Tag Archives: book reviews

Sugar Spells, by Lola Dodge

After her run-in with a jealous warlock, apprentice baker Anise Wise can’t wait to get back the kitchen where she belongs. But thanks to her brush with death, the land of the living isn’t all cupcakes and marshmallows. Anise’s magical mojo is way out of whack and her evolving powers are stirring up trouble. As the town buzzes with news that Anise can bake deathly spells, unsavory characters start lining up for a taste. They’ll stop at nothing for the chance to use Anise and her witchcraft to further their own plots. She plans to hole up researching magic recipes until the attention dies down, but then she discovers the horrifying terms of her bodyguard’s contract. Wynn has saved her life so many times, she can’t leave him trapped. But doing the right thing will mean risking death or worse—being cast out of her dream job.

I’ve yet to read something by Lola Dodge that I haven’t liked, and Sugar Spellsis no exception. Although, I wonder why the names of the first two books aren’t swapped. I think that the titles describe each book better. Anyway, Anise continues in the employ of her great aunt, Agatha, but things are amiss, and well, Anise might never be the same again…

Like Deadly Sweet,Sugar Spells contains strong female characters, while allowing vulnerability that male protagonists are regularly not allowed to show in fiction. I didn’t groan at the mistakes Anise made in this second book. Unlike some series protagonists, Anise actually learns from her mistakes, and doesn’t repeat them over and over again.

Like book one, I requested this one from NetGalley, and my thoughts from my review of book one continue in regard to sexism and misandry, and the overall socio-anthropological view of the characters within the pages.

It’ll come as no surprise that I enjoyed Sugar Spells, and like its predecessor, I read the story as fast as I could pour the words into my brain. Even though the title just reminds me of the older brother in The Goldbergs, I look forward to reading Wicked Tastyin first quarter 2019. Four stars for Sugar Spells, and you should totally read these books.

Lola-Dodge

Lola Dodge is nomadic and has lived in New Zealand, France, the Czech Republic, and Taiwan. Her current base is Chiang Mai, Thailand, where she spends her days eating excessive amounts of coconut and trying to avoid heat stroke. She grew up in Upstate NY (Salt potatoes! Apple cider donuts!), got a degree in English Lit and German at Stonehill College, and an MFA in writing popular fiction at Seton Hill University. She doesn’t like bacon, coffee, beer, the sun, or fireworks. Instead, give her tea, vodka drinks, air-conditioning, and anything sweet. She’s a proud part of the writing roster at Ink Monster publishing, where she collaborates on the Shadow Ravens and Alpha Girls series. Her other fiction is represented by Rebecca Strauss at DiFiore and Company Literary Agency. Some days she hates writing and some days she loves it, but she can’t imagine doing anything else (even though she works at the pace of a sloth on sleeping pills.)

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Plains of Exodus, by Robert J. Burnett

Mankind’s first contact with an extraterrestrial species didn’t exactly go well. The inadvertent destruction of the Earth saw a call go out to the vast and ancient empire for help. Despite the quick response to this plea for aid, the remnants of humanity find themselves refugees in an overcrowded galaxy and at the mercy of an empire whose existence predates mankind’s own existence. Unwanted and unwelcome, humanity languishes in a dozen massive colony ships around an energy poor star. As a young smuggler, Jonah Mctier is one of those fortunate few who has access to this millennial old realm, and it is he who after fleeing a triad of imperial cruisers, discovers the answer to mankind’s dilemma. In desperation Jonah finds refuge in a parsecs deep dust cloud where he discovers not only a habitable and empty planetary system but one of the most sought after resources in the Milky Way a spatial conduit. Except this is no ordinary conduit. Exploitation of this unique and unknown type of spatial gateway offers an alternative to the slow but inevitable descent into extinction for the children of Adam. Key to this bright future is the need to keep their phenomenal find a secret from the resource hungry empire who would take this discovery for themselves and themselves alone. To complicate matter, Jonah discovers that there is more than one of these gateways, and for humanity to be successful in their question mankind must hold and eventually destroy all of these rare portals.

I really liked Plains of Exodus, by Robert J. Burnett. It’s not without a quibble or two, but I just had to keep reading it all the way to the end. (It still took me three days to read – it’s long!) I guess I’ll start with what I didn’t like about the book. The author introduced a major female character by her physical attributes. Curves, boobs, hair – standard sci-fi stuff for twenty years ago. It was really only the introduction, and the character is pretty bad-ass, but the description was a turn off for me. The other quibble was that the book formatting was hella odd. The chapters seemed to have scene breaks that had their own numbers? Hopefully it was because I was reading a pre-release version from NetGalley.

Now, on to the good stuff. Plains of Exodusis a straight up popcorn sci-fi. No deep political machinations, no heavy-handed social or religious subtext. Just a group of humans versus an overpopulated universe after tragedy destroyed the Earth. The entire book is an exciting read, and this would make an excellent miniseries. (They did it with Altered Carbon, and The Expanse, so this totally could be one too.) I can’t wait for a sequel. You hear me, Robert? I want a sequel. Five stars, and a must read.

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What Gods Incite, by Clara Coulson

A month after the explosive end of his mission to the Divide, Vincent Whelan is spinning his wheels. He’s struggling to rebuild his business, frustrated at his position as Tom Tildrum’s “minion,” and uneasy about the dangers the near future will bring. So when a local spots a zombie prowling around one of Kinsale’s biggest factories, Vince takes extra precautions before he goes hunting for a necromancer in the dregs of his beleaguered city. Unfortunately for Vince, a straightforward case quickly morphs into a balancing act, when a familiar face pops in to drop a dangerous new quest on his head: Abarta has stolen a powerful tool from Manannán mac Lir, and to get it back, Vince will have to venture into the Otherworld yet again. With his allies split on two fronts, and threats rising on both sides, Vince finds himself facing the most perilous trial of his entire life: the battle to preserve his own humanity.

It really wasn’t until book three that I’m starting to like Vince. It’s not that I disliked him or anything in the first two books, but he was the reluctant hero before – almost a curmudgeon before his time. In What Gods Incite, he starts to become the hero we all knew that he’d be. More shenanigans ensue when Vince’s old friend, Rian, appears at just the right time to bail our hero out, and lend his skills to the fight against perennial villain Abarta. But as usual when fae magic is involved, not everyone is who they claim to be, so Vince, Rian, Odette and Saoirse need to watch each other’s back as they split into teams to confront multiple threats. I look forward to reading the next book in the series, and What Gods Inciteis another five star read.

Therin-Knite

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.

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Relic, by Alan Dean Foster

Once Homo sapiens reigned supreme, spreading from star system to star system in an empire that encountered no alien life and thus knew no enemy . . . save itself. As had happened many times before, the basest, most primal human instincts rose up, only this time armed with the advanced scientific knowledge to create a genetically engineered smart virus that quickly wiped out humanity to the last man. That man is Ruslan, the sole known surviving human being in the universe. Rescued from the charnel house of his home planet by the Myssari—an intelligent alien race—Ruslan spends his days as something of a cross between a research subject and a zoo attraction. Though the Myssari are determined to resurrect the human race, using Ruslan’s genetic material, all he wants for himself and his species is oblivion. But then the Myssari make Ruslan an extraordinary offer: In exchange for his cooperation, they will do everything in their considerable power to find the lost home world of his species—an all-but-mythical place called Earth—and, perhaps, another living human. Thus begins an epic journey of adventure, danger, heartbreak, and hope, as Ruslan sets out in search of a place that may no longer exist—drawn by the slimmest yet most enduring hope.

At times predictable, and sometimes confounding, Alan Dean Foster is always a solid read. Alan is a known quantity with his writing, and Relic is just what you’d expect from him. Some authors, after decades of writing, will rest on their laurels, and churn out formulaic tomes to keep their existing audience coming back for more and more. Alan decides to write a story that while not exactly unique, does get the imagination going.

A dislikable protagonist is nothing new, and Ruslan certainly frustrates the reader with his antics, but there is a sad quality to the character that I can’t help but like. I can imagine what would be going through the mind of the last human ever, or how he would react to an extraterrestrial civilization that is so alien than we are.

That’s another interesting aspect of Relic: Anthropomorphism, or specifically a distinct lack of it. So many popular alien civilization stories are just bipeds with extra stuff added or taken away. It was a treat to read about a society not based on bipedalism, and more so how a biped would interact in an environment not designed for them.

I enjoyed Relic, as I knew I would. I continue to see Alan at cons, and he’s always an interesting visit. Relic is a solid four stars, and I’d love to read another book in the series, especially after the ending.

Bestselling science fiction writer Alan Dean Foster was born in New York City in 1946, but raised mainly in California. He received a B.A. in Political Science from UCLA in 1968, and a M.F.A. in 1969. Foster lives in Arizona with his wife, but he enjoys traveling because it gives him opportunities to meet new people and explore new places and cultures. This interest is carried over to his writing, but with a twist: the new places encountered in his books are likely to be on another planet, and the people may belong to an alien race.

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What Man Defies, by Clara Coulson

Three weeks after his disastrous showdown with Abarta, Vincent Whelan is well on his way to recovering from the fight and putting the whole nightmare behind him. But when a standard stretch recovery job comes to an end with an angry ghost slinging heavy objects, Vince discovers a thread he left hanging has frayed beyond repair. For almost two months, random people in Kinsale have been mysteriously vanishing. Now their shades, damaged by terrible deaths, have begun to plague the city. Vince, spurred by the growing list of victims, goes on the hunt for the person or creature responsible for the kidnappings. Only to get more than he bargained for when one of his own friends gets snatched before his very eyes. In a race against time, Vince puts together a ragtag team to venture into the Otherworld and rescue the remaining victims before they all succumb to a horrible fate. But the path to victory is fraught with peril, and the mastermind at the end of the road may just be unbeatable. A vault protecting a powerful relic. Merciless enemies at every turn. And countless lives at risk. All Vince wanted was a little peace and quiet. Now he’s got the fate of the world resting in his hands. Again.

I always know that I’m in for a treat when I get a new Clara Coulson book. Urban Fantasy protagonists just have the worst luck, and Vince is no different. Unlike other Urban Fantasy books, Coulson actually explains why Vince seems to be a magnet for strange happenings. This allows for more world-building and history without being a giant information dump.

As with the first book, the characters are believable – they behave in ways that I’d expect the denizens of this post-apocalyptic world to behave. The villainous faction and their leader seem plausible rather than being evil for the sake of being evil. Events and interactions hint that there are bigger machinations afoot, and Vince and the rest of the humans may not have much time left.

I’m definitely in for the next book in the series, and What Man Defies is another solid read from Coulson. Five stars!

Therin-Knite

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.

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http://www.claracoulson.com/
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Never Enough Time, by RTW Lipkin

What if your entire life passed by in just seven days? 16-year-old Delaney Archer’s mother is always complaining that there’s never enough time to get anything done. Delaney, on the other hand, always waits until the last moment to do everything. Nevertheless, she’s the top student in her class. She’s even about to graduate as valedictorian . . .Until one morning, when she wakes up in a strange place. Suddenly, she finds herself in graduate school. Seven years of her life have disappeared without a trace since she went to bed last night . . . but how? It takes a while for Delaney to get used to things. But it’s not all bad, right? After all, she can drink alcohol now, and she’s almost finished school . . . Then she wakes up the next day . . . and another seven years have passed. Every day is another brand-new adventure for Delaney as she struggles to adjust. But no matter what she tries, she just can’t seem to break the cycle. Now she just has to figure out what’s happening . . . before time runs out . . .

Time travel- check. Confused protagonist- check. Available on NetGalley- check. I finished reading this almost two months ago, and I can’t seem to remember the ending. I remember that as a supposedly smart protagonist, Delaney is pretty dumb, willing to accept ludicrous scenarios to explain her time jumping. Every singe character is annoying, with Sara being the worst of them all. The selfishness and hedonism is rife throughout. Really, Sara and the boyfriend are wretches of humanity, and for someone so smart, Delaney should’ve cut them loose long ago – especially since she didn’t even know them! Many reviews complain about the swears, but apparently, those reviewers have never encountered a teen in the wild- which Delaney was supposed to be, albeit in an adult body.

Overall, the book wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t very good either. There were a lot of issues, with flashes of brilliance. The fact that I can’t remember the ending so soon after finishing the book makes me think that it wasn’t that great. Never Enough Time truly is a middle of the road book. I’d award it just to the positive side of middle of the road with 3.5 stars. I saw that the author wrote another sci-fi novel, Prediction, so I think I’ll check that out at a later date.

R. T. W. Lipkin lives in New York with her husband and three cats. Her genre-defying novels occur at the intersection of science fiction and fantasy, with mystery, romance, and adventure threaded throughout.

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http://rtwlipkin.com/


Buying Time, by E. M. Brown

In January 2017, something very strange happens to screenwriter Ed Richie. He wakes up one morning to find that he has been shunted back in time nine months and is now inhabiting the body of his younger self… Worse is to come: the following day he jumps three years, to 2013, with all his memories of the intervening years intact. What is happening to him? Is he going mad? And where will his involuntary time-travel end? Meanwhile, in 2030, journalist Ella Croft is investigating the life of screenwriter and celebrated novelist Ed Richie, who mysteriously vanished in 2025. She interviews friends, acquaintances, and old lovers – and what she discovers will change not only Ed Richie’s life, but her own… Buying Time is a time-travel novel like no other. No man is rich enough to buy back his past – unless that man is Ed Richie…

Any time I see a time travel story on NetGalley, I’m ready and willing. It includes an aging novelist? Yep, I can totally relate. I liked the shifting between Ed’s romp through time, and 2030 Ella, and her fight for LGBT rights. Oh, and she’s also trying to track down Ed, and solve the mystery of his disappearance. Often when reading an A-B story, one of the branches is boring. Not the case with Buying Time. Brown fills in interesting back-story with the Ella “B” line.

Ed Richie isn’t a very likable character, but that’s not a bad thing, since his time-traveling situation rings true. The theme of the story is one of sadness and regret. Who among us hasn’t remembered that thing that they did, and wished they could go back and make a different choice?

Overall, this was a good sci-fi read, and I’ll definitely check out other works by Brown. Four stars.

Eric Brown was born in Haworth, West Yorkshire, in 1960, and has lived in Australia, India and Greece. He began writing in 1975, influenced by Agatha Christie and the science fiction writer Robert Silverberg. Since then he has written over forty-five books and published over a hundred and twenty short stories, selling his first story in 1986 and his first novel in 1992. He has written a dozen books for children; young adult titles as well as books for reluctant readers. He has been nominated for the British Science Fiction Award five times, winning it twice for his short stories in 2000 and 2002.

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http://www.ericbrown.co.uk/