Posted in Book Reviews, Novels

REVIEW: Oscawana: A Monster Novel by Frank Martin

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*No Major Spoilers*

*Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault/Child Molestation*

Located just forty-five miles north of New York City and isolated in the hills of Putnam Valley, Lake Oscawana is the perfect summer getaway. At least, that was what April’s mother told her when she dropped April and her brother off to spend the season at their uncle’s lake house. It wasn’t bad at first. April thought she might’ve finally found someone that made her feel like family and a place she could actually call home. But April grew worried when she found something living in the water. Something strange. Something growing. She wanted to tell someone and sound the alarm, but April would have to learn the hard way that not all monsters lurk beneath the water.

~

I found this novel on Twitter, a lot of authors I follow retweet their friends’ works. I thought the premise was unique and I couldn’t wait to jump into Oscawana: A Monster Novel!

I feel that the author did a really good job of making Lake Oscawana seem isolated and far away from civilization even though it is in Upstate New York. I felt like I was in the depths of Canada for as far as April had to travel just to get to the nearest small town.

Early in the novel, April stumbles upon the monster when he’s still small and not threatening. They quickly develop a friendship that grows as the monster, who April named Oscar after the lake he lives in, grows in size.

The build-up to the climax is really slow, we’re mostly following April as she watches Oscar grow into an actual killing machine. Even when April comes to this realization, I found Oscar just as adorable and harmless as when April first found him. Oscar reminded me of a genetically modified dog.

April as a character feels so ingenuine from one moment to the next, more or less for the first half of the novel she is your standard teenager who has been let down by the adults around her. Then after the climax, her motives and reasons flip flop. I can’t go into more detail due to spoilers, but it was frustrating.

Shocked, Brad pulled back from the water and watched in horror as what he assumed to be blood spread out like a blooming flower. The crimson tinge was thick and slimy, bouncing a blinding ray of light in Brad’s eyes. He couldn’t look away, though. Brad stared at the ever-expanding slick of blood as it continued to grow until it completely surrounded the boat. –Oscawana: A Monster Story

I feel the ending to be lackluster, the ending feels like there could have been enough for a sequel or even a short story sequel. The ending left me feeling unsatisfying and left me with a lot of questions. Will April reunite with Oscar? Where did Oscar come from? What will happen to Oscar? Maybe these questions will be answered in some way.

Overall, I have mixed feelings towards Oscawana. I think it’s an alright story. I was expecting more monster action but was disappointed when 80% was about the human characters and their drama. If you’re looking for a quick read, I would recommend this novel. The action was great, and the heart and emotion were as well.

Posted in Audiobooks, Book Reviews, Novels

REVIEW: God of War by Matthew Stover and Robert E. Vardeman

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*Possible Spoilers for the God of War Games*

A brutal warrior, Kratos is a slave to the gods of Olympus. Plagued by the nightmares of his past and yearning for freedom, the Ghost of Sparta would do anything to be free of his debt to the gods. He is on the verge of losing all hope when the gods give him one last task to end his servitude.

He must destroy Ares, the god of war.

But what chance does a mere mortal have against a god? Armed with the deadly chained Blades of Chaos, guided by the goddess Athena, and driven by his own insatiable thirst for vengeance, Kratos seeks the only relic powerful enough to slay Ares . . . a quest that will take him deep into the mysterious temple borne by the Titan Cronos!

From the black depths of Hades to the war-torn city of Athens to the lost desert beyond, God of War sheds a brutal new light on the bestselling video game and on the legend of Kratos.

I have been a fan of Greek Mythology for a long time. With the Percy Jackson series introducing young readers into the mythos in a kid-friendly way, God of War is basically Percy Jackson for adults. The video games are well known for their antihero Kratos, who let his bloodlust go too far and cause pain and death all around him.

If you’re familiar with the video games, then you are familiar with Kratos’ backstory. He is a Spartan who asked Ares to become his apprentice. This decision haunts him as he seeks relief from the nightmares and the decisions his younger self made in the past.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed God of War. The action, adventure, and feelings of other stories inspired by Greek Mythology were enough to keep me enthralled in the story. I haven’t played or watched any of the God of War games myself, but knowing there are novelizations of the games makes me want to continue on the adventure.

I would highly recommend this novel for fans of the Percy Jackson series as well as fans of Greek Mythology in general. There is plenty of action, adventure, and plenty of Greek gods to keep you invested in the story. I can’t wait to jump back into the world and continue on with Kratos.

Posted in Book Reviews, Novels

REVIEW: Ghostland by Duncan Ralston

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*No Spoilers*

After a near-death experience caused by the park’s star haunted attraction, Ben has come to Ghostland seeking to reconnect with his former best friend Lilian, whose post-traumatic stress won’t let her live life to the fullest. She’s come at the insistence of her therapist, Dr. Allison Wexler, who tags along out of professional curiosity, eager to study the new tech’s psychological effect on the user.

But when a computer virus sets the ghosts free and the park goes into lockdown, the trio finds themselves trapped in an endless nightmare.

With time running short and the dead quickly outnumbering the living, the survivors must tap into their knowledge of horror and video games to escape… or become Ghostland’s newest exhibits.

”If they didn’t get out of there soon, they would all die at the hands of the exhibits, then they too would become a part of Ghostland, a part of Garrote’s ghost army.” – Ghostland

I found this novel when I renewed my Kindle Unlimited subscription. I found the concept of a haunted amusement park to be intriguing and exciting. The thought of ghosts being the museum exhibits instead of the objects or buildings being the exhibits.

I will warn you upfront, this novel gets to be a gorefest at points. So if you are the squeamish type, I’d pass on this one. Otherwise, it is clearly a love letter to the classic horror movies that weren’t afraid of showing blood and letting out curse words.

I love how the author built this universe from the ground up. He even included footnotes for the ghosts and exhibits in case you wanted to know more about these fictional ghosts. Even though you learned about the barebones of the universe through dialogue and the main characters’ knowledge of the exhibits, it was nice to read more into each of the famous attractions. I think my favorite one was about a guy who got lost in his own mirror maze and ended up cutting off pieces of himself to try and keep from going around in circles.

I don’t want to spoil too much, but each character has depth and personality. Both Ben and Lillian change throughout the novel. Not only through witnessing so much trauma and horror, but just by trying to survive the murderous park. Lillian was so affected by Ben’s near-death that she stopped living life.

I was gripped to the edge of my seat until the epilogue. The anticipation of wanting to know who was going to survive, and who was going to have a gruesome demise kept me guessing until the end. One thing I did like was that the author wasn’t afraid to kill any characters. I often wondered if no one was safe.

I often found myself forgetting that Ben and Lillian were only able to see the ghosts through the artificial reality headsets they wore throughout the majority of the story. I kept forgetting about this and was amazed at how the fictional technology seamlessly blended into the background.

Overall, I really enjoyed Ghostland it was a breath of fresh air to the horror genre for me, the author wasn’t afraid to kill off characters, and even though the story is from the perspective of two teenagers, I feel like it was written for adults. If you are looking for a novel to help with your horror genre burnout, then I would highly recommend Ghostland.

Click here to read an interview I did with Duncan Ralston.

Posted in Author Q&A

Q&A with E.L. Croucher

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About E.L. Croucher:

E.L. Croucher is a young author, living in London. She started writing over two years,
with her first novel The Butterfly on Fire, which she published on Amazon. Alongside
her career as a writer, she works as a Japanese translator and interpreter for a well-
known Japanese gaming company, after studying Japanese at university and living
in Tokyo, Japan.

Her latest novel, Horned Winged Blessed is an ironic look into a world in which
gender roles are swapped, and minorities are forced into labels that they did not
choose. With a mix of feminist views and a pro-LGBTQ+ stance, E.L. Croucher writes
to further her dream of a world free from prejudice, hate crimes, and bullying.

 

  1. How has the LGBT+ community affected your life?

I would put this down to two stages. Stage one was when I tried to live as a gay man in the world, so we can call that the “G” phase. It was never right for me though. Everyone, including myself, worked that out over time. My heart was never happy. Still, I learned a lot about minorities and what it means to fit in whilst in the “G” phase – so I don’t regret a single second of it. I made some wonderful friends along the way.

Then eventually, at around 21 years old, I admitted to myself that I wanted to change my body to match my mind. I entered the “T” phase and embraced my life as a woman. Wow, what can I say? It was like living in monochrome all my life until suddenly waking up to color. I’d never felt so happy. Today, I am happier and happier with every new tick that I cross off my transition-goals-list.

And the LGBT+ community has been there to support me in its different forms the entire way. I’m so grateful and feel so blessed to be as lucky as I am.

 

  1. Do you think LGBT+ will no longer be a niche subgenre in the next 5-10 years?

It looks to me that the sub-minorities within what was already a minority are started to come out of the closet, now that people are finally learning more about the world and questioning themselves. Next, I would like to see the normalization and acceptance of straight cis men that find transwoman attractive and visa-versa. In general, the movement of sexual orientation exploration, non-binary people and their different genders is only just starting.

Unfortunately, I fear that the entire group won’t always fall within the giant LGBTQ+ bubble. I hope it does. In a world like ours, we should try and stick together! Ls should love Ts. Gs should love Ls. That is what love and acceptance are all about, right?

So to answer the question, I think that there is every chance that LGBT+ will no longer fall under the term “niche subgenre” as it grows and expands. But I hope that with whatever form it takes, we can still stick together. Power in numbers.

 

  1. What inspired you to write this novel?

I wanted to make a social commentary about how gender plays an important role in our lives, and how we cannot assume to label or group together people that do not want that. The main theme of Horned Winged Blessed is that the government in the novel has attempted to make it fairer for all genders by classing them as a ‘third’ one. This, however, is flawed because when forcing it upon the subcategories within the LGBTQ+ community those minorities are in fact having their freedom stolen from them.

My main motive was to give non-binary and transgender people a voice without making the story a huge trope about the journey we go on. (That was perhaps the mistake I made with my first book…)

 

  1. What do you wish people outside of the LGBT+ community knew about the movement?

It’s not our choice. And it has nothing to do with anyone else other than us what we do.
What I mean by that is that my identity and gender has nothing to do with the men that catcall me whilst I walk to work in the morning. When I get chatted-up in a bar, I’m not attempting to “trap” anyone. How self-centered of them to assume that! I’m simply just living my life as I want to and as I always should have. The lines that this blurs between gender and sexual orientation are a secondary issue that modern society has to awaken to and solve in itself.

That is literally what paving the way means to me.

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  1. Who inspires you? LGBT+ figure? Author? Someone close to you?

I can’t chisel this down to a single person, but I am truly inspired by allies to the LGBTQ+ movement that have no direct link to it. So for example, a perfectly happy straight cis person who in no way relates to the LGBTQ+ minorities that are 100% supportive and understanding of our cause. That’s an ally. That kind of pure acceptance and benevolence is inspiring. I think that the voice of an ally will resound a thousand times louder than any LGBTQ+ member. When I see or meet someone like that, it makes me want to fight even harder for equality.

 

  1. How has the writing community supported/helped you with your writing(s)?

There is a great pool of resources out there for any indie writer. I often asked opinions of my cover art, of which editor to go for and whether or not I was making the right decisions. It was always so fantastic to gain such proactive and honest support when those close to me were often too blind with love to tell me the truth.

 

  1. What advice would you give to other writers in the LGBT+ community?

I honestly mean this when I say that: if I can do it, so can you. My English is a native level, but it’s not perfect. My story had plot holes until my editor tore it apart and rebuilt it back up. It’s a long process, but anyone can write a book if they put their minds to it and are motivated enough.

 

  1. What is your favorite childhood book/series?

As a kid, it was, of course, Harry Potter. I always aspired to be as hardworking and focused as Hermione, and wished that my muggle parents would eventually tell me that I was off to Hogwarts next year at school.

I’m still waiting on my owl… should be here any day now!

~~

Thanks, Ms. Croucher for taking the time to answer my questions! I had a lot of fun learning more about the LGBT+ community!

Learn More about E.L. Croucher’s Works

E.L. Croucher’s Website

Follow her on Instagram @emi13230

Posted in Book Reviews, Novels

REVIEW: In the Hall With the Knife (A CLUE Mystery #1) by Diana Peterfreund

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*No Major Spoilers*

When a storm strikes at Blackbrook Academy, an elite prep school nestled in the woods of Maine, a motley crew of students—including Beth “Peacock” Picach, Orchid McKee, Vaughn Green, Sam “Mustard” Maestor, Finn Plum, and Scarlet Mistry—are left stranded on campus with their headmaster. Hours later, his body is found in the conservatory and it’s very clear his death was no accident. With this group of students who are all hiding something, nothing is as it seems, and everyone has a motive for murder. Fans of the CLUE board game and cult classic films will delight in Diana Peterfreund’s modern re-imagining of the brand, its characters, and the dark, magnificent old mansion with secrets hidden within its walls.

“Just then, there was a horrible crash right outside the door, and suddenly the sound of the storm got a whole lot louder.”

I loved playing the CLUE mystery game while I was growing up. So when this novel was on a list from one of my newsletters, I knew I had to read it.

This novel is perfect for mystery lovers. There are twists and turns, as well as learning about all of the characters involved in this mystery. The story is told from different perspectives, and at first, it was difficult to tell Orchid and Scarlet apart until more character development helped me differentiate the two.

Scarlet Mistry, she was on the Council for Beautification. She lived, along with other students, in the Tudor Dorm. She would also try to keep up and boost morale with the female students to do better at their schoolwork and activities.

Also, she and Finn Plum were essentially a “Power Couple”, together they ran schemes and Finn helps Scarlet with her Chemistry homework.

Orchid McKee, she never saw Scarlet as a friend, but while they were snowed in at the dorm she confided in Scarlet her biggest secret. It’s a spoiler, but I felt like this should be mentioned because Orchid is a private person.

One of the characters I suspected to be the murderer in this story was Vaughn Green because when the other characters would ask about his sudden change in personality, he would internally blame his brother for the mishaps around the dorm. Even though when Vaughn was introduced we met his brother, he hated the school and the students because they were all preppy, rich kids and the only reason Vaughn was able to attend the school was because of a scholarship. So Vaughn was sort of considered an outcast because his home was next door to Blackbrook in the next town over. Only hearing about his brother during the murder investigation, I suspected Vaughn having multiple personalities.

A character I didn’t know much about in this story because he was introduced about halfway in the story was Sam “Mustard” Maestor. He was a former military academy student and he was kicked out, but we never find out why. The only thing we know anything about his background was when he was first introduced into the story from his perspective. He starts referring to his military experience but never says exactly why he was kicked out.

Beth “Peacock” Picach, is Blackbrook’s best tennis player. She is always righting down what she eats and the calories included and what her exercise routines were. All of her chapters included this log and a few thoughts about her day. She was the most suspected character due to an altercation between her and Headmaster Boddy.

I would highly recommend In the Hall with the Knife if you are a fan of locked room mysteries, the board game Clue, and a twist you won’t see coming, this a great book I’d highly recommend.

Posted in Audiobooks, Book Reviews, Novels

REVIEW: The Green Ember (The Green Ember #1) by S.D. Smith

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*No Major Spoilers*

Heather and Picket are extraordinary rabbits with ordinary lives until calamitous events overtake them, spilling them into a cauldron of misadventures. They discover that their own story is bound up in the tumult threatening to overwhelm the wider world.

Kings fall and kingdoms totter. Tyrants ascend and terrors threaten. Betrayal beckons and loyalty is a broken road with peril around every bend.

Where will Heather and Picket land? How will they make their stand?

“All of life is a battle against fear. We fight it on one front, and it sneaks around to our flank.” He paused, looked kindly at her. “Yes, Father. I understand.” “I regret many things I’ve done,” he said, “but most of all I regret those moments when I said to Fear, ‘You are my master.”
S.D. Smith, The Green Ember

If you have even heard of the classic children’s book, Watership Down, then I would add The Green Ember to your “to be read” list! This novel runs in a similar vein to Watership Down in that it’s about displaced rabbits who have to fight for survival. Although not as dark or grim as the classic, The Green Ember tells a story of survival, betrayal, loss, and overcoming obstacles.

The story is mostly told from Heather’s perspective, even though Picket sits in the narrator’s seat from time to time. Heather and Picket’s learning about how the real world for all rabbits really works, and their family history, feels genuine and real.

I enjoyed this story a lot, all of the characters are well developed, and the history for the rabbit colonies was well fleshed out. I could tell the author put a lot of love and care into the mythos of this world. My most memorable character other than the siblings was the wise elderly rabbit, Maggie Weaver. She is a mother/grandmotherly figure to those who live in the community. She is the fastest sewer, and she gives the rabbits a shoulder to lean on when times are rough.

!!This might be a small spoiler, so be warned!!

Near the end of the novel, Ms. Weaver makes an astounding speech to all of the rabbits. Reminding them she is just another elderly rabbit. She doesn’t see herself in this grandiose way that the rest of the colony seem to view her. She lost her husband in the fall of the last king, and she reminds the other rabbits that she is no one special.

This is a children’s illustrated chapter book. However, I listened to the audiobook and the audiobook was just as amazing as reading the ebook. I would definitely say that this novel is appropriate for most ages. The violence is PG, or in video game terms E10+. There is no bad language, so the only thing for parents to worry about is violence.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed The Green Ember. I would highly recommend it for a nice family read. I would also recommend this for lovers of fantasy, animal protagonists, and of course, rabbits.

Posted in Audiobooks, Book Reviews, Novels

REVIEW: The Goliath Bone (Mike Hammer #14) by Mickey Spillane & Max Allan Collins

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*No Spoilers*

On an amateur dig in Israel, two students discover what appears to be the femur of a very large humanoid, and there’s compelling evidence to suggest that it is the thigh bone of the Biblical giant, Goliath. Back in New York, they are heading into the subway carrying the carefully wrapped bone when a hitman attempts to kill them. Hammer comes to their rescue.

But it is only the beginning of their troubles as various factions will stop at nothing to get their hands on the precious item, each for their own venal and nefarious reasons. Hammer and his loyal assistant Velda assure once again that the decent guys triumph in this cracking post-9/11 hard-boiled detective thriller.

I am a huge fan of crime noir and hard-boiled detectives. The grittiness of the detectives and femme-Fatales was something that attracted me in the first place and keeps me coming back to this genre of story. This one interested me first off because of the book cover, but the synopsis was the other grabbing point.

I felt that, to a certain extent, Mike Hammer was a bit out of place so far in that the way presents himself and his ability to solve crimes fits more in the 20s with mobs and gangsters rather than post 9/11 terrorism. Overall the story did keep my interest based on the religious mythology of David & Goliath and how much interest the cast of characters in the story had in the Goliath Bone itself.

On the negative side, I did feel that the ending was a bit anti-climactic, more in the way that the characters “all win” and yet, no one wins. You’ll have to read the story to see what I mean.

Overall it was a good story to read to pass time, but I’d be interested to read further back into the series to get a larger grasp on the entirety of the series.

Read my review of “Blacksad” by Juan Diaz Canales if you’re looking for more crime noir!