Saturday, December 26, 2015

Review: Armada by Ernest Cline


Zack Lightman has problems. He's got a reputation at school for being violent, and with graduation just a few months away, he has no idea what he wants to do with his life. Except play video games. He's good at them. Really good. He's ranked sixth in the world in the space shooter game Armada. He works at a secondhand video game shop where gets to refine his skills, but his mom keeps reminding him that isn't a lifetime career option. Oh, and another problem? He saw one of the ships from Armada flying outside his school this morning. A real one. No one else saw it.

Is Zack's concept of reality and video game blurring, like his father's did? Or is there something else going on, the conspiracy his father was sure was true before he died? Are aliens really coming for Earth, like in Armada?

Could it be possible that Armada and other video games like it have been training Earth's population to fight in an oncoming war?

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

It’s just another day of high school for Zack Lightman. He's daydreaming through another boring math class, with just one more month to go until graduation and freedom—if he can make it that long without getting suspended again.

Then he glances out his classroom window and spots the flying saucer. 


Armada is set in 2018- there's one mention of that year, and other than that, it's not known. That reference is so late in the book even that I easily thought it was set now, in 2015. It really doesn't make that much of a difference, really. Dates don't play a huge role in the book, especially because it takes place over the span of two days. Things go quick, so the specific day and year don't matter much. I liked that, actually, though honestly, I could have forgotten how little time was passing if not for the ticking clock Cline inserted into the narrative and chapter headings.


You can find my thoughts on Cline's writing style in my review of READY PLAYER ONE here.

My Thoughts

It's kind of hard to not let my opinion of READY PLAYER ONE color my thoughts on Armada, but here we go.

Armada is fast but well-paced, with things moving along at a steady clip from the start. There's a short ramping up at the beginning, but once the action hits, it hits hard and doesn't stop. I do wish there had been a little more depth on some characters, a little more exploring done. But balance that against what Cline put out-- a short, easy-to-read page-turner-- and I suppose that's a personal choice by the author. He didn't need to go in depth with characterization too much in order to make the plot make sense. That said, holy cow is this a plot-driven book! From the moment Zack sees the first ship, we know something deep is going on, and the questions Zack asks himself even before things get serious set the theme very well.

Gamer geeks, this is a book for you. Zack is an easy stand-in for just about anyone who plays videos games, and especially games like Space Invaders, Star Fox, and other spaceship shooters. Fans of science fiction and even fantasy, there's stuff here for you, too. True to his nature shown in READY PLAYER ONE, Cline displays a real understanding of geekiness, dropping references all over the place, from Ender's Game to Star Wars to The Kingkiller Chronicles. This book plays out as a lot of people's fantasies, I think. It certainly struck a chord with me, being a book nerd. It's a very close-striking form of escapism, and one I think Cline did pretty well.

Okay, here's the zinger: I think READY PLAYER ONE was better.

Would I Recommend This Book? Sure! Armada is a quick read that you won't want to put down. It's fun, it's engaging, it tweaks the desires of gamer nerds and none-gamers alike, and it's clearly written with plenty of fund little moments. I give Armada an enlisted 5 of 5 stars.

For more information on the author, visit

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Review: King of the Bastards by Brian Keene and Steven L. Shrewsbury

Rogan abdicated his throne to his firstborn son, because the sedentary life of a king was boring, grating on his barbarian nature. He needs to fight, to face death and win, to feel alive in his old age. Off on an adventure, Rogan finds himself shipwrecked after a pirate attack. But they weren't just any pirates after him. One of them claimed to be his son. And another of his bastard sons is after Rogan's family he left behind. Now, trapped on goreign soil, he must help the savages face a malicious shaman and his partner-- a cruel god-- to get their help in heading home to save the family he claims.

That's my summary. Here's the one I pulled from
Rogan has been many things in his life as an adventurer — a barbarian, a thief, a buccaneer, a rogue, a lover, a reaver, and most recently, a king. Now, this prehistoric bane of wizards and tyrants finds himself without a kingdom, lost in a terrifying new world, and fighting for his life against pirates, zombies, and the demonic entity known as Meeble. And even if he defeats his foes, Rogan must still find a way to return home, regain his throne, save his loved ones, and remind everyone why he's the KING OF THE BASTARDS.
This book is set in the silver years of Rogan's life, after he's traipsed the world as a barbarian, conquering peoples and taking what he likes. It's long after he claimed a crown, subjugated and allied with foreign dignitaries, and built a family. His deeds are brushed over in a sort of introduction, somewhat like for an epic poem. But seeing this sort of man aging is an interesting perspective. It's not the tale of a young barbarian versus the world. It's a man struggling against the decline of age, clinging to a past he once had while it threatens his future. It was a very interesting take for me.

Keene and Shrewsbury have a clean writing style. Unfortunately, it also felt a little simplistic, at least in content, if not word choice. There were moments where a sentence was trying to say something simple, and it felt like the gentlemen consulted a thesaurus to make it sound more complicated than it was. There were also a few (very few) incidents of analogies that just were not in keeping with the tone of the book. I don't remember the exact wording offhand, but I do remember feeling jarred at some of the word choices. In all, it was very easy to get shaken out of the world of this novel, which detracted from my enjoyment.

My Thoughts
It's obvious from the onset that Keene and Shrewsbury have a rich, full world in mind for Rogan and his companions to inhabit. There are some very rich details about the people we run across. Sadly, for me, all the work was in the details, leaving the big picture incomplete, almost as an afterthought. In a lot of ways, this read like a tabletop role playing game campaign, complete with random encounters and glossing over of the parts the players didn't want to play. The overall plot seemed to get put on the wayside for a sidequest, and the biggest questions I had regarding plot either went unresolved or just plain unaddressed. And the plot that was addressed felt a tad rushed and somewhat wandering, aiming for a tangent goal to Rogan's real driving problem. He wasn't really personally invested in the main conflict of the book. It was a means to an end, and one that I really fail to believe he would have gotten caught up in. Some of the plot reveals had me exasperated, wondering why the authors felt the need to pull other unexplained elements into the narrative that complicated things more. For me, there were a lot of questionable choices made in the plot.
Rogan was a bit of an issue for me, as well. I never connected with him, and I think that's because I never quite saw him go through any personal growth. Sure, that may have been intentional. He's clearly an aging man, and he's very set in his ways. That's apparent from the beginning, but he never changes, and he never seems to learn from the many mistakes he makes. Frankly, I fail to grasp how so many people want to have him around. His battle prowess is clear from the start, too, but I wouldn't have my whole tribe put up with him because he's good with weapons. But that's just me. If that stubbornness was intended by the authors to be a point of contention between Rogan and the reader, they did a great job. But I did have an issue with Rogan's lack of personal growth.
I do have to say, though, that Keene and Shrewsbury can ramp up the action scenes. The final fight is one to behold, though I admit I did get a bit lost in everything that went on. It would be splendid visually, I'm sure. It was definitely engaging, but again, I kept getting torn from the narrative by little things that would remind me I was reading a book.

Would I Recommend This Book? Sad to say, not really. While the premise and first fifth or so of the book intrigued me, after that point, it was like I was reading a whole different book. The plot wandered that far from the original conflict, and it never seemed to make its way back. It asked questions I never got answers to. I give King of the Bastards a savage 3 of 5 stars.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Trilogy Book Review: THE CHRONOS FILES by Rysa Walker


Kate's just learned that her grandmother is leaving everything to her, but it's on the condition that she spend some time living with her in her new home. The request isn't all that odd, especially since one of Kate's divorced parents can come live there, too, but something weird is going on with Grandma Katherine. She has a medallion. It glows blue to Kate, but her dad sees it as orange. It doesn't glow for her mother at all.
The glow means Kate can be trained to time travel, using the medallion. In itself, that's a cool prospect. But when the timeline suddenly changes and Kate's mom disappears, she knows something is wrong. Grandma Katherine was killed sometime in the past, probably when she time traveled by 1893, and Kate has to find out how to stop it.
The biggest problem is it looks like the murderer is Katherine's husband, Kate's grandfather.

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

When Kate Pierce-Keller’s grandmother gives her a strange blue medallion and speaks of time travel, sixteen-year-old Kate assumes the old woman is delusional. But it all becomes horrifyingly real when a murder in the past destroys the foundation of Kate’s present-day life. Suddenly, that medallion is the only thing protecting Kate from blinking out of existence.
Kate learns that the 1893 killing is part of something much more sinister, and Kate’s genetic ability to time-travel makes her the only one who can stop him. Risking everything, she travels to the Chicago World’s Fair to try to prevent the killing and the chain of events that follows.
Changing the timeline comes with a personal cost, however—if Kate succeeds, the boy she loves will have no memory of her existence. And regardless of her motives, does she have the right to manipulate the fate of the entire world?

This is a time-travel novel. Its subject matter makes context a very fluid thing. The main narrative, that being Kate's timeline, is present-day, with all that implies: cell phones, internet, fancy coffee drinks, all that.
Then there's the time-travel aspect of it. It blows context out of the water, since we focus a lot on 1893 and the Chicago World's Fair, but we actually only spend a small amount of time there, toward the end of the novel.
A lot of the time elements are theoretical, sorting through past and future events, and it gets confusing a bit. It's hard to keep track of the whens and wheres and whos of different time jumps, and avoiding paradoxes (not really a huge issue with how Walker did it), but more than once I felt my brain shut off when trying to keep track of what the characters were talking about. it didn't detract from plot, but it can be mind-boggling.

Other than the sometimes-confusing subject matter, Timebound was easy and highly enjoyable to read. Kate's thoughts and actions made perfect sense and remained consistent with the character she was. The content was entertaining and extremely intriguing, and more than once, I had moments when you couldn't have torn the book away from me.

My Thoughts
I really enjoyed Timebound and look forward to reading the next book. The threads of this plot wrapped up nicely while still leaving some questions unanswered to pursue as the series continues, and I can't wait to get back to Kate and see what develops between her and Trey, and how she develops as she refines her ability and chases down her grandfather Saul. Honestly, I'm eager and curious to see where and more importantly when the medallion takes us next.

Would I Recommend This Book? Absolutely! Along with an awesome plot, great characters, and intriguing subject matter, this book is also full of great tidbits for nerds and, believe it or not, Princess Bride fans. Time travel can be hard to do right, but I think Walker has a great handle on things. I give Timebound an inconceivable 4 of 5 stars.

Kate didn't ask to be the only hope of stopping the Cyrists' plan to cull the world, but she doesn't have a choice. While holding up an uneasy truce with her Aunt Prudence, Kate and her team are working to track down medallions, the keys to time travel. Her partner Kiernan claims that in another timeline, one where he and Kate were involved, they managed to get a fair few, and he's scouring her records to find where they need to go next.
In the meantime, Kate's current boyfriend, Trey, is still trying to reconcile his own missing timeline, one where he knew Kate. Just as Kate doesn't remember dating Kiernan, Trey doesn't remember dating her.
And looming over them all is the Cyrist threat. A Cyrist school has merged with Kate and Trey's school. Now the only safe place is Kate's grandmother's house. But she can't stay there as much as she wants. Time beckons.
The keys are calling.

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

To stop her sadistic grandfather, Saul, and his band of time travelers from rewriting history, Kate must race to retrieve the CHRONOS keys before they fall into the Cyrists’ hands. If she jumps back in time and pulls the wrong key—one that might tip off the Cyrists to her strategy—her whole plan could come crashing down, jeopardizing the future of millions of innocent people. Kate’s only ally is Kiernan, who also carries the time-traveling gene. But their growing bond threatens everything Kate is trying to rebuild with Trey, her boyfriend who can’t remember the relationship she can’t forget.
As evidence of Saul’s twisted mind builds, Kate’s missions become more complex, blurring the line between good and evil. Which of the people Saul plans to sacrifice in the past can she and Kiernan save without risking their ultimate goal—or their own lives?

My Thoughts
Time's Edge, like Timebound, captured me pretty quick, and more than once, I was shocked by a plot twist, frightened by a desperate situation, and just plain gleeful from a reveal. This book was full of ups and downs, hopes, failures, and tension. Oh, the tension. I have to admit, the whole "love triangle" thing is a bit stale to me, but Walker does a good job not making it annoying. There's a lot of freshness to it considering the time travel and timeline aspects. Honestly, having only seen things through Kate's eyes, and seeing what she goes through with Trey, it wasn't until Kate mentioned that Kiernan was going through the same with her that I realized the parallels. Holy cow, that was brilliant, and it put a great spin on the love triangle that I admired.
The bulk of the action outside our timeline takes place in Georgia, in 1938, though there is a nice sidetrip to the same area in 1911. I love seeing how things Kate and Kiernan did in 1911 affect their actions in 1938. It was masterfully done, and although I still get mentally stumped keeping track of jumps and re-jumps and times and places (mostly because of how Kate has to use her timehopping skills to keep alert and sane), it's getting easier to sort of accept it as right and just glide by it. I am definitely not cut out for Kate's line of work, because keeping times straight would drive me bonkers.

Would I Recommend This Book? Yes, indeed! Time's Edge is exciting, nail-biting, action-y, intelligent, and real to life (if we could really time travel). There's a moment at the end that had me squeeing while on the treadmill. It had me chomping for book 3, which will be out in October 2015. I give Time's Edge a Southern 5 of 5 stars.
Kate's grandfather is out to kill billions of people. The Culling is almost here, and there simply isn't enough time to stop it. Except that Kate and a few other members of the Fifth Column are time travelers. That helps. It would be better if her grandfather's religious zealots, the Cyrists, weren't also time travelers. Now, Kate has to time hop all over the past-- and finally, to the future-- to stop the Culling. More and more, truths are coming to light. Can she really trust the Fifth Column, or are some of them secretly loyal to the Cyrists?

That's my summary. Here's the one I pulled from here
The Cyrists are swiftly moving into position to begin the Culling, and Kate’s options are dwindling. With each jump to the past or the future, Kate may trigger a new timeline shift. Worse, the loyalties of those around her—including the allegiances of Kiernan and the Fifth Column, the shadowy group working with Kate—are increasingly unclear.
Kate will risk everything, including her life, to prevent the future her grandfather and the Cyrists have planned. But, when time runs out, it may take an even bigger sacrifice to protect the people she loves.

My Thoughts
This was a thrilling end to an amazing trilogy. The thought Walker had to put into this must be staggering, keeping all the timelines straight.
Unfortunately, I had trouble with it just reading it. I still love the characters, the concept, the plot, and even the story itself, but I got so mind boggled by the time I was even a third of the way through that it became troublesome to read. Oh, I finished the book, and I'm glad I did-- the ending is fitting and satisfying-- but I lost track of the everything and everyones so much it wasn't as fulfilling on a personal level as it could have been. Maybe rereading would help. In the future.
On the whole, this was a good book. I'm not saying it wasn't. Maybe if I'd read slower, I could have kept things straighter. But I really wasn't reading it all that fast. There were just so many time hops it got to the point my eyes crossed whenever I saw the section headings showing places, dates, and times. Walker acknowleges the confusion multiple times in the book, with the characters having trouble sorting some things out, like paradoxes, but I was so much more confused. It did detract from my enjoyment some, but not enough to make me put the book down. I just had to take it in doses and realize I wasn't going to grasp everything right away.

Would I Recommend This Book? Well yeah. It closes out its trilogy well despite being a bit of a mental struggle to wrap the head around. I was confused for much of the book, just with timelines, but there were a lot of events I was very interested in. The future being a big part of it. It's a great read, if a somewhat frustrating one. I give Time's Divide a paradoxical 4 of 5 stars.

For more on the author, visit

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Book Review: Hellmaw: Blind Justice by Erik Scott de Bie

FBI Agent Maria Ruiz is being called all over the United States for murder cases. They seem normal enough-- for murder cases-- until Maria starts having visions of a rainbow-eyed woman. She's involved at all these unconnected crime scenes. Maria thinks she's going nuts, but maybe there is something in common with the victims. Maybe this is a serial killer.
And maybe, the killer isn't human at all.

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

Noted fantasy author Erik Scott de Bie brings us the third HELLMAW novel, in which jaded FBI agent Maria Ruiz learns she really hasn't seen it all. Amid the splattered blood of increasingly depraved and spectacular murders is something strange, something beyond the limits of mortal justice. Ruiz is closing in, over heaped bodies, on a serial killer: an angel of death who may not be from this world.

De Bie's writing is easy to sink into, clear, and compelling. He's got great dialogue, and I will say he is amazing at holding back information you didn't realize he was holding back. I'm serious. He sprang something on me that I didn't even realize I didn't know, because I never thought twice about it. He also writes with a great disconnect between reader and protagonist, letting the reader know things Maria doesn't, while still leting you see everything through Maria's eyes. I need to look into more of this author's works, definitely. His writing style and my reading style meshed very well.

My Thoughts
Blind Justice is an excellent set of murder mysteries that all go together. Its separation into parts to go along with the crime scenes keeps everything nice and smooth reading-wise, and I like the way de Bie brings the reader along with Maria uncovering things. We do get to see the victims before they are done away with, which I like a lot, seeing things from both sides-- before and after the murder-- so the reader gets to know things before Maria does. I got to draw my own conclusions first, and that made things a lot of fun, rather than being dragged along after.
De Bie managed to get me truly infuriated at at least one character. I mean I wanted to rip this person's head off. That doesn't happen to me often, so kudos to him there. I won't say I overly loved any particular character, but I empathized. But engendering that hatred. Power to him on that one!

Would I Recommend This Book? Highly! De Bie takes his readers on a great tale of supernatural mystery disguised as textbook cases. It's so very lightly set in the Hellmaw setting that it's actually easy to forget it's a Hellmaw book. That's not good or bad, but it's interesting how long he goes without really bringing on the daemons. I give Blind Justice a narrow-minded 5 of 5 stars.

For more on the author, visit

Monday, December 14, 2015

Book Review: Best Served Cold by John G. Walker

It's been two years since Tom Statford walked on Earth. Of course, it only felt like days to him, but the world he's returned to is drastically changed. The gods-- all the gods-- have fallen to the mortal realm, and now are just trying to get by. Somewhere among them are the parties responsible for the memories still so fresh in Tom's head: losing everything he held dear. Now, Tom is willing to do anything-- anything at all-- to get his revenge.
Even if that means throwing away everything connected to who he used to be.

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

In the seventh book of The Statford Chronicles, Tom Statford has escaped from an asylum run by a mad god. He has returned to a world where the gods have been brought down to earth, their powers no longer limitless. None of that matters for the moment as Tom searches out the one who took away his life and the woman he loved. It is pure and simple vengeance that drives Tom, though he will learn one stone truth. 

Revenge is a two-way street.

My Thoughts
I cannot gush over this book enough. Tom is back, and as a reader discovering the changed world with him, it's hard not to feel what he does. Reuniting with old friends is an emotional roller coaster that made my heart skip beats and caused me to hold my breath. Joy mixed with pain throughout this novel, and I was right with Tom for every step of it.
This book is the culmination of the previous novels, and it's clear that the whole game has changed from here on. As hard as it was, dealing with all the changes and the pain, I couldn't put the book down. I woke up early ON MY DAY OFF to read the last third of it, it was that driving. I almost can't even explain it properly. This is a journey you have to take with Tom, and frankly, you need to read the first six books to get into that place. Walker's work putting his readers into Tom's head really pays off here, and I couldn't be more on edge waiting for the next book.
Those of you who have followed my blog or podcast will know that I've been following John Walker's progress as a writer for a little while now. I've reviewed every one of the Statford Chronicles books, and I've been waiting for a 5-star review-worthy book to come along.
This is the one.

Would I Recommend This Book? Absotively! Walker has really come into his own as a writer, and this book is an amazing piece of evidence of how an artist grows into his craft. Chilling, insightful, and just plain out emotionally challenging, this is by far Walker's best work to date. I give Best Served Cold a well-deserved 5 of 5 stars!