Tag Archives: entertainment

“Heart of Mystery”– Mark Laporta

Standard

Plot: 5/5       Characters: 5/5       Writing: 3/5        Entertainment: 5/5       World Building: 5/5

 

51wgxgwbihl-_sx331_bo1204203200_   When an unlikely intergalactic alliance comes to light, Ixdahan Daharek (AKA Derek) and his human best friend, Lena Gabrilowicz, must save not only the Earth this time, but the very fabric of space itself. Between their search for alien cookware, stopping a clone army, and calming down a moody robot, Ixdahan and Lena must also figure out their feelings for one another once and for all. But no pressure, right?

 

Guys. I love these books so much. Mark Laporta officially has a spot on my “Favorite Indie Authors of All Times” list and I haven’t even been reviewing for a full year yet. “Heart of Mystery” is just as funny, creative, zany, endearing, and memorable as “Heart of Earth,” if not more-so since it builds on such a great foundation.

 

Just like the first installment, the sci-fi elements are funny, colorful, and an absolute joy to read. Between the new, strange aliens and the action there’s never a dull moment, no matter what species Derek is around and, yet again Derek and his friends are some of the best teenagers I’ve ever read.

 

Laporta knows how to tap into the most universal aspects of being a teenager and bring them to life in the most outlandish situations. Derek and Lena not only grow as an individual characters, but as teenagers entering adulthood, which can be hard to capture, regardless of the YA subgenre.

 

I don’t want to give too much away, but I just want to give an example. There’s a scene where Derek is talking with another character about the gravity of his situation and what the adults are asking of him. The conversation turns to Derek himself and how important it is for him to stick to his morals, especially in a situation with such dire consequences.

 

That kind of message is so important for young people, especially in times like these. Not only that, but Laporta makes the world around Derek and his friends so much fun and exciting that the message is bound to stick. I know the scene itself will stick with me for a long time and I’m 24.

 

So, if you like bizarre worlds, even more bizarre conflicts, and wonderful characters, go read “Heart of Earth,” if you haven’t already, and read “Heart of Mystery” intermediately after, regardless of your age. Your inner kid will thank you. And don’t forget to look for the conclusion to Derek’s adventures in “Mirror at the Heart of Time,” set to be released this summer!   

Bad Bloods: November Rain– Shannon A. Thompson

Standard
Bad Bloods: November Rain– Shannon A. Thompson

Plot: 4/5       Characters: 3/5       Writing: 3/5       Entertainment: 4/5       World Building: 4/5

“Bad Bloods” is a solid work of dystopian YA that will delight any fan of the genre. It also includes an angle that is too often overlooked by other authors in the category.

Serena was born a bad blood–a person with strange unique powers. In the city of Vendona, that’s an automatic death sentence. Before Serena can be executed, a prison guard helps her escape, setting into motion a chain of events that will determine Vendona’s political future and every bad blood’s right to be seen as human.

While I can’t say “Bad Bloods” is particularly original–we’ve seen a lot of stories like this in the past ten years or so–I think it still works. The plot is engaging, the characters are interesting and the bad bloods’ powers are unique. What really sets “Bad Bloods” apart is a world building aspect many dystopian YA seem to forget:

The political climate of “Bad Bloods” is eerily similar to our own.

This past election year has been hard on everyone and I don’t want to focus on it too much (this is a book review, after all), but it’s hard to deny that the question of who gets what fundamental rights has been front and center lately. When I realized that “Bad Bloods” dealt with a very similar dilemma, I got chills and made me want to read on.

I’m not sure if Thompson meant for the major conflict to come across like that, but that’s how I interpreted it and I think it makes “Bad Bloods” stand out in the dystopian YA genre for the better.

If you liked books such as “Hunger Games,” “Divergent,” or even James Patterson’s “Maximum Ride,” I’d definitely say you should check out “Bad Bloods.” It has all the things dystopian readers love about the genre, plus an extra kick. So, if you’ve got some free time over the New Year’s holiday, head over to Amazon and check out “Bad Bloods” for yourself.

Indiana Belle–John A. Heldt

Standard
Indiana Belle–John A. Heldt

Don’t miss your chance to get Indiana Belle for free on Chirstmas on Amazon!

Plot: 4/5       Characters: 5/5       Writing: 4/5       Entertainment: 5/5       World Building: 5/5

This is the second novel of Mr. Heldt’s that I’ve read and I’m beginning to think he can do no wrong. His dedication to portraying history in all of it’s nuances, layers, difficulties, and beauty is admirable and his ability to craft brilliant and unique stories shines across the lines of genre and time alike.

When Cameron Coelho began his doctoral dissertation, he never expected to find a photograph of the beautiful Candice Bell, nor did he expect to fall in love with her. The possibility of stepping back in time to save her from an untimely death in 1925 never even entered his wildest dreams until he met her distant cousin, Geoffrey Bell, who just so happens to know how to time travel.

When I first read the description for this book, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. As some one who doesn’t usually like romance, I didn’t expect much. I figured Heldt’s world building would be just as good as “The Mine,” but the plot would be a passable indie love story as best.

Oh, boy. Was I ever wrong.

I was right about the world building, at least. Heldt continues to floor me with his expertly crafted depiction of the past. Not only does he paint wonderful, creditable scenes with his words, but he captures the 1920’s in it’s entirety. Yes, the Roaring Twenties were new and exciting, but it wasn’t all jazz and flapper dresses for everyone. I don’t want to give anything away because I really want everyone to check out this book, but as someone who’s biracial–White and Black–I really appreciate the other half of my heritage being acknowledged in this time period. I feel like the experience of Black Americans is often over-looked when talking about history outside of the Civil Rights Era, so I really appreciate that Heldt included that experience and handled it well.

Not only is the history well done, but it’s woven in with the story beautifully. The two work together to create a unique and unforgettable narrative with plenty of twists, turns, and a climax that will have your heart racing and pages turning.

And then there’s Candice. Oh my days, is Candice Bell a delight. Anytime she’s in a scene she absolutely steals the show. She captures the sense of independence that the 20’s are so often associated with, but still stands out as her own own character, making her the strong female protagonist romance novels so often try to create, yet so often fall short of doing, in my opinion. In fact, if you writing romance, or if you find you struggle to write women regardless of genre (which is a longer conversation for another day), check out Indiana Belle for Candice alone. She’s worth it.

So, whatever you usually read–romance, historical fiction, mystery, sci-fi, you name it–take a break and get whisked away to the 1920’s with Indiana Belle no time travel required.

Emerald Child (Kalika Magic Book 1)–Karen Hughes

Standard
Emerald Child (Kalika Magic Book 1)–Karen Hughes

Plot: 3/5       Characters: 4/5       Writing: 3/5       Entertainment: 4/5       World Building: 4/5

Fun, whimsical, and just a tad nostalgic, Emerald Child is a great fantasy adventure for young readers.

Far away on a secret island, Indie as grown up in hiding surrounded with burning questions and no questions. When smoke starts to rise from a mysterious chest, Indie thinks it must hold more questions, but it actually holds all the answers: who she is, where she’s from, and, most shockingly, the role she plays in saving a magical kingdom.

Hughes has done a brilliant job crafting a story that no doubt will capture young fantasy lovers and their parents alike. Indie is a wonderful, strong, capable girl–something I’m always excited to see in books meant for young readers–her supporting cast is fun and memorable and the adventure whisks you away from start to finish.

It reminds me of all the Studio Ghibli movies I watched as a kid, which is what make me think kids today would really enjoy it. It’s clean enough to be age appropriate, yet just dangerous enough to feel like there’s real weight behind characters’ choices. It’s whimsical and fun, but clever enough to treat kids like they’re smart.

If I really had to nit-pick, I’d say my only real complaint is that type of narrative Emerald Child goes on a well-worn path. It’s one that’s been used in a ton of fantasy novels, both for children and adults, over the years, which made it a bit predictable. However, given that it’s a book for kids, odds are they haven’t been as exposed to all the tropes yet, so they’ll still enjoy it well enough. Even if they can see what’s going on, there’s enough fun stuff here for them to still enjoy the ride.

So, if you have a young one in your life that loves to read, or you want to introduce to the love of reading, Emerald Child might make a good gift. It’s fun enough to get them to pick the book up and exciting enough to convince them to never put it down.

The Mine–John A. Heldt

Standard
The Mine–John A. Heldt

Plot: 3/5       Characters: 3/5        Writing: 3/5       Entertainment: 4/5       World Building: 5/5

Well researched and brilliantly executed, The Mine is a vivid, memorable step back in time with a love story that could rival The Notebook (Pen Possessed).

In the year 2000, Joel Smith enters an abandoned mine in Montana out of simple curiosity. Thirty minutes later he emerges in the year 1941. With a band of colorful friends at his side, including his 21-year-old grandmother, Joel must carve a new life for himself or find a way home, but when a beautiful young woman named Grace walks into his life, making that decision becomes far more difficult.

Overall, I would say that The Mine works. The characters are believable and interesting enough to care about, both Joel and Grace are likable people, so I really did want to see them together, and with WWII right around the corner, how could you not be on the edge of your seat waiting for the other shoe to drop? My only real complaint was there wasn’t enough of that other shoe, so to speak. The Mine had a ton of potential thanks to number of well-written characters and the conflicts they’re bound to face and, as someone who loves history, I would have loved to see more about how they faced them. But, at the same time, I realize The Mine is a romance, so it’s only natural that the focus is more on Joel and Grace than the others, so the complaint really is a personal one rather than any sort of shortcoming on Heldt’s part.

And, speaking of history, that’s really where The Mine shines. The attention to detail and the obvious research that went into this book is remarkable and had me hooked more than the story itself. In fact, if you’re a writer and need to work with world building at all, whether via realism or fantasy, I highly recommend checking this book out, even if it’s not your typical genre. It’s a brilliant example of how to pull it all together and just how much it lends credibility to your story. When Joel is in 1941, it really feels like he’s in 1941.

So, over all, The Mine is good. While I would have liked more from the side character’s thoughts and experiences as WWII closes in, it still held my attention and the construction of America in 1941 is brilliantly done. Some of the other reviewers have compared The Mine to Nicholas’ Sparks works, so, if you’re a fan of romance, or a fan of history, definitely add it to your list and take a trip with Joel through The Mine.

A Creature of Many Faces: The Aswang of the Philippines

Standard
A Creature of Many Faces: The Aswang of the Philippines

Deep within the jungles and city allies of the Philippines lurks a creature rather unknown in the West, but believed in by an estimated 80% of the populationIts method of feeding and favorite foods vary from island to island, but none of the options are pretty. In some places it’ll suck your blood like a vampire. In others, it’ll use its long tube-like tongue to suck out your entrails or unborn children. If you’re lucky, it’ll wait until you’re a corpse, steal your body, and eat your heart and liver. In many regions its torso can rip away from its lower body and fly away, making it as horrifying as it is deadly.

This creature of many methods of horror is the aswang.

While the origins of the aswang are rooted soundly in Philippine folklore and tribal religion, belief and fear of the creature took off once Spanish missionaries arrived. Babalang,  or medicine men and women, were labeled as aswang to make people flock to the church out of fear. During the Spanish occupation, numerous rebellions were organized by women, who were also labeled aswang to discourage people from supporting their causes. Between the rebel leaders and the fact that babalang were most often women explains why the aswang usually has a female form, but not why there’s so much variation on what they they do or why they’re so prevalent even today.

The aswang is said to turn into so many different things that they’ve actually been categorized to keep them all straight. The usual kinds of aswang include humanoid, canine, porcine, avian (also known as the tiktik), and feline. Animals such as stray dogs, pigs, and cats are so common in the Philippines that it would be too late to tell if the creature is what it seems, or a blood-thirsty aswang.

Lucky for us, there are as many ways to defend yourself from an aswang as there are incarnations of it. If you’re religious, you could carry holy water or recite the Lord’s Prayer. If not, there’s always the option of garlic, gold silver, bronze, salt, or even sunlight. If you want to get really creative, you could stick a needle with a broken eye in the frame of your front door.

Unfortunately, all these things don’t stop aswang from stalking prey. Maria Labo, a woman who turned aswang and ate her children, apparently roams the province of Capiz, hoping to find more to eat. There’s even been reports of aswang attacking people as late as 2015.

So, be careful tonight. The aswang can look like anyone or anything. Their tell-tale signs are usually their blood-shot eyes and tangled hair, but that could just as easily be a person trick or treating or on their way to a Halloween party. The only way to be truly sure is to look into a person’s eyes. If your reflection is upside down, they are an aswang, but by then it’s probably too late, so investigate any possible aswang at your own risk.

Happy Halloween.

Image from cryptidchronicles.tumblr.com

Worst than Frost Bite: The Wendigo of North America’s Algonquian Tribes (Creature Feature 6)

Standard
Worst than Frost Bite: The Wendigo of North America’s Algonquian Tribes (Creature Feature 6)

I’m back! Ashley has been great, but I’m here to take the wheel once again. This time, with a particularly chilling creature.

Among the Algonquian peoples of northeastern North America lurks a creature that waits for the ice and snow of winter to stalk its prey. It creeps in the cold shadows, looking for its next meal or for a lost soul to turn into one of its own. While the creature’s name and physical description varies among tribes, it is most commonly known as the Wendigo and there are several things that everyone can agree on: it is big, it is nasty, and it is hungry.

The Wendigo is said to be a cannibalistic evil spirit looking for travelers who lose their way due to the severe and ever-changing winter of its forest home. Due to its enormous size and the sacristy of victims the Wendigo is never satisfied, no matter much it eats. Its constant hunger has made its existence a cautionary tale against excessive greed and gluttony in addition to being a creature that haunts the woods.

Probably the best discription of the Wendigo comes from Basil Johnson, an Ojibwe teacher and scholar from Ontario. He describes the Wendigo as, “gaunt to the point of emaciation…its complexion the ash gray of death, and its eyes pushed back deep into their sockets…What lips it had were tattered and bloody [and it] gave off the strange and eerie odor of decay and decomposition, of death and corruption.” That doesn’t sound like something I’d want to meet in the woods.

Even if you’re lucky enough to avoid the Wendigo in the winter months, it’s still best to use caution while traveling. What if your car breaks down in the middle of a snow storm and you don’t have the proper clothing to go get help? What if you find yourself trapped, maybe for days? What if your travel companion starts looking pretty tasty? If the temptation proves to be too much, you just might find yourself turning into a Wendigo.

Good thing for an abundance of gas stations these days, eh?

Alternatively, it’s said that anyone who becomes too greedy and self-serving is at risk for becoming possessed by a Wendigo. While you won’t look like the nasty creature that Johnson describes, sharing head space with such a nasty creature doesn’t sound any more enjoyable.

With the morals tied to Wendigo’s existence, both the culturally specific one about cannibalism as well as the universal one about greed, it’s easy to brush the Wendigo as a simple story used to teach a lesson, even with its apparent sighting. But the Wendigo has a few added dimensions to its tale. Much like the demons of Western Christianity, the Wendigo has had nasty influences on communities over the years, even if it doesn’t leave behind physical signs.

At the beginning of the 20th Century, Jack Fiddler, a member of the Cree tribe, was tried for the murder of a woman he claims was possessed by a Wendigo. According to his testimony, Fiddler killed 14 creatures before he was finally arrested. Some years before Fiddler’s case, a man named Swift Runner reportedly killed and ate his family during a particularly nasty Alberta winter.

Unlike most of these other monsters, many of you are probably safe from the Wendigo. Even if you live within its borders, winter is still some time away, despite the snow that might fall in October. However, I still encourage caution. Between all the candy, treats, and other indulgences of the season, Halloween is a holiday famous for its excess and gluttony. I’d hate to hear of anyone turning into the first candy-based Wendigo.

Image from offbeat.wiki.com. Original artist page deactivated.