The Deep Beneath, by Natalie Wright

H.A.L.F. (Human Alien Life Form) #9 is the product of genetic engineering, the union of human and alien DNA. Created to be a weapon in a secret war we don’t know is coming, he proved too powerful to control. He has lived for seventeen years in an underground lab, sedated and trained to be a cold-blooded killing machine. But H.A.L.F. 9 has escaped the lab and the sedation has worn off. He has never been more alive. More powerful. Or more deadly. While H.A.L.F. 9 revels in his newfound freedom, Erika Holt relaxes in the desert with friends. But a typical Saturday night soon erupts into chaos when fate brings her together with H.A.L.F. 9. Erika is forced to make a choice that will irretrievably change her life. If she chooses to help H.A.L.F. 9 escape, her fate will become intertwined with his in what will become an intergalactic adventure. Little do any of them know that their actions trigger a vast New World Order conspiracy which began after the UFO crash in Roswell in 1947. Will H.A.L.F. 9 be reeled back in, once again forced to do the bidding of the Makers? And will any of them survive the dangers of The Deep Beneath them?

I’ve run into Natalie at writing conventions, book festivals, and comic cons. Since we’re both Arizona authors, we often get invited to the same events. She’s always fun to sit next to on a sci-fi panel. Obviously, I’ve known about her alien/human hybrid story for a while (The Deep Beneath came out almost three years ago), but it wasn’t until a recent subscription to Kindle Unlimited that I finally got around to reading her work. (Sorry, Nat!)

From my interactions with Natalie over the years, I had high expectations for The Deep Beneath. I’m pleased to say that I was not disappointed. As with many stories revolving around secret government off-book projects, the administrators of said project were a bit clichéd. It’s an easy trope, and authors (including myself) often fall back on the megalomaniacal villain who has to save the world by destroying innocents. After all, the good of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one.

Those that have read my reviews the last few years know that I grok sci-fi. It’s just my bag. The Deep Beneath is an easy sci-fi adventure. The premise is often repeated: An alien or alien hybrid escapes the machinations of a government facility, meets a young girl or boy who is at a potential crossroads in his or her life, and the two of them fall in love, but their love is not meant to be because the alien has to return to save the one they love. There is often an impossible pursuit where the powerful alien and crafty, but underestimated human outsmart the government thugs that brainlessly pursue the young couple because of duty or orders.

That pretty much describes all of alien YA sci-fi. It’s not a criticism of Ms. Wright’s work, or even the genre, but an acknowledgement that the trope exists. When an author tackles a common trope like this, it’s the quality of the writing, and unique insights by the author that make a story rise above the rest. Natalie uses her life in Arizona to bring realistic environmental descriptions to her writing. As someone who has been to most of the locations described in The Deep Beneath, and who is a military veteran, I found all the settings believable. The actions of the government thugs, however, were a little hard to swallow.

Military personnel are so often portrayed as mindless robots, serving their generals and commanders. These generals and commanders are often portrayed as iron-fisted oligarchs with absolute impunity and able to administer extreme non-judicial punishments. Punishments so severe that everyone is afraid of their commander. If this were the case, why would we even have a volunteer military? If I were so mistreated by a commanding officer, I’d bail, and never look back. But, this trope is so common, that I too, end up writing it. Which is a disappointment, because these wonderful men and women in the armed forces deserve to be accurately portrayed.

I did find the formatting of the dialog confusing in which people referred to the alien as “H.A.L.F. 9.” I couldn’t tell if characters were calling him “half-nine,” or “H-A-L-F-Nine.” I’m also not a fan of small numbers not being spelled out, but it’s a stylistic choice. Overall, I enjoyed the read. I’m a sucker for sci-fi. Although The Deep Beneath didn’t bring anything new to the table, reading a familiar trope in a familiar environment (a location that is often overlooked) was so easy, and fun. I plan to read the other two H.A.L.F. books next year, and look forward to interacting with Natalie Wright at future events. I’m going to call it 3.5 stars, and bump that to four since Amazon and Goodreads don’t allow fractional star ratings.

Natalie is the author of the multiple award-winning H.A.L.F. series and the young adult fantasy series, The Akasha Chronicles. She lives in the high desert in Tucson, Arizona with her husband, teen daughter and two cat overlords. When not writing, reading or gaming, Natalie appears on panels and exhibits at book festivals, comic cons and Sci-Fi/Fantasy conventions throughout the western US. She enjoys walking in the desert, snorkeling in warm waters, and sharing excellent food and conversation with interesting people. She was raised an Ohio farmgirl, lives in the suburbs, and dreams of living where she can hear the ocean. She graduated from The Ohio State University and practiced law for twenty years, but now happily spends her days making things up.

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Doom Sayer, by Clara Coulson

As Cal Kinsey is creeping up to his one-year anniversary on Riker’s team, something else is creeping through the streets of Aurora. One by one, people are falling ill with severe flu-like symptoms, and the doctors are stumped, unsure of the cause. At first, the supernatural community ignores this largely human problem…until a wizard is infected and flies into an insane rage, destroying almost half a city block. That is when the truth comes out: It’s not a disease at all. It’s an infectious curse. With Aurora’s supernatural community descending into panic, DSI goes on high alert, and every team is mobilized to hunt down the curse’s source. But the ICM refuses to cooperate with the investigation. Terrified practitioners try to flee the city, risking an epidemic. A scared witch attacks a DSI team, killing multiple agents. And just when Cal and his teammates think it can’t possibly get any worse, the unthinkable happens. The new leader of the local ICM chapter accuses a DSI agent of playing a part in the creation of the curse. Specifically, he accuses one of DSI’s elite detectives: the one and only Cal Kinsey.

I knew I’d like Doom Sayer, by Clara Coulson, as I’ve liked the previous three books. I enjoyed the return of the main characters, and especially enjoyed Erica’s role in Doom Sayer. I was concerned that my favorite character would be sidelined, but I should’ve expected that Ms. Coulson would give me what I wanted. She tends to do that…

As is Ms. Coulson’s style, book four is wrapped up, and then she drops a bombshell that makes book five a must read. I’m just sad that I have to wait so long for the next city of crows book. Like the rest, Doom Sayer gets 4.5 stars, and as long as Clara Coulson keeps writing them, I’ll keep reading them.

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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Realm FM, by Tyrolin Puxty

Okay. Fine. Amy Holt swore on air. Surely that doesn’t make her an inept radio host. Either way, she’s desperate for work; and if she doesn’t find something soon, it’s back to Australia. When the job of her dreamish nightmares presents itself, Amy jumps at the opportunity, surprised to hear that the station is built on a wormhole, opening it up to infinite realms. Interviewing Bigfoot and her doppelganger aren’t that problematic. Working for her sister’s ex-boyfriend though, is a whole other matter. He’s ridiculously charismatic. And good looking. Poor bugger is missing a six-pack, though. Suddenly, traveling through an apocalyptic wasteland and mollifying racist Bigfeet doesn’t seem so hard. Trying to avoid Ryan’s charm, though? Yeah, that wasn’t in the job description.

As a broadcast professional, I expected to find a lot of things about Realm FM based on the perception of radio broadcast as portrayed on TV and in the movies instead of reality. I was happy to see that Ms. Puxty did her research. I even learned that she fills in as a host for her local radio show. I’m happy to say that she got most of the stuff right.

Realm FM is a whimsical cross between Sliders, Supernatural, and WKRP in Cincinnati. While her Broken Dolls series had a more serious undertone, and a plot that sometimes missed the mark, Realm FM is a lighthearted sci-fi romp that makes fun of itself, including cameos of characters from other Puxty works.

With a multitude of “serious” sci-fi that often has an agenda, it’s nice to just read a fun story about an interdimensional radio station, and a protagonist that must come to reality with an infinitely diverse multiverse. (Kind of what Sliders was during the first two seasons.)

I enjoyed Realm FM, and I think that you will too. I’d like to see a companion story, but I doubt that that’s in the cards. Four stars! If you’re a fan of Sliders, then you’ll love Realm FM.

WHO OR WHAT IS TYROLIN PUXTY? Good question. I’m a Jack, or more accurately, a Tyrolin of all Trades. In my 25 years, I have been in the Top 10 of the Australian Songwriters Association and Top 5 of the Australian Independent Music Awards, was awarded an Australia Day Award for Music in 2014 and for Arts in 2015, worked as a qualified paralegal, appeared in TV Shows, was hired for product photography, modelled, became a Justice of the Peace, started a performing arts school, worked for Discover Magazine, published a book that became an international #1 bestseller, hugged a koala and had a show ride collapse on my head. Yes. A show ride. I’ll tell you the story some time. I like Pokemon. Like…REALLY like. I’m obsessed with all things nerdy and childish. So much that I wrote “Nintendo Love Song”. I’m just that obsessed.

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Survivor, by Brett Battles

From best-selling novelist Brett Battles comes the conclusion of the Rewinder Trilogy. Denny Younger. Historian. Time Traveler. Prisoner. There is nothing Denny wants more than to repair the damage former rewinder Lidia has done to history. Her manipulations have thrown the timeline he knows into chaos, and now he’s locked away in an unfamiliar world, without the device that would allow him to fix what has been destroyed. Will Denny be able to bring back the life he knew and the people he loves, or will he be trapped in this violent timeline forever? Only time will tell.

Destroyer picks up right where Rewinder leaves off. I had predicted the crux of the story at the end of Rewinder, but the author still I read Rewinder and Destroyer back in 2015, and recently subscribed to Kindle Unlimited. I saw that Survivor was available for free, so I jumped on it. Remember me being a sucker for time travel stories? Alternate history too? Dystopian? Okay, just making sure we’re all on the same page. Anyway, I liked the first two books, so it made sense to finish the series.

This third book was pretty tedious. The time travel, by necessity, was absent in this story. It does happen, but, well, it’s kind of boring. The dystopian British Empire from Rewinder was interesting, and all the time travelling in Destroyer was also interesting. This ‘wrecked’ timeline in Survivor is pretty wicked. Not ‘wicked,” as in ‘wicked-cool,’ but ‘wicked’ as in ‘holy crap, can this place get any more depressing?’

Now, I try to avoid spoilers in my reviews, but is there ever a case where we don’t think that the protagonist is going to survive the story? We have to slog through near-death experiences, knowing full well that Denny will survive. Battles didn’t even trick us with Denny dying, and an alternate Denny replacing him. That, at least, would’ve been interesting.

And where the heck are his sister and girlfriend during the events of Survivor? That was one of the awesomest (I know it’s not a word, shut it) parts of the first two books, was comparing the British colonies to our world. The girlfriend (I can’t remember her name since she was barely in Survivor) was a much-needed contrast to the dystopian world Denny came from. She made us happy to be in our world, because it could’ve turned out so much worse.

To me, the best part of alternate history or speculative history is the divergence from our reality. I like witnessing important events in history from a modern perspective, and imagining the ways that reality could be different with the slightest change. Unfortunately, with Survivor, the dystopian world is just too much baggage. The reader is stuck like Denny, which could’ve been intentional, but I suspect that’s not the case.

I’ve been overly critical of all three books, and while Rewinder was a five-star read; Destroyer was a four-star read, I’m afraid that Survivor slips further down the scale. It’s a three-star read. Don’t forget, in my rating system three stars is still average. I’d still recommend the entire series, especially since they’re free on Kindle Unlimited. If there were a fourth book that dealt with the aftermath of Survivor, I’d totally read it, but I don’t think that’s to be the case.

Brett was born and raised in southern California. His parents, avid readers, instilled the love of books in him early on, and there were many days his mom would kick him out of the house in the afternoon just so he would get a little sunshine. He is the USA Today bestselling author of over thirty novels. Though he still makes California his home, he has traveled extensively to destinations which play parts in his current and upcoming novels. He has three very cool kids—Ronan, Fiona, and Keira—who are all quickly becoming adults, which both excites and unnerves him. As for his neurotic, paranoid, cute Australian Shepherd Maggie, that’s more of a…developing relationship.

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Destroyer, by Brett Battles

With the whole of human history altered, Denny Younger may be the last rewinder in existence–and the last person on earth with a chaser unit capable of time travel. While caring for his ailing sister, Denny must discover a way to recharge his device before he’s left with no defense against a past that wants him dead. Before long, Denny notices a mysterious stranger following him–keeping tabs on Denny, his family, and his friends. Is Denny just paranoid? Or maybe he isn’t alone in this new reality after all… When his chaser is stolen and his girlfriend is kidnapped, Denny risks everything to get both of them back. Launched into a high-stakes chase that spans continents and millennia, Denny’s responsibility to save our future isn’t over yet. It will take all of his cunning to stop a threat capable of steering the fate of the human race into disaster.

Destroyer picks up right where Rewinder leaves off. I had predicted the crux of the story at the end of Rewinder, but the author still managed a surprise or two. Destroyer has the same amount of history, and seems to jump into the action right away. The story was easy to follow, and a few of the reveals were predictable.

Two things bother me about Destroyer: The time-traveling Denny seems reluctant to do what he knows he must, and that ends up making entire portions of the book an epic listing of frustration. Without spoiling anything, the book should’ve ended about a third of the way through, the rest of the book was frustrating exposition. I know the author had to get us into the chase, but the tipping point just made me angry.

The second thing I dislike about this book is that it ends on the lamest of lame cliffhangers. While the nemesis from book one has been vanquished, many plots have been left dangling. If I’d purchased this book, instead of reading it through Net Galley, I’d have been pretty upset, maybe even to the point of asking for a refund.

Because of the predictability, it did take me longer to read Destroyer than it did Rewinder. It’s still a great read, but I’d probably recommend fans of Rewinder wait until book three is out to read Destroyer. I’d give Destroyer an actual star rating of 3.5, and if the ending didn’t make me so mad, it would’ve easily been a 4-star read. Definitely not as good as Rewinder, but still worth a read.

Brett was born and raised in southern California. His parents, avid readers, instilled the love of books in him early on, and there were many days his mom would kick him out of the house in the afternoon just so he would get a little sunshine. He is the USA Today bestselling author of over thirty novels. Though he still makes California his home, he has traveled extensively to destinations which play parts in his current and upcoming novels. He has three very cool kids—Ronan, Fiona, and Keira—who are all quickly becoming adults, which both excites and unnerves him. As for his neurotic, paranoid, cute Australian Shepherd Maggie, that’s more of a…developing relationship.

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http://brettbattles.com
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Rewinder, by Brett Battles

You will never read Denny Younger’s name in any history book, will never know what he’s done. But even if you did, you’d never believe it. The world as you know it wouldn’t be the same without him. Denny was born into one of the lowest rungs of society, but his bleak fortunes abruptly change when the mysterious Upjohn Institute recruits him to be a Rewinder, a verifier of personal histories. The job at first sounds like it involves researching old books and records, but Denny soon learns it’s far from it. A Rewinder’s job is to observe history. In person. Embracing his new duties with enthusiasm, Denny witnesses things he could never even imagine before. But as exciting as the adventures into the past are, there are dangers, too. For even the smallest error can have consequences. Life-altering consequences. Time, after all, is merely a reference point.

**This will be the shortest of three reviews for the Rewinder series, by Brett Battles. These were written in 2015, but I never posted them to the blog.**

I’m a sucker for alternate history. I love time travel. I totally dig dystopian. This sci-fi novel has it all. One of the best things about this story is that the author didn’t spend chapters world building and giving the history. Instead, we learn about the world that Denny lives in as that world happens to him. It builds up suspense, and allows the reader to enjoy the plot as it unfolds.

I’m writing this review after reading both books, and I successfully predicted the lynchpin in the second book. This book is an easy five stars, and I’m glad I saw it on NetGalley. I knocked out the book in two days, which is a testament to my liking it.

Brett was born and raised in southern California. His parents, avid readers, instilled the love of books in him early on, and there were many days his mom would kick him out of the house in the afternoon just so he would get a little sunshine. He is the USA Today bestselling author of over thirty novels. Though he still makes California his home, he has traveled extensively to destinations which play parts in his current and upcoming novels. He has three very cool kids—Ronan, Fiona, and Keira—who are all quickly becoming adults, which both excites and unnerves him. As for his neurotic, paranoid, cute Australian Shepherd Maggie, that’s more of a…developing relationship.

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http://brettbattles.com
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Ghost Star, by Roger Eschbacher

When his father and crewmates are attacked and killed by a ruthless alien commander, young Galen Bray becomes the new captain of the GHOST STAR, a notorious smuggling vessel. Barely escaping capture, Galen sets out to rescue the only other survivor of the vicious attack, his sister Trem. Along the way, he discovers a mysterious people thought wiped out long ago, his family’s surprising origins, and a destiny he never imagined…

 

So, Ghost Star, yeah… I really enjoyed this book. It’s tough to nail down why exactly. The story isn’t original in any way. The villain is so clichéd – let’s kill all the people different from us because they might give us cooties and I’m just a really scary individual. Every single part of the story has been done before. Some have done it worse, and some have done it better.

I know, I know, it sounds like I’m bagging on Eschbacher’s first book in the Ghost Star Adventures trilogy, and I am, kind of, but I really liked Ghost Star. It’s a short read – three or four hours. Makes sense since it was a Kindle Scout entry. Probably just above 50k words. Nothing pulls you out of the story, and there are no complex political or socioeconomical themes that you need to understand: The bad guy wants to kill Galen Bray, and exterminate his people. Bray wants to save his sister and their people from the megalomaniacal villain. We cheer for Bray, and jeer the villain.

I think that the best thing about Ghost Star is that it’s an utterly simple story with a straightforward telling that doesn’t require a lot of deep thinking. In today’s politically charged climate, we’re inundated with hate and malice, and have to wade through levels of crap to find the truth. It’s nice to just get lost in the narrative. And Eschbacher does a great job leading the reader from point A to B to C, etc. The ending is satisfying, and sets up more adventures, more books in the trilogy. I love it.

Roger Eschbacher writes in a varied spectrum of genres and even has a children’s book. This has no bearing on this story, but as a multi-genre author, I’m glad to see I’m not the only one that hasn’t figured it all out. Anyway, Ghost Star is an easy read. It’s a four-star read. I look forward to reading the rest of the trilogy. Since he’s a Kindle Scout winner, and published by Kindle Press, I expect Ghost Star to be included in Kindle Unlimited when it comes out in a month. Get it. Read it. Preorder it if you want. However you get it, turn you brain off for a few hours and enjoy this popcorn sci-fi romp.

Roger Eschbacher is a writer/actor who lives and works in Los Angeles, California. In addition to writing YA fantasy and sci-fi adventure novels, he’s also written children’s picture books and is a professional television animation writer. He loves hearing from readers and personally responds to every message.

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