The Diary of Nicholas Oldman by M G Atkinson

DIARY
The Diary of Nicholas Oldman by M G Atkinson
Publisher: Self-published
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Historical, Action/Adventure
Length: Full Length (226 pages)
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

“When the sun had almost reached the western horizon, I turned around and looked back, my footprint’s snaked off into the distance and were lost from sight. The first footprints of man.”

In April 2014, Nicholas Oldman goes to bed after his fortieth birthday party and mysteriously disappears. His diary is discovered in 1974.

The first book of pages from The Diary of Nicholas Oldman tells the tale of his first months as the only human being on the planet. In a place so vastly different from the world he has come from, Nicholas must overcome far more than a hostile Earth.

The only thing more difficult than surviving in the distant past is finding a reason to do so.

This was one of the most engrossing science fiction books I’ve read in a long time. The shocking way in which the author decided to introduce the audience to this very strange thing that’s happened to Nicholas made it difficult for me to stop reading. What piqued my interest even more was how the pacing remained strong and consistent as the protagonist adjusts to his bizarre new surroundings. Harrowing is a good word to describe certain chapters, yet the periods of (relative) calm between calamities only made me wonder what could possibly happen next.

There was a point early on in his adventures when I was confused by Nicholas’ narration. He describes himself as an ordinary, middle-aged man who appeared to be somewhat physically active in his previous life. It was odd, then, to hear him discuss going extremely long periods of time without any food or water in a hot and humid environment. It was never quite clear to me if his memories of this time period were accurate or if his physiology had somehow been altered during his journey to the past. I’m happy to occasionally suspend my disbelief with stuff like this if the plot calls for it, but it would have been really helpful to have a few more hints about what was really going on.

Nicholas’ character development was well done. When I first requested this story I was fascinated by the idea of one person shouldering an entire novel. It’s not something that I typically see happening in this genre, but I’m always interested in checking out the less common approaches or tropes. There’s definitely something to be said for trying something new, and focusing on Nicholas so intensely was a very good decision!

The Diary of Nicholas Oldman is a great choice for anyone who loves survival tales.

Time Travelling Dinos: The Pilot by Chris Sykes

DINOS
Time Travelling Dinos: The Pilot by Chris Sykes
Publisher: Self-published
Genre: Young Adult/Middle Grade, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Historical, Contemporary, Action/Adventure
Length: Full Length (269 pages)
Age Recommendation: 8+
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

What if time travel has already been invented, but the technology for travelling through time is lost somewhere in the past – way, way back in the past? What then? What would a dinosaur really need with a time machine, anyway?

In ancient times, dinosaurs ruled the world. But they disappeared, leaving only bones to tell their stories. Bones will say a lot about how their former owners lived – they can be quite gossipy under the right circumstances – but there are some things that they will never let slip. Some secrets, like how one slightly overweight dinosaur might cause the end of the world, are not for bones to tell. That job is mine. So, settle down and read on. But be warned: time travel is the most dangerous way to travel. Not only can you be ripped apart by the flowing motion of time itself but you can destroy the whole universe if you do not know what you are doing. And no one really does. Strange things can happen.

They say curiosity killed the cat. What would it do to a friendly dinosaur?

One of the things I enjoy the most about Mr. Sykes writing style is his playful sense of humor. I was excited to read his newest work due to how much I’ve enjoyed his stuff in the past. This story was tailored specifically for elementary students, but there is also plenty of material here that adults can get a chuckle out of as well. I was thoroughly amused by all of the funny stuff that happened as Larry and Tim adjusted to what happened to them.

There were a few minor pacing issues. Normally I’d expect something written for this age group to be shorter and have a plot that moves a little faster than what this author has written. The pacing problems weren’t serious enough to keep me from enjoying Larry and Tim’s adventures, but had they not occurred I would have given this book a higher rating.

The dialogue was really well done. Both of the main characters had an incredibly distinctive voice that I was able to pick out almost immediately. What made this even more impressive is that there wasn’t a great deal of it to begin with. Most of what I learned about the setting and other characters happened in the descriptions, so it was really interesting to see how much material was packed into the dialogue that was included.

I’d recommend Time Travelling Dinos: The Pilot to anyone who enjoys time travel tales.

Dragon Rising by Susan Brassfield Cogan

DRAGON
Dragon Rising by Susan Brassfield Cogan
#3 Black Jade Dragon Series
Publisher: CoganBooks
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (198 Pages)
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Cyclamen

Go to Hell.

It’s such a delicious phrase. Angie Tanaka never thought she’d want to go there herself.

Usually people spend their entire lives avoiding a trip to Hell. Not Angie. Long-ju is down there and it was all her fault. He is the Silver Dragon, magnificent, legendary, a work of art. He had sacrificed himself for her and she is only … Angie. She needed to put that right. She had to get him out of there. Nobody was going to help her with that, certainly not the other dragons.

All of that led to one question: How do you spring a dragon out of Hell?

Angie Tanaka is in over her head once again. Long-ju, the Silver Dragon, sacrificed himself for her and now she is trying to find a way into Hell so she can bring him back. As she says, “Welcome to my life. It often doesn’t make a heck of a lot of sense.” She’s a thief, and has been since the fourth grade. But she does care about the dragons, and she knows what needs to happen, at least according to her. So she fights demons and monsters, getting in a lot of trouble, all to save her friend. Before she knows it, she’s being framed for a bombing and the police are hunting her, saying that she’s a terrorist. But she keeps right on going.

I like Angie. She has strong ideals, even if she is a thief. The action never stops and she is caught in one disaster after another. The dragons help her and these dragons are really wonderful. It’s not hard to believe in dragons like these who can take any shape they want, usually appearing as humans. But they are always dragons, without a doubt. “Dragons can undo their molecules and assume any shape they want. That’s all fine as far as it goes. The bad part is they can do it to you. Daiyu disintegrated me. I really hate that. Really. No really. I woke up on a dirt floor. I could only hope she’d put all my molecules back where they belonged.”

The descriptions of Hell are very terrifying, as are the demons Angie has to fight. She gets help from some pretty unexpected places, which adds a lot of suspense to the story. She makes mistakes which she then has to try to fix. But she never gives up.

Fantasy lovers are sure to enjoy Dragon Rising. It is the third in the series, and can be enjoyed as a stand-alone. However, I’m glad that I’ve read them in order so I can watch Angie develop as a character. Either way, this is a most exciting and enjoyable read.

The Jester Prince by Voss Foster

JESTER
The Jester Prince by Voss Foster
The King Jester Trilogy Book 2
Publisher: Torquere Press Publishers
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (172 pages)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Orchid

With the destruction of Zirkua Fantastic, King Jester, the spirit of discord, has been unleashed once more upon the Earth. Only Toby, a fresh, untrained immortal, and the other former members of Zirkua Fantastic dare to stand against his chaos. But their hold is tenuous, and they are only truly safe from his power within the bounds of their camp. King Jester grows more powerful and more dangerous with each passing day. But he’s made one mistake which might prove to be his undoing. He’s stolen Toby’s soul mate, Marley. When he discovers Marley’s location, Toby knows what he has to do. He will rescue Marley, even if it means he has to face King Jester alone.

But the others won’t let him go it alone. Marley has information about the resistance, which means they can’t afford to let him stay in King Jester’s control. In desperation, the immortals raise an army to storm the compound. But will it be enough to challenge the embodiment of chaos himself? All they can do is hope, and put their faith in love.

Toby must find his Other (soulmate) or be forever alone. This is bad as Toby is immortal, although his Other, Marley, is not.

Marley is the half breed son of King Jester and has been kidnapped by the King. To stop the Jester from taking over the immortals and everything else Toby and the other immortals at the circus must recover Marley.

I found this book slightly confusing at first. It’s the second in the series but seemed to start in the middle of the story with no real explanation of what had happened to Marley and it’s only after the first few chapters I began to understand the reasons behind Toby’s magic training and the relationship between humans and immortals.

I did enjoy the story as I got deeper into it, but parts of it were still confusing. The last few chapters are full of tension and adventure which increased my enjoyment. On the whole it is a good book, but one that I never actually got lost in. Getting lost in a story is my rule of thumb for an excellent.  I think if I’d read book one first, this might have been a different matter.

However, I have to say I’m glad I persevered as it was worth reading once I got into it.

End of Normal by S.C. Arscott

End Of Normal
End of Normal by S.C. Arscott
Publisher: Champagne Books
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (216 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Sixteen-year-old Olivia Richards’ last day of normal is just that, normal. She worries about impressing Sawyer Rising, the hottest guy in school, and argues with her mother. Everything seems fine except for that strange, glowing plant in the yard and her dad lying to her and deaf twin brother Charlie, which is the weirdest thing of all because their parents do not lie to them. Ever.

Normal ends as lights shoot out of the sky and turn into stinging drones, killing their parents. As he lay dying, their father gives them cryptic clues about coordinates and begs forgiveness before insisting they leave.

The twins join forces with Olivia’s boyfriend Axel, her best friend Clara, and heartthrob Sawyer. Together they go in search of answers only to find conspiracy, death, and an awful truth about their families.

Sometimes parents keep secrets from their kids, but most of them aren’t as dangerous as the one Olivia’s father has been keeping from her.

One of the things I appreciated the most about Olivia is how calm she stays in a crisis. She thinks through her options carefully before making a decision even when she’s in danger. This isn’t something that typically happens in this sort of tale, so it was a real treat to realize that the protagonist is such an intelligent and level-headed girl.

The pacing of this novel was disjointed. While the flashbacks to Olivia’s previous life were interesting, describing what her last few days of normalcy were like took up a disproportionate amount of space in the plot. These scenes would have made a good prequel, but they didn’t blend in very well with the fast-paced material that appears later on.

There are times when a book needs to be vivid and gross in order to get its point across. This isn’t normally the sort of thing I seek out in this genre, but it worked really well for this particular story. It’s hard to discuss it in detail without giving away spoilers, of course, but I was pleased to see how neatly the author tied everything together. Certain scenes would have been much less effective without these elements. I also thought I should mention it in my review because it’s something I would have preferred to know about ahead of time.

I’d recommend End of Normal to anyone in the mood for action-heavy science fiction.

Ben Brown’s Flying Machine by Michael Thorp

BROWN
Ben Brown’s Flying Machine by Michael Thorp
Publisher: Free House Studios Ltd.
Genre: Young Adult/Middle Grade, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary, Action/Adventure
Length: Short Story (130 pages)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

When the first manned spacecraft to Mars disappears and its crew explorer vehicle crashes onto the Brown’s wheat farm, what Ben discovers leads him on an adventure that he could never have imagined. He builds a flying machine and flies off to a planet in another universe where he finds himself fighting free its enslaved people, eighteen foot giants, and then to save his own planet. Ultimately, it’s a story about faith and a young man’s quest for love and redemption for his father’s untimely death.

There are thousands of stars in the sky than we can see with the naked eye, but we only know the secrets of a few of them.

This was a highly detail-oriented story. I visualized what was going on in every scene without ever consciously thinking about what specific room or person might look like because they were sketched out so well. What made it even more interesting is that the author used almost every sense in order to present his universe to the readers. I didn’t only see what was happening, I felt like I could smell, hear and feel it as well.

With that being said, too much time was spent describing these moments for a novella of this size. This was especially true during the first chapter as it was full of technical descriptions that took a while to understand. There would have been plenty of room to take these pauses in something full-length, but it slows down the plot too much in shorter works. As intrigued as I was by the premise, I had a hard time getting into Ben’s adventures at first because I was so distracted by everything else that was going on.

This tale had some thought-provoking things to say about why people believe harmful stuff and what happens when you encourage them to approach their beliefs from other perspectives. I wasn’t expecting to encounter such philosophical questions in a young adult novel, but the narrator made me think about other ways to approach such a potentially sensitive topic. It was one of my favorite things about Ben’s adventures.

Ben is friendly, courteous, loving, and extremely intelligent. There’s nothing wrong with focusing on a character’s best side, but it isn’t easy to identify with a protagonist who doesn’t appear to have any real flaws. Even someone as goodnatured as Ben struggles with something. I would have been quite interested to discover what it is that he finds challenging in life.

The relationship between Ben and his mom made me smile. It was nice to see such a tight bond between two family members who have such wildly different personalities and interests. They not only love each other, they genuinely seem to like one another as well. That’s not something I see regularly in the young adult genre, so it was refreshing to come across it here.

I chose the 12+ age recommendation due to violent content. It may be appropriate for some readers who are slightly younger, but I’d strongly suggest pre-screening this book to anyone who is thinking about doing this.

Ben Brown’s Flying Machine is a good choice for anyone who is fascinated by space exploration.

Dragon Sword by Susan Brassfield Cogan

DRAGO
Dragon Sword by Susan Brassfield Cogan
Black Jade Dragon Series #2
Publisher: CoganBooks
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (244 Pages)
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Cyclamen

Here we go again! Angie Tanaka can’t seem to stay out of trouble. She finds herself haunted by a cute little hungry ghost and a not-so-cute demon who has a special hell kept warm just for dragons.

Angie Tanaka is, as she herself admits, “the one woman crime wave.” She has a need to steal and needless to say, that gets her into trouble. She lives on Shaolong, the Land of Nine Dragons, and now the island is in real trouble. The Chinese ambassador is visiting and soon the Chinese will be taking over. This would mean the end of the dragons as well as the current culture on Shaolong. Angie’s particular skills are needed.

I like Angie. True, she is a thief, but she is a very interesting one and when the dragons are threatened her loyalties are all in the right place. The action is fast paced and there are lots of exciting scenes with dragons and some very scary demons. The suspense grows throughout the novel, coming to a very exciting conclusion.

I really liked the way the dragons are portrayed. They are always dragons, but they can, and most frequently do, assume human form. To me this makes them even more believable and who’s to say that we don’t still have dragons in this world. The descriptions of the transformations from human form to dragon form and back are very realistic and when Angie is carried with a dragon, she fully experiences some of that transformative power.

The dragons themselves are as they should be and each of them has a very different personality. Humans can’t lie to a dragon which makes for a number of complications for Angie, but the ability to detect lies would certainly be a wonderful talent to have.

Dragon Sword is the second book in the series, following immediately after Black Jade Dragon. While it can stand alone, I highly recommend reading the books in order. After all, why miss a single minute of Angie’s adventures. In fact, I have the third novel in my reading queue and plan to start it shortly.

Dragon lovers are in for a real treat with this novel. It is unique, both in its use of dragons and in the nature of its main character, and as a result it is a delight. Don’t miss the excitement!

Fairy Nuff by Jane Killick

FAIRY
Fairy Nuff by Jane Killick
Publisher: Windtree Press
Genre: Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (233 pgs)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Poinsettia

Wishing for everything…

…except what she really wants

Stuck in a fairy costume with magical powers, Julie “Nuff” Nuffield wishes for anything she wants. But when magic turns mischievous, a dishy doctor literally sweeps her off her feet — with a broom! — and a million pound coins trap her in her house, she must find a way out of the chaos. All while contemplating sleeping with her ex again. Sound unfair for a single woman battling through life? Or is it Fairy Nuff?

A fun story of one woman’s quest for love and search for the right wish to bring her happiness.

Julie can wish for anything she wants, but what does she really want?

I think that most people at one point in their lives have wished for magical powers of some sort, but no one expects it to actually happen. When Julie finds herself stuck in a fairy costume with magical powers, she’s understandably overwhelmed. At first she’s giddy with the knowledge of her newly discovered powers and is eager to test them out, but her excitement is short lived and it isn’t long before Julie simply wants to be rid of the costume and the powers. However, the costume seems to be stuck to her for a reason. Will Julie figure out the reason for her powers, or will she be a fairy forever?

I knew from the moment I read the title that Fairy Nuff was a book I had to read. I was in the mood for something funny and this tale certainly lived up to my expectations. Fairy Nuff is filled with laugh out loud moments. Ms. Killick managed to make the completely ridiculous predicaments Julie found herself in believable. While I was rolling with laughter for a good portion of the book, there were also some very touching and tender moments sprinkled throughout the story. The idea that being stuck in a magical fairy costume can teach a person some life lessons sounds outrageous, and yet it is completely true for Julie. I’m amazed at how much Julie’s life changed and how much she learned. Julie was forced to take a good look at her life and figure out what really mattered. I also think the costume protected Julie in a weird way. Before Julie became an unwilling fairy, she was headed down a path she would have ultimately regretted. Getting stuck in that costume might have been the best thing that ever happened to Julie.

I do think that the ending was a little abrupt. Throughout the book, Julie has some very promising and flirty encounters with a good looking guy. I would have liked to see even more interaction between Julie and the new man in her life. I think this would have made the ending more satisfying and left me with more hope for Julie’s romantic future.

I’m glad I was given the opportunity to read Fairy Nuff. Julie is a very likable character and her adventures provided me with a lot of laughs as I read. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys a well written romantic comedy.

Isla’s Inheritance by Cassandra Page

ISLAS
Isla’s Inheritance by Cassandra Page
Publisher: Turquoise Morning Press
Genre: Young Adult/Middle Grade, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary, Paranormal
Length: Full Length (207 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Isla was content to let her father keep his secrets, but now she can’t stand the touch of iron and her dreams are developing a life of their own. She must discover the truth — before it’s too late.

Seventeen-year-old Isla Blackman only agrees to participate in a Halloween party séance because Dominic, an old crush, wants to. She is sure nothing will happen when they try to contact the spirit of her mother. But the séance receives a chilling reply.

SHE IS NOT DEAD.

Isla doesn’t want to upset her father by prying into the family history he never discusses. When the mysterious and unearthly Jack offers to help her discover the truth, Isla must master her new abilities to protect her loved ones from enemies she never knew existed.

Nothing can be kept secret from everyone forever.

At first I wasn’t sure what I thought of Isla. Her personality was described in great detail, but her flaws happened to be things that I find irritating. She definitely caught my attention, though, so I withheld further judgement until I got to know her better. I’m very glad I did this because Isla is the kind of protagonist who becomes more alluring the longer I spend with her. All of her flaws ended up making her a well-rounded, intriguing girl I was a little sad to say goodbye to.

Early on a section of dialogue mentioned that certain characters are much more sensitive to iron than they are to steel. This was confusing to me since steel is is made by smelting iron ore to remove impurities and make the metal stronger. I would have liked to have some sort of scientific or paranormal explanation for why this rule was the exact opposite of what I would have logically expected to be the case. It could have added a lot of depth to this part of the plot.

Isla’s close bond with Aunt Elizabeth brought warmth to this story. I’m a big fan of young adult fiction that treats adults with respect. By no means is Aunt Elizabeth perfect, but the unconditional love she has for her children and niece make me look forward to hearing more from her. She was a wonderful supporting character.

There were several instances when the pacing was uneven. The first few chapters were well paced and full of excitement, so I was surprised to find my interest flagging after that in large part because there were so many different things going simultaneously. While the subplots were interesting, some of them did have the tendency to steal the spotlight in situations when I would have rather learned more about the main plot.

The use of color in this book was interesting. Almost everyone agrees that red is an angry color and blue is a calm one. Ms. Page used these cultural assumptions in some pretty fun ways during the course of her tale. This wasn’t something I was at all expecting to occur, so seeing exactly where she went with them was even more amusing than it might have been otherwise.

Isla’s Inheritance made me smile. It’s a good choice for anyone who likes contemporary fantasy.

Given to the Savage by Natasha Knight

NIGHT
Given to the Savage by Natasha Knight
Publisher: Stormy Night Publications
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (174 pgs)
Other: BDSM, M/F, Fetish, Spanking, Bondage, Anal Sex
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Waratah

In the aftermath of a plague which brought civilization to its knees and left most of the world’s female population sterile, the few women who remain fertile have become a precious commodity. They live in relative comfort, but upon reaching adulthood they must bear children to carry on the species.

Twenty-four-year-old Rowan knows the role she will be expected to play, but when she dares to resist her fate the penalty is severe. After a public chastisement and a thorough medical examination, Rowan is given to a savage from outside the community–a huge brute of a man named Silas.

Against all expectations, Rowan finds herself drawn to Silas. Brave and ruggedly handsome, he is everything the men she has known before were not, and despite the circumstances something deep inside her begs for him to claim her. But while she soon finds herself longing to be his forever, Rowan knows that one day those who gave her to him will try to take her back. When that day comes will Silas fight to keep her at his side even if it means risking everything he loves?

Romance isn’t all flowers and candy when your value is in your ability to repopulate the world.

This book is listed as a dark read, and it is, but not too dark. A Dystopian world that is a bit warped where the natural order of things are not so natural. The upper class can’t seem to produce offspring, and they have a prevalent need for breeders.

I would think that in having the need for something, it would make someone treat it better. Not so much in this case. The breeders are treated worse than animals but yet without them… extinction of their race could be a real possibility.

In the outer rim of the colony it looks like breeding isn’t an issue, they have a decent way of life. But it’s also where the fight for food and medical supplies is constant. A leader of the village is given an offer he will be hard pressed not to accept. Rowan is a new and young breeder, something she always knew she would be. She’s horrified at the thought of being made to leave the colony to breed with a savage.

Ms. Knight sets the scene and builds the tension to the point of being harsh and extreme. Readers who don’t enjoy feeling anxious for the characters might struggle with this one. On the other hand, for readers who want to be transported into the darkness, this is spot on.

Some parts were intense… the exams were humiliating but did just what they were intended to do, keep Rowan, and some extent the reader, off balance and down. But then Rowan thinks of rebelling against what was happening to her but her body seemed to crave and respond.

Silas worked hard at trying to keep detached, his feelings in check. All that was important was the safety of his family and people. Or so he kept telling himself. Since this is romance, I wanted (needed) to like Silas and his reasons for being a part of this. Ms. Knight gives him likability and even though it’s unconventional, the romance is believable.

This was a second book I’ve had the pleasure in reading from this author and I really enjoy her writing. This book was a decent length and so far seemed a stand-alone, which I love. It is a bit dark, a bit edgy and sci-fi to a point. I’d recommend it as a good read for those who look for gritty and not so neatly wrapped romance.