Review: “The Wired Man,” David Adam Suski

Pros: The use of social media is potentially fascinating
Cons: Wanted more social media content; things don’t add up
Rating: 2 out of 5

The Wired Man, by David Adam Suski, is about a society in which your social score determines everything–including your eligibility for certain kinds of work. If your social score drops below a certain point, you can lose everything. Your score is dictated by things like who you’re seeing, how successfully you pull off a party, and so on. This ties in to jobs by the fact that companies have scores as well, and those scores are affected by their employees’ scores. Everything is about your connections, and that’s why, when Aaron’s brother supposedly kills his wife, Aaron’s score is tanked as well, causing a ripple effect throughout all of their connections. Aaron, being rather narcissistic in his desire for a higher score, can only think about how much his brother has ruined his life–until things start getting weird.


I liked the idea of a dystopian world in which pretty much everything in your life was affected by your social media ‘score’. I thought that could be a good storyline to follow. I wanted to see more of what affects scores, how exactly they affect other aspects of one’s life than just work and dating, etc. We know that relationships alter your score; throwing a really good party alters your score. But we don’t see much of the mechanism through which this occurs. It feels like a fuzzy, nebulous ‘they’ attributing points (maybe a computer algorithm?) which takes the ‘social’ out of one’s social score. I wanted to see the details of how other people affect your score directly–who’s hitting that virtual ‘like’ or ‘dislike’ button and how.

I had trouble understanding how this particular version of the world could have come together. What incentive could have given social media such power? More troubling: how did corporations end up making their hiring and firing decisions based on those scores? Since social media scores come from social activity–which is by and large not job activity–this means companies are incentivizing their employees to NOT work hard or put in long hours. I fail to see how a company could get away with firing potentially their best people based on an irrelevant scoring mechanism. Also, who’s winning in this situation? Someone has to be getting something out of it. Advertisers somehow?

Some of the material was confusing. I had trouble putting together who was being followed by the narrative in several places. I particularly had difficulty following everything going on in the behind-the-scenes meta-plotting regarding how one might disrupt the dystopia. Some of the details didn’t come together well, and I would have liked at least a little bit of an epilogue to what happens.

This is a relatively short tale, but it raises some interesting questions about how much social media controls our lives. I would have liked a tighter narrative along with more depth and believability.

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Review: “Revelations,” Jessica Meigs

Pros: Much more is revealed
Cons: Couldn’t understand some character actions at all
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

The Becoming: Revelations is book three in Jessica Meigs’s zombie apocalypse tale, after The Becoming and Ground Zero.

Our heroes have settled into a place in South Carolina. Things are still far from easy–Remy hasn’t coped with the loss of Ethan, and Cade’s injury isn’t healing quickly or easily. Brandt finds himself in charge–not a position he’s used to. Then someone from Atlanta kidnaps Cade in order to lure Brandt. Cade knows she’s going to have to save herself, even though Brandt will certainly come after her. She won’t be used to bring him to heel.

The head bad guy in this story, Alicia, is a comic-book villain, who only acquires a little bit of depth toward the end of the book. She also does some weird things that aren’t logical at all, seemingly just to allow the author to bring other characters together and move the plot forward. (Sorry I’m being vague; even though one of the major surprises is given to the audience almost immediately–which means usually I wouldn’t consider it a spoiler–I’m loath to give it away ahead of time in this case.)

Our group makes some new friends who have insight into the plague, and even a temporary treatment. They’re looking for a cure, but they might need Brandt in order to find it.

There are some nice choices the author made that undercut some tropes that threatened to take over. Instead of having someone do an infodump that, frankly, we don’t need, we get a much more reasonable:

“[P]lease don’t ask me to explain it. I’m a cop, not a pharmacist.”

There are some genuine hard choices to be made, and the book did a good job of holding my attention. It had danger, uncertainty, tension, and pretty good pacing as well. It isn’t my favorite zombie book, but I enjoyed it, and I’m glad I read these first three books in the series.

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Review: “Ground Zero,” Jessica Meigs

Pros: An enjoyable outbreak/not-quite-zombie tale
Cons: Couldn’t get into the characters for some time
Rating: 3 out of 5

In Jessica Meigs’s “The Becoming” series, a plague escaped from Atlanta. While it kills and brings back the dead–i.e., zombies–these zombies are a tad different than the usual literary fare. They seem to have some smarts, including the ability to ambush, to follow people to their hidey-holes, and to strategize when fighting. This makes the whole thing even more scary and dangerous. Ground Zero (The Becoming Book 2) finds our heroes holed up in a safe house that has been working out for them lately. A woman named Avi Geller (a journalist) shows up, and tries to convince our heroes to travel to Atlanta to find out what really happened. They’re hardly thrilled with the idea of going into the heart of the plague area, but events align such that they become convinced it’s worth doing.

Unlike the previous installment, The Becoming, it took me a while to get into volume two. Nearly all the characters started out entirely unlikable this time, so even though I’d met them in the previous book, it took me a while to get pulled in this time. I was surprised and a little dismayed that Ethan had become the leader of the group, because a) he didn’t seem a likely leader in the last book, and b) he spends much of this book being an asshole. Apparently there are enough living survivors (even though we never see them) that there’s room for gossip and rumors to travel–that’s why Avi connected with this particular group of people in her quest.

I found more logical inconsistencies in this book than the previous. Little things adding up; for instance, breaking into teams to check out a new and possibly dangerous place, and taking the two characters who have no guns and don’t know how to use guns and putting them together with no one else to watch over them. When a character says “You’re not stupid, Remy! Stop acting like it!” I felt like cheering, because that was almost exactly what I’d been thinking at the time. There’s a case where characters have been yelling and screaming, but they’re worried gunshots will give their location away. Sweeties, it’s already been given away.

The closer we got to Atlanta, the more interesting things became, and I did end up getting hooked again (if not as much as in the last book). I’m hoping the next installment will pick up again.

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Review: “The Becoming,” Jessica Meigs

Pros: An enjoyable outbreak/not-quite-zombie tale
Cons: One or two rough spots
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

The Becoming (The Becoming Series Book 1) isn’t quite a zombie tale. But let’s back up for a moment. A plague has gotten loose in Atlanta, and Brandt, a marine, is fleeing the area. He meets up with Ethan (a police officer) and Cade (she’s former IDF). Both Ethan and Cade have already lost people to this plague by the time Brandt finds them. While this plague does resemble the stereotypical zombie plague (people die and come back after being bitten), it shows some significant differences–differences that will make our heroes fight like hell to stay alive. They’re even lucky enough to join up with an EMT.

The biggest difference in Jessica Meigs’s ‘zombies’ is that they are not the brain-dead creatures we’re accustomed to. They strategize. They can feel pain. They have volition and awareness, not just a basic need to feed. “Becoming,” the first book in the Becoming series, introduces us to an interesting group of people and an unusual plague that isn’t behaving in any expected way. There are definitely some exciting and tense moments–I was glued to the page early on in the book. The group of people working together aren’t all fond of each other, so there are multiple directions from which the danger staggers.

Since this volume is largely setup, I look forward to reading the next book. I found the characters interesting, although occasionally it seemed as though they were being overly dramatic, at least for the types of professionals involved (all of which have to learn to hold it together under fire). The only real thing that bugged me though, was an instance in which the inevitable “you’ll know what to shoot at once you see it” was used in a case where the speaker gained nothing whatsoever from not explaining himself, and could have screwed them all over by not explaining. Totally unnecessary and illogical, presumably meant to jack up the tension just a little further.

Next up: Volume two, Ground Zero. I look forward to reading more!

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Non-Review: “The Outcasts,” Chuck Abdella

The Outcasts: Book I: The Lies of Autumn is a fantasy tale by Chuck Abdella. Unfortunately, I only made my way through a quarter of it before I couldn’t take it any more.

In a really good book, characters behave and talk organically–the personality as a whole leads naturally to words and actions. That is the exact opposite of the characters in The Outcasts. Instead, it’s as though the words and actions of the characters are transparent, and you can see the hand of the author moving beneath them. The characters act and talk in whatever way will allow the author to best dictate the events that he wants us to experience. This is most true in the dialogue, which is stilted, redundant, and condescending. The author assumes he’ll have to tell us something over and over and over again before we’ll get the idea. Characters have conversations for no other reason than to educate the reader:

“Must you ask questions to which you know the answers?”

— followed by, of course, the answers.

Characters also ruminate endlessly about every little detail, then rinse and repeat a few pages later. Characters have virtually no depth (and the author’s notion of what adds depth to the characters boils down to adding a quirk or having someone ruminate on the character’s, well, character). Whole races boil down to stereotypes–don’t get me started on the Wizards who are nothing more than fantasy Vulcans. Even more oddly, once in a long while a single sentence will randomly break the fourth wall, calling the reader “you”. It isn’t used often enough to be a part of the book’s overall style.

I take notes while I read so I’ll have some idea where to start when writing a review. In this case the endless ruminating led to my writing “blah blah blah blah” in my notes, it was that bad. There’s so much fat to trim from this narrative; the book would probably be half as long if all the overhashed, endlessly-repeated notions got cut.

I was determined to read enough to be able to make a full review, but I hit a point where I really couldn’t stand to read any more, so I didn’t.


NOTE: Book provided free by publisher for review.

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Review: “Anthology I”

Pros: Lovely tales
Cons: Standard anthology potential problem: you might not enjoy all of the tales
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Anthology I, from The Novel Fox, is a delightful collection of short science fiction and fantasy stories. One of the inherent anthology problems is that you’re almost guaranteed to dislike something inside, because the stories will all be rather different. I almost never give an anthology a score over 4, and most of them are closer to 3. This one I consider a 4.5. I felt drawn in to each of the stories, and they had some beauty to them. At its best an anthology can introduce you to new authors to follow, and that definitely happened here for me.


Washout, by Dominic Dulley, introduces us to a world where ships are merged with the minds of people–but it’s a long process that starts early in the child’s life. To wash out of the program is a horrible thing from which people don’t tend to recover. Nix has, after many years becoming incredibly close to her ship, Blythe, learned that she’s a washout. What she does with this is bittersweet.

Paying Old Debts, by Gerri Leen: Clifford is a not-quite-human/not-quite-robot assassin. He has a grudge against someone, but right now he’s on an assignment to help train another of his kind–Nanette. Her purpose is more specialized–to imitate a particular person in her maker’s quest for revenge. Nan and Clifford may be carefully programmed, but they also know how to work around the edges of what they’re told to do. It’s fascinating to see how these two think and act.

Where’s the King’s Head? by T.D. Edge: Sam and her father are staying out in the middle of nowhere, hopefully under the radar. Sam learns some interesting things about herself, and has to make a very hard choice. I absolutely loved this one; despite the short length, the main characters made me feel for them.

The Shadowless, by Rati Mehrotra: Nissa is trying to escape an upcoming marriage, but the presence of an implant allows her parents to track and comment on all of her movements. The ending of this tale was a tad abrupt, but the world is beautiful and bold. I’d love to read more by this author.

Clean, Like Water From A Winter’s Thaw, by Shawn Scarber: This wasn’t a long enough tale to completely win me over to its world, but there are some great cross-species interactions.

A Wand’s Tale, by Ernesto Pavan: An incredible wand will allow only one person to wield its power, and that person, Evelyn, has quite the use to put it to. I might have shed a tear or two by the end of this one.

Subsidence, by Peter White: This tale of dangerous sand dunes by a golf course seemed like it was going to be pretty silly and/or ridiculous when the first hint of the supernatural turned up. The author deftly twisted things from there to make the tale horrifying. That takes real skill!

Grant My Powder Be Dry and My Aim Be True, by Shane Halbach: An old god disapproves when a new godling seems to be encroaching on a portion of the older god’s territory. But even gods can be thwarted. I would love to read more of this tale; the characters and worldbuilding both intrigued me.


I’ve done what I could to give you a taste of the stories involved; it’s hard to write much about short stories without giving too much away. It suffices to say that I found all of these stories to be both enjoyable and lovely, each in its own way. I don’t know what editor at The Novel Fox collected these, but that person has a knack for recognizing good stories.


NOTE: Book provided free for review by publisher.

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Review: “Grave Memory,” Kalayna Price

Pros: Nice tough tale with plenty of danger
Cons: Perhaps Alex needs to consider polyamory…
Rating: 4 out of 5

Grave Memory is book three of Kalayna Price’s Alex Craft series. Alex is a “grave witch”–she can interact with the land of the dead (or the dead themselves) in several ways. Her primary goal has been to solve murders; she can call a “shade” up out of a body that can tell what happened before the person died. Her personal life–and her rapidly escalating and changing powers–have been getting in the way of her work, in some flashy and dangerous ways, so the police don’t particularly want to hire her right now. She’s trying to find other clients, but not everyone is comfortable with witchcraft, or with the other odd things Alex can do. Finally a case lands on her desk, but it’s a tough one. She believes a recent rash of suicides is actually the result of murder by a being that can inhabit others’ bodies. Naturally, keeping herself alive will be a difficult task, requiring the help of her friends, her not-so-close family, and her escalating powers.


Alex’s love life is still complicated–she has lots of strong feelings for both Falin and “Death” (why does she never ask him his real name in this one?). I guess it’s supposed to be a love triangle with lots of angst, but instead I find myself thinking she really needs to look into polyamory and have a nice long talk with both of her guys. The sheer volume of back-and-forth emotions and accompanying actions finally hit my annoyance button or I wouldn’t have gotten to that point. At least Alex seems to have more chemistry with Death this time, which is a plus–and did make me smile.

The concept of a creature that can possess bodies, suck them dry over a couple of days, then kill them before moving on, is a good one. It’s made even better by some of the later revelations (which I’m not going to spoil for you). It meshes well with Alex’s evolving powers, her weird relationship with the fey, and more. It’s also complicated by the fact that when Alex raises the shade of one of these ‘suicides’, the shade has no memory of the previous few days. Watching her and her friends slowly put together the details is good–plenty of tension involved (and a little frustration when they missed some obvious non-coincidences).

The pacing in this one is good, and most of the characters have gained some extra dimension along the way. I enjoyed reading Grave Memory and look forward to reading the next book. It’s not such a great series that I’d pre-order the follow-on, but if it comes across my desk I expect I’ll enjoy it.


NOTE: Book provided free for review by publisher

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Review: “Ashley Bell,” Dean Koontz

Pros: Fascinating, whimsical, dark
Cons: Some details that still confuse me a little
Rating: 4 out of 5

Dean Koontz’s Ashley Bell is the story of Bibi Blair, a children’s book author who gets swept up in a very strange set of events. She believes she’s meant to save the life of someone named Ashley Bell, but she has no idea who that is or where to start. She also seems to be opposed by deadly folk of both mundane and supernatural origin.

Maybe ten years ago (or thereabouts) I remember thinking that Koontz’s ability to create tension was amazing, but the early parts of his books tended to drag, over-explain, etc. Well, he’s definitely improved over those years. I’m crazy about most of his Odd Thomas books, and Ashley Bell has more in common with those books than his earlier work. There’s a certain whimsicality that reminds me of Odd Thomas, but it’s matched with some no-nonsense personality. Prose that I used to find overly purple now adds a lovely lyricism–and I don’t find the purple as out-of-place.

Bibi is a wonderfully fun character. Her parents are both surfers (and she has done plenty of surfing of her own). She has some fascinating friends, and she’s involved with a Navy SEAL–who happens to be in the middle of a mission that doesn’t allow contact when things start getting weird. Bibi herself is a very strong character, willing to push hard and work her ass off to get where she’s going. Although she’s strong-willed and brave, she has some past demons to work her way through. She’s deliberately suppressed some memories, and without them she isn’t going to be able to complete her mission. With them, however, she might fall apart. The cadence of the book is such that it made me feel Bibi and her personality.

There are some events partway through the book that in many authors’ hands would act as deus ex machinae. Instead, they add new dimensions to the events that are going on–new challenges, and new resources. I was dubious of them at first, but they worked seamlessly into the narrative. The theme that wends its way through every word is one of reality, right down to questioning whether those repressed memories are real, and on what level.

I’m running out of ways to get into this that won’t give too much away. It suffices to say that I loved the pacing, style, personality, tension, and characters of Ashley Bell!


NOTE: Book provided free for review by publisher
Expected publication date: 12/8/2015

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Review: “Grave Dance,” Kalayna Price

Pros: Much more depth; kept me guessing
Rating: 4 out of 5

Grave Dance is book two in Kalayna Price’s “Alex Craft” series, after Grave Witch. This time Alex finds she’s accidentally leaving holes in the fabric of reality–but she isn’t the only one. She’s dealing with “skimmers”, who despite having no magical abilities look for ways to skim bits of magic for the high of it. There are big, terrifying constructs coming after her, ones that seem to be made of both faerie glamour and witchcraft–and some sort of soul-stuff. There’s a renegade soul collector taking the souls of the living, and the denizens of faerie have decided that Alex knows too much and must be captured and taken to Faerie. She’s just starting to learn what to do with the fact that her father is Fey, and she isn’t exactly being given much time to work things out! Now all that is complicated by the discovery of a bunch of left feet with no sign of the rest of the bodies.


This being book two, some of the side characters from the previous novel get fleshed out a bit more. We also get to meet many more Fey, including Alex’s father, as well as the Winter Queen and the Shadow King. Alex has to feel her way through some very deadly negotiations, all the while trying to avoid incurring any debt to the Fey. And all of that is because she believes the bad guy’s accomplice can be found in the Fey’s realms.

Falin is back to help Alex, as is Death–the soul collector she has a crush on. There’s plenty of posturing between the two of them, and it isn’t helped by the fact that Alex knows Falin is the Winter Queen’s lover. But then again, it’s tough to have a relationship with a soul collector who, for the most part, can’t even interact with the living world (unless in direct contact with Alex and her unusual grave abilities). We’re getting to see more ways in which her abilities are highly unusual, although some of the little details occasionally feel inconsistent.

There was an interaction with the realm of nightmares in which Alex gets brief glimpses of other people’s nightmares–every single one of which is an overused cliche, so that was disappointing. I felt like there was a lot of squandered opportunity there.

I like this installment better than its predecessor largely because the characters had more depth and we got to learn progressively more about Alex’s odd abilities. I hope that the next installment digs even deeper!


NOTE: Book provided free for review by publisher

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Review: “Grave Witch,” Kalayna Price

Pros: Intriguing characters and world
Cons: Some characters could have used more depth
Rating: 3 out of 5

Grave Witch is the first volume in Kalayna Price’s “Alex Craft” series. Alex has grave magic, which she can use to call up and question people’s shades–a way to tap into the dead person’s memories and hopefully figure out what happened to them. She’s old friends with Death, and has changed her family name to cover up her connections to her wealthy, politically powerful family. After a bizarre episode with a dead body in a morgue, a detective named Falin Andrews decides he needs to keep a closer eye on Alex. Someone’s trying to kill her, and there are dangerous magics afoot.


There’s an interesting running subplot about Death’s feelings for Alex. Unfortunately it never “clicked” for me. I didn’t feel any chemistry between them, so it never gelled as the emotional complication it seemed the author meant it to be. That’s probably because there was almost no space dedicated to turning Death into a full character. There’s a good handful of characters in here who never really step up for a full character treatment, even though some of them were important to the story. Alex and Falin end up being quite interesting though, and at least I felt some chemistry between them.

There are plenty of twists and turns in Grave Witch, and I do want to know more about Alex’s powers and what’s happening with them. There are Fae machinations afoot that throw a wrench in the works, and I’d like to know more about them as well. (Most of the Fae in this volume have one-note personalities so far.) And as for Falin, he has some interesting secrets of his own. Grave Witch asks as many questions as it answers.

I feel like I have a decent handle on what we’ve seen of grave magic so far, and some hints of Fae power, but I’d like to see more of other types of magic as context. In other words, while this isn’t the best book I’ve ever read, it’s good enough to make me want to read the next volume, and that’s a good thing!


NOTE: Book provided free for review by publisher

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