“Devour the Stars”, by R. Coots – Review

First and foremost, unless you really have a royal flush book on offer, an author probably shouldn’t be inviting reader comparisons to Game of Thrones or the politics of Dune in their blurb. While on the topic of the blurb; it bears only a faint resemblance to what is actually within the plot itself. R. Coots drops the reader right into the middle of a new universe, replete with invented terms, slang, and hidden powers without a life-raft. It took me the first 100 pages or so to get an understanding of what the rules were, and then mainly by inference. Not a lot of exposition or transitions to help explain complex plot settings. The most likeable (and developed) character is Syrus’ second, Quinn, whose character takes a turn for the worse at the very end.

Why did I persist? Because the story has legs, of course! R. Coots’ universe, the rules under which it operates, is unique and interesting. The book is technically well-written, professionally presented, and complete in itself. At $3.99 on Amazon, it is a good value.

I rated Devour the Stars as a solid 3.5 on the FCP Review Standards scale.

(Disclosure: I received a free copy through Veracious Readers Only!)

Image by Peter Fischer from Pixabay

“To Mars and Other Short Stories”, by Hana Aianhanma – Review

This is a short book of short stories for a reasonably short price. All of the stories are written by the author and prove to be interesting in spite of a few quirks. The book reads more like a post-copy-edit draft prior to being formatted rather than a finished work. And yet, it kept me interested and did entertain.

My favorite stories are “Method” and “El Viejito”, both of which appeal to my admittedly dark sense of humor. At $2.99 on Amazon.com it is priced close to being a good deal. Maybe Hana Aianhanma is on to something here; minimalist cover, minimum polish (things were spelled correctly), and good content but not a lot of it. Hmmmm.

I rate this 3 stars on the FCP Review Standards scale.

(Disclosure: I received a free copy through Veracious Readers Only!)

Image by Reinhart Zehetbauer from Pixabay

“Infinite Lives: Short Tales of Longevity”, by various – Review

A friend recommended this anthology of themed short stories, and after looking it up and buying on Amazon I was bitter about the high Kindle price. But if you can’t trust your friends.. After reading the first three stories, I am considerably less bitter. Less than 300 pages with 28 stories, the book is an anomaly in that every single story is good! Normally, you’ll find a good anthology will mostly be to your taste and some stories will still leave you flat. I don’t know how the editors accomplished it, but this is uniformly excellent. The only nit is some of these titles are too damn long.

My favorite stories were “When they Damned the Memory..I Danced”, “Frost on the Fields”, and “A Last Word”; but in fairness it was tough to pick favorites. I rate this collection as a 5 on the FCP Review Standards scale.

Against my visceral response, FMP: $6.99

Image by Twighlightzone from Pixabay

“Dead Scared”, by Ivan Blake – Review

Ivan Blake has written a gripping thriller which smoothly evolves into a horror tale one shouldn’t read late at night. Chris Chandler is a high school student in Maine who has trouble fitting into the small mill town of Bemishstock. He tells himself the primary reason for it is his father’s role of corporate hatchet man, there to close the underperforming paper mill. But attitude counts and Chris finds he has made few friends in the town. When the most popular girl in school begins to show an interest, things seem to be headed in the right direction. However Chris soon learns there is more to it than he imagines. As Chris navigates the obstacles, he faces true evil, in both the spiritual and material realms. Can he prevent his adversaries from hurting those he truly loves?

Dead Scared had me picking it up to read just a few more pages minutes after putting it down. The story is well written and tightly edited to present a compelling narrative. Ivan Blake’s characters, especially those supporting Chris, have depth and substance. Those in opposition have reasons to behave the way they do, even if the reasons aren’t particularly good ones. A reader can easily place themselves within the day-to-day environment of a clannish small town and visualize the setting. The concept of Mortsafemen, guardians or safe keepers of the dead, was deftly woven into the tapestry without overwhelming the plot. As a result, the series is well positioned to extend the story in what will surely be interesting ways.

Reviewed for Readers’ Favorite

Image by Ann Black from Pixabay

“Going Up: Tales from Temple & Co”, by Art Weil – Review

Another short story collection from Art Weil, Going Up centers on stories told by an old-style department store security guard. The 19 humorous stories range from horror to science fiction to fantasy and back again. Each story is brilliantly told, expertly edited, without a hint of wasted motion on the part of the author. If someone had told me I would enjoy this more than Mr. Weil’s “Tales from the Land of Whence” I would have had my doubts, and be soundly proven wrong. Unlike many short story collections, every entry is strong on its own.

I rate this a solid 5 on the FCP standard scale. FMP: $4.99

Image by Ryan McGuire from Pixabay

“Sentinel: Demon Assassin”, by L.D. Nash – Review

Sentinel Demon Assassin has what could be a great story, but winds up being only a good one due to a number of execution deficiencies. The pace is erratic and the characters are not well defined. It seems as though their only emotional range consists of rage to not-rage. There are many relationships which could be fertile pretext for character development, but it doesn’t occur. The character(s) I cared the most about was Fluffy, and his mother. Luna, the protagonist, has a major mental/emotional disconnect between what a trained military assassin would feel about need-to-know and what this whiny hero constantly displays.

Almost everyone here, angelic origin or otherwise, has rage issues. And the author has them all sneering, a lot. Again, a more nuanced use of descriptive terms would add to character differentiation as well as readers’ enjoyment. The cover also could better convey what the book is about with a change.

I enjoyed the story in spite of these issues, but they did drag me down. I rated this story a 3.5 on the FCP standard scale (rounded up to 4) as the story has legs even though the execution isn’t clean. FMP: $2.99

(Disclosure: I received a free copy through Veracious Readers Only!)

“Grumpy Old Gods, Volume 2”, by various – Review

First and foremost, let me say I love the anthology concept. I’m also reasonably familiar with the work of some of the featured authors, enough so to spend my ill-gotten coin without a second thought. However, the story quality is wildly uneven and the book felt as though it was put together rather fast. Even so the mix is entertaining, if not especially memorable, and a fast read. My favorite stories were “Hammer Down” and “Hermes’ Penitence” in a dead heat, followed closely by “Hotel Quetzalcoatl”.

Takeaway; a mythology fantasy junkie might consider these Grumpy Gods perfectly adequate for a quick fix before tackling weightier fare.

Review conforms to Feral Cat Publishers standards
4 Stars
FMP – $2.99

“The Grammarian’s Grimoire”, by E. E. King – Review

The Grammarian’s Grimoire is a delightful fantasy short story, which should be considered dessert rather than a main course. I enjoy stories where a character takes supernatural or external forces as a matter of course and doesn’t allow the situation to prevent having an ordinary cup of tea when it’s time to do so.

E. E. King presents yet another fine story for our amusement, and I confirm it fully meets her high standard. Before the reader objects to buying one short story for $0.99, consider the cup of Starbucks you just had which costs four times that and delights half as much.

Oh and as an aside, Ms. King, I knew that about cats.

Image by Amber Avalona from Pixabay

Review conforms to Feral Cat Publishers standards
5 Stars

FMP: $0.99

“Retro Space Digest 2589”, by Eagle Monsoon – Review

Retro Space Digest 2589 is a wild ride of non-stop satirical comedy reminiscent of Monty Python Flying Circus meets National Lampoon. Presented as four seasonal editions of the Retro Space Digest periodical in the year 2589 (passed back in time to 2019), each edition contains editorials, reviews, ads (commercial and personal), weather reports, and short stories with a science fiction theme. Eagle Monsoon has artfully placed continuing subject threads between editions, e.g. the shift in political winds from a “Dear Leader” regime to regular kinder-gentler tyranny along the way. Each edition features a lead story as well as numerous supporting snippets. The featured short story plots include a high-stakes gauntlet run, runaway AI, dual citizenship in one head, and dual unscheduled gender transitions.

The author promises sex, spaceships, and swearing; any one of which would have had me through the door in a trice normally regardless. Eagle Monsoon writes very well and conveys a full impression of varied staff member writing styles, many of whom appear to have substance abuse issues. I especially enjoyed the fine details such as writer/character names, personal ads, liberal use of legal disclaimers illustrating the timeless idiocy of liability lawyers, and not to forget creative use of profanity in the higher service of low comedy. Retro Space Digest 2589 reminds me more than a little of National Lampoon’s High School Yearbook and Sunday Paper satires, where you had to read every word to fully appreciate the embedded humor. The situations and characters had me laughing so much, others wondered if my meds needed adjustment. The short stories are not nominally comedic, but each would be worthy of any science fiction anthology on their own merit. I highly recommend Retro Space Digest 2589 without reservation.

Reviewed for Readers’ Favorite

“Fable”, by various authors – Review

Fable is an anthology of short tales with a fairy tale theme, and the stipulation they are not quite the ones we all grew up on. From the beauty who is a beast to a different kind of songbird, the stories cover a lot of entertaining waterfront. I was surprised by the alacrity with which my mind accepted the concept of a gruff heavy metal goat band (why not I suppose; after all, a goat filled in for Stevie Nicks on a USO tour and no one even noticed. “Ree-baaaah-in…” No, I can’t back that up.) My two favorite stories were “Take it From the Bridge” and “Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother Tells All”, but most of the remaining 14 were very close. The book pulls you in and I found myself saying “I’ll read just one more..” until quite finished.

In summary, Fable is a worthy addition to your summer reading list and I recommend it highly.