Oops! It appears that you have disabled your Javascript. In order for you to see this page as it is meant to appear, we ask that you please re-enable your Javascript!
Black Wings, Iryna K. Combs

Black Wings, Iryna K. Combs

Black Wings

The world of Black Wings is one where humanity has been irrevocably altered by science so that their exteriors reflect the most black-and-white view of their inner desires and beliefs. On the one hand, there are the Anlights, the winged and beautiful representatives of the best aspect of humanity, and on the other, the Varkins, gray-skinned, yellow-eyed predators formed from the criminals and outcasts. Annabel, the last surviving Anlight imprisoned by the Varkins, the only member of her race with black wings, has just about given up hope of ever rejoining her people when the unexpected happens: the leader of the entire Varkin race develops a sexual interest in her.

Iryna K. Combs’ Black Wings offers the reader a parable of a society with no gray areas of morality, the moment of the transformation deciding for each entity and its descendants whether good, or evil, is their lot. The action through the first two chapters is well-structured and paced, but unfortunately the middle two-thirds are much slower, the main focus being Annabel’s romantic entanglements. The action ramps up again abruptly in the last twenty pages to culminate in the final battle of good against evil, winding up the story begun in chapters one and two. Overall, this is a fairly light, easy read, well-suited to younger readers, with good scene-setting that in many ways forms the main strength of the story.

The Block, Richard Seaman

The Block, Richard Seaman

The Block: Just Live ‘cuz You Can

One day, the stock markets crashed and kept on going. A victim of its drive to world disarmament, the United States government finally admitted bankruptcy, and the shockwaves travelled out in many directions. The Block: Just Live ‘cuz you Can is the story of the Baby Boomers in the early 2020s, with the central government placing the responsibility for their care on the states, pension plans vanished, and healthcare slashed to skin and bones, finding a new way to survive and look after each other. Doug Richards and his wife are two of the earliest arrivals in a community made available under the Federal Real Property Repurposing Act of 2025. It will come to be known as The Block.

The Block is a near-future what-if story, showcasing Richard Seaman’s incredibly strong characterisation as he describes how an incredibly motley group of older people band together and find ways to cope without the healthcare, the pensions, and the government support they’d been told to expect all their lives. Doug Richards is the protagonist of the story, and his first-person narration lets you experience his resilience and courage first-hand as he and his neighbours learn to look after themselves, working odd jobs and gleaning crops when they need to, and using barter for skills and equipment around the neighbourhood to make sure that everyone can eat. This book will give you a glimpse of ordinary people in old bodies and extraordinary circumstances, and make you smile through tears.

Vassal, Marissa Ames

Vassal, Marissa Ames

Vassal

Marissa Ames’ Vassal gives us a window into the life of Aislin, orphan, lady of a fief more or less by tolerance under the abusive lord whose ward she is. Aislin keeps her head down and obeys the laws, insane as they sometimes appear, trying to keep her people safe and fed and herself far from any official notice. Violence is racking the kingdom apart, magic users are hunted and registered to the point where concealing one is an offense punishable by torture, and Aislin’s unpleasant overlord is looking at her to be his latest wife. If that weren’t enough, a group of strange men have turned up from nowhere to work on her fief. It doesn’t take lengthy acquaintance for Aislin to get the feeling that they’re going to be trouble, but even she doesn’t guess how much.

Vassal is a wonderful example of the epic fantasy genre. The storytelling is evocative, but the characterization is where the story truly shines. This story focuses on a group of people who won’t give up on what they believe in, no matter the dangers, and no matter the odds. The world the story is set in frames the interactions perfectly, providing drama and action in plenty. Marissa Ames’ characters have worries that are very understandable, flaws that made them worthy of sympathy, and humorous moments that made me laugh out loud. I found it a really enjoyable read, the kind of book that you find yourself thinking about afterwards – definitely recommended for the fantasy readers out there.

Reviewed for Reader’s Favorite.

Second Nature, Ellison Blackburn

Second Nature, Ellison Blackburn

Second Nature

After the human population on Earth was ravaged by a disease that targeted anyone with genetic modification, the survivors have banded together in small communities linked by geo-portals, and in a small underground community near what used to be Seattle, the descendants of Charlotte Rhys Avery still live. Second Nature is the story of Emery Kidd, 68 years old with the appearance of a 17-year-old, and she’s illicitly researching her connection to the mother of regeneration. Someone in power has no interest in her knowing who she’s related to, and the mediators are taking an interest in her work – especially Aiden Brodie, newly arrived in Podular 17.

Second Nature is the sequel to Flash Back, showing us the aftermath of Charley’s decision to experiment with the new process of regeneration, and it showcases Ellison Blackburn’s talent for writing characters that get inside your head. Emery is eminently relatable, a human being with problems and wants – and a burning curiosity to know who her parents are. Where Flash Back in many ways studied the dissolution of a long-term relationship as its back story, Second Nature deals with love, commitment, and how the urge to reproduce could be affected by effective immortality. This series is sci-fi that will make you think, its concepts framed in very human stories. Definitely well-worth the read.

Flash Back, Ellison Blackburn

Flash Back, Ellison Blackburn

Flash Back

In Flash Back, by Ellison Blackburn, we meet Charlotte Rhys Fenn, a successful editor and writer for a health magazine. Charley is in her fifties, has been married for nearly twenty years, has plenty of income – and is bored out of her mind by her life. Held in a relationship that has long since become more of a habit than a marriage for both partners, with a repetitive job, Charley makes periodic tries to strike some chord of interest in her partner, and to find some way to alleviate the humdrum of daily life. In desperation, she finally begins to research a cutting-edge surgery, known only as Renovation.

Ellison Blackburn’s protagonist is eminently relatable, and the mess of issues Charley faces in trying to make peace between her desires and her responsibilities will be shockingly familiar to many readers. Set in the near future, the story explores cutting-edge theories in both prosthetics and biology, while the level of psychological detail brings a realistic edge to the narrative and the characters spring vividly to life. Flash Back is well-written, with an analytical, laser-focus on the workings of inter-personal connections. If you’ve ever looked in the mirror and thought that there must be something better in life, then this book is definitely for you.