Sunday, June 29, 2014

Book Review: Max Quick 1: The Pocket and the Pendant by Mark Jeffrey

Max Quick 1: The Pocket and the Pendant by Mark Jeffrey


Max Quick doesn't exactly have it easy. He's an orphan, he lives in a home for boys run by a cruel man, he's bullied at the bus stop every day before school, and he doesn't even remember his own past. Nothing's really going his way. But when an old woman recognizes him in a bookstore-- one where he shouldn't even be because he's supposed to be at school, it starts him questioning, but then something else happens no one could have predicted.

Time stops. Max finds himself one of few people that area actually able to move around in this frozen time. His search for answers to why time has stopped and finding out who he is lead him somewhere he never could have expected, and he learns that the human race is in danger of being enslaved.

And only a strange little boy named Max Quick can stop it.

That's my summary. Here's the one I pulled from

Max Quick is a pickpocket, a vagabond, an orphan, and a thief. Even so, nothing about him seems particularly special . . . until one day when time mysteriously stops. Suddenly, nearly everyone in the world is frozen in time—except for Max.

Now Max must journey across America to find the source of the Time-stop. Along the way, he meets others who aren't suspended in time, like Casey, a girl who's never been on her own until now. Together, as they search for the cause of this disaster, Max and his companions encounter ancient mysteries, magic books, and clues to the riddle of stopped time. But relentless and mysterious villains are hot on Max's heels and will do everything in their power to prevent Max from ending the Time-stop. And the closer Max gets to the answers, the more it seems that his own true identity is not what he once believed. Racing against a clock that no longer ticks, Max must embrace his past to save his future—and the world—from being altered forever.


Max Quick could be set just about any time from 1995 to 2005, or even to the now, and it would make sense. This makes it (forgive the pun) a relatively timeless book. In fact, about the only few elements that lock it down to the turn of the century are a few mentions of cell phones and email addresses. One particular character, Ian, is a bit of a computer nerd, but his computer knowledge really only manifests in the form of analogies, like uploading, software patches, and the like. As it is, The Pocket and the Pendant can easily be accessible and relatable to about any young reader these days. As someone in thier late 20's, I still found this very easy to connect with even though I'm outside the age bracket the book was intended for. This was a very solid book for at least my generation forward.


As far as middle grade and YA books are concerned, I'm actually not all that versed, so reviewing this is a little bit different for me. I can't hold this book to the same standards I hold Starla Huchton's or Scott Sigler's books. That said, I appreciated that The Pocket and the Pendant was fairly straightforward in its language. I listened to the podcast version, but I think I would have been better served by actually reading this one. That's not to say that the performance or quality of the recording were bad. Far from it. I think there was one spot where the wrong name was said, and some of the episodes were surprisingly long, but otherwise, the podcast alone was okay. I think if the episodes had been more aligned in length rather than having some be about 30 minutes and some being over an hour, I would have bene more okay with it. But the real reason I think I would have been better served reading it is just because of some of the new terms introduced in the world. Little things. All in all, not bad.

But there was one glaring issue that continually bugged me. Pauses in the action. Oh, my did we get a massive infodump about 2/3 into the book! Considering all the questions asked leading up to this, I shouldn't have been surprised at the huge Bond-style monologue (but not from the villain) explaining EVERYTHING up to this point. The infodump lasted two 40-or-so-minute episodes of the podcast! But here's the kicker-- I liked the information given, mostly because it was in the form of a story. I guess if you have to infodump (no one should ever have to, really, but I'm guilt of it sometimes, too) then I suppose this is the way to do it. Still, it was an infodump, so I'm torn on my feelings about it.

The other egregious pause was in around the 1/3 mark, when Ian, Casey, and Max first discover how to use the books. There's a long section that's nothing but describing the pictures on the pages of a book they're looking at. It's a pretty important plot point, I understand that, but it still felt... awkward. But that might just be because it was a podcast I was listening to. I'm not sure if that would feel more effective if I were actually reading the words. Honestly, such a thing would be best expressed in book form if the actual book I was reading had the illustrations themselves rather than descriptions of them.

My Thoughts

I had a few moments when I guessed exactly what was going on, and I turned out to be right more often than not. That could just mean that Jeffrey was paving his own way well, or that I was just looking too far into things. Then again, I usually miss things like this, so for me to guess at something isn't really a good sign. I called a few key points, ones that seemed so obvious to me, but I don't know if the average 12-year-old (about where I peg this book as being aimed at) would pick up them like I did. It's been a long time since I was 12, and I can't relaly say whether or not 12-year-old Me would have guessed them.

I really did love how so many mythological and belief systems were woven together... but that was a big thing in that huge infodump. If there had to be an infodump, that's the kind of one that really draws me in. Honestly, it wasn't until I finished the first episode of the infodump that I realized I was smack in the middle of one. But think about it. This was TWO CHAPTERS of infodump. There had to be a better way to do that, and I want to smack myself for having liked it.

Would I Recommend This Book? Yeah, I'd say so. I'm not enthusiastically saying you have to go read it right now, but if you see it, or want to listen to the podcast, go for it! There's some good stuff here, some stuff that I will definitely remember, but this is one of those books that is only a few steps up from being a semi-predictable movie. But again, I'm speaking as a slightly jaded 29-year-old. I give it a 3.25 of 5 stars. I can't give it a 3.5 because of the info dumps, but I can't give it a 3.0 because I liked the info dumps. So 3.25 it is.

For more information on the author, visit

Book Review: Marco and the Red Granny by Mur Lafferty

Marco and the Red Granny by Mur Lafferty


Marco and the Red Granny is a science fiction novel featuring an alien race, the Li-Jun, that cannot experience emotion, yet can meld the senses together so you can taste banana creme pie in listening to music, or wear a piece of jewelry and hear and experience the story of Othello. They build synaesthesia into art, making a whole new type of medium for creative culture. Marco is a failing writer and illustrator who receives a patronage frmo a Li-Jun House and moves to Ride Lunar Base on the moon to create new works of art for his patron.

That’s my summary. Here’s one I pulled from

Have you ever tasted a symphony? Listened to a seven course meal?

An alien species brings back the old artist patronage system, and suddenly Sally Ride Lunar Base is transformed into the new artistic center of the universe: “Mollywood.” These aliens can do amazing things with art and the senses, allowing a painting, for example, to stimulate other senses than simply sight.

Marco wanted a coveted patronage, once. But then his girlfriend got one and shuttled off to Mollywood for fame and fortune, and Marco stayed home, waiting for his own patron. His career faltered. His agent dumped him. But then he gets THE call.

But he’s about to find out that an artistic patronage isn’t what it was in the good old days, and that the only friend he’s made, a tiny old woman who’s the star of a blood sports reality series called The Most Dangerous Game, has secrets of her own.


Science fiction has changed drastically as technology has improved. It has become so easy to go further and further away from Earth in sci-fi, to create more and more outlandish technology, since so much has become possible in the last few decades. Lafferty resisted the draw of quantum physics-- in fact, the only really hard physics in evidence is the mention of gateways early in the story, used for travel. It's a glance over the subject, comes and passes so quickly it doesn't matter. It wouldn't matter to someone who lived in a time like that-- the technology is nothing out of the ordinary. Why should it be made so special to the reader? Even in setting, Lafferty doesn't wander too far from Earth. Our protagonist, Marco, doesn't wander any further than the moon. Lafferty has managed to make a science-fiction book that isn't post-apocalyptic, post-nuclear, or a war od the worlds. She barely goes past our own backyard! It proves that you don't need to take the reader too far from their own world to take them into someone else's?


I didn't read Marco and the Red Granny. I listened to it through It was released in seven episodes. I was halfway through the fourth episode before I realized there were no chapter breaks. Everything flowed together so well, the individual episodes so well-separated that it didn't need those breaks. Each episode ended with a cliffhanger or at the end of a train of thought that made me want to hurry up and get the next episode started. Everything glued together in a cohesive whole that made it easy to forget I wasn't actually there.

Devo Spice's narration was spot-on. He made each character come alive with vocal changes. I hated the smarmy Seven of House Blue. I knew (or thought I knew) exactly where the Red Granny was from. I knew Marco's agent was a smoker long before it was ever mentioned. Everything flowed so naturally from Lafferty's written words to Devo Spice's mouth that I didn't feel any awkwardness in writing style. This was masterfully done!

The vocal performance and Lafferty's writing style melded wonderfully. Everything was clear and highly expressive. It was both easily understood and easily enjoyed.

My thoughts

Marco and the Red Granny was entertaining, intriguing, and just an all-around great literary experience. I've seen a few other reviews out there, and there is one thing their opinions and my opinion agree on: it was too short! Honestly, my only serious criticism is that I felt there was so much here that was untapped, so much potential! Even if Lafferty didn't want to expand this particular storyline anymore, there is a ton of wonder in the world she's created that could be fleshed out. I would loved to see a "normal" patronage in this future-verse! On the whole, though, this is well worth the effort to read or listen to. And hey, it doesn't take a lot of time!

Would I Recommend this Book? It’s definitely worth the time to read (or listen to) this novella. It’s intriguing and teases the senses, trying to wrap one’s mind around how the cross-sense art works. If nothing else, it will make you wonder at how we perceive the world. I give Marco and the Red Granny a synaesthetic 4 out of 5 stars.

For more information on the author, visit
For more information on the narrator, visit

Book Review: How to Succeed in Evil by Patrick E. McLean

How to Succeed in Evil by Patrick E. McLean


Everyone can't be a superhero or supervillain. There just aren't enough powers to go around. For Edwin Windsor, he'd gone on to the next best thing: being a consultant for villains. Edwin offers his services to make villains more profitable, essentially doing their evil plotting for them. What good is being an evil villain if you can't make money while doing it?

That’s my summary. Here’s one I pulled from

How to Succeed in Evil is the story of Edwin Windsor, Evil Efficiency Consultant. He tries to help supervillains be more villainous. Or at least more profitable and sensible about the business side of Evil.

Along with his very proper and English secretary Agnes and his hench-lawyer Topper, he struggles to make the world of superpowered people make sense. But this is very difficult because, while Edwin’s advice is excellent, all of his clients are too egomaniacal to listen. There is, it must be said, a bit of comedy in this work.

Edwin struggles with a cast of characters including, Dr. Loeb, a trust fund child who desperately wants to be an Evil Genius, but has none of the talent. Dr. Loeb’s hideous mother, Iphagenia – who’s evil scheme is to foment a second Southern Rebellion, beginning with Lower Alabama. And the Cromogoldon, a brute with forehead villainous low and quite possibly the strongest creature on the planet.

Inevitably, Edwin’s unique clientele lead him into direct conflict with the greatest superhero of them all, Excelsior. And so, the quiet, restrained intellectual is pitted against heroic force.


This novel is such a fresh idea. I wouldn't say that superheroes are overdone, because they're not, but McLean twisted the trope to focus instead on a backup player, a man who is not super-powered, but who knows how to use the powers he doesn't have. Edwin is a man of amazing mental prowess, whose sense of business turns wanton destruction into profit. But he doesn't just manipulate the villains that come to him; he thinks towards the heroes too, specifically a hero called Excelsior, to build up his business. Everything is broken down into numbers for Edwin, effectively turning crimefighting (and crimestarting) into a disjointed corporation.


I listened to the audio version of How to Succeed in Evil, and the performance by the author was great! I had moments thinking it was a full cast production, because his characterizations were so different and so spot-on for his characters. Just going by the content, not by the performance, I wanted to strangle Topper, the lawyer. McLean's vocal performance made me twitch every time Topper opened his filthy little mouth (in a good way!). McLean clearly has such a strong understanding of his characters that I don't know if another reader would have done this book justice. Even straight-laced, barely-emotional Edwin's voice was summarily different from the others'. That's something I don't know if would have come across as well from reading the text.

That said, I do think this is one novel I would enjoy reading a paperback copy of, but that's just because I like the idea of sitting in public, out in the open, with the words How to Succeed in Evil clear on the cover of my reading material. This would be a fast read, I'm sure. It was a very quick, very engaging listen, too.

My thoughts

I loved this book. There was so much thought, so much action, so much reaction, that I can easily believe Edwin's consulting firm would have a place in real life. If superheroes made an amazing entrance into real life. The cast of the book was so human, so painfully true to life, that it is very easy to lose yourself in the plot, the world, and the schemes. I was upset when the novel ended. I got attached to the characters in an amazing way, considering this was only one book. I usually try to avoid attachment like that when I'm not settling in to read a whole series. It's too much like losing friends. How to Succeed in Evil made me get attached to the characters.

The plot... I was so involved in it. Edwin's logic, his reasoning, was spectacular. The pitches he gives for business make so much sense, I wonder how on earth any villain has ever gotten along without him! I honestly could not get enough of this novel. I strongly suggest it. It will be well worth your time!

Would I Recommend This Book? Yep! This is some good stuff, and it brings a side of thought to superheroes and villains that one might never consider. The logistics of evil are brought into question, and the big questions here are why and how, as opposed to the usual what. The deed doesn’t mean anything if the reasoning behind it isn’t solid. I give How to Succeed in Evil a logistical 3 out of 5 stars.

For more information on the author, visit

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Book Review: Vatican Assassin by Mike Luoma

Vatican Assassin by Mike Luoma


Bernard “BC” Campion works for Pope Peter II, head of the New catholic Church. But BC isn’t much of a priest despite his title and affiliation. In fact, it’s only really due to being in the wrong place at the right time that he’s considered a priest at all. But the NcC actually has a use for BC. There are people that the church needs out of the way. War between the United Islam Nation and the Universal Trade Zone are heating up, and the NcC is ready for the stalemate to be over. So they’re bringing in BC to bear in the neutral-zoned Lunar Prime. But BC is no negotiator. He’s a member of the supposedly secret Office of Papal Operations, an assassin employed by the Vatican.

That's my summary. Here's the one I pulled from

Bernard Campion's friends call him "BC". Not that he has a lot of friends. You don't make a lot of friends when you're an assassin. His mission: eliminate the governor of Luna Prime, Meredith McEntyre. His bosses, The Office of Papal Operations: The OPO, tell him she's been sympathizing with the enemy, the Universal Islamic Nation (UIN). His boss? BC works for the Pope. IT'S 2109, a time of war. BC is "officially" assigned as PR man to the Vatican Mission on Luna Prime, the major city on The Moon, as his cover. Just a mild mannered, young, twenty-something priest working for the New catholic Church on public relations. But he's really a weapon pointed at the UIN by the NcC and their Earth based allies, the Universal Trade Zone, the UTZ.


Sometimes, you can’t help but wonder what would happen if all the religions (or most of them anyway) merged. For the most part, in Vatican Assassin, we’re looking at two main divisions of religion. There’s the UIN that I mentioned, and there’s the NcC. The UIN is pretty self-explanatory. But the New catholic Church is not specifically Catholic. Yes, they’re based in Vatican City, yes, they’re still led by the Pope, but they encompass very nearly every religion aside from Islam in this world. I never quite figured if it encompassed every other religion, but it’s got to be close. But when you consider the wars between religions these days (not to mention the history of religious wars like the Crusades), it’s not a surprise that Luoma has set a 2109 future world in the middle of a religious dispute. The UIN controls Mars, the NcC has Earth, and the moon stays pretty much neutral. It’s around the moon and its stance in the war that much of this book revolves, even if only perhaps 40-50% of the book actually takes place there.


I didn’t actually read Vatican’s Assassin. I listened to it through iTunes. In some ways, I wonder if this book would have been served better if I had read it. Honestly, the best part of this recording was Mike Luoma himself. He made character distinctions through voice that did help personify the characters in a way I don’t think the book could have. But honestly, that was about the only big draw of the book. There were some serious flaws that turned me off of the book and made it hard to digest. The first, and probably the most glaring issue, was that BC is a very passive character throughout the book. If I could give him a motto, or define him in one phrase, it would be “Might as well.” He says it too often, and it starts to get annoying. He just seemed to be a point around which the world happened. Too often, he was told to do things, and he just did them. The only real initiative he showed was at the very beginning, and even that was just reacting to circumstances. It was difficult to relate to him throughout. In a semi-related issue, too much of the book is spent in BC’s head. I could deal with him just thinking about things, but his thoughts are scattered and peppered in everything, even his conversations. Not to mention that much of the exposition and description of the world are told not through BC’s senses, but through his thoughts. We get told how the world is, not shown, and it effectively takes reading from being active to being passive, too.

The third issue, was the beginning. It was a huge infodump, and that didn’t really help to pull me into the world. All in all, I really think Luoma had a great idea and a great setting, and his characters could be wonderful. I just don’t think this was pulled off as well as it could be.

My Thoughts
I really wanted to like this book. But there was just too much that didn’t settle right with me to make me like it. The character and style problems were too much of a drawback to be balanced out by what was good about the book. I’m not saying that there is nothing worth reading in this book, but it just wasn’t for me. I do want to make it known that before I even listened to it, Mike Luoma informed me that this was a very early work. With that in mind, I can be more forgiving of him as an author. There’s always a lot of learning to do in the writing craft, and how are we going to become great authors without the mistakes? No one is perfect at anything the first time. That’s why I am looking forward to finding something more recent of his and read or listen to it. By listening to Vatican Assassin, I’ve gained a viewpoint of Luoma that I haven’t really had for many other authors. I’m going to get to see the serious growth he’s made. I look forward to it!

Would I Recommend This Book?  

Not particularly. While it had its draws, there were more than a few times that I considered stopping listening in the end. I really wanted to like this book, but it turns out I just wasn’t this book’s audience. I give it a cult-brainwashed 2 of 5 stars.

However, I am intrigued by Mike Luoma’s ideas and the subject matter of his other books. I will give him another try in the future. This book alone just didn’t do it for me.

For more on the author, visit

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Book Review: Haywire by Justin Macumber

Haywire by Justin R. Macumber


Shawn has always felt disconnected, even abandoned, by his mother. She's so obsessed with the history of the Titans that she runs a museum all about them. Shawn couldn't care less about the old relics, especially since the Titans haven't been heard from since they chased the Hezrin away from Earth a century ago. That disinterest gets put to the test when Shawn and his mother suddenly find themselves in the company of a returned Titan, a Titan with a warning.

The Hezrin infected the Titans with a virus, one that has turned them against the people they were created to protect. Sure, the Hezrin have been destroyed, but they've managed to create a tool to avenge themselves. Now, the Titans are now coming to take down humanity.

That's my summary. Here's the one I pulled from

When the aliens known as the Hezrin invaded our solar system, we were defenseless against them, their power and technology too much for us. But then from the mind of a mad genius came our salvation — the Titans. Using nanotechnology that turned ordinary soldiers into armored warriors with the strength to tear starships in half, the Titans were able to not only repel the alien invaders, but then vowed to chase them across the galaxy until the Hezrin were destroyed.
That was a hundred years ago. Neither the Titans nor the Hezrin have been heard from since.
Now, finally, the Titans have returned, but instead of coming home as conquering heroes, they’ve been infected by a virus that’s driven them insane and compelled them to destroy everything they’d fought so long and hard to protect.
Standing between them and humanity’s destruction are a scholar, her son, and the only Titan able to resist the infection. Will they find a way to save humanity from its own greatest weapon?


Haywire doesn't give an exact year for its setting (at least not as far as I remember, but I tend to miss a lot of things, so yeah... I fail. A lot) but the lack of a year doesn't bother me. It's obviously not set in the now, or even in the next few decades. If you're looking for a "this is definitely how the future could pan out" sci-fi-story, you're looking in the wrong place. Suspend disbelief for a minute and go with Macumber, and you won't be disappointed. The when, how, and why of Haywire didn't feel like immediate needs for me. There was a whole history involved that was hinted at, the splitting of world powers into two main interplanetary factions, for one, and while I would have liked to know backstory there (because I like that stuff) it wasn't critical to the story much. Macumber gives his readers just what he needs to give us, and it creates a compelling, rich alternate future for his characters and plot to live.


Writers of science fiction can so easily get caught up in terminology that reading their novels (or watching the TV shows or movies) can quickly become an unintelligible joke. Macumber does not fall into that category at all. There's not a ton of "hard" science in it, but I still felt thoroughly ensconced in the future, in a humanity far more advanced than I live in. His plot did not suffer for involving science we don't have in the present-day, his characters were still human (both in race and in characterization) and he was very easy to read and, more importantly, to enjoy. You don't need much more than a basic understanding of the English language to follow Haywire. No fancy degrees... nothing. This is definitely an enjoyable read, meant to be entertaining. He balances plot and necessary science for the setting and events seamlessly.

My Thoughts

From the beginning, I was pulled into Haywire. Macumber's characters are relatable in their faults and joys, their interactions with one another are solid and wholly understandable, and the entire setting is, to put it plainly, awesome. Even his secondary characters hace arcs that draw you in. I don't know that I can really say I had a favorite story arc. A favorite character, yes, but all the threads of the story started in such disconnected places that I admit, I wondered early on how all that was going to work. Macumber delivered, though, weaving everything together masterfully. I was left satisfied on every story arc, and that's not something I can say for every novel I read. Well done, Mr. Macumber!

Would I Recommend This Book? Verily. This isn't one of those "I need to have wiring in my head to get it" novels. I'm not all that into the really hard science fiction, personally. If you are or aren't, I think Haywire is still a good read. I give it a nanite-infused 4 out of 5 stars.

For more information on the author, visit