Saturday, September 26, 2015

Kindle Spotlight -- Escape from Witchwood Hollow

Jordan Elizabeth recently sent me a copy of her new YA fantasy novel Escape from Witchwood Hollow. So here we go.

The story starts off in 2001. Fifteen-year-old Honoria and her brother have moved from New York City to the farming community of Arnn. Honoria is especially fragile after having lost her parents in the 9/11 attacks, and finds the adjustment difficult. She does, however, meet a few girls at her new school who convince her to go into Witchwood Hollow, a wooded area rumored to be the home of a witch. Honoria accepts the dare and enters...

The story then shifts to other time periods. In the 1800s, Englishwoman Albertine Slack is summoned to Arnn by her father. But upon her arrival, she finds herself trapped in Witchwood Hollow. There, she meets other people who are unable to escape, and together they try to survive while searching for an exit.

Before that, though, we meet Lady Clifford who lives in that area in the 1600s. Having just committed murder, she is accused of being a witch and pursued by angry settlers. But she has mysterious powers on her side and is able to escape. Unfortunately for future citizens of that region, she doesn't want to be alone, and uses her powers to ensure that anyone who ventures into her realm will never be able to leave.

Back in the present, Honoria begins investigating Witchwood Hollow and tries to separate fact from legend. One myth states that if a person's ashes are scattered in the Hollow, they will be brought back to life. She latches onto the hope that she might be able to resurrect her parents, but is she just falling deeper into despair and delusion?

I liked Escape from Witchwood Hollow. It's refreshing to have a particularly vulnerable protagonist who may or may not be capable of achieving her goals. I sympathize with Honoria's plight and wanted her to succeed. Even the witch herself is a sympathetic figure (though I won't spoil any more). The story is also well-written (though there are a few typos and other errors), and the story is generally solid. Also, the ending is completely unexpected and keeps you guessing.

I can easily recommend Escape from Witchwood Hollow to those looking for a different type of YA story.

Friday, September 25, 2015

James Review -- Legion of the Dammned: Andromeda’s Choice

This week I decided to review Legion of the Damned: Andromeda’s Choice by William C Dietz. 

The novel begins with a televised mass execution of dissidents opposed to the reign of Empress Ophelia, and the empress watches with her young son who suffers from headaches due to his mother having extra personalities downloaded into his brain to make him a stronger leader. 

The story then shifts to Andromeda Mckee, once known as Catherine Carletto before being forced to assume a new identity and joining the Legion to escape after her family was targeted by the purges launched when the empress seized power. After a skirmish with Hudathan forces, she returns to base where she is informed that she is being sent to Earth to receive a medal from the planet’s governor. But while traveling to Earth, she encounters Ross Royer, a man who once tried to date her in college only to be rejected. Ross recognizes Cat’s handball style in Andromeda’s play style and plans to capture her, seeking revenge for her rejecting him and a reward for catching her. 

This eventually leads to a fight where Andromeda kills him and his two accomplices. After she reaches Earth, Andromeda returns to what had once been her home and checks an old hiding place where she finds a communications device left by her uncle, who is the military leader of the Freedom Front which seeks to bring down Ophelia. Upon discovering why his niece is on Earth, her uncle gives Andromeda a tag to plant on the governor which will serve as a beacon for a Freedom Front homing weapon. 

But when Ophelia and her son arrive to be part of the award ceremony, Andromeda is forced to choose her target. In the end, she picks the governor because she is unwilling to cause the Empress’ son to watch his mother die. But this leads to her uncle disowning her because he believes she now has the blood of any future victims of Ophelia’s reign on her hands. And, during the trip to her Legion post, she puts down an underground fight ring, but in the process she angers the officer who was the true brains behind the ring, an officer who soon becomes one of her direct superior officers. 

And some agents of the Imperial justice system suspect, based on her actions at the assassination, that she knew what was coming, so they save a Legion cyborg from execution and send him to try to discover the truth about her. And the native groups which wish to drive the legion from their world are gaining strength, partially due to the Legion accidentally building a base on some of their holy ground. 

But even after the base is moved, native enemies are closing in, leaving Andromeda to face a superior who dislikes her, a cyborg spy seeking her secrets, and an enemy strike force closing in.

I give the book 7 out of 10. The basic story is mostly well-written and the combat scenes are well done, but there are some parts that don’t make sense to me, such as a couple of big ones near the end. Also, it seems like some of the evil actions undertaken by Ophelia or that she remembers undertaking apparently serve no purpose in the book other than making her a worse person from the reader’s prospective, and I dislike such villains in stories. Furthermore, while the back cover makes the assassination seem like the climax to the story, in the actual book it is not even a third of the way through the story and feels to me like more of a step leading to later events then the most vital point in the tale.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Prologue -- Until We Break

I hereby present the first part of my next novel, Until We Break. It's the third book in my Divine Protector series after God School and Incident 27. Please forgive the questionable formatting, as Microsoft Word doesn't convert well to Blogger.

Ev Bannen is on track to become a god of justice and secure a bright future with Maya. However, everything changes when Zero Grade launches an attack on his hometown. Ev races to the rescue, but he's powerless to stop the outbreak of the next great god war. Soon, everyone he knows is dragged into the struggle, and it seems only a miracle can stop mankind from being decimated.

Remn 8 of 3022 NY (Narska Year)
The phones were out. The lights as well. Marli Drezowicz didn’t know how, but they had cut power to the building and were looking to get inside. The bolt lock wouldn’t stop them; they were determined and professional.
            Marli and her eight-year-old daughter Neena sat huddled together in the bathtub of their apartment, praying to Bethos for deliverance from this nightmare. They had always been devout Holoists; surely their god would show mercy tonight as they trembled in fear for their very lives.
            “The bad men aren’t going to hurt us, are they, Mommy?”
            Marli stroked her daughter’s hair. “No, geemam,” she said, employing the Morovian term of affection for one’s children. “I won’t let them lay a finger on you.” She hated herself as she spoke this lie. Oh, she would fight with everything she had, but she knew they would be coming with greater numbers than she could deal with. Her only chance was to try and reason with them. If that didn’t work, she would have to employ the letter opener in her hand. It was the only thing she had had time to grab when they ran into the bathroom.
            They nearly jumped out of the tub when a knock sounded at the door. It was gentle, but she knew the men on the other side wouldn’t be. “Open the door, Mrs. Drezowicz. I’m only going to ask you once.”
            Mother and daughter were deathly silent; fear overpowered any words they might have had. Nevertheless, Marli wasn’t about to comply with his demand.
            There was a crunch, and the door flew open. Dark silhouettes stormed the bathroom while shining a flashlight upon them. Marli held up one hand to block the glare, but the other remained firmly around her daughter’s shoulder.
            The letter opener proved useless as the two of them were dragged into the living room and thrown down in front of the couch where a man sat like some king. Marli couldn’t see him, but she knew it had to be Viro. He was a top lieutenant in the Koroni crime syndicate.
            “You’re a very bad hostess, Mrs. Drezowicz,” he said. “You don’t invite me in to discuss matters like civilized people, so we have to be uncivilized.”
            She glared at him with a barely-contained fury akin to the cold wind blowing in from outside. “There’s nothing to discuss. My husband was the one who borrowed money from you, not me. And when he couldn’t pay you back, you murdered him.”
            By this point, Neena was bawling uncontrollably. “Shut her up,” Viro said.
            “I’d say she has every right to be upset, considering what you’re putting us through.”
            “Shut up her,” he repeated. “Or I will.” Of that, Marli had no doubt.
            She said to her daughter, “Everything’s going to be OK, geemam. Look at me.” Neena looked up at her, face soaked in salty misery. “Everything’s going to be OK. We prayed to Bethos for deliverance. He won’t let us down.”
            Viro replied, “Yes, geemam,” he said mockingly. “Everything’s going to be OK. Provided your mother pays us what she owes.”
            “You’ll get your money. I just need more time.”
            “Tsk, tsk. Time is something you no longer have. Either pay us the money now, or we’ll take something of equal value.”
            “Look around you!” she yelled, not wanting to scare her daughter further but unable to contain her torment. “Look at the dump we live in. I don’t have anything of value. We’re living paycheck to paycheck as it is.”
            “Oh, but that’s where you’re wrong. You do have something of value: your geemam.”
            She looked down at Neena, eyes wide. “No! You can’t be serious!”
            Viro lit a cigar and puffed casually. “Mrs. Drezowicz, we are very serious and very professional. We mean what we say. So if I say we’re going to take your daughter and introduce her to the sordid world of sex trafficking, that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”
            She lunged at him. To their surprise, it took two of them to hold her back. “You monster! Leave her alone!” Now it was her turn to cry.
            “Sorry, Mrs. Drezowicz, but your husband agreed to the rules when he chose to play the game. And as you seem to have crapped out, I’m going to have to ask you to cash in your chips.”
            She returned to Neena whom she held so tight she was afraid she would suffocate her. Still, she was absolutely convinced they would take her daughter if she gave even an inch. “Where is the justice in this?” she cried.
            Viro laughed. “Justice? The world is run by people like me. We decide what is just, and people like you have to live with that.”
            “You’re wrong.”
            They turned their heads to the door, where a dark figure stood. “Who are you?” Viro said.
            “Someone who’s very interested in this situation.”
            “This doesn’t concern you. Get lost.”
            To Marli’s amazement, the man strode into the apartment like it was his. “That’s where you’re wrong. This woman has asked for my help.”
            “Is that true?” he asked her.
            She shook her head as emphatically as she could. “No! Of course not. You would have killed us if we got the cops involved. I know at least a few of them are on your payroll.”
            “Smart woman,” he replied before returning his attention to the interloper. “You heard her. She didn’t ask for your help. Leave here before we cut your dick off and feed it to you.”
            “I can’t do that. This woman has asked for my help, and she’s going to get it.”
            “I told you, I didn’t—”
            “But you did.” He knelt before her and put a reassuring hand on her shoulder. “You prayed for someone to save you from your nightmare. I’m afraid Bethos is busy right now, but that’s OK; I’m more suited to this sort of thing anyway.”
            Marli could swear she heard Viro sigh in exasperation. “All right, he had his chance. Kill him.”
            One of his goons removed a pistol with an equipped silencer from his holster and fired off several shots at the intruder. They sounded like deadly gusts of wind to her.
            But the mystery man did not go down. To her utter astonishment, he actually stood up as if nothing was amiss. “Damn—I should have caught the bullets instead of letting them hit me. I’ve got more holes in my clothes now. In comic books, the heroes either have bullet-proof costumes or they’re rich enough to keep multiple sets on hand. It sucks that I don’t have either. Oh, well.”
            Viro said, “The guy thinks he’s funny with his body armor. I’ve had it with him. Now I really do want you to cut his dick off and feed it to him.”
            Marli could feel something was wrong with her unknown savior. Even if he was wearing armor, he should have still been floored by the shots. But he hadn’t so much as flinched. He seemed to be exactly what he claimed to be: a superhero. She christened him Mr. X.
            The first goon rushed Mr. X and grabbed him with his beefy hands. However, he couldn’t even budge him. After several moments of grunting, he fell to his knees, exhausted. Mr. X gave him a slight push—which sent him flying into the wall.
            The other two lackeys exchanged worried looks before deciding to double-team him. But even with the two of them working together, they didn’t have any more luck than the first guy. Mr. X simply grabbed their heads and gave them a serious meeting of the minds.
            “That’s it!” Viro leapt to his feet and leveled a submachine gun at Mr. X. With no more regard for subtlety, he unloaded it on the mystery man. To his surprise, though, Mr. X was no longer there. He had somehow teleported to Viro’s side where he proceeded to relieve him of his gun and his consciousness. The KO’d mobster unceremoniously dropped to the floor.
            “I’ll notify the police. Don’t worry about the ones Viro had in his pocket; they won’t be around to cause trouble.”
            He turned to leave. When he got to the door, Marli found her voice again. “Wait! At least tell me your name.”

            He paused, apparently for dramatic effect. “My name is Ev Bannen. I’m the god of justice.”

Friday, September 18, 2015

James Review -- Star Trek: Voyager: Atonement

This week I decided to review Star Trek: Voyager: Atonement by Kirsten Beyer.

There are two main arcs to the story, both continuing from where the previous book ended. One focuses on the Delta Quadrant, the Kinara alliance of several races which the starship Voyager had unpleasant dealings and battles with during her first voyage in the Delta Quadrant, and the Seriareen, an ancient cluster of alien minds possessing the leaders of the Kinara, while the other continues the story of the catomic plague ravaging worlds in the Alpha Quadrant which were already devastated by the recent Borg invasion. 

The Delta Quadrant Story opens just after Admiral Janeway agrees to surrender herself to the Kinara for trial in order to prevent Voyager’s destruction. As Janeway undergoes the trial, her crew tries to prove their suspicions about the leadership of the Kinara to the Confederacy of the Worlds of the First Quadrant and seek their aid, despite believing that a long term alliance is currently impossible. 

In the end Janeway is rescued and the Seriareen captured with the surviving Kinara vessels sent home to explain what happened, though in some areas the Kinaara fleet collapses into civil war. But Lsia, the leader of the Seriareen convinces Voyager that the Seriareen desire to try to build a new future but that they want to visit their home world first. But their home is located in a region still suffering the effects of subspace weapons used by the rebellion which destroyed the ancient Seriareen empire. However, the Seriareen have a few tricks up their sleeve to seize Voyager, and by far the most powerful of their hosts is waiting. Plus the Doctor, still struggling to deal with the side effects of alterations made to his program after a devastating crash, must face the crash’s cause and decide what he will sacrifice to deal with the problem permanently. Back on Earth, Seven of Nine manages to make a deal with Commander Briggs, buying time which she uses to arrange a safe haven for most of the subjects used as catom sources at the Tamarian embassy. 

Eventually Tom Paris attempts to reconcile with his mother and seeks her help for the catomic refuges but when their immediate superiors refuse to listen to what they have discovered, Seven must return to the lab studying the catomic plague alone and attempt to discover proof of the crimes committed by Commander Briggs as well as his motivations, while Tom and his mother try to find a way to deliver their evidence directly to the Federation president despite all normal avenues to a meeting being blocked.

I give this book 7.5 out of 10. It does a good job of wrapping up the plots of the prior books and leaving the next book to be a completely new tale, and I loved the ending, especially the little bits of humor. However there is one key character in the catomic plot whose fate is ignored in that plot’s end, and I question if this was intentional or if the character in question was just forgotten. Also, the reconciliation between Tom Paris and his mother seemed too quick and easy to me, given that they were locked in an all-out legal battle for custody of Tom’s children in the previous book. 

Friday, September 11, 2015

James Review -- Earth Awakens

This week I decided to review Earth Awakens (a prequel to Ender's Game) by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston. When the book begins, Captain Wit O’Toole and Mazer Racknam have been arrested by the Chinese military for using a nuclear weapon to destroy a Formic lander. When the remaining members of their team try to come up with a plan to free them, Bingwen, a Chinese orphan taken in by Racknam, decides to send a public message giving all the credit for the mission to the general holding the pair, despite the general having opposed the idea of the mission, thus forcing him to either release the prisoners or reject credit for one of the few victories in the Formic war to date. 

Meanwhile, in space, Victor Delgado and Imala Bootstamp have confirmed that their theoretical technique for sneaking a vessel to the Formic main ship works and Victor boards the Formic vessel for a scouting mission. But, back on Luna, Lem Jukes discovers that his father Ukko is planning an attack against the Formic ship using drones retrofitted with gravity lasers despite the risk that the attack might destroy Earth along with its target. And after trying to convince his father to abort the mission, Lem discovers that the launch time has been moved up, leaving no way for Imala and Victor to escape the enemy vessel safely before the attack arrives. 

In the endm Lem decides not to warn them of the attack feeling that not knowing of their impending deaths is better than them knowing they are doomed and powerless. But the attack fails and the Formics swiftly deploy reinforcements to Earth for a vicious counterattack. While Bingwen struggles to survive in a civilian refugee camp and eventually begins a journey to a school that will eventually become Battle School. And O’Toole’s team and Racknam attempt a desperate mission to capture some of the material that forms the gas that is one of the most powerful, and horrific, weapons in the arsenal of the Formic ground forces to use in developing a counter agent. 

Meanwhile, back in space, Lem is organzing a blockade armed with a new form of gravity-based weapon to block any further Formic transports heading for Earth. But when Victor and Imala return and confront him for his actions, he puts Victor in charge of forming a plan to take the Formic base ship. Racknam and his allies are summoned to join the mission and, while the strike team struggles to seize the enemy ship, Lem’s fleet must fend off returning Formic vessels seeking to reinforce the guards facing the strike team.

I give this one 8 out of 10. It continues to do well in avoiding the trap many prequels fall into, because, while we know the general results of the conflict, we know few of the details of how we get from where the book starts to that result and we only know the fate of a few characters. The battle sequences aren’t perfect but they don’t harm the story much, either. But I question the point of one sequence of events involving Lem and his father. For the most part Ukko is portrayed as hard but honestly believing that what he is doing is best for humanity as a whole. Then we discover that he has basically used Lem as a pawn and sufferer of collateral damage in a loyalty test. I see no point to this chain of events other than firmly establishing Ukko as cruel and inhumane, and I fail to see how it benefited the overall story.

Friday, September 4, 2015

James Review -- Hellhole: Inferno

This week I decided to review Hellhole: Inferno by Brian Herbet and Kevin J. Anderson. 

When the story opens with Percival Hallholme, the commander responsible for defeating General Adolphus’ first revolt against the Constellation, preparing to launch a fleet to crush the rebellious worlds of the Deep Zone. But while the fleet is preparing and moving to attack the rebels, Ishop Heer, the Constellation’s deadliest assassin, is still furious due to Diadem Michella’s rejection of his request to reclaim the noble title stripped from his family long ago. Despite his anger, he and his lover Laderna decide to complete their plot for revenge against the families responsible for stripping his ancestors of their nobie position by killing the Diadem’s sister, who has been held in a psychiatric ward for most of her life, rather than the Diadem herself. 

But Laderna’s attempt to carry out the murder ends in her capture and execution, leading Ishop with no goal other than claiming the Diadem’s life. But the two are driven to the rebel capital by a surprise coup. Meanwhile, things aren’t going well for the rebellion either. General Adolphus is left questioning just what other secrets his Xayans are hiding after the revelation of a Xayan faction willing to destroy worlds in order to prevent their kin from ascending to a higher level of being. 

On top of this a loyalist coup opens a path through the Deep Zone’s defenses and a betrayal by a trusted ally deprives Adolphus of crucial forces as Hallholme’s fleet arrives. But even this, combined with the Constellation’s new harsher leadership, pales when the rebels discover just why the Ro-Xayans were willing to inflict apocalyptic damage on their home world and now seek to eradicate it completely. The ascendance of the Xayans will destroy the universe or at least render it utterly unrecognizable and almost certainly non-inhabitable for humans. 

With the Xayans turning against the rebels and now using force to gain the power needed to ascend, Adolphus must convince Hallhome to form a desperate alliance for a conflict with the fate of the universe on the line.

I give this book 6,5 out of 10. The political maneuvering was handed well, for the most part, but the few battle sequences felt very rushed to me and there are many points where events occur that are just a little too convenient for the plot for my taste. However I think Hallhome was a good example of a non-evil antagonist done brilliantly. He doesn’t want glory, he doesn’t want power, he wants to end the war and go home. Unfortunately most of the other higher ranking human antagonists venture too close to old b-movie villainy for my taste. Still overall this is by far my favorite book by this author team so far.