Sunday 31 December 2017

BOOK REVIEW: Remanence, by Jennifer Foehner Wells; Juniper, by Felicia F Leigenguth; Hunting Darkness, by Ian Bristow; A Slight Case of Death, by Robert Lee Beers; Mercury's Son, by Luke Hindmarsh; Lost Solace, by Karl Drinkwater.

Looking for some Christmas books? Brent A Harris joins me as we review some of our recent reads. Brent leads off with three reviews, and I hop in below. Oh, and do share what you've been reading in the comments below! 

Hunting Darkness, by Ian C Bristow 

For full disclosure, Ian Bristow does some amazing artwork. That’s his artwork for the cover you see. And, he did the cover for my book too. It turns out, Ian is as grand at writing as he is at drawing.
Hunting Darkness is a story of one Scotland Yard detective’s attempt to avenge the murder of his partner. While that motif is not new, what Bristow adds is a dose of fantasy. It’s The Da Vinci Code meets The Dresden Files. On the ‘hunt’ for relics that will unlock the secrets of ancient druidic myths, our detective hero must overcome grief, growing pains with the assignment of a new partner, and oh yes – learning that magic is indeed, very much real and dark forces seek to kill him.
It’s a fast paced, character-driven piece that – towards the end – I tore through to the finish. Hunter is a well-developed detective who the reader can invest in (even if he is a bit of a git at times; he does like his female acquaintances, even if he’s in denial). And the cast of characters really do much to heighten the journey. The only misstep I feel Bristow makes is a structural one. The first third of the book is filled with backstory, flashbacks, characters, and plotlines that either go nowhere, or take hundreds of pages to reach a pay-off. I didn’t feel the story really started until the quest for the relics began, and the backstory could have either been greatly condensed or fed into the main narrative.
However, once Hunter begins his quest, along with his team, the pace is relentless, and the story doesn’t stop. It overshadows, to me, the rocky start and makes the book well worth the read. That said, I felt the ending was perhaps a bit too abrupt. After having invested in the story and become engaged with the characters, I was expecting one more quest before the final showdown – which is no bad thing to want more.
I recommend this to all those readers who like a bit of magic with their murder mystery. And for fans that like well-researched and well-written ancient Druidic tales. 4 Stars.
No need to hunt for your copy. You can snatch it up here:

Reviewed by Brent A. Harris

AI Rating: 4/5

A Slight Case of Death, by Robert Lee Beers

Time for something a little different. I’ve always been a fan of old time radio shows. X-1, Jack Benny, Lux Theatre, Stan Freberg, etc. I also enjoy audiobooks. So it should come to no surprise that I’m a fan of Graphic Audio. I’m also a big fan of the Tony Mandolin Mysteries. I had to check out the GA production of A Slight Case of Death. Boy, oh boy, was it a delightful treat!
A Slight Case of Death is our introduction to the seedy world of Tony Mandolin, and the detective’s introduction to a world that’s larger than our own. If you take Supernatural, or Dresden, or heck even John Constantine, and you mash ‘em with a hard-boiled film noir detective with a hefty helping of a San Francisco setting, you get Robert Lee Beers’ Mandolin Mystery series.
In this first outing, Mandolin has already earned a reputation for ‘finding things’ and getting the job done, and being a thorn in the police department’s side. He also has a rep for being somewhat of a snarky, pain in the ass. It’s one of his finer qualities.
The story is smooth, with a few red herrings to keep you guessing. There is a bit of a jar when Mandolin jumps from normal detective to ‘what the hell is that?’ Detective, but at the same time, it’s a rude awakening for Mandolin; might as well be a shock to us, even when we know it’s coming. But within the context of San Francisco, where the city is alive and vibrant with people of all stripes, is it so much of a surprise to see the supernatural?
As with any Graphic Audio production, the book is narrated (excellently, by the way) with a full cast of voice-actors, sound effects, and music. The actors are amazing. My favorite is Pat Monahan (Patrick Bussink), upstaging even the lead (Bradley Smith) when the two share scenes – or is it the pair perfectly playing off one another? In any case, everyone was great. I kept seeing Keenan Thompson from Saturday Night Live in the role of the cross-dressing Frankie (Eliot Dash).
I’m looking forward to Graphic Audio making their way through the nine books (which you can pick up
on Kindle) and I’ll be picking up Mama Mandolin’s Baby Boy’s next Graphic Audio adventure as soon as I can. 5 out of 5 Headphones.

Reviewed by Brent A. Harris
AI Rating: 5/5

Available at:

Mercury's Son, by Luke Hindmarsh

If you’ve ever wondered what a book would be like if you took a post-apocalyptic dystopian SCI-FI cyberpunk crime caper and infused it with all the over-ripe wordiness and legalese of an End User License Agreement (has anyone ever read one of those?) then Luke Hindmarsh’s Mercury’s Son would be it and you should rush out to read it. If, however, you prefer a 4 hour story to be only 4 hours rather than the 10 it takes to read this lengthy, lengthy book, then you will not be pleased with the experience.
I really wanted to like this book. It’s got a great cover, great characterization, great world-building, and a decent story that sticks to the safe ground of its genre (think Blade Runner or Total Recall, with hints of Jason Bourne).
Mercury’s Son follows Valko, a moderator in a physically sheltered society after nanotech went out of control and destroyed most of the world as we know it. Moderators investigate crimes (what little there are, considering the Fascist-like control of each shelter, or plena) and they have a special ability to connect with the electrical impulses of the recently deceased to see what they saw in their last moments. When two murders occur that are done in a way that prevents this link-up, Valko is set on a journey with fellow Jason Bourne soldier Satoshi to discover a far greater conspiracy that asks hard questions about life, morality, and the eternal quest for enlightenment.
While all this sounds extremely promising and compelling (there’s even a mention of Benedict Arnold in the book, which caught my eye and I really enjoyed) and indeed many people will enjoy this book, the story’s largest problem is pacing. Because every sentence is lengthy. Every passage burdened by exposition and world-building, every page winding in caveats and clauses to ensure the reader knows precisely the intent of each word, the wonderful story crafted diminishes within the page count. One more revision with an eye to killing those darlings which slow our journey with Valko, and Mercury could rise to new heights. Until then, I can only give it 3.5 stars, rounded to 4. If you don’t mind lengthy exposition, it’s a solid 4.5.

Reviewed by Brent A. Harris

AI Rating: 4/5

Available at:

Remanence, by Jennifer Foehner Wells

Remanence is the sequel to Fluency, a splendid space opera about first contact with an alien spaceship adrift in Earth's solar system. One NASA mission later and... here we are, at the point where you probably should stop reading if you haven't read the first novel. You can read my previous review of that book here.
So, spoiler warning duly given, we now have a slimmed down crew of humans in charge of the vessel and lead character Jane Holloway having gone beyond her role as team linguist to have become the commander of the new vessel, with a mental bond with the tentacled creature that controls the vast spaceship.
That connection has given her a new mission - to take the ship back to the race that created it, a voyage to the stars with an undermanned vessel and unprepared for what comes next.
In the same vein as the book it follows, it's very much a fun adventure, but what's really nice about the book is that underneath the soaring opera are some really nice ideas about language, gender, cultural differences and the nature of communication itself with the alien navigator able to telepathically communicate with the crew - sometimes with a power so raw it can override their own motives. Throw in a frisson of romance and the occasional - sometimes awkward - sex scene and it's a real mix of light adventure and thoughtful exploration.
By the end, answers that were sought have been replaced by new questions, new alliances have been forged and new enemies discovered, and the mission has taken on a much broader goal.
Book 3 awaits.

Review by Stephen Hunt
AI Rating: 5/5

Remanence is available here.

Juniper, by Felicia F Leibenguth

This is a curious YA tale that I really wanted to like, but alas it let itself down in the editing department. 
First off, let's set the scene - Juniper is set in a distant future after only the richest humans have been saved from a dying Earth and relocated to a world where resources are allocated to them. They got all the food they need, but a set amount. Some dogs seemed to be rescued from Earth too - hence the lead character, the Juniper of the title, having a canine companion as well as two younger sisters to look after. Juniper's also gifted with the power to jump - teleport from place to place - and uses that power to resist the forces of a Dark Lord and his minions who, well, we don't really know that much about him or what he's doing. In fact, the world itself is rather thinly drawn. I could have done with learning a bit more about this place, how it works and more beyond the life of the sisters. 
The relationship between the sisters is the strongest part of the book - that is where it shines. I really bought into the care that Juniper shows for her family, and the sense that she felt about having to protect them in the absence of her parents. 
Greater detail about the world - which seems largely a blank canvas for the reader - would have helped but more than that, there were real problems in the writing itself. The writing frequently changed between present tense and past tense - sometimes within the same sentence. Add to that frequent hiccups in using commas and apostrophes incorrectly and the book becomes something of a chore to read through. It distracts from what would otherwise be a fun adventure, if not the deepest insight into humanity's future. 

Review by Stephen Hunt
AI Rating: 2/5

Juniper is available here.

Lost Solace, by Karl Drinkwater

Space, it turns out, is not the final frontier. 
Oh no, you see, there's something else out there. Somewhere that the Lost Ships go to. And when they come back, well... you may not survive the experience. 
Karl Drinkwater is a horror man, you can tell as you read this haunted house story in space. Rogue soldier Opal and her pirated AI ship are on the trail of a Lost Ship, which has reappeared in our universe from that mysterious somewhere - and Opal is intent on exploring this vessel for personal reasons. With the aid of her AI, Clarissa, they discover the passenger ship has changed, warped, become something... almost living. There's a Lovecraftian air to this voyage of discovery, with animated robot dolls, flesh growing from the ship, the vessel itself morphing its shape to repel unwanted guests - and all that is even before the military that Opal fled from show up with their own agenda. 
They are after the treasures of the Lost Ship - while Opal has her own goal, but the two missions will bring them into conflict in the deadliest of battlegrounds. 
I really enjoyed this read. Drinkwater is a dab hand at creating an air of dread, and every corner of the ship feels like it might have a dark secret lurking in its shadows. 
More than that, I really loved his AI creation, Clarissa. Her hacked persona really does raise questions of identity and personality throughout the story - does it matter who an AI is? Isn't it just a computer? Or is it more than that - could it even be a friend? The bond between AI and Opal is tested more than once, and is a fascinating relationship. 
I'll confess I was still left with lots of questions about the nature of the Lost Ships themselves and their origin by the end of the book - but it was a cracking read, certainly evoking the horror worlds of space such as those in Alien, Pandorum or Event Horizon. If those are your kind of horror treat, then the Lost Ships await you. 

Review by Stephen Hunt
AI Rating: 4/5

Lost Solace is available here.

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