Monday, September 25, 2017

Review of An American Weredeer In Michigan by CT Phipps and Michael Suttkus

Authors: CT  Phipps and Michael Suttkus

Pages: TBA

Release Date: October 2017

I was very excited to hear that this book was being written. I gave the first book in the series, I Was A Teenage Weredeer, a glowing review. It was easily the best book I had read this year. That is, until this book, which actually surpasses the first book in all ways. I know the authors have more planned out in the series, which is in the same universe as CT Phipps's Straight Outta Fangton Series, so there are is a lot of potential stories in this series and universe.

The story starts a year after the last book. Jane is 19 now, and is basically the shaman of Bright Falls with her parents being hidden in Witness Protection. She is kind of muddling along in her job and in her love life, with FBI agent Alex Timmons out of town, and her attraction to Bright Falls bad boy Lucien Lyons put to the side, no matter how good looking he is, or what may have happened one drunken night! This is Jane's life as the story gets going.

While on a picnic with her best friend, the werewolf Emma O'Hara, two monster hunters sent by Alex come upon them, since they need some help on a case. Jane and Emma go with them, and discover a true horror: A mass collection of dead infant skeletons. This discovery sends Jane and crew on a quest to determine who left them for dead, and they are determined to stop it from happening again. Enter a charismatic immortal preacher, who is looking to kill Jane's mentor, Kim Su. Well, Jane's not down for that, either. 

So starts a wild ride of a story, in which we discover Bright Falls has an actual god living in the woods, we meet a new character, Robyn, who's mysterious past is linked to the entire mystery. We also discover that there really was a King Arthur, although not quite like the stories say, as well as who Merlin really was. Jane's potential as a mage is explored, and her growth in power and skill are noticeable. The crew has to deal with a variety of challenges to find the truth about who is responsible for the deaths, and they find out the problem is a lot bigger than they could have ever imagined. Alex being accused of murdering the preacher? That's the least of the problems. 

We also discover just what Alex went through in his abusive household, and his story is fleshed out more, and his relationship with Jane is more firmly defined. This all leads to the final showdown with the villain(s) and the results will effect the characters and the broader world. The final chapter has Jane meeting with the villain from the previous book, and settling that issue, but discovering that the world is a lot scarier than they expected. New opportunities are open to Jane and Alex, and we'll see where they go in book three.

Like book one, the characters are a great strength of this story. Jane is a fantastic character: Strong, with attitude to match, but still with moments of vulnerability and self discovery. She is a pop culture quote a minute machine and makes you like it, finding a quote for every situation. Alex is more fully fleshed out; his back story is truly tragic, and that gives insight into his motivations. The new additions, Robyn, and the hunters David and Yolanda, all add a new depth to the story, with Robyn really shining and sure to be a fan favorite, being a good foil to Jane. Learning more about Kim Su really fleshed her out as well, giving a view into her motivations. The villains are well drawn out as well, with realistic motivations (or lack of motivation) within the story line, which added to the level of threat to the heroes. 

The setting of Bright Falls is probably one of my favorites in urban fantasy. The small lumber town that was the secret home to the Shifter leadership is a stroke of genius. The same town and leadership having to deal with the rest of the world after the Reveal of the supernatural is interesting, in the way that they now have to deal with tourists looking to take selfies with werewolves! Also, those same tourists are wanting to go into the surrounding woods on the look out for magic, of which Bright Falls has more than its fair share. The description of the town is so vivid, you can imagine it vividly in your mind. The new settings, including the Grove in the woods, are just perfect for the story. You'll see what I mean when you read it.

Ala in all, this book improves in every way on an already fantastic book one. The characters are more fleshed out, as is the setting. It has some interesting twists on mythology and really expands upon the themes of book one. Jane also shows just how far she's willing to go for justice, and that is pretty damn far. This may be my favorite effort by these authors, and that's saying a lot, since I am such a fan of their previous work. I can't recommend this book highly enough!

Rating: 10/10

Monday, September 4, 2017

Review of I Was A Teenage Weredeer by CT Phipps

 I Was a Teenage Weredeer (Bright Falls Mysteries, #1)

Author: CT Phipps

Publisher: Crossroad Press

Release Date: September 21, 2017

Pages: 262

Based in the same universe as the Straight Outta Fangton vampire series, I Was A Teenage Weredeer has the same comedic sensibility, but tackles a completely different aspect of the supernatural world. That would be the world of wereshifters, drug in to the spotlight with the vampires when the vampires bailed out the US government during the last economic meltdown, in exchange for equal rights and protection. Unfortunately for the shifters, they weren't included in the deal. Only two states, Michigan and New Hampshire, protect shifters from being killed outright. That's where the story picks up, in Bright Falls, Michigan.

Bright Falls is the unofficial capitol of the Shifter world. The heads of the 12 shifter clans are all there, from the powerful werewolf clan to the selkies, weredeer and werebears. The main protagonist, Jane Doe (pun fully intended) is 18 years old, and works at her family's restaurant. She is a member of the weredeer clan. Her parents are John and Judy Doe, which is a funny way of introducing a weredeer weakness, puns. Jane's sister is romantically involved with one of the Werewolf clan, and unbeknownst to Jane, so is her brother, the only member of her family not to be a shifter.

When Jane's brother is arrested for the murder of his girlfriend, Jane and the girl's sister Emma, who is actually Jane's best friend, start their own investigation to find out who really murdered her. What they find will shake the foundations of the town, and the balance of power throughout the shifter world. helping them along the way are Alex, an FBI mage who is kind of spacey, and Lucien, who happens to be the local gangster, and has some secrets of his own. As they continue down the rabbit hole, they discover evils perpetrated in the town by people they trusted, all in the name of the "greater good". 

They discover the true nature of the evil infecting the town, and in a series of climactic fights, discover that the side of the angels might not be the clean side after all. Jane has to make some incredibly difficult decisions, that may include hurting the ones she loves the most to get to the truth. Oh, and she's had a vision of her in an intimate encounter with Lucien, and also finds Alex intriguing as well. Awkward!

I have to admit I am a huge fan of CT Phipps. I have loved every one of his books, and have them all. That being said, this one was something special. I think Jane Doe may be his best character to date. She is strong, independent and stubborn enough for a dozen people. While she has special abilities because she is a shifter, she relies on her brains to get through most problems, rather than battering them into submission with stronger than human strength. That being said, she has her moments of weredeer badassery too! 

The supporting cast is also excellent. Emma is a great friend character, and her romantic feelings for the very straight Jane adds an extra dimension to their relationship. Alex's spacey kind of good guy is a lot of fun, as is Lucien's bad boy allure. Alex being a mage and Lucien being a...well, you'll see, adds some real spice as well.The villains are excellently crafted as well, bringing a real sense of grand danger as well as having realistic and somewhat sympathetic reasons for their actions, at least in the case of the biggest threat. The town of Bright Falls is colorfully and carefully described, actually feeling like a character itself. Characters have always been a strength of this writer, so that's no surprise.

All in all, I feel this will appeal to a wide variety if readers, from teens to adults, male and female alike. I know this is a project of love for the author, and he is almost done with book two. Any fans of his other books should really be able to dig in and enjoy this one. I can't recommend it highly enough.

Total Rating: 10/10.

Monday, August 21, 2017

A review of The Wanderer Awakens: Warden Global Book 1 by Ken Lange

Author: Ken Lange

Publisher: Ken Lange

Release Date: Nov. 15, 2016 (ebook)/ Jan. 4, 2017 (audio)

Length: 242 Pages/10 hrs, 56 mins (audio)

Narrated by Marlin May

Most urban fantasy lately has been the usual wizard/mage/witch/warlock/druid, what have you detective/shop owner, etc protagonist. The Wanderer Awakens is not that book. In fact, its a pretty unique universe, which intersects fantasy, sci fi and a touch of time travel and Norse mythology. Sound intriguing? It should, because this is one creative, not run of the mill book.

Victor Warden is a leader in a secret society whose mission is to stop the forces of darkness from taking over the world. That includes a vast assortment of monsters and magic users. The problem is, the society's founder hasn't made an appearance in years, and the leader left in charge while he is gone, The Gatekeeper, is a power hungry scumbag. He starts a power play, all while a new threat to the entire world has come out of Victor's past to haunt him and the world. A dark evil Sorceress name Gulveig with a connection 15000 years in the past to Victor. That's right, I said 15000 years. Victor is far older than he appears, and has powers and abilities commensurate with that, all brought about by unique alien tech.

Victor, his daughter, Victor's powerful ex wife must deal with the Gatekeeper's plan to kill them all, while trying To also deal with Gulveig's plan to take over the world, as well as betrayal from within their circle of allies, which includes a Federal Marshal, an FBI Agent, and various leaders in the society. Gulveig will stop at nothing to fulfill her plan, killing whoever is in her way. Even Victor and his crew might not be able to stop the uber-powerful deathless sorceress. You'll have to listen/read it to find out how it turns out.

Victor has been unable to access more than the basics of his power, like strength, speed, and creating a body force shield, ever since his last run in with Gulveig 15000 years prior. After a pivotal event, Victor's mentor Mimir is released and starts repairing Victor's systems so he can access his full abilities and memories. The flashback scenes are first rate as he regains his memories, adding a sense of depth to the story.

The story takes place in New Orleans, which is a great setting for it. The city is rich with culture, history and tragedy, and the author utilizes these to the fullest, from scenes in the old US Mint, to various landmarks and even the final climactic scenes in the abandoned Six Flags amusement park. The setting is like another character, and it's very well drawn out.

I mentioned Norse mythology. Well, several of the characters, such as Gulveig, Mimir and Victors true name should be familiar to people who know Norse mythology. Some of the cosmology is different, but stories change over time. Victor's true identity actually surprised me. I thought I had it, but missed it. Great little touches with it though.

As narration goes, Marlin May did a very good job. He gave each character a unique voice, and really kept the story moving along. Great pacing, and good flow throughout. All in all, this is a book I would recommend for anyone looking for something little different than another Dresden Files or Iron Druid clone.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Review of Straight Outta Fangton: A Comedic Vampire Story

Author: C.T. Phipps

Publisher: Macabre Ink (ebook)/ Crossroad Press (audio)

Release Date: April 15, 2017/ August 28, 2017 (audio)

Length: 196 pages/ 7 hrs, 27 minutes (audio)

Narrated by Cary Hite

Peter Stone, or just Stone as he likes to be called, is at a bit of a loss. Here he is, one of the mighty undead, who are finally out of the coffin after bailing out the US after a financial collapse, a Vampire and Iraq war vet, and he cant seem to catch a break. No fancy clothes, no riches, no sports cars or exotic models looking to be his thralls. Instead, he's working at a low paying convenience store, exiled from the vampire society, and his only thrall is David, who is no ones idea of a model. 

He's going nowhere fast, until one day his werewolf boss tells him that someone has OD'd in the bathroom of the store. Stone checks it out, and it's worse than that. Someone has dumped a newly changed vampire in the bathroom, mad with blood lust. Well, that can't be good. After attacking Stone, the fledgling vampire, Melissa, is subdued, and they discover she was an anti monster activist. They then  discover she was turned by an overpowered vampire who used to be a Templar Knight who is almost unkillable, and has been hunting vampires since the middle ages. Stone takes her to see Thoth, his Creator and one of the Masters of New Detroit. 

This starts a chain reaction of events, as a power play is taking place, with the Templar trying to take out the lead vampires and some lower rank vampires making moves of their own, which leads to Stone's and crew's final confrontation with the Templar and his expendable allies, with Stone being spectacularly outclassed but still struggling to win in the end.

This is the type of book I expect CT Phipps to write. Comedic, but with interesting characters, much deeper than you'd expect world building, great villains (a real strength of all his books) and a plot that just keeps racing along. Even the supporting characters are fleshed out, which is another strength of this writer. The pop culture references also fly fast and furious, everything from Twilight to Star Wars, again, something he does in all his books. 

The only thing I had any issues  with was the final battle with the Templar. While it had a satisfying conclusion, it was a bit quick. I suspect that might have been intentional, but it was something unusual for this author. Other than that minor point, this was one excellent novel. 

Cary Hite is a revelation as a narrator. He really brings the story to life, giving each character a life of their own. He has a great voice, and his use of accents and inflection is excellent. Definitely on my list of top narrating talent. 

I heartily recommend this book to anyone who is into urban fantasy or likes a good supernatural romp. You wont be disappointed.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Review of Viridian Gate Online: Cataclysm

Viridian Gate Online: Cataclysm: A litRPG Adventure (The Viridian Gate Archives Book 1) by [Hunter, James]

Author: J. A Hunter

Publisher: Shadow Alley Press

Release Date: Dec 23, 2016 (ebook)/ April 20, 2017 (audio)

Length: 306 Pages/ 8 hrs, 44 mins (audio)

Narrated by Armen Taylor

LitRPG has been a hit or miss genre to me since I discovered it a couple years ago. While there are some really good books in it, there are also some that just seem to be trying to cash in by writing a generic story which just adds stats/leveling up and dungeon crawls and loot drops to be called LitRPG and grab onto the popularity the genre is currently having. That being said, Viridian Gate Online: Cateclysm, is not one of those. It is, in fact, my favorite title in the Genre, surpassing the Way of the Shaman series. Thats a pretty good recommendation in my opinion.

Viridian Gate Online (VGO) has a fairly unique premise. The story starts off with Jack, an EMT, conflicted over whether he should get into the immersion pod for VGO provided to him by an old college friend that works for the company that developed VGO. The reason he is conflicted is that if he gets in and stays 72 hours, one of 2 things will happen. He could stay in, and his mind would be mapped and digitized and he would remain in the game as his character, Grim Jack, forever. However, his body would shut down and he would only survive ingame. however, there is a one in 6 chance he would die before that in the tank, his mind rejecting the transition, and he would just be dead instead.

However, this is all kind of a moot point, since in 9 days, almost everyone will be dead. Yes, you heard that right. There is a 9 mile wide asteroid, 213 Astraea, headed for Earth, projected to land just off the coast of Greenland. Well, that's an extinction level event, so, game over, so to speak. Except for the ridiculously wealthy and survival lottery winners, planning to live in deep earth bunkers, the only way to "survive" is to immerse in VGO, where your digitized mind will survive in the 7 great over mind servers buried deep underground. Well, since Jack is the main character of the story, you can guess which path he chose.

After immersing himself in the game, Jack goes into the character development screen. He goes through the character race types, and picks Murk Elf for himself (think dark elf) type, liking some of the character's natural bonuses. Being an experienced MMO gamer, Jack knows he has lots of choices in class for himself down the line, and the game doesn't force a class choice immediately. After he sets up the character, she starts the game play. He awakens in a cage in a dungeon lab, where someone has been vivisecting people. Not the most promising start to a game! There is another prisoner named Cutter, a thief, who offers to help him escape what apparently is some evil dark priest's torture dungeon. No place they want to hang out in.

They make their escape, although along the way they discover an old Murk Elf woman on the edge of death. She charges Jack to return her medallion to her tribe, to let them know how she dies. She also unlocks the shadow spark in Jack, allowing him some access to special abilities. This is now a quest for Jack, with the attendant quest requirements and rewards attached to it. After their escape, Cutter takes Jack to his city, where he introduces Jack to the local thieves union hall, since thieves don't have a guild.

What starts here is the adventures Jack expected, since after some training, he goes on a series of adventures, collecting loot, leveling up, basically doing what everyone does in an RPG. After being contacted by his old college friend Abbie, he takes a teleport scroll and goes to meet her with Cutter. This start some adventures and quests Jack must undertake to advance.

Later on Jack meets up with Abbie. She explains she discovered irregularities in the code of VGO, that rich people have paid to have restricted areas and quests set aside, so that they could easily level up and gain legendary level weapons and gear, basically cheating to create a paradise with themselves at the top of the food chain. Abbie wants to end around that and see if they can circumvent it. They then start the set of adventures and quests that will determine the fate of VGO. Will it just be a rich persons paradise with everyone else a serf, or will it be a chance to excel for all? What follows is a set of epic adventures and quests, which test the mettle, heart and skills of Grim Jack and Cutter, meeting a wide assortment of characters and completing more and more challenging quests, all while finding out even deeper truths about VGO, and about what the world truly faces in game. He will have to make some life and death choices that will affect many more people than himself.

This book is a must read for any fan of LitRPG, or fan of good writing, actually. The characters are phenomenal, with Jack and Cutter being the standouts, but even the secondary characters and even the monsters are well drawn out. The dialogue is tight, and there is real emotional punch to the story. The world building is epic in scale, but so well described you feel as though you are right there in the thick of things, which is all you can ask from a writer. You can tell there is a much larger world and story out there, and that we are just being introduced to something grand.

Narration wise, Armen Taylor does a great job bringing each character to life. They all have their own personalities, quirks and voices. He uses tone, inflection and accent to differentiate each character. Overall, a top notch performance.

I can't stress enough how much I enjoyed this book. I truly believe it is the best LitRPG on the market today, and I hope the author has huge success with it and keeps writing more! I for one, will be in line to get the next installment.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Review of Grey Panthers: Battle For Earth by David Guenther

Gray Panthers: Battle for Earth Audiobook

Author: David Guenther

Publisher: David Guenther

Release Date: Jabuary 7, 2016 (ebook)/ February 25, 2016 (audio)

Length: 226 pages/ 6 hrs, 16 mins.

Narrated by Liam Owen 

30 years after Iran nuked Washington DC and we basically wasted them in response, the surviving government suspended half the bill of rights, confiscated guns and had half the military desert or resign rather than attack US citizen. What followed was a huge growth in Homeland Security contractors to take their place, enforcing the draconian "security". 

This is the country Dan "D2" Daniels, a retired Army Sgt. Major, finds himself. When Dan goes down into an abandoned mine he hopes to find some gold in, he comes across a cavern with a spaceship that has been there for a hundred years. The ship is from a more advanced race that is peaceful, and it tells him that earth will be invaded in twenty years by a violent alien race. The ship, called Grub, agrees to help Dan prepare the Earth to repel the invaders, starting by making him young and healthy again, although his face is still that of a 70 year old man. 

So begins the adventure of a lifetime, as Dan starts recruiting old vets into his group to prepare to take the country back from the disease of corruption that has shredded the Constitution and prepare to defend the Earth from invasion.  They are going to save the Earth, no matter the cost or the obstacles thrown in their way. With a large diverse group of interesting characters, an all too believable setting in a totalitarian Socialist America, and interesting technology, along with pulse pounding battle scenes and close quarters fights, this will appeal to any fan of military science fiction. 

Liam Owen, who also narrated Steven Campbell's Hard Luck Hank series, does an excellent job of creating great voices for the various characters. He gives them a real world weary quality, and his narrative pace is excellent, with great tone and inflection. 

This is just a good old fashioned sci fi tale, not hard sci fi, but just a sci fi action story, and that's ok. Not everything needs to be a deep introspective look into hard science or social commentary. Sometimes, a story is just meant to entertain, which this one does. I can't wait to get into book 2. If it is as good as this one, this may easily become one of my favorite sci fi series.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Review of King of the Bastards by Brian Keene and Steven L. Shrewsbury

 King of the Bastards Audiobook

Authors: Brian Keene and Steven L. Shrewsbury

Publisher: Apex Book Company (paper and ebook)/ Beacon Audiobooks (audio)

Release Date: July 21st, 2015 (paper and ebook)/ May 12, 2017 (audio)

Length: 163 pages /5 hrs, 23 mins

Narrated by Doug Greene

I picked this up on a whim, liking the idea that someone wrote an unabashed old school pulp fantasy. I wasn't disappointed! This reads like an old RE Howard Conan book, only one where Conan had his kingdom, tired of the throne and passed his kingdom on to his heir to rule while he want back out and had more adventures. All this takes place in a pre Hyperborea Earth, so some of the countries and places will sound similar. If that sounds intriguing, this is the book for you. 

While on a fishing trip off one of his old ally states, in a bireme of all things, his ship is attacked by a tentacled horror, Pirates, and then zombies after the ship is destroyed. Before the ship sank, though, Rogan is told by the lead pirate he was sent by Logan's unknown bastard son, and he has conquered his kingdom and imprisoned the rightful king, and are raping and pillaging across his kingdom. They end up on a beach in unfamiliar territory and discover a tribe of natives. The native, and a group of Amazons who happen to be staying with the natives, agree to help them get home if they get rid of the evil necromancer and his demon on the top of the local mountain. Well, needs must, so if off to slay the wizard. 

What follows is a wild trip to the mountain, with the invertible co mingling with the Amazons, with hilarious results.The climb up the mountain is crazy, and the fight after involving magic, strange science and even a dash of time travel is just gonzo fun. This being pulp fiction, you can probably figure out how it ends. It is a lot of fun right through to the end.

The characters are all larger than life Conan archetypes. Rogan is big, powerful and an epic warrior, even pushing 60. His nephew and aide is also an epic warrior. The Amazons are all beautiful, even with the one breast missing (traditional Amazons) and great warriors, all while being wildcats in bed. This is certainly not a PC kind of title. Its much more old school, and I think it is an under served market in the current marketplace. While they may be over the top, they are entertaining. The settings are well thought out and described, and fit the story well. The plot is fast paced, and relies on a lot of action to keep things moving.You just don't see this kind of book written too much anymore, sadly.

Doug Greene's narration was solid, keeping the story moving and giving the characters their own voices. Very good effort on his part.

If you are into the kind of fantasy RE Howard was writing, this is something you may want to check out. I know I am looking forward to any sequels.