Category Archives: indie book reviews

review of The Gwythienian by Savannah Goins


★★★★★

reviewed by Cy Wyss

Enzi is a seventeen year old outcast, uncomfortable in her own body ever since she was attacked and grossly scarred at the age of ten. We never really find out what happened to her, but someone named Caleb was at fault and still walks around in her town a free man. Hopefully, we’ll never meet him outside of a morgue. Enzi is a likable character, in spite of being overweight and having no obvious special talents. I wish the author had given her something besides pure pluck, like making her good at math, or an amazing artist. In spite of this lack, I found myself rooting for Enzi from the get-go, always a sign of a good story.

And, the story is very good. It kept me interested. I was hardly able to put the book down once Enzi met Gaedyn the Gwythienian. I think everyone will be a little in love with Gaedyn, not just Enzi. This is a story that’s been told before, of a special stone and it’s “Possessor,” a guardian and an unwelcome human in a fantasy land. Still, Goins tells her version with obvious love for her characters and an unusual sensitivity to their predicaments. I especially liked that Enzi suffered a particular “female problem” during her quest. I’ve never seen that in any other book with a female hero, and it’s always on my mind because (spoken or not) every woman has to deal with it. That and Goins’s general attentiveness to detail really carry the book. I recommend The Gwythienian to anyone looking for a YA adventure that’s easy to get into and hard to put down.

review of Abandon Hope by Michael Decamp

★★★★★

reviewed by Cy Wyss

Hope is a thirteen year old girl who disappears from the tiny town of Cutter’s Notch, Indiana. Nightmare scenarios run through the minds of all who know her. The story is laced through with paranormal activity, from dark spectres to elves and flying reindeer. I feel the heroes are perfect as middle grade youths, because kids at that age are still open to magic. Any older, and their acceptance of the unlikely phenomena threading through their adventure would rank over the top for implausibility. In some ways, the bleak setting of Cutter’s Notch was incommensurate with the overall positive vibe of the book, however the main characters’ strength more than made up for the discord.

I found myself constantly wondering what the author would throw at his characters next, which is to say I was gripped by their plights. The eponymous character, Hope, (gratuitous title pun notwithstanding) is a very likable and capable young woman, not the wimpy victim of older fables who waits to be rescued by her hero. Hope’s supporting cast is dynamic and believable, each contributing his or her own power to the situation. The elves seem like something of a cross between Keebler and Tolkien, an unusual mix of pettiness and spirituality. I enjoyed the book and found it an easy read, with a minimum of inconsistency or errors. I would recommend this for anyone who enjoys a light middle grade thriller or a fun spiritual twist.

review of Circumstantial Truth by Ian Welch

circumstantialtruth

★★★★☆

reviewed by Cy Wyss

Circumstantial Truth is the story of Zach Carmichael and, to a lesser extent, his dog Shadow. Shadow is the loyal friend who stick by Zach during some tough times, including betrayal by the people he loves most. One day, Zach finds a dead body. He can’t help but go to the police, including a police detective who becomes suspicious of his find. Zach is then framed for the murder of the man, someone he’d never met. Zach spends much of the book in prison, where a series of coincidences has him meeting people who eventually lead him to the real killers. With the help of his cellmate’s sister, Zach works to clear his name, in spite of the police detective getting in his way.

I found Zach a little too passive, and the coincidences of meeting people who know each other to be too many. Surely New Zealand isn’t that small. And the setting is New Zealand, which took me a while to figure out. Their gun laws differ from those in America, they are much stricter. The book could have used some editing, as there are errors that will pop you out of the story now and again. Much of the story takes place in a tiny town away from Auckland, as well as in Auckland itself. The characters were interesting and fairly well drawn. Sometimes their motivation was a bit sketchy, and the main villain was more of a caricature. The story is what really carries the book. You want to know how Zach will clear his name (or even if he’ll clear his name), with so much stacked against him. Overall, a reasonable work with a measured pace.

review of Dream Faces by Steve Shanks

DreamFaces

★★★☆☆

reviewed by Cy Wyss

Dream Faces is the story of artist Mark Stephens, a man blessed (or cursed) with foresight as he dreams of missing girls and paints them, months before they’re declared missing. Both the police and the bad guys (some small-time Russian mobster and his incompetent henchman) are very interested in Mark’s ability. Mark is just an ordinary guy, by his own admission not even a weightlifter or martial artist of any kind. How will he be able to stand up to the mobster and help the girls? The book is unpredictable, which makes it fun. I won’t spoil the ending by saying whether it is happy or not, but during the ride at least one unnecessarily grievous event occurs. The girls in Mark’s paintings are only thirteen, so putting them in peril is dangerous for the author as well as the characters. (I’m still of the old school thinking that children shouldn’t be unduly harmed in a story.)

There is a lot wrong with Dream Faces. I don’t feel the addition of angels and demons was necessary. Their antics mostly missed their mark with me. I guess the idea of allegory is interesting, but nowadays a more nuanced view of good and evil is expected. Also, some characters didn’t seem to have these guardians, most notably the police officers. The cops themselves are two-dimensional and their actions highly improbable. The bad guys are also shallow, without subtlety. The book needs editing, both in terms of grammar and diction.

In spite of all of this, I found Dream Faces impossible to put down. This is what critics or writing gurus mean when they say “story trumps all.” For, despite its shortcomings, Dream Faces is a good story. You can’t help but root for the girls and the artist, and wonder how the bad guys will be defeated. (Or even whether they’ll be defeated.) So if you’re willing to ignore some obvious structural and technical errors, get Dream Faces. On balance, I think the story is worth it.

review of Sasha: the ROE Chronicles Book I by Sean M. Campbell

sasha

★★★★☆

reviewed by Cy Wyss

Sasha Malenkov is a stunningly powerful telepath as well as teleporter, empath, and seer. The first book of the ROE Chronicles is her story. Sasha was kidnapped at age 6 by unknown forces. Twenty years later, a new breed of naval ship is created, one capable of traveling great distances by teleport. What does Sasha have to do with this? A doctor, Robert Wraith, aboard the ship has distressing teleportation dreams, which lead him to the incredible truth about the ship he’s on. To free Sasha, he would have to cripple the ship and enlist help. How he does this is the subject of the first quarter of the book, approximately.

Sasha is an interesting book. The author has chosen to restrict the main action to about the first quarter of the book. I would have expected an entire book for this. Yet, the book goes on for the next couple hundred pages, with small challenges and encounters fairly easily solved. The problem is, Sasha is so powerful that everything falls to her quickly. In spite of this somewhat unorthodox tack, the remainder of the book is highly readable. Even everyday life is interesting enough to form good stories. What unfolds is a utopic vision of what life could be like with what is (essentially) a benevolent dictator at the helm. The setting in space with advanced technology is icing on the cake. Campbell’s universe is part Babylon 5, part Star Trek, but unique enough to hold your attention until the end. I liked the book a lot and was sad when it ended. I only give it four stars because the last three-quarters, while eminently readable, were somewhat slow for an action-themed novel. Don’t let that stop you, though, especially if you like reading about fun and compelling world-building.

review of Augment by Heather Hayden

Augment

★★★★★

reviewed by Cy Wyss

Vicissitude (Vicki) Wandel is a sixteen-year-old runner with a loving family and an unusual computer friend. Her government mandates that augmentation (by changing your genetic code) and upgrades (artificial implants) must be distinct: if you have augmented, you must not upgrade, and vice versa. Vicki has upgrades on both legs and in her brain after a terrible accident when she was younger. The upgrades have always worked well, so why are they now suddenly failing periodically? And why does her blood test indicate augmentation, when she was always listed as natural?

Augment is not a long book. I found it a bit slow in the beginning, but by the middle it went faster, and by the last third I was genuinely thrilled. Vicki is a sympathetic heroine and her adversary, Agent Smith, is also sympathetic, which made the conflict interesting. Other characters aren’t as well developed, but nonetheless managed to hold my attention. The plot is good, especially once things start happening in earnest. Overall, I liked this offering very much and don’t hesitate to recommend it.

review of Ogden by Cory Abernathy

Ogden

★★★★☆

reviewed by Cy Wyss

A lab assistant accidentally pricks herself with a syringe that contains an experimental drug. This seemingly harmless incident leads to a deadly infection that turns people into zombies bent on consuming human flesh. The infection starts with one or two people and quickly spreads exponentially, leading to hordes of infected zombies staggering down the streets of Ogden. Law enforcement is at a loss for how to deal with such widespread devastation. One law man, Detective Desmond King, gets embroiled in the Ogden mess and tries to save as many of Ogden’s 1,200 citizens as he can.

Ogden was a fun read, if somewhat clichéd. I found the simple prose easy to get through, and the style improved as the book really got going. The cast of characters was believable, although the part of William Decker, the maniacal National Guard leader stretched reality perhaps a bit too far. Still, every book has to have a villain, and Decker made for a decent, if overdone, bad guy. People have commented on the King’s two dogs, as they are almost the only domestic animals seen in the book. The dogs provide a bit of relief from the heaviness of the story and it is fulfilling to see them play a large role by the end of the story. I do have one question, though. What happened to the cow? Other than that very minor (and largely tongue-in-cheek) concern, the book has a satisfying ending. A reasonable read for a summer afternoon.

review of Infernal by T. Joseph Browder

Infernal

by Cy Wyss

★★★★★

Richard Farris is a seemingly ordinary man, living in Kansas with his dog Charlie. During one particularly nasty winter storm, he finds a woman in his back yard who has been shot. Nursing her back to health threatens to be the end of him as sinister bad guys from an organization only known as BanaTech show up and want to end the woman’s life. By getting in their way, Richard makes himself a target. Tragedy ensues. Months later, living another life in another state, Richard is recruited by the woman to help her hide “the Key,” a necessary cog in BanaTech’s wheels. What follows is a madcap chase through not just Richard’s Earth, but twin earths in the multiverse. The author’s impressive imagination take us through other worlds and times to an explosive showdown, which I’ll try not to give away.

I liked Infernal a lot. At times I found the theology behind the multiverse distracting, as kind of a real deus ex machina for the characters. But the character of Richard (whose surprising identity I’ll leave to you to find out) really carries the show. I can’t imagine not rooting for someone who chose to go to prison so he could stop a vicious pedophile. Richard has a complexity of character that is rare in thrillers and it was a real treat to read about Richard developing and changing throughout the book. The plot delivered plenty of action and edge-of-your-seat thrills, as well as interesting and unforeseen directions. This book was hard to put down. Pick it up! You won’t regret it.

review of Lunchtime Eavesdropper by Joanie Chevalier

LunchtimeEavesdropper

★★★★★

reviewed by Cy Wyss

Lunchtime Eavesdropper is an episode from Marlee’s life. She gets into eavesdropping on others at lunchtime, but regrets her knew habit when she overhears coworkers speaking badly of her. This “Tragic Event” leads to Marlee changing herself: her hair, her makeup, her wardrobe, and her actions. As a result she is more accepted by her mean-girl colleagues, and they even invite her clubbing with them. But is that the life she wants? What will she lose if she keeps up the new pretense?

I found Lunchtime Eavesdropper a sweet and fun read. I loved it, especially the unexpected ending. Marlee is a character; I really liked the way she was developed throughout the story, using flashbacks as well as immediate action. The character of Larry was also well-drawn. Marlee’s mom, Hazel, is also a treat. With such loveable characters, how could the story fail to be a hit? It is short and left me wanting more. But that’s a good thing—it shows the author’s prowess. Looking forward to more.

review of The Gay Detective by Kenneth Michaels

TheGayDetective

★★★★★

reviewed by Cy Wyss

The Gay Detective is the story of Nick, a Chicago police detective and host of the television talk show The Gay Detective. The show is a big hit but its guests have the unfortunate habit of being murdered, as well as the director. More and more bodies pile up around the show until Nick and his partner, Norm, finally solve the case and figure out whodunit. The narrator, Nick, is a sympathetic figure who early on loses his partner. Nick seems almost too urbane at points for being a detective. Norm, on the other hand, is fairly stereotypically the fat, cynical older detective. The pair makes a nice couple (not romantic) and play off each other well.

I liked The Gay Detective a lot. I ended up reading it in one day because the prose was so smooth and easy to read. The plot isn’t overly involved but had a lot of action and carried me through the book. The supporting characters are solid, not too cardboard but not so thoroughly drawn as to detract from Nick and Norm. And, as I mentioned, Nick and Norm are a treat, they compliment each other well. All in all a good read for a cold winter’s day. Looking forward to book two!