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What God Hath Joined by Mike Lewis

Premise: The zombie apocalypse has hit, but Mike and his wife Samantha are prepared. They have fortified their home, stockpiled resources, and are well-armed against both threats of humans and undead. They are faring better than most.

When strangers are being chased by hungry zombies, Mike’s only option is to let them into his secure world. When he introduces these new people to his wife, their colliding worlds end in simultaneous hope and tragedy, depending on whose perspective you take. It is in Mike’s nature to help those in need, but his faith in God and his vows to his wife are of utmost importance to him, promises that he takes seriously.

Themes: Mike’s marriage to his wife takes on the key theme in What God Hath Joined, especially how he cares for Samantha through the horrible circumstances they are under and the things he must do for her.

This is also a story about faith in God and how that colors how you live your life, helping others and fulfilling promises. The problem is such beliefs are challenged when one conflicts with the other.

Pros: The ending is a bit of a surprise, though the protagonist’s motives make it more believable. The setting is laid out well in such a brief story. All the characters felt like they were behaving realistically in a zombie apocalypse setting, with panic and wariness of strangers, but also with a bit of thankfulness for the human interaction. There is a big challenge to the reader to examine your own beliefs and consider how you might act under the circumstances. The Christian beliefs of the protagonist come across as genuine.

Cons: The dialogue felt stilted, especially as Mike verbalizes his motives. Though it is a short story, cutting out some of the infodumping dialogue of the protagonist and changing it to internal monologue or more natural conversation would probably have helped shape the character personalities and made the whole thing flow a little better. The ending is good, if not abrupt, and apparently there is electricity to watch movies and for an automatic garage door.

Recommendations: A Christian audience might overlook a story like this because of its content, but with it Mike may have single-handedly created a new sub-genre: Christian zombie fiction. But it isn’t overly preachy. What God Hath Joined is a surprisingly fun zombie short story with serious implications for faithfulness to religious beliefs and marital promises. Give it a shot with an open mind about your own beliefs, but you might end up liking it just because it’s a good story.

Download What God Hath Joined for your Kindle
I received a copy from the author to write this honest review. He’s also my brother.

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Posted by on September 7, 2013 in Horror, Short Story, Theology

 

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Like Mind by James T. Wood

Like MindPremise: Corey Tosh is a slacker in Portland, Oregon who gets by on just enough work to survive, making sure to put out minimal effort in everything he does. That is why he responds to a Craigslist ad looking for medical test subjects in exchange for fifty bucks. Of course things go terribly wrong when people begin following him and trying to kill him. But in the process he discovers he has an amazing new ability.

Thankfully, the cute redhead from the medical office is there to help him. Anka is the prettiest girl who has ever talked to him, but she’s not really a nurse. She works for the NSA. She also doesn’t really find Corey’s continual pop culture references to be incredibly endearing, at least not at first. But Corey’s understanding of women is about as obscure as his constant movie quotes are to Anka.

Now they must find the doctor who performed the experiment on Corey’s brain because whatever the doctor did is killing him. They also learn that, of all the people trying to kill or kidnap Corey, nobody can be trusted, not even Anka’s boss at the NSA.

Themes: How do you learn new things? Do you need to see them done first or do you work through trial and error? Corey is forced to learn new things instantly, and with it comes the shock of being able to do many new things without the understanding of why or how.

Meeting Anka not only makes Corey evaluate his own understanding of women, but it also makes him look at himself and his past romantic relationships, or lack thereof. Corey does some soul searching on why all his relationships failed and what part he played in making them fail. It also helps him to understand what it is that some women find attractive, especially when it comes to Anka.

Like Mind also touches on government conspiracies, international spying, and terrorism through intertwined plots that quickly spiral downward in a race for their lives. Corey and Anka discover that who they can trust might not be those they first expected.

Pros: Like Mind is laced with humor that helps to make an otherwise typical chased-by-the-governments-trying-to-kill-you story into something more unique and fun to read. This book is pretty short, so the pacing is quick and the character exchanges are crisp. And if you have never been to Portland, Oregon or driven up through Washington, Like Mind is spot on, giving references to local landmarks and places to see such as Powell’s Books, the hipster culture, even down to the terrible traffic on I-5 and I-84 (the Banfield). I’m glad I got most of the movie and television references because most of them add to the comedic tone of the story. The editing is actually very good, especially for a self-published book.

Cons: Some of the humor will be lost on many readers as obscure movie and television quotes are thrown out mercilessly. I am certain that few will get every pop culture reference in Like Mind and will perhaps even find themselves connecting with Anka more than Corey in her constant eyebrow raising at his lame jokes. With it being Anka’s first assignment her nervousness and questionable abilities make sense, but I figured her training would have made up for some of these things. The one thing I noticed most with the editing was some missing or misplaced comma usage. We don’t learn the protagonist’s name until the third chapter, which makes the front end seem clipped, like there is something missing. And being a short book might not be a positive for some readers.

Recommendations: Like Mind is a quick, fun romp through Portland, Oregon with a local slacker making light of a government trying to kill him. I thought of the television show Chuck as I read Like Mind, but instead of a database implanted into Corey’s brain it is the triggering of mirror neurons allowing him to imitate everything he sees. I only wish the story was a little longer with some more context into why Anka would be interested in someone like Corey in such a short period of time, even with the stressful things they go through together. Like Mind actually gave me some hope that not all self-published books are terrible. In fact, this one is actually pretty good.

James T. Wood’s website
Like Mind on Goodreads
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I received a copy from the author to write this honest review. We also used to be roommates.

 
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Posted by on August 4, 2013 in Fiction, Romance, Science Fiction

 

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Teacher’s Pest by Charles Gilman

Teacher's Pest (Tales from Lovecraft Middle School #3)Premise: Robert Arthur has defeated Professor Gargoyle and The Slither Sisters in Crawford Tillinghast’s plot to take over the world: by bringing his strange monsters from the supposedly destroyed Tillinghast Mansion into the grounds of Lovecraft Middle School. With help from his friends Karina Ortiz, Glenn Torkells, and the two-headed rat named Pip and Squeak, Robert was able to defeat the Price sisters by winning the election for student council president. But Robert never wanted to be student council president, so he withdrew his bid and gave the position to the friendly Howard Mergler. The problem is that Howard is really a giant bug creature in disguise with the ability to control insects to do his bidding.

Howard’s new plot is to infest the school with massive swarms of insects all over Lovecraft Middle School. What a bad time for the janitorial staff to go on strike. As student council president, Howard is trusted by the adoring faculty and staff. There are few who know what he really is, and it is up to Robert, Karina, Glenn, and their pet rat to save the day yet again. Can they defeat a massive insect army led by a giant insect general intent on taking over the world?

Themes: The strength of friendship is put to the test in Teacher’s Pest. Pip and Squeak go missing and Robert will do whatever it takes to get them back. Glenn also grows distant after he is stung by a giant wasp, so Robert attempts to connect with his bully friend. But the reasons for Glenn putting off his friends might be the one thing that Robert can relate to, if only they could be forthcoming with each other. These friends are willing to put themselves in danger for each other.

Appearances are not a good way to judge people. On the outside, Howard Mergler is a well-dressed, polite, wonderful student. On the inside, he is a cruel bug-monster plotting to take over the world. On the flip-side, Robert is a loner with almost no friends, but after his previous fights and the bravery he displays in battling dark forces, he shows that great things can come from unexpected places.

Pros: Teacher’s Pest is full of action and a sense of real danger, more so even than the previous two books. There is some interpersonal conflict not found in the previous books that isn’t necessarily germane to the plot but adds a much deeper character development for the three main characters. Even with the intense action, I thought Teacher’s Pest was more appropriate for younger children than the other books, with less of a scary horror element and more of a gross out factor. Kids will love the bugs, rats, and eyeball monsters. As with the previous two books, the shapeshifting cover is awesome.

Cons: The main characters make some odd decisions that were out of character, excepting for the disjointed thought processes of middle school students. Both Robert and Glenn treat friends terribly at some point: Robert out of fear and Glenn out of embarrassment. The behavior is built up over a considerable time, especially in the case of Glenn, and then the explanation is almost too simplistic. There were also almost no references to the work of H.P. Lovecraft apart from an instance of chanting in another language, which is kind of a disappointment for Lovecraft fans seeking elements of homage to the horror great.

Recommendations: Make sure you read the first two books in the Lovecraft Middle School series to get a lot of setup information, some of which will be necessary to understand the plot, but most of which will just make the entire experience much better. This series has very high quality writing that is easy to read. It has horror elements that might be too intense for readers on the younger end of the middle grade spectrum, though Teacher’s Pest is more appropriate for younger middle grade than the first two books. It is packed full of bugs that are sure to gross kids out, in a good way. Robert and his friends show us that kids can do great things, especially when there are teachers and mentors who support them in their efforts.

Lovecraft Middle School website
Teacher’s Pest on Goodreads
Buy Tales from Lovecraft Middle School #3: Teacher’s Pest on Amazon
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I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on May 5, 2013 in Childrens, Fantasy, Horror

 

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The Slither Sisters by Charles Gilman

The Slither Sisters (Tales from Lovecraft Middle School #2)Premise: The Slither Sisters picks up where Professor Gargoyle left off, with Robert Arthur at his new school trying to learn the mysteries of Lovecraft Middle School and the strange creatures that inhabit it. Robert soon discovers that there are gates leading from the school to an alternate dimension that is actually the old Tillinghast Mansion, where Crawford Tillinghast and his scientists were thought to have perished under questionable circumstances.

After coming back from their mysterious disappearance, Sylvia and Sarah Price run a campaign for class president. Robert and his friends Karina Ortiz and former bully Glenn Torkells will have to find a way to hinder this small step on the way to the Price sisters and the dark powers behind them taking over the school. As Robert uncovers these secrets it will be up to him and his friends to protect the students and teachers who are unaware of the sinister plots going on around them.

Nothing is as it seems and so many people are not who they appear, and learning who to trust will be important for the survival of Robert, his friends, and everyone else at Lovecraft Middle School.

Themes: Leadership and responsibility are traits that are bestowed on people, sometimes without a choice. With so many people at Lovecraft Middle School being clueless as to the dangers around them, Robert finds that it will be up to him to protect them.

Appearances are deceiving, especially at Lovecraft Middle School. Anybody could have their bodies taken over by creatures from another dimension, while others might be on Robert’s side without him even knowing it. Knowing who to trust is a challenge, but the truth can be discovered through dangerous research and perseverance.

Pros: Just like the first book, the cover is really cool, with a transforming lenticular image changing from the seemingly innocent sisters to their snake-like alter egos. This cover will not be as off-putting as the Professor Gargoyle cover as it isn’t as scary or demonic. The Slither Sisters includes some H.P. Lovecraft tidbits, such as tiny Cthulus infesting our world under the guise as hermit crabs. We get the same fast-paced book as the first, with a little bit of extra character development. The conflict is better fleshed out than book one, I thought the twist ending actually helped make The Slither Sisters even better than the first book.

Cons: Again, the cover is a spoiler for the antagonists of this story, though we got some hints at it from the first book in what the goal of the enemy is. The only character I wish we would have gotten some more fleshing out with was Karina. Hers is the most mysterious of the main characters and we still don’t know much about her.

Recommendations: The Slither Sisters is the second book in the Lovecraft Middle School series. It picks up where Professor Gargoyle ended and takes the story to new depths. Thankfully, these are just the right length for middle grade readers, though adults will probably enjoy Lovecraft Middle School just as much, especially H.P. Lovecraft fans. Kids should have some parental guidance, but this book was not nearly as scary or creepy as Professor Gargoyle. The Slither Sisters is even better than its predecessor, but readers will want to read Professor Gargoyle first in order to get a foundation of characters and plot.

Lovecraft Middle School website
The Slither Sisters
Buy Tales from Lovecraft Middle School #2: The Slither Sisters from Amazon
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I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on April 21, 2013 in Childrens, Fantasy, Horror

 

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Shadow Ops: Control Point by Myke Cole

Control Point (Shadow Ops, #1)Premise: Oscar Britton is an Army Lieutenant who is good at his job and is deeply ingrained in the military mindset, even when it means working alongside the Supernatural Operations Corps, a unit created to use the newly-forming magic in individuals known as Latents. These much-feared people use their magical abilities under control of the governments of the world to hunt down others with similar or outlawed forms of magic. But when Britton manifests a rare magical ability of his own, he finds himself on the run and hunted by the SOC.

Prohibited magic users, also known as Probes, are thought to be exterminated because of their danger. After being captured, Britton wonders about the rumors of exceptions being made for Latents with rare magic to be sent to reeducation and training camps. Britton is going to learn all about his abilities and the shadow world surrounding them. He is well-equipped to handle tough situations with his military background, but his understanding of everything is about to change.

Themes: Politics play a huge part in Control Point, especially being in a military setting and with world governments interacting and locking down on magic control. We learn there are even more politics at play when it comes to the shadow world. Our governments attempt to make claims on the shadow world, but the natives there might have something to say about it. And even in the shadow world, tribes of the locals war with each other. Corruption of governments controlling magic by limiting the rights of its own citizens who become Latent makes for politics at their worst.

Faith becomes a theme as religious characters like Therese use their faith to ground them, but also as characters question their faith as they come to grips with these people with magic abilities. Oscar Britton’s faith is shaken as he is ordered to shoot on high school students and as he comes to grips with corruption wielding powerful weapons at the expense of civil liberties.

Pros: The magic system of Control Point is thought out well and it is packed full of action. The elemental combined with physical and going from our dimension to another dimension is done pretty seamlessly, especially as the conflicts of the two realms intersect and play off each other. The politics of both worlds smash into each other and throw the characters into conflict that makes the best of the magic, especially showing how both sides differ in their use of the magic. There are intense action scenes with creative uses of the different forms of magic, and above all the author makes the best of his military background by showcasing it in the setting.

Cons: This is tough because there were times I loved the protagonist and times I hated him. Oscar is good at his job as a military officer and once he has guidance he learns to control his powers quickly, though for someone in the military he seemed quick to disobey orders. I’m not in the military so I don’t know the rules on chain of command and obeying orders, but I know insubordination is a big no-no. Worse than that, I had a problem with Therese. She is portrayed as a religious healer, though she is as foul-mouthed as a sailor, as is most everyone else, and too easily goes from her healing role to performing the outlawed act of Rending, the opposite of healing. Basically, the world is cool, the execution is slick, but there are some character problems. Flawed characters does not mean characters who go against their own moral or belief structures.

Recommendations: Shadow Ops: Control Point is a wonderful debut from Myke Cole. Though it has some character problems that need some tweaking, the setting and plot are very solid. The author’s military background really shines as he constructs a world of armies using magic. I was reminded of the issues of X-Men where the governments lock down on the mutants, but in Control Point we get magic mixed with military from someone with some real-world experience on the subject. Myke Cole is a stand out new voice in the realm of military fantasy. I can’t wait to get my hands on the second book in the Shadow Ops series to see what Oscar Britton and the rest of the Latents do next.

Myke Cole’s website
Shadow Ops: Control Point on Goodreads
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Posted by on April 14, 2013 in Fantasy

 

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Virus Thirteen by Joshua Alan Parry

Virus ThirteenPremise: In a future suffering from global warming storms and government-mandated health requirements, scientists James Logan and his wife, Linda, work at GeneFirm, the world’s leading biotech company. It is there that so much of the world’s vaccines are developed and where genetic research has essentially eliminated most diseases.

When a bioterrorist attack spreads a super-flu virus around the world, GeneFirm is tapped to come up with a vaccine. The problem is that Linda is the head of the research team developing the vaccine and her team ends up in lockdown in the underground labs at GeneFirm.

After he collapses from a supposed brain tumor, James goes looking for answers. He is supposed to be immune to cancer because of the preventative genetic alterations most people have done to themselves, but in his search he learns the flu virus attack is more than it seems. When he discovers the reasons for the attack, his life and those he loves are in danger, but the worldwide ramifications are much greater.

Themes: Current scientific issues are the primary theme of Virus Thirteen. We are shown one idea of the after-effects of global warming. Most diseases are eliminated through vaccines and genetic manipulation. The ramifications of curing some of those diseases are what is really at issue. What happens when curing a disease is worse than letting it continue to exist?

Government-controlled health care is an issue that is covered. Because most diseases have a cure in Virus Thirteen, vaccines and genetic alterations are mandated, though some people shirk the government and have free births. Heart disease prevention is enforced through government agencies who track down overweight people and force them into grueling and controlled exercise and eating programs.

Pros: Virus Thirteen has a quick tempo with short chapters, making it pretty readable and easy to consume. The premise is interesting as a future pandemic postulation in spite of the rough execution. The highly-technical scientific subjects are made surprisingly easy to understand thanks to a knowledgeable author.

Cons: One major problem with Virus Thirteen is the lack of setting. It is set in the future, but with no explanation of exactly when or where these events are taking place apart from a couple mentions of Austin, Texas. The metaphor and simile use is awful, and that’s not the worst part of the prose. With the amount of flippant profanity, sex, and inane humor I felt like I was reading the polished work of a high school student, complete with insults about overweight people with fat and poop jokes. On top of this, I sensed a political agenda with the focus on global warming and genetic manipulation, with an antagonism toward children because of a perceived overpopulation on the planet.

Recommendations: If you have a juvenile sense of humor and are looking for a quick read about the near future that touches on scientific ethics, politics, and genetic manipulation, by all means give Virus Thirteen a shot. These also happen to be its biggest faults, trying too hard to be unsuccessfully funny in places and with a disregard to giving the reader a true sense of setting. This lack of place or time made the global warming and genetic science of Virus Thirteen weaker, to the point where the story suffers from a lack in believability or plausible objectivity. Virus Thirteen is fast-paced and about as lighthearted as a global pandemic can be, but there are also so many other better executed post-apocalyptic novels out there.

Virus Thirteen on Goodreads
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I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on March 31, 2013 in Mystery, Science Fiction

 

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Professor Gargoyle by Charles Gilman

Professor Gargoyle (Tales from Lovecraft Middle School, #1)Premise: Robert Arthur is at a new school, Lovecraft Middle School, where he struggles with the same things every middle school student does: new classes, homework, meeting new people, bullies, teachers, and…monsters.

As he makes friends with the most unlikely of characters, Robert soon learns that his new school holds some old secrets that might help explain some of the strange things that are happening to him. Some of his new friends might also have some secrets of their own to help reveal some of the school’s mysteries. What funereal things and monstrous creatures will Robert encounter at Lovecraft Middle School as he uncovers its secrets?

Themes: The problem of bullying is confronted right from the beginning as Robert enters his new school, yet still must deal with Glenn Torkells, the kid who has been bullying him for years. But when they both encounter the same strange occurrence together, their relationship might end up changing because of it.

Making new friends is always difficult, but seemingly more difficult when kids enter a new school. When another student goes out of their way to befriend another, it can be alarming, yet relieving in spite of their own quirks. Karina Ortiz does this for Robert as she talks to Robert when no one else does.

Living in a single-parent family can also be a struggle, especially when it is time for parent-teacher conferences and your mother works to support the family. When interactions between the parent and child are limited, those precious moments can mean a lot to both the parent and the child.

Pros: The cover has the cool factor of having a moving image showing the transformation of Professor Gargoyle. The story is fun and easy to read, especially as an introduction to the H.P. Lovecraft mythos, but also as a fast-paced action story for middle school kids. This first book manages to introduce some horror elements without being too scary. In fact, it is more humorous than anything, taking on common middle school problems with an element of peril. The action is pretty good and light enough for the intended younger audience. I think most H.P. Lovecraft fans will especially enjoy this more modern and lighthearted spin on his work. Did I mention the cover is cool?

Cons: Probably the most disturbing thing about Professor Gargoyle is the cover itself. While the cool moving image on the cover shows some depth to the namesake character, the demonic image will probably be a deterrent to parents letting their kids read this book, and for the younger end of the recommended age I think it is rightfully so. And on top of this, the cover is a terrible spoiler for the character. While the history behind the school is minimally explained in general terms, I assume more will be revealed in later books.

Recommendations: Professor Gargoyle is not only a good introduction to this series but also to the mythos created by H.P. Lovecraft. The neat cover alone was intriguing enough to pull me in, and what I found was a fun introduction of a mysterious new series where nothing is as it seems and danger can be averted through teamwork and ingenuity. With the demonic elements I would recommend that kids are a little older before reading Professor Gargoyle, and with some parental guidance. Don’t let the scary image on the cover keep you from giving it a shot, though I doubt that will be a problem for fans of the horror master. In this first book, just like Lovecraft Middle School itself, Gilman has created something new out of something old with Professor Gargoyle.

Lovecraft Middle School website
Professor Gargoyle on Goodreads
Buy Tales from Lovecraft Middle School #1: Professor Gargoyle on Amazon
Download Tales from Lovecraft Middle School #1: Professor Gargoyle for your Kindle
I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2013 in Childrens, Fantasy, Horror

 

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