Monday, 30 November 2015

The Oracle by D.J. Niko - Book Review

The Oracle, by D.J. Niko
The Sarah Weston Chronicles, Book 3
Published By:  Medallion Press, October 19, 2015
Pages:  423 PDF
Genre:  Historical
Source:  Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours, Medallion Press

In Delphi, the mountain city deemed by the Greek gods to be the center of the Earth, a cult of neo-pagans re-create with painstaking authenticity ancient rituals to glorify the god Apollo and deliver oracles to seekers from around the world.

When antiquities are stolen from a museum in nearby Thebes, British archaeologist Sarah Weston and her American partner, Daniel Madigan, are drawn into a plot that goes beyond harmless role-playing: someone’s using the Delphian oracle as a smoke screen for an information exchange, with devastating consequences for the Western world.

Pitted against each other by the cult’s mastermind, Sarah and Daniel race against time and their own personal demons to uncover clues left behind by the ancients. Their mission: to find the original navel stone marked with a lost Pythagorean formula detailing the natural events that led to the collapse of the Minoan Empire.

But will they find it in time to stop the ultimate terrorist act?
The Oracle is a fast-paced, well written novel about the nitty gritty and often treacherous world of antiquities black marketing, in relation to the ancient Oracle of Delphi.

D.J. Niko runs two timelines; that of Aristea, the last Oracle (or priestess) of Delphi, back in 393 CE, and Sarah Weston in modern day working on an important artifact related to the Oracle. I like Aristea’s story running along intermittently with the present as it gives us a window into the world where the sacred objects that garner so much interest now come from, and to see past and present action occurring in the same Greece location.

In modern day, the continuous action sequences of Sarah’s and Daniel’s pursuit and investigations on the obelisk stake make me a feel like I’m in a James Bond film as we also travel to different locales to uncover the mystery. There’s good flow and sense of urgency throughout and we are treated to military and Russian villains, and even Syrian IS. The oracular artifact is of great interest to these and other groups as it can give them enormous power.

I like Sarah as a strong female protagonist; she’s smart, and brave. As the story focuses more on the race to find out the truth about the artifact and why a mysterious group is after it, there’s not really enough room to develop a romance between Sarah and Daniel though there’s a thin subtext about it throughout. However, they do have a special and very solid connection.

The Oracle is based in the fabulous cultural heritage of Delphi and the author has obviously done a lot of research so there’s a certain amount of info relay. Niko writes some wonderful descriptions, but sometimes I felt the story a bit dry. I also found the type script technically is just large enough that you have to continuously keep scrolling the pages fast which kept my finger always on my mouse (or maybe I was anxious to see what’s happening next!). I really liked the secondary characters that add a lot to the story.

I definitely recommend The Oracle as a great read for those who love action-oriented novels with a flavour of ancient history, and linked directly into important issues of our times. 4.5 Stars!

The Oracle is D.J. Niko's third book in the Sarah Weston Chronicles, archaeological thrillers.  You will find her on the web at these links:

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Next Stop: Nina by Robin Raven - Book Review

Next Stop: Nina, by Robin Raven
Published By:  Batham Press, July 26, 2015
Pages:  241 PDF
Genre:  Psychological, Time Travel
Source:  Author

Nina never was one who felt comfortable in this world. As she struggles to cope with the pain of her present and past, the young girl's life is changed through the beauty of art. When Nina grows up and winds up in over her head in a dark place, she finds herself somehow transported to another time when nothing is quite what it seems. She must fight the horrors of her past all over again. Along the way, she faces greater challenges than she imagined.

This is a character-driven novel with a heroine who faces life, love, and overcoming suicidal depression on her own terms.
Reading Next Stop: Nina is something of a departure for me but I was interested in the time travel aspect. It is difficult to know whether this is true time travel or some kind of internal psychological mechanism that Nina has for re-making a life that was extremely difficult for her to consciously deal with.

This book is beautifully written around the very difficult issues of abuse, depression, and thoughts of suicide. The 37 year old Nina is somehow transported from a moment when she wishes to end her life back to the time when she was 10 years old.

How incredible to take your mature self back to the time when you were 10 and experience your world again. It makes me wonder how I might see my own childhood through my adult lenses; my memories are certainly hazy.

Ultimately, this novel is about Nina experiencing recurrent echos, or repeated resets to her youth where she begins to relive her adult life over and over again. Recurrent themes are seeing her brother and mother before they are killed, her love relationship with Leonard/Lens, and her understanding of herself and learning about the beauty and goodness in life. She’s very resilient despite her issues and chooses something beautiful, delicious, or lovely over death every time.

If you’re of a mind to contemplate the strange forces that influence our lives and have a strong emotional/mental constitution, then reading Next Stop: Nina is a good choice.  4.3 Stars

My thanks to the author for a reading copy for the purposes of an honest review. You will find Robin Raven on the internet here:

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Once Upon A Stolen Time by Samreen Ahsan - Book Review

Once Upon A (Stolen) Time
by Samreen Ahsan
Stolen Series
To Be Released: Amazon Digital
Services, December 1, 2015
Pages:  210 PDF, 221 print
Genre:  Fantasy, Romance, Historical, Paranormal
Source:  Author

All her life, Myra Farrow has been obsessed with medieval castles, and the kings and princes who once inhabited them. Now, wealthy video game designer, Steve Bernard, wants her to model for a princess character in his new game. Myra can’t resist his offer, especially when she learns that Steve plans to film inside the mysterious Hue Castle, a cursed, barren, colourless place forbidden to visitors for centuries. But unknown to Myra, her soul is bound to Hue Castle by blood and sorcery. When she enters its doors, she awakens dark powers that will reach through time—stealing her past, torturing her present, and rewriting her future.

Edward Hue, the last of the Hue royal bloodline, has never stood in the sunshine or held a living flower. Cursed from birth to live in darkness and bring death to all he touches, he is at the mercy of his cruel, tyrannical father, who will not rest until he shatters Edward’s soul and makes his son into a diabolical copy of himself. Edward’s one hope is the mysterious woman who haunts his dreams—who will either break his curse and bring him out of the darkness, or destroy him utterly.

For Myra and Edward, past and future collide in a tale of love, obsession, betrayal, and the hope for redemption.
At the outset, I’d like to say I just love the premise of this book and think it would make an awesome movie; producers and film makers please check out this interesting novel (first in series).

Myra finds herself accidentally engaged to Steve, a young game software developer from a wealthy family who wants to have her model for his new game that he plans to shoot at the reportedly haunted Hue Castle. They investigate the ancient castle and while exploring the totally grey and lifeless structure, Myra starts to pick up visions and premonitions from a screened mirror.

The author runs two timelines, one in 2015, and one in 1415, set in the same castle. Myra and Steve are in 2015, and in the past, prince Edward lives horribly oppressed at the hands of his very cruel father and King, yearning for the love of the woman who haunts his nightly dreams.

While the storyline is fascinating, the writing style is a mixture of youngish YA, and advanced vocabulary (can you guess what caliginosity means?), along with philosophical quotes between chapters. I caught one anachronism when King Stefan in 1415 taps his cigar ashes into an ashtray :)

The two male leads have interesting developmental changes. Steve completely changes his feelings for Myra from the start to end of the novel, though some of his evolution may be on account of a new revelation about him. Edward in 1415 appears to go in the reverse direction, from being hopeful to hopeless. Myra has a couple of important and perhaps scary revelations about herself that will definitely impact her in the next book.

Both past and present storylines are relayed from their respective POVs so we see things from Myra’s perspective, and then from Edward’s. The storylines are brought together at the cliff hanger ending but pose a new, possibly frightening, scenario for the next installment.

If you’re into cursed castles and love YA books, this novel is definitely worth checking out for the great atmosphere and inventive, haunting story. I think if Once Upon a (Stolen) Time was made into a film and shot with a lavish, classical hand, this would make an amazing movie.  4.3 Stars!

My thanks to the author for an advanced reading copy. Samreen Ahsan is the winner of many worldwide book festivals and you will find her on the web here:

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

A Vanishing Glow by Alexis Radcliff - Book Review

A Vanishing Glow, by Alexis Radcliff
The Mystech Arcanum #1 Shattered Dreams, and #2 Dark Omens
Published:  September 15, 2015, CreateSpace
Pages: 397 PDF
Genre: Fantasy, Adventure, Steampunk
Source: Author

When the High Sovereign of the five kingdoms of Ghavarim is murdered by a mysterious assassin, the realm is plunged into chaos. Jason Tern, a noble captain with a tragic past, must battle shadowy assailants and untangle an ever-widening web of lies to discover the true identity of the killer before mounting tensions spark a bloody civil war. Meanwhile, Nilya Valsu, a talented army engineer with a broken heart, finds herself used as an unwitting pawn in a plot that has deadly consequences. Wracked by guilt, her sole chance for redemption lies with a man who would loathe her – but only if he knew her secret.

As the conflict intensifies between the magic-fueled technology of the West and the disaffected rebels of the East, all must fight for what they hold dear. Who will reign victorious and who will lie bloodied on the ground in the light of a vanishing glow?
Alexis Radcliff’s first novel is a well written, intelligent, and complex foray into a fantasy world focused around the ancient city of Adaron. While her novel really defies genre definition, it has elements of adventure, magic, and tech/steampunk on the background of a ruling noble hierarchy somewhat akin to old European. One thing this book is not however is a romance novel.

We begin with Captain Jason Tern’s return from duty out on the savannah to Adaron to serve with friend, Nole Ryon, the future High Sovereign. Jason is likeable though has clear self-doubts stemming from his past.  At his first social gathering, he and the reader are plunged into Adaron politics, governmental and military, that underscore much of the story.

The author introduces original themes such as the mystech crystal (a blend of magic and machinery), and constructs (humans that have suffered bodily injuries that have been repaired with mechanical prostheses powered by mystech). The idea of East versus West marking increasing industrialization and the attendant problems this brings is also an important theme.

There are two expertly interwoven plotlines of Captain Tern’s investigations of the High Sovereign’s assassination, and that of Nilya, a young tech engineer who wants to improve her life. Her course is a peculiar one, in part influenced by the machinations going on in Adaron. Nilya comes to an emotional, and very interesting end.

Several unexpected and fantastic plot twists really kept me going. I wouldn’t normally read a book like this (political/military/adventure) but found myself enjoying the author’s smooth writing style and unexpected plot twists. Exciting ending as a lead into the next instalment.

A great read for those who enjoy adventure/thriller type novels set in a framework of magic, fantasy, and quasi steampunk.  4.3 stars!

Friday, 6 November 2015

Books and Manuscripts - Invaluable Auctions

In our digital age, we are less and less in contact with hard copy books and I for one admit to going completely with the flow. No more heavy books to lug around, great!

The downside is that we’re losing the comfort and permanence of our hard copy books to the ephemeral digital. Ryan of Invaluable Auctioneers recently emailed me about their book and print materials auctions and I agreed to write about a few of my picks from their book offerings. Invaluable auctions books and manuscripts on diverse subjects. Feel free to check out the Antique Books and unique manuscripts that Invaluable have on their site.

The Phantom of the Opera, by Gaston Leroux.
First published in September 1909, the Phantom is now mostly known by the various musical productions that bring this macabre story to life. Here is the original written version. Opera singer, Christine, is kidnapped by the phantom, a strange, deformed man that secretly lives in hiding in the opera house. This cover is from lot 212, being auctioned November 10. There are other copies available on other dates.

Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier. This was first published in 1938 and continues to be a favourite with many. I love this strange tale of a young woman who is a companion to busybody Mrs. Van Hopper. While visiting Monte Carlo she meets widower, Max de Winter, owner of the fabulous Manderley. Max surprisingly asks her to marry him and takes her back to his seaside mansion. The novel title is of Max’s first wife who has drowned less than a year before in a storm. So intriguing is that the reader never discovers the name of Max’s new wife throughout the entire book.

The Diary and Letters of Madame D’Arblay
by Francis Burney (later Madame D’Arblay).
Fanny was an English novelist and diarist born in 1776. I don’t have a specific interest in Madame D’Arblay but I think that works like these are excellent studies for historical research into specific time periods. At $50.00 starting bid, it’s pricey research but it would be awesome to consult one of these when checking out social customs or ideology of a time period.

So, worth checking out their website if you love hard copy books, hard to find early editions of popular and various topic books, and unique manuscripts.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

On The Evil Scale by Yza-Dora - Book Review

On The Evil Scale, by Yza-Dora
Keeper of La Tecla, Book 2
Published:  Amazon Kindle eBooks, July 4, 2015
Pages: 397 PDF
Genre: Young Adult, Paranormal, Epic, Adventure
Source: Author

A year has passed and the young woman/Keeper, Yzavela, returns from her trip to Ireland with new skills. The tension between the vampires and werewolves at Ravenstone is growing and the situation is becoming more chaotic than she can handle. She must also deal with the horrific creatures known as Boar-wolves that kidnap her best friend’s little sister. After putting together a rescue party and destroying the creatures, unknown to everyone, another threat from the Great City is beginning to spread on a larger scale, causing destruction everywhere.

And now, even the peaceful sanctuary of Ravenstone will be affected. The Keeper gathers a small army of five hundred men, vampires, and werewolves to aid her in the fight against the evil that has materialized from the Great City. After the war ends, with the necromancer's death, and that of his brother and minions, difficult decisions are made to save Yzavela's life. Her vampire husband, Erik, had promised to turn her in the event of a crisis, and he fulfills his promise turning her not only into an average vampire … but his alpha matriarch.

When she returns to Ravenstone, how will they react when they find out that their Keeper has been turned into one of the most dangerous and vicious race of all?
Yza-Dora’s second book in the Keeper of La Tecla series also comes in at a hefty 397 pages of magic, mayhem, and amazingly earnest goodness.

Yzavela and her mother return from nearly a year in Ireland, learning about the uses of herbs and witch lore, only to find things at Ravenstone in something of an uproar.  Yzavela, as Keeper at Ravenstone, must regain control over the situation in a magical place where several paranormal races exist together in a curious balance partly mediated by the Keeper.

Between the vampire-werewolf issues, boar wolves, and the onslaught of the red death from the Great City, there’s a lot going on here.  I really enjoyed this quite amazing story of Yzavela’s efforts to come into her own as Keeper at Ravenstone. She’s a brave, self-assertive young woman with a strong sense of herself which is expressed very clearly throughout the entire book.

This is a compendium of possibly every paranormal and magical thing all rolled into one with high tech and steam punk bits, set in the tone of high moral ground. So, this is a great role model/example for younger readers and a highly entertaining read, though the ending gets somewhat violent with war, changes in Yzavela, and generally more violent language.

The book has a number of structural irregularities. POV is quite irregular; in one example, Yzavela is talking about the activities of others in another city using “I”, or from her point of view in scenes where she is not present. To me, these should be omniscient. Sentence structure is a little irregular as well as it loosens out to a sort of rambling dialogue in some places. There are some incorrect word forms/homonyms (click/clique, fowl/foul), misplaced commas, and some typos. As well, I think for the age level I understand the book to be, “mommy” sounds too young to me; I’d use “mom”. So, I think the book would benefit quite a lot from some editing.

I think this is a very enthusiastic and talented story teller but she needs to slow down and focus on correct sentence structure, word forms, etc. Possibly the book was written in a bit of a hurry, or just that it’s quite long and a lot to keep control over. However, these structural issues didn’t keep me from enjoying it!

For epic story-telling and sheer positive enthusiasm, I give On The Evil Scale 4 stars. My thanks to the author for a reading copy in exchange for an unbiased review.