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Gilbert M. Stack

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Review: I, Cunningham by Benoit Goudreault-Emond

Posted by Gilbert Stack on August 11, 2020 at 7:40 PM Comments comments (0)

I, Cunningham by Benoit Goudreault-Emond

Gordon Cunningham died in a climbing accident in the twenty-second century, so he’s quite surprised to wake up five hundred years later in a robot body in a struggling colony in a distant solar system—only struggling is far too kind a word to describe the problems Gordon finds. The station AI and the station government are engaged in a sort of cold war with each other. At least two factions of the station population hate each other’s guts. There are intense frictions between basic humans and a genetically modified group. Oh, and the colony on the planet doesn’t get along with the station either. And that’s before you get into the rebels, religious cults, and illegal settlements that make Gordon’s new life even more difficult—because each faction wants to manipulate him into helping to bring about their personal vision of the perfect future for the colony. And if that isn’t bad enough, if Gordon can’t figure out what’s really going on, human life may die out in this future colony.

 

This is an impressive first novel with a couple of nicely interwoven mysteries fueling the action, but don’t stop when you finish the story. There’s a very nice afterword in which Goudreault-Emond discusses the influences that led him to write the book. It’s enjoyable all around.

 

I received this book free from Voracious Readers Only in exchange for an honest review.

 

If you liked this review, you can find more at www.gilbertstack.com/reviews.

 


 

Review: Camp Lenape by Timothy R. Baldwin

Posted by Gilbert Stack on July 16, 2020 at 8:10 PM Comments comments (0)

Camp Lenape by Timothy R. Baldwin

The adults at Camp Lenape are hiding something, but they can’t get their lies straight. Now a little girl’s life just might depend on four young junior counselors having the brains and the courage to get to the bottom of what’s going on at Camp Lenape.

 

This is a short, fast moving, story, with a cast of credible teenagers doing believable things. The mystery is solid and the detection process worked for me. Baldwin also spends a lot of time establishing the teens, their relationships to each other and the adults, and the camp setting. Early on, I felt that there was a little too much of this, but by the end of the story, I realized how important the early chapters were to the climax of the tale. If you like a quick mystery, you’ll enjoy Camp Lenape.

 

I received this book free from Audiobook Boom in exchange for an honest review.

 

If you liked this review, you can find more at www.gilbertstack.com/reviews.

 

Review: Ribbonworld by Richard Dee

Posted by Gilbert Stack on July 15, 2020 at 5:50 PM Comments comments (0)

Ribbonworld by Richard Dee

This book opens like a scene from Dashiell Hammett, and while hero Miles Goram is not a hard-boiled detective, the novel keeps that Hammett-like feel as it builds a mystery around themes that legendary author often wrote about. The opening scene sets the groundwork for the whole novel. Goram has arrived late in the domed city of Reevis and when he checks into his cheap hotel room, he finds a body in the bathroom—the body of the man he had traveled here to meet. Goram thought he had come to Reevis to review a new hotel, but his now-dead contact had a much bigger story in mind and Goram has to get to the truth behind it before someone kills him. The problem—absolutely no one seems to want him around—not the workers, not the local government, not the Balcom corporation—and it’s not easy to solve a mystery when no one wants to talk to you.

 

Yet Goram can’t help but dig and what he finds is…well I don’t want to spoil the novel for you. Suffice it to say that Dee has created a hero that it’s easy to get behind, and he puts enough clues out there that you have a legitimate chance not only to piece together what’s happening but to figure out the big surprises. So I think it’s fair to say Ribbonworld gives you a bit of Ellery Queen in a Dashiell Hammett plot set out in a realistic science fiction setting.

 

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.

 

If you liked this review, you can find more at www.gilbertstack.com/reviews.

 

Review: Junk Magic and Guitar Dreams by T. James Logan

Posted by Gilbert Stack on July 13, 2020 at 1:45 PM Comments comments (0)

Junk Magic and Guitar Dreams by T. James Logan

Otter is a teenager who lives in poverty with his dying mother. They have family, but because of years-old enmity, Otter’s mother forbids him to turn to them for help. She’s so opposed to contact that she arranges for Otter to be emancipated rather than ask for their aid in taking care of him after she passes. Unfortunately, Otter’s understandable rage at all the unfairness in his life undercuts the act of emancipation and allows a rather unsympathetic social worker to try and take it from him so she can force him into foster care.

 

On the surface, that’s the whole plot of the novel—Otter trying to survive after his mother passes—but Logan gives the reader so much more, including a very dark and disturbing subplot of white supremacists trying to seduce Otter into their ideology. As Otter feels more and more isolated from the world, he finds unexpected solace in a box of junk that his wealthy grandfather left him. The junk permits Otter through never explained magic to relive parts of his grandfather’s life, giving Otter perspective he desperately needs and insight into why his extended family is so messed up.

 

Then there’s Otter’s guitar and his band—a source of release and hope for so many millions of teenagers around the world—and the only thing keeping Otter sane as he tries to deal with his many problems.

 

Logan somehow pulls all of these disparate plot threads into a highly compelling, but painfully realistic, growing up tale. I supposed it’s technically a young adult story, but the themes and situations Otter deals with are ones I hope no child ever has to face. This is not a light read, but it’s definitely worth your time.

 

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.

 

Review: The Heisenberg Corollary by C. H. Duryea

Posted by Gilbert Stack on July 12, 2020 at 1:35 PM Comments comments (0)

The Heisenberg Corollary by C. H. Duryea

Interested in a light-hearted romp through the multiverse? Wants lots of action and plenty of movie and roleplaying game references? Want the feel of a hard sf backdrop without actually having to get bogged down in the math and incomprehensible theories? Well that’s what I found in The Heisenberg Corollary, an amazingly fun sf adventure which finds a simple solution to permitting the cast of heroes to discover just about anything you can imagine in the multiverse.

 

The plot revolves around Zeke Travers and his fellow scientists who accidentally trigger an interdimensional chase when they test out Zeke’s life’s work—a device that permits travel to other universes. The problem—something follows the device back to earth and begins ripping through the multiverse in its efforts to catch Zeke and its device. Most of the rest of the novel is built around Zeke and his friends’ attempts to first escape and then stop the aliens who are pursuing them. The plot gets rather fanciful as it proceeds, but the fun never lets up and the pace never slackens.

 

Narrator Will Hahn pulled out all the stops with this one. In addition to rip-roaring, highly distinctive voices for the entire cast, he threw in enough sound effects to make this nearly a fully dramatized experience. Not enough narrators are able to bring that higher level of stagecraft to a novel, and not many authors have created an experience that lends itself so well to such dramatic audio creations.

 

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.

 

Review: The Corpse Whisperer Sworn by H.R. Boldwood

Posted by Gilbert Stack on July 5, 2020 at 6:00 PM Comments comments (1)

The Corpse Whisperer Sworn by H.R. Boldwood

The sequel to Boldwood’s excellent novel, The Corpse Whisperer, manages to simultaneously heat up the action, tangle heroine Allie Nighthawk into an even more complicated mystery, move the setting to zombie central in New Orleans, and, most importantly, ramp up the personal costs of the struggle to stop the spread of the undead for everyone involved. And in the midst of all of this, Boldwood also introduces a whole lot of great new characters. So, yes, Sworn, is like giving an overdose of steroids to the original novel, but instead of roid-rage, we get an even better adventure than we did the first time around.

 

In The Corpse Whisperer, we got to know brash, never-think-before-acting, Allie Nighthawk, one of those rare individuals who can raise a zombie from its grave. She has an act-first personality that the reader will come to love even as she unintentionally makes life difficult for just about everyone who knows her. In The Corpse Whisperer Sworn, we find out how Nighthawk got this way, digging deep into her past to learn how she learned to control her abilities and why the first love of her life is now determined to kill her—after he torturers her to the point where she doesn’t want to live any more.

 

There’s lots of pain in this one, but Boldwood smartly offsets it with great action and plenty of humor. All of my surviving favorite cast members from the first novel are back with a handful of great new characters thrown into the mix as well. Boldwood also spices up this book by introducing magic into the world—something that zombie hunting law enforcement has a great deal of difficulty accepting is real. It’s yet another point of separation between Nighthawk and the traditional professionals that boosts the feelings of isolation that tormented her in the first book. Nighthawk’s life is so dramatically different from her peers that most people can’t even understand her problems much less contribute to solving them. So even in crowd, Nighthawk seems to stand alone.

 

As with the first novel, the characters and their relationships with each other are what pull this book head and shoulders above the typical zombie-related urban fantasy. When you love even the minor cast members, it keeps you at the edge of your seat through the entire reading—because let’s face it, you know that some of them aren’t going to make it to the end of the book. Hopefully, those who survive will all be appearing in the next volume.

 

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.

 

Review: The Corpse Whisperer by H. R. Boldwood

Posted by Gilbert Stack on June 19, 2020 at 3:35 PM Comments comments (0)

The Corpse Whisperer by H. R. Boldwood

This is not your typical zombie novel. While it’s still possible that the end of the world is coming, the people inhabiting Cincinnati haven’t figured that out yet. Instead of a zombie apocalypse, the world of the Corpse Whisperer has police forces, legal systems and a medical establishment that has learned to cope with the facts that the dead don’t always stay in their graves and a handful of special individuals like Allie Nighthawk have the power to raise them.

 

Boldwood takes this premise and runs with it, creating a whole world that is built around the existence of the dead walking mostly on the fringes of society. Zombies and the virus that creates them are studied by scientists. Not all zombies become instant biters and not all bitten people become zombies. There’s even a new medicine that can hold a person back from turning once bitten. The legal system has evolved to incorporate this new reality as gifted people like heroine, Allie Nighthawk, are often needed to raise the dead to ask them important questions like—did you see who murdered you? The rules are pretty well understood by the professionals. The problem that confronts the heroes in this book is that the rules are suddenly changing. People are turning without being bitten and people without the traditional genetic markers are turning too. Perhaps that cliched apocalypse really is about to overrun the world.

 

In the middle of this unfolding crisis, is Allie Nighthawk. Studying Nighthawk would make any psychologist’s day. She has this amazing power but her ethics keep her from getting rich with it because she actually cares about people and the world around her. Yet those same people don’t seem to like her very much and she has become brash and difficult as a defense against constant rejection and ill treatment. Yet, when push comes to shove, she still stands in the thick of things, loyal to the core and determined to keep the undead from hurting people.

 

Nighthawk works as a consultant to the Cincinnati Police Department, and they don’t like her much either—even as they keep needing her skills to help with their investigations and generally keep the citizens of their fine city from being killed. Allie’s police detective partner enjoys giving her as hard a time as she gives him, but he has a major personality defect—he’s hard in lust with a news reporter named Jade Chen who keeps her ratings high by loudly criticizing Nighthawk every time a zombie rears its head in the city. And they’re rearing their heads a lot these days, and exhibiting new behaviors that scare the fecal matter out of anyone with enough knowledge to understand what’s happening.

 

As if all of that wasn’t complicated enough, Nighthawk has been assigned to help protect Leo, a mob accountant who has decided to squeal on his superiors in front of a grand jury. Those superiors, quite understandably, want to prevent him from doing this, but are they the only ones trying to kill him? Oh, and there’s one more thing about Leo which explains Nighthawk’s involvement with him. He’s been bitten and only a new drug is keeping him from turning right away. His tolerance for the medicine is growing, however, so it’s only a matter of time before he starts biting other people with the rest of the zombies.

 

Leo is the character that best shows Boldwood’s brilliance as an author. He starts out brash and unlikeable, but the longer he appears on the pages, the stronger you will root for him to beat the zombie thing. That’s not easy to do, and he’s not the only character that Boldwood tricks you into liking.

 

So, if you like great characters, non-stop action, a couple of solid mysteries, a smattering of genuine surprises, and your zombies without the cliched apocalypse, you should really give the Corpse Whisperer a try.

 

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.

 

If you liked this review, you can find more at www.gilbertstack.com/reviews.

 

Review: Life and Other Dreams by Richard Dee

Posted by Gilbert Stack on June 18, 2020 at 11:30 AM Comments comments (0)

Life and Other Dreams by Richard Dee

Richard Dee gives you two stories in one in this intriguing novel that mixes an excellent sf tale with a contemporary psychological drama. Rick dreams when he goes to sleep—that sounds pretty ordinary until you realize he’s dreaming another man’s life in extraordinary detail. That man happens to live six hundred years in the future on another planet and beginning to end of the novel, you’ll never be certain if that future is real or not—because the evidence clearly points both ways.

 

What is clear is that Rick’s jealous wife can’t handle her husband’s dreams and invents a wild fantasy that they are proof that he is being unfaithful to her. She’s a complex and highly manipulative woman who happily takes their marriage off the deep end and as she does, so does Rick’s life on that strange planet six hundred years in the future.

 

But are the two sets of events connected? And if they are, can Rick save both the women he loves on both planets. I think this one will continue to trouble you after you finish reading it.

 

I received this book free from Audiobook Boom in exchange for an honest review.

 

If you liked this review, you can find more at www.gilbertstack.com/reviews.

 

Review: The Dark Field by J.R. Mabry and Mickey Asteriou

Posted by Gilbert Stack on June 16, 2020 at 5:55 PM Comments comments (0)

The Dark Field by J. R. Mabry and Mickey Asteriou

In the first book in this series, the reader watches as a combination of incredible stupidity and self-centered immaturity and greed release a planet devouring dark god into the universe again. In this sequel, matters go from bad to worse as kings seek to conceal their own roles in creating the apocalyptic tragedy by turning on their best hopes to stop the destroyer. If only their short-sighted idiocy wasn’t so believable.

 

If the first book establishes the problem of the series, this one puts the pieces in place to best the threat. Our mixed bag of heroes is in place and they know what they have to do—if not how they are going to accomplish it. And here I think the authors have out done themselves because to stop the villain from destroying the universe, the heroes will have to destroy civilization as they know it.

 

Talk about the devil and the deep blue sea—even the good guys are likely to try and stop the heroes during book 3.

 

If you liked this review, you can find more at www.gilbertstack.com/reviews.

 

Review: Tusk and Blade by Lavelle Jackson

Posted by Gilbert Stack on June 15, 2020 at 6:25 PM Comments comments (0)

Tusk and Blade by Lavelle Jackson

At first glance, Tusk and Blade is the story of Logan Sharpe, a man who attempted to commit suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge but ended up being rescued only to face the rest of his life as a quadriplegic. What the story really is, however, is the tale of Necro Redhammer, an orc chaos butcher in the game, Exodus Online. Necro’s tale is a pretty standard LitRPG adventure story wherein he learns the rules of the game, gains a bunch of levels, and kicks NPC butt. There are a few interesting twists. The orc society is an incredibly cruel one with very little by way of acts of compassion. That means that Logan is actually playing an “evil” character whose powers are enhanced by him personally feeling pain. He doesn’t come off nearly as evil as the actual bad guys, but Necro is by no means nice and the player seems to thrive on killing NPCs in the most brutal ways possible.

 

The more interesting storyline revolves around how Logan got into the game, but unfortunately it is dropped completely early on and never resurfaces. Facing a life as a quadriplegic, Logan becomes more suicidal than ever, but is totally unable to act on his despair. Enter a corporation with U.S. government military sponsorship that has secretly developed a totally realistic virtual reality system. They approach Logan and offer him a new life in their fantasy VR world. The catch? Logan will be uploaded into the system permanently and can’t return to his physical body. Naturally, this doesn’t seem like any kind of drawback to Logan considering his paralysis, so he consents without any understanding of why this arrangement might benefit the corporation and the U.S. government—and much to my disappointment, we never get even the slightest hint as to what those benefits would be. Once Logan enters the game there is no connection whatsoever to this initial, utterly fascinating, storyline.

 

This raises a tough question—why take the time to develop these extreme circumstances if they were to have no impact on the story? I didn’t have to have the complete answer in this first novel of the series, but it was a major disappointment that the “real world storyline” was completely dropped once Logan entered the game. It makes me wonder if the author even plans to continue it in the sequels—and if he doesn’t, Exodus Online will prove to be a very ordinary LitRPG.

 

I received this book free from Audiobook Boom in exchange for an honest review.