The Lyons Orphanage, by Charlie King

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A rather slow-paced mystery, Lyon’s Orphanage centered around Sam, a young orphan that can read minds. He’s been there a lot long than he probably should have. The mystery deepens when Sam thinks to ask why he hasn’t been adopted yet. Now the kids are facing more than just a shutdown of their home.

As far as mysteries go, this one was rather predictable, albeit done fairly well. The kids were compelling characters, though they didn’t really sound their age, which threw me off as a reader. They all sounded like super-polite grownups. I kept picturing this weird amalgamation of a kid and an adult and it just got weird. Things remained pretty level and calm throughout the book. Even the scenes that were supposed to be heart-pounding felt pretty even-toned, lacking a voice of drama.

The mystery was still a compelling one. Sam and his friends were delightful characters with cute, interwoven story lines. I liked what the story lines meant to the characters, and how they aided in progressing the narrative.

There’s little to no action, most of the story being told through long bouts of dialogue or exposition. This certainly contributed to the slow pacing of the novel.

Editing is needed, but overall it was a pretty cute book. It almost feels like it has the start to its own little mini-series. I wouldn’t mind seeing these characters again.

 

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Icarus, by David Hulegaard

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4 stars

 

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Whatever ending I expected, Icarus did not follow. The storyline veered hard to the right in an interesting way that will surely suck readers right in.

 

After a young girl goes missing, her friend hires Miller Brinkman, P.I. to investigate. What he finds begins a crazy adventure that pushes the bounds of the genre.

 

Aside from Miller sounding like a neckbeard on occasion (“I tipped my Fedora…”) he was a very likeable character. For a mystery novel it progressed in a patient manner that aided the narrative and didn’t give too much away. The foreshadowing was pretty on point as the book managed to hold everything to the end.

 

The mystery itself was also a rather riveting one. Things certainly were what they seemed like at the beginning. That’s what mysteries are for, though, right? At the heart of it were good characters. They were different from each other, with their own voices and their own role to play in the narrative.

 

I liked the way the style transitioned to accommodate the supernatural themes. It definitely had an X-Files theme to it towards the end.

 

While the novel and singular mystery wrapped up nicely at the conclusion, it ended on such a cliffhanger. And it was a good one, done in just the right way with enough tension to still make the reader feel a little anxious. I genuinely enjoyed it. I would love to read the sequels.

 

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Revelations (Salinor the Beginnings), by Samuel Alexander

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I had such high hopes for this book. It started off shaky to be sure, but that happens sometimes. I figured ‘maybe it’ll get better from here.’ No such luck. After the opening, frankly, things went downhill.

 

Danais and Leo are like a fantasy version of Romeo and Juliet, only with happier overtones. They were adopted on two different sides of the world and still managed to find each other. As they learn more and more about each other, will their love manage to endure?

 

That’s the closest I could come to summary. I still have no idea what was going on in this book. It was kind of like reading a first draft, wherein the author just put whatever down for an edit later. Except the later editing never came. The writing style and the story took a very convoluted turn about a quarter of the way through, after the author finished introducing the reader to the world. The world-building made sense (mostly). There’s so much telling. Ninety-five percent of the narrative is telling. Even with that, I kept feeling like I was missing important bits of information, narrative, or dialogue while reading, and would sometimes go back three chapters and read again only to find out that I didn’t miss anything. I do that so often it grew frustrating real quick. The description was wonky, not to mention that characters would pop in and out of new sets of dialogue after a scenery change without any indication that they were ever there. It was jarring and once more led me to backtrack to see what I missed.

 

The love story was awkwardly paced—definitely way too fast. I loved their relationship dynamics for the most part. The fast way things moved made some interactions appear creepier than they were meant to.

 

I liked the fact that the author took their time to create their own world and taught the readers about it in a fun way through mythos. I felt like I was being educated without the info dump. Like a tour guide setting their group up for the next, new area.

 

I wanted to like this book. The beginning was shaky but promising. This novel needs to go through a thorough editing to clean up a confusing narrative and writing style. Promise exists, it just needs some help to shine through.

 

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Zombie! Haunted Mansion, by Zombie Origin Media

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Zombie novels are usually quick to grab my attention, and this one was no different. It had a nice, quirky opening done in a unique formula that was alright in small bursts. Unfortunately, it persisted throughout the entire narrative.

A bunch of friends gear up and set out to the middle of nowhere to celebrate graduation—the classic opening done in every horror film. Then, zombies attack, and they escape to a haunted mansion owned by an old, eccentric, elusive man. Their adventures get weirder as it seems not only are zombies out to get them, but the entire house is too!

The opening was true to classic horror and, to be honest, I was picturing very Camp Crystal Lake-type stuff going on. The friends, all of whom followed classic stereotypes, were engaged in some well-scripted banter. Ninety-nine percent of what transpired was told through dialogue or onomatopoeia, and the rest told by the inner monologuing of the narrator, Jesse. However, Jesse’s monologuing was mostly just commentary on what was happening because there was little to no description that existed beyond Jesse’s observations. At first it was a cute and quirky way of doing things. It didn’t take long to get old, though. I frequently found myself frustrated at being denied any sort of look at the setting or backgrounds. Things popped in and out of scenes by thumps and dialogue. Even with Jesse’s running commentary, no real time was given to the surroundings and the setting. Trying to picture what was going on was very frustrating. It started off face-paced and remained there, with little time for characters to rest between things.

With all my frustrations, I really liked how realistic the dialogue felt. At least if that was what I had to see ninety percent of the time, it was done well and easy to read. Let me also emphasize the realistic part. It brought the characters to life, gave them so much voice and personality. The characters themselves really popped. I’m so sad that nothing else did. The story itself was an entertaining one. It put a neat little spin on zom-comedy.

I get what the author was going for with the blatant sensory deprivation for the reader. It was done in a goofy, humorous way that felt like a Disney carnival ride. It was a unique writing tool that served certain scenes very well. Unfortunately, it was not suited for the entire novel. It was more suited for a graphic novel or a comic.

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Drip: A Gothic Bromance, by Andrew Montlack

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They say that those involved in the higher ups of the corporate world are nothing but bloodsuckers. Of course, that’s meant as a metaphor…or is it?

Fresh out of school, two friends embark on a journey for their professional careers. Through a mixture of connections and luck, they land themselves jobs at a company where only one has the experience necessary. Alas, so fickle is fate that even the best laid plans don’t always work out. Sacrifices are necessary to climb the corporate ladder…but are they worth it?

Bloodsuckers are real with their own special twist to fit the plot of the story. And it was a good story. Themes of friendship, karma, betrayal, and of course the soul-sucking rat race of the working world blended well together for a nice, neat story.

The writing style was smart and paced to match the tone of the narrative. Only once or twice were character interactions ever awkward, but it was like the tiniest hiccup on otherwise smooth seas.

J. D. and George’s relationship, one of the most important dynamics of the tale, was very realistic. There’s not one without the other, regardless of current emotions or the power imbalance between them. Resentment, anger, and imperfections were all present, but they remained friends that would do anything for each other regardless. Their character development was broadcasted loud and clear from the beginning.

Speaking of ends, this had an ironic, sad twist to it that ended things on the only respectable note it could. It was satisfying and, in my opinion, tied up the loose ends. It demonstrated well that the term “happy ending” will always be open to interpretation.

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Thread and Other Stories, by Eric Halpenny

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4 stars

 

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A series of short stories over different genres, with a running commentary between them. While reading the stories as individuals, they certainly felt disconnected—different eras, genres, and subject matters. However, the short story interspersed throughout felt like a narrator’s conversation with a reader, and for whatever reason, made the stories feel linked on some weird level. In fact, it separated them like chapters.

 

All of the stories were well-written. Since there were a few, it stands to reason that not all would be liked. Which is true. There were a few boring ones that took a lot of time to set up. By the time the reader got to the heart of story, quite a bit of interest was lost.

 

There were some excellent ones as well. Ones that didn’t take the beaten path in their execution. Deception was easily my favorite of them; the nasty bully getting outsmarted because he was overconfident, and it happens in a brutal way. Chance was my second favorite. I loved the supernatural elements to it, but also the family structure. I feel as though the broken family is a trope that everyone wants to use for a tragic backstory—which is fine—but this one utilizes a loving family. A family that really comes together to beat evil.

 

I felt as though there was a little bit for everyone in this novel. There are long-winded windups and lots of exposition or backstory with nothing else really going on. Then there are some that make that windup worth it and leave you wanting a full-blown story.

 

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Graveyards of the Banks, by Nyla Nox

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4 stars

 

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I think this could be classified as well-done satire against the corporate world.

Nyla’s endurance of rude beratings and subpar working conditions is one I think many of us can relate to. Having to budget things so close you’re not sure if you’ll eat next week, you’ll take any job you can get, right? Especially if it’s at The Most Successful Bank in the Universe—that name couldn’t possibly indicate anything sinister, could it?

Some of the representations of corporate stereotypes sat right between ‘can’t possibly be true’ and ‘that happened yesterday.’ I recall many a horror story of upper-management, though I have no actual experience with that side myself. Still, with all the things I’ve seen throughout my working career, I’m ready to believe that things like what occurs in this story happen on a fairly regular basis.

Nyla’s character development came in a relatable form where she goes from a wide-eyed newbie to a burned-out veteran that dares the company to fire her. She had enough and fought back in only the way she was able: part obeying the rules while being antagonistically passive-aggressive.

I liked the parallels between many real-life themes that the average person faces every day. It was done well and managed to throw in the appropriate amount of office humor into the mix that cut the tension at the right moment. As someone stuck in the corporate world, I enjoyed this proverbial middle finger to it.

 

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Please Don’t be Waiting for Me, by Todd Stadtman

 

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A darkened tale with a humorous side, Please Don’t Be Waiting for Me focuses on the Bay Area punk movement of the’80s. A tale of more than just music and fighting the system. And spikes. And mohawks—in fact, all those things just make it all that more difficult to bring your friends’ murderer to justice. Especially when the media is portraying your kind as the bad guy. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

 

I liked the more accurate-feeling punk representation. Everything from style to music to attitude. It was done well and managed to highlight an important shift in cultural norms. Things like privilege and race and gender were all brought up with some level of self-awareness, both from the narrator and the characters.

 

This book wasn’t dialogue heavy. Character dialogue was meaningful, true to the characters, and had versatile tone to it. Interactions didn’t feel awkward at all. There was some lack of description that that made picturing certain landscapes difficult if it wasn’t a place that you were familiar with. A bit of editing was needed, though the plot itself and the characters were solid. The underlying storylines between the characters connected well and made the story flow right along. I particularly enjoyed the fact that the author included healthy father-son relationship into the mix, instead of all the characters having some kind of tragic backstory or relationship with their parents. Scott’s dad was easily my favorite character, and a shining example of how more parents need to be.

 

It’s easy to draw parallels between fear-mongering of the 80s and its detrimental effects with today’s world. I enjoyed the tongue-in-cheek narrative and storytelling. Well done.

 

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The Reminisce, by H. L. Cherryholmes

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I was just telling someone the other day how I’ve been jonesing for a good ghost story. This novel turned out to be just that: nothing too gratuitously gory or rooted in a timeless evil. It was a haunting of the beneficial sort, and it served as a great backdrop for an even greater story.

 

After a rather embarrassing breakup, Curtis Aisling turns to his sister to help him get back on his feet. Strange things start happening in the house, with Curtis at the very center. It’s a race against time to discern the message being given to him.

 

There were a couple of storylines that ran through the narrative. All the characters’ stories intersected at some point, which added to the narrative and its characters. It really captured the small-town feel of “everyone knows everyone” in a realistic manner. Even the supernatural occurrences happening in a seamless, realistic manner. It was so well-integrated. The narrative was also successfully creepy—in a very Great Gatsby sort of way. I know I managed a few chills at the beginning, still unaware of where the story was going to go.

 

Characters were beautifully crafted. Their interactions were wonderful. They meant something to me as a reader, which conveyed a level of depth that many novels lack. Their stories were interesting and captured my attention consistently.

 

I really liked the way the supernatural entered the story and how it was described. Description was excellent, as well. It was Stephen King-esque without being as long-winded.

 

This was another one that I could hardly put down. It was wonderful from start to finish. An excellent representation of creepy, with a wonderful mystery thrown in. Highly recommend.

 

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Two Hundred Very Short Stories, by Helen Keeling-Marston

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4 stars

 

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In an attempt to lessen the heartaches of not having enough time to properly finish a book, the author created a clever way around it; instead of one long book that you have to try and remember your place in, how about many teeny-tiny stories that make you feel like you’re reading a full-length novel, without the commitment and responsibility.

 

…I feel like I just wrote a sales pitch.

 

A lot of these stories have the same formula to them—lots of dialogue, some vague happenings, and then a punchline (twist). Most of these were meant to be silly, lighthearted tales. There’s a few, more serious ones sprinkled in, so don’t just think it’s all fun and games. They were simple compositions designed to get it all out and move along.

 

Definitely a book designed to be read in multiple sittings. The formula eventually grew repetitive. Quite a bit of creativity went into the stories, and it certainly shows.

 

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