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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The Mandate of Heaven, by Rob Flanigan

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4 stars

 

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A Chinese takeover of Disney rife with political satire…what could possibly make the Magic Kingdom anymore magical?

 

Bert manages to spend more time at Disney than he ever dreamed possible, thanks to a very unusual set of circumstances. Much of it is very familiar to him—considering it is the life’s work of someone that stole his life’s work. Not even the Happies Place on Earth ™ is immune to corruption and wrongdoings.

 

This was an unusually creative storyline with some unique imaginings. The author certainly channeled their inner dystopian master; there’s many parallels to the current state of things in the US. Some of it feels like satire—the author’s way of inserting their own, personal opinions into the narrative.

 

The dialogue was done well. And while I enjoyed their interactions, there were some moments where I felt disconnected from their relationships. Description was mostly well-done. There were a few areas where it became muddled, but overall it was satisfying.

 

Plenty of humor reined free in a narrative of such serious subject matter. There was still plenty of time set aside for the magic of Disney, and the importance of family. It was explored on two different fronts, and created a wonderful way for the two storylines to overlap.

 

I rather enjoyed this rendition of Disney. It had many good, creative points, and a different approach to villainy. A somewhat slow read at times, but still an entertaining one.

 

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Nosferatu Chronicles: Origins, by Susan Hamilton

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Vampires are not my thing. I’m going to go ahead and get that out of the way. Nosferatu and the original Dracula were alright, but I lose my taste for even them after the Twilight fiasco.

These vampires—Vambir, these alien freakin’ vampires—are totally my thing.

First of all, let’s talk about how we have sci-fi vamps. Second, let’s talk about how well they’re integrated into the era of Vlad the Impaler and the legend of Count Dracula. And Nosferatu. And modern vampires. Origins progresses history with the evolution of vampires. Not only was a thorough explanation given for the transformations, but they were all so integral to the plot.

Not only was the story seamless, so were characters. There was a wide array, and each of them had distinct personality—which, like everything else, served the plot well. Dialogue read easily and naturally.

It was filled with wonderful tension, suspense, and political intrigue. Every moment was carefully planned, and not a page was wasted getting there. Character development was on-point. Perspective switched were excellently placed. Each one allowed for the story to be told in an interesting way. It also utilized the ‘two sides to every story’-type narrative incredibly well.

This was a good book. A really good book. It gave me hope for the vampire genre. When I was it was hard to put down, I mean it. This was a really good book.

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Loading: Life, by E. N. Chaffin

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The premise of a preternatural, video game-esque narrative is one that isn’t always done too well. However, in Loading Life, real world and video games mesh together excellently. 

Hero, the downtrodden, troublemaking main character without a special ability, is paired with Annie Mei, top student, for a project that will allow him to pass a class in school. From there his life gets weirder and more malicious, while he himself grows as a person. 

Now, usually when the main character is a delinquent, or made out to be something of an uncontrollable statistic, they’re inherently abusive in one way or another. In Loading Life, the author takes a different approach. Sure, Hero is a butthead, but he doesn’t abuse his friends or Annie, especially. Not using her as a sounding board was a huge deal for me. Therefore, when Hero’s character development came, he learned he didn’t need to be scared and run away. He learned he could ask for help. He wasn’t given up on and tossed aside like so many wanted to do. He was still a butthead, but it turned into friendly banter. Character development was huge in this novel for almost every character, even the minor ones, like the guys in the gang. The reader also go to know the characters well without a clogging info dump. 

The writing style was well-suited as well. It was light and serious where it needed to be. Gritty in places without being over the top. As for the world building: HUDs, mana bars, health bars, and things of the Life were as well-integrated as magic would be in a fantasy setting. 

All-in-all, a rounded novel. It’s easy to get sucked in. While the storyline isn’t necessarily original, the storytelling is refreshing and everything wraps up nice and neat at the end. 

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Invinciman, by R. T. Leone



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Welcome to the exciting world of Robox, where robots beating the snot out of each other in cage matches are used to settle disputes on a scale you won’t be ready for. 

Ray Martin gets involved with Daniel Darque’s brainchild–a sentient robot named Darquer–and man does his life go wrong. Between a revolution, a botched assassination, and a genius’ downward spiral, poor Ray doesn’t have much time to breathe. 

I really enjoyed how well-organized the narrative was. It bounced a lot back and forth between past or present quite a bit, but only a handful of times did it feel awkward. They back and forth usually mirrored each others’ causes and effects. Backstory was given without an information dump using that method. Ample time was provided to get to know the characters and get a feel for their depth. 

I liked how friendship and loyalty were tested. Just how far can one be pushed in order to show continued support for their best friend? Ray found that out whether he wanted to or not. There’s many levels of dynamic storytelling involved with the narrative: corporate takeovers, political satire, and brilliantly engineered plots all weaved together. 

A tightly woven narrative with characters pretty well-developed and an ending sure to make even the most stoic of readers feel something. 

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