I needed a good romp

Jacob’s Orb by James L Mayor

425 pages

Self-published on January 14, 2018

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Step into the forest with Jacob and discover the forgotten power of the white orb.

“The sign in the sky is nothing more than a moving star, Jacob. Don’t be so foolish as to believe in magic.”

Jacob would have normally listened to his father, but the strange orb that he discovered with his friends had caught the attention of his adventurous spirit. Jacob is soon forced to embark on a terrifying quest to rescue his family from a power that they had refused to believe in.

Jacob’s Orb reminded me why I love YA fiction.

I really, really enjoyed this book. Mayor has a knack for vivid writing that doesn’t bog down the action – I felt like I was 15 again, joining Jacob and his friends on their harrowing quest to save their village. The storyline was well-paced, keeping the stakes high as the characters faced obstacle after obstacle, and I flew through the entire book a single sitting. I couldn’t help myself! There were some truly thrilling twists that I never saw coming – a refreshing feeling after reading perhaps more than my fair share of rather predictable YA novels.

The main character, Jacob, was my favorite part of the whole story. The book not only gives him plenty of external conflict to fight against, but also gives his internal conflict a good bit of screen time. I loved seeing his character development unfold in such a well-written and organic way. Jacob’s Orb touches on themes of working together and making sacrifices, which makes it a book I’d be happy to plop in front of a young reader.

If I have one complaint about this book, it’d be that it really needs one more pass by a proofreader. There are an unfortunate amount of misplaced punctuation and word choice issues that look like they might be the work of autocorrect. The story drew me in enough that the errors didn’t put me off, but fixing those issues would take this book from good to great.

Still, I highly recommend Jacob’s Orb to young adults and the young at heart. It’s a lightning-fast romp that you won’t want to put down.

This one’s a thinker

Rapture by Alex P Wu

269 pages

Self-published on December 28, 2017

Amazon | Goodreads | Author’s Website

In the year 2067, followers of The Pure are vanishing from Earth. It’s rapture, as predicted in their scriptures. At least that is what the religion’s faithful believe.

To conspiracy theorists, the disappearances are a nefarious government plot. To the government, they’re merely human foul-play. To Reiko Liebenstadt, a disgraced agent at the Federal Protectorate, the mystery is her obsession. On the case that sank her career, she alone witnessed a Purist vanish from a canoe in the middle of a lake.

Reiko’s investigation of The Pure leads her to a world ravaged by disease and war. She uncovers the real reason she was chosen for the assignment, the hidden meanings in the prophecies of the scriptures, and the ultimate fate of those raptured.

The truth is far from heavenly.

{Be forewarned: I’ve tried to keep things very vague, but this review does give away a little more about the plot than the blurb does. Potential spoilers ahead.}

Political intrigue, religious fervor, and the fate of humanity – Rapture is the darkest, heaviest sci-fi action epic I’ve had the pleasure of reading in quite some time. Our main character, Reiko, has to live through her own twisted version of the trolley problem, facing tough decision after tough decision as she’s thrust into the center of a spiderweb of factions and agendas she had no idea even existed.

Even better, that spiderweb has been woven with amazing depth and obvious attention to detail.  Wu has created a universe that’s remarkably plausible (obligatory suspension of disbelief aside), which is always a bonus point in my book when it comes to sci-fi. There are no villains-for-villainy’s-sake – every conflict is layered with reasoning and history, making Reiko’s life all the harder as she tries to navigate the minefield.

Wu sketches this conflict in a writing style that’s sparse and clean. It’s a change for me, as I usually prefer denser, more character-focused writing, but it really worked for Rapture. Despite the heavy themes, the pace is punchy and quick, and I devoured it all in just a couple of sittings.

Moral quandaries abound in Rapture, so if you enjoy books that test your core beliefs, look no further. I highly recommend it to those who enjoy hard-hitting fiction that makes you think.

Life imitates art imitates life…

The Hermit of Blue Ridge

300 pages

Self-published on November 30, 2017

Amazon | Smashwords | Author’s Website

Author Jeremy Woods has found perfect isolation, high in the Blue Ridge Mountains, where he can write in peace–until a strange, strikingly beautiful girl crashes into his cottage, and his life. Showing up at his door during the worst blizzard in recent history, the girl is half-frozen from exposure, with dangerously frostbitten fingers and toes. The roads to town are too inundated with snow to seek medical care for her–Jeremy’s cottage rests 8000 feet high, with no other shelter for miles. How could the girl have survived the journey on foot?

At first, Jeremy is intrigued; the girl displays remarkable talent, able to create stunning sketches with almost photographic detail. Her work soon takes on an eerie quality, however, matching that of Jeremy’s first love, Priscilla–a hauntingly original artist murdered at the tender age of eighteen–to the most minute detail. Even more troubling is Jeremy’s growing attraction to the girl, whose name is Sarah. As they grow close and Sarah starts painting, Jeremy realizes something is terribly wrong–Sarah’s portraits, while brilliant, include disturbing portrayals of Priscilla’s abduction and homicide.
A haunting, evocative love story, Cary Grossman’s fourth book of speculative fiction depicts two damaged people struggling with the ghosts of their past in the hope of keeping the comfort they have found in one another.

I’ve never been happier to not judge a book by its cover.

The Hermit of Blue Ridge is an emotional, erotic, and beautifully-written tale of a writer with a walled-off heart and an artist with a tortured soul. The Amazon blurb touts it as haunting and evocative, and I’d be hard-pressed to find better words. Grossman lushly describes the perfect creative retreat: a cabin nestled high up in the forested mountains, surrounded by snow and solitude. The characters are crafted with just as much attention to detail – their emotions leap off the page, and I couldn’t help falling in love along with them. And the steamier scenes… well. Suffice it to say I was hooked from the first chapter.

Grossman’s writing chops are backed up by a fascinating storyline. I really enjoyed seeing Jeremy’s and Sarah’s pasts unfold and intertwine, and the way their artistic pursuits drove the story forward. There was nary a plot hole or loose end to be found, and the ending was poignant and utterly satisfying. I’m tempted to snap up some of the author’s other work (he has three other books out so far) after being so enthralled by this one.

Despite its need for a much more fitting cover, I highly recommend The Hermit of Blue Ridge to adult readers of all stripes. I’m pretty sure there’s something in it for everyone.

Perhaps too elementary.

Sherloc: Reboot, by Nathan Boeker

109 pages

Published on November 7, 2017 by Boekerbooks

Amazon | Goodreads | Author’s Website

John is an ordinary student at an extraordinary school. When his phone is taken over by an artificial intelligence program, John becomes an unwitting accomplice in a broadening web of intrigue. Get drawn into a high-tech world of adventure and suspense.

I’m always down for a Sherlock Holmes remix, and teaming up a teenaged Watson with an AI version of everyone’s favorite detective is a concept I haven’t seen before. However, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle left some big shoes to fill, and the storytelling in Sherloc: Reboot just doesn’t compare.

The writing is rather threadbare – a torrent of simple sentences that do nothing to build suspense or emotion. Have an excerpt for one of the more gripping scenes:

A few seconds later the door to the cage squealed closed and the lock rattled again. Footsteps retreated. Lights turned off. A door closed.

Darkness again.

I started breathing. I looked down at the phone in my hand and then up at the network router. The rows of green lights went dark. A single red light began blinking on the left side of the box.

“Sherloc?” My mouth was dry and my voice sounded shakier than I liked.

His voice was reassuring in the darkness. “I have changed the security protocols and rebooted the routers. We can now access any network from this building without being tracked.”

I pulled the cable out of the router and stepped off the bucket. I walked as quickly as I could back between the dark storage cases. Enough secrets for tonight.

The elevator ride back to Floor 17 was silent. Sherloc was probably inside some network somewhere.

It’s just not doing it for me. I want my heart to pound with worry the whole time John’s in danger! Instead, the action is over within a few sentences and John comes across as only faintly discomforted.

With more attention to detail and evocative prose, this bland novella could easily turn into a thrilling YA novel. The substance is there – it just needs a little extra oomph.

Needs more aliens

Diary of a Security Guard at Area 51, by Helen Culver

130 pages

Published on September 16, 2017 by Troy International Publishing Limited

Amazon | Author’s Website

Melissa is 26, utterly bored, and isn’t far off ending it all with a nail gun.

Her witty, dry and twisted sense of humour gets her through each day. Her diary is an insight to where the ordinary meets the extraordinary, and every desk assessment and alien invasion in-between. Will she reach a truce with Sandra, her arch-rival?

Will she be able to ditch Colin? And can she coax Fran away from turning into a complete psychopath?

I was so intrigued by the premise of this book, but the execution fell rather flat for me. Diary of a Security Guard at Area 51 is episodic, as opposed to having an overarching plotline, and it’s full to bursting with crass humor. I’m not a huge fan of either of those things, but that’s just personal preference, not an issue with the book.

However, the book did have some issues, which is why I’m still not recommending it to those of us who love a good, raunchy, slice-of-life story.

First off, it really needs a proofread; there were grammatical errors all over the place and it quickly became distracting. The more disappointing thing, though, was that the setting felt like an afterthought. I was expecting to be walloped with all the sci-fi mystery of Area 51 – no such luck. Sure, there were funny mentions of alien insurrections here and there, but it was all happening in the background and hardly impacted the characters. Change the setting to a department store in Springfield, and Melissa’s story would’ve been exactly the same.

I had high hopes for this book, but unfortunately it’s just not there yet.