Category Archives: Reviews Books

Reviews of books by upcoming authors, of older books, and of electronic books either self-published or published by a small press.
Reviews of other books may be found at The Functional Nerds website.

Book Review: Tainted by A.E. Rought

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Tainted, by A. E. Rought, continues the modern Frankenstein story of Alex Franks and his girlfriend, Emma, as they cope with the tragic consequences of Alex’s reanimation. They thought that the ability of Alex’s father to hurt them ended with Dr. Franks death, but the events he set in motion continue to haunt them from beyond the grave. In addition to his weekly shocks and formula treatment, Alex must cope with the machinations of his manipulative ex-girlfriend, Hailey. Brilliant and beautiful, she will do anything to get Alex back – even if that means ruining Emma’s life.

This book gripped me even more than the first book, especially since it broke away from the original Frankenstein story. There are still science fiction elements tied into Ascension labs, but I found this story less predictable than its predecessor. The characters are just as engaging, but the mystery is deeper. Who is really orchestrating the catastrophic events in Alex and Emma’s lives? Is it the the evil ex or perhaps the kindly scientist who looks out for Alex after his father’s death? Every time I thought I had it figured out, the plot took another surprising turn.

Though the stakes are nothing less than life and death, the romance between Alex and Emma heightens the already skyrocketing tension. High School is enough of an emotional rollercoaster without adding a psychotic girlfriend, a mad scientist, and the raging hormones of teenage romance.

Though this is a sequel, Tainted reads just as well as a stand alone. Some references are made to the previous novel, Broken, but they do not stand out as such. Rather, vague references are sprinkled throughout the text, enough to give the reader needed information and remind those already acquainted with book one.

Readers will fall in love with Alex and Emma, cheer them on through their trials and tribulations, and hate the villains passionately. Beautifully written, with a fantastic plot and intriguing characters, Tainted is part science fiction and mystery, with a healthy dose of teenage romance thrown in. Fans of all three genres should enjoy this novel.

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Book Review: Doctor Who – The Silent Stars Go By -by Dan Abnett

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When the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who was imminent, the BBC reissued eleven novels in honor of each incarnation of the famous Time Lord. In The Silent Stars Go By, by Dan Abnett, the eleventh Doctor endeavors to take his traveling companions, Amy and Rory, to their home – meaning Earth – for Christmas.  However, when the TARDIS lands on a planet covered with snow, the Doctor thinks it is “Christmas-y” enough, at least until they get separated and attacked by humans as well as hostile green giants with glowing red eyes and ray guns. Then they must reunite with each other and save themselves – as well as the other inhabitants of the planet.

This is a fairly easy read for anyone already familiar with the BBC phenomenon and its trappings. The Doctor’s time-traveling ship, the TARDIS, takes them to a destination other than their intended one, with sufficient peril and excitement to keep the pages turning. The companions, Rory and Amy, stay true to form, and Doctor number eleven is his usual, snarky self, complete with catchphrases and ramblings about the nature of their predicament. The banter between the characters remains on par with what fans of Doctor Who have come to expect.

The Ice Warriors make incredibly intimidating villains, yet remain someone that the Doctor feels he can possibly reason with. The description of the villains is bone-chilling, especially when seen through the eyes of the world’s human population – the Morphans.  However, the peaceful Morphans’ strange blend of space- and rural-technology belies their seeming ignorance of worlds beyond their own, and the individual Morphans are almost completely sympathetic. Do they stand a chance against such an advanced foe?

As a re-release, the novel came with an abundance of material before the story even began. This might deter some readers – who can simply skip ahead about a dozen pages, but for others it might provide useful insight into the creation of the book. Fellow Whovians should find this story an enjoyable read, with lots of twists and turns, classic Who-villains, beloved companions, and plenty of wit to go around.

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Book Review: Cinder by Marissa Meyer

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Cinder by Marissa Meyer updates the fairytale of Cinderella with a scifi twist. Cinder is a cyborg mechanic, working to pay the bills for her resentful stepmother and her two stepsisters. While her stepmother and stepsisters are getting ready to attend the Eastern Commonwealth’s annual festival, Cinder is more concerned with manufacturing her escape from bondage and avoiding the cyborg draft. The last thing she wants is to “volunteer” as a cyborg guinea pig for plague research. Yet when the plague comes to her city, protecting the people she cares about while staying alive are her top priorities. Meanwhile, the Lunar Queen threatens Earth with war. Amid all the turmoil and upheaval, the last thing on her mind is attending the festival and dancing with the prince. So why can’t she get him out of her mind?

Far from the disneyfied version of Cinderella most Westerners grow up with, Cinder worries about whether the plague will devastate her home and whether she’ll be drafted to contract the plague – an almost certainly lethal “opportunity” to help find a cure. She dreams of escape, the same as her other fairytale counterparts, except her escape would be from literal – not figurative – slavery to her stepmother.

Cyborgs deal with prejudice and social ostracism because they aren’t considered fully human; for that matter, the inhabitants of the moon are no longer human. After so many generations, the one-time human colonists evolved and developed strange powers over the minds of others. The similarity between both groups is striking. Both are no longer considered human and are despised by Earthers when those very differences are actually strengths. Earthbound humans loath Lunars because they fear them, denigrate cyborgs because their artificial nature disgusts them.

Cinder is the best mechanic in the city, for reasons she tries to keep hidden – her cyborg nature. So when the prince brings her a robot to repair, she passes as a regular human while using her internal sensors and readouts to access information and even tell when people are lying. She hides her strengths for fear of rejection.

However, the Lunar Queen has no such qualms. She knows her strengths and doesn’t hesitate to let Earthers know her opinions. Even though the original Cinderella doesn’t have a wicked witch or evil queen, the Lunar Queen fills both roles quite nicely. So many fairy tales share those elements anyway that it doesn’t seem out of place, but the fact that Earth is continually threatened by the Queen of the Moon is too cool for words.

In fact, almost every female character is strong and independent, good and bad alike, even Cinder. Given her victim status, she can’t seem to win, but she sticks up for herself whenever possible and never gives up on her dream of living free. Despite her hardships, she stays true to herself – kind and, despite society’s opinion of cyborgs, achingly human.

From early on it was apparent that a particular plot twist was coming, though a certain amount of predictability should be expected when retelling a well-known tale. Given the strength of the characters and the extraordinary world, there are plenty of new things to discover along the way. Cinder is a delight that fans of fairytales and science fiction won’t want to miss.

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Book Review: Last God Standing by Michael Boatman

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Last God Standing, by Michael Boatman, tells the story of Lando Calrissian Cooper (yes, really), the former Abrahamic God Yahweh, who has given up his divinity to become completely human. And a stand-up comedian. He’s got crazy parents and a beautiful girlfriend, and his best friend is his agent. Things would be going so well for him if only the other defunct gods would leave him alone. Instead, he’s constantly attacked and forced to defend himself and the innocent humans around him.

I really wanted to like this book. I’m a mythology buff by nature with a penchant for goofy humor, so I assumed the story would be just my thing. That’s what made the first hundred (of roughly 300) pages so painful to read. He uses many stereotypes to insult political affiliations, religious beliefs, and different ethnicities. I kept thinking that it was satirical, but I still found his writing both offensive and distinctly unfunny.

His humor is over-the-top silly, and considering the main character is a comedian, that is not a good thing. There is even some racist language, on top of the fat jokes, slut jokes, and political jokes. Actually, the political jokes would have been fine if they had been intelligent, instead of just painting extremes for the sole purpose of mocking them.

I didn’t think Lando, aka the former God of Abraham, Yahweh, acted like… well, anything at all like a former God. He wasn’t wise or insightful and didn’t resemble Himself from the Bible. Perhaps one of the other Abrahamic religions might find his character more consistent, but I’m not familiar enough with them to make that judgement. Basically, the humanized Yahweh was just an idiotic young man seeking a career in comedy.

The author’s political and social views, as reflected in the character of Lando, are painfully obvious and, at times, a bit preachy. Since the character’s personality is so contrary to popular, religious interpretation, I kept expecting an explanation for the difference, and I waited for one for a very long time.

But after those first hundred pages, something happens. Characters start making intelligent observations about the world they live in and asking questions without obvious answers. I began to overlook the flaws and enjoy the humor I found so annoying in the beginning. I couldn’t say I loved it yet, but I was hooked and cared about the characters, even the annoying ones.  Heck, ESPECIALLY the annoying ones.

Soon enough the conflicts escalate with worlds in the balance. The pages weren’t turning quick enough. What I had thought, from its unpromising beginning, would be a terrible book I had to slog through to write a review turned into an insightful and intelligent comedy of divine proportions. As much as I hated the beginning of this novel, by its conclusion I loved it.

I hope there’s a sequel.

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Book Review: The Enceladus Crisis: Book Two of the Daedalus Series by Michael J. Martinez

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The Enceladus Crisis: Book Two of the Daedalus Series by Michael J. Martinez is the tale of two dimensions haunted by the threat of dead martians coming back to attack their living enemies. The book begins with the defeat of the Martian warlord, Althotas, and the indication of his possible return from death. The two dimensions take place simultaneously, yet oddly years apart. One takes place about 150 years in the future of a universe like our own. Astronauts travel to Saturn and its moons by using technology; there are no other humanoid lifeforms in this timeline. However, in the alternate past dimension, it is the year 1798 and sailors travel the ‘Void’ in wooden ships by alchemical means. Alien life in that solar system is prolific. In both universes, things begin to go awry for travelers to Saturn’s moons, and the contrasts and similarities make for an interesting story.

In both dimensions, Egyptian history and mythology are given a science-fiction twist, with alternate explanations for ancient gods and goddesses. The Emerald Tablet and the Book of the Dead also feature heavily in the plot. Rich backstories are revealed for the characters, endearing the heroes and showing villains which – though not exactly likable – have panache. I genuinely cared about what happened to them.

However,  the chapters alternate between the two timelines so that just as I became immersed in one dimension, its characters, and their worlds, the focus would switch to the alternate timeline.  This made it difficult to recapture the tension of the previous situation and retain the same interest in the characters. Several plot points were also evident early in the narrative, though the climax was still well worth the build-up.

Frequent references to the previous book’s plot are made through flashbacks, memories, and briefings, so that readers are reminded there is a much larger story. Though there are several loose threads left at the end, the main plots are sufficiently resolved so that readers should not feel cheated.

Though this is the second book in a series, it reads well as a stand-alone. Science fiction lovers, especially those with a penchant for fantasy and Egyptian mythology, will find this a fun read.

 

 

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Book Review: Hogfather by Terry Pratchett

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In Terry Pratchett‘s Hogfather, the Discworld’s equivalent of Santa goes missing on Hogswatchnight, and Death fills in during his absence. The skeletal manifestation of Death goes from house to house on a pig-driven sleigh, climbing down chimneys and filling stockings with toys for children. Meanwhile, the Discworld’s wizards and Death’s own granddaughter, Susan, try to discover what happened to the Hogfather and how to get him back.

This book is funny. Pratchett makes witty parallels between our world’s Christmas season, economy, and mentality and those of the Discworld. Death, a grim character who speaks in ALL CAPS,  is fascinated by human behavior and tends to take things literally, so when he fills in for the Hogfather on his busiest night of the year, the situation rapidly complicates with humorous results.

The Hogfather’s disappearance provided sufficient mystery, especially in the first few pages when it becomes apparent an enigmatic customer has hired the Assassin’s Guild to eliminate him. Who would have a grudge against the Hogfather? What possible motivation could there be, and was it even possible to kill him?

Even the villains are engaging. Mr. Teatime is a non-sympathetic, yet totally riveting character. Incredibly cold-hearted, too messy to be liked among his fellow assassins, he nevertheless takes a peculiar pride in his work. Next to him, the other murderous characters are lovable – or at least humorously incompetent.

Other characters further draw the reader in. Death’s human granddaughter (long story), Susan, is a nanny feared among the monsters that hide under children’s beds and in their closets. Death does his best to perform a job for which he is ill-suited, and the wizards of Unseen University attempt to celebrate Hogswatchnight with a great feast – despite constant “distractions.” The Discworld abounds with colorful characters.

I did find some of the minor mysteries a bit confusing, but not so much that they drew me out of the story. By the end, almost everything is explained, though I confess I looked up one thing in particular because I missed the joke.

As with other Discworld books, familiarity with the series is not necessary to understand the book. The novel holds up well on its own. Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather is enjoyable year round.

 

 

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Book Review: Mind Noise by Helen Howell

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Helen Howell’s Mind Noise, from Crooked Cat Publishing, tells the story of a young boy afflicted with telepathy. Unable to shut out the din of the thoughts of people around him, Mikey avoids contact with others as much as possible. Though he longs to connect with others, their thoughts constantly invade his mind causing him both physical and mental distress. However, when he meets an old man who promises to teach him how to control his “gift”, the offer seems too good to be true. Can he master the old man’s lessons and lead a normal life?

The old man, who calls himself Mr. Brown, offers to teach him how to shut out the mental noise of other people so he’s not constantly bombarded by their thoughts. Mikey, seeing the chance to fit in with other children, jumps at the chance. But the lessons include much more than that, and Mikey becomes more powerful as his psychic abilities grow.

However, it soon seems the old man has a sinister purpose, and since the boy can’t read HIS thoughts, he does not suspect what is hidden beneath the old man’s kindness. Also, he develops feelings for his new friend, Catherine -who may be more than she appears.

I immediately empathized with Mikey as the social outcast. I think most people would, since almost everyone has felt picked on at some point in their childhood. He avoids others through a necessity to preserve himself, although he longs to be part of the group; even by avoiding contact with other children, he brings unwanted attention on himself from the school bully. The character felt very real and emotionally charged. I wanted him to master those lessons, defeat the bully, get the girl, and I really wanted the seemingly kind old man to be his friend.

The characters are very well developed throughout the story. The girl’s background unfolds naturally through her interaction with Mikey and her own family. Even though I was horrified by the old man’s past, I could see his point of view and understand his rationalization to himself. I didn’t empathize, but I did understand.

The plot is quick-paced, with enough twists and turns to satisfy my appetite for the unexpected. Also, as an American, I found some of the cultural differences interesting – particularly when he would have a marmite and cheese sandwich or a glass of orange squash. The one thing I was mildly annoyed by was that the mothers always seemed to be cooking, though it did serve to highlight the cultural meal differences between England* and the U.S. However, as far as the plot was concerned, I honestly didn’t see the end coming until almost the last page. I thoroughly enjoyed this novella, and I hope others will also.

 

*Though the author currently resides in Australia, she draws on her experience in English cooking for the novella.

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Book Review: Confessions of a Not-So-Good Catholic Girl by Deanna Adams

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In Confessions of a Not-So-Good Catholic Girl, author Deanna Adams recounts the important events of her life and the lessons she learned from them. The series of autobiographical essays begins dramatically with a near death experience at the tender age of five, takes the reader through all the highs and lows of her life, and comes full circle back to the beginning. True to the title, each new chapter begins with a confession of the author’s feelings, actions, and point of view, not always flattering but always honest. Reading this book was like reading a diary, and after you’ve finished you feel like you’ve made a friend.

The collection is divided into three parts: Life, etc., then Love, and finally Legacies. Part One deals with her trials and tribulations of growing up from a young girl in a small town being raised by a single mother, through her turbulent teen years, learning to live on her own, and finding the love of her life. In Part Two, she delves into more detail about the people she loves, friends, family, and especially her children. Finally, in Part Three, the author reflects on the lessons of her life.

One of the things I enjoyed most about this book was the humor; Deanna Adams is able to laugh at herself as she looks at the foibles of her past, while still capturing the essence of those times. I identified with aspects of her life. I’ve never worked in a biker bar, shoplifted, or gotten a divorce; yet I empathized with trying to fit in as a teenager, and who hasn’t lost a loved one or worried about being a good parent? She doesn’t hold anything back, and by sharing those experiences, she shares a common bond with women everywhere.

One thing I did not expect was the role that music played in the book, though perhaps it shouldn’t have come as a surprise from the author of Rock ‘n’ Roll and the Cleveland Connection. Music sets moods and captures memories; it frames snapshots in everyone’s life, and I didn’t realize how much until I delved into this collection.

Though the title indicates some religious background, none is needed to enjoy the material. There are some passages where she discusses her beliefs as a wayward teen and lapsed Catholic. She shares her spiritual journey. However, the book is entertaining, not preachy.

Confessions of a Not-So-Good Catholic Girl is primarily a light-hearted and bittersweet tale of mothers and daughters that women will be sure to enjoy in years to come. Don’t hesistate to pick up a copy for yourself.

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Review (Short Story): Mysteries Unite by Victoria Bending

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In 2007, inspired by the prompt ‘Mysteries Unite,” Victoria Bending (@MetalWings) wrote this short story. Not only did it win the competition (to write a story titled ‘Mysteries Unite’), but the narrative itself has become the prologue of a much longer work.

Cleris and his adopted sister, Ashe, dream of magic and faries in a world where none exist. Cleris’s father wants his son to focus his intellect on more practical matters rather than flights of the imagination, yet Cleris refuses to give up his dreams. When he spots a falling star in the heavens near their home, will he have the chance to make those dreams come true?

I’ve never read anything by this author before, but the writing style reminded me strongly of Susan Cooper, author of the fantasy, The Dark is Rising.The characters are expertly written, questions are raised, and the reader is drawn inexorably along into the story’s mystery.

If you enjoy short fiction with fantastic elements and engaging characters, you should download your free epub of ‘Mysteries Unite’ by Victoria Bending. You might just become a fan.

*image courtesy of bigfoto.com

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Book Review: I Know You Know by Helen A. Howell

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In ‘I Know You Know‘, Helen A. Howell tells the story of 21 year old Janice, a young woman who reads Tarot cards with almost 100% accuracy. However, when she reads the cards of a serial killer, he realizes she’s seen his secret in the cards. Will her gift save her from the hands of a cold hearted murderer?

Though this novella is rather short, the author filled the pages with rich and vibrant characters. Janice reads cards because it gives her a way of connecting with her deceased grandmother. The killer, Edgar, craves a much darker connection through the Tarot. Both Janice and Edgar hear the voices of lost family members, and while Edgar is quite obviously disturbed, the same isn’t true of Janice. Is she mad as well or merely tuned in to her grandmother’s gift?

The climactic ending was unexpected yet satisfying. I highly recommend this book for a short, enticing read. Enjoy!

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