-dash to connote someone speaking. Taken on its own this is a writing convention I don’t necessarily mind (Cormac McCarthy doesn’t use quotes either, and he’s one of the greatest American writers of this century), but when placed atop the other issues it becomes noticeable, distracting, and confusing. It gives the book a sometimes amateurish feel, and also makes one think that perhaps English is not the author’s native language, which might well be true.

However, with all this being said and despite my rating, I can honestly say that I would recommend this book. It’s a slice of youth and innocence that serves to inform us that no matter how different two cultures might be, in the end we’re all human. We live, we learn, we encounter disappointment, pain, and fear, and yet still we may be able to rise above, even if it’s through nothing but our imagination. You will wonder at the idiosyncrasies that people possess and ponder just how much of the unknown is unknown for a reason, for when faced with dire circumstances and a society living on the edge of fear, morality is sometimes hard to judge. I think that morality play, and the loss your individual voice, may be the main points of the story, and for that alone I can say that I truly enjoyed the time I spent reading this.

Plot - 7

Characters - 9

Voice - 7

Execution - 3

Personal Enjoyment – 7

Overall – 33/50 (3.3/5)

Purchase Kafka's House in ebook format for: