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

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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.

Just hear those sleighbells jingling…

A Christmas Story a Day, by Louise Richards

264 pages

Self-published on October 27, 2017

Amazon | Author’s Website

A Christmas Story a Day is an Advent calendar for the reader with twenty-five stories that inspire, amuse and warm the heart. Join MaryAnn as she humorously prepares for her family dinner, Bobby, as he navigates Christmas of Cleveland past, a treetop angel, as she and the ornaments bring peace to a bickering family, a misguided town as an angel redirects their path and a choir as it prepares for the yearly choral extravaganza. Follow as Karen finds Christmas in the eyes of her newborn grandchild, Daisy as she goes to the ball, Moira and J.D.’s journey of trust, a little boy who finds his voice and a wondering soul who stops wandering. Read how Henry Wadsworth Longfellow finds comfort amidst his despair, Pepita learns of Christmas love, an old man pays a debt, a police sergeant experiences a Christmas miracle, the author remembers times of Christmas past and Carol opposes materialism. Celebrate the miracle of the Christmas Truce, a man with special needs who finds the love of a fur friend, God as He prepares three stars to play their part, and an old bell ringer’s answered prayer. Ponder a message brought by a quail, solace in the light, the redemption of a shepherd, curious animals who welcome the newborn King, and three ships that appear on Christmas day. Cozy up with a cup of hot cocoa as you celebrate the joy and simplicity of the season of wonder.

Twenty-five stories for twenty-five days of Christmas – it’s an adorable concept and sure to delight anyone who revels in the yuletide spirit, especially if you enjoy the religious side of the holiday. The stories are short and sweet, and the writing has that cozy, simplistic, fairytale feel that goes nicely with a cup of tea. There are some small proofreading errors, but nothing more serious than a missed comma here and there. In short, A Christmas Story a Day is a fluffy, Hallmark-style treat for the holiday diehards among us.

I was captivated

Worldwielder, by JM Vaughan

410 pages

Published on July 30, 2017 by Aeternal Books

Amazon | Goodreads | Author’s Website

Melissa Mabrey isn’t like other sixteen-year-olds. From the time she was four, she’s been able to see the colors of people’s minds, colors that reveal to her their true feelings, desires, and fears. She’s only met one other person who’s like her—her best friend Kyle. But two years ago, Kyle mysteriously disappeared, and she hasn’t heard a word from him since.

Until today. In a book carried by a stranger, Melissa finds a desperate plea for help from Kyle. Following his clues, she’s hurtled from our world into the Gallery, a gateway to millions of worlds. Each world is entered through a painting, and each has a different “pull” on the minds of its occupants. There are pulls that make people grow calm in the face of peril, or flee from shadows in terror, or kill each other, or forget things forever.

But for Melissa, there’s nothing scarier than the unknown, and now she must traverse countless perilous worlds to find Kyle, fending off ruthless barbarians, the Gallery Guard, and her friend’s captors. Along the way, she’ll discover the truth about what she and Kyle are—a truth so terrifying her life will never be the same.

Worldwielder is nothing short of phenomenal.

Vaughan has woven one of the most creative and enthralling fantasy worlds I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. I’m not even sure how to begin explaining everything I loved about this book – do I start with Melissa, who isn’t a Strong Female Character™, but an actual strong female character complete with fears and flaws and the badassery to face them? Or do I start with the rest of the characters, major and minor alike, who all wrenched at my heartstrings in one way or another? Or maybe the writing itself, which was superlative – full of luxurious description without being overwritten, and so evocative that the most dramatic of the twists and turns made my heart start beating a little faster.

On top of everything else, this book avoids every YA trope and pitfall that tends to drive me nuts. No shoe-horned romance, no info-dumping, no nonsensical, unruly magic system, and no shying away from putting the characters in actual danger with actual consequences.

Look, I’m running out of adjectives, so I’ll keep it simple: Worldwielder is a breath of fresh air in the YA genre, and I cannot recommend it enough.

Where Sexy Jesus meets UFOs

The Book of David: Chapter One, by Robert Kent

153 pages

Published on June 23, 2016 by Middle Grade Ninja Press

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The Walters family has just purchased the perfect home if only it weren’t located in the small hick town of Harrington, Indiana, and if only it weren’t haunted. David Walters is an atheist now, but his minister father taught him from a young age that Satan would one day deceive all mankind by pretending his demons were extraterrestrials. The day the Walters family moves in, they spot a flying saucer outside their new home. Things only get stranger from there. David Walters is about to learn what it means to be truly haunted, forcing him to confront his past, fight for his family, his soul, and his sanity.

Now this is how you start a serialized story.

This first installment in the five-part horror novel The Book of David is actually quite light on horror, but deliciously heavy on the suspense. The writing is rich and evocative, and it drew me in so deeply that when I turned the final page an audible “what no” escaped me because goddammit I wanted more. Kent introduces a wealth of mystery in this novella without making it feel like an info-dump. Couple that with the wonderful writing that made me care for David and company immediately, and Chapter One is one hell of a cliffhanger (pun perhaps intended). I’m itching to pick up the next chapter and see how quickly it evolves into the horror genre – the author obviously has a way of building a mood and I’m very curious to see how creepy it can get.

If irreverent Biblical UFO horror sounds like it’d be up your alley, please give this book a shot – and don’t be surprised when you reach for the next installments.