It’s only a game… or is it?
Simon Teller is your typical 12-year-old. Average in school, he would rather spend his time with his best friend, Daniel playing online video games and avoiding the watchful eye of the local homeless teenage girl referred to only as “She Who Watches.” One day, while zoning out in history class, Simon daydreams that he is in a strange cave with a six-foot-tall fennec fox that’s a curious mixture of sinister and juvenile. When Xera visits him at school and invites him to return to her world to play a “game”, Simon realizes that this is not a dream. The game is real and so are the consequences.
Basille is a departure from Matt Doyle’s other project, the Spark Form Chronicles, but that should in no way deter you from reading this one. Set more for a YA Audience, this book can be read by all ages. I love the concept of Simon Teller being transported inside a living video game of sorts and having to rely on his wits and other team members to survive the game. Unlike video games though, if you die in the game set up by Basille (the cat womanesque game master who it seems to oversee Xera’s world) you are dead in real life. The game itself is part Resident Evil, Part Call of Duty and something entirely different. There was very little “set up” to bog down the pace of the story and once Simon was transported to Xera’s world to begin the game, the action was pretty much nonstop.
Overall, I really enjoyed Basille and am looking forward to many more twists and surprises in the upcoming installments as Simon Teller’s journey as the Door Keeper seems to have only just begun.
Sometimes the end is not the end
“Beyond the Blue” is the fifth and final installment in the Awake in the Dark series by Tim McBain and LT Vargus. Still trying to recover from Glenn’s murder and the rather messy demise of Riston Farber and his minions, Jeff attempts to move on. But when moving on comes on the form of Ms. Babineaux tapping him as basically Farber’s replacement, an icon of the League, Jeff withdraws to the only person who he feels he can truly trust.
Spending more and more time on the astral plane Jeff and Amity grow closer. But after an experiment with unforeseen consequences, not even Amity and the other world provides comfort any longer. Jeff finds his grasp on reality slipping as he is set on a collision course with the end, whether he is prepared or not.
Throughout the series, I have followed Jeff Grobnagger’s journey from socially inept recluse, to unknowing participant turned pawn in a game he never knew existed and finally a person so broken that he is ready to give it all up and just fade into oblivion. I thought Jeff was pretty unstable in Back in Black, but in Beyond the Blue Jeff is just downright scary. Relegated to spending time in the astral world with Amity or holed up in his home with his cats and figments of his imagination, Jeff is seriously at the end of his psychological rope. You would think with everything that had threatened him in previous books eliminated Jeff would be on top of the world, but the price he paid to get to this point may have been too much. After his initial encounter with the Blue, Jeff retreats into himself, only leaving the house when necessary and existing solely on hot showers and junk food. When Glenn, shows up things get even weirder in a sort of “Beautiful Mind” sort of way.
For as many ways that McBain and Vargus could have resolved this weird roller-coaster series, I am glad that it ended the way it did. I saw a lot of myself in Grobnagger with regard to his reclusive lifestyle and unwillingness to engage in social interactions so I was sort of rooting for the guy. Leaving the Grobnagger saga on a note such as this leaves the reader with a glimmer of hope for even the most tortured soul. While I understand that this is the end of Jeff’s story, is it really?
Full disclosure, I was provided with a copy of the book by the author in exchange for an honest review.
What exactly do you get a Spark Form for Christmas?
GIFTS, the third book in the Spark Form Chronicles finds John Forrester and his sentient companion Carnival six months after the 43rd Annual Spark Form World Championship. Having taken things easy in recent months, John and Carnival are ready to get back to action, but due to the strain on his heart, John can no longer compete live. The result will be playing the game the “old fashioned” way, filmed backstage with the Spark Forms of the competitors replaying the action as it unfolded for the audience. Christmas is also fast approaching and John is finding it harder and harder to keep his Christmas gift for Carnival a secret. What John doesn’t know is that his companion also has a surprise Christmas gift up her sleeve for him.
First, I must say that I loved catching up with John, Carnival and all the other characters of the Spark Form World. A few questions that I had after “CARNIVAL” were answered with this update and that has put me in the mood for more. The addition of the Spark Forming game rules after the novella was a nice touch. My only complaint with this would be that I felt it was too short. Yeah, yeah I know… Novella and all that but I really loved these characters and this world is so full of potential that I wanted more. If you have already read “WICK” and “CARNIVAL” you will most likely find this as enjoyable as I did. If you are new to the series, but are a fan of professional wrestling, Manga or competitive card games such as Pokemon or Yu-Gi-Oh you should check this series out. They’re definitely worth the read.
On the hunt for retribution
Back in Black, book 4 in the Awake in the Dark series by Tim McBain and LT Vargus, continues the saga of Jeff Grobnagger. Some time has passed since Glenn’s murder at the hands of Riston Farber and company in the astral plane and Jeff has effectively gone into hiding. Subsisting on a steady diet of vending machine junk and warm RC Colas, Jeff hides out in a rundown motel plotting revenge against his nemesis. When not brooding over his warm soda and stale Doritos, Jeff goes into “stalker mode” and drives around town attempting to locate Farber and kill him. With his only companion during this time being Ms. Babineaux, Jeff finds himself in a dark place filled with rage and obsession. When Babineaux is abducted by Farber, Jeff decides that it is time to end this thing for better or worse, once and for all. Either Farber dies or Jeff will, but he will not go down without a fight.
Wow! For all my disappointment at Jeff for not going after Farber in Red on the Inside, Back in Black makes up for it in spades. Jeff is determined, paranoid and a bit psycho. Still reeling at the brutal loss of what was most likely his only friend, having to cope with life without him and being on the run from Farber and whatever crazy sadistic end he has planned for him Jeff really has a lot to deal with in this one. Truly parts of this were difficult to read as Jeff sinks deeper and deeper into a revenge fueled depression. Even his visits with Amity seem to do nothing but make things that much worse. As they grow closer, this closeness is hindered by them being part of two very separate worlds. Can this kid ever get a break?! I think I tore through this book in a little under two days, it was just that good. And the ending had me reaching for the final installment to find out how this rollercoaster story will end.
Full disclosure, I was provided with a beta copy by the author as a member of his mailing list.
Do you trust your senses?
The Waking of Grey Grimm is a new book by Sci-Fi Author Tony Bertauski that explores the concepts of “awareness leaping” which can be described as sensory deprivation to the point of hallucination and astral projection.
After the “Foreverland incident”, awareness leaping was banned from society with the use of mechanisms to leap becoming a felony charge. Clandestine organizations remain that will train eager participants to enter the Maze for a price. Once inserted into the maze, the participants are engaged in a myriad of worlds and situations where death is of no consequence and morals very rarely have a place. Win or lose, those who survive the game are richly rewarded, but are forever changed with many finding it difficult to distinguish real from imagined.
Grey Grimm finds himself at the end of a needle inserted into his frontal lobe and transported to the Maze. When his mom Sunny finds him, she seeks out the help of someone who she only knows as Micah. When he appears to be unreachable, she returns home only to find her son missing. The longer Sunny searches for her lost son, the stranger things become. With all avenues exhausted, Sunny must rely on her own senses and resources to locate and rescue her Grey.
This story is one of those huge mind freaks that you will most likely have to read a few times to get all the nuances straight. I loved the way that the story follows Henk, Hunter, Sunny and Grey at various stages of the storyline that takes Grey into the Maze. With each new snippet in time, a new clue is revealed to piece together the ultimate puzzle. Each person’s perspective is told from their point of view and their own unique voice. From Grey and Rachel’s typical teenage banter and Hunter’s Bogartesque noir to Sunny’s mounting desperation as she searches for her son, Grey Grimm is a complex tale that will leave the reader guessing until the end and maybe beyond.
Having not yet read the Foreverland series, also by Bertauski I didn’t feel that this hindered my enjoyment of Grey in the slightest. If anything, it made me curious to read that series as well. It has been in my “to read” pile for some time now but after reading “The Waking of Grey Grimm”, I’m bumping them up on the list. If you are intrigued by the possibilities and possible consequences of virtual realities, The Waking of Grey Grimm will not disappoint.
Santa Claus Reimagined
Claus (Legend of the Fat Man) by Tony Bertauski takes the popular secular Santa Claus myth and provides it with a back story like no other.
Nicholas, Jessica and Jon Santa are on an arctic expedition to the North Pole. The family has given up all to take this once in a lifetime adventure. When their guides abandon them in the middle of a raging blizzard the family is separated however are rescued by differing factions of the local inhabitants. Jessica and Jon are spirited away by a band of elves with leaping reindeer to an underground warren of sorts led by the elderly Jocah. It is here, that they learn that this band of elven are constantly on the run from ‘the Cold One’ (real name, Jack) and live a vigilant, nomadic life relocating frequently to avoid capture and return to Jack’s fortress. Nicholas on the other hand was retrieved by the Cold One’s followers and is currently in the lab of Claus, Jack’s brother as a specimen of the warm bloods on the planet. Jack’s ultimate plan is to turn Nicholas into a human weapon of mass destruction and send him back to civilization to wipe out the warmbloods thus returning the world to the elven race.
The first thing I need you to understand about this book is it is not a warm, fuzzy, “Miracle on 34th Street” type Christmas story. If you are looking for red rider BB guns, sugar plums or Whoville inhabitants, you probably shouldn’t read this book. If you are open to a fresh speculation on Santa Claus, Jack Frost, reindeer, elves and knock down drag out family feuds then this book just might be for you. Bertauski’s North Pole is a stark place filled with technology, danger and one guy hell bent on the destruction of anything and everything that he feels has done him dirty. Jack can be described as a textbook villain on the surface. He is a bit deranged, a tad damaged and has one hell of a sadistic mean streak. I guess if I could turn people to ice and shatter them with just my touch I may be tempted as well. The story behind why he is the way he is, I feel, is the true issue at hand and one that drives the events of “Claus.” The ending, while not totally unexpected, warmed my heart and gave me hope for redemption for even the coldest of hearts.
Nowhere is safe
Red on the Inside, the third in the “Awake in the Dark” paranormal series is very much a transition time for Jeff Grobnagger. After proof of Riston Farber’s recent return to the living, Jeff seeks Glenn’s help to sort things out. Together they experiment with various ways of getting to the astral plane to seek Amity’s help. Once there, they realize that Amity isn’t the only person inhabiting this realm with the consequences turning severe and final.
First of all I must say that this book should not be read without previously reading “Fade To Black” and “Bled White”. If you haven’t followed this series from the beginning, you will be totally lost and probably not enjoy this book at all. If you have gotten this far, then you are well acquainted with the major players and themes and will find this an interesting progression in the events to date.
I say interesting because I did have a hard time getting into this one. My main issue was that Bled White pretty much ended with Jeff Grobnagger and Riston Farber face to face in the League of Light Headquarters and Jeff pretty much running for his life. The majority of Red on the Inside basically amounted to Jeff and Glenn having a big bro fest, getting drunk and seemingly doing nothing to track down or stop a person pretty much intent to do them both harm. When they finally get serious about finding Amity in the other realm and seeking her help or get her to return to the physical world the book is more than half over. Even with that being said, once Glenn and Jeff both arrive in the other realm, they encounter one hell of a “welcoming party”. The events that follow make is clear to Jeff that as long as Riston Farber exists, he will never be safe.
This is probably my least favorite book in the series so far but then again “Bled White” is a hard act to follow. Even with that being said it does its job to further the story and set up for the next book. It will be interesting to see how Jeff will handle Riston Farber now that there is no mistaking his intentions even if his ultimate motives are still unclear.