A review of “Dead Spark: Dark Magic Enforcer book 7” by Al K. Line

Full disclosure, I was provided an advance copy of this book by the author as part of his “A-Team” in exchange for an honest review.

Race Against Time

For those of you, like myself, who ended Hidden Spark about as cliff-hung as can be, “Dead Spark” jumps right back into the action and leaves no room to relax. With the zombie virus coursing through them both and still being relentlessly pursued by the Wyrmlings, Spark and Dancer must seek out the assistance of a person who may or may not be willing to oblige. Can this mysterious woman with a dark secret be the key to Spark’s salvation; or will the revelation of her mysterious origins be his ultimate undoing?

This book was wild! From the beginning to the end there was no amount of action, fighting, badass motorcycles and even comedy. But it’s not all fun and games as our favorite enforcer is soon to find out. Even with the help of his friends and family, he finds this to be probably one of the toughest things he’s had to endure for many years.

I literally blazed through Dead Spark in a about a day and in retrospect, I am left with a nagging feeling that Spark may not fully recover from this latest adventure.  If you thought Spark was damaged after his trip to Tokyo, you are in for a shock with this one. Certain demons from his past were brought to light that will most likely have an influence on his world view going forward. And I’m not sure that’s going to be such a good thing. I just hope that we’re not left in the dark for too long before book 8. Still, this series continues to be a personal favorite of mine.  I’ll be sad to see it end, but nothing can continue forever; not even immortal Hidden smartly dressed Dark Magic Enforcers.

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A review of “Taking Up Serpents” by Ian Sutherland

Full Disclosure, I was provided an advanced copy of this book by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Sutherland does it again!

Taking up Serpents continues the story of Brody Taylor, white hat hacker approximately 6 weeks after the close of “Invasion of Privacy”. Still reeling from the loss the events of the past few weeks including having his online identity compromised and almost being murdered at the hands of the Russian mafia, Brody attempts to move on and resume life in the real and virtual worlds. At the urging of friend and fellow hacker Victor Gibb, Brody applies for a position working alongside him within the GCHQ. If he lands the job, it would put him in the best position to track down the Vorovskoy Mir and gain a measure of revenge for the events of the recent past. Things take a turn for the worse when Brody finds himself the recipient of a death letter sent by another user of the CrackerHack forum. Did the Vorovskoy Mir succeed in knocking off another one of their most wanted list, or is there more to the story than meets the eye?  What Brody initially thinks is just the Russian Mafia knocking off a rival turns into something much direr upon gaining access to the computer of the dead hacker. Brody needs to work within and also around the confines of the law to stop an event whose reach would potentially have a global impact.

When you can pick up a book and feel like you’re catching up with old friends, that is the sign of a well written story. Taking Up Serpents was that book for me and because of that it was very easy to dive right back into the world of Brody Taylor and feel like I’d never left. From the main characters to the bit players, everyone had a part to play and all characters were unique in their own little ways. While the killer wasn’t much of a secret in this book as opposed to “Invasion of Privacy”, the mystery revolved around the why. It was interesting to see once again how the lines between Brody’s online persona of “Fingal” and his real life efforts blurred almost to the point of disappearing at times as the race to find and save future targets heated up. I also loved the angle of a possible terrorist plot that didn’t necessarily revolve around Muslim extremists. I feel that especially in this age, it is important for us to remember that extremism exists everywhere and not just in one corner of the world.

With all of the action, suspense and intrigue that basically defined “Invasion of Privacy”, I was really wondering how Ian Sutherland was going to follow it up. I must say that I was not disappointed and am eagerly awaiting the next installment so I can immerse myself in Brody Taylor’s world yet again.

 

A Review of “Humbug (The Unwinding of Ebenezer Scrooge)” by Tony Bertauski

Full Disclosure – I received an advanced copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Not your Grandmother’s Christmas Carol

“Humbug” takes the classic Dickens Christmas Carol, dresses it up and moves it into modern (if not future) day.  Scrooge and Marley are the owners of tech company Avocado, Inc. What began as a startup three decades past has now turned into a very successful multi-million-dollar company the likes of a Google or Apple. When Marley dies suddenly, Scrooge is left to helm the company alone but there is one problem with that as Eb Scrooge has not been seen physically in public for almost a decade. Locked away in what has been called “Castle Scrooge”, Eb’s public persona is a carefully crafted image transmitted from the relative safety of his home. The ultimate recluse, Eb is shocked to find himself visited by what appears be Marley’s image sitting in his bedroom. After a very surreal chat with his dead friend, Jacob leaves him with a gift. Each Christmas this “gift” returns to plague him with scenes of present and past, leading to the ultimate unwinding of an already fragile mind.

Humbug is the fourth in a series of Christmas retellings by Tony Bertauski, and thus far is the only one I have read. That being said, this title works well as a standalone novel. I really liked the technology rich aspect of the story with Castle Scrooge being linked up to the Avocado offices halfway across the country. After all, this is not unheard of as many people telecommute… just maybe not the way that Eb does. The droid technology and Scrooge’s ability to transmit his chosen image wherever he wanted to be without being anywhere at all was also really neat.  The placement of Castle Scrooge on the side of a mountain in Colorado led to some very vivid imaginings of scenery on my part. Beautiful and majestic, yet untouchable and remote, I could almost imagine this on a big screen somewhere adapted for the cinema.

To me this story was part Steampunk, part Bradbury with a bit of A Beautiful Mind tossed in for good measure. A very good read with an ending that will not disappoint.

 

A review of “Dead Ship Down: Something’s Alive on the Andria Doria” by Robert W. Walker

 

A fairly decent story, but could use a little editing

Throughout my life, I have found myself drawn to strange subjects as objects of extreme fascination with shipwrecks being right at the top of the list.  Having previously read Titanic 2012 and actually enjoying it after a rocky start I figured I would give this title a try.

Set in modern day, Dead Ship Down follows a dive team commissioned by the family of a prior diver, Thom Pritchard, to recover the body of their lost loved one. What awaits them on the ocean floor isn’t just the wreckage of a once proud ocean liner but something more sinister and possibly history changing. As the ship has already claimed more than a dozen divers over the years, the group faces forces beyond their comprehension as they attempt to complete their mission.

I have mixed feelings about this book in general. The good news is, I didn’t hate it and for the most part it was actually a pretty good story. The dive sequences were written in such a way that someone who has never donned scuba gear could understand them. There was plenty of history to give the story depth and flesh out the characters. In fact, the missing diver they were looking for was a previous casualty of the ship in 2015. I also enjoyed the flashback portion that describes the Andrea Doria and Stockholm’s collision course on the night in question.

What I didn’t like was what felt to me to be the last minute addition of the revelation of a possible conspiracy theory implicating several nations and less than ethical activities in the past. This just seemed to be too much to add to an already full story. Clocking in at less than 100 pages, I feel the story probably could have benefited from a little content trimming. The subtitle is “Something’s alive on the Andrea Doria” so I expected the paranormal aspect. The added conspiracy just seemed to be overkill.

I also noticed about halfway though that the number of typos, misplaced apostrophes and content errors increased significantly. There were a few sections where it looked like the author changed his mind, backspaced to do a revision, but left part of the original text hanging. I also noticed a section where the characters seemed to be confused and we had Jenna talking to herself, instead of the dead girl on the boat.  I did send a few of these up for review via the “Report Content Error” feature on my device but for the ones that I sent, there were easily two or three that I didn’t. It may not be a bad idea to go back through this title to clean it up a bit.

So a decent read that definitely fed my shipwreck fascination. With the exception of the one plot point that I didn’t care for in this particular book, (although I would love to see this aspect explored further in another story possible using this as the main story line and not a sideline plot twist) all of the other issues are easily fixable.

 

A review of “Shift (Strangetown Magic Book 2)” by Al K Line

Full disclosure – I received a free copy of this book from the author as part of his “A-Team” in exchange for an honest review.

No Rest for the Strange

The Rift is gone along with the majority of its otherworldly inhabitants. Swift, Robin, Mack, Pumi, and all the rest of Strangetown begin the process of picking up and moving on. All Swift wants to do is go home, take a nice long shower and maybe sleep for a few days to recover from the most recent events. Strangetown, however, has other ideas and with the Rift gone, all magic experiences a Shift to right itself. Between all manner of heightened emotions, a strange out of control jungle growing seemingly everywhere and sudden violent weather related outbreaks there is no rest for the Strange. If that weren’t bad enough, Bluetz Skala has chosen this moment to unleash a reign of terror…and who is called in to track her down and stop her?

Picking up at Ground Zero immediately after the Rift has been eradicated, the action is soon to follow and there is very little down time. Swift is immediately drawn into the action and begins the hunt for her most dangerous adversary to date. The action is fast and fanciful in portions but always entertaining. Robin definitely factors a little more prominently in this installment as does Mack and Pumi.  There is also a bit of a heartbreaking piece of backstory that sheds some light on the dynamic that exists between Swift, Robin and their queen.

I must say that I really enjoyed this book in all its wild weirdness, and I’m looking forward to what challenges await Swift in the future.

 

A Review of “The Scattered and the Dead” Book 2.0 by Tim McBain and LT Vargus

 

TSATD 2.0 continues the story of the survivors of the numerous mass extinction events as the winter turns to spring and life attempts to carry on.

The main focus of this book is on Erin and Izzy, Ray, Lorraine and their encampment of survivors, and Decker, and Teddy in the most recent months after civilization ceased to exist.

Baghead and Defino also continue to figure prominently in the future segments of the book. In this portion, we are also introduced to a new character: “The Father”, a mysterious, yet very powerful man who rules over a large post-apocalyptic settlement.

I really had a hard time putting this one down and I loved how all of the storylines are starting to come together.  The addition of “Squirrelman” in Erin and Izzy’s timeline was a nice change of pace and I loved seeing Erin struggle with having her authority threatened and tested. As the trio now set out for bigger and better places and stray closer and closer to the domain of Teddy the psychopath, I felt genuine anxiety for the group as I kept hoping that these paths would not cross.

And speaking of crossing paths, our resident agoraphobic, Decker, who watched the end of the world from the seclusion of his apartment all those months ago has found himself right smack in the middle of the new settlement that is being nurtured by Ray and Lorraine. To see him struggle with daily human interaction and his attempts to fit in (or not) made for a good story.

The future portions of the story set in the compound controlled by “The Father” I can only describe as “bleak”. Nine years after basically the end of the world, and people are still flocking to charismatic personalities like moths to a flame. For as advanced as these people were after basically losing everything, there was also a primitiveness to it all… very Jonestowny or Heaven’s Gateish.

 

I would definitely recommend not reading this one until after TSATD 1.0 so that the storylines and events to date make sense but if you have the time and are so inclined I would also recommend reading the interim books (0.5 and 1.5). While not necessary to understand the dynamic of this world, these in between books have been instrumental in introducing new characters and providing a backstory to who they are and how they came to be in the world where we find them.

About 90% in, I had developed a few theories about what was going to transpire in the closing chapters of the book. While I was sort of correct on one account, I was completely wrong on the other. This provided a twist that I had not even seen coming and… it completely knocked my socks off! Now I start my long wait until the next installment to find out how the current and future survivors are faring.