Isaac, by Robert Karmon

A different point of view during WWII, Isaac takes readers on a ride for the insurgent side of the war.

Rounded up to be murdered, Isaac survived—and continued to survive. He traveled with a band of rogues fighting Nazi’s. Will they survive long enough to see the fruits of their labor?

Talk about a story invested in a character. The tone of the novel—of Isaac’s life—was a very somber one, and it projected well into the reader. Conflict was persistent, dogging him every painful step of the way. It didn’t feel like unnecessary conflict—it was crucial for his development and it kept the reader turning the pages. The suspense and the drama were very well written.

Even though it was based on a true story, I liked the fact that it was a different viewpoint. Most tales of WWII focus on the concentration camps, or escaping to another country. Readers don’t usually hear the stories about those who hid their identity, eluded the camps, and fought back. It breathed a new light into the specific setting. It was obvious that the author took great pains to maintain historical accuracy, as well as constructing a compelling tale that kept the readers’ attention. Very well done.

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The Angel of a Madman, by Ricky Dragoni

At its core, Angel of a Madman is a touching story about how helping someone else, even when you’re having your own problems, can help you as well. Maybe not in the way you want or expected, but in the way you need.

After escaping a maximum security facility, Bracket finds himself in the care of Gabriel, a young man with problems of his own. As he digs deeper into Bracket’s past, second chances become all important…especially since he won’t get one.

This novel alternated between Bracket and Gabriel with a lot of overlap. The story would be told so far through Bracket’s POV, then switched to Gabriel’s. However, each POV covered everything that already happened, just from the other perspective. There wasn’t too much information contained within that the reader couldn’t have done without, so really it felt like reading the same thing again and again. Dialogue was also awkward and clunky. Really formal in a lot of places—to the point where the characters sounded the same and blended together.

With an explosive beginning and a good ending, the middle of the novel was one big lull. We got to know the characters, but things didn’t really start picking up until about the last quarter. Once that ball got rolling though, it didn’t stop. The ending was sad, and appropriate I think. Especially given the backgrounds and motivations of characters. The author did well to hide some of the backstory until it was necessary, which kept the reader interested and asking questions.

There’s still some polishing that could be done for the overall writing that I think would improve the story. Sometimes the style just didn’t fit the tone of the narrative. It pulled away from the emotions that it was supposed to be evoking in the reader. It was still a touching tale, however. The plot was a compelling one. Still a relatively enjoyable read overall.

Abraham, by Daniel Backer

I sort of feel like I just read someone’s account of their most recent acid trip. There’s a whole lot of weird spirituality that goes on in Abraham, and it stems from a giant gash in the back of his head. No clue where it came from, but it put him in the path of an eccentric monk that’s determined to heal him. However, Tom’s methods and ideas of healing are…suspect.

The first thing that stood out about this novel was the fact that it was written in second person. I think it would have been slightly better utilized if the character that was “you” wasn’t as defined as he was. Abraham was a set character, and it felt out of place to hear him described in second person rather than first or third.

There’s also a lot of weirdness that goes on. Some of it suited the story well—it was meant to be weird and strange and it succeeded there. I felt like scene and time transitions happened at odd times or without much warning and it knocked me out of the story. It was usually pretty quick to recover, but it would take me a while to get back into the flow of the story.

As for the story itself, the premise of the plot was unique. It’s definitely not for everyone, let me go ahead and say that. It was entertaining for sure, and the odd series of events made sense in weird ways. The characters were odd, and by the time you reached the end, you’re left wondering if any of them were even real. Or wondering if you yourself are real.

This novel had its good and bad. I’m all about different—I try to go out of my way to celebrate that fact when I come across it. This novel was definitely very different, and mostly in the right ways. However, I feel as though there were some areas that could be improved to build upon the strengths already present.

Perfectly Normal, by Amy Martin

I’m going to be honest: when I started this novel, I thought it was going to be a very generic body-swap-girl-and-boy-fall-in-love type deal.

I’m so happy it wasn’t. In fact, right about halfway point, the novel took everything I thought it was and shattered that image.

When one of their friends goes missing, Rachel and Ellie go to investigate. Rachel wakes up inside the body of one of the “perfects,” and an old friend. Between Ellie and Dani’s boyfriend, they’re bound and determined to find out what happened: and the answer is the most shocking thing they’ve ever heard.

The beginning was very much like many young adult novels. The “popular” girls, the “outsiders,” the “hot boyfriend caught in the middle.” There were a lot of tropes present and they followed the formula for a blossoming romance to a T. The twist that follows was one I didn’t see coming, and it was really good.

The actual premise of the novel was good. It made sense for all the characters and it was a good plot device for their relationships and development. There is a noticeable difference between all of them at the end. I liked the way it forced them together and made them work with each other. For the most part, the characters all had their own unique voice and personality. There were moments where things felt a little flat. Dialogue helped things along, though.

The plot-twist world-building was done well. I’m trying to not give it away because it was really good and it fit well into the narrative. I liked how it got the parents involved, and how well thought-out it was. It did well for the overall tone of the novel.

There were a few moments where things stalled out, but things really came together at the end and it ended on such a good cliffhanger. For sure excited for the next in the series.

The Skin Room, by Morgan Fleetwood

Step inside the mind of a young man that has a slight obsession with skin. The look of it. The feel of it. But alas, things never go as planned, and he ends up on the run for a set of very coincidental circumstances.

Given the style of the novel, there was a lot of time spent inside Alex’s head. He was at least an entertaining narrator, but I do wish there was just a bit more external interaction to break up some of the monotony. Dialogue was on point as a good indicator of character personalities. They were noticeably differently from one another.

I liked the fact that the author made him very fallible—a first timer into the world of the macabre, if you will. Things are made more gripping by the fact that he made mistakes and everything that he planned for got derailed. It showed his character, as well as show a spark of creativity.

The story itself is compelling, and I liked how the author developed the main character. Alex was different and it really helped things along. Violence was used in appropriate amounts and never really felt overly gratuitous. Not a bad read.

Blades of the Fallen, by Ross Harrison

An awesome, Mass Effect-esque adventure of galactic proportions.

What seemed to be a simple assignment for two aspiring Vanguard turned into a haunting nightmare. Necurians are generally a peaceful race, but the upcoming conflict is going to test any and all of their convictions as they pursue a merciless killer across space.

Let me just say: wow. This was excellent from start to finish. Such a beautiful, expansive, and detailed world was created amidst so few pages. There were only a few instances of long, lengthy explanations of history or backstory. The rest was spread out and drip-fed as it became relavent to the plot so as not to overwhelm the reader. Great care was taken in the creation of the world and it really shows.

Allegories for sexism and racism in the modern world were also heavy themes throughout. There were arguments done from both sides, and it was tasteful, meant to actually make the reader ponder about morality for a moment.

The characters were wonderful as well. Significant differences were seen in their personalities at the end. Their development was thorough, emotional, and relevant to the kind of character they were. Psionic abilities were given to the Necurians, but they weren’t all-powerful. Appropriate nerfs were applied to their powers so that they still had challenges to overcome.

The depth of the plot was astounding. There were a few different storylines intersecting throughout, all coming from different characters and different corners of the galaxy. Some were shorter than others, yet still necessary to either plot or character development. I didn’t have any questions left over at the end, nor was I left feeling unfulfilled at the resolution itself. Fight scenes are hard to pull off, and this novel excelled at them.

This was an excellent book. The opening was a little slow, but once past that, it doesn’t stop. I can see inspiration drawn from several big-name fantasy and sci-fi sources. And, it was sci-fi made accessible for the casual reader. The writing style kept the readers attention, and felt fresh and fun the whole way through. This was a wonderful book. Definitely an author I want to keep an eye on.

No Man Left Behind, by R. G. Miller

A killer is stalking Vietnam vets and murdering them in the most horrific manner. Toni and Isis, NYPD detectives try to slog their way through rats, subways, and a crazed killer that will stop at nothing until they’re all dead.

Once you get past the awkward opening, the plot catches the readers’ attention and keeps them there through the remaining rough patches. The first thing that caught my attention was the fact that the main characters were a lesbian couple. They were done well, and things like the sexuality spectrum were frequently talked about and used as inner conflict in a tasteful manner. Now, given the fact that the setting is NYC, there should, by default, be a certain level of racially diversity. The author made extra sure to accomplish that, no questions asked. As far as characters went, I really liked them all. They were done well, they meshed well, and they all served appropriate roles for either plot progression or conflict.

There’s definitely opportunity for editing. There’s some real awkward dialogue that doesn’t fit with the flow of things. Scene progression and change got choppy sometimes, which made them jarring. While I liked the ending, I still had many, many questions about things that were brought up or happened earlier in the story that didn’t get tied up. They felt forgotten and lost. There was a whole lot of info dumping that went on, especially at the beginning while the author was trying to establish the characters. It was a lot to be thrown at once.

For its flaws I still enjoyed the story. I think this could really shine with some extra editing. I adored Toni and Isis, their relationship, and would love to see what other stories they have to tell.

Not Quite Lost: Travels Without a Sense of Direction, by Roz Morris

When they say life is an adventure, some people experience more adventure than others. When taking trips, whether it’s down the road or three hundred miles away, there’s a million different things that could happen.

In Not Quite Lost, the author takes the reader on a journey just like that. It’s narrated with wonderful little anecdotes, and is much more organized than someone telling a story face-to-face. Everything from a memorable house, to broken windows, to icy road trips, cryonics, and dances dressed as construction workers, all the stories are told like prose, with a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor threaded throughout. It was like an unobtrusive peek into someone else’s life, with more information and entertainment than an actual memoir.

Solahutte, by Steven Donahue

A touching romance with the backdrop of Nazi Germany. Blaz Schaffer, a solider transferred to a death camp, isn’t having the easiest adjustment. Rival guards, unexpected love, and the ever-growing Third Reich throw Blaz’s convictions out of whack.

In terms of WWII, the plot felt generic in many ways. That’s not to say it was a bad plot—because it wasn’t. Blaz was a likeable character and his journey was an interesting one. The author found a nice balance in using conflict to destroy a character and help them grow. Their antagonists had a variety of emotional range—sympathetic to despicable and beyond.

The writing style didn’t exactly suit the tone of the novel. Pacing of it never really changed from beginning to end. It stayed at a kind of neutral, level emotion the whole way. During suspenseful moments, scenes of joy or heartbreak, where the style could have enhanced the scene, it made things feel sort of meh.

The novel was still well-done. The setting complimented the love story and vice-verse. I liked the characters and I liked how it was pulled off. Worth the read.