The Rogue Retrieval
by Dan Koboldt

04/01/16

Contrary to popular belief, what happens in Vegas doesn’t necessarily stay in Vegas. In fact, in Dan Koboldt’s debut science fantasy The Rogue Retrieval, what happens in Vegas ends up out of this world.

Literally. A multinational corporation has discovered a portal to another world—Alissia. They’ve been sending in covert teams, led by scientist Richard Holt, to scout around and learn all about this new land—it’s left a bit to the reader’s imagination as to how they’re going to exploit this discovery. But Richard Holt has disappeared and his employer wants the rogue scientist retrieved before he can cause major headaches.

Enter Quinn Bradley, a second tier stage magician who’s positive he’s ready for the big time. He just doesn’t realize how big. When what he thinks is going to be an offer to headline a top casino turns out to be a mystery ‘offer he can’t refuse’, complete with strings attached, Quinn finds himself plunged into a top secret quest. As his reticent employers reveal all to little of what Quinn’s in for, he finds himself learning sword fighting techniques (don’t engage anyone older than 12, he’s told, or you’re a goner) and horsemanship. Alissia is a medieval culture, and while directing his employer in the creation of all major of technology-based illusions to dazzle the Alissians. Unfortunately, no one realizes there are actually true magicians in Alissia—and that to impersonate one is a mortal offense. Oops.

Dan Koboldt’s book is a merry blend of science and sorcery that's reminiscent of Christopher Stasheff’s marvelous The Warlock in Spite of Himself. And this comparison is not made lightly, for TWISOH is one of my all-time favorites. While I confess to not immediately taking a shine to Quinn, he grew on me as the story progressed, and by the end of the book I was definitely rooting for him. Quinn is no hero, and he darned well knows it. But he finds himself thrown into ever more dire situations which require him to be just that. It’s actually a lot of fun watching Quinn grow and change throughout the story arc.

Koboldt deftly blends humor, adventure, magic and mayhem into his science-cum-magic tale. In lesser hands this could have been a complete disaster, but Koboldt always seems to have one more trick up his sleeve, like Quinn, and The Rogue Retrieval is an engaging, well told, fast-paced tale that leaves the reader wanting more. There are a number of unresolved issues, and the ending pretty much guarantees that Quinn will have to pull himself out of a top hat for another engagement in Alissia.

Takeaway: 5 Stars--Highly Recommended. 

Inconceivable
by Tegan Wren

02/17/16

First, I have to say that I’ve know Tegan Wren as a Twitter-friend since before we both had our books accepted for publication. I’ve waited very (im)patiently for the release of INCONCEIVABLE—I loved the concept of this book from when Tegan first began pitching it, and couldn’t wait to dive in. Ok, yeah, I’m a guy reading a romance novel. I love a good story, I love good writing, and INCONCEIVABLE has both. Plus it has an amazing cover, and yes, you DO darned well judge a book by its amazing cover.

INCONCEIVABLE is not, as might be thought (at least in the circles in which I hang out) a reference to The Princess Bride. It is instead a modern-day fairy tale centering on the high-profile, whirlwind romance between commoner Hatty, an American finishing her journalism degree in a small European kingdom adjacent to France and Belgium, and John, her prince charming (and sometimes prince annoying). But these fairy-tale characters, as portrayed by Tegan Wren, are very human: subject to highs and lows, to love, lust and jealousies, and to the foibles, petty grievances and wonderfully intimate shared moments of a couple in love. INCONCEIVABLE is also an examination of the uses and abuses of power by both individuals and the media; our obsession with celebrity; and the problems inherent in modern-day relationships. Finally, and overarching, is the theme of infertility.

I’m not giving away any secrets to reveal that the royal marriage, when it finally occurs, is haunted by the specter of infertility, with its accompanying feelings of inadequacy, fear, despair, frustration, and anger. I’ve been there—my wife and I went through this many years ago—and Ms. Wren gives an excruciatingly accurate picture of what a couple endures when faced with this issue. The poking and prodding, the innumerable tests, the trying and trying and trying—which can sound fun at first, but soon can turn into a dismal and fruitless chore—and the hard choices that have to be made, all are shown in brilliant detail.

There is a lot going in between the covers of INCONCEIVABLE, and Wren juggles the balls deftly. But in the end, this is a story of two people in love—how they get there, how they deal with that love and its consequences, how they grow in it, and ultimately the choices they are forced to make. It can be a hard read—especially for anyone who has experienced infertility—but INCONCEIVABLE is well worth it. Well done, Tegan Wren.  

Skeleton Run
by John L. DeBoer

02/01/16

Skeleton Run is a thriller examining the havoc which can be reaped from the consequences of past actions. The narrative follows the lives of four young friends who are involved in a tragic accident. The result of their non-action comes back to bite them much later in their lives, as fate rears its ugly head and sets off a chain reaction of events which spiral out of control into dishonor and even death.

DeBoer plys a deft hand in his handling of the narrative arc, constantly ratcheting up the tension and suspense throughout the arc of the story until it culminates in a final, decisive showdown. His characters are solidly developed, with motivations built from guilt, greed, ambition, and an overwhelming lust for power. The political aspects, especially with the upcoming election and so much focus on who controls the purse-strings and thus the politicos, are particularly timely.

I found the author’s use of POV a bit distracting—he switches back and forth between multi-POV 3rdperson narration to 1st person narration from the designated ‘hero’ of the story, Dr. Jim Dawson. These changes had the effect of pulling me out of the story and making me mentally say “Wait, what?” The only other problem I had with this book (and this is a minor technical issue) is that the ebook edition I read was divided into sections, so that I was always on “page 2 of 10” or “page 6 of 14”; thus I never really knew where I was in relation to the overall size of the book. Minor quibble, I know, but I still found it a bit bothersome.

 

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. Skeleton Run is a solid effort that will keep readers turning pages to see who lives, who dies, and how it all turns out. DeBoer has an excellent handle on his plot and pacing, and presents a gripping glimpse into the world of political intrigue and personal guilt.

Thief of Lies
by Brenda Drake

01/13/16

First of all, a disclaimer. Brenda Drake is my Fairy Godmother.

Well, close enough. This talented and extraordinarily busy lady not only writes amazing stories, but also runs amazing Twitter contests for other writers. It was through her PitMad contest that I connected with my publisher, Champagne Books, and ended up having my debut novel Traitor Knight published. So thank you, Brenda, for helping me to achieve my dream.

Now, on to Thief of Lies.

 

First, the cover. L O V E it! There is so much going on there, and guess what? You DO just a book by its cover. The color, the design, everything, just makes me want to jump right into this book.

Right from the opening line (“ “) Brenda Drake creates a marvelously drawn world that melds the mortal and the magical with the great libraries of the world as the gateway between them. Books take us on journeys, right? Well in Thief of Lies, certain books serve as portals which enable people—and monsters—to transport between the Mystik and the human worlds, and young Sentinels are charged with guarding the portals and keeping the human world safe.

Gia Kearns, the main character of Thief of Lies, is accidentally drawn into one of the books when she unwittingly speaks the key that activates the portal. Along with her friends Afton and Nick, Gia finds herself in a library in Paris, beset by a supernatural hound intent on their destruction. Rescued by Arik and his band of Sentinels, Gia is returned to her home in Boston, but finds herself pursued by more malevolent creatures from the supernatural world. As she is thrust deeper and deeper in the world of the Mystik, Gia has to accept that there is much more to her own existence than she ever realized, and that her fate and the fate of both Mystik and human worlds are inexorably bound together.

Gia is a combination of spunky, stubborn, hot-headed, loyal, loving, and strong. She has her flaws, but also possesses a sense of honor and a fighting spirit that would do any knight proud. A wonderfully rounded character, and Drake can be very proud of her creation.

The companion characters, for the most part, were also extremely well done. A few fell a bit flat, but Drake gives most of them clear motivations and personalities that allowed them to be more than cardboard add-ons. Overall an A- here. My biggest negative factor was the sheer number of characters I had to keep track of—occasionally they ran together a bit, and I had to go back a little to figure out who was whom.

Gia’s love interests—Arik, the Sentinel who saves her in the beginning of the book, and Bastien, the young wizard to whom she has an unexpected connection—are both handsome, strong, brave, and kind to small animals. She’s definitely not starved for choices in the fields of love. But Drake frames Gia’s dilemma nicely and the triangle, unresolved at the end of the book, will no doubt lead to interesting conflicts in the next outing.

The rule of magic are well thought out and consistently applied, and while I would have loved to spend more time in the great libraries, the slam-bang action carried me along throughout the book. Gia faces dramatically high stakes which keep getting even higher. Epic swordfights and wizards duels manage to wreck several of the libraries, but Drake, perhaps a bit tongue-in-cheek, postulates a group of Cleaners, adjuncts to the Sentinels, who “sweep up after the elephants”, as it were, putting the books back in order and deftly disposing of monster-guts. I loved this touch—nicely played.

 

Thief of Lies is targeted at the YA audience, and should do extremely well there. It also will resonate with any adults who enjoy good escapist, rollicking fantasy. The pace is breakneck, the characters engaging, and the world-building outstanding. I absolutely recommend this book. 

The Death of Dulgath
by Michael J. Sullivan

01/06/16

Another fabulous romp from Michael J. Sullivan! Highly Recommended. Royce and Hadrian are marvelouscharacters, and I've happily devoured all their adventures to date. I've been eagerly awaiting this latest outing, and it didn't disappoint.

Our heroes are called in as 'consultants' to determine how best to assassinate Lady Dulgath, so that she can be protected against attempts on her life. The Riyria coffers are low and it sounds like easy money, so they take the job. Of course anything this easy is too good to be true, so immediately things begin to go pear-shaped for them. Twisty intrigue, plots and counterplots, rapier wit and broadsword battles abound, as does a marvelous glimpse into what makes this world, and our heroes, tick. 

Some may be a bit put off by Sullivan's use of modern language in what is essential a medieval setting. As someone who uses the same convention in my own work, I love it, and actually MJS was the inspiration who enabled me to bring my character's speech out of the dark ages and into the modern. I find it fun and engaging, so to anyone who finds it distracting, I simply say "pooh". 

The Death of Dulgath is a fast, fun read in a marvelously constructed world, with wonderfully engaging characters. Whether you've read any of Royce and Hadrian's previous adventures or not, you'll enjoy this book. 

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