“Skid – The First Chronicle”, by Keith Fenwick – Review

Keith Fenwick kicks off The Skidian Chronicles series with this introduction to the alien race known as Skid. The basic concept is that of a civilization so advanced its citizens don’t know how to do much of anything other than exist within it. Other authors have mined this idea for many years (examples include Asimov, Herbert, and even L. Ron Hubbard) but it still makes for an interesting read. The action starts with an existential crisis on Skid, their automated food supply systems are about to fail, so they decide to abduct some likely residents of Earth who can make it all better. Unfortunately, Skidians do not have the first clue of what they actually need. Regardless, in quick order, four solitary humans are snatched and the Skidian ship flees Earth once detected. Due to a series of early mishaps, two of the humans are dispatched almost immediately; leaving a female American travel consultant who was hiking in the woods on her way to a yoga class and an Australian, no .. (cough) I mean a New Zealander farmer with his three semi-working dogs as the sole hope of the Skidians.

Fenwick has fun with the stereotypes of both Kiwi and American, as well as the advanced-but-do-nothing Skidians. The book is well-written and easily creates the world of Skid for the reader. The pacing of the story could use some work, as things run on a bit 3/4 of the way through and the ending is definitely abrupt. There are many plot points left hanging, which I assume will be picked up by the balance of the series. Nonetheless I very much enjoyed the book and am definitely interested in seeing what’s next for the clueless Skidians.

(Disclosure: I received a free copy through Veracious Readers Only)

“White Oaks”, by Jill Hand – Review

Jill Hand has written a completely entertaining thriller which incorporates a sometimes comic view of family dynamics surrounding inheritance positioning within a ruling Southern family. I say “ruling” since we in the United States sometimes use extreme multi-generational wealth as a proxy for royalty and most of us know places where there are families so rich they literally can get away with murder. In White Oaks, the family patriarch assigns an illegal bucket list item for his four grown children to arrange and the fun begins. The twists, turns, betrayals, and daft-yet-plausible behavior combine into something you’ll want to read in one sitting.

The writing and craftsmanship is impeccable, and a distinct pleasure to read. White Oaks is one of those books to savor as skimming would miss too many wonderful, and snarky, observations. I recommend without reservation.

I purchased the paperback book directly from the publisher.

“Joe Coffin, Season One”, by Ken Preston – Review

This is one enjoyable read! Ken Preston combines the mob, old school vampires, the press, and a wide range of other characters to create a gritty story set in the United Kingdom. The writing is very tight and thoroughly coherent. Joe Coffin is the archetype of the large hard man with a tender heart, just what you want when vampires are involved. Someone in Joe’s world can identify evil much easier than routine law enforcement ever will. Joe doesn’t walk through things unscathed, but you get the sense he will be standing at the end of the day, even if he is missing a few parts in the process.

If you like an entertaining book written in an episodic format, this is highly recommended. The ending comes with a few dangling plot lines, but I presume they will be dealt with in the next episode, which I am about to acquire.

(Disclosure: I received a free copy through Veracious Readers Only)

“The Untold Tale”, by J. M. Frey – Review

The Untold Tale is an epic fantasy related through the eyes of Forsyth Turn, Lord of Lysse Chipping and secret spymaster to the King. He also happens to be the younger brother of a rather more extroverted hero Kintyre Turn; slayer of dragons, scourge of the evil Viceroy and his minions, who is always accompanied by his faithful sidekick (and biographer) Bevel. As Shadow Hand, notoriety is discouraged regardless, entirely in turn with Forsyth’s personality as an introvert.

The action begins when the Shadow Hand’s men rescue a woman who has been tortured by the Viceroy’s man Bootstrap. It soon becomes clear Lucy Piper (or Pip) isn’t from Forsyth’s world. Lucy seems to have strange insights into the mechanics of his world, greeting him by name when she regained consciousness. Forsyth has read of legends speaking of entities from beyond; Readers, second only to the Author itself who created the world and everything in it. Forsyth knows he must do whatever it takes to repatriate Lucy to wherever it is she truly belongs. He must fight the forces of the Viceroy, his glory-hogging brother, quests, and his own growing love for Pip to achieve her safe return.

I enjoyed The Untold Tale on a number of levels. At first, I’m reading it as a period fantasy and Lucy shows up with obvious anachronisms, which I initially attribute to poor writing having seen it all too often. J. M. Frey threw me a head-fake and I fell for it. I love it when that happens! Chastened, I read on to the end of a very compelling story. Frey injects some political correctness moralizing midway through but evenhandedly dials it back to where it is not off-putting for a reader. She also creates a second-half very complicated relationship situation which cannot resolve itself into a mostly happy ending without the use of a MacGuffin. Regardless of where you fall on resolution believability, it does engage thought on the topic and perhaps that was the entire point. I recommend The Untold Tale without reservation.

(Disclosure: I received a free copy through Veracious Readers Only!)

“Murphy’s Luck 3”, by Benjamin Laskin – Review

Murphy’s Luck 3 continues the adventures of Murphy Drummer, a one-man demolition derby of bad-luck or sole protector of the possible, depending on your point of view. Benjamin Laskin opens the story with Murphy’s CIA Elite Hippie Unit, Granola Team Six in-laws being captured by a small but scrappy 99th largest South American crime cartel. They pin their hopes on a black helicopter-flying friend Frank to come and save their patchouli-wearing backsides. Frank knows when he needs help, given the improbable odds, and just who to recruit; a man to whom odds mean nothing and a former supermodel-turned-assassin with a score to settle. Murphy comes along to protect the enterprise from the inevitable bad luck which follows him everywhere he goes. How will Murphy and the team rescue the in-laws, find the buried treasure, and make it back to Eureka, Kansas in time for daughter Phaedra’s birthday party? Will the cartel move up in the rankings and open an Adventure Bed & Breakfast?

Benjamin Laskin has crafted an extremely fun read, with recurring gags, wicked puns, witty dialog, and characters you could almost see. Frank reminded me most of the American President in Hot Shots – Part Deux, with all of his missing organs from past military engagements. The concept of a personal jinx field around an individual has been explored before, but never in so lighthearted and entertaining a fashion. Having a town basically quarantine Murphy and his similarly afflicted offspring seems entirely rational, given the alternatives. Plus, who doesn’t like to read stories of former supermodels who are now walking arsenals? Murphy’s Luck 3 will provide the laughs, bring your own oatmeal cookies!

Reviewed for Readers’ Favorite

“Zeus is Undead”, by Michael G. Munz – Review

Buckle up and sit down to read Zeus is Undead when you’re fresh and alert, otherwise you will miss out on the little gems Michael G. Munz has sprinkled throughout. This installment occurs after the events of the Zeus is Dead book; Zeus is newly undead (as in not-dead), has rewarded the faithful and punished those who collaborated in his previous death. Athena has been rendered immortal, but no longer divine, which means things hurt a lot more than they used to when she battles. The storyline loosely follows her quests to improve standing with Zeus in order to be divine once more. To improve prospects of a movie deal for the book (as well as pull-through sales for the previous book), two mortals are also engaged to help out. Together (mostly) they have to deal with an upsurge in zombie activity while Zeus is preoccupied by Lovecraftian cosmic entities, making demands backed by incriminating footage of Zeus doing what he does best. Hera will not be amused.

I enjoyed Zeus is Undead very much indeed. Seriously, read it slowly because the density of jokes, mythic or business references, and puns are non-stop. Michael G. Munz has produced a rollicking tale which ranks among those of Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, and Piers Anthony. Since the best two of those three are no longer writing books, for their own personal reasons, there is definitely a market and ample room for Munz’s efforts. I’m now motivated, by Baskin’s Mighty Pink Battle-Spoon™ (chortle), to find some ice cream and read the previous book as well.


Reviewed for Readers’ Favorite

“Kevin the Vampire”, by Will Madden – Review

Will Madden has created a delightful short novella about a vampire called Kevin. No longer known as Gaius Serverus, Guy, Cevinus, or Qehveenoz; now it’s just Kevin. Being Kevin is entirely appropriate for his new environs within the Greater American Corn Belt. Almost by accident, Kevin the Vampire takes up residence in an old abandoned church, St. Agnews. The church is still furnished with long abandoned furniture and an organ which Kevin uses to sing Billy Joel parody songs with a vampire twist. Engaging in staring contests with the crucified Christ (always a draw until Kevin gets bored), checking out any new nail polish colors at the local Walgreens (the only store open at night), or sampling the pedestrian fare of corn-fed blood, Kevin has an idyllic existence until a vampire hunter comes to town. Edvard von Heusen, said vampire hunter, has come specifically to find Kevin and make him an offer he’d best not refuse. No matter what happens next, Kevin’s life (or death?) will never be the same.

I enjoyed Kevin the Vampire from beginning to end. Will Madden’s witty approach to telling Kevin’s story kept me engaged throughout. Flawlessly constructed, the story is well-told and fresh, a standout from the often-worn genre of common vampire stories. The ending was unexpected and interesting; altogether what you would expect from the Kevin you come to know. If you enjoy vampire stories which don’t take themselves too seriously and are easy to read within a couple of hours, Kevin the Vampire is a fine choice!

Reviewed for Readers’ Favorite

“First Flight”, by Zachary Jones – Review

Zachary Jones has written a classic space opera, heavy on the space battle action. In the midst of a war between two human factions, the Federals and the League, a new power inserts itself into the equation by soundly trouncing both groups in multiple surprise attacks. While initially outclassed by the Ascendency forces, Mason, a young fighter pilot, must somehow survive the complete destruction of his fighter group and live to fight another day. While much about the Ascendency suggests a human origin, such as their approach to fighting space battles, there are many other things which suggest they might be something completely new. Mason is seconded to the Special Purpose Branch, a military intelligence arm of the human Federal forces. They are tasked to learn more about the Ascendency, hopefully in time for the knowledge to make a difference.

I am a fan of space operas in general, but normally gravitate to those which have a high emphasis on the overall plot rather than being mostly a series of space battles. Zachary Jones does a fine job of emphasizing the space battles, which he clearly loves, while not losing sight of the need to move the plot forward. The action was believable, in that most of the technologies involved were not radical departures from what physics could one day support. If you are the type of person who loves reading realistic accounts of massive space battles punctuated by human ingenuity under pressure, First Flight is definitely the book for you!

Reviewed for Readers’ Favorite

“The Hollywood Portal”, by E. E. King – Review

Eddie Evers is back! Or rather he never went away. The Hollywood Portal continues the story of my favorite electric detective; as he works to find answers to a number of questions surrounding a 50s-era bomb shelter which has somehow become a portal to another world. Not just any world; a version of Earth which didn’t make it through the cold war without shots fired in anger. E. E. King continues the witty dialog as Eddie still sees the world in greyscale, with occasional otherworldly incursions in full color. His deceased daughter is now sending him written notes from the beyond; usually timely warnings which, like most oracular warnings, are not understood until after the events occur. I wonder why oracles even bother!

We learn even more about the checkered past of Los Angeles, with nods to things most Angelinos would instantly recognize. Half of the fun comes from the inside references. My favorite section is:

“Most realtors I know are as honest as lawyers.”
“But not as smart,” Blake said.
“But not as smart,” I agreed.

The story isn’t all humor, as Eddie manages some significant personal growth in addition to tracking down the extra-dimensional villain(s). I enjoyed the book from beginning to end, and look forward to her next installment.

“Electric Detective”, by E. E. King – Review

E.E. King has written a classic detective story set in Los Angeles, but with several delightful science fiction twists. Eddie Evers, a former FBI agent tasked to child abduction cases, has come apart at the seams after his wife and daughter are killed in an auto accident. Eighteen months later, Eddie is still self-medicating with Jack Daniels. To make things worse, Eddie survives a direct hit by a lightning bolt and recovery requires even more Jack Daniels. The shock has left him seeing the world in grayscale, except for things which aren’t real; things like futuristic fruit hybrids, dead bodies, and the man who killed his family. The new vision helps his business as a private investigator, working for local police and the FBI. A society of scientists are also interested in Eddie’s newfound skills and aren’t shy in their pursuit. Eddie, with his electric cat Max, has to unravel a series of murders at some of Los Angeles’ best private schools and the truth is even more unusual than Eddie’s backstory.

E.E. King has really knocked this one out of the park, the persona of Eddie fits the wisecracking norm of the detective story while being wholly at home with the science fiction aspects of the story. I especially appreciated all of the witty observations about life in Los Angeles and its history. The tension rises relentlessly as you rush for the final chapter and a strong ending. If you like well-written detective stories and science fiction, look no further, this is a good one!