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Mythborn II: Bane of the Warforged

Vijay Lakshman. Vijay Lakshman, $24.99 trade paper (625p) ISBN 978-0-9850620-2-6

This sprawling adventure from writer and software designer Lakshman continues the saga of Arek Winterthorn begun in Mythborn: Rise of the Adepts. Arek, his mentors Silbane Petracles and Kisan Talaris, nobles Yetteje Tir and Niall Galadine, and soldier Ash Rillaran race through their mundane world of Edyn and the magical world of Arcadia. Their goal is to save Edyn from the machinations of the demon Lilyth, archmage Valarius Galadine, and a force known as Sovereign, all of whom have plans for Arek and his dark power. The plot is inventive, but the world is filled in mainly by a cliché pub scene and an implausible semidemocratic system surrounded by cod-medieval monarchies. The characters change motivations easily, and the magical entities, drawn from several different mythologies, seem arbitrarily chosen and carry no cultural background or context. New readers will struggle with the story’s sheer complexity. This epic has a well-crafted plot but lacks the deeper characterization and background details needed for emotional investment. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 07/03/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Middle Waters

John Clarke. Wet Street, $12.95 trade paper (374p) ISBN 978-0-9863749-1-3

This SF thriller starts out well and displays some nice touches of humor, but the resolution may disappoint genre readers. Clarke, a veteran Navy diving scientist, is especially effective in translating his expertise into fiction in the gripping opening chapter, as an unusual incident claims the lives of two divers off the coast of Alabama. Someone, or something, ripped the helmet off one of the men; the other died of the bends after he saw some “bizarre, bright orange geometric figures” who conveyed a cryptic apology. The mystery of the divers’ deaths, and a slew of other oddities—a patch of cold dark water that kills everything in its path, an extraterrestrial unidentified submerged object—engage scientist Jason Parker. He begins to experience some anomalies himself, including hearing voices advising him to stay alert. There are some light moments; Jason can’t believe that a colleague is “from another planet, especially not a planet of telepathic frogs.” But the suspense of the opening isn’t sustained, and the ending will divide readers along political lines. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 07/03/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Automation: The Circo Del Herrero Series, Book 1

G.B. Gabbler. SOB, $14.99 trade paper (376p) ISBN SBN 978-0-692-25971-9

Naggingly self-conscious but somehow charming, this urban fantasy revolves around a fast and furious updating of Greek myth. In the distant past, the god Vulcan created a handful of Automatons—metallic but malleable beings capable of soul-sharing with a human being—to serve as protectors of humanity. Now the Automatons are distributed among an eclectic and decidedly eccentric bunch known as the Masters, some of whom are actively plotting against the others. All this is explained later in the book, long after ignorant protagonist Odys Odelyn receives the gift of a sexy copper Automaton and becomes the focus of the other Masters’ suspicions and schemes. It’s obvious that many games are being played at different levels. Unfortunately, the writer is so determined to be clever that interjections and footnotes keep mercilessly pulling readers away from the action. Nevertheless, the complicated story is amusing, and interesting characters do peek out through gaps in the arch-supercilious writing. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 07/03/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Flip

Michael Phillip Cash. CreateSpace, $12 trade paper (200p) ASIN B00KDOZY6I

Cash (Stilwell) again succeeds in setting an engaging supernatural thriller in the world of Long Island real estate, though he’s stronger at depicting human relationships than he is at generating scares. Julie and Brad Evans have hinged their hopes of financial security on house flipping, a work-intensive strategy that offers them few opportunities for relaxation. Brad has misgivings about their latest acquisition, a creepy Victorian mansion, ominously situated on Bedlam Street in Cold Spring Harbor. Those feelings are validated when he’s victimized by Tessa, a voracious female ghost with very carnal appetites. Cash is effective at creating his version of the afterlife, where ghosts like Tessa exist in fear of more powerful entities known as the Sentinels. His best work comes, however, in his plausible portrayal of a marriage under stress from the need to hustle to stay solvent. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 07/03/2015 | Details & Permalink

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A Pledge of Better Times

Margaret Porter. Gallica Press, $14.95 trade paper (414p) ISBN 978-0-9907420-4-3

Porter’s ambitious novel of 17th-century England is brimming with vivid historical figures and events connected through Charles, Duke of St. Albans and illegitimate son of King Charles II, and his wife, Lady Diana de Vere, renowned for her “beauty, charity and religious devotion.” Teenage Charles and the strong-willed Diana become enamored through hawking, and they marry. The years bring a dramatic change to the monarchy when King Charles II dies suddenly and the rigid James II assumes the crown; many are opposed to King James, including Diana and Charles, and there is tremendous unrest at home and abroad. Battles of will and war ensue—on the field, in Parliament, and in the royal court—over politics, religion, and privilege. The year 1689 brings a new coronation, of King William III, who has seized the throne from his father-in-law, King James; he rules with his wife, Queen Mary, who Diana serves as maid of honor and trusted confidante. Charles and Diana weather two minor betrayals and a tragic loss in a long, loving, faithful marriage with many children. Porter’s palace plots, jealousy, betrayals, infidelities, and beheadings are rigorously researched and are faithfully portrayed. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 07/03/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Ohana

Theia Mey. Theia Mey, $3.99 e-book (224p) ISBN ASINB00O85KY2M

Mey tells of substance use, struggles with cancer, and domestic abuse in this uneven memoir. Mey grew up in a small village in Spain where little was expected of her beyond marriage and childbirth. She decided to leave school and her village and go to London to learn English. Much of the book chronicles her connections with men: a brief marriage to an Englishman, after which she moved to the U.S.; two romances that left her with two children and a drug addiction; and finally a lengthier relationship with Peter, by whom she had a third child. Peter was financially and emotionally withholding, abusive, and chronically unfaithful. When she finally got up the courage to leave him, he dragged her into a protracted custody battle that finally ended in her losing contact with her youngest child. TMey glosses over the negative results of her drug use or choices and instead focuses on the actions of others. Her narrative sometimes jumps around, making it difficult for readers to follow her statements. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 07/03/2015 | Details & Permalink

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A Long Way From Paris

E.C. Murray. Plicata (plicatapress.com), $16 trade paper (280p) ISBN 978-0-9903102-1-1

Murray’s debut memoir updates the American-abroad story with amusing and philosophical reflections on a winter spent herding goats in the south of France. The concerns of a young, city-bred, privileged American dabbling as a goatherd are not subsistence, like the “back to nature” family with whom she lives, but rather self-improvement: getting over an ex, adjusting to significant weight loss, and learning to “believe in myself”. Though her lack of facility with the French language leaves many of her interactions with the locals as opaque to the reader as they were to Murray then, her sweetly energetic prose, blending poetic description with American slang (“Spain? Yahoo!”), brings to vivid, eye-popping life the rural landscape, the cold weather and the animals with whom she spends her days. As she learns how to milk a goat, darn a sock, ride a horse, and midwife farm animal babies, Murray grows in confidence and maturity, eventually coming to terms with painful relationships, her own past, and the loss that shadows both human and animal life. Rich with history, Murray’s literary and philosophical reflections give the memoir substance, and the journey of achieving peace with oneself is relatable even for those who don’t know where their goat cheese comes from. Photos. (Booklife)

Reviewed on 07/03/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Dare to Be Your Own Boss: Follow Your Passion, Create a Niche

Maya Sullivan. Synergy (synergy-books.com), $22.99 trade paper (344p) ISBN 978-0-9907-5420-6

Many people dream about starting their own businesses and working for themselves, but few are confident enough to forgo a steady paycheck and leap into the unknown. Sullivan, a self-admitted serial career reinventor, seeks to increase the odds of success in this in-depth informative guide. The key, she states, is to discover what excites your passion and then match it with a venture. The book consists of three sections, namely “Becoming Your Own Boss,” “12 Areas of Opportunity,” and “Moving Forward.” Sullivan begins with the basics, identifying six benefits and six drawbacks of being the boss, with expanded income potential and enhanced well-being on the upside, and financial uncertainty and no subsidized benefits on the downside. She also explores options for financing that range from traditional investors to crowdfunding. Sullivan goes on to list “14 Keys to Ignite Your Passion and Enthusiasm.” Part Two focuses on categories of industries to explore, such as business-to-business, and goods and services. The last section is perhaps the most crucial, exploring the all-important concept of viability, followed by a lengthy list of resources for new business owners. While Sullivan doesn’t claim to have a roadmap to success, she does arm readers with knowledge that will be handy in getting there. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 07/03/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Jala and the Wolves

Marti Dumas. Yes, Mam Creations/Plum Street Press (plumstreetpressbooks.com), $5.99 paper (98p) ISBN 978-1-943169-00-9

In a chapter book fantasy laced with references to fiction and food, when six-year-old spitfire Jala—who has untamed hair, dark eyes, and a preference for eating out of the dog bowl—annoys her mother after she complains about being hungry for breakfast one morning, she is promptly sent back to her room. After noticing that a strange mirror has appeared there, Jala is magically transported to a woodland world, where she has been transformed into her favorite animal, a wolf. She promptly meets a wolf named Milo, who believes that she is a legend incarnate, an alpha wolf that has been sent from the sky (“She didn’t have the heart to tell him that she was only a girl from New Orleans who got sucked into a mirror and not the Great Dog come to life at all”). Though the story is slow to get underway and relies on an overused cliché to bring Jala back home at book’s end, Jala’s independent streak and her tender relationship with her mother help smooth over the story’s rougher moments. Ages 5–10. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 07/03/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Healing Ruby

Jennifer Westall. Jennifer Westall, $3.99 e-book (369p) ASIN B00O3GRNF2

Coming of age in Depression-era Alabama is fraught with pitfalls for Ruby Graves in the opener of Westall’s (Love’s Providence) Healing Ruby series. Ruby is a typical young woman of her time, but then tragedy strikes her family repeatedly, much like the biblical figure Job. In the wake of those tragedies comes a new understanding of her faith, and more questions than she can ever find answers to, among them mysteries in her family’s past. Plot strands are teased out slowly and answers revealed as the story progresses, and the novel builds to a satisfying climax followed by a gentle push toward the next installment. Woven with scriptural references that and brutally frank regarding the treatment of people in the 1930s South, Westall’s story also sounds notes of hope and faith that balance her portrayal. Insight into history and race relations enrich a textured narrative. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 01/09/2015 | Details & Permalink

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