A Handful of Shorts

PlaguePlague
Lisa C. Hinsley
Pocket Star Books, December 2013
ISBN 78-1-4767-3336-4
Ebook

From the publisher—

A new strain of the bubonic plague is diagnosed in London. Before it can be contained it spreads through the population, faster and deadlier than anyone could have imagined. Three weeks is all it takes to decimate the country.

Johnny and Liz are devastated when their young son, Nathan, starts to show symptoms, but Liz phones the authorities anyway, and a few hours later the army arrives and boards up their house.

Now Nathan is dying and there is nothing they can do to help him. Hours pass like weeks as their little boy grows weaker and weaker. All Liz wants is for them to die with some dignity, but the authorities refuse to help. Then their Internet and phones stop working. Cut off from the world and stuck inside their house, the family tries its best to cope—but there is nothing they can do to stop the lethal epidemic.

Plague by Lisa C. Hinsley is a pandemic-based thriller in which a mutated strain of bubonic plague hits London and races through the population in three weeks. The core of the story is what happens to a young family when the government, in its zeal to stop the disease, quarantines the neighborhood, and maybe much more, but then the military and the scientists disappear.

The most vibrant character is Liz, who is the quintessential mother figure determined to do whatever she can for as long as she can. Along with Liz, I felt the fear when her house is boarded up by the government and there is little to hope for.

I happen to be very fond of this kind of story that revolves around a natural disaster or pandemic and, while this novella is a bit reminiscent of other such novels, it’s really well written and held my attention from beginning to end, wanting to know if there would be any salvation.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2014.

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The Missing Remote of the ApocalypseThe Missing Remote of the Apocalypse
An Afterworlds Short Story
Afterworlds 0.5
Barry Hutchison
HarperCollins Children’s Books, 2012
Ebook

From the publisher—

A prequel to the comedy fantasy The 13th Horseman, “The Missing Remote of the Apocalypse” sees War, Famine and Pestilence bounced around the Afterworlds due to circumstances beyond their control. They come face to face with a surprised demon, visit the lair of Sedna the She Cannibal (they’ve never met her before, but everyone says she’s a right cow) before finally winding up somewhere worse than they could ever have dreamed…

Why does Pestilence hate Tuesdays? Who gets to be the pink Hungry Hippo? Who’s the guy wearing bunny slippers and a leopard-print dressing gown? Most critical of all, where is the doofer?

Need I say more? Well, I suppose I could but you can find the answers yourself for FREE on Mr. Hutchison‘s website right here. Let this little short story introduce you to the master of mayhem that is Barry Hutchison 😉

Kinda sorta reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2014.

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Charmed I'm SureCharmed I’m Sure
World of Pax Arcana
Elliott James
Orbit, September 2013
ISBN 978-0-316-25345-1
Ebook

From the publisher—

When Tom Morris encounters a naked man walking along the interstate with no memory of how he got there, the smart thing to do is drive away. The only problem is, Tom Morris has secrets of his own. Like the fact that he comes from a long line of witch finders, monster slayers, and enchantment breakers, or that his real name is Charming. John Charming.

This is one of four shorts written in the universe of Elliott‘s novel, Charming, an urban fantasy. John Charming comes from a long line of monster hunters. In this short story, he runs into a wila, sort of a nasty-tempered and mesmerizingly beautiful nymph, who has been collecting and disposing of, in gruesome ways, hapless human men. Mayhem ensues when our hero sets out to end her fun. Lots of fighting, man versus monster, a touch of humor here and there.

Charming seems to be a bit of a cross between Jack Reacher (mystery thriller series by Lee Child) and Atticus O’Sullivan (The Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne) and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Some might think the full-length novel should be read first for a better understanding of Charming but I didn’t feel that way; this just makes me want to read more and I will be doing so posthaste.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2014.

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Apocalyptic Organ GrinderApocalyptic Organ Grinder
A Hydra Dystopian Novella
William Todd Rose
Hydra/Random House, June 2013
ISBN 978-0-345-54914-3
Ebook

From the publisher—

A fatal virus—a biowarfare experiment unleashed on an unsuspecting world—has reduced the once-mighty United States to a smattering of tribes dueling for survival in the lawless wilderness. The disease-free folk known as Settlers barricade themselves in small villages, determined to keep out the highly contagious Spewers—infected humans who cannot die from the virus but spread the seeds of death from the festering blisters that cover their bodies.
 
Tanner Kline is a trained Sweeper, sworn to exterminate Spewers roaming the no-man’s-land surrounding his frightened community. As all Settlers do, Tanner dismisses them as little more than savages—until he meets his match in Spewer protector Lila. But when hunter and hunted clash, their bloody tango ignites a firestorm of fear and hatred. Now, no one is safe from the juggernaut of terror that rages unchecked, and the fate of humanity hangs on questions with no answers: Who’s right, who’s wrong . . . and who’s going to care if everyone’s dead?

This is SUCH a cool book for those like me who love post-apocalyptic fiction.  What’s left of society has devolved into the most primitive existence and two clans are pitted against each other. The Settlers are as healthy as possible in a world of limited hygiene and medical skills while the Spewers are diseased and infectious, not welcome among the Settlers or anywhere nearby. The Spewers are the new version of Typhoid Marys and literally could destroy the little that’s left of humanity.

Still, the two groups have managed to co-exist by keeping their distance but that will all change when Tanner meets Lila and sees for himself that the Spewers are not just carriers of pestilence and, yet, can’t bring himself to believe they deserve any compassion. The increasing tension and anger that affect both sides is palpable and I found myself drawn to Lila as much as to Tanner but deciding which faction is more deserving of survival is a question still roiling in my mind. Mr. Rose has presented a conundrum that may not have any easy solution, leaving his readers much to think about, indeed.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2014.

Book Reviews: The Wood Queen by Karen Mahoney and Gone Where the Goblins Go by William Bitner

The Wood QueenThe Wood Queen
The Iron Witch Trilogy #2
Karen Mahoney
Flux, February 2012
ISBN 978-0-7387-2662-5
Trade Paperback

The Wood Queen is the second book of the Iron Witch Trilogy.  I had received a copy of Iron Witch to review for Buried Under Books Blog.  I loved everything about the book and promptly purchased this follow up novel.

I found the sequel to be at least as compelling as the first book.  Donna, Navin, and Xan are still prominent, and we get to learn a bit more about each of them.  In Donna’s case, it is particularly rewarding, as Donna is actually discovering and accepting more about herself.  She begins to see herself as a whole, whereas in Iron Witch she seemed to unable to define who she was, as she had tendencies to  divide herself into parts: human, freak due to crazy, life-saving tattoos, and pseudo-member of a secret Order.  While I learned of her physical strength in The Iron Witch, it was astonishingly gratifying to see her develop her inner strength and resolve.  A respectable character in the first book, she becomes admirable in the second.

Navin continues to be endearing and comical, diminishing the gloomy over-tones of the Order.  He stole my heart, even broke it a little; but now he has shaken off the sadness and allowed his determinedly  optimistic personality emerge once again.  This character brings balance to the book and leaves this reader hoping for a little love for Navin in the final book.

While mystery continues to shroud Xan, we do learn a bit more about him.  Sadly, it is only enough to create additional questions.  He remains an intriguing character that I want to cheer on and support…..I’m just not quite ready to trust him.

London dweller Robert Lee is a welcome addition to the cast.  It was simple for me to appreciate his apparent quirkiness and admire his desire to help.  As with Xan, Mr. Lee is a bit of an enigma.  I am looking very forward to learning all about him in the final book.

Once again, Ms. Mahoney has knocked my socks off.  Her clever compilation of mystery, fierce loyalty and teen-age growing pains makes for a fine story and her outstanding writing turns that into an incredible trilogy.

Now, I’m going to order that final book.

Reviewed by jv poore, July 2013.

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Gone Where the Goblins GoGone Where the Goblins Go
William Bitner
Death Falcon Press, September 2013
ISBN 978-1-4922-0435-0
Trade Paperback

As the Boogey-Man checks his closet for Chuck Norris, undoubtedly, Dean Koontz checks under his bed for Mr. Bitner.  This man is scary.  Well, maybe Mr. Bitner, himself, is not terribly terrifying; but his writing…..spine-chilling.

For as long as I can remember, I have gravitated towards the scary, mind-boggling, creepy, inexplicably mysterious tales.  Way back when Frog asks Toad, “Don’t you like to get the shivers?”  and I shouted, “Yes!”, I began to prowl for those stories that bring chill-bumps to my skin and raise the tiny hairs on the back of my neck.  I knew Stephen King when I was eleven.  I slipped books out of my parents’ bookshelves: John Saul and Dean Koontz consumed my teen-aged brain.  I continued to branch out, yet until very recently, Mr. Bitner lay waiting; lurking, just under my radar.

Totally worth the wait, Mr. Bitner’s writing is no less than dazzling and captivating.  Gone Where the Goblins Go is a collection of short, horrifying tales that should not be read prior to going into any swampy area alone.  First, there is the writing style.  It is compelling.  Descriptions are written so that this reader promptly felt immersed in the scene.  My t-shirt seemed sticky, and the air in my climate-controlled home grew thick and muggy as I began the first tale.  Towards the end of another adventure, “The Dunbar Horror”, my stomach dropped as if I were on the top of the Double-Ferris-Wheel, swiftly moving towards the ground.  As if eliciting raw fear were not enough, the final feature in this collection evoked additional emotions and was surprisingly thought-provoking.

The quality that I feel separates Mr. Bitner’s work from the run-of-the-mill scary book, is the absence of labels.  He suggests, rather than tells.  There is no twisting, modernizing or adding to existing abominations such as werewolves or faeries.  No, the horrors here are undefined.  My wacky imagination, craftily fed by Mr. Bitner’s word wizardry, creates a whole new type of terror.  In a very good, eerie, spooky kind of way.

I am looking very forward to going back and reading Mr. Bitner’s earlier works, and if you, like Frog, like “to get the shivers”; I highly recommend this book to you.

Reviewed by jv poore, November 2013.

Book Review: Atone by Jessica Grey—and a Giveaway

Atone Tour Banner

Title: Atone: A Fairytale
Series:
A Fairytale Trilogy #2
Author: Jessica Grey

Publication date: June 30th 2013
Genres: Fairy Tales, Fantasy, Young Adult

Goodreads

Purchase Links:

Barnes & Noble               Kobo                  Amazon

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AtoneAtone: A Fairytale
Fairytale Trilogy #2
Jessica Grey
Tall House Books, July 2013
ISBN 978-0-9850396-8-4
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Becca Ward knows that magic is real…

Two years ago not only had she and her best friend Alex found a real-life Sleeping Beauty in the middle of Los Angeles, they also discovered that they were powerful in their own right. They’ve managed to keep both their fae powers and their friend Lilia’s identity as a medieval princess a secret and live a normal life. Now their normalcy is threatened by the return of their former advisor at the Gem and Mineral Museum—and Becca’s least favorite person, Nicholas Hunt.

…and she’s about to find out that more than one fairy tale is true.

Nicholas has been obsessed with proving Lilia’s identity and the existence of magic. While working on an archeology dig he discovered an ancient fae artifact—a mirror that is imbued with a powerful protection spell that twists his obsession, and his body, until he is more beast than man. In order to protect her friends, Becca is forced to help him, and she is surprised to find that in spite of his outward appearance, Nicholas is no longer the beast she remembers. Will she let herself be the beauty that breaks the curse, or will she let her prejudice against him stop her from discovering true love?

Until I was offered an opportunity to participate in this blog tour, I had never heard of this series. I”m very happy that omission in my reading life has now been corrected. I love the concept of normal everyday girls not only finding themselves with fae powers but also smackdab in the middle of some well-known fairytales; this time, it’s Beauty and the Beast. In this retelling, the heroine of the piece, Becca, is surprised to discover what has happened to Nicholas but she isn’t surprised by her revulsion at his appearance because she actually doesn’t have that reaction. That’s the special touch Jessica Grey has brought to this particular fairytale that I really loved—Becca already detests Nicholas so his new appearance doesn’t fill her with shock. Of course, it also helps that her fae nature and her experience with Sleeping Beauty has preconditioned her to accept such things.

So, much against Nicholas’ will, Becca sets out to right the wrong and get the current magic run amok under control. More than anything else, she wants to protect Lilia who’s living under an assumed identity. Nicholas has been driven to gather evidence to expose Lilia along with Becca and Alex and is nursing a serious resentment against the girls and their fae abilities.  Can Becca stop him from revealing everything and can she and Nicholas work together to end his enchantment?

I grew very fond of the three girls who seem to have a mature outlook on their lives as fae but who will do whatever is needed to protect each other’s secrets while maintaining normal human lives around those who don’t know the truth about them. Becca is especially appealing as we learn that she is far from perfect and yet becomes willing to admit that, perhaps, she doesn’t always have all the answers and that surprises are in store for her where NIcholas is concerned.

The crux of the original fairytale is that a man who has always used his looks and position to get what he wants is suddenly turned into a horrible sight that no one can bear to look at and, yet, there is love and redemption waiting for him. Ms. Grey has neatly turned this into a modern re-telling with the same values and it works beautifully. Is there romance in this modern-day version? Of course, but my thanks go out to Ms. Grey for making it a natural progression and not a sudden “oh, my, all my opinions about you have been so wrong’ in the first five minutes. Watching Nicholas grow into a changed man and watching Becca begin to care what happens to him are well worth the reading journey.

As I mentioned before, this is the first book in the trilogy I have read. While I sometimes wished I knew more about what went on in the first book, Awake, I also felt that Atone is eminently readable as a standalone. Still, I’m going to have to go get Awake to tide me over till the third book comes out. I also have a small hope that fans of the Fairytale Trilogy will convince the author to write more than three of these delightful tales.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2013.

About the Author

Jessica GreyJessica Grey is an author, fairytale believer, baseball lover, and recovering Star Wars fangirl. A life-long Californian, she now lives in Montana with her husband and two children where she spends her time writing, perfecting the fine art of toddler-wrangling, and drinking way too much caffeine.

Author Links:
Website  //  Goodreads  //  Twitter  //  Facebook

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To enter the drawing to win an ebook copy of Atone
by Jessica Grey, leave a comment below. The winning
name will be drawn on the evening of Thursday,
September 19th and the prize will be sent out during
the week of October 7th.

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Follow the tour here.

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