Friday, 17 November 2017

BOOK REVIEW: Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut; The Aberration, by Bard Constantine; Dreadnought Rising, by Tom Hart; Lineage: Of Blood, by CH Clepitt; The Dragon Warrior of Kri, by Lyra Shanti; The Marunkoff Equation, by Victor Acquista

It's been an awkward couple of weeks for reviews - in that my three-month-old Kindle died, pesky thing! So a couple of books slipped down the review list until I have a replacement, and a couple moved on up - including one classic book, Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five, which I'd never read before. It rounds out this week's review roster below. Do I think it deserves its classic status? Read on...

The Aberration, by Bard Constantine


One of the things I really enjoy about Stephen King's writing is his sense of place. He paints his location well - from the horror-filled neighbourhoods of Castle Rock to the mist-shrouded supermarket surrounded by creatures from another dimension. Bard Constantine captures that same sense with this novella, in which the inhabitants of a flour mill find themselves trapped by supernatural beings out for their blood. 
Their only hope is one of their colleagues, who is more than he seems, and whose returning memory of years of facing the Others may be their only chance of survival. 
This is a cracking read, a tight thrill-ride that leaves you wanting more. The style of writing is more Koontz than King, though, with the kind of gooey bloodbath that compares to the gruesome fates in Phantoms and more. 
It is a novella - so on the short side, we don't get to dwell too long with these characters here, which is really the only shame. Other Bard Constantine books return to this world, though, so consider it a taste of the setting that leaves you licking your fingers and wanting more. 

AI Rating: 4/5

Aberration is available here.


Dreadnought Rising, by Tom Hart

Indie fiction can be great. This year, I've read so many books that I would never have discovered if I had just limited myself to mainstream publishing. However, there remains a stigma in the eyes of some readers - and this book, sadly, is an example of why. Dreadnought Rising desperately needed better editing before it was released. There are typos and grammar problems every other page - sometimes every other paragraph - but more than that, there are structural problems with the shape of the story that a good editor could have assisted with. 
There is a story in there - it's a tale in which China invades Australia while the US stands by impotent, held at bay by the threat of an alien earthquake machine in the hands of the Chinese - while in deep space, power brokers in alien civilisations make their own moves. But the way it is written strains credibility. The whole process of how the Chinese got hold of the device is related in a chapters-long conversation between an Australian and a US ambassador, for example, during which the Australian is also told of earthquakes that shattered parts of Africa and Cuba that somehow he knew nothing about, and a concerted US attack on China negated by alien technology that, again, the senior figure in Australian government had no clue had taken place. 
Elsewhere, the conflict with Australia is on one hand dismissed as a minor concern by the Chinese leaders with minimal casualties then we're told of multiple ships sunk by a single submarine. Meanwhile, armed Chinese soldiers somehow miss an unarmed character at close range who overwhelms them by running at them. In short, it's a bit of a mess. 
What really put me off most of all though was the way in which the female characters seemed to be little more than adornments or sex objects. The moment during a firefight when one SAS soldier admires how sexy his female comrade looks in her leather pants and firing her little Uzi was a particular low point. 
Could the book have been saved by proper editing? Perhaps - but given the way it treats most of its female characters, I'm not sure it deserves to be saved. 

AI Rating: 1/5

Dreadnought Rising is available here


Lineage: Of Blood, by CH Clepitt

I'm a fan of CH Clepitt's short fiction series - particularly her Crew Chronicles, and her Lineage series is a fairly new addition to her repertoire. It's a story of vampires but in a modern-day landscape of gangs, drugs and abusive relationships. Emma is our central character, met in the opening story Lineage, as she discovers her new vampire family. Of Blood takes that story on, as that family sets about finding a new home, and revealing some of the background that brought the characters to where they are now. 
There's a real sense of a family forming here, and people beginning to offer trust as they get to know one another, even when such trust has been broken before. I suspect this piece is more a step in the journey than the major goal of the series itself - so I'm looking forward to where we go next. 
By the way, I'm not keen on the cover personally - but it is very much a characteristic of the author's work. Give the Look Inside feature a peek, her writing is worth it. 

AI Rating: 4/5

Lineage: Of Blood is available here.


The Dragon Warrior of Kri, by Lyra Shanti

This novella is a slice of life from Lyra Shanti's Shiva XIV saga. I've not read that - but this stands alone on its own merit regardless, introducing us to a younger version of the character Meddhi from that series, at a time of his life when he is forging his reputation as a warrior. 
It's a quick read - and fun too, as Meddhi is forced to make choices that set him on his path. The way it ends feels like a good launch pad for the later books too, making you want to turn the page and find out what's next. I guess I'd best get started on the whole saga!

AI Rating: 4/5

The Dragon Warrior of Kri is available here.


The Marunkoff Equation, by Victor Acquista

Hopping on a bus to town or grabbing a coffee and wanting a quick read? This neat little literary puzzle will do the trick. An experiment by the titular Marunkoff has unexpected results - and scientists in a different time set about working out what happened. I can't say too much without giving things away, after all it is a rather short story, but it unfolds delightfully. 

AI Rating: 4/5

The Marunkoff Equation is available here.


Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut

It's a long-famed classic, but somehow I'd never picked Slaughterhouse Five up to read before - nor had I seen the movie. As one of those gaps in my reading, I was keen to see what the fuss was about, and a chance find of the paperback in a local shop sealed the deal. 
Slaughterhouse Five defies the usual structure of writing, following the story of Billy Pilgrim - and in part the author too - as he comes unstuck in time. While the author treads to tell the tale of the bombing of Dresden in World War Two, Pilgrim's story zigzags through time, sometimes finding himself on the fields of war, sometimes finding himself as a caged exhibit in a distant alien zoo, sometimes experiencing the mundane parts of his life as an optometrist. It's like the author has taken three decks of cards - one for each of those parts of Pilgrim's story - and riffle shuffled them into one stack. 
There's wry humour here alongside the horror of the war as Pilgrim meets all kinds of people, many of whom are not long for this world, and each death in the book capped off with the words "So it goes". It's remarkable how laconic the narrative is as it deals with such nightmares, but it still hits home.
I'm not sure what expectations I had when I picked this book up - but it certainly exceeded them. I might have wished for more in the alien aspects of the story, as they in some ways feel rather whimsical and not explored as much as they could be, but that's a minor complaint. It's a smashing book, and one that opens your eyes to the realities of war in ways you might not anticipate. It deserves its status as a classic.

AI Rating: 5/5

Slaughterhouse Five is available here.






Sunday, 12 November 2017

Discover The Rite of Wands, by Mackenzie Flohr - now in hardback


I'm delighted to welcome Mackenzie Flohr to the blog to talk about her much-praised book The Rite of Wands. She's a Whovian extraordinaire, a passionate supporter of authors - and her book is in my review list, so expect one of those coming up soon! But enough blather from me, take it away, Mackenzie!
Mackenzie_Web_Banner_02



Guest Blog: 

One of the most frequent questions I am asked as an author is what inspired me to writeThe Rite of Wands. I have always found that question interesting because when you think about it, inspiration is different for everyone. It may be a memory, a character from a book, song lyrics, a political speech, a TV series, or even an actor’s performance. Pure imagination is in all of us—we only need to discover it, and sometimes storytelling helps. Inspiration can come to us in any shape or form; you never know what or who may inspire you. 

Mackenzie Flohr and BHC Press are pleased to announce the upcoming release of The Rite of Wands in hardcover!  
In this special edition of the first book in the award winning young adult series, The Rite of Wands, releasing November 11, 2017, readers will be enchanted by a brand new short-story never before published!   

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Blurb: 

One boy…one Rite… And a world of deadly secrets that could change the course of history—forever  And so begins the tale of Mierta McKinnon. When a horrible fate reveals itself during his Rite of Wands ceremony, he must find a way to change not only his destiny but also the land of Iverna’s.  Forbidden from revealing the future he foresees to anyone, he is granted a wand and his magical powers, but still must master the realm of magic in order to save himself and those he loves.  But Mierta is not the only one with secrets…especially when it’s impossible to know who to trust. 


Excerpt: 

“For God’s sake, get out of the road!” he heard a voice shout from the direction of the out of control carriage. “Hail, Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee…" 
Mortain stared forward, frozen, unable to move. Life at that very moment seemed to slow to a near standstill. He could hear his heart beating in his ears as the horse and carriage barrelled down upon him. His mind concluded that this was how his life was going to end, rather than the way his Rite of Wands had dictated. There was nothing more tragic than being unable to be who he was. 
Vorbíllion!”  
Mortain was abruptly lifted off the ground and thrown into a nearby water trough. As he sat up, feeling the water soak through his robe and tunic, he watched a beautiful woman wearing her long black hair in a twist to the side substitute herself in the place he had been previously standing.  
She gazed over to Mortain with annoyance, her green eyes shifting into what appeared to be snake eyes as she reached out a bare hand towards the carriage and shouted, “Concye halímo!” 
The horse snorted and quickly came to a halt. 

Bio: 
Mackenzie Flohr is the author of the popular young adult fantasy seriesThe Rite of Wands, which has caught the attention of Doctor Who and Harry Potter fans worldwide. Readers agree that Mackenzie has crafted a robust tale of secrets, mystery, and uncertain destiny that rivals the works of Tolkien, Lewis, and Rowling.  Mackenzie grew up in Cleveland, OH, chasing leprechauns and rainbows and dreaming of angels. Her parents nurtured a love of fantasy and make-believe by introducing her at a very young age to the artistic and cultural opportunities that the city had to offer. Yet, it wasn't until she was on a trip to Indiana, viewing aLord of the Ringsexhibit, that the innermost desire of her heart became clear to her.  Fans have become enchanted by Mierta McKinnon, describing him as an innocent, rambunctious, trouble-seeking, realistic, and believable character whom has quickly become a fan favorite.The Rite of Wandsfollows the young warlock as he seeks to fulfill his destiny and cure the land of Iverna of a horrendous disease called The Shreya. Readers will find themselves immersed into his story and feel like they are a part of his journey. 
For more information on Mackenzie, visit her website at: http://www.mackenzieflohr.com 
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Wednesday, 8 November 2017

COMING SOON: Tales From Alternate Earths 2

IT's always exciting to announce upcoming things - and I'm delighted to say that work is well under way on the next Inklings Press anthology. 

So what's coming up? Well, for the first time, Inklings is returning to produce a sequel to one of its anthologies!

Tales From Alternate Earths Vol 2 returns to the theme of alternate history - with a glimpse into new worlds, new histories, new pathways that could have been our own. 


The first Tales From Alternate Earths was an award winner - with Daniel Bensen scooping the Sidewise Award for his story from the collection. We're not revealing the story line-up - or the authors - just yet, but Daniel will be penning the foreword for the new collection.

I'm really looking forward to sharing more about the new anthology as it draws closer to release before the end of the year.

In the meantime, if you haven't read the first volume, you can pick it up right here. It's available in both ebook and print. My story The Secret War is in there too - I'm a little bit proud of that one.

Happy reading!

Sunday, 5 November 2017

BOOK REVIEW: A Time of Need, by Brent A Harris; Dying To Be Friends, by Jane Jago and EM Swift-Hook; Fractured, by Nikki Landis;Anthology Askew: Askew Communications

The latest review column spans alternative history, fantasy and a short story anthology - and starts off with a book regular readers may have heard mentioned before...



A Time of Need, by Brent A. Harris

First things first, I need to make full disclosure. I've been following the creation of this book for some time as Brent A. Harris has chiseled words out of his brain. He even mentions me in the thanks at the front of the book, so be aware that I may be a little bit biased. But I'm biased in favour of quality.
A Time of Need tells the tale of an alternative America. In this tale, George Washington sides with the British and Benedict Arnold becomes the figurehead for the US forces aligned against Britain.
Instead of the course that history took, we instead see a new shape to the battle for the continent, with Arnold's ruthlessness put to a new use.
There's a real depth and thoroughness to this novel - I freely confess not being an expert on the history of the period, but Brent really brings the period to life, and you can tell the amount of research he has put in to get the details right.
Beyond the battle between Washington and Arnold, the parts of the novel I really loved were those focusing on the soldiers underneath the generals, as they faced difficult choices about where their loyalties should lie, and the reasons for making the choices they do. The character of Stevens, particularly, struck to the real heart of the novel. Just as he tries to decide his path, so too this young nation is working out where it is going to go, and what exactly it will be when it gets there.
The novel is unflinching in some of the horrific parts of the nation's history, such as the way in which slaves are treated, but the better for that. No one in the cast is wholly virtuous, but neither is anyone entirely villainous. Brent has created a story of the red, white and blue that is made up of many shades of grey.
In the end, I can heartily recommend this novel - it's an alternative history that taught me real history, and which brought to life the throes of a nation truly being born.

AI Rating: 5/5

A Time of Need is available on Amazon here.


Fractured, by Nikki Landis

Do not judge a book by the cover, they say. And they'd be darn right here - for while the cover of this book screams horror story, perhaps thriller, it's actually a romantic fantasy, filled with supernatural powers and dashing knights of derring-do.
Renee is a young woman who falls in love with a Guardian knight, Kellen, and the two form a swift and deep bond with one another - until Renee signs up to a deal with a devil to become a shadow hunter, taking the deal to spare her brother from punishment.
The deal forces a rift between the two lovers, and forces Renee down a dark path.
There's a lot in this novella to like - I presume it falls into the novella range rather than full novel, but it packs a lot of story into it. In fact, that's a bit of a downfall, in that while the start is very nicely done, we kind of rush through much of the rest of the story, when we could do with taking a little longer and dallying with our heroes as they wrestle with tough decisions.
That said, this seems really a sample of stories set in a much wider canvas, as both Renee's story and her brother's are explored in further series, so if you love what you read here, you'll find more of it and in more depth elsewhere.
It leans more toward the romance side than my usual fare, but that said, I still liked it.

AI Rating: 4/5

Fractured is available on Amazon here.


Anthology Askew

"Pee is warm."
So begins the story that really most caught my attention in this, the latest in the Anthology Askew collection.
The theme this time around is Askew Communications - and the collection is filled with messages gone awry, diaries and letters telling their tales, and so on.
This leads to an array of genres on show, from romance to horror, sci-fi to literary. It's that opening line above that really made me sit up and pay attention most, though, and the story that goes with it, from Rayona Lovely Wilson, is worth noting every word. It's a story of a young woman in a bad situation, with parents hooked on crack cocaine and feeling awkward and out of place in her school and the social structures within it. It feels like there's more to come at the end, but it's the kind of story that opens your eyes to the experiences of others.
Elsewhere, there's also smashing tales from P.A.O'Neil, whose tale Sara Hemming, Psychic Redecorator, is full of warmth and charm even as it deals with the supernatural and unknown; Karl Taylor and his space horror New Houston, with a Martian expedition facing a gruesome terror; and Josh James' Last Will and Testament, which might make one think twice or three times before approaching that pretty soul in a bar.
As ever with an anthology, some stories resonate more than others, and some of the tales here were quite slight in their substance, but the hits make it well worth the read.

AI Rating: 4/5

Anthology Askew: Askew Communications is available on Amazon here.


Dying to be Friends, by Jane Jago and E.M.Swift-Hook

This is the second in the Dai and Julia series from the authors - the first of which I reviewed not so long ago - and the first book was such a good set-up that I was itching to see what the new detective partners would get up to.
You see, the two have been matched up in a modern Britain where the Roman Empire never faded, and so the mystery is against a backdrop of a very changed world. I'm not generally a big mystery fan, but that really changed the game.
Sadly for me, I don't get my wish just yet to see what happens with this new partnership, as this book takes a look at the background of each individually - the stories are smashing, with Briton Dai forced into the most dangerous of games, and Roman Julia uncovering corruption and making alliances destined to last into further books.
Other than my selfish wish to see more, it's a cracking read, full of flavour and detail of this altered world. But seriously, give me some more of the two together now... oh, what's that you say? Book three, Dying for a Poppy is over there? Excuse me, readers, I'll be back...

AI Rating: 4/5

Dying to be Friends is available on Amazon here.

Friday, 3 November 2017

Three stories I loved in The Quantum Soul sci-fi anthology


One of the pleasures of being in anthologies with other authors is that you encounter all manner of great stories along the way.

I'm in a new anthology from the Sci-Fi Roundtable, the best group of sci-fi and fantasy writers on Facebook. An open call went out for submissions and I was delighted that my story, Second Contact, was accepted.

But this isn't about me, or my story.

Rather, this is a post in which I'd like to sing, shout and stamp my feet in delight at some of the other stories in the anthology - because it's good, and you should read it.

Now, there are some familiar names to readers of this blog in the anthology. You'll find stories in there by Ricardo Victoria, E.M. Swift-Hook, Brent A. Harris, Jeanette O'Hagan, Claire Buss, Rob Edwards... but I'm making a rule for this blog post that I'm going to tell you about three stories from writers I haven't featured in anthologies with before. New names to me - and hopefully new names you might want to find out more about too. So here are three... oh, and there's a bonus one at the end by someone I have shared an anthology before, but you'll see why I make the exception to my rule when we get there.

The Machine in the Mountain, by Darran Handshaw

This is the first sample I've had of Darran Handshaw's Engineer saga, in a world that seems to merge elements of Dune and Barsoom, hard sci-fi and soaring space opera. I really like this tale - in which the lead character is lost in the depths of a mountain, only to discover machines conducting their own operations with an unknown purpose. There's danger, there's romance, and it's a genuinely thrilling read. I thoroughly enjoyed this - the kind of story that really hints at a much, much bigger world that begs to be explored.

By Design, by Alan Van Meter

What is life? That's the challenge that formed the foundation of the submissions call for this collection and Alan Van Meter confronts the question head on as a telepathic android questions the nature of souls - and whether it has one, even as it faces being destroyed for reaching the end of its service life. Will it meekly accept its end? Will it start a revolution? What does its end actually mean? In a surprisingly short span, Alan Van Meter weighs some meaty questions - and polishes it off with the kind of ending that makes you wonder, makes you ponder, makes you reflect upon yourself. Thoughtful.

Soul Mates, by Victor Aquista

This one is very much my kind of reading material. A researcher is conducting experiments examining life energy - effectively killing and bringing back to life his test subjects. The time has come for the biggest experiment of all - on a human test subject. Are the experiments safe? Will there be consequences? This is the kind of story you might see in The Twilight Zone, or lurking around The Outer Limits. What dangers might we invite when we dare to dabble with the infinite? Splendidly written, and with an ice-cold chill running through the heart of it.

BONUS: When Words Are Not Enough, by Cindy Tomamichel

Now, I did mention a bonus to my list of three, and Cindy Tomamichel delivers roundly on that with a story that made me chuckle heartily. Packed full of in-jokes, it's a raucous romp of a read - in which you might catch a character mildly modeled on me, along with others based on members of the Roundtable group. If you're a fan of sci-fi and fantasy, you'll find the group here. Swing by if fun is on your mind and supporting authors is your thing. And play spot the character from Cindy's story as you get to know the regular knights of the Roundtable.

You can pick up The Quantum Soul on Amazon here.

Saturday, 21 October 2017

BOOK REVIEW: Murder in Absentia; Hashtag Magic; Liquid Gambit; Cherry Pickers; Inside Ascension; Only The Few

Hi all, and welcome to the latest round of reviews here on the blog. Today, a veritable smorgasbord of books are covered - from Roman mysteries to post-apocalyptic survival, space spiders to YA page-turners. The first four reviews in this column are provided by Brent A. Harris, the last two by me. So, without further ado...


Murder in Absentia, by Assaph Mehr

Murder in Absentia is one of those rare books published by an indie outfit that sets the bar high for the rest of the publishing world. Mehr makes us believe we are in a magical version of Ancient Rome (Egretia), immerses us in a historical richness that even some purveyors of historical fiction lack depth in, and yet still delivers a compelling whodunnit which keeps the pages flying. The magic is no mcaguffin -- Mehr offers his protagonist, Felix the Fox, no easy shortcuts. His mission: solve the murder of the son of a high-ranking (and rich! as Felix might point out) Egretian Patrician, and do so quietly. Felix must use his reasoning, his limited knowledge of the arcane, and his instincts, to piece together the mystery before his body is the one that turns up next. A solid read, a well-crafted mystery, and togas! An easy 5 Stars.


AI rating:5/5


Hashtag Magic Book #1: Blue Screen of Death, by J. Steven Young

Despite an excellent cover and clever title, the combo of technology and magic ultimately lacks spark.
The YA moniker doesn’t mean what it used to. With mega-hits like Harry Potter, Land of Stories, and my personal favorite, Hunger Games, YA has proven that it has broad appeal. So, when I was asked to review Hashtag Magic book 1: Blue Screen of Death, I was certainly willing to try it out.
Hashtag follows the story of a young user of magic as he embarks to discover what makes him special. He faces challenges from his school of magic. He is bullied by the son of a rich patron. He excels at the unique school game. And he must develop his newfound discovery of magic to confront the tragedy of his past.
While it sounds much like Harry Potter, I got the feeling that this book wanted to be so much more, to be different. In addition to the normal story arc of a burgeoning boy wizard, Hashtag conjures space aliens and phone apps. These apps help our heroes channel their magic in place of a magic wand.
The issue I have with this, however, is that you can change the drapes, but the room is still the same. Technology and Magic have typically been at odds. And the mixing of the two here, while clever, isn’t enough to distance itself from its more famous counterpart.
The second issue, and perhaps more alarming, is the place where the story starts taking shape. We don’t get into the technology aspect until 60% of the way through the book. That’s a lot of pages where nothing happens except for the typical story arc with we’ve seen with other boy wizards, as described above.
Once the reader passes this point, however, the book is good. It starts living up to its potential. And just as we are getting into the meat of the story--it ends. Abruptly. Yes, book 2 leaves right where book 1 left off, but there should have been something substantial to end the story with. Even Harry Potter tells self-contained stories within the overall narrative arc of the series. Hashtag Magic offers no real resolution, no self-contained story.
Additionally, the story is also told in third person omniscient. That means we know what is going through everyone’s head at all times. The amount of head-hopping this book does is staggering, even within the same paragraph. Some people don’t mind not knowing whose head they are supposed to be in, but it doesn’t work for me. Feel free to add another star if third Omni is your jam. Perhaps with another pass for pacing and POV clarity, and a firmer ending, Hashtag would be magical. For now, I can only rate it 3 Hashtags out of 5.

Hashtag Magic is available on Amazon.

AI Rating: 3/5



Liquid Gambit, by Bonnie Milani

I really loved this story! However, I want this review to be a bit more than, I LOVED THIS STORY. Which I did. It’s stories like these which reminds me what happens when you have a writer as brilliant as Bonnie. She fires on all cylinders. In fact, I think it has a vibrant and colorful charm which sets it apart from its Casablanca counterpart.
I loved the characters, I loved the senses Bonnie evokes (mostly the under-used sense of smell that most writers tend to overlook) and I loved the central conflict. The story surrounds a vial of water from Old Earth – Homeworld. But, like the bar itself, it dives into darker territories of sex trafficking, slavery, genetics tampering, crime, and underworld filth. Yet, at the same time, our heroes elevate themselves skyward (spaceward?) and prove that – despite their circumstances – they can rise above the din.
If you’re looking for a short SF read, Liquid Gambit is splendid. 5 stars


AI Rating: 5/5


Cherry Pickers, by Bonnie Milani

Spiders man! Like I don’t dig spiders. Yet, I really dug these arachnids. Should be a testament to how compelling the story was when every page was filled with my deepest fears. It was also filled with strong characters, a clash of conflicts, and a nasty villain far scarier than any spider. Oddly enough, this isn’t a horror story. It’s about a girl coming to age in a harsh colony settlement where just about everything around you wants to kill you. And, it’s filled with giant spiders. So, Australia.
Yet our main protagonist Nikki isn’t afraid of her spider, Sam. She isn’t afraid of anything. She just wants to be treated as a woman. To do so, she must snatch herself a cherry picker, on a world essentially devoid of men. Jake, she supposes, will have to do. But he’s not exactly willing and there’s a bit more to him than he’s letting on. As events unfold, Nikki will have to learn there’s more to woman-hood than sex – and spiders. Cherry Pickers is a fun, traditional Sci-Fi story set in Milani’s Homeworld Universe. It’s certainly one of my top picks. 8 out of 8 Hairy Legs.


AI Rating: 5/5

Editor's Note: Both of Bonnie Milani's titles here have previously been reviewed on the blog by Leo McBride - you can check out those reviews here and here, the latter including the previous cover of Cherry Pickers. 

Brent A Harris is a Sidewise Award nominated author of alternate history. He is the author of A Time of Need, an alternate history of the American Revolution. You can find more of his work in Tales from Alternate Earths and Tales from the Underground. He can be reached through his website at www.brentaharris.com




Only The Few, by L.N. Denison

The North of England is a devastated wasteland full of strange and deadly creatures. And I used to live there! No, seriously, the real North is not like that. It's a fabulous place, but it's quite the piece of fun watching it recast as a post-apocalyptic wasteland in L.N. Denison's slice of military sci-fi. 
Corporal Catherine Hyde is the sole survivor of an explosion in London that wipes out the rest of the building she is in at the time, hiding herself away in a blast shelter as she loses family somewhere in the chaos above her. She emerges into a shattered Britain, with a series of such blasts having wiped out the bulk of the nation. After finding a few others from her military unit still alive, she is given the job of hunting for civilian survivors and is sent north. 
The dangers facing her are many - from genetic anomalies called cavers who lurk in dark hideaways ready to torture and devour the unfortunates they capture to perhaps the more deadly enemies, some of the surviving humans, Hyde is left to fight her way through all manner of opposition. 
She's a smashing character, complicated in her emotions and determined to never give an inch when it comes to pursuing her mission. She's fierce, bright, intelligent and makes for a great read. 
The pages zip by as you're reading, with a real pace throughout the book. Sometimes, I wished it had slowed down a little as it seemed a couple of situations were resolved a little too quickly before their implications are really explored - but hey, it's the end of the world, not everything is neat. 
It's not without its hiccups, but I enjoyed the read - so much so that I blasted through it in just two sittings.  I'm looking forward to more!

Only The Few is available on Amazon here.

AI Rating: 4/5



Inside Ascension, by Amy Proebstel

First things first, this is the second book in the Levels of Ascension series from Amy Proebstel. I mean, sure, this should be obvious but I say it for a very practical reason - if you use the Look Inside feature on Amazon, you'll find the first couple of chapters and preface are very heavy on the infodump side to catch readers up to what has gone before. Don't be put off by that, the rest of the book doesn't follow in those early footsteps. 
The story picks up from where book one left off - in which lead character Amanda found herself in the land of Tuala, a strange world where time moves differently, and when she was torn away from that world, had left her children, twin girls, there. 
Understandably, she wants to get back to her children and is helped by her parents, who piece together that the strange telepod devices resemble the supposed flying saucer found in Roswell. And off they go to try to find a way back. 
Meanwhile, the villain of the first book, Petre, is hunting for Amanda in Tuala, unaware that she is now on Earth - and he hires a man named Ninan to seek her out. Ninan's investigation is the best part of the novel. He's a really interesting character - being used by a villain for his own purposes but seeking out a place in the world of his own, and beginning to question Petre's purposes. 
Sadly, though, there's a lot of the novel that is slowed down by lengthy dialogue and with not a lot of action - and a couple of major plot points pretty much happen by coincidence rather than design. Amanda's return to Tuala doesn't happen until quite late in the book - despite pretty much finding the right person to talk to about it in Roswell almost right away. To be honest, Amanda is largely peripheral for a swathe of the book, and that doesn't seem to be the best position to have the main character in. Add to that a remarkable amount of head hopping between characters - we even briefly see the world from the perspective of one of Amanda's babies for some reason - and it's hard to really get into the flow of the book. 
If book one hooked you, then this does pick up right where it left off - and positions us at the end for the third in the series, and Proebstel does a good job of getting the reader up to speed at the start for those who missed book one. For me, though, the roaming viewpoint and lack of driving character action kept me from really engaging. 

Inside Ascension is available on Amazon here

AI Rating: 3/5