“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.

“The Thirteen”, by M. M. Perry – Review

The 13 starts with portrayal of a late stage colony-ship mission which has gone dystopian. Crew members must maintain public control of their emotions or risk the perils of counseling (a euphemism for lobotomy). The protagonist, Naomi Tesla, is an engineer on the Magellan; which is beginning to show signs of age and mishap. The thirteen refers to the number of ships being sent to the target world as part of a fleet. Naomi becomes part of a mission to obtain spare parts from a sister ship, the Tereshkova, which has gone strangely silent. There she learns not everything she has been taught is true and those in charge on Magellan might have other reasons than the mission itself for the harsh conditions the crew experience every day.

The first part of the book was difficult to read for me, due to the tyranny involved. I like to think society would rebel before accepting such measures, but taking it as written is an important part of the story development. I eventually found myself fully engaged and enjoying the plot as it unfolded. The characters could use a little more depth, but it doesn’t detract much from the overall experience. Author Perry writes well and the editing was competent. I recommend The 13 for science fiction fans who enjoy political themes. I’m sure the subsequent books in the series will be entertaining as well as thought provoking.

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

“Three: A Tale of the Bookseller’s Children”, by Deven Balsam – Review

Three: A Tale of the Bookseller’s Children is the initial installment of The Bookseller’s Children series. Deven Balsam tees up a mostly familiar universe, with a number of interesting twists. For an example, the concept of an “elven pastor” is definitely a first, but compatible with the overall vision. The editing and execution is that of a first-rate journeyman, nothing interferes with a reader’s enjoyment of the story.

My main quibble is the story isn’t a complete one; the characters seem to be limited to reaction against random plot points without overarching logic or theme. It may be that the exposition lacking here is fully explained in subsequent volumes, making sense of the many dangling threads and unexplained hints. I didn’t get the sense there is a contiguous adversary throughout the series, although there was one post-climax hook which was also unattributed. I’m generally a fan of this genre and enjoyed my reading of Balsam’s story. I do hope it evolves into something more in the next episode.

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

“Skid – The First Chronicle”, by Keith Fenwick – Review

Keith Fenwick kicks off The Skidian Chronicles series with this introduction to the alien race known as Skid. The basic concept is that of a civilization so advanced its citizens don’t know how to do much of anything other than exist within it. Other authors have mined this idea for many years (examples include Asimov, Herbert, and even L. Ron Hubbard) but it still makes for an interesting read. The action starts with an existential crisis on Skid, their automated food supply systems are about to fail, so they decide to abduct some likely residents of Earth who can make it all better. Unfortunately, Skidians do not have the first clue of what they actually need. Regardless, in quick order, four solitary humans are snatched and the Skidian ship flees Earth once detected. Due to a series of early mishaps, two of the humans are dispatched almost immediately; leaving a female American travel consultant who was hiking in the woods on her way to a yoga class and an Australian, no .. (cough) I mean a New Zealander farmer with his three semi-working dogs as the sole hope of the Skidians.

Fenwick has fun with the stereotypes of both Kiwi and American, as well as the advanced-but-do-nothing Skidians. The book is well-written and easily creates the world of Skid for the reader. The pacing of the story could use some work, as things run on a bit 3/4 of the way through and the ending is definitely abrupt. There are many plot points left hanging, which I assume will be picked up by the balance of the series. Nonetheless I very much enjoyed the book and am definitely interested in seeing what’s next for the clueless Skidians.

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