Forest: Loss, Love, Legend, Rod Raglin

Forest: Loss, Love, Legend, Rod Raglin

Forest: Loss, Love, Legend

In FOREST: Love, Loss, Legend, Rod Raglin introduces Mathew Bennett, a washed-up foreign correspondent, estranged from family and friends, and dealing with PTSD by drowning it in alcohol. Faced with a bleak future, Mathew doesn’t expect to hear from the small town where he grew up twice in one day, and certainly not in the form of a battered treasure map and a safety deposit key. It’s up to Mathew to face down his oldest memories and find out what really happened to his missing father in some of the toughest country to survive in on the planet – the forests of Canada’s Pacific Northwest.

Rod Raglin’s novel offers a compelling story, with daily life in small-town BC layered over a much stranger story of forest myths peering through from the shadows. Mathew’s character, a hard-bitten journalist, epitomises the contrast between the cynicism of modern society and his half-buried, childhood memories of the extraordinary. Tellingly, the contradictions between the two are making him doubt his sanity and his priorities. FOREST: Love, Loss, Legend neatly encapsulates the battleground of humanity’s greed for natural resources versus the cost to the environment in Mathew’s experiences, right down to his local town’s gang leader’s willingness to do whatever it takes to find out where Mathew’s father allegedly struck gold. Mathew faces weather, illness, beatings, and guns as he reforges ties with his oldest friends and finds out the reality behind the myths and memories. This is a compelling story, studded with evocative detail and underlaid by a very real question – definitely worth the read.

Reviewed for Readers’ Favorite.

Dead Sea Games, J. Whitworth Hazzard

Dead Sea Games, J. Whitworth Hazzard

Dead Sea Games

In Dead Sea Games, J. Whitworth Hazzard throws us into an alternate New York, where an engineered virus known as the Osiris Agent has turned the majority of the population into carnivorous zombies. What little of the human population remains uninfected after the Emergency has taken refuge barricaded in the upper levels of sky-scrapers, reliant on government-provided food drops to stay alive. Loot from abandoned buildings is the common currency, and a few packs of AAs can be worth a life. Only the exiled orphans and the insane venture down to street level, and only Deathwish is willing to bet that he can stay alive there for more than ten minutes. No one knows who released the virus. No one is immune.

Dead Sea Games is a fantastic example of the action / horror genre, where the characters are unquestionably real and the action grabs you in a chokehold and never lets up. J. Whitworth Hazzard has created a gripping mix of martial arts, mystery and murder, overlaid by the martial law of the Colony and underlaid by the seething masses of the wandering dead. Deathwish’s struggle for justice turns into a fight for survival that provides a perfect frame for the stunningly imaged life and death stunts that punctuate the narrative, and the lure of finding out who actually released the Osiris Agent forms a strong undertow to the storyline. This is a thrilling story, and a call to look beyond the simplistic that’s going to keep you reading and guessing the outcomes.

Reviewed for Readers’ Favorite.

Arc of the Universe, Mark Whiteway

Arc of the Universe, Mark Whiteway

Arc of the Universe

Regan Quinn cut his ties after his wife died, and boarded a colony ship bound for the edges of human space with his young son, Conor. Arc of the Universe opens as an attack destroys the colony fleet, killing Conor as he and his father try to escape. Quinn, his last memory that of severing his own oxygen line, didn’t expect to wake up, and even less so as the prisoner of an alien race that humanity wasn’t aware existed. Captured by the Agantzane, the mysterious race that has enforced their unique sense of balance on a wide swathe of space, Quinn has been injected with a virus that is lethal on contact – and unless he uses it to kill an impressive number of the allied aliens to balance the destroyed colony fleet, he’s warned that the aliens will see human lives as worthless.

Mark Whiteway’s writing provides a thought-provoking series of questions on vengeance, assigning value to the ephemeral, and what constitutes justice, all wrapped in a fast-paced science-fiction story that offers no firm answers and a continually shifting set of perspectives. Quinn, uncertain who he can trust and what he can believe, falls back on the racial staples of deception and manipulation to keep his options open, giving the reader a fascinating contrast with alien social constructs that seem equally reprehensible. Arc of the Universe is woven with mistrust and a series of double-crosses, culminating in a killer plot twist designed to keep the reader salivating for more. I’d definitely recommend this to sci-fi fans out there – between alien psychology, life and death escapes, and lethal politics, there’s something for everyone.

Being Human, Ellison Blackburn

Being Human, Ellison Blackburn

Being Human

Being Human continues the story of Emery Kidd, newly engaged to Aiden Brodie, and living in the community of Tymony, a bubble outside time modelled on a project run by Charley Rhys Fenn, the mother of regeneration – where Emery’s slowly driving herself crazy with boredom. Eaten by fears that the bucolic lifestyle will break her relationship, and suffering doubts about herself and her role in life, Emery is almost relieved when Sera Strong blows into town and proposes a project to save the future of humanity – again. However, Sera’s headstrong approach to teamwork, not to mention to Emery’s relationship, look fair to cause almost more trouble than the project itself…

With a star cast of Ellison Blackburn’s incredibly well-written, deep characters, Being Human is the third in the Regeneration Chronicles, tracing the history immediately after the start of the Progeny Project. While the underlying fascination of the plot is time, mortality, paradox, and sexual fidelity, the story frames it in a rich tapestry of events and realistic characters, sliding the serious concepts in via sleight of hand amid the emotional drama between the characters. Being Human can be read simply as a romance story, or the reader has the option to enjoy the concepts that the author has woven into the storyline for us to think about – this is a book that can be enjoyed and thought about on many levels.

How to Get Arrested, Cameron J Quinn

How to Get Arrested, Cameron J Quinn

How to Get Arrested

Zurik D’Vordi, monster slayer, is the hero of The Starsboro Chronicles: How to Get Arrested. Grandson of the richest man in the state of North Carolina, Zurik’s ancestry makes him uniquely qualified to hunt and kill the creatures that would otherwise prey on humanity – ghouls, fey, and anything else that goes bump in the night. Rooting out a fey nest preying on young women in the small town of Starsboro, however, gets unexpectedly complicated when Morgan Benson, the only woman in the local PD, turns out to have no idea what ‘back off’ means, and an even shakier grasp of self-preservation.

How to Get Arrested is a light read, entertaining and fast-moving, its dialogue flecked with idiomatic American dialect that lends it an air of authenticity. Zurik and Morgan make an entertaining partnership, his arrogance striking sparks from her professional suspicions of him at every turn. Overall, I felt this novella would have benefited from a thorough copy-edit, as the technical issues were omnipresent enough to call my attention out of the story on a frequent basis, but the plot and the characters were sound enough to net it three stars despite that. I’ll definitely be watching for more Cameron J Quinn books – this was a good urban fantasy story, well worth the read.