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

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

The Sheriff by David Scott Meyers [Book Review]

2021, Book Reviews, By Year

Title: The Sheriff
Series: The Fellowship Series
Authors: David Scott Meyers
Illustrators: David Scott Meyers, Samantha Lee Meyers, and Hannah Nicole Meyers
Length: 380
Book Type: Physical paperback
Publisher: FSP (Fin Scott Publishing)
Disclaimer: A copy of this book was provided to me in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

Blurb from Goodreads

Two years have gone by in the surrounding area of Fellowship. Huey Morgan continues to feel unappreciated in his role as the deputy for the sheriff’s department of Duck County. Playing second fiddle to Sheriff Absalom Holmes, a well-respected constable who has been getting too comfortable in his job and becoming lazier and lazier, Huey feels the weight of the work falling solely on his shoulders. Late one, hot summer night, Huey is awakened by a phone call, which leads to a gruesome discovery that will shake the foundations of this small town…

Amazon Link
Goodreads Link

Review:

The second book to the The Fellowship series/trilogy, this one takes place roughly 2 years after the first book, The Contractor. While that book had focused on Elias as the main protagonist, Huey becomes the main focus in this book and his relationship with Elias is still an important part of the plot. In fact, that same relationship becomes a key factor to some events that takes place towards the end of book 2. 

In book 2, we are starring Huey who also was part of book one, albeit not as central as Elias was. The start of book two revolves around Deputy Huey and his relationship with the town Sheriff. Up in his age, he’s starting to become a bit old and lazy in his job. A good handful of things, that should be the Sheriff’s task, falls on Huey’s lap and he’s beginning to feel a taaadd bit underappreciated. As much as he’s disgruntled with Sheriff Absalom’s recent behavior on the job, he still has a bit of respect for the man and takes the work up in stride, despite the internal complaints. When something awful happens just a few chapters into the book, it shakes up not just Huey, but the entire town as well. 

The cases in this book mostly tie to a single one but the suspense is definitely there. The reader is pulled in and you become intrigued, constantly flipping to see how the story unfolds. You keep reading, seeing where the story is going. I managed to sort of guess who the culprit is pretty early on, but with a town so small as this, where everyone knows everyone’s business, the list was pretty sparse to begin with. 

The Sheriff has a handful of old characters coming back along with a few new ones. Amongst the new bunch is a state agent named Cynthia. Sharon, a lovely lady from the diner, is back and so is that sketchy pastor. There’s Buggy, the intimidating (but really a bit of a teddy) man who works on cars and I think he’s one of my favorite characters. There are a couple of older grumpy humans, there’s a “Daddy will pay my fine so I can go however fast I want” speeding brat of a teenager, there’s a drunkard who calls the bar his church, and a bunch more other colorful people. Fellowship might be small but damn there sure is an array of very interesting people there. 

The only thing I really dislike is that occasionally the dialogue feels a bit unrealistic and I have spent days on this, not really putting a solid finger to why it feels that way. When I read it out loud, throw an accent in there, and slow down, the text doesn’t feel half as bad as it does. It wasn’t so big of a thing until the 4th time I made the same remark of “Do people talk like this? People don’t talk like this.” Then, I’d read it out loud and go, “But maybe they do?” The closest I’ve gotten to why I feel the dialogue is a bit off is perhaps because sometimes the characters tend to ramble. It almost feels like the script to an NPC who is explaining something to the player character. It’s not a major deal of course, just something I made note of more than once as I went through the book.

HUEY. This man. I love and hate him. He’s the a bit of a jittery guy and in a way, I kind of appreciate that about him. In a world of superhuman cops that never seem fazed, he’s pretty normal. He’s distraught because of the terrible incident early in the book and it carries with him through the entire story (and I’m sure it’ll carry into book 3). He’s not focused, he can’t concentrate and starts like 5 tasks just to jump between them and that’s pretty accurate because when I’m very anxious I honestly do the same thing. As the book goes, you could almost see the rock slates, of each weird incident, just appear and stack on his back.

The problem? For a deputy…he’s quick to get annoyed and easy to bait. Once you get your hands on your fair share of a**holes, you start rolling your eyes and you’re not easy to rile up because then the power is in the hands of the person trying to bait you. Sometimes, he’s more of an emotional person than rational but maybe it’s because he’s practically on his last and dying nerve by the end of the book from everything that’s going on and the poor guy can’t catch a break 😦  

The plot gets interesting halfway on but, even in the beginning, the book is full of events. In a town of 1 Sheriff and 1 deputy, Huey is run ragged. I’d be as jittery and anxious of a cop as Huey, if I knew that there was probably no backup coming and you’re in the middle of a creepy house with thunder outside and the next neighbor forever away. 

All in all, the book was a pretty good read and I quite liked it. I screamed “OH HELLLL NO!” at the end because there were some [hell no worthy] events happening, by the last page, and not to mention it just leaves on a major cliffhanger. I can’t wait and I’m ready for book three to come out and I want to see justice being done! There was something Huey was involved in, in book 1, that was carried into The Sheriff. I feel like justice was not done and his secret remains veiled behind a thin transparent cloth, but it’s definitely coming up (I can FEEL it in my BONES). 

Fun note: The same illustrations and the same fun choice of fonts from the first book is back. The entire book is essentially in bold text and it’s fun because then the usual bold that writers use to place emphasis on words becomes an underline instead (because it’s already in bold!). The book is just as easy and smooth to read as the first and it really helped me in just chomping my way through it. 

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

Retro Thursday: See You At Harry’s Review

2021, Book Reviews, By Year

I’ve only had Cozy with Books for a little over a year but I’ve read many books before that and soooo…

Retro Thursday is where I go back to all the books I read prior to my blog and do a review…retrospectively!

Title: See You At Harry’s
Authors: Jo Knowles
Length: 320
Book Type: Physical > Paperback
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Obtained: School Book Fair

Blurb

Twelve-year-old Fern feels invisible. It seems as though everyone in her family has better things to do than pay attention to her: Mom (when she’s not meditating) helps Dad run the family restaurant; Sarah is taking a gap year after high school; and Holden pretends that Mom and Dad and everyone else doesn’t know he’s gay, even as he fends off bullies at school. Then there’s Charlie: three years old, a “surprise” baby, the center of everyone’s world. He’s devoted to Fern, but he’s annoying, too, always getting his way, always dirty, always commanding attention. If it wasn’t for Ran, Fern’s calm and positive best friend, there’d be nowhere to turn. Ran’s mantra, “All will be well,” is soothing in a way that nothing else seems to be. And when Ran says it, Fern can almost believe it’s true. But then tragedy strikes- and Fern feels not only more alone than ever, but also responsible for the accident that has wrenched her family apart. All will not be well. Or at least all will never be the same.

Review

A part of me thought that doing this review is kind of hard because when I read this it was probably back in 2014…for goodness sakes, it was so old, I had obtained this book at the high school book fair! I’ve gone and graduated college for a good few years now! And yet…the emotions I felt in this book are still so raw and so real. I still remember the overall plot. I still remember the empty and aching feeling in my chest. This book was one of the first books that made me bawl my eyes out (as discreetly as I could because I was at school!) I picked it up during a lunch break and was done by the time the final school bell rang, but not before annihilate many boxes of tissues.

The characters and the grief felt in the family is so real and so tragic. It felt even more real because at that time, I was still part of the family restaurant business and I understood and connected so well to that feeling of being busy and not always getting the proper attention of the parents, but that the parents were also doing their best to mind their children. Nobody is perfect, not in these fictional characters and not in real life. There’s the doing homework while the phone rang, the helping out where you could help until you were old enough to part-time at the store, the bustle of restaurant life, the family business whom the patreons grew to adore the children of.

All of the characters were amazing and Harry was absolutely a delight; a sweet and innocent child that just glows! The book goes through tragedy separately, as characters, and then together. Nearly all the characters grew and had their own stories within this book; their own hurdles to cross as they overcome other challenges in their personal lives.

This book is unforgettable because after all these years, I can still recount the vivid emotions that this book brought me. Heart wrenching and then heart warming, Jo has spun a beautiful tale that lasted me all these years and never has quite let me go; a true rollercoaster of a story that focuses on the family, tragedy and grief, and love.

Bibliomysteries Volume 1 [Book Review]

2021, Book Reviews, By Year

Title: Bibliomysteries Volume 1
Authors: Jeffery Deaver, C.J. Box, Ken Bruen, Reed Farrel Coleman, Peter Blauner, Thomas H. Cook, Loren D. Estlemen, William Link, Laura Lippman, Anne Perry, Mickey Spillane & Max Allan Collins, Andrew Taylor, and David Bell
Length: 12 hours 48 minutes
Book Type: Audiobook
Narrated by: Daniel Thomas May
Publisher: HighBridge Audio
Obtained: NetGalley
Average Rating: (Breakdown below): 3.8/5 [4 Stars]

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinons are my own.

Mini Note: HEY! I found a way to do both of my two favorite hobbies at the same time: reading and gaming! Via Audiobooks! Ahh technology *.*

My first audiobook from Netgalley and the first without written words. I rarely read/listen to audiobooks that aren’t backed up by written words so that I could visually and audibly follow along (because I’m so easily distracted), but after I got into the groove of it, it wasn’t so bad and I even turned up the speed a notch or two.

Blurb

A must-listen collection of fourteen bibliomysteries by bestselling and award-winning authors. Bibliomysteries Volume 1 includes: - "An Acceptable Sacrifice" by Jeffery Deaver - "The Final Testament" by Peter Blauner - "What's in a Name?" by Thomas H. Cook - "Book Club" by Loren D. Estleman - and many others

Review

This audiobook is a lovely little collection of short stories with a single theme; all of the shorts are related to books. Whether it’s a story about a book collection being the major weakness of a man, someone being kidnapped to help steal books, three shady fellows fighting over a creepy scroll that has the potential to cause catastrophic damage to the history that we know of, decades worth of lies revolving around a book, or being murdered over a book, it’s going to have something to do with books. Not all of the shorts are specifically “mysteries” as one story borders closer to historical fiction conversations, but there are a great deal of ones that do have a hint of mystery in them.

The narrator for this audiobook is Daniel Thomas May and he does a fantastic job at reading. I sped things up towards the end, but even then I slowed it back down at least once per book to hear his many different voices. His many different voices and accents are exceptional and at least one of his lines have moved me to tears because you could hear the emotions behind that character.

Most of the stories were pretty decent and some were very good. I didn’t care for a couple, but in overall, I did enjoy this reading quite a lot. I actually downloaded this off of NG a WHILE back (December 22nd) but only recently got into listening to it. Bibliomysteries has accompanies many of my daily [walking] commutes back home. Being not too far, I only get a few “pages” or minutes in until one day, I just sped it up at work (listen…I somehow missed that function…) and got a bunch of the stories in at once.

Breakdown by books

The ratings are broken down by books/titles below, some with micro 1-sentence reviews

  1. “An Acceptable Sacrifice” by Jeffrey Deaver 🌟 4 || Interesting with continual twists resulting in an ending I expected, but also didn’t.
  2. “Pronghorns of the Third Reich” by C.J. Box 🌟 3.5
  3. “The Book of Virtue” by Ken Bruen 🌟 2
  4. “The Book of Ghosts” by Reed Farrell Coleman 🌟 4 || An interesting story about a lie spun so intricately, it falls out of the control of the protagonist resulting in more lies to cover up the old.
  5. “The Final Testament” by Peter Blaumer 🌟 4 || More of an imaginary conversation between Freud and a very unwelcome visitor; not so much of a mystery but a historical fiction.
  6. “What’s in a Name” by Thomas H. Cook 🌟 3.5
  7. “Book Club” by Lauren D. Estleman 🌟 3.5
  8. “Death Leaves a Bookmark” by William Link 🌟 4.5
  9. “The Book Thing” by Laura Lippman 🌟 5 || I quite enjoyed this one!
  10. “The Scroll” by Anne Perry 🌟 5 || Eerily confusing in an almost supernatural way. My favorite story here.
  11. “It’s In the Book” by Mickey Spillane and Max Allen Collins 🌟 3
  12. “The Long Sonata of the Dead” by Andrew Taylor 🌟 3
  13. “Rides a Stranger” by David Bell 🌟 4.5 || A really nice story that wraps the whole audiobook up nicely.

Quotes

Book 5: “The Final Testament”

” I will die very soon. You, will die sometime after that, probably not in as much pain, which is as good a proof as any that there is not a fair and just God. And long after we are both gone, there will still be good and bad men and good and bad books.”

Book 9: “The Book Thing”

“It’s just as much fun as it looks to live in a house made of books. It’s what’s in the book that matters.”

Book 9: “The Book Thing”

“How many of these books would be out of print in five, ten year. What did it mean to be out of print in a world where books could live inside devices, glowing like captured denies, desperate to get back out in the world and grant people’s wishes.”

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