Book Review: Sons of Valor by Brian Andrews and Jeffrey Wilson

2021, Book Reviews, By Year

Book Description

Title: Sons of Valor
Authors: Brian Andrews & Jeffrey Wilson
Edition: NetGalley > Audiobooks
Narrator: Ray Porter
Length: 12 Hours and 5 Minutes
Genre: Fiction, Military Thriller, Military Fiction
TW/CW: Death, violence, terrorisms, war, mentions of torture, graphic violence and death,

Disclaimer: An audiobook copy of this book was provided to me in exchange for a fair and honest review. This did not affect my review and all opinions are mine.

Blurb

Sons of valor …

Navy SEAL Keith ”Chunk” Redman has been one of the military’s top doorkickers since the day he pinned on his trident: loyal, single-minded, lethal. Tasked to lead a new, covert team of Tier One SEALs — the most elite special operators in the world — Chunk can no longer simply rely on the status quo. To safeguard America, he needs help to stay a step ahead of its adversaries.

Brilliant at spotting patterns in the data that others miss, ex-CIA analyst Whitney Watts sees evidence of a troubling link between illicit Chinese arms sales and an attack on a US military convoy in Afghanistan. If she’s right, it would portend not only massive casualties, but a devastating threat to global stability.

Sons of war …

From the ashes of a never-ending war, a new generation of terrorists has arisen: sophisticated, tech-savvy, and hiding in plain sight among America’s allies. Battered by the Taliban and by the West, they call themselves al Qadr — Power and Destiny — and they’re determined to wrest back control of their homeland. Armed with a powerful combat drone, they can strike with deadly precision at US forces in the region — but their ambitions reach far, far beyond that.

A new legacy …

The new Tier One’s first mission will require them to not only prove themselves, but to stop an enemy who’s using military tactics against them. Chunk and his team aren’t just the tip of the spear; they’re America’s first, last, and best counterterrorism defense. And they couldn’t have arrived at a more urgent — and perilous — time.

Review

Sons of Valor is a fiction; a military fiction and thriller. It’s also a spin-off from another series that came before, which I have not read yet. This book is an audiobook I picked up from NetGalley and now that I’m done with it, I am already invested enough that I have to go back and read the other books, because hot damn! With the exception of a few retrospective moments and a couple nods to old memories, I wasn’t ever lost, so even if you started here, like I did, you should be fine. By itself, the book stands very well even if you haven’t read the Tier One books. Not having read the other series didn’t make this one hard to read or follow in any way. However, there was a moment, a very suspenseful moment, towards the end where the main character was reminded of a similar incident happening previously and at that point, I knew I just needed to go back so I can read and catch up on the characters.

I’ve been looking for something like this for a long time and I’m now mildly obsessed with digging up more from both these two authors and other books from the same genre. Our two main characters here are Lieutenant Keith Redman (Chunk) and Whitney Watts (Heels), but there are others in this team (Ryker, Saw, Trip, etc). The main characters are real and very complex, with their own very strong personalities, histories, and demons that haunt them and the authors certainly didn’t slack on making sure the others in the team wouldn’t fall flat either.

Chunk, previously a character in the Tier One series, now stars in his own series, this spin-off. He’s an amazing character and a strong leader to his team, all of whom looks up to him and count on him. He’s a man with “arms of a gorilla” but beneath his gruff exterior is a very caring heart. He cares deeply for everyone, especially his team whom he considers family. He also takes care of Whitney because he really threw her into the deep end of the pool (and apologizes later with promises of better preparations next time) in this book. Chunk’s got his past haunting him and he’s determined to never make that mistake again. He’s not perfect and nobody in this book is, but he quickly becomes very likeable.

Whitney is a former CIA analyst, recruited to help out the newly reformed Tier One team. She’s a strong female character and I loved her because through her we, the readers, got to learn more of the action to which she was just as new too. There’s a point in the book where it was her first time shooting someone. She was dubbed “Heels” because she had shown up on her first day with her heels as opposed to something more field ready. She’s smart and thinks outside of the boxes and has better hunch hits than any other person I know, fictional character or real life. She’s got the right fire and resolve to fit into the group and her pace isn’t anything super human, because she has to learn to slowly fit into this group. Throughout the book and even right to the very end (epilogue) there were multiple times she doubted herself and whether she would fit into the team or not. Her previous job, as she had mentioned on several occasions, was to be an analyst! Physically being on the field and in danger is something new to her! However, it is thanks to her and her sharp wits, that the team uncovers so much and makes as great of a leap as they do because she’s so steadfast in her theories. While I thought that the team and Chunk were fantastic characters, I think Whitney would be my favorite out of everyone.

And speaking of teams, I love the team factor here. I’ve been looking for a squad/team book for a while and I finally feel like I hit a pot of gold. I love the slight banters between everyone and their conversations. I loved their teasing and at one point, when Saw mentioned that Chunk was a little green (due to his fear of Sharks and the fact that they were about to go swimming near them), Saw had started to hum while Ryker chimed in with the lyrics from Baby Shark and what a way to start a book.

The pacing was excellent and very fast paced. There were no major break time for anyone as Whitney was always coming up with and discovering new horrifying truths that would catapult the team to act quickly least many lives would be in danger. Most of the story was separated into their own little sections where the beginning consisted of training and introductions, followed by a hunch that was being investigated (leading to a waterfall of other clues and theories) and then finally, the action kicks in hard. It’s a pretty linear storyline and towards a certain point, there was just no going back.

I absolutely loved this book, though it’s not for the faint hearted. There was definitely a moment where I either held my breath or my pulse quickened. There was a particular scene that was life or death and had my heart in my throat because the writing was so vivid and the narration so realistic that I was terrified for the character. There’s heartbreak, there’s violence, and lots and lots of death. Everyone, protagonist and antagonist, are fighting for their own beliefs and goals. There’s nothing and nobody to hate because even the bad guys are written so well, their backgrounds full of tragedy and pain. Their own personal nightmares haunt them and lead them to their current path and roles in this story.

I had the audiobook version of Sons of Valor and the narrator was Ray Porter. As soon as the book opened up, I was already in awe. He did a fantastic job and, like I previously mentioned, it was also thanks to his narration and his voice – a slight quiver here or the sighs and exhausted conversations there – that brought the book’s scenes and characters right in front of me. It was thanks to his narrations that lead me to be petrified during that one scene and I felt close to tears because, had I been there, I probably would’ve really cried (which wouldn’t have mattered because I’d first have died). Ray did a great job and was always switching between accents and genders very smoothly. During dialogues, you can tell all the characters apart because he personalized a voice for every character present.
Despite my recent increase in audiobooks, I still haven’t read too many of them so Ray is still new to me, but I am already in love, just from this one book. He did a marvelous job at voicing the story and characters.

Military thrillers and fiction aren’t generally my go to, but in the few that I’ve read, they’ve all been enjoyable. The only worry I have towards the genre have always been missing on the jargon. Some books, and not just military fiction, would occasionally drop a small glossary towards the back while others would often string out a little paragraph or two explaining things, but there was just too much going on here to do that. A lot of the acronyms, words, slang and jargon, and weapons flew over my head. At first, my head swam and I was worried that I was going to either be very very lost or not going to enjoy the book because I was missing some of the “visuals” but as time went by, it really didn’t matter. Some terms I started to pick up very quickly and others were completely okay to miss. It didn’t really affect my ability to read or keep up with the book and by the end, it was hardly something I remembered being worried about.

This was a great read and both the authors, Andrews and Wilson, and the narrator did a phenomenal job with it. I’ll definitely be adding them to my favorites and will be reading more of their previous books as I await the next in this series to see how it pans out.

Book Review: River Queens: Saucy Boat, stout mates, spotted dog, America by Alexander Watson

2021, Book Reviews, By Year, Uncategorized

Book Description:

Title: River Queens: Saucy Boat, stout mates, spotted dog, America
Author: Alexander Watson
Pages: 287 (Hardcover)
Publisher: Orange Frazer Pres, Wilmington, Ohio (2018)
Genres: Autobiography > Memoir, LGBT

Disclaimer: A copy of this book was provided to me, by the author, in exchange for a fair and honest review. This did not affect my review and all opinions are mine.

Goodreads Blurb:

Two men and a spotted dog restore a vintage Chris-Craft motor yacht and launch across the American Heartland from Texas to Ohio. The restoration, the people they met along the way, and life in an America which few know exists are the story of River Queens: Saucy boat, stout mates, spotted dog, America.

Review:

This book is long overdue to be read and I feel so bad. I had initially started reading (only the first few pages), way back when I first received the book in September or October of 2020. I recently started to clear through all my backlog and finally settled back down with it. I made myself comfy…got some tea…started to read…and then maybe a third of the way through, wondered, Why in the hell did I put this off for so long?!?

In the scarce amount of time I have, to read, these days, I gobbled this down.

Even before picking the book back up, I remembered one vivid thing that stuck with me all these months, the writing. The writing is absolutely amazing and to say that I liked or even loved it would be a sheer understatement. The writing was solid, the dialogue is so real, accents and all, and the storytelling, masterful. The characters are lively and rich, vivid and memorable. The entire book felt so warm, despite the tears that fell.

I don’t generally read non-fiction, memoirs even less and memoirs about boats (to which I know absolutely nothing about) were unicorns in my TBR. I’ve read travel memoirs before and absolutely loved it and this one? I loved all the same for the near same reasons: people. The people that Alexander, Dale, and Doris Faye encountered are just amazing people (though around a certain line that seems to distinguish the Midwest to the relative East) this friendliness seems to slowly ease off, though it’s definitely still there.

Alexander is the writer and would be the main POV of this book, while his partner, Dale, is there with him along with their dog, an envy to all who meets her, Doris Faye. He’s raw with his words and feelings, and emotions will never be perfect in this kind of trip.

They’re dropping money into a boat a sliver of a plank away from sinking and restore it enough to go on a journey up the river where they meet a wealth of people and engage in the cornucopia of cultures of every place they dock. There’s so much friendship and so much warmth. There’s also speckles of grief from loss of family to loss of friends, especially friends they meet on the river. There’s all sorts of love here and this book just exudes it both in friendship and in relationship between Alexander and Dale. After all, setting sail on a boat that was previously a wave kick from going down is hard on anybody, relationships especially. And there’s acceptance. So much acceptance, welcomings and well wishings from everyone they meet.

In the writing, there’s flashbacks and very entertaining dialogue, real dialogue. The accents are right there and occasionally I have to squint and feels like I’m playing a quick game of Mad Gab as I I try to read what’s being said, but it makes it so much more fun when you read it out loud and try to picture each conversation. And there’s a lot of conversation, even ones where there’s mostly one word exchanges for half a page.

In the back, there’s a short glossary and the endpapers of the book consists of the map for their journey. Both are a life saver as I have no idea of any of the boat terms being used. I had to learn some of that, just as Alexander and Dale had to because, in the beginning, they weren’t boat people either. The map was a pretty nice gauge to see where they’re at and how far they are from their destination.

A fantastic book that’s nothing like I’ve read this year or anything I’ve read previously. I am no fan of (physically) traveling myself, especially not by boat and ESPECIALLY not a boat that was a major gamble on not just if it’ll sink, but if it’ll run at all for their trip. Alexander took me on an immense journey that I will not forget anytime soon and through the book and through his eyes, I have met so many lovely people, so many kinds of people that I would love to live amongst here. I’ve seen so many new places and experienced so many new cultures of those places.

Thank you, Alexander, it was a beautiful read from start to the end.

5 Stars

Book Review: We Are 100 by Nathan Timmel

2021, Book Reviews, By Year

It’s the last day of June!
And it’s hump day!
And in celebration to the last book I squeezed into the first half of 2021, today’s post is a review that follows up on Monday’s spotlight for “We Are 100” by Nathan Timmel! A comedian, with some other previous books, this is his first fiction and I truly loved reading it! I mean, I was squealing when it ended.

And in true Esther fashion, I have a lot to say when I finish with books that dumps adrenaline and joy in my system. 

Book DescriptionCharacters
SummaryWriting and Writing Style
Overall FeelingFinal Thoughts
PacingQuotes
Chapter Length & ContentReview To-Go (Mini Review)
Writing NoteRating

Book Description

Title: We Are 100
Author: Nathan Timmel
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 247
Publisher: Red Oak Press
Genre: Fiction, Thriller > Mystery, Police Procedural
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for a fair and honest review. This does not influence my review and all opinions are fully my own.

Links:
Amazon
Goodreads
Author’s Website

CW/TW: Illness, death due to illness, sexism, death, murder, mentions of sexual abuse against children, mentions of rape, swear words, gun violence, mentions of racism

Blurb

After losing his wife, Evan Francart is depressed. He has an axe to grind with the pharmaceutical company that jacked up the price of her medications, but feels powerless against a billion-dollar corporation.Then he meets Cassandra.She shows Evan a way to both end his life and become a hero. With her guidance, Evan interrupts a company board meeting and blows the building sky-high.As FBI agents Susan Chamberlain and Michael Godwin discover, Evan is the first of many. Ninety-nine more like him wait anonymously in the wings, their targets just as personal as Evan’s: the prosecutor who lets rapists walk free, the inept surgeon who maims patients yet keeps operating, the phony evangelist preying on those seeking solace… and that’s just the beginning.Will the FBI unearth Cassandra’s identity before all 100 have carried out their plans?

“‘In life, you’re either the fucker, or the fuckee. Which one do you want to be?’ Susan decided she did want to be either. She wanted to be a protector; she wanted to protect those who couldn’t protect themselves. Which made this case all the more interesting. Here, the wolves were being attacked by the sheep. Fuckees had decided enough was enough, and they were pushing back against the fuckers.”

Overall Feeling

The main story and plot of “We Are 100” revolves around revenge that centers on grief. We’re not talking about bullied kid setting up the ultimate middle school, teen Hollywood-movie-worthy, humiliation revenge against the school queen bee. Here we’re talking much bigger. People like those in high bank positions, big pharma, corrupt cops, lawyers, and doctors who are doing or have done things that ought to get them at least some time in jail, but they’re rich. And we know rich people hardly ever actually end up in jail.

So now, the 100 are taking action. 100 strangers, lured in, their grief weaponized, to perform one big final act; murder-suicide actions that will use the targets as examples to the world; You’ve gotten away from the law, you boast, and now justice is here. They’re here to set an example to all the other corrupt and greedy individuals of high society. They can no longer hide behind connections and money. Anyone can be a target and the lesson from each death is that only you can paint that target board on your own back.

This book was a crazy from the beginning. I finished the first chapter, nearly throwing down the book and running off. It was sheer adrenaline. I read it once, gasped, processed blankly at the wall, and then went back and read the entire first chapter again just to feel that same bundle of emotions because holy shit what a way to GO OUT

“The 1% were animals. Or, if not animals, maybe their wealth allowed them to act without care. They knew someone like Evan would tidy up after them.”

And it doesn’t stop there. We’ve got a website filled with photos that are blank, set to turn into videos per profile, within the hour of their deaths, explaining and confessing each of the 100’s deeds along with why they did it. Sure, there were a few deaths that were skimmed over, but towards the beginning, it was just death after death. Some of the murders were generic shootings and while others may be a tad bit more creative (very tall tower kind of creative). There was always something happening that left the team running around.

Now…two wrongs don’t make a right and honestly, the book addresses this. Sure, all of the victims pretty much deserved it (judges letting rapists go despite solid SOLID evidence, big pharma’s jacking up prices to unsurvivable amounts, pedophiles…) but like one of the characters mentioned, eventually even those who get away with the act (or played a part in why others got away with their acts) were going to be caught, it was just down to “matter of time.” However…for the entirety of the book, despite how much I loved the protagonist duo team (and the supporting team) I found myself cheering on the big bad hoping he could complete what he needed to do. 

Gotta say. I was very satisfied by the end.

Pacing

The pacing was pretty good. The start of this book came in and I was left in so much shock that I read the chapter twice and it’s not the only chapter I did so with. Things pick up and we’re left with the agents running around trying to gather clues because at this point, we don’t just have one serial killer, we have a highly intelligent leader (with the wherewithal to fund this operation) heading a bunch of common folks, under him, and with them all being strangers to one another, there’s no connection between them other than their collective grief stemming from being wronged by the high, rich and mighty people that were previously untouchable. 

And then it all tapers off towards the middle where I was starting to get a little bored.

Heck, this gets noted in the book too. Agent Susan asks the rookie, Agent Michael, if this is what he thought it’d [FBI work] be like and he answers that he knew it wasn’t going to be like how Hollywood makes cops and FBI out to be. There’s no constant door busting, fighting, high speed chases, and fire fights. A lot of the work? It’s interviews, investigations, chatting with others, interrogating whose already been caught (with perhaps a bit of negotiation skills sprinkled on top), and the such. So to go from a high rush to a “Time to interview and investigate anonymous hotlines” was a nice way to break up the sections and pacing. I mean, if there was adrenaline in every chapter, there’d be a mountain of dead bodies! So, with a handful of cool down chapters in between, it really helps.

When you’re going through it, reading it at that moment, it can get a bit slow; a little bit like when the rollercoaster suddenly stalls with a hisssss either at the bottom or peak of the ride. But when you’re all done, you appreciate that it gets a little boring in the middle, because it gives Susan and Michael a breather and that means it gives you, the reader, a breather. It spaces things out nicely and I liked it like that.

Chapter Length & Content

Not usually something I comment on, but I will say…with the average chapters (that I read) anywhere from 20-50 pages, these chapters fall a short on that mark and oh my god am I relieved. Sure, some chapters are like 5 pages but do you know how accomplishing it feels to say “I hammered through like 10 chapters today 😎”? It’s also easy to digest each chapter so that you’re summarized and processed by the time you hit the first line of the next one.

And they had TITLES!

Oh, how I’ve missed chapter titles…

I haven’t seen chapter titles in a while because I tend to read relatively the same books by the same authors who don’t use them and sure, a lot of the titles are short or very to-the-point like “Michael’s Moment”, but I love chapter titles because it gives you that 2 micro-seconds of a glimpse into the chapter.

The only single thing I was kind of disappointed in was that all the individual baddies and villains had their little chapters. There are chapters that explains their history and reason why they’re out to kill their specified victim and the maybe a few pages of them actually confronting the victims while they sit in shock (well probably confusing and paralyzing fear) but the big bad guy? The main bad guy? The main antagonist? His history is spread across multiple chapters so, I didn’t miss much there. But…I was really looking forward to really reading how he lured in his prey and wanted to see their reactions of “Oh shit, I’m one of the targets the news has been talking about.” 

However, I’m not too disappointed. While shorter than I had hoped (I expected his chapter to be far longer than the others’ because he’s the main antagonist) it’s not like Nathan glossed over the villain’s personalized chapter either. Therefore, my disappointment is kept to a minimum and I was still satisfied because I got the ending that I wanted and the main antagonists’ victims got what they deserved AND were awake and conscious to feel all of it.

Writing Side Note

I’m not a fan of info dumps. I try to tolerate them, whether they are traditional info dumps or dialogue dumps (I’ve read books where a character practically speaks for 7+ pages straight in order to explain history to another character [thus the audience and readers]), but generally, I don’t particularly care for it.

And there’s info dumps here and there in this book.
Strangely? I didn’t mind.
I called them “personalized chapters.” There was literally a whole chapter just dedicated to introducing Agent Susan Chamberlain to the readers (her history, why she chose FBI, etc.) and then another chapter doing the same for Agent Godwin (Michael). But, everything was short and I kind of enjoyed the writing so it didn’t really matter. They were info dumps…that didn’t feel like an info dump. I can’t explain it further than that.

And by the time I caught on that nearly all of the main pawns/villains were getting their OWN little background chapters, I was starting to enjoy it. It was part of how this book was going to go, because, for a lot of these 100’ers, you’ll only get to hear their tale in that one chapter and never again. It’s their story squished into a single chapter, a chance to hear their reasonings. A chance to make the world look at them like the heroes they believe themselves to be. 

So yeah, somehow, I didn’t mind the info dumps because it added to the charm of the story. It just fit into this particular book very nicely and the writing really patterns around those chapters. Strangely nicely done.

Characters

The characters were likeable, especially the main protagonists, Agent Chamberlain and Agent Michael, but I was kind of rooting for the villain and his 100’ers. I read a lot of mystery thrillers and crime books. I’m usually on the cop’s side because the bad guys are REALLY BAD GUYS, but all of the villains here are grieving and have been terribly wronged. All of their victims deserved some form of karma and I found myself unable to hate them for their actions.

I’m not condoning their actions nor their violence and definitely not condoning how the main antagonist was weaponizing grief (that’s how it’s stated) even if all of the entire operation was done for the better good and to teach a lesson to those who take advantage of people below them. However, I still rooted for them, the bad guys here, in a sorrowful way.

The protagonists? I liked Susan. She had her flaws and like any good human had her oversights. Sometimes, Michael had better ideas than her, despite being the senior office and Michael’s mentor. There was a scene where a cop was disrespecting her because of her gender and she practically flattens him with words. I don’t think that guy is ever going to recover from that…(I cheered though). 

Michael is a very smart fellow and his catchphrase is “Fair enough.” It’s his first major on-field case and damn, talk about first case man! It must be such an adrenaline rush as he makes his way in proving his worth to his team. He makes for a good teammate because, sure he’s a rookie, but he had his fair share of contribution and breakthroughs that helped catapult the case forward. He thinks outside the box and questions things that Susan or Sumner may have missed. There was a major moment where his lightning fast reflexes essentially saved the case from blowing up in their face, taking their only lead to the grave AND became a major turning point in the story too!

“Working with a new agent was like a first date, only with potential life-or-death consequences while in the field.”

The main villain is there to lead the other “We Are 100” members and he’s got the means to pull everything off too. He can be manipulative and even he acknowledges that there are moments where he pulled certain stunts that might’ve met the requirement of putting him on the chopping block in the same lanes as the victims. Still, he’s cunning and his entire plan is so thoroughly thought through that it makes my head spin. However, he’s got an ego and he enjoys toying with the agents even if he knows of the risks behind it all. 

Writing

Nathan’s a comedian and his quips, sarcasm, and little remarks show in the writing. One of the reasons I really enjoyed this book was because I enjoyed Nathan’s writing. He’s got good things to say about many things, especially those in high power or high wealth, that makes its way into the book because they’re relevant to the plot. His dialogues are pretty nice and I enjoy the little interactions between everyone. One of the things I really enjoyed was how he wrote all of his characters, especially the women in this book.

Emotions wise, I got my fair share of light tears, chills and handful of shocks (of course). There was the moment that the agents discovered the website with the blank profile pictures and a cold feeling ran down my spine (for the agents, because the blurb already gives away that there’s plenty of others out there). Think about it. You come to investigate one man’s crimes, perhaps he’s got about 1-5 accomplices tops, only to discover that there’s a potential of up to 100 total related cases, blank profiles staring like ticking time bombs…Can you image the sheer fear and horror of this discovery? 

Final Thoughts

I don’t think you need a final thoughts section to know that I really loved this book. I took it on because I gave the blurb a single look over and thought, “Oh hell no, I’m not missing this one.” The writing was entertaining and kept me going even when the plot slowed down during the investigation. The characters were well written with some decent interactions between themselves. Info dumbs didn’t feel like info dumps and lastly, I’m over here rooting for the wrong damn side. I had a great time these last few days with “We Are 100” so Nathan, don’t stop writing fiction! I hope you continue and come out with more because I’ll be right there to read your next one!

Quotes

“The internet was supposed to break down all the walls between people, and information. We were all supposed to get smarter, and this would usher in a new age of enlightenment. In reality, all the internet did was make it a thousand times easier for crazy people to meet and befriend one another.”

“People shared things online they would never share in person. There was a comfort in being alone with your computer in the middle of the night; the cold screen in front of you allowed you to type out thoughts you’d never verbalize. It was a better confessional than the Catholics had in their churches.”

Review To-Go

I really enjoyed this book. Right into the first chapter, we go from 0 to 100 really quick and it ends off in such a way that I had to stop and process what just happened. The adrenaline was dripping off me and I turned right back and ended up reading that chapter one more time just to experience it again. In Nathan Timmel’s first fiction novel, we follow the story of the sheep that fight back against the wolves that have set their paws on top of the common folk for long enough. Powerful people in powerful positions are falling one by one and their deaths are there to make an example to the world. You only paint your own targets is the theme that those in the “We Are 100” follow.

The writing is really good, even during moments that starts to slow down in between all the drama and adrenaline. The characters are likeable; both the good and all of the villains, and you find yourself sympathizing with the bad guys. With a good pace, short chapters, and well written storyline and characters, this book was a great read that was easy to digest. Emotions are strong from the beginning to the end and the book finishes off satisfyingly.

  • Pacing: The pacing was done nicely. It’s fast paced only slowed down, slightly, towards the middle as the investigation and “boring leg work” part of the job finally begins. When discoveries are made, the pace quickens again and you’re once again flying through.
  • Chapter Length & Content: With short chapters that have chapter titles, the length is really nice. It helps in processing each chapter when some are only 5-7 pages long.
  • Info Dumps: While there are info dumps, mostly background stories, it fits in nicely to this book. There’s a pattern to the format of how this story goes and eventually the individual “personalized chapters” feel like it’s simply part of the charm of the book.
  • Characters: Likeable characters on both the good and bad side. Dialogue is nice and I enjoy the interaction between the team members and the duo.
  • Writing: The writing is easy to process and digest and you can see pieces of Nathan’s comedy background sneak its way into his writing style. It’s quite unique and helped me through some of the slow parts. Funny note: Characters raise/furrow/wrinkle/etc. their eyebrows quite a lot. I counted 6 before I stopped 😂
5 Stars

Spotlight: We Are 100 by Nathan Timmel

Featured Books

Wow, that was amazing!
That’s what went through my mind as I tried to stay composed after closing the book.
What I physically did was squeal until my mam looked at me like, “What’s wrong with this chick, now??”

I just finished reading “We Are 100” by Nathan Timmel and while I haven’t had time to sit and write the actual review (By the time I finish up this spotlight post for schedule, it’ll be well into the midnight of an alarm day *sob*) but hey! That means more to look forward to, after work, tomorrow! Not that anyone really needs more of an incentive to want to go home on a Monday.

So a spotlight it is.
I look forward to writing the review.
And hope it does the book enough justice without me shoving the book at people’s faces like “READ! IT!”

We Are 100 by Nathan Timmel

Bookcover of a book with multiple blank photos, one of which has a bloody red X across the profile. The author's name, Nathan Timmel, is across the upper right in all lower case while a chalk like font spells out the title of the book in upper case lettering. The title sandwiches "ARE" in between "We" and "100" totaling three lines of the title "We Are 100"
Cover is grey scale with the red X and all title and author font is in black.

Blurb (from Goodreads)

After losing his wife, Evan Francart is depressed. He has an axe to grind with the pharmaceutical company that jacked up the price of her medications, but feels powerless against a billion-dollar corporation.Then he meets Cassandra.She shows Evan a way to both end his life and become a hero. With her guidance, Evan interrupts a company board meeting and blows the building sky-high.As FBI agents Susan Chamberlain and Michael Godwin discover, Evan is the first of many. Ninety-nine more like him wait anonymously in the wings, their targets just as personal as Evan’s: the prosecutor who lets rapists walk free, the inept surgeon who maims patients yet keeps operating, the phony evangelist preying on those seeking solace… and that’s just the beginning.Will the FBI unearth Cassandra’s identity before all 100 have carried out their plans?

About the Author (from the back of his book)

Nathan has been writing since he could scribble using crayons. As a comedian, he has released six albums that can be streamed on Pandora, Spotify, or anywhere else you stream your audio-based entertainment. Should you be interested in parting with your hard-earned cash, these albums can be purchased anywhere and everywhere (e.g., Amazon, Apple Music, Google Play, etc.)

Nathan has told jokes all over the world, Iraq and Afghanistan included, for American troops stationed far from home.

Nathan currently lives in Iowa (on purpose) with his wife, kids, and cat named Turtle.

(You can thank the daughter-unit for that.)

He is an avid fan of Billy and the Boingers, and enjoys a fine pair of pants.

Nathan has written more nonsense than you can shake a stick at, including:

  • I Was a White Knight… Once
  • It’s OK to Talk to Animals (and Other Letters from Dad)
  • Hey Buddy (Dubious Advice from Dad)

Please visit nathantimmel.com for anything and everything Nathan-related. Look for his podcast, “Idiots on Parade,” wherever you find your favorite podcasts, and his vodcast, “Artificially Intelligent,” on Youtube.

If you can, go see Nathan perform live. Failing that, dial up his YouTube channel. You’ll giggle and have a good time.

Promise.

===== 🎙 =====

Esther note: Don’t worry Nathan. At least your kid was more imaginative than I was as a child. I named my pets [turtles], “Turtle A and Turtle B”…

Renegade by Rob Sinclair [Book Review]

2021, Book Reviews, By Year

Title: Renegade
Series: A Ryker Returns Thriller [Book 1]
Author: Rob Sinclair 
Length: 9hrs 14 minutes
Book Type: Audiobook
Narrator: Marston York
Publisher: W.F. Howes Ltd

Obtained: NetGalley
Disclaimer: An audio-copy of this book was provided to me in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.
TW/CW: Violence, gore, murder, death, kidnapping, torture, using someone’s child as a bargaining tool/threat

Blurb

James Ryker, a veteran intelligence agent now freelancer, working for the secretive Joint Intelligence agency on an op-by op basis, finds himself embroiled in a complicated mission that will test him to his limit.
When a simple surveillance mission goes awry and the key target is kidnapped in broad daylight in a busy London square, Ryker knows he has his work cut out.
Ryker is tasked with figuring out what went wrong. But when his good friend Sam Moreno disappears without trace, the mission becomes more personal than he could have imagined.
Torn between toeing the government line, and finding the answers he needs, Ryker realises there’s only one way to find those responsible, and to punish them.
His way.

Review

This book had me holding my breath enough to put a YA book to shame!

That’s it. That’s my one whole mood through the entire book.

===== X =====

This was my first full audiobook story that I’ve completed. I have a half-read book (that I already finished the ebook version of) in my Kindle, a choose your own story, and an anthology, but Renegade would be my first full and actual story in terms of audiobooks.

And it’s been one massive adventure with a lot of action, espionage, torture, and holding your breath because you never know if someone else was going to get caught; be that character a minor, side, or even the main character himself. Here, the fear of a character getting caught is amplified with the knowledge that the prospect of falling into enemy hands would result in something far worse than death; neverending and brutal torture. 

Now, I’ve never read any books by Rob Sinclair, let alone any of his previous series (James Ryker series) which seems to link to this one (A “Ryker Returns” thriller series), but I was able to follow through well enough despite the occasional nod to past references; minor things I didn’t particularly connect with because I didn’t read the prior series. Still, I had no problem with this book and the book, by itself, was a spectacular read.

I don’t know what I was expecting when I was going in. I only picked this one up because I was fresh out of new audiobooks which I’ve started to play during my work hours as it helped me pace my work and made the time go by quicker (not that my busy day needs any more encouragement and nudging than it already does). I was prowling the audiobook sections of NetGalley, looking specifically for a mystery thriller and eventually landed myself on this one.

It didn’t let me down.

There was so much action to be found. The story already starts off with a “babysitting” job gone wrong when a surveillance mission goes badly and is botched when their target is whisked away and eventually discovered dead. The entire operation and story only goes downhill from there and not even stopping at the ground. Instead, the floor opens up with stairways down to hell as things seem to spiral out of control over and over (with bits of luck every now and then; luck and wits).

There’s two main storylines going on at once, eventually merging into one single event as things from both sides begin to intertwine or…rather…after the stories start to come together, everything else finally began to make sense and things fall into place. The first storyline and POV, of course, belongs to James Ryker, while the second comes from a very different angle. It follows the story from Daisy Haan’s perspective on a much different case. While I was initially mostly interested only by Ryker’s story, somewhere midpoint my attention shifted massively to Daisy’s story because at that point, shit hit the fan and the hopping between their POVs drove me nuts because I NEEDED TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED NEXT!

Of course, halfway through Ryker’s own story, most of his personal missions were beginning to hit the fan as well and honestly, ending each chapter was painful because then it becomes a rollercoaster from one cliffhanger to another cliffhanger. Between the two POVs, there was no rest in emotions because things felt like it was spinning out of control on both ends. 

Lots of action. Lots and lots of very gorey, unsettling, and stomach turning torture. This isn’t just a plain thriller book. The amount of suspense in this book was insane. Sure, the beginning wasn’t as fast paced, even with all the action already taking place, but by the end, with each cliffhanger chapter, you were practically biting your nails waiting on this new chapter to end so that you could find out what happened to Ryker or Haan only for this chapter to also suspend you in an agonizing wait. 

My favorite thing about this book was the massive plot twist near the end of the book that left me gasping. I was not expecting it to turn up that way and it was wonderfully done because, boy was I surprised!

It was a great read that I wasn’t able to put down; easily throwing the entire book down my throat. I’ll have to eventually go back and read Rob Sinclair’s previous books to put the remaining little pieces to this puzzle together, but a fantastic and heart thumping and heart stopping first Sinclair read. 

5 Stars

Ultimate Blog Tour Book Review: Shards of Earth by Adrian Tchaikovsky

2021, Book Reviews, By Year

Title: Shards of Earth
Authors: Adrian Tchaikovsky
Length: 592
Book Type: Ebook > Kindle
Publisher: Tor ((Publishing May 27th, 2021))
Obtained: Ultimate Blog Tour > NetGalley
Disclaimer: A copy of this ebook was provided to me in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

Amazon: amazon.com/dp/B08HLPZY6X
Goodreads: goodreads.com/book/show/55437088-shards-of-earth

This read was part of the Ultimate Blog Tour for Shards of Earth hosted by Dave over at TheWriteReads. A major thank you to the publisher, Tor, and author for allowing me to participate in this tour and for providing me with a copy!


Praise for Adrian Tchaikovsky:

‘Brilliant science fiction’ – James McAvoy on Children of Time 
 
‘Full of sparkling, speculative invention’ – Stephen Baxter on The Doors of Eden 
 
Shards of Earth is the first thrilling instalment in the Final Architecture trilogy – by the Arthur C. Clarke award-winning novelist Adrian Tchaikovsky.

Blurb:

This high-stakes space-based adventure will be perfect for those who loved Children of Time, also by Adrian Tchaikovsky. 
 
The war is over. Its heroes forgotten. Until one chance discovery . . . 
 
Idris has neither aged nor slept since they remade his mind in the war. And one of humanity’s heroes now scrapes by on a freelance salvage vessel, to avoid the attention of greater powers. 
 
Eighty years ago, Earth was destroyed by an alien enemy. Many escaped, but millions more died. So mankind created enhanced humans such as Idris – who could communicate mind-to-mind with our aggressors. Then these ‘Architects’ simply disappeared and Idris and his kind became obsolete. 
 
Now, Idris and his crew have something strange, abandoned in space. It’s clearly the work of the Architects – but are they really returning? And if so, why? Hunted by gangsters, cults and governments, Idris and his crew race across the galaxy as they search for answers. For they now possess something of incalculable value, and many would kill to obtain it. 

Review Summary:

A fantastic and exhilarating space opera. The first book and the entry to the The Final Architecture trilogy, this book grabbed my attention quick and its claws didn’t let me go until the very last page where I sorrowfully craved for more. With a very deep and impressive layout of world and lore, there is so much to explore in Shards of Earth. Multiple different species, factions, religions and extremist groups within those factions, different worlds, different nations, armies and governing bodies, and so much more. The characters are fantastic; a galaxy left to throw different forms of small “found family” groups together; blood families a thing hard to hold down. This book was a book of nonstop adventure and trouble. While there’s the ever looming danger of the original destructive Architect, to add to the mix during present time, there are gangs, extremists and radical parties, cults, governing bodies, you name it. Idris and the rest of the Vulture God never get a chance to breath and thus, ensuring that the reader will not either.

You’ll pick this book up.

And you won’t put it back down.

Main Review:

Shards of Earth is the first book in the The Final Architecture trilogy. An exhilarating space opera, sci-fi, this first book did not fail me with its impressive lore, world, and nonstop action. There are so many different worlds, civilizations, species, and even different factions and religions amongst those said species. There’s different nations and armies. There’s species that barely manage to live together, their relationships held together by the threat of the Architects potential return or others that live and work together through lease contracts. The concept of blood families are few to find and rag tag groups like our main cast isn’t so uncommon. This book is everything and has everything; like a giant mega sundae with all the possible toppings and then some. Gummy bears, anyone?

The book starts out with a prologue, a bit of history introducing you to two of the main characters, Solace and Idris, a soldier and a navigator as they are set to confront the Architect before it destroys another planet, “beautifying” it, and others, by its own standard, reconstructing it to be the titular illustration’s signature bloom.

1 prologue and a few chapters in, I was already quickly drawn into the world. It’s immense and right off the bat, it feels like there’s already a million things thrown at you. I was overwhelmed, at first, with all the names of different species (and some species, the fragments of mankind, even had factions), different worlds, ship names and station names, nations and armies. To my joy, there’s a glossary towards the back along with a timeline of the events that take place before and after the first Architect attacks! I flipped to that part of the book a good deal during the first half of reading.

The cast was probably one of my favorite parts of the book; my favorite starting with Idris and then Solace following close by. Idris because I feel like he’s a cinnamon roll in need of protection and Solace because she’s like 10 levels of badassery (not to say the rest of the Vulture God were even remotely any less badass) There’s a small family kind of bond between the Vulture God crew. Everyone’s got their jobs to do and everyone plays a role on the ship. There’s a mixture of humans and nonhumans onboard from hivers to crab-like creatures. There’s no end to the diversity of the characters, main group or otherwise. 

And there’s no end to adventure, action, and trouble.

Because then there’s the antagonists of the story and it’s not just limited to the Architects; the moon sized behemoth of an entity that can restructure a planet. There’s different factions of men, radical and extremist groups, unwelcoming worlds, scary wildlife, and religious cults involved [and heck, throw in multiple different governments as well]; as if an end-of-the-world creature isn’t enough to worry about. The enemies here are just as well put together as the characters are. They’re relentless and terrifying and they’re strong. 

This book is action packed (and even then, it’s a bit of an understatement). There’s plenty of things happening and I feel like the crew (and thus the readers) just never get a chance to breath. The plot is never too slow or too quick. If there’s a fight, you will really be looking at a fight! There’s pages and pages of action and even running. At the end of the day, it’s not even about who wins anymore. It’s about who survives.

The beginning of the book is a bit slower than the latter half because it’s mostly setting up the stage. We get to know the history of Idris, we get to see how the crew goes about their lives on their usual jobs doing what spacers do in space, and then towards the middle things start to happen and everything picks up. By the time the last few scenes hit, my jaws have already dropped and I didn’t close them or the book until I reached the last page. 

By the time the beginning slowly reeled you in and captivated you, grabbing at your attention bit by bit, you’re stuck and it’s only a tall roller coaster drop from there and on. The action and the events Just. Don’t. Stop. It keeps going and going until you’re frantically flipping through. There’s no break for Idris and his gang so there’s no break for you. Might as well grab another cup of tea and keep reading. Who cares if you have to wake up early for work tomorrow? 

It’s the first time I’ve ever read any Tchaikovsky books and as someone who grew up not particularly enjoying space opera (in films/movies) I wasn’t expecting to love this book. I only went in because I was starting to become buddy buddy with one of my new favorite genres, sci-fi. As it turns out, it’s an adventure like none other. I’ll definitely be checking out his other works as I eagerly await the next part of this tale because as soon as that comes, I’m jumping into that ship. 

If you love sci-fi with multiple species, behemoth entities that humans have no possible chance against, intergalactic life, space battles (and cool space guns) and ships going through another dimension/space to fast travel, and a little lot bit of politics thrown in, you’ll absolutely eat through this book. 

A great first space opera for me! 5 cups of Joe from me!

Thanks for stopping by and reading!

5 Stars

About the Author

((from http://shadowsoftheapt.com/about-the-author ))

Adrian Tchaikovsky is the author of the acclaimed Shadows of the Apt fantasy series, from the first volume, Empire In Black and Gold in 2008 to the final book, Seal of the Worm, in 2014, with a new series and a standalone science fiction novel scheduled for 2015. He has been nominated for the David Gemmell Legend Award and a British Fantasy Society Award. In civilian life he is a lawyer, gamer and amateur entomologist. 

I Am Not A Wolf [Book Review]

2021, Book Reviews, By Year

Title: I Am Not a Wolf
Authors: Daniel James Sheehan (Author), Sage Coffey (Illustrations)
Length: 208 pages (Print); 4 Hours and 28 Minutes
Book Type: Audiobook
Narrated by: Jay Aaseng
Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing
Obtained: NetGalley
Disclaimer: A copy of this audiobook was provided to me in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

Goodreads Blurb

Life is good! You have a job, an apartment in a nice part of town, and an online dating profile that’s recently yielded as many as three matches. From the outside, it would appear you’re a human man that has all the trappings of a stable and functional life. But you also have a secret. You’re not a human man at all. You’re a wolf.

Assume the role of one of nature’s greatest predators, just barely maintaining a fake identity as a part of the human workforce. Each choice you make in this interactive story is crucial to your survival and, more importantly, your burgeoning career in the corporate world. Will you navigate water-cooler gossip without arousing suspicion? Can you go on a date without bringing up how much you love ham? Or is it perhaps time to throw this human life to the wind and return to the woods from whence you came? These choices and many more await you in this story about trying to find your place in a world that barely makes sense to you.

Review

I really enjoyed my last audiobook because I was able to complete a book while folding clothes, taking a walk, and even gaming. I could indulge in a separate hobby while not neglecting my reading hobby and I could work while reading without actually reading. It was like a podcast but with a book! I enjoyed it so much that I went back to NetGalley and found myself another audiobook under the listen now tab.

I was able to finish this one in a a few hours, but that was just one ending. I went back multiple times to see all the different outcomes because there’s more than one.

I Am Not A Wolf is a hilarious choose your own adventure satire piece of the corporate world and human society from the point of a wolf not wolf. Hilarity ensues only a few moments in when the narrator speaks as the wolf for the first time and I bursted out in laughter because it was the funniest thing I’d ever heard. It was this awkward mixture of a wolf pretending to be a man, but failing so obviously miserable but it’s okay! We live in a society where being different is practically the norm now and generally speaking, you might find that if you’re too different, you actually have a better time mingling in with the general crowd and attract less attention. Think about it, if I saw a man looking like a wolf, I’d just assume that he was just…super duper into animal cosplay. I see plenty of strange people, here in the big city, so another strange person wearing a wolf costume underneath a business suit is just another drop in the bucket.

There are also themes of the corporate world and its absurdity of being just a few minutes late to work or requesting someone to come work on the weekends, but praising it in a way so that were you to reject it, you’d feel guilty (“You’d be such a rockstar if you could come in.”) Then there’s the norm of making sure you don’t call out your boss on their mistakes, even if they are in the wrong, those civil small talk conversations that always revolve around the same few topics. fighting to come into work despite being previously out sick and feeling guilty about taking those PTO or sick days and wanting to prove yourself useful again.

The dialogue and story here is pure gold as you have a wolf contemplating about the human world, things like how you have to work a 9-5 weekday job just to afford a weekend off to go do what he used to do for free (sleeping outside, “AKA camping”). There’s so many little notes in this book that pokes fun about how corporations and humans (mostly humans) work, specifically from the viewpoint of a wolf.

As a choose your own adventure, at the end of each chapter, the audiobook will tell you to turn to a specific chapter such as “If you wish to take the bus, go to chapter 2,” or “If you would like to use a rideshare app, go to chapter 5.” The choices you make will affect the next part of the story and can influence your ending, so it’s fun to really think your actions through and through.

The only small nuance about the audiobook version would be that, unlike the paper and Kindle versions where you’re already constantly engaging with your book anyways, the audiobook will have you constantly picking up your phone, unlocking it, and then choosing your chapter. It differs from other audiobooks in that way because usually I could be cleaning or walking around without having to interact with my phone (especially useful if your phone is zipped up in a purse while you’re commuting). Still, it’s a small little thing and it doesn’t really phase me because I generally have my phone on my desk, next to me, anyways.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It’s brilliant and it’s genius. It’s quirky and so unique. I’ve read a handful of choose your own adventure styled books as a kid so this book really brings me back to my childhood. Of course, though, it’s still my first ever choose your own adventure audiobook!

The narrator did a terrific job with this book. His voice for the wolf threw me off and I played it over and over the first time the wolf spoke. Each time he opens his mouth to speak, it somehow only gets more and more funny. I absolutely adored Jay Aaseng’s narration because it fit the characters so well.

A wonderful and short little read that you can (and are definitely encouraged to) re-read over and over because not only do you want to experience a different ending, you want to see how the story unfolds if you were to take that other choice. Some of the choices are small, but they ultimately affect how the rest of the day goes and it all adds up eventually. An unforgettable read and experience in which I loved every single part of it; the humor, the dialogue, the inner and more complex analysis of human nature and corporate society. Everything in this book was amusing and perfect and I am truly amused.

Quotes

“You are a wolf, but this is something the world can’t know. Some people aren’t ready to know. Some aren’t willing to understand, but most are just terrified of wolves for some reason. You’ve spent much of your life integrating into human society. You have a job, an apartment, several online dating profiles, and a terrible roommate.”

“In fact, you’ve found that the more someone stands out, the more people tend to leave them alone.”

“You are an entry level graphic designer at this rapidly growing start-up company and you’ve earned it. Most humans would have been discouraged by the almost never ending unpaid internships you endured to get here.”

5 Stars

The Lore of Prometheus [Blog Tour] [Review]

2021, Book Reviews, By Year

I received a copy of this book as part of a blog tour. A huge shout out and a major thank you to the BBNYA 2020 tours organized by the @The_WriteReads tours team as well as to the author for letting me participate in this tour. All opinions are my own. 

BBNYA is a yearly competition where book bloggers from all over the world read and score books written by indie authors. 
If you are an author and wish to learn more about the 2021 BBNYA competition, you can visit the official website (https://www.bbnya.com/) or our Twitter account, @BBNYA_Official.

If you would like to sign-up and enter your book, you can find the BBNYA 2021 AUTHOR SIGN UP FORM HERE. Please make sure to carefully read our terms and conditions before entering. 

If you are a book blogger or reviewer, you can apply to be part of BBNYA 2021 by filling out this form (also remember to read the terms and conditions before signing up)! 

BBNYA is brought to you in association with the Folio Society (If you love beautiful books you NEED to check out their website!) And the book blogger support group TheWriteReads.


Book Name: The Lore of Prometheus
Author: Graham Austin-King
Pages: 287
Book Type: Ebook > Kindle Genre: Fantasy > Urban Fantasy, Paranormal, Fiction > Military Fiction, Thriller
Rating: 4.5 (Goodreads: 5)

TW/CW: PTSD, Gore, Violence, Kidnapping, Torture, Drugging, Held Prisoner, Death, Burned Alive/To Death, Murder, Medical Experimentation, Gunshot wounds, War and War Scenes 

Blurb

John Carver has three rules: Don’t drink in the daytime, don’t gamble when the luck has gone, and don’t talk to the dead people who come to visit.

It has been almost five years since the incident in Kabul. Since the magic stirred within him and the stories began. Fleeing the army, running from the whispers, the guilt, and the fear he was losing his mind, Carver fell into addiction, dragging himself through life one day at a time.

Desperation has pulled him back to Afghanistan, back to the heat, the dust, and the truth he worked so hard to avoid. But there are others, obsessed with power and forbidden magics, who will stop at nothing to learn the truth of his gifts. Abducted and chained, Carver must break more than his own rules if he is to harness this power and survive.

Thoughts & Opinons

Straight into the book, I took noticed of the writing style and thought, “I’m going to like it here.” I wasn’t here to participate in judging last year’s competition, but if I had to choose any random piece, it didn’t matter where in the book I landed, I probably would’ve agreed that this book was very well written so I think it’s a well earned crown that sits atop this book and author.

A short read that’s just shy of 300 pages, I went into this book already late and still managed to finish right about on time. Saying I inhaled the book was probably an understatement.

A very dark book the starts with addiction, gambling, trauma and hallucinations and dives deep into kidnapping, experimentations and brutal psychological and physical torture. Trauma is a major theme of this book and is the root and source of many of the prisoners’ powers. Horrific trauma, watching your loved ones die, and knowing there’s no other possible way out for yourself is the fuel to the bonfire.

This is the second military fiction I’ve read, and to date, both books had protagonists that suffered from various degrees of survivors guilt. John Carver, is a broken man, even before the kidnappers got a hold of him. Suffering from deep trauma, severe PTSD and survivors guilt, he is down on his luck and very nearly down to his last pennies. With a loan shark breathing down his next promising his own next breathes to maybe be his last, unless he coughs up the dough, Carver is doomed and very very desperate. He’s got no more choices left and he needs to get a job and he’s desperate enough to go back to where it all started.

With most of his skills stemming from his military experience, his only chance is a glorified babysitting job back Kabul, back to where the dust and nightmares began.

Being the only one in his squad who had survived during his time in Kabul, he blames himself for the loss of his teammates, especially so as hallucinations. For the last five years, Pearson, Wilson, and Turner have plagued him and not just in his memories. Ghosts of his past follow him daily, so real they bleed on the floors in front of him, reminding him that he, Carver, could have and did not save them.

Mackenzie is the other main protagonist with her own traumas and just as Carver’s trauma woke his “miracle” so did hers. Both she and Carver were well written characters and you really got to know them. Mackenzie displayed absolute strength in the toughest of times and the two of them made for an amazing read and as much as I enjoyed how well done Carver’s character is, I think that Mackenzie is the character I loved the most. My heart broke for her, stopped for her, bled and cried for her trauma; both in the past and what she goes through in the book, especially the latter.

Action packed, this book was phenomenally put together and thought-out. There was plenty of research going into this and those, like me, with no background in the military won’t need to fear getting lost. Any jargon of any sorts is easily and simply explained; a quick breeze over without interrupting the story telling and flow.

The book switches between two characters POVs (Mackenzie and Carver) as well as two types of POVs, third and first respectively. I didn’t really mind the switch in POV types though it did take me perhaps 6 chapters to noticed that it was being switched around at all (I’m not the most attentive). I actually quite liked it because it helped separate the two situations and if there were any deeper analysis to this; I’d say the first person really helped me get into Carver’s head because only Carver could see what he sees and that’s people that are no longer amongst the living. I don’t think third person would have worked as well.

Fast paced and with great dialogues that helped break and ease the tension in this extremely dark, gorey and very unforgiving situation, this book was very well executed. It had me hooked from the start and flying through the book was no hard task. Paired with wonderfully written characters, real or not, I had a great time. I was a WEEE bit confused towards the end but that might just be me.

A little sad to see this book come to a close as it’s a standalone but it’s been the rainbow to my newly discovered pot of gold as I look forward to more from Graham Austin-King and I will definitely be following and checking out some of his other works.

I heavily recommend this book because it’s executed so well with the writing being one of my favorite aspects of this read. I’m one to love characters more than the writing and plot itself, but this time, despite how well the characters are already written, it was the writing style and writing that I truly fell in love it. However, please keep in mind that this is a pretty dark book with a lot of triggers. It gets very intense and heavy at times and even I needed a breather here and there.

4 ½ Cups 🥰

Author

Graham Austin-King was born in the south of England and weaned on broken swords and half-forgotten spells.

A shortage of these forced him to consume fantasy novels at an ever-increasing rate, turning to computers and tabletop gaming between meals.

He experimented with writing at the beginning of an education that meandered through journalism, international relations, and law. To this day he is committed to never allowing those first efforts to reach public eyes.

After spending a decade in Canada learning what ‘cold’ really means, and being horrified by poutine, he settled once again in the UK with a seemingly endless horde of children.

To date he is the author of five novels, drawing on a foundation of literary
influences ranging from David Eddings to Clive Barker.

Website: https://grahamaustin-king.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/GrayAustin

Dragma’s Keep [Book Review]

2021, Book Reviews, By Year

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It’s been a year (and then some) since my last fantasy book (looking at my 2020 Goodreads challenge, the closest I came to fantasy were probably a sci-fi and a steampunk book).

And then Booktasters contacted and connected me with Vance Pumphrey and so…let’s raise a mug to the first fantasy book I’ve read (let alone reviewed) in over a year! HOOHAA!

Thank you to Booktasters and Vance Pumphrey for letting me read a free copy of this book. All opinions are fair, honest, and are my own.

Book Name: Dragma’s Keep
Author: Vance Pumphrey
Series: Valdaar’s Fist Book: 1
Book Type: Ebook > Kindle (EPUB converted to MOBI)
Pages: 348 (Kindle), 276 (Paperback)
Genre: Fantasy > Dungeons & Dragon

Goodreads Blurb:

Valdaar’s Fist. Forged by mortals. Enchanted by Drow. Wielded by a god. Lost by man. Or was it?
A band of unlikely adventurers embark upon an epic quest in this first book in a four-part series, battling minotaurs, demons, orcs, and wraiths—and occasionally themselves.
Surely they must prevail…because the very balance of power in the land requires it.
In Dragma’s Keep, Vance Pumphrey weaves a lyrical and magical tapestry that sets the stage and whets the appetite for the next adventurous fantasies that comprise his Valdaar’s Fist series.
Vance Pumphrey traces the evolution of his high fantasy novels from his Nuclear Engineering career in the U.S. Navy—not an obvious leap. He started playing Dungeons and Dragons in the Navy, though, and the inspiration for Dragma’s Keep was born.
Dragma’s Keep is the first in the Valdaar’s Fist quartet. A second series follows soon.
Retired from the Navy, Pumphrey lives in Seattle with his wife of thirty-plus years.
To find out when the next Valdaar’s Fist book will be released, check out VancePumphrey.com.

Thoughts and Opinions:

At the time I picked this book, I was (still am) obsessed with Vindictus, a MMORPG. I spent the last two-ish years on Dragon’s Dogma, and most of my life playing and following the Fire Emblem series. Fantasy games are still very fresh in my mind and thus, of course, along with the craving for books emulating the feelings I get from playing them. To be able to get all of that on paper had me over the moon.

The inspiration for Dragma’s Keep came from Dungeons and Dragons and while I’ve never participated in a session, some of my friends do and so it’s not too foreign to me. Nevertheless, any references I make in this review will end up referencing fantasy games because that’s what I’m more familiar with.

Writing Style

As the book version of the annoying movie watching commentator, there were a handful of things that came to mind when reading the book, starting with the language and writing style. There’s nothing that’s grammatically incorrect or misspelled (not that I see) and the language is a lot like some of the other fantasies I’ve read (a bit leaning towards Middle Age/Medieval rather than modern English in maybe something like an urban fantasy).

Phrases like “fly true” and “yet live” more than peppers the book. However, I had no issues digesting what I was reading. Which is pretty swell considering how often I tend to scrunch my brows and reread (over and over) pages in fantasies because I’m trying to figure out what the sentence is trying to say! Here, there was no need for my brain to dance around the same paragraph. Everything was easy to read and easy to follow.

The dialogue is golden. I could complain all I want about how I was starting to get annoyed with all the bickering over pointless things, but if a parent can handle their kids screaming at each other, I can handle these characters. There’s humor everywhere, mostly in the dialogues, and the interaction between characters was eye rollingly annoying sometimes… but it grows on you and their little fights becomes part of the group’s charm.

Characters

The team is a pretty diverse party in terms of age (?), gender and race (with the exception that there’s only 1 female and she’s a healer. I play a female axe wielder in games and look forward to the day I see that on paper😉). It’s fun to acknowledge the group as a party versus a “team” because we’re talking about a DnD styled setting and world here! I enjoy all of the characters, some more than others. 

There is Sordaak, a slight framed mage hidden under his voluminous robe who has the temper of a dragon woken up too early from his slumber. He’s snappy. I’m talking about “Don’t talk to me unless my coffee is in” snappy. But that’s not to say the rest of the group isn’t a bit snappish themselves! There are times where I rolled my eyes because “Oh boy, another petty argument”.

But…I guess being a little overly snappish isn’t the worst thing that could happen amongst a band of strangers that just met like a day or week ago. And in their dungeon situation where you’re walking into battle after battle with minimal rest in between, I guess it’s excused. Team dynamics of “siblings fight but still protect each other’s back (with their own lives)” ya know?

Sordaak meets a thief named Savinhands (Savin or “Thumbs”) who insists he’s a rogue and not just a mere thief. He’s also a cinnamon roll who needs to be protected because he’s precious. Handy with his lockpicking skills, he’s more resilient than any thief I’ve ever played.

There is also Thrinndor (occasionally “Thrinn”) who is a fighter (Paladin) and his buddy, a dwarf named Vorgath Shieldsunder, “son of Morroth of the Dragaar Clan of the Silver Hill” (say that fast 5 times). And then lastly, in comes Cyrillis, a cleric who isn’t afraid to dish out a few blows, herself. Anyone playing Fire Emblem knows that clerics don’t generally enter the fight meaning she’s like gold to the team. A cleric that doesn’t need a body guard 24/7? I’ll take it! Her tongue and glares work just as well as her staff towards enemy and friends alike.

Party Dynamics

The party dynamic is interesting.

These people are total strangers to one another (save for Thrinn and Vorgath who do have a bit of history).

(*Inhale*) Sordaak meets Savin when the latter was gambling at a local tavern and through some circumstances stemming from Sordaak’s part, the two end up high tailing out of town together and eventually manage to convince a hell-bent-on-killing-them paladin to join them on a little adventure (in exchange for their lives) so our little paly agrees, roping in his dwarf buddy to join in on the fun and the four merrily go off, bumping into and aiding a sister in need of help who becomes the team’s healer. (*Exhale*)

Sounds DnD and game-like enough to have such a diverse party of people just thrown together for the sake of treasure and adventuring, right? The team’s faith is different in the beginning too (faith here plays a HUUGE role) There’s borderline atheism, there are people who follow Praxaar and then those that follow Valdaar. Yet, merely a few pages in, they go from strangers to I will protect my party members’ life with my own if it needs be. While sure, the party’s health is a necessity for your own survival, the end goal was treasure and deep friendship wasn’t something I really expected (not complaining). There’s tension. There’s bickering. There’s poking fun. But it’s all in a merry way and nobody holds grudges against one another. Again. They met like a week or two ago by the time they started their adventure. They’re now stuck with each other, like it or not. Might as well make the best of it, yeah?

The lore is pretty nice too. It’s consistent, it’s everywhere, and plays a massive part in the plot. (IIRC) Praxaar and his twin brother Valdaar are (were) Dwarves before they became Gods. The introduction chapter gives you a quick background to the lore and is written as if it was an old historical tome. The impressions from that chapter are a bit warped because history is written by the victor, which is honestly really neat. You’ll find out why later. 

Pacing

The pace of the book is quick. It’s so fast you could hear the NASCAR vehicles slowing down next to you. We have a mage who bumps into a thief who runs away together and bumps into a paladin, who has a buddy who’s a dwarf, and the four go adventuring for a secret (and rumored to be long gone) keep in the middle of bloody nowhere that holds treasure. They bump into a cleric and they do a whhhollee lot of fighting and reach the big bad boss. It’s a single dungeon run with multiple mini bosses, individual area skirmishes, that leads up to the final boss that ends the one dungeon run. Pumphrey loves his action. It’s no DnD and RPG game without the constant swinging of swords. There’s so much fighting that even the cleric and mage runs out of spell “juice” and need a bit of recharge before moving on.

Action? No shortage of it. Promise!

And no one is invincible! I fear for this party’s brain cells for the amount of times someone has been knocked unconscious. The meat-shields (as Sordaak affectionately calls the Paladin and Berserker) can dish out a beating and can take it too, but it doesn’t prevent them from being overwhelmed. Mages can friendly fire themselves and their teammates with area of effect (AoE) spells (I never thought I’d see those words outside a game).

There are occasionally info dumps. I’m not usually a fan of info dumps and there was literally an entire chapter where everyone just dumped their backstories with each other “let’s sit in a circle and share something about yourself, first day of school” style. Not my thing but I was pretty amused by it since even Vorgath himself 4th walled the situation (just a bit) by calling Sordaak a “wordy sumbitch.”

Overall Thoughts:

I’ll be thinking about this one for days. It just tickled me in all the right places. Sure, I’ve never played DnD myself, but the writing style and plot was close enough to all the fantasy games I play that most of everything was relatable anyways. There are certain creatures I had to look up like Sordaak’s familiar (a quasit), but being that it was based on and inspired by what already exists, it was really nice to know a visual is only a Google search away!

I quite enjoyed the pace. It’s a dungeon crawl, albeit a longer dungeon with multiple battles. Yet, at the end of the day, it was a single dungeon so the adventure was sadly quickly over. Fear not! It’s only book one and the group intends to continue to travel together because that’s what a good party does. I was elated every single time I came across any gaming term. I loved the group dynamic and humor. I slightly anticipated the ending, but it was written well enough to incite strong emotions in me (a knotted stomach twisty kind of uncertainty…but not fear!)

I loved this book and when I set aside a little more time in my schedule, I truly can’t wait to continue adventuring with this gang of random people thrown together by fate. If you like fantasy gaming or Dungeons and Dragons (the latter especially as it inspired the book), I definitely recommend giving this book and series a try. 

Language & Writing Style: Fantasy and Medieval style of language though it is easy to digest and easy to read. You don’t know how much relief that brings me. I tend to get stuck rereading and not understanding when text is too flowery. Occasional info dump. Terms like AoE (area of effect) and meat-shield tickled me because I never thought I’d ever see those words outside of gaming let alone in a book!

Dialogue is golden and a huge part of why I enjoyed the book.

The Characters & Party Dynamic: The characters are likeable but occasionally got on my nerves how much they bickered over very petty and pointless things. Just minor things that kick up upon traveling and constantly nearly dying together. I think it’s this mix of love-hate feeling that I have towards their fighting that makes it fun and impressionable. There’s a paladin, mage, thief, and healer (all humans) and a berserker (dwarf). Diverse in gender (though there’s only 1 female), fighting class, age, and race/species, they make for an odd but very fantasy RPG fitting group.

Everyone’s spirit animal here is a snapping turtle.

Pace: Fast. It’s a single dungeon crawl with multiple skirmishes and mini bosses that leads to a final boss. There’s plenty (I mean PLENTY) of fight scenes to enjoy. 

There’s no shortage of action scenes.

Quotes:

“Yeah, well,” began the mage. “Occasionally those of us of superior intellect—”
“But—” interrupted Vorgath.
“Zip it, meat shield!” snapped the caster.

“That staff,” explained the dwarf. “If she were to smack me in the nuts like that with that thing, they’d rattle around down there for a week!”

“Thieves do not trust thieves,” he said. “Especially those within our own guild.”

5 Stars

The Hands We’re Given [Book Review]

2021, Book Reviews, By Year

Book Name: The Hands We’re Given
Author: O.E. Tearmann
Book Type: Ebook > Kindle
Pages: 428
Genre: Science Fiction > Cyberpunk, LGBT, Romance > MM Romance, Dystopia, Fiction, Military Fiction

There’s graphic sex scenes in this book. (The author even provided a warning at the beginning of the book and I’m happily surprised. Kind of wish more authors did this and more books came with warnings.)

Cover from GR. Find the book’s page >HERE<

I came across the book during my search for some cyberpunk reads (right around the time Cyberpunk 2077 was released). It sounded interesting and dystopian enough and with a ragtag team trope, the “Holy shit I sorta kinda don’t know how I landed myself into a commander position” main character, the themes around LGBTQA+, and the joker/ace/cards vibe, I was ready for a good time; sort of like…the many cherries on top.

Summary

It’s 2155 and America has completely changed. Gone are the days where we had political parties; Corporate America (named the United Corporations of America) runs the show now. 

Our team is a base for a group called the Democratic State Force, whose mission is to fight back against the Corporation and the dystopic hell they’ve given birth to. Base 1407 is unlike any of the other bases. They stand out and have quite the reputation that sets them apart. Named the Wildcards, their records are peppered with disciplinary write-ups. But it’s not just this behavior and attitude of theirs that leads to them having as insane of a reputation as they do. They had, in the past two years, 198 successful mission whereas the average per base was around 75 successful missions in that same given period. They were effective. They were good at their job. VERY good.

But after Commander Taylor passes away, they haven’t been on their game and have already run out two seasoned commanders off their base. It’s Aidan’s job to get them back on the mission. With their increase in disciplinary write-ups lately, the sector is threatening to disband them if Aidan fails to get them back into shape. One last commander, one last chance for the Wildcards. 

According to rumor, the Wildcards had been unstoppable. The stories about missions they’d pulled off, executives they’d disgraced by outing information to the Net, and things they’d invented were legendary. The base had been insane in their success record until the commander who had led them had developed bone cancer. No one had been able to supply the base with the right treatments. In the six months before the man’s death, everything in the unit’s record had gone to shit.

Tearmann, O. E.. The Hands We’re Given (Aces High, Jokers Wild Book 1) (pp. 15-16). Amphibian Press. Kindle Edition. 

The last two commanders to replace Taylor had been complete assholes who nearly worked the team to death. When Aidan first joins, the Wildcards are not pleased. Some are already planning on how to get this one to high tail out of their base; pranks and snippy greetings included. They don’t trust him in the slightest and Aidan? He doesn’t want to be there. They have enough of a reputation to scare him even before his first day at work and it truly is his FIRST day at work. He’s straight out of commander training and he would rather be anywhere but at the head of a terrifying base that two other “seasoned” commanders couldn’t even handle.

Review

The characters are very interesting and each have their unique personalities and roles to the team. Every team member is a tailor fit to what the base needs and losing any of the Wildcards would be a devastating blow to the base. Aidan is our commander who is struggling with his transition from female to male (physically: his lack of resources to acquire the surgeries he needs and mentally: his previous confidant had let his secret slip and it ended up horribly). He’s got horrible anxiety and occasionally questions himself on his role and competence as a leader. But honestly, this makes sense. He’s fresh out of training and has never commanded any other bases before. The Wildcard is a wild place to start your commanding and leadership career so naturally Aidan has his fear.

Worldbuilding is done nicely here too. You get small glimpses of a future run by corporations that fall together to form the portrait of the “What Could Be” of America being run by megacorps rather than political parties. In this future, genetic manipulation is the norm. You either come perfect and on the Corps’ side, or you’re not, and good as dead or worse, be an enemy of the Corps. 

The bases are located just outside the Corp zones; close enough for them to act on their missions and for supply stock ups but far away enough to stay hidden from the watchful eyes of the Corporation. Life on the outside is tough but when it comes to fighting, there isn’t much of it.

I love the characters. I love Aidan because I could relate to his work anxieties. I loved Kevin for collections of things considered antiques in this future (including old films, movies, music and even outdated WORDS.) In this time and period, certain words are so outdated, they’re considered antiques and people might give you a weird or confused look for using them like. Quixotic? Sovereignty? What the heck are those?? I think one of my favorite things about this book were all the words that people didn’t know because they were “antiquated words.” I wish I took better notes on this book for every word Kevin used that he got blank faces in return for. It really shows the passage of time when certain words we might use today falls out of use by 2155.

And then you have the other smaller things that sets that world apart from ours. Corrective eye surgery is normal. You don’t even have to be a rich Corp to fix your vision problems. Even as a Duster, you get weird looks for having glasses. Why risk being a liability when glasses get blown off your face, while running and hiding, when you can permanently fix vision issues? Aidan has a holograph of his sister on a tablet that he consults for his anxiety or for personal advice. Sure it feels a bit more like the colder and more soulless version of your deceased friends and family…but they’re programmed to be as close to their original personalities as possible (I would like one please). This world is rich with new things and the differences between what you can access on and off the grid is very notifiable. What you might be able to easily get on grid could potentially cost you your life out in the Dust.

This book did not disappoint me. The characters are complex and the relationships are complicated. Characters can be flawed. People get angry and they might stop talking to each other (to a given extent; cold shouldering isn’t exactly a safe way to go about when teamwork and cooperation is a 110% necessity for survival sake). They make up and sit through problems together. They grow with each other. New friendships are made as characters, who hated each other in the beginning, learn to understand the other. This book taught me that not every military fiction needs to run on guns and combat. Sometimes, stealth and running away is how you win a fight. It’s not about engaging with the enemy, it’s about living another day for the sake of your base! Actions, even if done in the interest of others, can result in an entire base’s collapse.. You have to think for yourself and your base for every action you decide upon.

Tearmann paints a rich world, even if it’s no longer so bright. I just kind of wish there was a glossary for all the new terms in this book. They insult each other with the word Gamma! Like… “You gamma dipshit”, “You gamma bastard”, “That gamma piece of garbage” 110% amusing. Love it.

I savored the little pieces scattered everywhere through the book. There were so many small moments that really made this an enjoyable read (such as the “old” words or “pre-dissolution aged music”). I loved the depth of the characters and their growths. I loved the descriptions of the Corporate world and the Dusters. O.E. Tearmann did a great job with this book and a fantastic job tackling many different topics. This is only a glimpse of the major antagonist. Book 1 sets the premise and introduces the reader to what’s to come. An exciting start to the Aces High, Jokers Wild series.

“NatBank buys us and ZonCom sells. 
ArgusCo tells us where we dwell. 
TechCo owns what we read and play. 
AgCo decides what we eat today. 
EagleCorp tells us to obey. 
Cavanaugh drugs us to make us well. 
But one day we’ll ring the Liberty Bell. 
And then all the Corps will go to Hell.”

Tearmann, O. E.. The Hands We’re Given (Aces High, Jokers Wild Book 1) (p. 79). Amphibian Press. Kindle Edition.