Book Review: Greek Key by K.B. Spangler

 

GK Cover

Buy it HERE from K.B.’S A Girl and Her Fed Store (I imagine she gets more for it here).

Buy it HERE on Amazon (Because sometimes it is simply easier)

So, I have talked about the A Girl and Her Fed universe before. If you read any of my reviews about the Rachel Peng books, then you will be running into some familiar faces here.

We have Speedy and Hope as the primary protagonists this time around. Rachel’s not the focus here and we are, instead, introduced to the universe through Hope’s eyes and seeing her try to solve a mystery that has a lot more to do with the origins of how OACET and the ghosts work in the A Girl and Her Fed universe.

I’m not spoiling much in this review, but if you haven’t read A Girl and Her Fed yet, you might want to back out and go read it before you read on because some of this will go into spoilage as to how the rules of the Universe there work.

SPOILER TAG

SPOILER TAG

SPOILER TAG

The main mystery revolves around an artifact, a piece of the Antikythera mechanism, that is commented on in both the comic and in the Peng novels. They have a piece of a machine that is out of place and out of time for the development of the period. Hope, Speedy, and the Ghost of Benjamin Franklin (I’m not sure if that’s a title or not…maybe I’ll tweet the author to ask) have been discussing the limits of how a ghost can work and how time flows in the A Girl And Her Fed (AGAHF for short) universe.

It boils down to this: ghosts can move backward and forward in time. However, this requires a great deal of power. A ghost gets its power from his/her effect on the world. Also, a ghosts power appears to be limited to the culture in which it was created. This means that most ghosts are quite limited in their power.  Benjamin Franklin’s ghost is very powerful in the United States (as are the other ghosts of the Founding Fathers. And Lincoln…oh dear lord, Lincoln). However, when Hope travels outside of the U.S., Franklin can’t follow / can’t manifest  (side-note: given his years in Europe, I wonder if he can manifest there as well…).

We already know from AGAHF that Franklin can time travel. He did it to help Hope play the stock market so she didn’t have to focus on gaining money and could instead prepare for the coming of OACET and Sparky and a few other slightly more world shattering elements coming to the U.S. (and the world) than whether or not she could pay the bills.  Of course she originally thought he was a drug induced hallucination, but that would be getting off topic and into AGAHF rather than Greek Key.

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I’ll just leave this here as an explanation Image is Copyright (C) K.B. Spangler

 

The point being, his power lets him jump forward in time and, unlike many ghosts, he can bring back elements of what he finds in the future. In the comic, he brings back a ring that is linked to OACET so she can call in help from Sparky whenever she needs it. This takes a tremendous amount of power and the ring is only a small thing.

The mechanism piece? It’s a bit bigger. Which means a lot more power would be needed. Not only that, but we’re looking at a time jump that would make Doc Brown jealous.

And without a DeLorean.

Or a Flux Capacitor.

This machine piece that they have found, however, appears to have come from someone a bit more…universal. Think mathematics. Like Universal mathematics.

It’s Archimedes. Yes, that Archimedes.

I told you it was Universal Mathematics.

This has everyone baffled and a bit worried as it was found in a stash that was being supervised by the main antagonist of AGAHF.

Hope, being one of the few who knows the ghost connection in OACET, decides to investigate and she takes along Mike. The pair are psychic and are able to use that ability to tap into the ghost spectrum – though neither is particularly good at it. You do what you can with what you have.

Then we run into an archaeologist, Atlas, (who’s probably not on the up-and-up) and his sister, Darling (who’s definitely not on the up-and-up) and they get involved in examining the mystery as well.

Helen of Troy also ends up entangled.

It’s…complicated.

The story is also a lot of fun. As a fan of AGAHF, I got a lot of satisfaction out of reading the story. Hope is a fun character and Speedy is a highlight as well. They play their typical roles, but those roles are written quite well.

Hope is a strong protagonist. It is immediately obvious that she is in charge of herself and her choices; there’s no damsel in distress here. No one is ‘letting’ her do the things that she does. She is doing them through her action and through her conscious choice. It’s a good message and one that shouldn’t have to be said, but I’m pointing it out because that message is often lost in other media and stories. Hope’s a character that is strong on her own and she happens to be female.

Speedy is still a hyper-intelligent Koala. I don’t really feel the need to elaborate there, but he is enjoyable. However, I’m a Speedy fan and I hear there are those that disagree with him. That’s your choice – I can assure you that he doesn’t care in the slightest.

The mystery of Archimedes’ machine is the central plot of the story and its practically a character in and of itself. The jumping and shifting of ideas and ‘OK, that didn’t work, next plan’ is a lot of fun.

For me this book had a lot to tell. It establishes quite a bit of the rules for the AGAHF universe. The world building is fascinating and I enjoyed those elements a lot.

My major complaint comes from only two elements. My first is Hope’s attraction to Atlas. It seems overplayed and not especially relevant to the plot. I get that it is part of the character of Hope to be easily distracted, but I just did not like the Atlas bit at all. It’s a personal element, but I feel it detracts from Hope’s character to have that be a focus of her distractions. The rest of her jumps, however, are hilarious and/or plot related and I enjoyed them, but the Atlas ones didn’t ping right for me. Maybe it’s my sense of humor.

Which brings me to Atlas himself. As a character and an antagonist (I won’t go far enough to call him a villain) he’s in the gray area. It could be argued that he’s not even really an antagonist so much as a stumbling point. He’s a pretty face and something for Hope to get distracted by given his amazing Mediterranean body and that’s pretty much it. There is some effort at characterization by having him have a rivalry with his sister, but it doesn’t come off as particularly effective. His reveal and subsequent plot related items come off as convenient and/or out of place when reading and that appeared to defeat the purpose of having him in play. He helps the plot along and gives Hope a few things to think about, but it doesn’t really bring out anything new or interesting in the characters and so he falls flat.

On the whole, though, Greek Key is a strong novel with an interesting mystery. Hope, Mike, and Speedy make up for the lack of a traditional antagonist by fighting with the mystery surrounding the Archimedes device. The solution is a fascinating twist and turn as Spangler develops her world and reveals new and fascinating bits about how the world works in her universe of ghosts and government. For AGAHF fans, this will be a lot of fun. For inductees and those new to the universe, it will be an exciting adventure with a strong protagonist and companions that will lead you into a complex and fun world.

Characters: 4.0 / 5
Plot: 5 / 5
Action: 4 / 5
Value: 5 / 5
Writing: 5 / 5

Overall: 4.2 / 5

 

 

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Book Review – Veiled Eyes

Lake People

Click HERE to buy Veiled Eyes (Lake People) from Amazon.com

Veiled eyes is a peculiar book. It’s not quite 100% romance, it’s not quite 100% mystery, it’s not quite 100% paranormal. It’s an odd mix of conventions that, often, pays off.

The story revolves around Anna St. Thais – an orphan who knew little of her father or her mother. She was, instead, raised in an orphanage of her namesake. When a trucker kidnaps her to rape and murder her, Anna is rather surprised to hear voices in her head – voices which respond and manage to rescue her. It turns out that Anna, and her lineage, are telepathic and she managed to communicate with a small, hidden community of similarly powered individuals that live in the South. From there, Anna learns to be a part of the community while still trying to understand the people she shares blood with as well as answer some nagging questions about her abilities – and her past.

Anna is an interesting narrator and protagonist. The author does an excellent job working her out to be both realistic and interesting. She is fun to experience the world through as well as to delve in to in depth. Anna’s innate sense of curiosity is accented by her doggedness to answer the questions that she develops about the community.

The author’s true love, however, is with the Cajun culture and the land of the south. You are literally swimming in it throughout the novel and it quickly becomes evident that the author is an expert – either through life experience or extensive research. She clearly loves the culture and land of the south and it shows in her exploration of it through Anna’s eyes. She even makes Anna an outsider to start with so that you get that feeling of what it might be like to be exposed to such a diverse place through the eyes of a similar outsider. I have no idea how a reader from the south might react to the descriptions and ideals explored in this novel, but, as a Michigander, I enjoyed it immensely when I could understand.

That being said, sometimes the descriptions of the local flavor are too extensive or mired in their imagery, making it hard for a non-native to track precisely what the author is going for. This does not happen often, but it happens often enough so as to detract from the reading experience.

The only major obstacle that I experienced in reading the book is the pacing. Things move quickly, which in a thriller or a mystery can be a good thing. Unfortunately, this backfired at the climax of the story – we got to the Climax and it appeared as though the individual responsible for the crimes Anna is pursuing came out of nowhere. There were a few hints, but not a lot of development on that end of the mystery part of the novel which made it feel a bit rushed and a bit too extended.

On the whole, veiled eyes is a lot of fun to read and worth it’s current price point (free) up to the ‘discount’ kindle rate of $2.99.

Writing: 4/5
Characterization: 4/5
Plot: 3/5
Flow: 3/5
Value: 3/5 (At Free)
Total rating: 3.6/5

Book Review – Crime Czar

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CLick Here to purchase Crime Czar: A Hard Boiled New Orleans Legal Thriller (Tubby Dubonnet #5)

Please Note: This is Book 5 in a series and was free when I was searching the Kindle store. I have since gone back with my Premium membership to read the first four in the series to see if what I read in #5 was consistent among the other novels and also see if it made #5 make more sense.

Tubby Dubonnet is not your typical New Orleans lawyer. He’s a bit on the crooked side and a bit of a sleaze but he has a wonderful sense of humor and camaraderie with his friends and allies. At least according to the excerpts and Publishers Weekly reviews he does. Personally, I found Tubby to be a rather slapdash character with very little likeable to him excepting his penchant for getting in to situations he has no real business being in.

Billed as a ‘Legal Thriller’ series, I was expecting something more Courtroom Drama than poor CSI. The description of each of the books paints a wonderful picture of a dynamic character with a great deal of interesting characteristics. Tubby is a ‘maverick’ a ‘gambler’ and a person who ‘fights evil to pass the time.’

I must have been reading the wrong series.

This story is a confusing group of plots and subplots all coming together to try and form something coherent. Tubby has been hunting for the ‘Crime Czar’ – a criminal mastermind behind everything that has been going on in his territory (New Orleans). This mastermind is responsible for organizing and assigning crimes as well as covering them up and keeping things from collapsing in on themselves. He is utterly convinced that if he can bust this crime overlord he can take care of most of his home turf’s problems.

Meanwhile a hooker with a heart of gold is having issues of her own when she crosses over in to organized crime’s territory. She vows vengeance on the man who kills her ‘not-boyfriend’ and manages to get a gun to do so. Meanwhile, Tubby’s thief , and sort-of girlfriend’ is visiting New Orleans with some jewels they stole in a previous story. All of this is happening during a re-election campaign WHILE Tubby sets up a trap for the Czar.

Yeah, there are a lot of threads to track.

Unfortunately, the setting, while authentic, is not very well used. The people speak with their dialects and accents as appropriate and do a fairly good job of sounding authentically New Orleans. However, that is about it for the characters. I find Tubby distasteful at best and downright slovenly at worst. He’s supposed to be an interesting person and a part of his community, but he comes off as being somewhat selfish and confused most of the time. Tubby doesn’t seem to know what is going on around him, which is frustrating for the reader since a lot of the time it’s Tubby’s perspective that is governing what we can see and interpret. Dunbar’s secondary characters are all 1-dimensional and easy to predict and see their purpose.

The plot is a confusing mish-mash of threads. Dunbar seems to be hinting that Tubby is on the right trail in his Crime Czar hunt, but nothing is really resolved within the book. There are dozens of candidates available and only one is satisfactorily resolved as to whether or not he is the one behind the crime in New Orleans. The rest are examined very vaguely. That is the main plotline of the story. The sub-plots are half-hazzardly placed within the story and very little is done with it. Tubby’s assistance on a campaign for judge, for instance, is mentioned and focused on for perhaps 10 pages total and is the center of the humor for this particular story. Unfortunately, this sub plot gets so lost in the shuffle that the reader is barely able to track it. Some organization and focus would be very helpful.

All in all, at ‘Free’ its an OK choice to spend some hours on the novel, but I would not spend any real money.

Writing: 3/5
Characterization: 2.5/5
Plot: 3/5
Flow: 2/5
Value: 3/5 (At Free)
Total rating: 3.2/5

Book Review – Maker Space (Rachel Peng)

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Click HERE to buy Maker Space

(I’ve already written once about K.B. Spangler’s authorial efforts. Check out my review of “The Russians Came Knocking” to find out a bit more about this excellent writer and her universe.)

Maker Space picks up pretty quickly in the universe of ‘A Girl and Her Fed’ as well as Digital Divide. Digital Divide is the first of Spangler’s books in the series and takes care of the majority of world building necessary to understand the intricacies of her universe. Allow me to sum up:

Essentially the United States Government decided to input chips in to people’s heads that allowed them to interact with machines. ANY machine that uses electronic processing –from cell phones to power stations to laptops – can interact with this chip. It’s an amazing piece of technology and the Government wanted to use it as a sort of secret weapon. Instead the users who didn’t go insane banded together and outed the effort forming OACET – the Office of Adaptive and Complementary Enhancement Technologies – without asking permission. Things go steadily interesting from there.

Rachel Peng is one of these OACET agents and she seems to get stuck with all of the ‘fun’ jobs. This time she is investigating a bombing that occurred in our nation’s capitol – an investigation that seems to be pointing at our own military as being responsible. Throughout the book we follow Rachel’s investigation as well as her thoughts and interactions with the community. Spangler does an excellent job of conveying the different personalities and interactions that people have with their ‘new’ cyborg brethren.

The novel is an interesting one and Peng is an interesting protagonist. While Digital Divide offered an interesting premise, I would argue that many of the characters involved, including Peng herself, were a bit on the flat side and, occasionally, repetitive. This has been fixed tremendously in Maker Space. Now that Spangler has established the universe, she gets to play with the characters and their morals.
That play is where the majority of the novel takes place. Yes, it’s a procedural story, but the characters and their interactions are at the heart of it and those interactions are fascinating. You have Peng as our filter to see the world through and the irony of her being blind is not lost on the reader. We’re only seeing what she can see, and what she can see is, in many ways, more intimate than what a sighted person can – even though many organizations would not see it that way.

We also meet a number of her colleagues in the police department (she’s a liaison between OACET and the DC police) and Spangler does a good job of differentiating the different officers and agents that Peng interacts with. Of special interest is Peng’s partner in the police. He is one of the few people that Rachel has trusted with her secret of being blind and also one of the few that she listens to an has direct admiration for. He’s also a maker, a term I haven’t heard before but appears to be based on actual spaces spread around the country. That Spangler has found this community and woven it in to the story. It is done with a great deal of respect, but not fawning – a delicate balance for a creator to reach and make feel authentic. Spangler’s authenticity comes through quite well. It helps to have a charming person like Santino to experience the community with and through.

There are also a number of ‘extras’ that pop in and out throughout the investigation. It’s the usual group of suspects, informants, and plot developers and each is interesting in their own ways. They don’t get the full on development that Santino and Peng get, but they each have their motives and personalities. They aren’t supposed to be as well developed as Santino and Peng, but they can be just as entertaining and interesting as the pair.(A few of the ‘cameos’ from her webcomic are slighted slightly in development, but that makes sense – they are supposed to be cameos and their development is left to Spangler’s webcomic.)

On the whole, this is an excellent book and is a fascinating read for fans of ‘A Girl and Her Fed’ and an even more exciting read for those that are not. It stands excellently on its own and is a great investigation novel. I enjoyed it tremendously and look forward to the next installment.

Writing: 5/5
Characterization: 5/5
Plot: 4.5/5
Flow: 4/5
Value: 5/5
Total rating: 4.85/5

Click HERE to buy Digital Divide (Book 1 of the Rachel Peng Novels)
Click HERE to buy Maker Space (Book 2 in the Rachel Peng Novels)
Click HERE to buy The Day the Russians Came Knocking (A Side Story to the Rachel Peng Novels)

Book Review – Ethan Justice (Origins)

Ethan Justice – Origins
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It’s a suspenseful thriller. Seriously!

As the title implies, Ethan Justice: Origins is a series starter. It doesn’t start out like a lot of crime fiction origins do – or at least any of the ones I read. Instead, it starts off with John trying to figure out how he bagged the gorgeous woman next to him. While he can’t remember, that is the least of his worries. He can’t pay her and she’s not happy about that fact. Outside of his apartment a pair of government agents are watching and commentating on the ‘action’ while they search for a lost weapon that one of the pair is attached to.

Things go steadily downhill from there. We won’t even get in to the problem with the nuclear powered devices running around or the surprising item you’ll find near police cruisers. It all makes the book more exciting.

The pacing in the story fits with most thrillers – it just keeps thrusting event after event at you in an attempt to make it feel like a story to never put down. For the most part, that pacing works. There are a few scenes that could have been sped up, but it does give the reader some breathing room. It works fairly well and when things really get going you won’t notice the pages turn.

John and Savannah are the primary characters and there is a lot to them. They are not simple characters and there are some interesting pieces that are played in to them to give them character. John, in particular, has an interesting sense of humor and of observation. He is also a distinguished liar and pulls off some of the best bamboozles I’ve read in a long time. Meanwhile Savannah is still trying to make things work in her mind with her family. There is a lot of fun to both characters and a surprising amount of depth – even if you ignore the fairly predictable. Yes, a number of the less essential characters are closer to sock puppets than full on characters but at least they are fun sock puppets.
On the whole, this is a good series. It is fun to read and the characters are well developed as is the setting and the plot. Grab this one while you can!

Overall Rating: 4.5/5
Writing: 5/5
Characterization: 5/5
Setting: 4/5
Story: 4/5
Flow: 4/5
Value: 5/5 (Free), 4/5 (Standard Listing)

Book Review: The Russians Came Knocking: A Josh Glassman Novel

Cover from Amazon for "The Russians Came Knocking"
Cover from Amazon for “The Russians Came Knocking”

I’m a big fan of “A Girl and Her Fed” – the webcomic universe that this book is based in, so don’t pretend that this is entirely unbiased.

The story is a pretty simple afair. Without too many spoilers – someone is trying kill a tenant in Josh Glassman’s building. He has a few problems with his condo, but puts them aside to aide the tenant. Josh offers protection and things go from there in a series of interesting plot twists and turns. The book, if it was a website, would be rated NSFW for a few of the chapters that are included.

Overall, this is a good story and it fits well in the universe. It doesn’t feel quite as polished or developed as “Digital Divide”, the first novel effort by Ms. Spangler. The writing is a little more generic and not as exciting. The sex chapters, which fit extremely well with the character of Josh, feel a bit forced. I know it was a big part of the draw according to the previews posted on the website and they are fun to read. Much better than a number of other scenes of a similar nature that I have read. It is only their insertion that feels forced.

On the whole, I strongly recommend this as a purchase. It’s a good read and completely and totally worth the price especially for fans of Ms. Spangler’s universe and A Girl and Her Fed. Go ahead and click here to purchase it from Amazon.

Writing: 5/5
Characterization: 5/5
Plot: 4/5
Flow: 4/5
Value: 5/5

Total rating: 4.5/5

Book Review – Dying to Get Published

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B004GB0MG6/ref=kinw_myk_ro_title

AND SO WE BEGIN!

So, you’re a writer (hey, who these days isn’t?) and the literary agent you sent your manuscript to took a year to reject it. In the meantime, you continue to write and cater. Sounds about right for most of us ‘unpublished’ writers and it’s true for our protagonist Jennifer Marsh as well.

Things take a bit of a turn, however, when Jennifer sees a news report about a killer that has been apprehended who has received a book deal to explain to the public the how and why of what he did. Jennifer, seeing this as an easy way to get some free publicity (and possibly a book deal) decides that she has to find someone to murder to ensure her fifteen minutes of fame. There are some requirements however and, after some soul searching, her eye falls on the literary agent who had kept her in suspense for a year.

Of course the agent ends up dead but Jennifer ends up not going through with the murder. Due to her planning, however, she’s the one accused and things go steadily downhill from there.

Which is the premise of the novel. It takes a while for the story to get there, but not so long as to make it suffering to read through. Jennifer Marsh as a protagonist is OK. She’s a little too bubbly, a little too trusting, and a little too oblivious for me to really identify with her, but I like my protagonists a little more serious in general, so I won’t hold that against her.

The writing style itself is quick and simple. Fitzwater does not waste a lot of time on extra words or hard to follow names – a blessing as far as I am concerned. It makes the story read quickly and fairly easily. At one point Fitzwater is juggling four or so plot threads and things get a bit jumbled and hard to follow, but she does manage to unwravel the knot before the end of it in a logical manner. The actual villain of the story is pulled from a believable pool and the motivations of said character make sense and are present before the character is revealed as the murderer. While the ending was a trifle cliché, it worked in this case.

On the whole, Fitwater’s Dying to Get Published is a solid opener for the Jennifer Marsh mysteries and is certainly worth checking out at its current ‘free’ kindle price. I would even say at the $2.99 price of the sequels, this first in series would be worth the price.

Characters – 3/5 stars
Plot – 4/5 stars
Action – 3/5 stars
Word Count 5/5 stars
Price – 5/5 stars.
Overall summation 3.5 /5 stars.

Book Review – Killer Twist by C.A. Larmer

Killer Twist Cover

Killer Twist – A Ghostwriter Mystery (Book 1) – C.A. Larmer
While it opens like a rather mediocre episode of popular crime dramas such as CSI or NCIS, the occasional ‘break out’ moment of author Larmer make this an compelling choice for a new reader.

Killer Twist is an interesting find that happened to be free when I was done with my last Kindle reading choice. The cover design is what first attracted me to the novel and the ‘FREE’ price point didn’t make me hesitate.

If I can get reading material for free, I will probably take it. It’s one of my ‘problems’ that my wife and I have discussed in the past. Normally, stuff that I get for ‘free’ is garbage and I am told to throw it out. The wonderful thing about E-Books (and my Kindle App) is that, even if the novel is trash, it doesn’t take up room in my house. This makes my wife happy and, therefore, me happy.

Fortunalty, Killer Twist proved to be an interesting story. It opens, as is standard with many mysteries, with a short introduction to the first victim and then an introduction to our narrator Roxy Parker. Roxy is a ghostwriter (no, not the one from the TV show) who specializes in autobiographies. Her most recent customer, Beatrice Musgrave, apparently commits suicide shortly thereafter. Roxy, of course, doubts the police version of events and decides to mount an investigation of her own since something about the death just doesn’t add up in her mind.

In the course of her investigation she manages to discover several unknowns about Ms. Beatrice, including the possibility of an illegitimate child and an affair. Roxy also manages to become infatuated with her local friend, Max.

Yeah – it sounds like the opening to a rather bland episode of NCIS; you know the kind. One where Abby only gets about 5 minutes of screen time and we spend the rest of the episode watching Ziva and Tony flirt.

Fortunatly, Max makes up for this in being an interesting, if incompetent, character. She makes more mistakes than most of the detectives I read about in the genre. She falls for each of the ‘classic’ blunders at least once in the course of the story. But she handles them well and, occasionally, Larmer breaks out of the mold and does some fantastic introspection on Roxie’s part.

Those break-out points are what take this story out of the pile of mediocre that a new mystery can become and really makes them shine. Some of the insights Roxie shares takes her out of her ‘spunk’ and really gives us an interesting insight to a character whose depth is not really explored and whose capabilities are not really pushed or tested. When they are, Larmer either hits a high note and breaks out or takes a classic cliché and bumps it juuuuust far enough out of alignment to make it interesting. The split in this book, the first in a series, is about 50/50 which isn’t bad, but I’m hoping that future entries in the titles make it so that the ratio changes too favor these break outs.

On the whole, Killer Twist is a good set up and does the job of introducing the character well and establishing the ‘status’ of everything quickly and easily. It doesn’t move slowly, and it is always moving forward – a real plus on the whole. I highly recommend the book at its Kindle price of ‘FREE’ and would hold that recommendation until about the $3.00 point.

A Link to Purchasing the Product: Purchase on the Amazon Kindle Store