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Sour Candy

Kealan Patrick Burke. Elderlemon, $2.99 e-book (66p) ASIN B017QCGW24

Horror author Burke (Kin) delivers an excellent terror-filled novella. Philip Pendleton is an unexceptional man, living a carefree life with his young son, Adam. No one who observes them has any idea that Philip has only known Adam for a short time, and this carefree life is really a living hell: after the two randomly meet at a store, Adam decides to make Philip his newest “parent,” using his terrible powers to completely rewrite Philip’s life so that everyone else thinks he’s always been there. Only Philip remembers the life he used to have, and those memories are no comfort as he becomes a prisoner in his own home, a slave to a demonic child. Bringing the evil-child trope to its devastating apex, Burke creates a horrific vision of what might happen if children utterly controlled their parents. Burke’s writing is visceral; Philip’s descent into madness is rendered in unnerving terms. Adding in a Lovecraftian pantheon of monsters, Burke creates a stomach-twisting ride through the depths of horror, breathing new life into an often-stagnant part of the genre. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Stay: Troubled Hearts, Book 1

Savannah Brooks. Amazon Digital, $2.99 ASIN B017EL0B24

This tender, uncomplicated love story has an old-fashioned happy ending, complete with a wedding—all the sweeter because it’s a pleasant 21st-century romance between two men who find love on an eastern Arizona ranch turned campground. When 23-year-old Blake Stevens wanders onto the grounds of Spirit Lake Camp, all he wants is a job, even if it’s temporary—maybe especially if it is. He just needs cash and a place to sleep. Ever since being thrown out of the house by a disapproving father, the former Marine has been trying to figure out what he wants to do with the rest of his life. Spirit Lake’s family scion Asher Collins decides the best thing Blake could do is share that life with him. The ensuing cat and mouse game comes with no earth-shattering surprises and few complications, but no matter. For fans of straightforward romance with a smattering of steamy lovemaking, this story will fit the bill nicely. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Nutcracker King: Coming from Darkness, Book 1

Eustacia Tan. Eustacia Tan, $0.99 e-book (115p) ASIN B018VK9132

Tan inexplicably morphs the joyful Nutcracker story into a gruesome, horrific rampage of a psychopathic prince turned doll who murders his family members and bathes in their blood, all for the sake of his quest to become human again and win the hand of his dear Marie. This unsettling alteration of the original story eschews the happy ending and takes place eight years later, with the love story between the Nutcracker and Marie unresolved. The plot of this sexist novella involves a kidnapping, forced marriage, torture, and a ditzy “heroine” who makes excuses for the evil the Nutcracker does in her name. The brutality rivals the original Grimm fairy tales and is certainly not appropriate for children. Tan mixes third-person and first-person points of view to the detriment of the narrative flow, abuses clichés, misplaces colloquialisms, and includes anachronisms that would have baffled E.T.A. Hoffmann. Those hoping for a Pride and Prejudice and Zombies–style bit of whimsy will be very disappointed. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Graveyard Shift

Angela Roquet. CreateSpace, $14.95 trade paper (259p) ISBN 978-1-4800-0418-4

Roquet breathes new life into death with the debut of her Reapers, Inc. urban fantasy series. Lana Harvey is an eighth-generation reaper, content with harvesting low-risk souls on a freelance basis. She gets her docket in the morning, heads over to the mortal realm to pick her passengers up, and then takes them back to her ship in Limbo City. Every afternoon, she and her sailing partner drop their souls off in the respective afterlives. At night, she enjoys poker games with her friends, including the angel Gabriel, and spends countless hours warming a stool at the demon-run Purgatory Lounge. Lana’s quite content with her life until she’s chosen by Grim, the CEO of Reapers, Inc., to help quell an insurrection threatening to destroy the fabric of Eternity. The blending of cultures and traditions is handled respectfully, with more than a touch of humor mixed in with hints of romance and mystery. The setting is rich and varied with a little something for fans of several different genres. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Siege of Praetar: Tales of a Dying Star, Book 1

David Kristoph. CreateSpace, $14.99 trade paper (166p) ISBN 978-1-5031-2808-8

This highly engaging debut takes place on the dying planet of Praetar, where the relentless sands and the dim light of its looming red giant sun force a slow exodus by those with the means. But the Praetarians don’t know that their flights off the planet are doomed to fail. Hyken, one of many pilots who serve the post-human Empire, follows instructions to destroy freighters leaving the surface, assuming they’re transporting weapons or are otherwise a threat. Hidebound Hyken is shocked to learn that his junior officer is letting ships sneak past. Down on the planet, Mira is desperate to save her two young girls from a future of perpetual sickness and starvation. The local gangster, Bruno, threatens to flex his power by denying them access to the next ship. Kristoph skillfully connects three independent perspectives to demonstrate how an individual choice, whether self-serving or for the greater good, can create a ripple of consequences in unexpected ways. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Alchemist in the Attic

Antonio Urias. Antonio Urias, $2.99 e-book (201p) ASIN B0194D3LOA

The end of the 19th century has brought reporter Theodore “Teddy” Atwood and his newspaper, the San Francisco Oracle, to the edge of ruin. What Teddy needs to survive is a fantastic story with at least a grain of truth—and he thinks he may have it when two notorious grave robbers return to the city. But they and the city’s other grave robbers are only the first step down a dark path leading to murders and a patron who scares even them to silence. Teddy believes that a mysterious recluse named Marius Valencourt is the malefactor, and Valencourt’s tight-lipped neighbors appear to agree. Pursuing Valencourt throws Teddy headfirst against an arcane power that kills some and drives others insane. Urias keeps the pace quick and ramps up the pressure on Teddy, making for a gritty, breathless, sometimes bewildering tale in which financial ruin often seems the best of Teddy’s possible dooms. If the sum of the secrets feels somewhat anticlimactic and well trod, readers will have an exciting ride getting there nevertheless. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Xenowealth: A Collection

Tobias S. Buckell. Tobias S. Buckell, $14.99 trade paper (194p) ISBN 978-0-692-55326-8

Fans curious about the background of Buckell’s Xenowealth tetralogy (lastly The Apocalypse Ocean) have crowdfunded this collection of nine glimpses into an exciting future. First, technologically superior aliens “pacified” Earth and brought it into the Benevolent Satrapy, a tightly controlled empire of 48 worlds. Then, rebels whom the aliens had scattered through the stars established the totalitarian League and plotted to exclude or else exterminate their masters. Finally, the Xenowealth evolved into a system that would let humans and aliens live together. Most of these stories feature Pepper, a cybernetically enhanced mercenary who usually intervenes with a maximum of deadly force whenever he imagines human values are threatened. Sometimes he fights cruel alien monsters, and sometimes men whose obsessions have made them even more dangerous. Buckell draws on his experiences growing up in the Caribbean to effectively describe what life feels like for powerless people at the fringes of massive events, and these taut but thoughtful scenes of the human race’s uncertain progress reward careful reading. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Cook Out

Pat Riley. CreateSpace, $12 trade paper (322p) ISBN 978-1-507875-81-0

This taut thriller from Riley (Executive Deception) provides a moving look at the human toll of the Iraq and Afghan wars. Bobby Schrader, who was wounded in Iraq, lies dying in a hospital bed in Landstuhl, Germany. In Hope Mills, N.C., news of his injuries reaches his parents, Joanna and Robert. When they arrive in Europe, Joanna and Robert learn that Bobby died before they were informed he was injured. Another pair of bereaved parents begins to plot revenge against the leaders who sent soldiers into battle unprepared. Meanwhile, Raleigh journalist Rudy Ryan has been assigned to write about all the North Carolinians who died in Iraq, and he begins traveling the country, collecting sad and infuriating stories. His research keeps expanding, and he comes to believe that the war has had a broad negative impact on American society. Riley balances the two story lines nicely, building up to a genuinely surprising resolution. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Yria Dane

Julien Kade. Mill City, $19.99 trade paper (434p) ISBN 978-1-63413-327-2

A routine missing-person case transforms into something terrifying in Kade’s mystery set in Annecy, France, in 1952. Brothers Satordi and Marin Biertempfel have worked as PIs in their town for 13 years, with hundreds of successful investigations to their credit. Satordi’s meeting with a new prospective client, tavern-owner Haulmier Guloe, leads the detective to expect another success. Haulmier’s 17-year-old daughter, Ambrielle, who has worked as a prostitute, has vanished, “carrying a massive stash of stolen loot she’d taken from her father.” After getting Haulmier’s assurance that he won’t harm Ambrielle, Satordi accepts the assignment. The inquiry becomes more complicated when an old missing-person case gets renewed attention. Press coverage of Orisia Laroque’s vow to continue searching for her sister, Yria Dane, who went missing in 1941, leads Ambrielle to look into that disappearance. Despite some odd phrasing (“I look to Haulmier, then conduct a reply”), Kade manages to sustain interest and generate some genuinely spooky moments. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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