Author Archives: Mark Gardner

About Mark Gardner

Mark Gardner lives in northern Arizona with his wife, three children and a pair of spoiled dogs. Mark holds a degrees in Computer Systems and Applications and Applied Human Behavior.

Drop by Drop, by Morgan Llywelyn

In this first book in the Step By Step trilogy, global catastrophe occurs as all plastic mysteriously liquefies. All the small components making many technologies possible—navigation systems, communications, medical equipment—fail. In Sycamore River, citizens find their lives disrupted as everything they’ve depended on melts around them, with sometimes fatal results. All they can rely upon is themselves. And this is only the beginning . . .

Drop by Drop is an interesting concept: plastics all over the world start to liquefy, and anything depending on plastics stop working. The idea is very much like the TV show, Jericho, and a non-zombie post apocalyptic story is a fresh read, so I requested it on Netgalley. The problem with Drop by Drop is that there is no plot. The story just meanders through a few years without a solid understanding of the flow of time. I think that the entire story spans a few years, maybe as many as four? The time shifts are abrupt, sometimes happening in the middle of a chapter. The vignettes are interesting by themselves, but linked together with no apparent ending to the story, the whole thing is an exercise in futility, but excessive head hopping soils even the interesting vignettes. Often I had to re-read a page or paragraph to figure out whom the section was about. Any time this happens in a book, I’m knocked out of the narrative, and any time the reader is knocked out of the narrative, it’s a chance that they’ll stop reading. I think that this story would’ve been better as a series of short stories, or even following a particular character through out the ordeal, perhaps in some sort of repeated chronology to show how different people and couples handle the plastic apocalypse. Very few of the characters are relatable, and although some backstory is filled in, the origins of most of the characters are nebulous at best. One of the biggest sins I feel a writer can commit is a bad ending, and Drop by Drop does just that: nothing is resolved, and a new impending doom is introduced to entice you to purchase book two. It took me five days to grind through a book that’s 336 pages, so you can imagine how frustrating it was to end in a cliffhanger. I kept hoping for a payout, but that wasn’t the case. Overall, I’d give Drop by Drop three stars, and with a $13 price tag for the ebook, I’d avoid this story entirely.

Morgan Llywelyn is an American-born Irish author best known for her historical fantasy, historical fiction, and historical non-fiction. Her fiction has received several awards and has sold more than 40 million copies, and she herself is recipient of the 1999 Exceptional Celtic Woman of the Year Award from Celtic Women International.

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The Good Twin, by Marti Green

Mallory Holcolm is an unfulfilled waitress and aspiring artist living in a Queens boardinghouse when she learns something astonishing about her past: she has an identical twin sister named Charly she never knew existed. Charly is a Princeton graduate, a respected gallery owner, and an heiress married to her handsome college sweetheart, Ben. Charly got everything she ever wanted. Everything Mallory wanted, too. And now it might be easier than Mallory ever imagined. Because Ben has reasons of his own for wanting to help her. It begins with his startling proposal. All Mallory has to do is say yes. But as their devious plan falls into place, piece by piece, Mallory learns more about her sister and herself than she ever meant to—a discovery that comes with an unexpected twist. A chilling deception is about to become a dangerous double cross. And it’s going to change the rules of Ben and Mallory’s game to the very end.

There seems to be a lot of animosity toward The Good Twin, by Marti Green. When I saw it on Netgalley, I requested it. I started reading it on a Friday evening, and read until it was done, finishing very early Saturday morning. It’s very compelling, and while some of the motivations for Mallory don’t quite pass muster, it’s an engrossing read. It was hard to find sympathy for Mallory, but I’m not sure what I would’ve done different. Charly was much easier to identify with – most of us have felt betrayed at some point in our lives, and Charly’s arc was, I think, a better read than Mallory’s. Part three is a little bit of a downer, and it felt rushed – almost incomplete. Overall I really enjoyed the story, and am awarding it four stars.

After receiving her Master of Science degree and New York State Professional Certificate in school psychology, Marti Green realized her true passion was the law. She went on to receive her law degree from Hofstra University and worked as an in-house counsel for a major cable television operator for twenty-three years, specializing in contracts, intellectual property law and regulatory issues. A lifelong New Yorker, Marti Green moved to The Villages, FL nine years ago, and now lives there with her husband, Lenny, and cat, Howie. She has two adult sons and five grandchildren.

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Turnabout

1150 words this week. I finally submitted my pirate story to Queen of Swords. There’s still four weeks left if you want to submit something. Today’s story is brought to you by prompts by Chuck Wendig, Liz Shaw, Linda G. Hill, The Daily Post, and Tara Roberts. I couldn’t work in Bree Salyer‘s prompt, but you all should participate in that too.

Steven’s next few days were surreal. After his talk with Ruby, he had come to one simple conclusion, and not even the voice could return to tell him he was wrong:

Ruby wasn’t lying. She really does believe me!

By day he did his schoolwork, usually with Ruby chatting at his side. Not a word was spoken regarding their talk and the kiss on the forehead; all Steven knew was that since then, the voice had made fewer appearances.

Everyone in the class still seemed to think Ruby was crazy, or that Steven had done something to her, but as time went on, Steven found he noticed – and cared – less and less. He couldn’t explain it. He didn’t know whether it was because of Ruby, luck, or if maybe he had just finally gotten over everything that had happened.

All he knew was that the voice was dying, he had stopped caring what people thought of him, and in an small way, he was… happy. There was no other word for it. He was beginning to feel happy. He was smiling slightly, and was feeling less depressed.

But how could that happen? Surely he couldn’t recover because one person was speaking to him? Then again, he knew that if Robert hadn’t gone against him, he would have never fallen into a depression. He’d suspected that the fact that he was all alone was the main reason he fell so far. Maybe one person really couldmake a difference.

Having Ruby as a friend made him feel almost normal again. They didn’t fight, and Ruby didn’t stare at him with accusing eyes the way everyone else did. It was almost as if, in some way, the old Lindsay – the one he had known before they started bickering and she admitted to hearing the voice – had come back into his life. She’d never replace Lindsay, that was impossible, but for the first time in a very long time, he felt a glimmer of hope for the future.

* * *

Ruby was getting more and more happy with her success. What was the oxymoronic expression? Cautiously optimistic. Despite that someone couldn’t be both of those words, it seemed to fit, regardless of proper English. Steven was changing before her eyes; he was getting better. She noticed he was no longer resisted her attempts at conversation, but was engaging her. She even saw him smile. It was only once, but she could tell that there were more smiles aching to be set free. Her success with Steven bolstered her resolve and gave her the courage she needed to keep facing the stares of the other students at Twin Oaks High School.

She couldn’t rely on support from her peers. Although no one said anything directly to her, neither did anyone attempt to find out what was going on. They seemed content on thinking Steven had somehow brainwashed her. She just knewthat there was no animus or malice in Steven’s heart, she just wished the others knew what she knew.

She tried to speak to a few classmates, but they all changed the subject and tried to talk about their unreasonable teachers or the latest gossip on who was dating whom. Anything but Steven.

On several occasions, Ruby tried to talk to Robert again, but he seemed so focused on ignoring Ruby and Steven. Robert was so convinced of Steven’s guilt, he was completely denying that there was any chance of innocence. He seemed sure, too, that Ruby was a lost cause. It made Ruby wonder if she could ever get Robert to consider anything other than the lies he held as truth. But like so many things out there, it was easier to hate, than to admit that he was wrong.
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Zero Limit, by Jeremy K. Brown

For war hero Caitlin Taggart, mining work on the Moon is dirty, low pay, and high risk. But no risk seems too extreme if it helps her return to Earth and the daughter she loves more than life itself. Offered a dangerous, long shot chance to realize that dream; Caitlin will gamble with more than just her life. By leading a ragtag crew of miners on a perilous assignment to harvest an asteroid, Caitlin could earn a small fortune. More importantly, it would give her clearance to return to Earth. But when an unexpected disaster strikes the mission, Caitlin is plunged into a race to save not only herself, but also every human being on Earth.

Let’s talk about Zero Limit, by Jeremy K. Brown. Definitely a high-stakes read. In a story in which everything that can go wrong does go wrong. Disaster after disaster. Failure after failure. But that’s every space disaster story I’ve ever read or written. At some point, you get this almost “disaster fatigue,” where the scene is set, and you’re like, “who’s gonna die in this chapter?” The first disaster was all “Whoah!” but then subsequent ones were less and less “Whoah,” until they were commonplace.

I’m not sure when this story was written, but as with many scifi stories, Zero Limit critiques the current political brouhaha, and takes it to the next level. The xenophobic actions of the U.S. president sever all travel between the Earth and the Moon, setting up the protagonist for the dangerous prospect that tips over the first disaster domino. And oh boy, do those dominos fall. Did I mention disaster fatigue? There are definitely correlations with current U.S. border policy, and the issue is played out to a conclusion, but, and this is the most important part, the author doesn’t hit us over the head with that plot point. It’s there, and the reader is allowed to draw whatever conclusions they wish. Science fiction allows us to explore the topics of our time, and for many people, U.S. policy is in the forefront of their minds.

The writing is solid, and the writer did enough research that nothing jumped out at me, and I mostly had no problems suspending my disbelief. I did find the constant “stuff going horribly wrong” aspect a little hard to swallow, but what is a space disaster without disaster? All in all, I give Zero Limit 3.75 stars. It’s a good read. I’ll probably check out Ocean of Storms, co-written with Christopher Mari. It, like Zero Limit, are free to Kindle Unlimited subscribers.

Jeremy K. Brown has authored several biographies for young readers, including books on Stevie Wonder and Ursula K. Le Guin. He has also contributed articles to numerous magazines and newspapers, including special issues for TV Guide and the Discovery Channel, and recently edited a collector’s issue on Pink Floyd for Newsweek. He worked for 10 years for WWE, serving as Deputy Editor of WWE Magazine and as a member of the company’s television writing staff. Jeremy published his first novel, Calling Off Christmas, in 2011 and is currently at work on another novel. He lives in New York with his wife and sons.

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Friendship

I’m at 1030 words for this installment. Prompts by #SoCS, Two Word Tuesday, #FFC2018 and The Daily Post.

* * *

When Ruby entered the classroom, everyone turned toward Steven. He was already in his corner and stiffened when he saw her. Was she going to repeat yesterday’s actions?

Ruby walked forward and, as she drew near Robert, he hopped up and pulled out the chair next to his. “Come sit at your regular computer, Ruby.” His cheerfulness was forced. Ruby smiled and waved him off. With all eyes watching, Ruby walked to Steven and sat next to him.

Steven stared as she began to talk to him. He couldn’t help but find the situation insane. Steven answered her queries through his shock. She seemed as if he was an old friend. Why was she doing this? Was it some sort of sick joke?

The more Steven considered the dilemma, the less he thought that that was the case. If it was a joke, why was everyone shocked at her actions? Surely, they couldn’t all be acting; could they?

They’re all acting, it’s all a little play. They’ll get you soon. Do it first!

Steven startled at the sound of the voice. It woke him up at the same time every night, but even after all this time, he still wasn’t used to it.

“Are you OK? You kind of jumped all of a sudden,” Ruby asked, compassion in her voice. Steven nodded without saying anything, unsure of her display of kindness.

I want to believe it’s a joke, he thought, but how can I with the way she is acting?

He tried to ignore her and concentrate on his work, but she made that difficult. She jabbered next to him like a typical teenage girl, sometimes laughing at her own jokes, other times poking him in the side with her elbow to get him to laugh too. A couple of times it almost worked, but it was difficult for him to forget the way she treated him after Robert told her what he’d been accused of, so he fell back into frowning silence every time.

* * *

At the end of the torturously long class, Steven rushed for the door. He seemed desperate to escape her and her friendliness. Ruby tried to give chase, but Robert caught up to her before she could.

“Do you know what people are saying?” he demanded, his eyes narrow slits and face red.

Ruby pulled back and crossed her arms over her chest. She scowled at him. “No, but you’re probably gonna tell me.”

“People are saying that you’re Steven’s accomplice. Like you had something to do with Lindsay’s death.”

Ruby opened her mouth to reply, but Robert stopped her. “Obviously, I know you didn’t, because you moved here afterward, but that’s what people are saying, and it gets worse!” he said, his red face somehow getting darker. “Some people are considering the possibility that Steven may be innocent!”
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Extinct, by RR Haywood

The end of the world has been avoided—for now. With Miri and her team of extracted heroes still on the run, Mother, the disgraced former head of the British Secret Service, has other ideas… While Mother retreats to her bunker to plot her next move, Miri, Ben, Safa and Harry travel far into the future to ensure that they have prevented the apocalypse. But what they find just doesn’t make sense. London in 2111 is on the brink of annihilation. What’s more, the timelines have been twisted. Folded in on each other. It’s hard to keep track of who is where. Or, more accurately, who is when. The clock is ticking for them all. With nothing left to lose but life itself, our heroes must stop Mother—or die trying.

Minor spoilers ahead.

Who doesn’t like a time-travel science fiction book? By book three, we know that the opening scene of Malcolm running through the bunker will actually happen at the very end of the book. And the scene was underwhelming. It was as if the book was done, and some editor was like, “Uh, we don’t have one of those scenes that doesn’t make sense until the end,” and one was shoehorned into the book.

I think that Extinct is the worst of the trilogy. The British Secret Service guys return from book two, and they’re just boring. Every chapter that featured them I just groaned. They started getting interesting in the last 25% or so, but the ending was lacking. If this weren’t the conclusion of the trilogy, then the ending would work, but there are so many characters that are left dangling.

And what the heck is up with Mother? There is absolutely no reason for her to behave the way she does. She’s evil for the sake of being evil. Her motivations are far-fetched, and her motivations don’t even make her hate-able – she’s just a pathetic trope.

But we do get to see Harry killing Nazis, so that’s great. Sigh. The Harry/Emily angst is cringe worthy as well. Konrad is the stereotypical nerd with no redeeming qualities other than- I don’t know- running the portal? Messing up so that the team has to rescue him? Another sigh. Many plot points were hard to suspend disbelief. I know, I know, I’ll buy into time travel, but not plot X…

Extinct wasn’t bad per se, it just felt rushed, and the story wasn’t fully formed. The ending was bunk, and the villains were passé cardboard cutouts of the villain trope. A disappointing three stars for book three. Since they’re all free to Kindle Unlimited subscribers, they’re still worth the read.

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RR Haywood was born in Birmingham, England but has spent most of his life living on the beautiful south coast. He has had a passion for reading for as long as he can remember. One of his favourite genres is Post-Apocalyptic fiction and he has worked his way through every book he could find. Some were great and some not so great and what he wanted was a minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day detailed exploration of what would happen. This desire to explore the world after such an event gave birth to The Undead, which is now the UK’s bestselling zombie horror series, compared to The Walking Dead and many other great works. This underground smash-hit series draws readers from all walks of life with compelling characters, incredible descriptions and breath taking action sequences that have had readers gripping their kindles, laughing out loud and crying real tears.

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Day Killer, by Clara Coulson

Cal has spent the past three months recovering from his injuries in the wake of the violent scandal that nearly tore DSI apart. Now back in Aurora after a stint in physical therapy, Cal’s trying to get his life back on track, his mind back in shape, and his attitude back in check before he returns to active duty in a few weeks’ time. But when a mysterious vampire shows up half dead at Cal’s apartment, and an old rival warns him that the dangerous Black Knights are plotting a major attack against Aurora, Cal finds himself caught in the middle of an off-the-books case that has the potential to end his career—and his life. With enemies closing in from all sides, and his DSI colleagues left in the dark, Cal has no choice but to trust his instincts, a vampire he just met, and the very man whose savage attack traumatized him forever. Because if he doesn’t, Aurora will fall, and millions of innocents will fall with it.

I knew Day Killer would be awesome. I have yet to read a Clara Coulson City of Crows novel that I didn’t like. I did like that Cal is almost solo in this adventure. I like Erica and Cooper, but it was fun to see Cal do his thing. With the DSI taking a back seat to this adventure, Day Killer is all Cal all the time.

Without spoiling anything, I’m looking forward to reading Cal to be awesome in book six. There has been this rather annoying self-deprecating angle to Cal that while it works as a character flaw, just grates on the nerves. Since the timeline of the books is compressed, it seems as if Cal has been with the DSI a lot longer, and I keep forgetting that he’s the baby crow.

Book five wraps up the main story nicely, teases a little something something about Cooper, and sets up a new world of Cal. I think I liked Day Killer more so than Doom Sayer, and am looking forward to reading Spell Caster this summer. I’m gonna say that this one is the best of the bunch, and five stars is the only rating possible.

Clara Coulson was born and raised in backwoods Virginia, USA. Currently in her mid-twenties, Clara holds a degree in English and Finance from the College of William & Mary and recently retired from the hustle and bustle of Washington, DC to return to the homeland and pick up the quiet writing life. Clara spends most of her time (when she’s not writing) dreaming up new story ideas, studying Japanese, and slowly reading through the several-hundred-book backlog on her budding home library. If she’s not occupied with any of those things, then you can probably find her playing with her two cats or lurking in the shadows of various social media websites. In the publishing sphere, Clara is currently occupied with the City of Crows urban fantasy series, and its companion series, Lark Nation.

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