Author Archives: Awesome Indies Book Awards

Mightier than the Sword

Mightier than the Sword
Murder. Death threats. Working with the team that fired him six years ago. It’s a busy week for Viktor Ivanokoff. When Viktor is pulled off of the UELE Endurance to help solve the murder of his one-time captain, he’s eager to help. The case provides a challenge, as well as a chance to outperform his former colleagues. But as the investigation takes him into the far reaches of the solar system, he discovers that his work may carry greater stakes than a simple opportunity for payback.

Reviewed by Shauna

5 Stars

This is a good read and a great mix of murder, police investigation and science fiction. It’s the second book about the characters of the space ship Endurance, and in this one it is First Officer Viktor Ivanokoff as the point of view character. I enjoyed the change of narrator as we get to find out more about Viktor and how he came to be on Endurance.

Viktor previously worked in the organised crime division, and when his ex-boss is murdered, Viktor is asked to help with the investigation. There was no love lost between Viktor and his ex-boss, who was one of the people responsible for Viktor serving on the Endurance, but as Viktor’s name is on a list of targets found on the dead man’s body, he has good reason for helping to find the killer. Not to mention the satisfaction of finding the murderer before his ex-colleagues do.

To the reader’s delight, Viktor and his (written-off) Endurance colleagues work out what connects the people on the list before the Organised Crime group. The story is well-paced, mixing action and investigation, fight scenes and a hover car chase. After discovering a message sent to Saturn, there is an ironic turn of fate as Endurance is the only ship ready for the trip.

Towards the end, Viktor discovers a secret that may have far reaching consequences. This links back neatly to elements in the first book and gives the reader a satisfying ending, while looking forward to more.

I received this book free from the author in return for an honest review.

Enduring Endurance

Enduring Endurance
Infusing the traditional science fiction format with humor and awkward coworkers, Enduring Endurance follows the not-so-best-and-brightest of humanity as they explore the galaxy by accident.   Infusing the traditional science fiction format with humor and awkward coworkers, Enduring Endurance follows the not-so-best-and-brightest of humanity as they explore the galaxy by accident. Captain Thomas Withers expects the worst when he’s assigned command of the Endurance, the least-respected ship in the United Earth Law Enforcement Corps. He gets it, and then some. After a poorly executed experiment throws Thomas and his crew out of Earth’s solar system and into humanity’s first meeting with aliens, he must rely on the outcasts of the corps, not only to get home, but to survive the trip at all.

Reviewed by Shauna

4 Stars

This book sits as easily in humour or adventure with space as the backdrop as it does science fiction. The quirky characters take centre-stage and drive the story, rather than technology and plot.

Thomas Withers has just been promoted to Captain of the space ship Endurance, but he’s not happy. He had ‘…dreamed about this day from childhood. Now he was here, he wished he’d stayed in bed.’ One of the things I enjoyed most is the quietly ironic tone of the writing which remains true throughout the book.

We discover the captain’s promising career has come to a resounding halt after putting the life of a hostage ahead of an operation. This act endears him to the reader and ensures we are on his side as he is assigned to lead a ship of misfits. What he finds is a group of quirky individuals with their own reasons for being on the Endurance

Thomas has plans to improve the discipline of the crew and therefore his own future options, but he doesn’t have time to implement them before one of the chief engineer’s experiments finally works. The result is that Thomas and his crew are the first humans to leave the universe. While trying to reproduce the experiment so they can return home, they discover not one but two alien species.

The writing is crisp, and the character interactions humorous and honest as Thomas discovers that even a group of individuals who have been written off can pull together and create some surprising results.

This book is called Episode 1, and ‘episode’ describes the novella length and shape of the book perfectly. I’m looking forward to reading Episode 2.

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

 

Reviewed by Connick

4 Stars

This was a brave choice of title, as I guess we’ve all had to endure tedious books in our time. Thankfully Enduring Endurance is lightyears from tedium. It is a fast, exciting adventure, wrapped up in around 80 pages. It begins with a fairly Star Trekie vision of future Earth with our hero, a discredited lieutenant being promoted to Captain of a space ship full of similarly disgraced crew, for allowing his moral fibre to take precedence over orders, effectively side-lining him for the rest of his career. He begins his new role by taking a strict authoritarian tack (determined to make good of a bad situation) with limited success, as the Endurance begins its tour of the most desolate reaches of the solar system. It isn’t long however, before the ship is sent massively off course and the crew are forced to forget their differences and work together to find a way to return home. As events spiral out of the group’s control, there are alien encounters, not all of them friendly or resolved without a battle.

This was a very enjoyable page-turner and a great start to what I’m sure will be a thrilling series of books. If I were to offer some constructive criticism… it is a short story with a lot going on, so there is a lack of suspense, building tension and peril. It seemed like each situation was resolved a little too quickly and then on to the next. I also feel that this type of book: short, exciting, action packed, and part of a sequence of stories (I believe four have been released so far) would lend itself very well to a cliff-hanger ending, to get the reader scurrying to find the next instalment to find out what happens. A bit cheeky perhaps, but I wouldn’t have had a problem with that. This is not to suggest that the actual ending is unsatisfying.

I received this book free from Awesome Indies Books in return for an honest review.

Super Nobody

Super Nobody
Michael is just an ordinary, average, normal, every day middle schooler in the perfect town of Lincolnshire, a town that happens to have more superheroes per square mile than anywhere else on the planet. What could possibly go wrong, surrounded by so many people capable of destroying the town with a snap of their fingers?

Reviewed by Tahlia Newland.

November 28, 2013

5 Stars

 

It Was Clear From The First Sentence

It was clear from the first sentence of this book that the author knows what he’s doing. Super Nobody grabs your attention straight away and holds you there in a fast moving action packed story about super villains, superheroes and a not-super reluctant teenage hero. There’s a few YA superhero books about, but this one has a particularly real central character who isn’t so super and not such a hero, at least to begin with.

The story begins with Michael being bullied. It seems a normal enough situation, but things soon start turning very strange. Kids are turning into Actives, the name for super beings, and soon everything goes pear-shape. Michael may be a nobody, but he’s just the kind of nobody the town needs to save it from a madman, or is he? If plan A fails, there’s no plan B.

Mr Meske doesn’t just deliver a great action story, he delivers on the characterisation as well. Michael, Charlotte and his mother are very real people, and Michael grows through his experiences as characters should. The language was such that I never had any doubt that I was looking at the world through the eyes of a 12 yr old boy. I particularly liked the ‘shrug shield and grunt armor.’ The prose is clean and clear, well aimed for a young young adult audience, a great read for boys and girls.

Highly recommended. 5 stars. It well-deserves its AIA Seal of Excellence.

 

All the Blue-Eyed Angels

All the Blue-Eyed Angels
Author:
Publisher:
Published: November 16, 2013
Jonestown. The Solar Temple. Heaven’s Gate. In the summer of 1990, the Payson Church of Tomorrow joins the ranks of those infamous cult suicides when thirty-four members burn to death on a small island off the coast of Maine. At ten years old, Payson member Erin Solomon watches helplessly as the church and its congregation are reduced to ash and embers. More than twenty years later, Erin is an accomplished investigative journalist when she receives word that she has inherited Payson Isle… and all its ghosts. She returns to Maine to learn the truth behind the tragedy that has haunted her since childhood, aided by the rakish mentor who’s stood by her side since she was a teenager, her trusty mutt Einstein, and a mysterious stranger with his own dark past. Soon, Erin is enmeshed in violence, conspiracy, and scandal, as she fights to unearth the secrets of the Payson Church of Tomorrow — secrets someone will kill to keep buried.

Reviewed by Tahlia Newland

All the Blue Eyed Angels wasn’t given to me in exchange for a review. I received it as a gift, so I read it as a kind of reviewer’s holiday, feeling a sense of relief that here was one book that I wouldn’t have to write a review about. However, I hadn’t read far before I realised that I would be writing a review after all, because the book is simply excellent and deserves to be praised loud and clear for all to hear.

Not only is it expertly written, it’s a great tale with an unpredictable plot that left me wanting the next instalment so much that as soon as I had finished it, I turned the internet on and bought it immediately.

It’s the kind of book that makes anyone who says that Indie books aren’t as good as mainstream books look either ignorant or an idiot, because this is every bit as good as the best that any mainstream publisher might produce, and it deserves to sell every bit as well.

Reporter Erin Solomon is a modern woman with a strange past. After being bequeathed the island where she lived as a child, one she hasn’t lived on for twenty years, she returns to unravel the mystery of a fire that killed 32 people. A package of photographs that came with the title deed indicate that whatever the truth was all those years ago, it was covered up with the full knowledge of several people, including her estranged mother. Erin intends to find out the truth and write a book about it.

She lived on the island in a cult with her father until she was nine, and though she remembers it as a good, safe time in her life, as the story progresses and she sees some of the events from a grown up perspective, she begins to question her childhood perception.

A thread of romance also weaves its way through the story; two men, two different relationships, and neither of them simple. Add the facts that people start dying from the time she begins her investigation, and that Erin’s parents are both well-involved in the cover-up, and it’s no wonder that Erin’s soon out of her depth. Slowly, the facts start to come together, but the real knowledge only comes along with a fairly catastrophic event. The pacing is flawless, building steadily to a riveting climax. The characters are complex, likable and expertly drawn.

If you enjoy contemporary mysteries, then you don’t want to pass on this one, and even if—like me—you don’t usually read mysteries, I highly recommend it. The romance softens the otherwise very gritty story.

All the Blue-Eyed Angels now holds the exclusive AIA seal of quality. It is available on Amazon.

 

Thorn

Thorn
Categories: ,
Published: May 15, 2012
For Princess Alyrra, choice is a luxury she’s never had … until she’s betrayed. Princess Alyrra has never enjoyed the security or power of her rank. Between her family’s cruelty and the court’s contempt, she has spent her life in the shadows. Forced to marry a powerful foreign prince, Alyrra embarks on a journey to meet her betrothed with little hope for a better future. But powerful men have powerful enemies–and now, so does Alyrra. Betrayed during a magical attack, her identity is switched with another woman’s, giving Alyrra the first choice she’s ever had: to start a new life for herself or fight for a prince she’s never met. But Alyrra soon finds that Prince Kestrin is not at all what she expected. While walking away will cost Kestrin his life, returning to the court may cost Alyrra her own. As Alyrra is coming to realize, sometime the hardest choice means learning to trust herself.

Reviewed by Kate Policani.

June 11, 2013

An enjoyable, rich read

 

The King from the neighboring land of Menaiya pays a visit to the humbler land of Adania. Princess Alyrra assumes they visit for trade reasons, but soon the naïve and reclusive princess understands that the king’s visit to her widowed mother is for the purposes of marriage negotiation. She will marry prince Kestrin and there is no argument she can make. Is this her escape from the troubles of her life or a trade-in for even greater problems? Alyrra doesn’t feel equal to the  increase in importance and responsibility.

Magic intrudes, first in the appearance of a mysterious mage one night in Alyrra’s room. He has but a moment to speak to her before his malevolent enemy, The Lady, appears with terrible and vague threats to her or to the Menayan prince.

All her fears turn on their heads on the journey to Menaiya and marriage, when her lady companion, Valka, appears in the forest with The Lady, who steals her identity. Switching bodies with the princess, Valka enters Menaiya as the bride. Alyrra must endure her displeasure as the superior power and is sent off to tend the geese. Now living as the Goose Girl called Thorn, is this the escape Alyrra longed for or is it condemnation for the people of Menayia? Can she ignore her duty as princess, or must she face the dangers together with Prince Kestrin?

Intisar has written a thoroughly enjoyable, beautiful story. Retelling the classic tale of The Goose Girl, she broadens the horizons of the story and adds depth to places one might not expect it. I especially liked Alyrra’s struggle with the relief of casting off an oppressive identity versus the responsibilities it still holds over her heart. I also loved the exploration of The Lady, her motivations and grievances, and how Alyrra appeals to her for mercy.

I read the same tale re-told in “The Goose Girl” by Shannon Hale, but it was entirely different. I truly believe that each author will write a completely different tale even if given the same plot as a basis. Thorn demonstrates just that.

The ending expanded the heart of the tale, in my opinion. The character of Alyrra was forced to wrestle with her yearning of a simple, peaceful life of obscurity, and the great need of the helpless people around her for someone to stand for them. A terrified, reclusive girl becomes a true princess and hero. Her heroism grew from her strength of heart and her compassion, and I really love that. Thorn is a truly enjoyable, rich read, both entertaining and challenging.

 

The Bone Knife

The Bone Knife
Rae knows how to look out for family. Born with a deformed foot, she feigns indifference to the pity and insults that come her way. Wary of all things beautiful, Rae instantly distrusts their latest visitor: an appallingly attractive faerie. Further, his presence imperils the secret her sister guards. But when the local townspeople show up demanding his blood, Rae must find a way to protect both her sister’s secret and their guest. Even if that means risking herself.

Murder in the Synagogue

Murder in the Synagogue
Categories: ,
Publisher:
Published: July 2, 2012
This true crime classic is a precise and harrowing account of the assassination of Rabbi Morris Adler by 23-year-old Richard Wishnetsky, a Phi Beta Kappa scholar at the University of Michigan and a Woodrow Wilson Fellow bound for the Divinity School at the University of Chicago. A troubled intellectual seeker, Wishnetsky knew Rabbi Adler one of the nation’s most prominent and venerated religious leaders, yet he settled on this learned and charismatic man as the appropriate target of his deepest rage.

Eden at the Edge of Midnight

Eden at the Edge of Midnight
The Vara of Yima, the original Garden of Eden, sealed from the rest of the world and populated with the fittest of men and women. A secret paradise that 150 years ago became ravaged by smog that choked out the skies.   All good stories have a hero. “The One” who arrives to save the realm from darkness and evil. But what if the wrong person takes their place by accident? Now the Vara exists in a permanent state of darkness and its people need a champion, a chosen one to save them from the smog that threatens to fill the realm and poison its inhabitants. That’s what they needed. They got Sammy Ellis instead. She isn’t important enough for her dad to stick around for, never mind saving a realm or junk like that. Her only responsibility was to help the chosen one open the gateway into the Vara, but not only has she entered the realm in their place, she’s also locked them out in the process. Stuck in a twilight land of giant mushrooms, pursued by dark forces and still in her pyjamas, being unimportant back in the real world is starting to seem way more attractive.  

Reviewed by Awesome Indies

June 19, 2014

If one were to take the Chronicles of Narnia (take your pick which one), Alice in Wonderland, and then add in a dash of Stephen King, and put the whole thing in a blender, you’d come close to having Eden At the Edge of Midnight, the first book in John Kerry’s Vara Chronicles. Giant mushrooms, pink stegosaurus-like mammals, a roiling purple sky, carnivorous rhinos, and even more bizarre things await Sammy Ellis, the luckless and unpopular English protagonist who only wants her often-drunk, harsh father to recognize her for the soccer (foothball) genius she is. Instead, a bracelet catapults Sammy into Vara, where people have no idea what grass is, make furniture out of fungus, and where magic exists.

This book is a real page-turner. Past the first few rather interesting chapters, once Sammy lands in Vara it’s almost like the book reads itself. It’s chock full of an interesting backstory, the shattering history of the various secret societies, cities, and the order of the magi are all keeping secrets and trying to stay alive.

Of the three main characters, perhaps Hami is my favorite. You’re obviously supposed to root for Mehrak, and he’s the harmless, hapless and well-meaning comedy in the book, but Hami is the lone wolf with possibly dark secrets. All three are written well, and the dialogue serves to separate out characters fairly well.

Eden’s also got action sequences (handled well), full on army battles (mostly these go on offstage, but that’s okay) some creepy, thrilling portions with some kind of mysterious monster we should probably see more of in the second book, and all of these are written with great skill.

What’s most admirable about the book is the author’s ability to fully envision a three hundred sixty view of a completely alien world. Vara not only has cool creatures (lava pterodactyls, nice) and interesting locations (Honton Keep is great), but under the author’s watch they come to vivid life.

At about the eighty five percent mark, you begin to wonder ‘Okay, great, so far the book is really good, but it’s not going to end off at a cliffhanger, is it? The author wouldn’t do that to me… well, some authors would do that to me. Crud.’ Rest assured, the book does finally resolve itself, though the epilogue (and unanswered questions from the remainder of the book) leave a door standing open to the future of the series.

There are a couple of places where the book falters, however. The first is the propensity of the author to repeat sentences similar to ‘He turned away and said nothing.’ or ‘He just looked at her and didn’t speak.’ These mostly started to get to me in the middle of the book, where loyalties and motives begin to get questioned.

Second, there are a number of places and terms in the world of Vara that aren’t explained. My two hangups were The Fifth Azaran and Ahriman, which appear to have a lot of meaning to the author, but for which we receive no backstory. Are there four other Azarans? The reader has no idea. No lore is provided, not even a casual mention of the function of these things, which actually become very, very important later in the book.

Third, this book is categorized under children’s fiction, and parents need to take note here: this is, at best, a high level young adult book. There is swearing, there is alcohol use, and while generally these are not part of the YA canon, sometimes they slip in there. Both, in this case, serve the purpose of characterizing an important person in the novel, but neither are handled with the sort of delicacy one would expect of YA (the function would be to teach a lesson about why these things aren’t acceptable, or why people do them when they shouldn’t). While the instances of swearing and drinking are minimal, they are not in the slightest bit subtle.

Overall, AIA lists four stars as material you would find in a bookstore as published by a mainstream publisher. I believe this book stands on the very edge of that rating and the three star rating: books we at AIA recommend readers to buy, but which wouldn’t make the editorial cut at a publishing house. I’m awarding four stars because the writing was done very well, and the flaws were fairly minor, but parents are warned that this is much more an adult than a YA book.