Sunday, December 30, 2012

ChockaBlock With Puns and Little Green Aliens

First Paragraph:

"It would be fair to say that Tenalp, being the remotest of Earth's colony planets, had never attracted the finest minds. All the best people - the most intelligent, the most creative and the most highly skilled - has settled elsewhere, leaving Tenalp with what was left. So it was no surprise that many of the planet's inhabitants, particularly those at the higher levels of authority, were somewhat lacking in brilliance or, in Tenalp parlance, as dumb as a bag of bricks."

The Ultimate Inferior Beings by Mark Roman is a funny little, sci-fi find. Starting out on Tenalp (one of Earth's remotest colony planets) we meet jixX, a landscape architect who has unwillingly found himself the captain of a mission into space to discover why another spaceship (The Living Chrysalis) crashed.

JixX will be captaining the Night Ripple, a dangerously obsolete ship, whose greatest asset is LEP- the ship's computer- and the wonders his in-built wit-box provide him with. JixX's crew consists of four others; fluX the behavioural chemist- who is trying to prove the existence of God through puns; twaX the carpenter- who has never seen a real tree and dreams of chopping one down; anaX the gynaecologist with strange habits and finally sylx the professional stowaway- whose job it is to find real stowaways.

Together they battle to find a way home safely, with or without the others, and end up in just the kind of mishaps you can imagine. Whether it's because LEP has no sense of direction or just down to bad luck, they end up off target and at the mercy of green alien blobs (nicknamed the Mamms- as in Mammaliens). 

Maybe you've noticed, but all the names end in capital X, start with a lowercase letter and have four letters in total. This isn't really relevant to the review, I just thought I'd throw that little observation in. Also, there are a lot of puns in this book. Personally, I enjoy a good pun, but those of you who don't like that kind of humour should be warned. As for me, I found them hilarious, especially in context and with the other characters reactions to add to it. 

JixX is you're average grumpy, Englishman (is he English?) to me. He even reminded me a little of Arthur Dent (from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy), but make no mistake, they are not the same person. Only small elements are similar. He had his own enjoyable personality.

I really liked anaX's character as well. I won't give anything away, but when you find out why she did what she did, it just adds the cherry on top of the "quirky" character pie.

At the end of the book we get a little glossary and a few appendixes, mostly about the history of the Mamms. They explain a little more about how they evolved and where Benjaminism came from. That's a religion by the way, in fact it's every religion they created ever.

The only criticism I have is that the ending was a bit abrupt. That and the plot felt a little thin- but then who says there even needs to be a plot? Some of the most successful books out there have no plot whatsoever. But if you are someone who likes plot, it's something to keep in mind. I would recommend it. It's an enjoyably good tale for any sic-fi lovers out there.

Disclaimer: I received this book from the author through a giveaway. This is not a sponsored review. All opinions are 100% my own.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Vampires are Perverts and Detention Will Rob You Of Your Mind

The Complete Monster Exchange Program by Terri Bogard is a collection of humorous stories about monsters in an average, human high school. There are sixteen tales in total, ranging from two serial killers debating which one of them should have the rights to a popular teen spot, the lament of the invisible boy or Bigfoot desperately wanting people to notice him, these stories are quirky and full of comedic moments. Terri Bogard seems to especially enjoy turning our views on their sides. An example would be with a witches' mother, whose worried her daughter doesn't dress enough like a "whore of Satan" and that she'll be uncorrupted at a normal high school. Something we can all relate to, right?

There are a lot of sexual references in pretty much every one of these stories, so if that's not for you I'm giving due warning. Personally, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I got a little laugh out of the creative names for characters, such as Johnny Heartthrob and Darla Sweetheart- the generic prom king and queen couple, Cleats Longshot as the quarterback or Snaps Viewfinder- the captain of the yearbook committee.

Some of the stories intertwine, while still being consistent and it's fun to see how some of the characters from previous stories turn out in later ones or are viewed by other people. Each tale has its own cover illustration (courtesy of Andi Bogard) and a few stories are written by guest writers (including one by Andi Bogard himself).

This collection is funny, has some interesting alternate takes on reality and goes out of its way to be so stereotypically "high school" that you can't help but enjoy it. I would recommend it to anyone who wants a good laugh, likes "slice of life" stories or supernatural/paranormal tales. There are some interesting takes on urban legends that are not to be missed.

Disclaimer: I received this book from the author through a giveaway. This is not a sponsored review. All opinions are 100%my own.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Good Old-Fashioned, Killer Vampires Take Over the World

     First Paragraph:

"By 2125 the world had been overthrown by monsters dubbed Century Vampires. Some kind of mutation in the human genome gave rise to the first ones, or so the scientists suspected. Vamps spent the first one-hundred years of their existence growing in number --some born, some turned --all deadly. They wreaked havoc for the past eight-three years."

Midnight: Century of Vampires by Ami Blackwelder is the first novella in the Century of Vampires Trilogy. It centres around Aura and Mark, two survivors fighting to keep it that way.

It's the year 2125 and vampires have taken over the world. They rule from 6pm to 6am and the only "safe" way to fight is bombing them as they sleep. No one is sure how vampires came to be, but some suspect there was a mutation to the human genome. Survivors are forced to hold down fort in abandoned buildings in small groups, hiding the twelve hours vampires hunt.

Our two protagonists have pretty similar backstories (as do all the survivors). Aura's mother was killed 5 years previously and her brother was taken and never seen again. She never knew her father. Mark's parents were killed when he was ten and his sister killed five years later.

The vampires of this world are more like the original vampires literature used to create than the ones around nowadays, in that they are dangerous killers. They sleep like bats, living in caves and hanging from the ceiling. They only become "beautiful" and "celestial" at midnight, appearing hollow skinned and creature-like before then. Their flesh rots on their bones and their eyes glow red.

Scattered throughout are a few illustrations, which are nice enough. Full-coloured illustrations for those interested.

I did find this book a little confusing, nothing is really explained and it just felt a little rushed. I don't know if questions will be answered in later parts though. I still found the story interesting. It's not really anything new, but then it doesn't have to be. I fully intend on reading the next two parts and (as novellas) they'll be quick enough reads.

One final issue, if you buy the kindle version, do NOT read the book club questions at the end as they hold definite spoilers- though reading them I found a few points predictable, especially if you're familiar at all with this genre.

If you like dystopian worlds, dangerous vampires and young adult books why not give this a try?

Disclaimer: I was sent this book by the author through a giveaway. This is not a sponsored review. All opinions are 100% my own.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

A Haunting Tale of One Boy's Desire to Overcome Adversity, Find His Passion and Protect His Family

   First Paragraph:

"Mama always said Amal was mischievous. It was a joke we shared as a family- that my sister, just a few years old and shaky on her pudgy legs, had more energy for life than me and my younger brother Abbas combined. So when I went to check on her and she wasn't in her crib, I felt a fear in my heart that gripped me and would not let go."

The Almond Tree by Michelle Cohen Corasanti is a beautifully written story told from the point of view of Ichmad Hamid. Told in four parts (and spanning decades) it begins with a seven-year old Ichmad making us painfully aware of real horrors and what loss really means. From the first page the reader is fully aware it's not a story for the light-hearted. 

Living as a Palestinian in an Jewish Israeli controlled village, we start off in the 1950's, with Ichmad describing the horrofic circumstances and achingly real terror he feels living with soldiers that could destroy him and everything he loves at any given moment. 

Through the decades he grows and struggles with his emotions and assumptions of others. He has spent his life being threatened, hurt and watching all he loves being taken by Israeli Jews that he can't trust them and deeply fears them. As he learns more of the world with time, he begins to accept that not all Israelis are as he perceived them. However, his family is firmly agains the idea and Ichmad is so bound by obligation and duty to his family, so driven by it, that they motivate his every action. Fear confines him, but passion for his work and love drive him forward. He must come to terms and fully understand his hatred for a race with which the only contact he ever had was controlling, aggressive and cruel. The people who continuously robbed him of everything he had.

Ichmad has a unique gift. He is a mathematical genius and devotes his life to his cause, to his desire to learn, but he struggles to educate his family, to support them, especially his brother Abbas, whose hatred for Israelis Ichmad can never manage to overcome. His world is at war, Israel is in ruins and people are forced to live in wreckage and poverty. Living in a time when Palestinians hate the Jewish and Jewish Israelis hate the Palestinian Arabs, his life is constantly in turmoil. His younger self never feels safe, never has enough to eat and can only watch as his family suffers.

A beautiful, heart-wrenching story. An educational and painfully real look into the life of a Palestinian boy living under an Israeli regime in the 50's, still trying to break free decades later. He inspires us all. Rising out of the ashes to find his passion and save his family, constantly hitting walls and having to rebuild from scratch, always returning to his symbol of hope- the constant presence of an almond tree by his childhood home. Haunting and not to be missed.

Disclaimer: I received this book from the author through a giveaway. This is not a sponsored review. All opinions are 100% my own.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Beware of Walking Your Dog, You May Find a Body

First Paragraph:

"It all started when my dog didn't come back to me. We had gone for our usual walk before bed, turning away from the rest of the houses on Wistler Road and heading out into the country. I let Wendy wander off leash and she trotted up on ahead. It was a beautiful spring night, the air soft and sweet from an earlier shower, delicious except for the whiff of cattle manure wafting in from the ranches outside of town. But I didn't mind. It was a small price to pay for living in the Rocky Mountain Foothills. There were no street lights on this stretch of road, so I took my time and watched my step."

Amazon / 

Road Kill by CM Spencer is a cozy mystery set in Chinook, a small town in Canada. We follow the life of Anna Nolan, starting with (while out walking her dog) literally stumbling across the body of her estranged ex-husband (Jack)- and then immediately being found my a local cop over said body. 

Evidence against her piles up and Anna has real reason to investigate his death. Which is to say, so she can prove her innocence. However- as she puts it- she's more of a liability to the police, bumbling around and damaging her case. Not only that, it puts her on Sergeant Charles Tremaine's (a British investigator brought in for the case) bad side. Constantly getting in his way and on his nerves. 

As her life unravels and she struggles to find not only Jack's killer, but also peace after memories best left forgotten resurface. When she had been married to Jack, he had had a string of affairs. Anna's response had been to look the other way. Her reason was simple. She now had a son and no steady job or income. Without Jack to provide either, she would have to live of welfare. So instead she turned a blind eye until, years later, she finally draws the line and ends it. Now four years after that, her determination to find his killer leads her to meeting some of his past affairs. There are suspects galore and she's determined to find the guilty party.

Of course there are obstacles along the way. Meeting some of the women your husband cheated on you with is no small task, let alone trying to surreptitiously question them about his murder. Talk of Jack also brings to light his situation with Ben, Anna and Jack's 19 year old son. Having had no contact with his father for years, he is dealing with abandonment issues, hatred of the man his father had been and also love of the man who was the only father he had.

There are humorous attempts on Anna's part to ferret out the killer and prove herself to the police, especially Charles Tremaine. As a cozy mystery, it's a pretty light-hearted read. Though usually cozy mysteries have two points of interest- the murder and a subject the protagonist is passionate about. Generally, these will be tea rooms, flower shops or similar things to which the murder takes a back-seat. However, in this book the cozy mystery feel comes from the same writing style as with Agatha Christie books. They tell of grisly murders and yet somehow are pleasant to read, hence "cozy" mystery.

The ending is entertainingly Bond-ish. We have a dramatic villain who spouts all the usual cliches, even finishing off with an I'm-going-to-have-to-kill-you-now statement. Enjoyable to read nevertheless. The only criticism I have is that the story can be a little slow moving at times. Cozy mysteries often rely upon a second point of focus to help keep interest as the murder investigation takes place. As I said earlier, that doesn't happen here and the result is a missing second focus point. However, we do have some side-stories and entertaining events, so it's certainly not a reason not to read this book.

If you're looking for a good cozy mystery, a little bit of romance or just a nice read this is great for you. 

Disclaimer: This book was sent to me by the author through a giveaway. This is not a sponsored review. All opinions are 100% my own.

Monday, December 10, 2012

A Darker Side of Humanity

  First Paragraph:

  "Bartolo Aguilar squatted beside a rutted dirt road in the Anza-Borrego Desert, two hours east of San Diego, and savoured the emotional and spiritual insanity of the woman who was watching the dying girl spasming in the sand, gurgling and frothing, her bloodshot eyes rolled up in her head so that they looked like a pair of crimson moons."

The Black Song Inside by Carlyle Clark and Suki Michelle focuses on two recently engaged private investigators (Atticus and Rosemary) who find themselves "up to their necks in it" involved with the Tijuana drug cartel.

Set in San Diego, their story begins with Atticus' old flame asking for his help solving the execution style murder of her boyfriend. Unfortunately for our protagonists, this puts them in direct sight of some very dangerous people, all of whom will stop at nothing to get what they (or their very powerful bosses) want.

Meanwhile, both our leading roles have their own problems to deal with. Atticus had a traumatic childhood and grew up as an African-American dealing with a lot of bigotry, whilst Rosemary had a dysfunctional family, an aggressive, violent brother and a tour in Iraq that left her with PTSD and a missing right leg, as well as panic attacks when she gets behind the wheel.

Together, they must try to solve the murder, figure out who's after them and why, try to survive the entire Tijuana Crime Cartel (as well as various other threats) baying for their blood and keep their relationship together. In one corner we have a man known as "The Priest", who has founded his own religion and is the sole member of what he calls the Church of the Aloned. His only goal is to open the eyes of humanity to the farce that is civilisation in his eyes, break them down and make them rely on the only thing that matters- instinct. He has no mercy and cares for no one. The entire Bible of the Church of Aloned consists of a map he found as a child soldier in the jungles of Colombia, with the words "Beyond Here Be Monsters" scrawled on the edge, which he took to heart.

The big players in the cartel itself are Armando Villanueva, Lieutenant to the head of the cartel- Ferdinand Del Castillo- who himself runs the entire drug empire for Tijuana Cartel. Aside from these threats, we also have Rosemary's angry brother (who happens to have his own gang- Los Lobos Locos) gunning for Atticus' blood out of pure hate of the man.

Out of all the antagonists I found The Priest the most terrifying. Whereas the rest of them are doing it for money, power or hate, The Priest is simply doing it out of obsession. It's clear he's not completely on the rails, but how far off them is unclear. He has the same masochistic rituals that are reminiscent of the priest from the Da Vinci Code. He scrubs himself down with pumice and does intense exercises that he calls "worshipping". The character himself is very different from the Da Vinci Code priest though- apart from both being religious fanatics who seems to have a thing for S&M.

The story starts off slowly and begins to pick up pace, building more and more tension as we reach the end. There are many different plots going on at once, so some get sidelined a little at times, but they are all brought crashing together for the finale.

The ending itself is well done, full of seat-gripping tension and with an ambiguousness that leaves you not completely at ease.

A great thriller, murder-mystery novel for anyone who isn't turned away by violence, bad language  or  the gritty realism that comes from telling a story filled with drug rings, human trafficking and murder.

Disclaimer: This book was given to me by the authors through a giveaway. This is not a sponsored review. All opinions are 100% my own.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Woke Up in Medieval England as a Fox?

                                                       First Paragraph:   

"She ran. There was a roaring in her ears. Her legs moved leadenly. She willed them to move faster, but they merely staggered uselessly. Fear had robbed her of coordination. Time slowed. She was shaking. She knew she wouldn't get away, couldn't get away. Tina pushed her. She stumbled backwards, legs trembling. There was nowhere to go. Her fear was a kind of sickness in her mouth. Tina's thin, pinched face was contorted into a mask of spite. Tina's face was centimetres from her own face. It blotted out everything. Tina grabbed a hank of hair, right near the scalp. It shocked her; rough hands, the strength of Tina's hands."


Hunted by N. M. Browne is a book I discovered in my early teens. I would say the intended audience is younger readers and young adult, but I still enjoy it almost ten years on. The only thing is that the writing can seem a little young at times, but the fascinating and unusual story more than make up for it.

We follow two main characters, Karen and Mowl, as the narrative brings them together in a very original way. Though Karen is the true main character, the story is told from both their points of view, alternately switching between the two. I know sometimes that can be irritating, but it works in this book.

The story starts with Karen (in modern England) being chased by a group of girls, ultimately ending up with her in a coma. She wakes up in a different world ( a very ambiguous one at that) as a fox. She is still herself, but her memories are fractured and she can't remember anything distinctly. This means that she survives through her fox instincts, which can so strong that they completely drown out her own thoughts and feelings. Also, though this world has some magic realism, as a fox she cannot speak or understand human speech. As you can imagine, this makes the whole situation a lot worse and very difficult for her to deal with. I can't even begin to wonder what the mind would go through waking up in a different world and time (as this second world is set in the past, in what I guess is medieval England) as a fox and on top of all that, no longer being able to communicate.

Across her travels, she meets and is befriended by Mowl, a shepherd boy in his teens. Mowl becomes hunted by the Militia, as they believe his estranged father (Mowl being an orphan with no knowledge of his family) killed the king. As his son, Mowl is also blamed. 

Together, Mowl and Karen must find their way through a world in a state of oppression, where talk of  revolution clings to the air and any suspected are hanged for treason and their loved ones hurt and killed. The king is under the influence of his advisor. The Militia is vast, strong and ruthless, killing without qualm.

Magic of a kind exists in this world, but more on a spiritual level. There are Adepts that can sense things on a higher plane and also sense peoples' emotions and desires. Some also believe in awls- beings from a higher tier who briefly visit their world. However, the king and his Purple Path are working to wipe all this out, building temples and charging taxes to make people believe there is nothing beyond their own world and killing all those who disagree. Rebellion is a whisper in the breeze, as many cannot survive the harsh winters with the new taxes.

The world itself, as I stated earlier, is ambiguous. We get small snippets of Karen is hospital from her grandparents' point of view, so it's unclear whether the second world is real or just a dream Karen is having during her coma.

Hunted is a great read, the characters are real and throughout the story the tension is constant and building. My only real criticism is that the ending is a little abrupt. I won't spoil it, but I would've liked to know just a little more than is given, but on the whole it's a great book. If you don't like books for younger audiences, but are interested in the premise, try checking it out of the library. I would definitely recommend Hunted. It was one of my favourites when I was younger and still holds a special place for me.