Category Archives: Three Stars

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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Fathering the Fatherless

Fathering The Fatherless by [Johnson, Todd]3 Stars

In a charming, short, non-fiction tale we read about the struggles one man has had in terms of understanding and becoming a father. Fathering the Fatherless is written by Todd Johnson who tells us his experience growing up in a fatherless home. He recounts how this impacted his life and shaped the decisions he has made. It is clear that this is a topic that has affected Johnson greatly as he attempts to convey how his life was damaged by not having a father present in his life. Johnson shares statistics regarding fatherless homes and lays out the potential damage that can be done with such a significant absence. Johnson details how he found God and in that Father he was able to come to understand what it truly means to lead and care for children.

The book is a short read and is written very earnestly. Johnson speaks from his personal point of view and lays out his argument that fatherless homes are becoming an epidemic in the United States of America. This is an issue he strongly believes in and he uses quotes from the scripture to remind readers what a father should truly be like. By sharing intimate details of his life Johnson creates a connection with his readers. We learn about his struggles, his poor decisions and the choices he has made in order to better himself. Johnson grew up in a fatherless home and almost inflicted that same pain on his own children. He details how finding God helped him see the potential he was wasting. It is clear that this is Johnson’s mission: his purpose is to enlighten others of their misguided ways and show them a path towards true fatherhood. All he wishes for is a world where children are cared for and loved by their emotionally and physically present mothers and fathers.

While the basis of this book is endearing, the execution needs work. A multitude of spelling mistakes break up poor grammar and fractured sentences. At times it can be difficult to follow what the author is trying to get across to his readers. Statistics are used to support certain points of view, however they’re not referenced properly, which makes it difficult to separate the statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau and the statistics provided by other sources. This book would greatly benefit from an editor and proofreader. It has a specific point it wishes to share with others, but that gets lost in the poor execution of writing and style.

If you are looking for an endearing, non-fiction read about how fatherlessness has been affecting children in the world, then Fathering the Fatherless by Todd Johnson is a short and sweet read. By seeing past the short-comings the reader can see how much care Johnson has put in to crafting his tale that reads more like an academic paper. At the end of the book there is a delightful interactive section that can help readers identify what fatherlessness is and how it can be addressed. There’s a little bit of something for everyone.

Pages: 60 | ASIN: B06XGHGDT7

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For Beau: The Sarah Ashdown Story

For Beau: The Sarah Ashdown Story3 Stars

The story begins in 2009, where an old woman is being interviewed to tell the story of her history as a fighter in the French resistance to the German army in the 1940’s. In the narrative told by Sarah Ashdown, the character that this history revolves around, readers are bounced seamlessly back and forth between the two eras, and listen as Sarah gives detail about the progression of her life. Simon Gandossi, the author of the story, allows readers peeks at Sarah’s life now as an elderly woman in a nursing home with friends and memories to pass the days with.

England marks the setting for the beginning of the story, but most of the events take place in France or other war zones. By following the reflective narrative of Sarah Ashcroft, an elderly woman being interviewed by a TV reporter about her actions in the war against the Nazis, you’ll learn about the horrific events that took place during the bombings and raids of World War II.

While the majority of the story focuses on Sarah, as she is the one re-telling it to those interested, you also get peeks into the lives of those of both in her past and present. A friendly nurse Patty makes a frequent appearance, and the disorganized reporter himself Daniel Warwick provides a sturdy companion to her as she gives him the story.

After leaving her English hometown and abandoning her family and friends after the disappearance of her husband and the loss of a dear friend, Sarah makes her way to France to help fight the German’s and do her part to end the war. Sarah is met with many difficulties, since she is a woman, but she is a beautiful character, full of strength and wit, and consistently her own worst critic.

Throughout the story, you get to see Sarah’s life in the present setting play out in her nursing home, and the toll of telling the gruesome tale of her war experiences is slowly made evident to the readers. Gandossi takes you on a thrilling, heart-wrenching ride of what life as a soldier in the 1940’s was like, and compels those to feel deeply for Sarah as she agonizes over her decisions.

This isn’t a cheerful story; as few stories about war are. In fact, it’s a heavy read, full of history and heroic deeds. I enjoyed it, but I’ve never liked stories that are sad even until the very end. It made me really think about how hard life was for those suffering through the war in the 1940’s, and it gave me unique insight I’ve never read before. The way Gandossi narrates the story through the voice of Sarah is inspiring and gives an intimate touch.

Pages: 435 | ASIN: B01N6JGBQK

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The Hunter’s Rede

The Hunter's Rede (Chronicles of Ealiron, #1)3 Stars

The Hunter’s Rede by F.T. McKinstry is a tale of adventure, mystery and deceit. Lorth is a hunter/assassin who obeys the Hunter’s Rede; a series of rules the dictate the isolated lifestyle of an assassin. He has never questioned their necessity; until now.

He is summoned home by the mysterious Mistress of Eusiron and arrives to find the region invaded by the Faerin army. Even more alarming; a member of the Keepers of the Eye has been assassinated.

Lorth must use his wits, magic, and sheer determination to escape being framed for the murder, find the perpetrator and defeat the invaders. All the while, he must juggle the Hunter’s Rede – a selfish code – with morality, loyalty, and love.

This is an enjoyable read for those who like suspenseful fantasy. The world building is strong and specific; a requirement in fantasy stories. The battling kingdoms, the Hunter’s Rede, and the Keepers of the Eye are all thoroughly referenced and explored by the author. However, the origins of the Rede are vague and difficult to visualize.

The characterization is fuzzy at first but the reader eventually becomes well acquainted with many of the characters who decorate the story. Lorth, in particular, grows on the reader overtime. Some of the most enjoyable characters are placed in the background and only dip into the story occasionally – such as the amiable Captain Ivy.

The plot is entertaining and ornamented with twists and tension. The story focuses on its characters and conflicts but also has a strong theme revolving around morality and sacrifice, which finds its way into the story. You could say that The Hunter’s Rede is inspired by the video game series Assassins Creed; as I felt that it dealt with similar concepts, story models and parallel titles. But I enjoyed the variances that allowed The Hunter’s Rede to have uniqueness.

While the story has some thrilling action scenes, at times they were either too cumbersome or unclear. Overall the story was clever and entertaining except for the romance moments which come off as less inspired. The Hunter’s Rede is one proofread away from being a fascinating and exciting read.

Pages: 303 | ASIN: B01LZS174X

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Ronnie and Lennie

RonnieandLennie3 Stars

Ronnie and Lennie are blood brothers in the realest sense of the word—as conjoined twins, they literally share the same circulatory system, connected at the chest for life. Set in the hippie days of 1960s and Woodstock, RonnieandLennie by Herb Schultz depicts the challenges (and sometimes the benefits) of being incredibly close to family at all times, along with the consequences of messing with nature. With a complicated backstory that provides some insight into the twins’ condition and emotional state, this novel takes the reader through a journey of understanding the prison of chronic adjustment disorder through the multitude of Ronnie and Lennie’s dangerous experiences.

Set in the 1950s through the 1960s, Ronnie and Lennie, the titular characters of Herb Schultz’s novel RonnieandLennie, are conjoined twins who grow up attached at the chest, held together by a band of skin that connects their circulatory system and their liver. Connie, their absentee mother, never figures out how the twins ended up this way, but she believes it was caused by fallout from an atomic blast that occurred close to her while she was pregnant. Schultz leaves out details of how the fallout may have caused their condition, but this sense of mystery also helps keep the plot from falling into a strict mystery novel format.

Instead of overcoming her struggles, Connie abandons her children in Statesberry, North Carolina, with her aunt Vera. The backstories of the minor characters throughout the novel left me wanting more, as questions about these characters (and the twins) do not feel resolved by the end. The jolty shifts between past and present made the novel feel more like a collection of vignettes rather than a fluid, linear read. Despite this, though, these backstories did provide a great foreshadowing for the dysfunctional futures of the twins.

While being a moody teenager is rough, Ronnie and Lennie make the best of it— they read and play music together and experience the drug culture of the 1960s. With numerous vulgar sex scenes and excessive drug use, the novel seems to exaggerate this culture; however, they help the reader with understanding the difficulty of being a teenage boy without independence. Resentment grows between the twins, but through fortuitous circumstances, the twins eventually end up separated, finally getting what they’ve always wanted: to have an unattached life.

This freedom comes at a cost— Ronnie is depressed while he’s off at school, and Lennie falls prey to destructive vices. When Ronnie learns more about his mother, he leaves school, only to find himself in perilous circumstances that cause him to go to jail. Lennie has a similar fate, ending up in jail for a period of time himself. Years later, they end up intersecting again in their hometown. Upon realizing they both have chronic adjustment disorder, which has been causing their impulsive behavior and depression for many years, they make a life-altering, permanent decision to never be separated again.

RonnieandLennie is carried by the unique titular characters who stumble through life experiences, sometimes falling really hard. But they ultimately blossom into introspective individuals with a future that will break away from the destructive habits of their pasts.

Pages: 238 | ISBN: 0982351607

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2PM On A Black Summer’s Day

2pm on a Black Summer's Day3 Stars

A mysterious box that cannot be opened. A line of witches and the melding of two very distinct spiritual ideals. Throw in the military while all these groups try to fight demons and you’ve got 2pm, On a Black Summer’s Day by IP Spall. An interesting story that takes place in a quite town in America spanning at least a decade while the true main character doesn’t make an appearance until later on. We begin with a normal teacher who is trying to make a few extra dollars from his eclectic collection of ‘junk’. It is Samuel that finds the strange box at a market but it will be his son Chris that opens it all those years after his father’s death. What begins as a drunken gathering unleashes forces beyond human understanding. Shadow creatures pour into the world of man from beyond a void. Their appetite is insatiable and they thirst for human blood.

Spall has a knack for the surprise. What first seems like a simple book about growing up and coming to terms with grief unexpectedly morphs into a supernatural thriller where no one knows who will die next. The surprise demon summoning is just that: a surprise. While we got an idea that magic exists and is relatively accepted in this world, there was no foreshadowing for the battle to come. The surprise works in Spall’s favour as it is executed quickly before the reader or the cast has time to react. This allows the reader to be pulled in and feel as though they are part of the story themselves. A clever tactic for sure.

There are some drawbacks to this book, however. Stylistic and grammatical issues aside, the story appears to take place in the United States of America. This isn’t clarified until a chapter or so into the book but it comes as a surprise. While reading how the characters talk and the description of the town, it feels as though this book takes place in England, perhaps in a small village or hamlet. There are certain phrases and ways in which the characters talk that do not occur in everyday American speech. This is not relegated to a single family, but affects all in the story. This is a bit confusing for the reader. Had the story taken place in England or anywhere else in the United Kingdom it would have seemed natural.

This jarring bit of speech aside, the entire flow of the book seems as if it has been sped up. Time passes in a blink and characters whose point of view we were reading from on one page are dead on the next. It fragments otherwise good storytelling and detracts from the overall tale as a whole. A massive battle occurs and then the story is just over.

Those who delight in reading about magic, the macabre and the quintessential fight between light and dark are sure to enjoy IP Spall’s book 2pm, On a Black Summer’s Day.

Pages: 139 | ASIN: B01MXPZ9TW

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Paracelsus

Paracelsus3 Stars

War is never pretty. It’s a gruesome, deadly instrument used by those seeking something. Whether they seek power, reassurance or a misguided view of peace depends on those orchestrating the show. In Paracelsus by James Powton we see the horrors of an ongoing war of subterfuge and nuclear consequences as it spans nearly fifty-years and the entire world. When does one war end and another begin? These are questions that cannot be answered concretely. Powton uses this as he spins his tale of destruction with the backdrop of the world’s worst atrocities post World War Two. This story begins like several different threads spread out until you delve deeper and see that they are all entwined together into the perfect knot.

It is important to note that the story tells a slightly alternate history to the one that we have been taught in schools. It begins in 1969 and continues on until a time in our very near future. While it seems logical to assume that none of the characters in this tale truly existed, a reader can’t deny that reality is often stranger than fiction. If these characters did or do exist, let us all hope it is not in the same capacity as Powton has had us read.

Think of a world where nuclear weapons have been compartmentalized on a smaller scale to fit inside a briefcase. This unlocks a multitude of possibilities: none of them good. Powton uses this concept to his advantage as he paints a picture of a bloody war that the average person would know nothing about. This is not a war for the television or the media until things go too far. It’s definitely a thrilling ride as you read on, wondering how the characters will be connected in pages to come. Powton wraps all his threads up quite nicely.

There are a few stylistic errors and spelling mistakes that crop up in Powton’s work. The issues are not so substantial that they detract from the story itself. Because the story can be quite complicated it is impressive to see such organization and careful storytelling, which is where the real challenge is.

It is always interesting to read a piece of fiction that uses a real event as a back drop. By looking at past events with new eyes and a different idea of what potentially happened brings such an interesting twist to the history we have all been taught. Paracelsus does just that and takes the events further by covering a time frame in the not-so-distant future. With the world being slightly unstable at the time of writing, it is almost terrifying to think that James Powton’s idea may become a reality. If you are in the mood for intrigue and the blurring of historical lines, this is definitely a tale for you.

Pages: 316 | ASIN: B01MU6S0P5

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West bEgg: The World’s New Power Elite

West bEgg: the world's new power elite3 Stars

West bEgg: the world’s new power elite centers on the narrative of four main characters; Luca, Anna, Carolina, and La Revolução. The first three characters are assistants working for demanding, ruthless, and utterly annoying bosses, while La Revolução is an architect who works under her own annoying boss as well as beside his self-righteous daughter. The main theme that connects these characters is that they all seem to hate their jobs, and the daily tasks that they are given. All characters and their bosses are brought together at The Fanta Party where, despite endless preparation, disaster strikes out of the blue.

Mari.Reiza does a beautiful job of crafting each character for the reader. While they are all united in their disdain for their bosses and perhaps even depression at their personal lives, the characters are in fact, completely different individuals. Luca knows he is a punching bag and keeps this mantra rolling on repeat throughout the short novel. Anna would never imagine standing up to her boss, and goes out of her way to make sure that everything is perfect, while Carolina is perfectly okay with getting on her boss’ nerves, yet cries to anyone that will listen about how terrible he is. And then we have La Revolução, who seems to be the most interesting out of all these characters. She is not an assistant, but she is tasked with working with Irajá, the boss’ spoiled daughter, who is more trouble than she is worth. In a way, La Revolução is an assistant to Irajá, but her ultimate concern seems to be with ‘living the dream’. This could be acquainted to actually making a difference with her life’s work, rather than building parking lots or destroying properties that act as safe houses for abused women.

Each of the characters’ stories are told through their own point of view in each chapter. The reader will read about Luca’s experience of tending to his boss’ needs, then the next chapter might switch to Carolina crying on the shoulder of a sympathetic listener. The author does a great job of leading the reader up to the moment of The Fanta Party, where all of these characters will meet. However, this is where it falls flat for the reader. As carefully planned as it might have seemed, the party meets with disaster and we find the assistants running around trying to piece everything back to together like always. It seems that the misdoings of each boss has come back to wreak havoc on this party, and the assistants are the ones left to clean up the mess. It’s all very rushed through. I felt that much of the novel detailed the daily workings of each character, only to rush onto the climax of the story and not spend enough time fleshing out what I thought was the most interesting part of the novel. This novel should definitely be applauded for the difficult positions in which it places its characters, but overall, more details and a greater climax would have been welcomed.

I loved the detailed character descriptions and the authors grasp of nuance in character development. West bEgg is a fascinating piece of fiction that colorfully reveals the lives of the upper class.

Pages: 150 | ASIN: B01N4MSUKV

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The Jealous Flock

The Jealous Flock: A Literary Epic in Miniature, 2017 by [Borodin, Ashley]3 Stars

The Jealous Flock by Ashley Borodin is a realistic fiction story that centers around the slightly strained relationship of a married couple and their lives as individuals in partnership and their young adult son. The narrative drops readers directly into the lives of the characters featured and lets you explore their lives and innermost thoughts as they struggle with identity and the maturing of unique ideas. Heavily geared towards deep thinking, challenging societal ideals, and the mass acceptance of those who are different, The Jealous Flock is a story that is designed to open the audience’s mind and heart and think outside of the box.

What seems to be an ordinary, white picket fence family in England takes the spotlight in a vivid narrative from each character’s point of view. Hints of tension between Doris and Martin, a married couple both caught up in their jobs, play their part on their son John who is beginning to phase into his adult life from that of a teenager. As Martin travels to Afghanistan to help stop a potential blood bath with jihadists, Doris is left at home to struggle through the differences in her personal opinions and morals as they pertain to her career in the law as a PR agent. Meanwhile, left behind in his parents own crisis, John quits his respectable job and flees overseas where he hopes to find himself and pursue his passion for photography. In Australia, he follows the steps of his father in participating in protests that aren’t always peaceful to defend Muslims battling hate and discrimination. Here he meets Randall, an unhappy widower pursuing an unusual relationship with a transgender prostitute who is stuck in her own shell of self-hatred.

The relationships in The Jealous Flock are realistic and relatable, breathing life into the characters both on their own and in harmony with their counterparts. The story takes on a political drive with themes of racism, xenophobia, and sexism as strong elements in the plot. Dynamics between the father and son of this story are particularly captivating, as Borodin manages to catch those meaningful moments that happen during the shift from parent to lifelong friend and mentor.

Ashley Borodin makes a strong call to arms to fight against society’s expectation of us in any walk of life. In a way, the author has created a coming-of-age story not just for young adults but for those in later years as well. This story dives deep into your thoughts and twists open the cap on unique thinking and encourages ideas of change and acceptance. The graphic, bold way that the author takes depression and insecurities relatable to everyone is a refreshing breath of life and gives you the chance to realize that you are more than what a shallow skin can provide for you. Though a bit wordy and emotionally daunting, Borodin transcribes a striking narrative that has the ability to strike the hearts of those who yearn for something more than mundane life.

Pages: 66 | ASIN: B01NAPZWB8

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Chasing Ghosts

Chasing Ghosts: a Reckless Perfection by [Francois, Laura]3 Stars

When we’re young, life seems incredibly hard. Things don’t go the way we want, we can’t do the things we want and we don’t understand why things are the way they are. Laura Francois explores all the trappings of teenage angst with Chasing Ghosts, a novel centered on the lives of four teenage girls who are trying to navigate high school, relationships and the pressures of reality. These four girls haven’t had the easiest life as all of them deal with some sort of familial crisis. There’s the girl who is just dying to be seen by her parents as a real human being with feelings, the girl who tenderly wants to have a music career while navigating her father’s shortcomings, the girl who has suffered more heartache than most teenagers and finally the girl who can’t forgive herself for letting her anger control her. These four girls will find their lives woven together for what proves to be an eventful year of their lives.

When writing for young readers it’s important to use language they understand. Francois does this quite well. She uses vernacular that teenagers would be comfortable with and recognize. She uses brands and references that the generation reading this book will understand, but the journey these young women have embarked on is timeless.

Francois doesn’t pull punches with her characters, either. One character in particular has been through hell and back yet it doesn’t feel overwhelming or unrealistic. The lives these women lead are certainly dramatic, as all teenage lives are, but they don’t feel fake. This is a story other young women would feel inspired by, and it resonates with the reader. Francois understands this and crafts something that is dramatic without feeling like you’re watching an unrealistic movie. Everything that happens to these girls could occur in real life. This lends that much more power to the underlying message.

This book is definitely geared towards younger readers and it demonstrates an ability to connect with the generation it is meant to connect with. Chasing Ghosts is a perfect title because all of these young women are certainly chasing after something. Readers will want to follow the journey to the end to see who reaches their goal and who is laid to waste by the very thing they desire.

Pages: 608 | ASIN: B01KELBYU4

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