Review: “Flashpoint,” Lynn Hightower

Pros: Enjoyable serial killer mystery
Cons: Somewhat predictable
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Flashpoint is book one of the Sonora Blair Mysteries by Lynn Hightower. Sonora is a homicide detective. The latest killing in her area beggars belief: someone stripped a man, handcuffed him to the steering wheel of his car, tied him up, doused him in gasoline, and then set him on fire. Alive. Gradually the police realize they’re dealing with a female serial killer, and they rush to catch her before she can do it again.


The opening murder is gory, disturbing, and original–the darkest part, I’d say, of the novel. It doesn’t take long to start tracking the killer–this is less of a whodunit, focusing largely on finding and catching the killer before she can strike again. There’s plenty of mystery material, though, and quite a bit of suspense.

The characterizations are fairly complete; in particular Sonora’s fellow cops have plenty of personality. Even the ones that seem like stereotypes at first develop more dimension as they go. My only annoyance was the whole relationship between Sonora and the brother of the victim; it was so predictable in every respect (it didn’t help that I didn’t like the guy she was interested in). It seems like a lot of fictionalized female cops sleep with their partner and/or a witness ridiculously often.

There’s nice, zippy dialogue, and an entertaining “I have it worse than you do” conversation.

I enjoyed Flashpoint. It isn’t stunning, but it’s a solidly good read, and I’d be curious to see a sequel.


NOTE: Book provided free for review by publisher
Expected publication date: 10/27/2015

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Review: “Ch05en: Episode 1,” William Dickstein

Pros: Fun little story
Cons: A bit confusing in places
Rating: 3 out of 5

William Dickstein’s Ch05en: Episode 1 is about a pizza delivery guy named Frank. His father runs a pizza business, and his mother is a supervillain. In his world, whether someone is ordinary or extraordinary is a result of having a specific gene. If you test positive for this gene, you know you’re “destined for greatness”–but that greatness could take an awful lot of possible forms. Frank has the gene, and his mother will go to terrible lengths to try to activate it and find out what sort of greatness he’s fated for–while he’d much rather deliver pizzas.


The book starts out a little rocky but improves as it goes. For instance, early on there’s a lecture about gravity having been disproved inserted into the middle of something else going on. It’s jarring, especially within that scene. Since the book starts out feeling more serious than it turns out to be overall, there are a couple of quips early on that feel out of place. The humor takes a little time to come together, which makes the ‘fate gene’ also feel a bit out of place at first. It makes perfect sense in the humorous story this turns out to be.

This is a short novella, so naturally some of the side characters seem a bit thin. Frank is a pretty interesting character, though, and I enjoy his parents and his unusual interactions with them.

I will say that there’s a scene where he gets excited by the idea that the girl he has a crush on might have popped a zit on her chin because he thinks this indicates that she was excited for their date. Just… ewww. Again, jarring.

I don’t want to give away the ending obviously, so I’ll just say I found it a little abrupt and confusing.

Ch05en is ultimately an interesting and fun little read.

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Review: “Brave New World,” David Bishop (Heroes Reborn)

Pros: Interesting material
Cons: Didn’t entirely hook me; doesn’t add a whole lot to the episode by the same name
Rating: 3 out of 5

Heroes Reborn – Book 1: Brave New World, by David Bishop, is a tie-in with the current “Heroes Reborn” TV episodes. It is, roughly speaking, a novelized version of the episode which is also entitled “Brave New World.” For anyone who isn’t familiar (not that there will be many of you), “Heroes” was a show about otherwise normal people developing super-powers and the scary stuff that goes with that. “Brave New World” takes us a handful of years after the end of that series. There are some things that won’t make a lot of sense unless you’re at least passingly familiar with the basics of the original show (Noah Bennet and Claire’s background are handy to know, among others). This volume takes place one year after the Odessa Event, which set normal people against “EVOs” in a big way.


Bishop’s write-up does include information not shown in the “Brave New World” television episode, but not that much. This is a relatively short body of work, and only the short length makes it worth experiencing both the ebook and the episode. Although I will say, it’s interesting to see some parts from Noah’s point of view, seeing as he’s my favorite character from this fictional world. There’s a plot involving him that I look forward to seeing more of.

Because this is such a short piece (there’s only so much you can pack into a television episode, or the book based on it), there isn’t a lot of character development. That said, I think they packed more of that in than I expected. I read this piece, then watched the episode, then read this piece again just to compare and contrast a bit. I think they overlap enough that it isn’t necessary to read the book. On the other hand, if you’re a cord-cutter and don’t currently have access to the new TV ‘event’ as it comes out, this would be a good way to get your fix.

I have one other dislike that shows up in both the book and the TV show. I don’t want to give away details, so I’ll just say that toward the end there’s a plot involving a video game, a mysterious girl, and her missing father. I felt like I’d stepped into an entirely different genre and felt it didn’t fit the feel of the world-so-far at all.

NOTE: Review book provided free by publisher for review.

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Review: “The League,” Thurston Bassett

Pros: Imaginative
Cons: Stereotypes; contradictions; details that don’t add up
Rating: 2 out of 5


In The League (The Post-Humans Book 1), by Thurston Bassett, Athan is an unusual former member of a now-defunct ‘league’ of sort-of superheroes. Athan’s major ability is to slip into an alternate (and very eerie) plane of existence by stepping “into” people’s minds, and then back out through the mind of someone he’s familiar with. He’s also a bit faster and tougher than your average person. He discovers that there’s another “post-human” who can access that plane, and that his opposite has great and terrible plans to bring monsters from outside the world into our world. It’s time for Athan to find and bring together the old group of League members, some of whom are mysteriously missing.


The basic idea is sound, and I like the Cthulhu-esque organic plane of existence that Athan can enter and leave. It’s imaginative and unusual. Unfortunately, every other post-human was pretty standard–with some additional unfortunate details.

Let’s take Brad (“Apollo”), who can absorb information at spectacular speeds and seems to live in a den lined with monitors. Later on he mysteriously turns out to be a world-class shot (he shot someone’s gun, deliberately) with little explanation beyond oh, he learns practical skills really quickly too (apparently living his last few years in a basement, monitoring every news source, allowed for gun practice?). Then he picks up a whole new ability, one that’s completely unrelated to his primary skill and in fact duplicates the ability of someone who isn’t present. It’s a convenient, but silly, deus ex machina. Meantime there’s the firestarter, the post-human whose specialty is finding post-humans, and the person who can kill with a touch. There’s also a strong man who’s been inexplicably brainwashed. The author spent so much time explaining everything else that the lack of explanation here sticks out like a sore thumb. Oh, and at one point we get the obligatory old woman to deliver the meaning-of-life speech.

This basically takes place in Australia, and the characters who are pointed out as American are highly stereotypical (bad guys with more power, arrogance and sadism than brains, bombastic and in-your-face, plus they talk like someone’s television-inspired idea of how Americans must speak). Come to think of it, most of the bad guys were highly stereotypical, with arrogance their chief weapon.

There’s a lot of information to pick up on regarding the League, which fell apart some time ago. Unfortunately a lot of it is done infodump style. Worse, a lot of it is infodumped between characters who already know all of what they’re saying, meaning it’s wholly for the benefit of the reader. Ugh. A lot of the background really isn’t as necessary as the author thought it was; readers are pretty good at filling in the blanks if given a framework to start with. There’s even the standard bad guy explanation-to-good-guy element.

Athan’s organic dreamscape truly has the capability to add a creep factor. Unfortunately, when he finally meets some inhabitants of that world, they squash any creepiness immediately by being silly.

There are some good basic action scenes, some interesting plans, an almost-creepy alien plane of existence, and some decent tension-raising material toward the end. The characters, however, don’t feel natural or organic. Most of them feel like plot conveniences.

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Review: “Near Enemy,” Adam Sternbergh

Pros: Fascinating world-building
Cons: Potentially off-putting style
Rating: 4 out of 5

Near Enemy is book two in Adam Sternbergh’s “Spademan” novels. Despite having missed the first novel, I didn’t feel particularly lost. You miss some character/relationship background, but there’s enough info here for you to figure it out.

Spademan is a killer for hire, and he’s been sent to kill a ‘bedhopper’–a voyeur who spies on others’ activities in the virtual reality (“limnosphere”). Instead he ends up talking to the young man and then sending him on his way. He gets wrapped up in a plot involving the police, that virtual reality, and most tantalizingly, a death that supposedly happened when a person’s virtual reality avatar was killed. This isn’t supposed to be possible. There are elements of terrorism, blackmail, people who proselytize against using the virtual reality, and more. Meanwhile, Spademan has also taken responsibility for keeping a woman and her baby safe from her family and the baby’s father, which proves to be increasingly difficult–and dangerous for him.


There are two structural elements to the narrative that will work great for some readers and will drive others crazy. First, the percentage of sentence fragments is mind-boggling:

Now everyone’s escaped.
Courtyard’s a ghost town.
Lobby left wide open.
Waltz right in.

Thankfully, there are plenty of actual, non-one-liner paragraphs.

The second oddity is that there are no quotation marks for any of the dialogue; it’s just part of the narrative:

What’s the first rule of the limnosphere, Spademan?
Mark says this like he’s talking to a child.
You tell me, Mark.
You can’t be killed through the limn. That’s the first and only rule. Not even a rule, really. More like a law. Like gravity.

The real strangeness here is that once I got used to those elements of the style, it felt very appropriate to Spademan’s mind. I felt like it added to the story instead of detracting from it, and even aided in the suspension of disbelief. It certainly gave me a sense of how Spademan’s mind worked.

There’s plenty going on, with Spademan poking his nose into everything and being manipulated, threatened, or coerced from every angle. There’s danger both inside and outside the limn, and of course, not all is as it seems. If it sounds like something you might enjoy, then I recommend reading it. I have a feeling the style will cause most readers to love it or hate it, without many in between.


This book was provided free for review by Blogging for Books.

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Review: “The Long Walk,” Stephen King

Pros: Absolutely fascinating premise
Cons: I wish there was a little more context
Rating: 4 out of 5


In Stephen King’s The Long Walk, a group of young teenage boys–well, they take a long walk. There are rules for this walk. You cannot drop below a certain speed without getting a warning–and if you get too many warnings, they shoot you dead. This is not some small ten-mile walk, either. They go until only one boy remains, and that can take a long time. They’re given water, they’re given a certain minimum of food, but if they so much as stop to take a piss they get that warning. They can burn off a warning by walking for an hour without picking up any other warnings.

This being a Stephen King book, nothing about human anatomy and its foibles is white-washed. There’s puking, there’s shitting one’s pants, there’s bloody corpses.

There are a few hints of context along the way. A national test. A cut-off date to refuse to participate. Understudies, so to speak, in case anyone doesn’t show up. Supposedly, win and you get anything you want–not that anyone seems to understand what that means. People set themselves up beside the road to watch and make bets as though it was like any other marathon, just more gruesome. Contenders make and break friendships along the way; the further they make it, after all, the more readily it becomes apparent that either they will die, or all of the friends they’re making will die.

I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the fact that there is virtually no context for this. I want to know what societal development resulted in ritually killing a hundred boys by walking them to their deaths. I want to know what made this ‘okay’. I can’t really see a path from here to there, which means the story has a hole in it. That said, I’m not sure if it would reduce the power of the story if you knew why it came about. Or maybe King just wanted to give us a pure experience of man-vs.-man, without having to worry about when or why.

The Long Walk distills each boy down to his basest parts, stripping away layer after layer of society and expectations. It’s fascinating. Stephen King is probably one of the few authors who could take something like this, without that context, and make it fascinating throughout its length.

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Review: “Homeworld Blues,” A. J. McMillan

Pros: Interesting premise
Cons: Inconsistencies, contradictions, and annoying characters
Rating: 2 out of 5


Homeworld Blues (Triworlds Revolution Book 1), by A. J. McMillan, starts off in a colony ship occupied by ‘officers’ and ‘civs’. It’s a fairly standard dystopian setup: no ‘natural’ babies; stereotypical loves-to-be-evil law enforcement officer; various ‘principles’ set down ages ago. There is one neat twist: the colony ships were given to the people of this world by an alien race in order to save them from some sort of cataclysm. Trayia is the product of a ‘natural’ birth between two people who loved each other, so the people in charge spaced the law-breaking couple (which doesn’t work with certain later developments) and sent the daughter down to grow up with the civs. She manages, however, to be one of a very few civs who claw their way back up to be officers. She’s sent on an undercover mission to ferret out rebellious civs, and that’s where everything starts to go wrong. I should note that the Principles that the two parents broke are mentioned nowhere else in the book that I can remember. You’d think that Trayia would at least give them some thought, if she’s so desperate to be viewed well by the other Officers. The story also contradicts itself. For example, supposedly being a ‘transplant’–a civ who gets made an officer–is the “highest honor” that can befall a civ (it’s described such that the civs themselves view this as a high honor). Yet that’s despite the fact that the civs are all oppressed and downtrodden to the point of possible rebellion.

I won’t go into the details of how Trayia ends up finding herself on the run from truly nasty aliens on a different world, because it would give too much away. She ends up on what I’m calling stoner-world, where everyone seems to be a stoner, slacker, hippie, or whatever. Happy-drugs are everywhere. This isn’t Earth, the locals aren’t actually speaking English, but everyone’s speech is rendered as hugely idiomatic English. It ruins the idea that this is an alien world, despite the fact that the ecology is very weird and distinctly non-Earthly. As far as I can tell there are only two modes of speech. One is that idiomatic non-English, and the other is a very stiff, robotic style (reserved for anyone ‘serious’). Note that anyone who’s supposed to be all serious is also depicted as being totally wooden. Dialogue tends to be awkward.

The author over-explains things, often in a repetitive manner. There are also a lot of contradictory details. For example, Trayia goes undercover, despite the fact that this is completely unrelated to her job. It’s supposed in part to be because she came from the civs and thus understands them better. Yet she doesn’t seem familiar with the civs at all, and she certainly can’t pass herself off as one of them when she’s using her robotic pattern of speech. Also, a lot of people seem to be in on her undercover gig despite the fact that her higher-ups think they have one or more people on the inside who are helping the civs. Note that she also declares that until now “I have always known my purpose in life.” No, no she hasn’t. She spent most of her life as a civ, and wouldn’t have predicted the position she ended up in.

The material that takes place in the ship early on is pretty much all stiff and serious, then everything gets silly with the stoner-world and the one human drummer who somehow shows up on the scene with no explanation. The tonal change is really weird. There’s the stereotypical blind sage who doesn’t need his eyes to see. Everyone obsesses over Traiya with only the barest justification. No one really questions how “Zepp”, the human from Earth, ends up on one of the other worlds, including him. Several times people get blamed for telling secrets out of turn, but no one ever told them these were secrets. Traiya is “overwhelmed … by the hustle and bustle” of the hippy world, even though she grew up in a hugely overcrowded and riotous part of the colony ship. She’s also described as a natural leader at one point–what on earth are these people using as a definition of a leader? She’s stiff and retiring and keeps hanging out in the background of things.

Anyway. There are many more specific examples I could cite, but I think you’ve got the gist of it by now. I have no interest in reading book two, and I had to fight my way through this one as I kept wanting to put it down and read something else.

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Review: “Ex-Purgatory,” Peter Clines

Pros: Love seeing more of the heroes’ backgrounds
Cons: Beginning stretched out too much
Rating: 4 out of 5

Ex-Purgatory is book four in the delightful zombie/super-hero “Ex-Heroes” series by Peter Clines. This time we get a look at St. George working as a handyman at a university. He’s just starting to pick up on his invulnerability/strength when things get weird. Sometimes he sees zombies trying to kill him, while sometimes everything seems clean and normal. There’s a woman in a wheelchair telling him that the world has been overrun by these ex-humans, but clearly that isn’t true. Gradually he starts to make contact with Stealth and Zzzap, but his world just gets weirder and weirder. He isn’t sure what to believe in.


I realize that’s a short (and probably confusing) teaser, but it’s hard to explain much of the premise without giving away some of the layers of plot. I really enjoyed learning more about some of the heroes’ backgrounds. The only problem I had was that it went on overlong and kept the momentum low. To be fair, the complexity probably merited that slow introduction. The reason it seemed ill-placed is because the series-so-far has had a fast enough pace to make this seem like an awkward change. Some of the initial material also felt repetitive.

Mind you, that only knocked my rating down to a 4-out-of-5, and that’s still a very good rating. The characters take on more dimension with every book, and I already thought they were great in the first installment. It was fascinating to see how each of the characters (thinking mostly of Stealth, St. George, and Zzzap) spent their work time before they became heroes and the world ended. I particularly liked the image of “St. George/the Mighty Dragon” as a university handyman–it just isn’t what I’d come to expect, and it works perfectly.

Things do pick up later in the book, and clues become contradictory, making it hard to pin down exactly what’s happening. This is probably a reader-dependent thing. In retrospect I have a feeling there’ll be a sharp divide between readers who think it’s a great mystery and readers who think it’s obvious. Lucky for me, for whatever reason I didn’t find it obvious, so that kept the mystery more intense.

I will say that even if you think you know what’s going on, there will still be surprises when you get to the end. Again, trying not to spoil anything here. I loved how it worked out, and look forward to reading the next installment! Unfortunately I think that’s supposed to be in February of 2016, which will be hard to wait for!

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Review: “Ex-Communication,” Peter Clines

Pros: Fantastic action sequences
Rating: 5 out of 5

Ex-Communication is book three in Peter Clines’s excellent “Ex-Heroes” saga, following Ex-Heroes and Ex-Patriots. We’ve gone from superheroes and zombies, to superheroes, super-soldiers, and zombies–and now, sorcerers and demons oh my. One of the ‘superheroes’ from before the start of the series is a man (Max) who possesses the body of a demon (Cairax), rather than the other way around. So he had a superbly terrifying, powerful, and nigh-invulnerable physical form but the mind of a man–before he died. Now his ghost is planning a big comeback, but it comes with a whole lot of caveats and dangers that Max isn’t mentioning to his old friends. Added to the mix is a young woman who seems to be, well, dead. Not a zombie, despite the cold skin and lack of heartbeat; she has a sense of identity, after all, and a perfectly normal ability to converse with others. She’s just… dead. Not surprisingly, quite a few people are not okay with that situation.


I’m still having a blast reading Clines’s series of books about superheroes and the zombie apocalypse, and I’ll be diving into the next book post-haste. The characters are so much fun; we finally get to learn a bit more about Stealth in this volume, although I don’t want to ruin it by adding any details. I’ll just say that I’ve been wanting to get to this part, and I enjoyed its execution quite a bit. One of the other character aspects I love about the series in general is the humanity of the super-humans. They make mistakes. They can be naive or overly skeptical. They can be outgoing or hermit-like. They’re… well, they’re people. They’re interesting as individuals no matter what their powers.

I have to mention one thing I love about these books that will probably seem trivial. I’m not fond of books that hop around in time so excessively that dates and times are tacked on to every chapter start. The more different times or dates displayed, the harder it gets to keep the book’s timeline straight. Clines has done one thing to correct this that is surprisingly elegant: chapters are simply labeled as either ‘Then’ or ‘Now’–flashback to the past or narrating the present. I want to see more authors using this instead of dates.

“I don’t know if you noticed […] but the natural order’s been violated from pretty much every angle you can imagine.”

Issues of life-and-death, resurrection, and identity weave their way through the various plots playing out. How do you decide what is part of the ‘natural order of things’ when you’ve discovered zombies, superheroes, and super-soldiers are all real? Where do you stop? Is it possible that the zombies could still be harboring pieces of their ‘real’ selves beyond those blank stares? This is a fascinating angle to explore, and religion does get pulled into it at a reasonable level. (By reasonable I mean that while there are some fanatics, there are also much more reasonable religious characters as well. A spectrum is provided.)

Don’t worry–there isn’t just philosophical material to ponder; there’s also plenty of excitement. I couldn’t put the book down once it reached the climactic fight scenes and plot twists. They played out spectacularly.

I ended up babbling about fascinating parts of the plot and characters to my husband, which as I’ve mentioned before is often the sign that a book is good enough to make the jump from a 4-out-of-5 to a 5-out-of-5. It means the book really pulled me in, held my attention, and made me think–made me love the characters and care what happened to them.

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Review: “Ex-Patriots,” Peter Clines

Pros: Plenty of fun surprises in store!
Rating: 5 out of 5

Ex-Patriots: A Novel (Ex-Heroes) is the sequel to Peter Clines’s Ex-Heroes. I’ve been having such fun reading his books lately that I decided I had to take on his rather unique zombie apocalypse series. You see, in this universe superheroes exist. Some can fly. Some can heal. Others can turn into pure energy or be invulnerable to harm. When the zombie apocalypse happened, some of them joined together in Hollywood to corral and protect what few survivors were left. With the heroes’ help, the survivors lead a comparatively good life. The survival element of zombie fiction remains, but the adaptability and strength of the heroes changes the dynamic.

In Ex-Patriots, our heroes meet up with another logical extension of this universe: the group of super-soldiers, being led by Captain Freedom. They’re fast and they’re incredibly strong. It’s going to take a little poking around for St. George and his fellow heroes to figure out whether these guys are really there to help, or to dismantle and take the best of what they’ve pulled together–including the Cerberus exo-suit, which, to be fair, was a military project.

A Mr. Smith is the mild-mannered aw-shucks civilian advisor working with the super-soldiers. Soon a handful of heroes go with him to see what state his army base is in, and whether the two communities could help each other out. Unfortunately, everyone has nasty surprises coming their way. Who’s a good guy? Who’s a bad guy? And what to do about the sudden army of exes building up outside the army base? Things get lethal quickly.


I absolutely love this installment. I’m planning on reading it again soon, which I rarely do, because now that I know what’s coming I want to go back and catch the details that I never put together on the first reading. There are some events that definitely caught me by surprise.

I really enjoy the characters, especially St. George, Danielle/Cerberus, Stealth (although I still want to understand more of her), Barry/Zzzap, and so on. Even the Driver, a new (and seemingly useless) addition to the family, has personality and a role to play.

I’m very much looking forward to reading the rest of the series. Most of the time I read review books that I’ve gotten from authors and publishers, but since receiving Clines’s The Fold in that manner, I’ve been on a steady walk through the rest of his books, which I find well worth spending the money on.

The storytelling, pacing, and curve-balls are a lot of fun in Ex-Patriots. I love the way Clines has stirred up the zombie genre and given it more juice by adding in superheroes and more.

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