Category Archives for Book Reviews

Obsidian Son – BOOK REVIEW

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I’m angry at Shayne Silvers over Obsidian Son, book one of The Temple Chronicles. I’m angry because I spent last night reading this book when I should have been working. I have too much of my own writing to do to go down this rabbit hole. Fear not, though, fair readers! The second draft of Vigil is 50% done, and I should have it finished by this weekend (consider joining the Order of the Sword for details on how to get a free advance review copy). That book will still be out on time in mid December. Still, I greatly enjoyed Obsidian Son.

First of all, Nate Temple is a great character. Unlike so many of the men in current Urban Fantasy, he’s not whiny or emo. I do have to admit that at the very beginning of the book I worried that he would turn into a hipster douche. And he does, in fact, carry shades of that. But only shades, and Silvers takes the character to a far greater depth. But it’s not just Temple himself. The supporting cast really breathes life into the story. Gunnar the werewolf and Indie the “Regular” stood out to me, in particular.

One thing I find particularly fascinating is the way in which Silvers incorporates several themes that I also hit upon in War Demons, while still writing a book that’s vastly different than what I wrote. It’s always fun to see similar subjects approached in new ways, and I really enjoyed Silvers’ touch on the topic.

The plot didn’t carry many surprises, but that never bothered me. At every turn I enjoyed the ride well enough that I didn’t mind a predictable destination. And one particular plot twist that I half-expected from the first quarter of the book never happened – thankfully. I might have taken off a full star if it had gone down that way. Sometimes the paths an author doesn’t take matter as much as the ones he does.

This is easily a five out of five star book. If you love urban fantasy – especially the kind with solid, masculine leads, Obsidian Son book is for you. Personally, I can’t wait to dive into the rest of the series.

A Place Called Hope – BOOK REVIEW

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I absolutely loved A Place Outside The Wild, Daniel Humphreys‘ Dragon Award nominated debut novel, even though I don’t normally go for zombies. So when Mr. Humphreys offered me an early preview copy of the sequel, A Place Called Hope, I absolutely jumped at the chance.

This story picks up very closely where the first book left off, and it hits the ground running. The primary story concerns Pete, the amputee Marine, and Charlie as they set off on a new mission to bring some real Hope into their world. The stakes are high and compelling, and the characters are just as fun as ever.

The story focuses more heavily on the Marines this time out. On the one hand, that was really fun. On the other, it leads to my two actual complaints about the book. First, the title is excellent and a wonderful followup given the ending of the first book. But despite the title, very little of the book actually takes place in Hope. Second, I really missed Miles.

I strongly suspect the sequel will deal with both of those issues, however – especially given some of the revelations at the end of this book. And boy, are there some doozies!

If you loved the first book, this worthy sequel won’t let you down. I give it five out of five stars, and I can’t wait to see what Humphreys has coming next!

The Gravity of the Game – BOOK REVIEW

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My friend Jon Del Arroz has a new novella out this week. The Gravity of the Game fits into a rather unusual niche: science fiction sports stories. Attention all, we’ve found a unicorn! I know – two great tastes that go great together. Like ice cream and kale, strawberries and Pine Sol, or ribeye and motor oil. I strongly suspect that the sports guys and the scifi guys will interpret those metaphors very differently.

But they’ll both agree that unlike each of those combinations, Jon’s novella is actually really good. Whether you’re a sports guy or a scifi guy, you’ll enjoy this story. In a future of near-Earth space travel, the World Baseball League is coping with a sharp decline in attendance and viewership. Commissioner Hideki Ichiro thinks he knows the answer: baseball on the moon!

First of all, that’s actually kind of a cool idea. I’m not a sports guy, and I’m definitely not a baseball guy. To me, it’s one of the slowest and dullest sports out there – long periods of boredom punctuated by a few moments when something almost interesting happens. But come on – you put “on the moon” after anything and it becomes cool. But that’s not what makes the story work. That just makes an interesting hook.

The story works because of Commissioner Ichiro. This is a man who loves baseball so much that he almost makes me love the sport. And though I don’t share his love of baseball, I definitely identify with and respect his passion.

Somewhat like baseball itself, this is a dramatic piece with no actual “action” in it. But the drama and the characters will keep you interested. I give The Gravity of the Game five stars out of five, and dare you not to find Commissioner Ichiro just as captivating as I did.

Cursed City – BOOK REVIEW

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As I prepared to publish and market my latest novel, War Demons, I set out in search of other, similar novels. Cursed City by William Massa quickly rose quickly to the top of my list. It turns out that male leads represent an endangered species in urban fantasy novels. Many of the books sold in the genre should actually sit in the paranormal romance category. I hold nothing against that, but War Demons doesn’t fit with that crowd at all.

Neither does Cursed City. Book one of Massa’s Shadow Detective series, this book packed in the fun. It’s pulp as hell, and I mean that in the best possible way. Mike Raven, the hero, provides a welcome breath of masculinity in an estrogen dominated genre. Furthermore, he lives up to the primary duty of a protagonist: he’s interesting.

The writing is simple and straightforward. At first, that worried me. But a few chapters in it became clear that the simple writing is intentional, in the tradition of the old school pulp writers. This kind of deliberate simple writing is actually a challenge to accomplish, and it makes the book very accessible. And if I hadn’t already overcome that objection, the twists in the final act more than compensated.

A quick, thrilling read, this book started in the middle of the action and only paused for a few breaths along the way. I give it four stars out of five, and I look forward to finishing the rest of the series. I highly recommend it to fans of male led urban fantasy. It’s available right now on Amazon for only $0.99, or you can pick it up for free on Kindle Unlimited like I did.

[Cross posted on PulpRev.com.]

Fade – BOOK REVIEW

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Longtime readers will already know that I’m a fan of Daniel Humphreys work. They’ll also know the caveat that I have to provide: Dan and I “attended” the same online writing class from Larry Correia, and we’ve participated in the same closed Facebook group that resulted from that class. He’s also provided an excellent blurb for my new novel, War Demons. With that said, these are my honest opinions on his first urban fantasy novel, Fade.

Fade is book one of the Paxton Locke series. Paxton Locke, unsurprisingly the series’ protagonist, suffered a rather unfortunate childhood. I can’t go into that too much without spoiling the book. Suffice to say, he also developed a bit of magical power. As the book begins, he’s using that power to help rid unfortunate people of the traumatized ghosts that haunt their homes. But then one of those ghosts gives him a message from beyond the grave. Everything hits the fan from there and the plot explodes.

I don’t actually want to say a lot more than that, because this book has a ton going for it in the plot department. Paxton Locke manages to out-Dresden Harry Dresden. Read it for yourself and enjoy it.

I loved Humphreys’ A Place Outside the Wild enough to give it five stars even though I’m not a fan of the zombie genre. I am, however, a fan of the urban fantasy genre. When you add Humphreys’ fantastic writing to a genre I love, the result is truly amazing. I blew through this book faster than I could blink, and my only complaint is that Dan is busy writing the sequel to his zombie book instead of this one. Thankfully, he’s nearly finished with that book, so we should be getting the sequel to Fade sooner rather than later.

If you liked War Demons, you should definitely check out Fade while you’re waiting for the sequel. It won’t disappoint you. This is one of the easiest five star reviews I’ve ever given.

Hymn of the Pearl – BOOK REVIEW

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Last Friday, an unexpected gift appeared in my e-mail inbox: Brian Niemeier’s new novella, Hymn of the Pearl. Full disclosure: in case you didn’t guess from the previous sentence, I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a review. As a longtime friend, this flew straight to the top of my reading list.

Unlike most of Brian’s previous work, this one is short. It’s also a quick, easy read. Given my current schedule, I liked that. Other readers might find it disappointing. Then again, at $2.99 its price reflects that.

Brian’s use of fate as the mechanic for a magical system utterly fascinated me. Given how much fantasy work is out there that I haven’t read, this may not be truly original. But it was new to me, and I really enjoyed it. It drew me in and left me with a lot of unanswered questions. The author, however, clearly understood the system and had it all mapped out. That made it function well in practice.

Even more, the interplay between the two competing “classes” of wizards made for some interesting thought. It carried the weight of an honest religious argument, but without the baggage of real world religions to bog it down.

The author also skillfully weaves personal character struggles with sweeping political entanglements, and the threat of an actual war hangs over everything.

This book kept me fascinated from the beginning. If you’re a fan of Brian’s earlier works, you’ll definitely enjoy it. If you haven’t read his others, Hymn of the Pearl is a great place to start. Highly recommended. 5 out of 5 stars.

Sea of Skulls – BOOK REVIEW

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A few weeks ago, when I included A Sea of Skulls by Vox Day in my Dragon Award nomination list, I promised to have a review out. Events on the ground caused things to shift around, but today I can finally share that review with you.

Before delving into the book review itself, I should point out a few things. First of all, this is not quite a complete book. The author released it in its current form, promising to follow up with a finalized version when it’s actually done. It’s an interesting experiment in the digital world, and I’m curious to see how that works out for him in the long run. Second, unlike many books that I review, I did not receive a free copy from the author. I paid full price for my copy.

This series is, to me, one of the most interesting things happening in the current science fiction and fantasy landscape. Book one kind of blew my mind. Book two continues in that tradition.

The author has stated that he intended this series as a deliberate shot across the bow at George R.R. Martin for a) his inability to finish his epic master series and b) the fact that Martin has clearly lost the plot in later books. As a reader, my belief is not only that Mr. Day has succeeded, but that he’s also created a substantially better series than Mr. Martin’s.

The series share much in common. The books are long. The story is epic in scope – very epic – spanning a huge fictional world. The world feels lived in, with a great deal of history, and included many diverse cultures. Massive battles and dirty politics are the order of the day.

But the Arts of Dark and Light series has two things dreadfully lost in A Song of Ice and Fire: hope and humanity.

When Martin killed Ned Stark at the end of his first book, it produced a shocking effect. It roped me in – and many others like me. But at the current point of A Song of Ice and Fire, there’s nobody left to really root for. All of the honorable characters are long dead. Even the semi-honorable characters have now met their demise. Only the disgusting remain. Westeros has become a bleak and desolate place. The current state of the story leaves us wondering if it can be saved – but that’s normal storytelling. It also leaves us wondering if it should be saved, and that’s where it’s losing me.

Mr. Day, on the other hand, has kept a ray of humanity in his characters even as they face a world of darkness around them. Some characters succomb to the evil. But others do not, and we still have champions worth rooting for.

One interesting thing about this series is the way Mr. Day has developed a world based so heavily on the Roman era. This is an unusal setting for contemporary fantasy writers, and that helps it stand out. More interesting, however, is the way he weaves religion into the story. Unlike most fantasy worlds that present a “psuedo” Catholic church – ie, Catholic in all of its trappings but none of its actual theology – Mr. Day presents what basically is the Catholic church. The beliefs are more or less complete.

To me, this provides a level of verisimilitude that other fantasy worlds can’t compete with. Most authors seem to assume that the trappings of the Catholic church are inherent in organized religion in general. They’re not. They’re distinctly Christian in character, which is why you basically only see them in the real world in the Catholic and Orthodox churches. Mr. Day recognizes that these features didn’t evolve in a vacuum. In his world, they belong. And one can’t help but think, given the story’s hints, that the church will come back to play a major role.

This book doesn’t feel like an incomplete book. You won’t miss what’s not there. However, if you get it now, you’ll also get the updates when they come. I, for one, look forward to that.

I do have three specific complaints about the book, however.

First, I really wish we’d seen more of the church again in this installment. I’m hoping for more of that in the update.

Second, the author (who has a natural gift for languages himself, and speaks several) has clearly developed rather involved languages for his elves, dwarves, and orcs. Unfortunately, he uses them just a bit too much in this installment. This makes some sections of the book hard to follow. I’m a long time fantasy fan and used to unfamiliar fantasy words. But I also don’t have Mr. Day’s natural gift for language – and this extensive use of them draws me out of the story as I struggle to understand what’s actually going on.

Third, and finally, this installment focuses a bit too much for my taste on a particular female elf. Her storyline is interesting, but the author spends time on it that I would rather have spent reading about the other characters. This isn’t as bad as it might sound, though. Had her chapters been broken up a bit more, it would’ve been fine. I hope that the updated, final version of the book will address this.

Even with these flaws, this is still a five star book. If you’re into epic fantasy, I can’t recommend Arts of Dark and Light highly enough. Give it a shot.

A Place Outside the Wild – BOOK REVIEW

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"A Place Outside the Wild" by Daniel Humphreys

“A Place Outside the Wild” by Daniel Humphreys

When I made my Dragon Award nominations last week I promised a forthcoming book review for A Place Outside the Wild by Daniel Humphreys. Here that review is. As I’ve noted recently, I have not had the chance to read much fiction this year. I’m trying to catch up on that, and I’ve finally made some progress. I have several reviews forthcoming over the next couple of weeks, so keep an eye out.

Full disclosure: Dan and I “attended” the same online writing class from Larry Correia, and we’ve participated in the same closed Facebook group that resulted from that class. He’s also provided an excellent blurb for my upcoming novel, Post Traumatic Stress. With that said, these are my honest opinions on the book.

Let me also say this at the outset: this is a zombie book, and I’m not a particularly huge zombie fan. I like them OK. Sometimes. I’m definitely not big into the zombie craze that seems to have hit over the last decade or so. I love Shaun of the Dead. I kinda sorta enjoyed the “28 Days” movies. I’ve watched exactly one episode of The Walking Dead. It didn’t do anything for me.

I don’t particularly have anything against zombies. I just generally find them boring.

Also, I strongly dislike “science” zombies. I could write an entire post about this topic, but it largely boils down to the fact that most zombie writers aren’t scientists and they get it all wrong.

This book is about science zombies.

With all of that said, I didn’t like this book. I loved it. Dan had a steep hill to climb. He charged up it like a platoon of Marines, killed the defenders at the top, planted his flag, and did a little dance. I recommended this book for the Dragon Award in horror, and for good reason.

Dan has a humorous writing style that caught me from the beginning. The actual story, however, took just a little bit to warm up. But once it did, I didn’t want to put the book down. I really enjoyed all of the characters, and reading about their struggles trying to cope with the new world around them. In particular, I enjoyed Pete the amputee sniper and Larry, the protagonist’s father-in-law. And I enjoyed the way he wrote the children, which are difficult to get correct as a writer.

Another nice thing for a zombie book: this isn’t actually an action story. There is action in it, and it’s great. But it’s actually more of a drama – a really good drama.

I may, however, have sweated just a tad from my eyeballs when the Marines showed up to save the day playing Guns N’ Roses. But we’ll never speak of that again.

Last, but not least, Dan provides an explanation for the science zombies that I can actually get behind. As I noted before, most zombie writers aren’t scientists. Well, Dan isn’t, either… but he’s an IT guy. And I’ll just say that that does give him the right background to understand what he’s talking about here – at least enough to get me over the suspension of disbelief. Well done, Mr. Humphreys.

A Place Outside the Wild is a first novel, and it does show a bit of roughness from that. But the strengths of the story easily outweigh that. It’s an easy five out of five stars, and I’m very much looking forward to reading both the forthcoming sequel and his current new release, Fade. If you like Zombies, check this one out. Hell, even if you don’t like zombies, check this one out. It’s that good.


In case you were wondering, this is what he had to say about Post Traumatic Stress:

Post Traumatic Stress is a roller coaster thrill ride. It hooks you, clicks up to the peak, then sends you screaming all the way down. Masterfully done.

Post Traumatic Stress will be available on August 1. You can pre-order your copy now from Silver Empire.

The Secret Kings – BOOK REVIEW

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I need to begin this review by offering my friend Brian Niemeier a sincere apology. I promised him this review a long time ago. [Full disclosure: I received a review copy free of charge.] In my defense: The Secret Kings is the first non-Silver Empire fiction book that I’ve read in 2017. Yes – that’s for the last five months. Thankfully, I’ve had some time to catch up a bit. I’m I lucky, I might clear my backlog before Monster Hunter Siege comes out.

I should have made The Secret Kings a bigger priority, and not just because I promised Brian. This is a heck of a read. The story is crazy – and I mean that in the best possible way. Old friends return – beaten, battered, and bruised, and then thrown into the fire one more time. This tale will take you from one end of the galaxy to another – and it revisits the premise that started the series. Once more, the space pirates return to hell. Only this time everything is different, and the stakes are even higher.

This stunning space opera carries you all over the known universe – and outside of it. The intriguing characters will stick in your thoughts long after you’ve finished the book, leaving you thirsty for more. Furthermore, this book ties together books one and two a bit more clearly, pulling the whole thing into a cohesive whole.

If you loved Nethereal and Souldancer, you’ll love the latest five out of five star entry in the series. And if you didn’t, you should check them out now.

Monster Hunter Memoirs: Grunge – BOOK REVIEW

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Monster Hunter Memoirs: Grunge by Larry Correia and John Ringo

Monster Hunter Memoirs: Grunge by Larry Correia and John Ringo

I held off on buying Monster Hunter Memoirs: Grunge for quite some time. It came out back in August, just as I was settling into the homeward stretch on Post Traumatic Stress. So I made myself wait. I promised myself that I would read it when I finished my own novel, as a reward. When I finished the first draft a few weeks ago, I promptly bought myself a copy and devoured it.

For those who aren’t familiar, the book is set in the world of Larry Correia’s blockbuster Monster Hunter International series. The series mostly centers around Owen Zastava Pitt as he joins Monster Hunter International, a band of redneck libertarian mercenaries from south Alabama who hunt monsters. The series is pretty much exactly as awesome as that makes it sound.

Bestselling author John Ringo wrote this entry, however. After the editing job turned into a bit more than just editing, Mr. Correia became a co-author.

Fans of both Mr. Ringo and Mr. Correia will love this book. Unfortunately, I only really fit into one of those categories. I have not read much by Mr. Ringo before, but what I have read I have only moderately enjoyed. I did, however, enjoy this book quite a bit more than I have enjoyed Mr. Ringo’s other works.

The problem I tend to run into with Mr. Ringo’s works is that largeish portions of them come off as either lectures or preaching to the choir, depending upon your political inclinations. I’m not particularly fond of either. I understand quite well why this has brought Mr. Ringo a massive audience – I’m simply not a huge fan of it myself.

With that said, this book exhibits considerably less of that than other works of his that I’ve read. And what it does have comes off less as a direct lecture to the reader and more of just showing the main character’s personality. I found that much easier to stomach. Also, when Mr. Ringo isn’t lecturing to me the book is generally a heck of a lot of fun.

On the other hand… even though it’s assembled as a novel, the book reads more like a collection of short stories strung together than like a typical novel plot. I guess that fits with the “Memoirs” theme, but left me a bit unsatisfied.

All told, I’d give it three and a half stars – but existing fans of Mr. Ringo would probably add an extra star on top of that.

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