Category Archives: Book Reviews

Just Shut Up and Drive

Just Shut Up and Drive5 Stars

It’s an important time in every young adult’s life: the final summer before post-secondary school and after high school. It’s a transitional period where one goes from being a teenager towards becoming an adult. For a young man who lost his parents before he could tie his own shoes, this final summer holds more than just pre-school anxieties. Wil Carter is preparing to head off to school in Just Shut Up and Drive by Chynna Laird but his grandfather, Gramps, has other ideas in mind. While Wil just wants to work and hang out with his friends, Gramps prefers to toss his charge into a classic truck and head on a road trip. This is a coming of age story where the bond between a young man and the only father he has ever known is tested, strengthened and celebrated. This is a journey across the prairies of Canada that will touch your heart and possibly make you cry.

Our tale starts with Wil and Gramps arguing about a road trip that the senior has pushed on his grandson. The dynamic relationship between Wil and Gramps is funny, heart-breaking and above all else: realistic. This is a delicate and interesting relationship that is being described. We have an eighteen-year-old boy and a ninety-five-year-old man with more than a ‘generation gap’ between. Gramps is the one who raised Wil after the untimely death of his parents in an automotive accident. While each gives as good as he gets there is a nostalgic respect that Wil holds for his grandfather. You can hear the irritation in his voice as he deals with the elder man’s stubborn personality but you can also hear the respect he has for him as well. Wil was not a golden child while growing up and as he is aging and moving forward with his life he is beginning to understand everything his grandfather has done for him. The description of the relationship between the two and the dynamic in action seems like something out of a movie.

Laird knows what Manitoba, Canada looks like and appears to have at least visited the cities, villages and towns described in the book. For readers who live near or in a location used in any story faithfulness to the recreation is paramount. Laird uses local vernacular when referring to some of the locations and even though the story takes place in modern times, Gramps’ relaxed and sentimental accent rubs off on Wil. While it could be said that Laird sometimes tries a bit too hard to make Gramps really sound like a stereotypical old man, it doesn’t detract from the story.

While a road trip before heading off to university or college is an idea that has been done before, Just Shut Up and Drive by Chynna Laird brings more than just self-discovery to the tale. Wil not only learns about himself on his journey with his grandfather. He also learns about the parents he can barely remember. He learns about what he is capable of when a small child stows away in his truck, begging for help. He learns what it takes to be a man to the standards of what his grandfather has wanted for him. This book is a delightful short read that will tug at your heart strings while making you laugh at the same time.

Pages: 166 | ASIN: B00DGJK3B8

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The Passer

The Passer4 Stars

The Passer by Robin Christophersen is a welcome genre-blending story by a first-time novelist. We follow Dr. Eleanor Bouchard, accomplished actress and professor, attempt to put her life together after the death of her boyfriend. On the one year anniversary of his death she is visited by an otherworldly visitor with an unsettling message. Eleanor is then thrown into a mystery where she must not only figure out the message’s meaning, but also understand herself. New powers begin to awaken in her for the first time, which only adds more murkiness to dark waters. Matters become complicated further when a former flame, Daniel Archer, who has suffered the tragic loss of his wife comes stumbling into her life along with his step-daughter, Amelia. Eleanor begins to feel strange connections to the two of them and discovers that their meeting may not be so coincidental in the first place.

The Passer is an interesting read. Christophersen mixes romance, paranormal and even a bit of mystery to make an increasingly intriguing story. You would not suspect it even being an indie read, given the polish that is displayed on the pages. I was not expecting to be hit with so many “genre” elements, but they all manage to work well and complement one another. The book itself is a fast read and I was a dozen pages in without even blinking.

Eleanor as a protagonist is easy to follow, even if she is almost “too” accomplished, given her two professions. The professorship and her role as a Shakespearean actress seems almost intimidating, even to the reader, but her grief and struggle gives the reader a very tangible doorway into her mind and soul. The fact that she is on her own path to self-discovery despite being so accomplished is an excellent technique to use for the reader to be carried alongside the character on her journey.

The novel is deftly paced and reaches a satisfying conclusion. There were points that felt drawn out, but I think Christophersen balances this with the other genre elements. The quotes from Shakespeare, I feltm were heavily on the nose, considering what Eleanor does, but I could let that go, Christophersen clearly has a passion for Shakespeare and I can make a little room for the Bard. The plot may even be weighted down with the extra elements and confusing plot tangles, but by the end Christophersen untangles these and gives the reader a very satisfying story.

Overall, I believe The Passer to be an excellent read for those looking for not only an interesting plot, but a book that brings something new to the table of genre-blending. A very satisfying debut novel from a brand-new author. If this is the first book that Christophersen produces, readers should be on the lookout for the next.

Pages: 444 | ASIN: B00G2QC69Y

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Tarbabies: The Siege at Friendly Haven

5 Stars

In an exciting take on a post-apocalyptic world we find ourselves face to face with a strange phenomenon: human beings are being swallowed up and turned into gelatinous creatures that look and smell much like tar. Tarbabies Book 2 The Siege at Friendly Haven by Allen R. Brady is a point-of-view adventure story about residents of an assisted living facility and how they handle the tarbaby infestation. Being the second book in a series, a reader may think it imperative to read the first, but Brady does a fantastic job of treating this tale as a stand-alone. The story shifts from the points of view of various residents in Friendly Haven and their individual takes on the epidemic. While you don’t really know how or why the tarbabies have come into existence, it doesn’t really matter. They’re out there, just outside the window of Friendly Haven and the residents are all trapped inside. Or are they?

This book was a delightful read. While the end of the world as most know it is hardly light reading, the sheer ridiculousness of humanity morphing into some strange black things that swallow every human being they touch brings a sense of comedy to the stark reality of this world. Referred to with names like Gummi Man or Sloppy Joe, it scales back the seriousness of the story. Brady does a great job as he shifts from each person’s point of view. He effortlessly moves between men, women and varying ages. Each person has their own distinct personality which can be difficult when telling a tale in this fashion. The fact that our protagonists don’t fully understand how the tarbabies came to be, makes it easier for the reader, because it’s told from the characters points of view. Our protagonists don’t know, and it’s okay that we also don’t know.

Brady crafts his tale in such a way that the reactions to the situation are all very realistic. It’s hard to determine how people would truly react to humanity becoming blobs, but Brady takes a very good stab at how he thinks things would unfold. The energy and action in this book are constantly on the go, which is a perfect distraction.

If you’re looking for an interesting take on the post-apocalyptic potential of our world, then Tarbabies Book 2 The Siege at Friendly Haven by Allen R. Brady is a definite must. Our protagonists share their thoughts and concerns about the tarbaby epidemic with their own colorful personalities. It’s clear that the world seems to be ending and the biggest question on everyone’s mind is whether or not they’ll survive it. Readers looking for an entertaining read with plenty of action and contemplation will find what they seek in this tale.

Pages: 235 | ASIN: B017PXY0BY

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Stirrings

Descendent Darkness: Book One: Stirrings5 Stars

Descendent Darkness: Book One: Stirrings, begins in 1982 in Clarkes Summit, Virginia, where an evil curse causes unimaginable horrors to the town’s favourite families. Fast forward 21 years later and three men are once again facing the terrors they thought they had diminished forever. Richard Gaston, Father Ryan Bennett and deputy sheriff Tom Campbell find themselves facing nightmares and tortured souls of evil that will pull them into the depths of their darkest days. This skin prickling adventure will bring your nightmares to reality as they face an evil, cold presence; guaranteed to chill you to your bones.

Descendent Darkness, Stirrings, written by A. J. Macready is a supernatural novel set with a dash of crime and drama. There are tortured souls, family bonds and mysterious servants of darkness in this edge of your seat vampire styled thriller. The story line follows several families as they face horrors and challenges that will threaten the relationships of everyone involved. Hold tight as you are thrown into an adventure where the characters fight evil even when they are in the shadows of exhaustion- in order to save the ones they love.  The story will leave you hungry for more, as bullets race across the page and violent killers storm through the darkest of nights.

Unlike a typical demon styled novel, Stirrings storyline is complex and filled with clues and details that far surpass any other supernatural story I’ve read for some time. Forget the Twilight era, this novel is filled with the traditional scares and fight scenes fit for a warrior. I found myself unable to turn away as I dove deeper into the novel, growing attached to the characters and their unknown fate.

The characters in Stirrings are surprisingly relatable and the fear for what may be lurking in the dark is a feeling we have all experienced. The relationship between the siblings Holly and Mike Gaston is one to be marvelled as they battle odds together, sacrificing their bodies and souls to pursue a mission with the belief that nothing is more important than family. As well as being siblings, they have a beautiful friendship and you can feel how much they genuinely care for one another as they battle against the odds. However it seems their family are bound for tragedy and the reader will feel emotionally connected to each family member as they fight for what they believe to be right.

Macready’s marvellous way of using descriptive language will have you huddled up and feeling the chills on the back of your neck. I found myself peering around the corner wondering if the cool breeze was the wind or was actually evil materialising its face in the darkness. The narration flows easily and feels like a picture is painted on the page with how beautifully the story is presented.

This is a heart-stopping novel and would recommend this to anybody who loves supernatural stories mixed with crime, drama and friendship. I look forward to reading the other stories in the series!

Pages: 199 | ASIN: B016WLQTS2

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The Battle of Barkow

The Battle of Barkow by [Simmonds, Paul]4 Stars

The Battle of Barkow tells the tale of dark vs light, good vs evil, from a world where magic is not all bad, and religion is not all good. He takes readers into the mind of his characters and through them shows the good and bad of society. In the words of Paul Simmonds, “Two men will embark on a journey that will change their lives forever, if there is a forever at all. For in the world that they live it is not named nor is it entirely different from that of our own early world” (Simmonds: prologue).  The characters are intricate and plagued by the same assemblage of emotions as any other person; kindness, compassion, greed, hate, bigotry and evil. This superb confluence leaves you wondering who is going to come out on top in this novel, the simple man of God, the magician, the girl that doesn’t speak, or the dark forces that are mounting?

The story starts out with a man, hidden in a cloak speaking with an elderly woman. No names are used, but it is clear the women is a sorceress and he is there for her assistance. He is angry, he feels he has been wronged by others and denied his rightful riches and power, this woman offers him the vengeance he so greatly desires, but warns the price he will pay will be high. While she does not disclose the price, it is implying that it will not be all together pleasant for the man, but he hesitantly agrees desiring his vengeance over all else. From here the story jumps 125 years later. We meet Bolan, a simple man of God. He takes no excessive pride in his status and simply ponders life as it comes, he does not dwell too much on the past or the future. He agrees to take on an assignment for the church delivering holy books to the neighboring towns. With him goes his longtime friend and magician in training Hogarth. Hogarth can do simple magic but longs to learn more, to become something great in world that will make a difference. It is on this journey that they meet Sterre, the young women that does not speak but communicates in a form of sign language and drawings. Sterre has the gift of visions and has predicted a great danger to the city of Barkow. Barkow is the capital of sorts for this world, it is where the Pope lives and where all their laws begin. Towns outside of Barkow are not as strict as in the holy city. Bolan, Hogarth and Sterre travel to the city of Barkow to warm them of  the impending trouble that Sterre has foreseen. While they are traveling to the city, the dark forces are also headed there as well. They have no names to start, as readers we only see their evil and destruction, wiping towns out, stripping them of all life leaving no one alive to bear witness to what has happened.

The journey that these three take brings them in contact with many others, some are willing to help fully, others offer veiled advice. Some are strong war heroes that have their own battles to fight but ultimately must decide between their own personal gains or the greater good. We are left looking at a vast cross section of people whose characteristics could be anyone in modern society. In The Battle of Barkow Simmonds is able to show us that their may be darkness in us, but being good is a choice, and often times we fall somewhere in between.

Pages: 240 | ASIN: B06XK7YDBX

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Adam’s Stepsons

Adam's Stepsons3 Stars

Adam’s Stepsons by M. Thomas Apple is an interesting science fiction piece. We follow Dr. Heimann who designs the perfect super soldiers for the United America’s in their war against the Martian colonies. Heimann quickly discovers that he did not anticipate the brutal efficiency of the military, nor the attachment that arises from his creations. These clones are not only the peak of what the human form can do, they actually transcend humanity through intelligence and strength. They are the weapon that the United Americas will use to crush the rebellion on Mars. Dr. Heimann is shocked when one clone, Six, begins to call him “Father” and then the can of worms truly opens.

Apple’s novel is almost painfully short, only because I wanted to have more to read and dive into. He anticipates the future of inter-solar system colonization and the struggles that can arise, such as this between the United Americas and the Martian colonies. He does not neglect the complicated matter here or the scope considering the Terran governing force is losing the war and needs these clones to pan out.

The struggle between scientist and soldier is an old one, but one that takes on a new twist with the rise of cloned super soldiers. Apple goes along the lines of Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, but does not seek to critique war itself. Instead, the author goes further and asks whether these soldiers are “truly” human or are they  just “equipment” as the military officer Marquez calls them.

The conflict deepens even further when “Seth”, clone number six, as Dr. Heimann calls him when no one else is around, begins to call him “father”. The book bounces between the POV’s of the scientist and Six, which is interesting because as the book goes on Heimann becomes more and more unstable and uncertain of his mission of designing soldiers, who resemble the people that their genetic material comes from. Six, or rather, “Seth” becomes increasingly more confident in his abilities and his intelligence. All of this leads to a climax that may polarize readers, but one that will still make the reader ponder on far after they have finished the novel.

Overall, I enjoyed Apple’s prose. It reads crisp like that of Asimov or Heinlein, but I am still unsure if the short length of the work was appropriate. There is a lot of dialogue and not enough actual “action” going on throughout, so I was expecting more digging into the rich themes of personhood and philosophy of the soul. I realize that may be asking too much.

Adam’s Stepsons is a fun addition to the long canon of science fiction that dares to ask the “what if” of the future. It also seeks to ask the “should we, if we can” question that not enough science fiction is retrospective enough to ask. A good read for any science fiction lover, especially of the Heinlein or Asimov variety.

Pages: 92 | ASIN: B06XJRT8CS

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Angie Brown: A Jim Crow Romance

Angie Brown: A Jim Crow Romance5 Stars

Our tale centers around the life of one woman, Angie Brown, as she struggles to live and love in an unforgiving world. Angie Brown, A Jim Crow Romance was originally written by Lillian Jones Horace 68 years ago. Angie Brown is a window to the past: a look at what life was like for black people during the Jim Crow era. It opens with heartbreak as Angie is denied medical care for her ailing child. Angie is at a disadvantage for her entire life simply for being black. Her child is black. Therefore, they are treated as less than second-class citizens. The beginning of Angie’s heartbreak occurred before that moment, but is amplified as her child dies in her arms: denied a potentially life-saving treatment solely based on the color of his skin.

Many books about this subject can feel like textbooks, but this book is beautiful and heartfelt. Wrapped up in an emotional love story, Angie Brown will teach its readers about life from the point of view of a young woman. She has loved, she has lost both her husband, Jim, and her son. She finds herself abandoned with no way to return home. Her religious mother has forsaken her and Angie must persevere if she wants to survive. Through her sorrow and her uncertainty Angie rises above the hand that life has dealt her. She works her hardest to become someone she can deem as worthy.

While there is activism in this book on Angie’s part, it doesn’t overshadow the romance. It is important to understand that Angie is not going to take her fate lying down. As she learns and exposes herself to the world she begins to understand that she can make a difference if she wants to. Her eyes are opened to the trappings of the world and she realizes that someone must stand up for the young black children who are disadvantaged solely because of their skin color. Described with powerful words the reader may feel as though they are there as Angie involves herself with politics and does her best to support Roosevelt in his bid for president. He desires to be a president for all people, something that Angie believes in.

Angie loves. She loses and she finds herself in sorrow. She sees the disgusting side of the world and she sees the beauty in it as well. She builds herself up from the timid young girl to the successful woman at the end of our tale. Angie Brown, A Jim Crow Romance by Lillian Jones Horace will show readers the beauty and agony of love against the backdrop of a time where injustice was rampant in the South. There are reading comprehension questions at the end of the book which make this an excellent selection for further classroom reading or even as an addition to a book club roster. The romance is beautiful in this tale but the underlying message is just as important. Whether you’re reading for fun or reading to learn more, you will not be disappointed with this book. Even though so much time has passed, this timeless piece remains poignant and elegant.

ISBN: 1478773030

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A Small Bronze Gift Called Mirror

A small bronze gift called "Mirror": A Mystery Novel4 Stars

Lydia is a sixteen-year-old girl living at a boarding school. Her mother died when she was young and her grandmother Maria raised her. On her sixth birthday, Maria gave Lydia a bronze mirror and told her to treat it like she would treat herself. She grew up on the run, moving at a moment’s notice, trying to stay one step ahead of a killer with a scarred face. Maria thinks Lydia will be safe at the school, so she leaves her there, then disappears. The boarding school is reserved for students with mirrors like Lydia’s. Unlike regular mirrors, these show the reflection of a spirit. Lydia learns to talk to the reflection that she calls Phoebus. She has a few friends, but she’s obsessed with finding her grandmother.

When the headmaster of the school forces Lydia to compete in a mirror contest, Lydia and Phoebus hatch a plan to run away and find her grandmother. They escape after the contest, and a helpful stranger sets them on the trail of a conspiracy that goes back centuries. But the Managers of the reflections are in pursuit, and Lydia becomes a fugitive. She and Mario—a friend of her grandmother—chase clues all over Europe. They discover the truth of Lydia’s past, and uncover a hidden power that could change the world.

There are some good things to like about this book. Lydia is a strong-willed, independent teen who takes matters into her own hands. Growing up like a fugitive has taught her to be resilient and resourceful, the same skills she needs to uncover the secret of the mirrors. It’s not hard to understand Lydia’s plight or her determination to get to the truth. Many of the people she meets are also in hiding, traumatized by the past, or possibly lying to her to keep her from the truth.

The story is wonderfully original, a unique take on magic mirrors that’s vastly different from the fairy tale version. I also enjoyed that friendship plays such a big role in the story. Calypso, her dearest friend at school, helps her understand her own mysterious mirror, and they become as close as sisters. Mario is the son of a man who died to keep Maria and Lydia safe. Together, Calypso and Mario give Lydia the knowledge, strength, and courage that keep her going. There’s a nice glimmer of budding romance with Mario, and that was fun to read as well.

The biggest problem with this novel is the translation. The translator has done the author a great disservice, and my poor reading experience was in no way Ms. Musewald’s fault. She has written an original, exciting story that is completely overshadowed by the translator’s errors. There are multiple problems on nearly every page, with bad spelling, punctuation errors, missing words and confusing sentences. The novel was a chore to read, but I stuck with it because Lydia is such a strong young woman and her story is so compelling that I had to see it through to the end.

Pages: 231 | ASIN: B06XFM4N9H

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Return to Babylon

Return to Babylon (The Orfeo Saga, #5)5 Stars

Return to Babylon is the fifth installment of the Orfeo saga and begins with Orfeo and Clarice returning from the New World and their battle with the Spartans to settle into a somewhat peaceful life in Pylos. However with the battles still fresh in their mind and the nightmares still haunting their sleep, Orfeo knew evil would eventually reappear- it was just a matter of when and where. An assassination attempt on Orfeo’s life leads him to leave with Clarice to venture to the city of Mesopotamia in hopes they will keep their beloved city of Pylos safe.

Meanwhile, kings begin to drop like flies with the kingdom of Mursillius the Hittite becoming the first to fall. Zinaida wants vengeance upon the coalition who put her on the throne and sends spies to find Zurga. What price will be paid for those who fight for justice and freedom?

Return to Babylon, written by Murray Lee Eiland Jr, continues the adventures of Orfeo who begins the heroic tale in the city of Pylos. Prepare for an action-packed story line that explores the dynamics between different kingdoms and the blood thirst for those who want to save the world.

Assassination attempts and secret spies lead the characters to question whether the events taking place are purely coincidental or is there a more sinister evil at work. As the reader explores the different kingdoms, you soon learn who is trustworthy and who hides behind closed doors, plotting their evil revenge. Networks of spies will reveal information that will mean our favourite characters will have to risk it all for the price of glory.

Murray Lee Eiland Jr. has an impeccable flair to paint the scenes of his story with such conviction that the reader will feel emotionally involved with the main characters and their harrowing tales. At times the novel has moments of historical accountability, giving readers a front row seat into the secrecy of life and lies within kingdoms. Once you add in the brave and fierce heroes, Return to Babylon, has an epic story line that will leave you on the edge of your seat and eager to read all installments. My favourite character was Cyrus, a young and eager apprentice who begins to learn the ins and outs of spy craft. I particularly enjoyed the character development and surprise turns that each character entails throughout the story.

This book in the series delves deeper into the world of mystery, intrigue and espionage. I particular like how Murray Lee Eiland Jr adds a light-hearted touch to scenes in order to create a memorable and powerful story line. It is a cool reminder that some of our biggest threats are being spun together behind the closed doors within the most powerful people in the city.

Return to Babylon is brilliantly written. I would recommend this novel for anyone who loves an action-packed novel filled with twists and turns that will leave you on the edge of your seat, and eager for more!

Pages: 217 | ASIN: B01KEDH2CG

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Physical: The Catastrophe of Desire

Physical: The catastrophe of desire4 StarsPhysical: The catastrophe of desire by Mari Reiza is a wild ride of a read. For both main characters, two middle aged women, Kiki and Fatima, it is indeed a catastrophe, but of their own making. Kiki is virtually strapped in a small town in Northern Italy and finds herself alone after her longtime boyfriend leaves for an “upgrade”. Fatima finds herself in a crisis of identity after having twins and struggles to find purpose in her enlarged family. Yet, both women feel pulled along by their baser desires to rekindle the energy and passion they had in their youth.

Overall, the book reads very fast pace, which for a shorter book is expected and I would say enjoyed it. There are moments where the book reads as if Reiza is experimenting with stream of conscious, but then it breaks away from that to continue in a more traditional narrative pattern. The change can occur on the same page or even within the same paragraph, which may be disconcerting to the careful reader.

The characters themselves are a varied mix of character strengths and flaws that can keeps the reader engaged. Kiki has a mouth like a sailor and clearly has a drive and motivation to make something of herself if she can overcome her very physical, base needs. There were times it was hard to follow her storyline given that she self-sabotages to a large degree. Fatima on the other hand seems to be the polar opposite, in the sense that she is in a steady marital relationship with children, something Kiki is allergic to. Fatima is no prude though and is as explicit as Kiki is about sex and the like. Both women seem driven to try and enliven their lives in any way they can no matter the cost, even if it dramatically disrupts their lives.

The story is told through both women point of view in alternating chapters and some heavy style choice make the narrative more “telling” than “showing”. But these are easy to push past as you get drawn into the struggle of Kiki and Fatima. The strongest point of Reiza’s writing is that you can truly feel where these women are coming from in their midlife crises. They are clearly tired and bored of their current lifestyle and need to do something to shake it up. It truly appeals to the deepest core beliefs that individuals can have when they have reached a “rock bottom” or stagnant part of life.

Overall, it is a classic contemporary fiction story. Of two women trying as best they can to beat back the overshadowing struggle of age and day to day responsibilities. Passion isn’t only reserved for the youth; it can always be rekindled later with a little help.

Pages: 143 | ASIN: B01N9ZU9XL

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