Book Review: The Vatican Games by Alejandra Guibert @Aleja_Guibert @Authoright

The Vatican Games
Alejandra Guibert
Clink Street, January 2020
ISBN 978-1-913136-30-7
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Vera is born on the day an apocalyptic revenge is unleashed, annihilating half of the world’s population.

Her birth marks the beginning of a new world order run by powerful gaming corporations.

A warless existence with no poverty has been secured, until this fine balance becomes once more under threat.

Vera is the female David to beat Goliath and prevent further devastation.

The future lies in her hands. It’s a game that she needs to win.

What an unusual story this is! There are certain things that set it apart from most apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic/dystopian tales—Vera is born just as the worldwide terrorist attack happens, she survives a deadly brain defect, the setting is in Vatican City, etc.—but, taken as a whole, they create the beginnings of something unexpected. To be honest, I’m not quite sure how I feel about it and I suspect this is one of those books that has to sort of rumble around in my mind for a while.

To this semi-luddite, it’s appalling to think of the gaming industry being in charge of the world but this kind of story is supposed to be unsettling, isn’t it? Speaking of unsettling, Ms. Guibert is very adept at dropping little crumbs here and there that make you think, “Wait a minute…oh” starting with how hunger no longer exists.

Carry on as usual…urged people to carry on with life in the midst of death. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it, but in The Vatican Games, a diabolical attack by unknown terrorists, first against the US, then spreading around the world, is the cause of the overwhelming devastation. It’s followed by a self-justified US military retaliation against the Middle East and then a counterattack on Israel, resulting eventually in incredible loss of life as well as economic disintegration. As might be expected, though, ruling bodies around the world soon collaborate to form a world government but, in reality, this is the story of Vera and her mother, Alina, and Vera’s life after another tragic event.

So much happens in this story that I think the pacing was a bit too slow but it’s a compelling tale of the condition of our world and where it could be heading. Food for thought, indeed.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2020.

Book Reviews: A Pure Heart by Rajia Hassib and Dark Breaks the Dawn by Sara B. Larson @SaraBLarson @Scholastic @rajiahassib @VikingBooks

A Pure Heart
Rajia Hassib
Viking, August 2019
ISBN 978-0-525-56005-0
Hardcover

The Gubran family led a normal, content life in Cairo. Rose and Gigi were, to Rose’s thinking, the best friends that sisters are meant to be. There would always be quarrels, but nothing to break their bond. Even as they age, pursue further education, broaden their horizons with new people and ways of life; they would surely stick together.

Thinking back, though, maybe Rose hadn’t been so supportive. Or remotely open-minded. As Gigi grew more devout and adopted some Muslim customs that Rose considered outdated; rather than addressing it with Gigi, Rose silently stewed, waiting for her little sis to ‘come to her senses’. Perhaps if she’d attempted to understand—sincerely—they may never have agreed, but neither would they have grown apart. Maybe.

Younger siblings seem to live in someone else’s shadow, making self-discovery slightly more difficult. Delving deeper into her religion may have been the best way for Gigi to create her own light. She can almost understand why her parents essentially ignore the changes they have to see in her, but Gigi is stunned when her family makes no effort to understand her disappointment and dismay with her elder sister.

First, Rose decides to marry an American. To leave Egypt for the United States. She took his last name. Her sister should be “Dr. Gubran”, as she’s always dreamed. Proudly bearing the name of the family that supported her throughout, not the surname of some folks from West Virginia.

Unless…

Did Rose make those allowances for love? That, Gigi can understand. She, too, has chosen the love of a man, but over objections from her parents and friends. Gigi may not have made the best choice, but she doesn’t know that yet. Instead, she simply sees similarities between her love-life and Rose’s. She was pleased to, once again, have something in common.

Happiness for herself is short-lived. She feels sad for Rose, who doesn’t know about this connection. Gigi envisions sharing the secret she’s carried alone for years.  She must mend her relationship with Rose. She knows the perfect place to start. The American brother-in-law will be staying with her family while he is conducting interviews in Egypt for an upcoming article. Gigi vows to go above and beyond to assist him.

That is the decision that will ultimately change all of their lives.

Reading Rajia Hassib‘s A Pure Heart is like watching a moonflower unfurl, as dusk darkens, until the almost-iridescent, snowy-white bloom is wide open against the pitch-black night.

Reviewed by jv poore, August 2019.

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Dark Breaks the Dawn
Dark Breaks the Dawn #1
Sara B. Larson
Scholastic Press, June 2017
ISBN 978-1-338-06869-6
Hardcover

Dark and Light were meant to exist independently, yet harmoniously. This provides and maintains balance for the world. Only, the rulers of Dark want more. They are determined take away the magic of Light and have waged war.

That very war has already taken Princess Evelayn’s father, and is currently keeping Queen Ilaria away from home. But (finally) the day of Evelayn’s 18th birthday arrives. The “18th” being of upmost importance as the ability to access full power has proven dangerous when wielded by immature beings. Evelayn has been impatiently awaiting this day since the moment she found out that the “more” she craved was not just possible, but promised.

So, that’s a pretty big deal, but there is something that pushes its way past the magic thing. The queen has promised to return for Evelayn’s special day. Even though the trip will take her from the frontlines, where she has been battling alongside the kingdom’s best soldiers.

And herein lies my first favorite thing: Royal Court receives pampering and protection during normal, every-day activities only. When it is time to fight, no one is expected to be more ferocious and fearless than the leaders.

Having always taken her physical training seriously, Evelayn can more than hold her own in a fight. And, the princess of Light has mastered the mask—the stoic expression that is to reveal nothing of her thoughts or feelings. Albeit not always employed, she is also able to perform her duties with the courtesy and politeness expected by her parents. Yet, she is nowhere near ready to replace her mother; Evelayn can’t even shift.

As day breaks, Evelayn awaits the arrival of her full power and her mother, while Dark prepares the grand finale. Step one being to kill Queen Ilaria.  Without the conduit, the people of Light will not be able to access individual powers.

The magic may be restored. It’s just a small matter of Evelayn becoming Queen, performing the requisite ceremony with her high priestesses, then accessing and redistributing. In three days. If it doesn’t go down, exactly right, in that tiny time window, there is an opportunity for Dark to steal the magic for themselves.

Ms. Larson is not afraid to hit the ground running (really) in her magic-filled-fantasy, Dark Breaks the Dawn. I may not have fully understood everything at first, but that couldn’t keep me from franticly flipping pages to find out what’s next. Just as the big picture was coming into view, I smugly ‘figured out’ how this tale would end.

I was wrong. Now I’m off to find a copy of Ms. Larson’s Bright Burns the Night because I haven’t had nearly enough of this world.

Reviewed by jv poore, August 2019.

Book Review: T-Minus by Shannon Greenland @SEGreenAuthor @EntangledTeen @XpressoTours

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T-Minus
Shannon Greenland
Published by: Entangled Teen
Publication date: August 6th 2019
Genres: Thriller, Young Adult

A terror with no answer needs a girl with no limits.

I am the daughter of the first female POTUS, and today is about to become the longest day of my life…

24 hours—that’s how much time I have to save my mother before terrorists assassinate her. But now my father and brother are missing, too. This goes deeper than anyone thinks. Only someone on the inside would know how to pull this off—how to make the entire First Family disappear.

I can’t trust anyone, so it’s up to me to uncover the conspiracy and stop these madmen. Because little do they know, they picked the wrong person to terrorize.

My name is Sophie Washington, and I will not be a victim. No one, I repeat no one, is taking me or my family down. But the clock is ticking…

Goodreads / Amazon / Barnes & Noble / iBooks / Kobo

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Once I got past the rather eyebrow-raising premise of this book and let myself go with the flow, so to speak, I had a good time watching Sophie fight back when the unthinkable happens to her family. What makes her story so intriguing is that her family is the First Family, not your everyday family in the local neighborhood. To say the stakes are much higher is not an overstatement.

Mind you, Sophie isn’t entirely alone in her fight against whoever the bad guys are. In fact, a strong and very appealing element here is the connections among Sophie’s friends and, of course, her family. Trust is in short supply among the people who are supposed to protect her family but she reaches out to the teens in a special training program that she believes she can count on.

As you might expect in an action adventure tale, the potential outcome is high risk as is the level of tension and the pace is unrelenting. Occasional flashbacks gave me a few moments to calm down just a little and I appreciated that although perhaps they occurred a little too frequently. There are plenty of false leads and red herrings along the way but I have to say the ending held some surprises (that’s a good thing) as well as satisfaction,

With today’s attention to domestic terrorism, this story packs an especially vivid wallop, whether it’s realistic or not. Sure, an attack of this type on the president and her family is less likely than an attack on a school or food festival but the point is that literally nothing is beyond possibility when extremists have an agenda. Frightening stuff, indeed.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2019.

About the Author

Things you should know about me: I write novels! Some have won awards. Others have been bestsellers. Under Shannon Greenland (my real name) you’ll find spies, adventure, and romantic suspense. Under S. E. Green (my pen) you’ll find dark and gritty fiction about serial killers, cults, secret societies that do bad things, and whatever else my twisted brain deems to dream up. I’m on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. I also have a website and a very non-annoying newsletter where you can keep up to date with new releases, free stuff, and my mild ramblings about my travels. I have a very old and grouchy dog. But I love him. My humor runs dark and so don’t be offended by something off I might say. I mean no harm. I live in a small Florida beach town, but I’m most often found exploring the world. I eat entirely too many chips. I also love math!

Website / Goodreads / Facebook / Twitter

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Book Review: Cult X by Fuminori Nakamura

Cult X
Fuminori Nakamura
Translated by Kalau Almony
Soho Crime, May 2018
ISBN: 978-1-61695-786-5
Hardcover

Ostensibly, this novel begins with a young man who is seeking a woman he has known who apparently had entered the strange world of a cult, which he then joins in an attempt to find her.  As he progresses in his quest, the reader is exposed to a variety of topics, ranging from sex and violence to religion, astrophysics and neuroscience.

This gives the author the opportunity to write about all kinds of subjects, with long discourses ranging from good and evil to Japanese politics, from war criminals to peace.  Perhaps inspired by the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway, the novel is an examination of what attraction extremism has to most people.

The reader has to plow through more than 500 pages of this material, struggling to grasp all the meanings and context in what starts out as a simple love story.  And the task is hardly easy.  It takes a lot of effort and for that reason it is rated lower than one would expect a book written by this author, whose past works received [deservedly] higher ratngs.  Nevertheless, Nakamura pushes us to the limits in his writings, which have made him one of the top Japanese authors.  For this reason, for those willing to stick with it, Cult X is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, May 2018.

Book Review: Condition Book Three by Alec Pirri

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Title: Condition Book Three
Series: The Condition Trilogy
Author: Alec Birri
Narrator: Jonathan Keeble
Publication Date: January 17, 2018
Genre: Science Fiction, Dystopian

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Purchase Links:

Audible // iTunes // Amazon

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Condition Book Three
The Final Correction
The Condition Trilogy
Alec Birri
Narrated by Jonathan Keeble
Essential Music Limited, January 2018
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

From the publisher—

So, Professor Savage has been unmasked as the monster Alex Salib always knew he was. But what was their agreement and why is she still determined to see it through? The war on terror appears to be back on track but why does President Kalten seem hell bent on ramping it up – are the Americans seriously intent on starting World War Three?

And what of the treatment itself? Despite Savage’s arrest, the ‘corrections’ go on but to what end? The laws of unintended consequences are about to cause a seismic shift in the very nature of our existence. But then our new masters know that and won’t let it happen until we’re ready…
…Ready to accept the unacceptable.

The year 2028 finds Faruk and Isra, his daughter, traveling through a Middle Eastern desert, en route to deliver Isra to The Prophet. The world has changed thanks to the scientific innovations brought about by Professor Savage and the traditional Faruk has a good deal of trouble blending his old ways with the new face of Islam. Isra, on the other hand, is finding a lot of freedom she never knew before as a young Muslim woman. This particular section of the story is very relevant today as we try, not always successfully, to accept and accommodate cultures and religions that vary widely.

Later, we re-encounter Professor Savage, Nurse Tracy and Dr. Addams as well as a host of new characters; in fact, I began to wish for a cast of characters, not that such a thing is very helpful with an audiobook. What began as an attempt to treat—or, rather, correct—brain disorders has morphed into a mishmash of real time and virtual reality as well as an evolution in the abilities of AI’s to have the emotions of humans. Unfortunately, the question of who is to decide what is aberrant or deviant behavior in need of “correction” is a very heavy issue, as heavy as that of the anti-terror activities that may lead to a new world war.

There is no tidy end to this trilogy but much is left to the reader’s own thoughts, not a bad way to conclude such a tale.

Jonathan Keeble has grown into one of my favorite narrators with his pleasant tones, vivid characterizations (including what seem to be accurate accents in a variety of cultures) and his ability to evoke all kinds of feelings about the story. I don’t think Mr. Birri could have asked for a better voice for his tale.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2018.

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About the Author

Alec Birri served thirty years with the UK Armed Forces. He commanded an operational unit that experimented in new military capabilities classified at the highest level (Top Secret Strap 3) and it is this that forms the basis of his novels. Although semi-autobiographical, for national security and personal liberty reasons, the events and individuals portrayed have to be fiction but are still nonetheless in keeping with his experiences.

Website
Twitter
Facebook

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About the Narrator

If you regularly enjoy listening to audiobooks then this Shakespearean actor will need no introduction. Winner of a 2016 SOVAS award, Jonathan’s voice is rightly recognized as being one of the best, and his narration of The Condition Trilogy is no exception.

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Play an excerpt here.

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Book Reviews: Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed and One Silver Summer by Rachel Hickman

Love, Hate and Other Filters
Samira Ahmed
Soho Teen, January 2018
ISBN 978-1-61695-847-3
Hardcover

First and foremost, this book is exquisitely authored. Beautiful, not in a flowery, colorful sort of way; but rather in a raw, natural, simple-yet-stunning kind of way. And so, a snap-shot of Maya’s senior year: dating, spring break, planning for college…as an Indian Muslim American…would be wholly satisfying, entirely engaging and enlightening. But it would only scratch the surface. With a wide lens, Ms. Ahmed provides perspective; contrived categories soften into truer compilations.

To most of Maya’s peers, her parents are almost unreasonably strict. Maya may secretly agree, but at least they “aren’t exactly the fire-and-brimstone types”.  Aware of her family’s (limited) leniencies, Maya is surprised when Kareem, a desi Muslim, has a glass of wine. But, as he points out, “…it’s not like I eat pork.” More importantly, he is not a white American boy. Like Philip.

And so, the scene is set.

But, a somber tone seeps through. Snippets of seething anger and frustration simmer to a frenzied, desperate desire for revenge. Building tension becomes tangible. An explosion is imminent.

The inundation of information immediately following a blow-up is, unfortunately, often inaccurate and incomplete. Even more egregious, these initial errors are what people tend to remember. By the time facts have been collected and the whole, true story can be told; no one is there to listen. Life goes on, public perception remains unchanged.

Except for the person presumed guilty. And his family. Or everyone with his last name.

Love, Hate and Other Filters is the rest of the story and it is relatable and relevant.

Reviewed by jv poore, January 2018.

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One Silver Summer
Rachel Hickman
Scholastic Press, May 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-80892-7
Hardcover

Despite knowing full well that I was reading-for-review, I became so caught up in the very love story that little-girl-me always dreamed of, that I devoured this book like a starved Cookie Monster demolishes cookies.  Even at this frantic pace, I was aware of the ‘something more’ to the story—hints were subtle, yet almost undeniable—perhaps somewhat subliminal.

One Silver Summer is more than the whole-hearted-head-over-heels love story of a shattered girl and a stunning, spirited mare.  There are mysteries to be solved: what horrific happening has sent Sass across the pond to live with the uncle she only just learned of?  Maybe that’s moot.  Perhaps this was her path all along—the past has a tendency to come back, after all.

The guarded groomsman, Alexander, is a bit of a mystery himself.  To Sass, his mannerisms don’t seem to fit his position, although understanding hierarchy is not her forte—no need for that in New York City.  His moods shifts are also perplexing.  Sometimes he seems relaxed and happy with company, while other times he’s oddly secretive and suspicious.

Sass and the silver horse are certainly central, but Alexander, his quite proper British grandmother, and affable artist, Uncle David, take the tome to another level.  A love story in the broadest sense: fondness developing among family members just getting familiar; the unconditional, admiring adoration between grandparent and grandchild; forbidden love, lost in a flash (but with a lingering fondness); and love formed from empathy and nostalgia.

Also, this is a story of learning to separate who you are from a persona based solely on other people’s perceptions.  A reminder of the need to be flexible, reflective and always open-minded.  An understanding that even adults must continue to grow, to adapt—not to survive, but to thrive.  A narrative of hope and heartbreak that is fantastically fabulous.  Immediately after reading the very last words, Acknowledgements and About the Author; I turned to the first page and read the entire book again.

Reviewed by jv poore, May 2017.

Book Reviews: Drag Teen by Jeffrey Self and The Arrow Shooter by James Mather

Drag Teen
Jeffery Self
Push, May 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-82993-9
Hardcover

Remember the first time you released your inner-most self?  Knowing you, to your very core; adoring and admiring that person so much it had to be celebrated—the joyful, buoyant feeling had to be released, good vibes to everyone.  Imagine being in that moment when a hate-filled, bitter person brings contempt so tangible that the light is smothered; the joy stolen.  Because most of us have experienced that, it is almost intuitive to empathize with JT’s predicament.

His parents do not support his desire to attend college after high school.  They appear offended by his plan, as if his ambition is as an affront to the lives they lead.  Rather than seeing and hearing their son, they seem to have created a persona of an ungrateful, arrogant brat that is easy to dismiss.  But JT has Seth, and Seth has a plan.

A Drag Teen pageant is being held for high school seniors needing financial aid for college; the prize—a full scholarship.  The idea of being a Drag Teen doesn’t bother JT; the terror of doing it again, with the same results is paralyzing.  With the support of his boyfriend, their best friend Heather and an assortment of souls along the way, JT tackles the terror.

I was amused, delighted and entirely invested in this story.  The combination of blue-collar parents, an over-the-top, former country music sensation, teen-agers and Drag Queens is quirky in the best possible ways and works wonderfully for JT’s journey to New York City and self discovery.

Reviewed by jv poore, December 2016.

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The Arrow Shooter
Jim Mather
CreateSpace, September 2015
ISBN: 978-0-692-46617-9
Trade Paperback

The novel has enormous unrealized potential to provide a long look into what is sometimes referred to as the inscrutable East. Yakuza target Jonathan Lusk leaves Japan and his professional activities as a special undercover operative and enrolls at Stanford University. He is following his father’s trail and seeking the murderer of his father.

Of course his life is complicated by his growing infatuation, a forbidden love for Princess Nanami Yoritomo. A non-Japanese and a commoner, the love between the couple is overladen with difficulties. The campus atmosphere in the 1960s, the threat of a killer stalking Lusk, the efforts of the romantic couple to develop their relationship, all offer great opportunity for emotional soaring narrative.

Alas, the writing is competent, straight forward, efficient and flat. Although we are surely meant to identify with the young couple, the lack of emotion tends to set barriers so we never fully empathize with Jonathan or his princess. On the other hand, the narrative passages that reveal much about Japanese culture are quite interesting. In sum, an interesting read for those who wish to look more closely at a specific cultural element of the East.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, April 2017.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.