Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.”  

           - Mason Cooley

Caged: Love and Treachery on the High Seas

Caged: Love and Treachery on the High Seas (Baal's Heart, #1) - Bey Deckard

The story begins with the sad life of Jon. His mom died of the weeping plague and his dad died in a fall. Jon is frail and sickly, suffering from migraines and persistent bad dreams. Unsuitable for hard physical labor, Jon’s indifferent stepfather felt his unusual empathic abilities would come in handy to help determine the guilt or innocence of the prisoners locked up in the castle’s dungeon. Jon’s next task is to help discover who is responsible for the brutal murder of a call girl at a local brothel. Suffering from ill health, Jon takes some rest after his investigation and promptly gets kidnapped by the pirate Baltsaros, and his first mate, Tom, who were made aware of Jon’s talents. Baltsaros nurses Jon back to health and asks him to join their crew. Reluctant at first, Jon then sees this as a fresh start.

The three men grow closer, but all are deeply flawed characters with enough negative experiences in their lifetime that cause their relationship to be complicated, turbulent, and downright sexy. 

Baltsaros and Tom are not quite what they seem, and Jon learns quickly that lies roll off the captain’s tongue just as easily as his knife shreds flesh. As Jon begins to spend more time with the captain, Tom’s anger and jealousy is aroused. 

I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with these three men as they fought, loved and hurt. Their many adventures, the steamy sex, and the memorable secondary characters made this story a joy to read. I especially loved the badass Katherine, whose relationship to Jon was almost sisterly and I even liked Baltsaros’ ex-wife, Abetha, who went through changes of her own. Jon’s growth throughout the story was very convincing and well portrayed. He’s a solid character with the right mix of strength and compassion that brings all three men together.

The story was very well paced with a minimum of errors, and was a satisfying length. The historical setting was vivid and realistic and the dialogue flowed naturally.

I hope the author is hard at work on the sequel, because I’m definitely on board for the next adventure!

*Book provided by author in exchange for an honest review.

The Dark Collector

The Dark Collector - Vanessa North

Posted at Outlaw Reviews

So unexpectedly beautiful.

Oliver Conklin is grieving for his lover of 5 years, who died in a car crash a year ago.

Jeffrey Kuyper was an artist and a Dom inspired by his young, submissive lover.

Now Jeffrey’s estate is up for grabs and all Oliver wants is his last painting. With just a wave of the paddle, the Dark Collector, a big fan of Jeffrey’s work, is now its owner.

He agrees to sell Oliver the painting on the condition he spend the weekend with him and do whatever he asks. 

Oh, how I wanted to hate the Dark Collector. He took advantage of Oliver and disregarded his grief. It was his smile, his soft expressions and tenderness that warmed me up to him. Their sex is kinky, passionate, and so full of emotion. Oliver likes the feeling of being “owned”, but he remembers that this is nothing more than an arrangement they made. 

Gradually, the Dark Collector helps Oliver find himself and find peace.

“Is that what I’m doing? Making peace? I watch myself in the mirror as I lick the last few drops away. How long has it been since I’ve cared at all about the person I see in the mirror? Can the muse exist when the artist does not? How can this stranger, whose name I don’t even know, see me if I can’t?”

This is an exquisitely written story that explores a man’s grief, love, and healing. The ending is sweet and made me cry happy tears.

*Book provided by author in exchange for an honest review.

Measured Doses

Measured Doses (Their Circumstances) - T.T. Kove

Posted at Outlaw Reviews

After a vicious beating, Chad leaves the home of his violent alcoholic father. Short on options, he drops in at the home of his former English teacher, Dion, and falls unconscious into the arms of Dion’s partner, Jeremy.

Even though Jeremy and Dion have been together a little over two years, the last four months have been difficult with the couple living like strangers and sleeping in separate beds because Dion admitted to having a fling with a former student.

Now that student is in their home, but Jeremy is no heartless man. He takes Chad in, helps heal his wounds and cooks him nourishing meals. In time, Jeremy discovers that Chad and Dion have strong feelings for each other and he himself is not immune to Chad’s vulnerability and youthful charm. 

Chad’s life has been extremely difficult. Other than a few stoner friends, he has no one he can really count on. His aunt seems kind enough, but is oblivious to Chad’s abuse at her brother’s hands. She believes instead that his mother’s death has sent him spiraling into drug and alcohol abuse, so she sends him to group therapy. 

Jeremy is still angry and hurt by Dion’s infidelity, and Chad blames himself for the tension in their relationship. Jeremy takes matters into his own hands to find a solution to make all three men happy. 

I love hurt/comfort stories, relationship conflicts and reconciliation, so I was thrilled to get the opportunity to read this. Unfortunately, there were a number of things that didn’t work so well for me.

Dion felt guilty about the pain he caused Jeremy and though that was mentioned numerous times throughout the story, I never really got a sense of how Dion really felt. I would have liked to read more about his and Jeremy’s relationship before Chad and the events that led to the affair. Instead, we get everything from Jeremy’s perspective, which made Dion a dull and static character. I also would have liked more tension, serious conversations, and outpouring of feelings instead of Jeremy’s internal angst. 

Far too much time was spent with Chad’s stoner friends and his clueless aunt, none of whom added anything to the story. 

There were some inconsistencies with the characters’ ages and how they behaved. Early in the story, Chad was approaching 20. By the end, he was 18. This was something an editor should have caught. It was noticeable enough for me to go back to the beginning to verify his age. Dion was apparently a decade older than Chad, while Jeremy was 24. In many ways, Chad seemed a lot younger than his 18/19 years. It was hard for me to believe that Jeremy was just a few years older. The way he spoke to and treated Chad led me to believe he was considerably older. 

While I’m glad they reconciled in the end, I felt it was a bit rushed. There was too much emphasis on the sexual aspect of their relationship and not enough on the emotional. 

I enjoyed parts of this story, others not so much, but I would definitely be interested in a sequel, just to see if Chad can overcome the difficulties in his young life and to see whether these three men can remain happily together. 

*Book provided by author in exchange for an honest review.


Bait - J. Kent Messum

It’s been a lot of years since I missed my bus stop because I was so absorbed in a book. 

Now that I take the bus to work every day, I mostly use that time to read, except when I’m playing Words With Friends or observing my fellow passengers.

This book was on my radar for a while and I kept putting it off because I was afraid it would be derivative and predictable. Thanks to my Goodreads friends’ reviews, I thought I’d take a chance and dive in. I’m so glad I did!

It’s the author’s fault I missed my stop and had to walk to work in the pouring rain. I wasn’t grumpy for long, since I knew the remainder of the book awaited me as soon as I got home.

This is a very disturbing, action-packed tale that explores the effects of drug addiction and withdrawal on people’s lives and the motivations of a mysterious group of people who have their own bizarre ideas on how to address the drug problem. 

The author cleverly provides a backstory about each of the six addicts, including the events that led to their arrival on the island. They are troubled people and certainly not very likable, but I’ve always had a soft spot for addicts, and it bothered me a little that they were so desperate to get to that cache of heroin that they would risk becoming shark food.

“He spoke no more, heart twisting in his chest the same as the others. They were beyond fucked up, emotionally wrecked and chemically imbalanced to the point where they were toxic to the hearts and souls of others they came in contact with. Their personal demons had come to roost with the skeletons in their closets, resulting in a rape that produced a broken bastard love-child in each of them. This love-child, born of heroin and regret, needed constant feeding. Sacrifice was the only thing it would eat.”

Only, the story wasn’t so predictable as that. The bad guys and the sharks are not the only danger. There is much infighting among the six addicts, and I found myself trying to predict the order they would be killed and who would survive in the end. 

Read this for the action and gore, or read it to see how poor choices and lack of empathy and respect for others wreck human lives. Either way, you won’t be disappointed.


Puckish - Wart Hill


I really enjoyed this wonderfully fun and quirky story.

One guy is quietly grading papers in a café and discreetly admires a man who walks in. All seems normal until the music starts to play.

“Moments later, a haunting, lyrical piece began to play, filling the small café with captivating, impossible music.”

His life completely changes when he decides not to vacate the table the unusual man is now sitting at, even though he is convinced the man is crazy.

I loved Minoru’s humorous inner thoughts, their conversations, and the magical mixed in with the ordinary. He is now in a world that isn’t supposed to exist and Charys has a very important mission. The story takes a dark turn and moves along at a faster pace as events escalate. 

The chapter headings and literary references are clever and very much suit this story.

Definitely read this if you want to learn a little-known fact about William Shakespeare!

The Demise of Bobby & Clyde

The Demise of Bobby & Clyde - Stephen del Mar

Bobby and Clyde are caught in a furious storm after robbing a bank. Once their car runs out of gas, they hide it behind a wall and seek refuge in an old house. While Clyde and Bobby explore, the house slowly reveals its ugly secrets.

This is a fast-paced, ominous, moody and romantic story. Even though Bobby and Clyde have screwed up multiple times in life, I loved that they get a second chance.

A Drink Before the War

A Drink Before the War  - Dennis Lehane

Posted at Shelf Inflicted 


Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro are offered big bucks to find a cleaning woman who made off with some confidential documents. It sounds like a simple case, but there’s a lot more to those documents than just state secrets.


Kenzie and Gennaro both grew up in blue-collar Dorchester and even though they’re tough, dealing with sleazy politicians and dangerous gangs takes all their energy, resolve and determination.


The detectives have their own issues to deal with too. Angie is married to an abusive husband, yet harbors some feelings for Patrick, who is her childhood friend. Patrick can relate, having suffered abuse at the hands of his own father.


I loved this dark, gritty, and violent story that explores racial and class conflicts, politics, and the evil that lurks in people’s hearts. I love the witty banter between the detectives and their growing relationship. A believable and realistic urban setting, gun battles, car chases, and a rich cast of secondary characters help make this a very fun and worthwhile start to a series.


On to the next!

Whiskey and Wry

Whiskey and Wry - Rhys Ford

Posted at Hearts on Fire Reviews 

4.5 stars

Even though I didn’t totally love Sinner's Gin, the ending was such a surprise that I was on pins and needles awaiting the next story. 

Damien Mitchell, guitarist, and one of three band members who died in a car crash, is actually alive and well. Well, not totally well. He’s shut up in a mental institution, pumped up full of drugs, and with no memory of that strange couple that calls themselves his parents. His memories are just starting to return, and now he’s on the run because someone is trying to kill him.

Like Miki St. John in the previous story, Damien is a very damaged character who is wary and distrustful of others. He grew up with a very abusive father and a neglectful, alcoholic mother. The only person in the world he can trust is Miki, and now that Damien knows he’s alive, he is determined to find him. Only Miki will be able to fill in the blanks of his life. 

While searching for Miki, Damien holes up in a dumpy attic apartment while busking at Finnegan’s Pub. The owner, Sionn Murphy, takes an instant liking to him. The attraction is mutual, but I appreciated that their relationship moved along at a slow pace, allowing me to feel the intensity of their growing love for each other. 

Their sex scenes were hot, but one of the hottest scenes in this story for me was the kiss they exchanged while drinking coffee and eating glazed donuts. 


“The small piece of paper Sionn used mopped up a bit of crème, and Damien leaned in, angling his chin up. He kept his eyes down, trying not to overtly inhale the woodsy green cologne Sionn wore or stare at the faint stubble scruffing the man’s strong chin. He already knew Sionn’s eyes were flecked by pale sky-blue specks around his pupil with a black ring running around his irises, but Damie didn’t stare into them, not when the man’s breath whispered over his jaw and fingers scraped crème from Damie’s cheek. There must have been a dollop of crème left somewhere, or maybe Sionn had more than a bit of it when he’d bitten into the donut, because when his lips met Damien’s, their kiss tasted of milky sugar and hot cinnamon.”



As much as I love Sionn Murphy, I didn’t find him to be as fully fleshed out as Kane was in the first story. Other than owning a pub, he doesn’t seem to have much of a life at all other than to be the perfect boyfriend for Damien. There were only glimpses of difficulties in his past, with details that were fascinating enough, but lacking. I wanted to know a lot more! Even his physical description was vague and I found myself glancing at the cover to help me picture what he looked like. Damien is on the left in full color and sexy scruffiness, while Sionn’s ghostly pallor blends in too well with the background. Just like the cover, Sionn was a little too much in the background for my liking. 

The things that annoyed me in Sinner's Gin were much less prevalent in this story, for which I’m grateful. The Morgan/Finnegan clan was genuinely loving and supportive without feeling annoyingly smothering and intrusive. I also liked the larger focus on Donal, the patriarch of the clan. He’s full of compassion and wisdom and the kind of person one would be proud to call dad. 

The villains were downright evil to the point they were caricatures. They would have been a lot more believable with the nuances and shades of gray that exist in humanity. Their crimes were over the top and I rolled my eyes a few times, but at the same time I found myself holding my breath and unable to stop reading until the very end.

Overall, this is a worthy addition to the Sinners series. I am definitely looking forward to the next two stories and hope that Miki and Damien will soon be getting a band together and making music again.

FREE!!! BAY'S END, by Edward Lorn

For the two people out there that do not have a copy of my debut novel, BAY'S END, it is currently free for the next couple of days. Click on the cover to get your copy from today!


If you're so inclined, share away. Thanks!


What does it take to ruin a perfectly good summer? Four cherry bombs.
When twelve-year-old Trey and his best friend Eddy play a prank on Officer Mack, the resulting chain of events rocks the small town of Bay's End.
Today, Trey Franklin is a man haunted by his past. Tormented by that one tragic, fateful summer, Trey searches for catharsis the only way he knows how - by writing.
A tale of love and loss, bittersweet memories, and the depths of human evil.
Welcome to Bay's End.
*Warning: Contains graphic language and adult situations.




Reblogged from Lornographic Material

Possibly free book(s)?

My publisher is doing a thing. You can win a free book (and, yes, Heraclix & Pomp qualifies)! Maybe more than one. Here's the email they sent out:


"Let's fudge a bit and call this our six month anniversary. It's closer to seven actually, and we're five months away from the release of Chimpanzee, but the story is better if we call April 1st our six month anniversary. Halfway through our first year and halfway to our first new book. This seems like a milestone.  And actually, we just hit a nice round number on the mailing list, so double milestone. AND our new employee started today. TRIPLE MILESTONE.


We should celebrate. Here's how we're going to do that: for every ten new subscribers to the mailing list, we'll pull one of their names at random and offer them a free book. It can be any existing Underland Press title or any of the four titles we've got planned for this fall. AND for every ten new subscribers we get, I'll pull a name from the existing subscriber list (in blocks of ten) and offer that person a free book as well. If we DOUBLE the existing mailing list in the month of April, I'll start over on the early adopters list again and give everyone another chance at a free book. Tell your friends! Let's grow that mailing list.


Welcome to April, my dear early enthusiasts. If this is a roller coaster ride, we're about to hit the top and start hurtling our way down the other side. Buckle up!




Here's the website: 


The signup for the mailing list is on the left hand side. Updates are infrequent and always entertaining. :)

Reblogged from Forrest Aguirre, in the Leaves

Blind Faith

Blind Faith - Claire Thompson

Reviewed at Hearts on Fire Reviews


At 35 pages, this is a quick read, but there is a lot of story packed into these pages.

Aidan was scarred and blinded in a car accident involving a drunk driver. After extensive physical therapy, classes for the blind on independent living, and a handsome settlement from the accident, Aidan is now living alone and leading a very lonely existence.

Zane is his on-again-off-again lover, who returns from his most recent European jaunt to learn the devastating news of Aidan’s accident.

Aidan and Zane are such likable and believable characters. I loved Aidan’s determination to overcome his emotional and physical pain and desire to live an independent life. I also loved Zane’s exuberance and impulsiveness, shining his light on Aidan’s dark world.

This story explores fear of commitment, coping with a disability, coming to grips with vulnerability, and asserting control.

By learning, changing, and shedding old habits, Aidan and Zane grew to be better men, individually and as a couple. I enjoyed every moment with them.

The Knife of Never Letting Go

The Knife of Never Letting Go - Patrick Ness

Young Todd Hewitt is on the verge of manhood and living in Prentisstown, a world without women and where the thoughts of men and “creachers” can be heard. Todd’s dad died of illness and his ma was the “last of the women”, according to Ben, one of two men who are raising him. Todd likes to go to the swamp to collect apples, because it is the only place where he can get a break from men’s “Noise” – their secrets, their thoughts, their memories. While out on a walk with his talking dog, Manchee, Todd encounters a break in the Noise, a pocket of silence. When Todd and Manchee return home, their Noise reveals what happened in the swamp, and Todd, with Manchee, a packed bag, Ben’s big hunting knife, and his mom’s journal, is sent away from the only home he’s ever known. 

When Todd encounters a girl on his travels, and comes across towns filled with men and women, everything he’s ever known about the world is changed in an instant. The men of Prentisstown are harboring a terrible secret and will stop at nothing to get Todd back. 

I really wanted to love this story. It won several major literary awards, including the 2008 Tiptree Award, and a few of my Goodreads friends enjoyed it. I had reservations about reading this, because it is the first in a series and I knew it had a cliffhanger ending. 

It wasn’t a bad book. It took me just a few pages to get used to Todd’s language that reveals his innocence and lack of education. At the same time, he is a very well-developed character, with strong sensibilities, hope, and a will to survive. From the start, Viola and Todd are bonded together in a quest for freedom and survival. There is no romance, for which I am thankful. Since Viola doesn’t have any Noise, she is shrouded in silence. It takes a little longer for Todd to get to know her, but he eventually does and is able to read her thoughts. The development of Todd’s and Viola’s relationship is my favorite part of this story. One thing I am bothered about is there was no mention at all of Ben’s and Cillian’s relationship. Were they roommates, best friends, lovers? Why was the nature of their relationship kept a secret, while everyone else’s thoughts were laid open? Since they were such a significant part of Todd’s life, I would have liked to know more. 

The Knife of Never Letting Go was fast-paced, dark, and compelling. I liked the plot, the suspense, the world, and the concept of hearing every man’s thoughts while women’s are much more difficult to read. I would have liked more well-developed secondary characters and less chase scenes. The story engaged my emotions, made my heart race, and left me exhausted. It also left me feeling vaguely empty and unsatisfied. I knew about the cliffhanger at the end, but nearly every chapter had a cliffhanger as well. At times I felt I was watching a TV show instead of reading a book. And I won’t even talk about Aaron, the charismatic preacher of Prentisstown, who was one of the most one-dimensional characters I’ve ever encountered in YA fiction. 

Cross posted at Outlaw Reviews and at Shelf Inflicted

The Darker Side of Trey Grey

The Darker Side of Trey Grey - Tara Spears

First off, I really hope that the author sent me an uncorrected review copy and this was not the final published version. I would have been very annoyed if I had paid $3.99 for it. Though my tolerance is higher for errors in self-published books, there were so many here that they threw me out of the story on many occasions. Typos I can handle, but constant misuse and abuse of words was much harder to put up with. 

“too” instead of “to”

The club was roué, fashionable and raunchy all at once. 

She has a reprobation toward sex.

My hips thrust fallaciously… 

And it goes on…

The woman-hating that goes on in the m/m romance genre is so prevalent, that it wasn’t a surprise to me here. It’s OK to include well-developed, interesting, intelligent female characters with full lives in stories that focus on men’s relationships. Women are part of men’s lives too, if not as lovers, then certainly as mothers, sisters, friends, or co-workers. They don’t all have to be bitchy, bitter, lonely, gossipy, or meddlesome. 

There were inconsistencies in this story that were a little off-putting. Halfway in, Trey and Justin knew each other for a week. 232 pages later, they knew each other only 3 days. In either case, they fell in love just a little too quickly for my liking, particularly considering Trey’s history of physical and emotional abuse, his mental illness, and his years working as a prostitute. Justin, like Trey, has difficulty with relationships. He is also deeply insecure and suffers from depression. Even though this is Trey’s story, I wish Justin’s mental illness was portrayed a little more convincingly. He was a very strong character while supporting Trey and didn’t show evidence of his depression. Other times, he was needy and insecure. 

Some of the medical and psychological aspects didn’t ring true either. I’m far from an expert, but I would think if you stab yourself with a 3-inch wide butcher knife, you would do more damage than just nick your diaphragm. Trey’s suicide attempts and self-harming behavior were treated far too casually. Realistically, he would have had to be evaluated by a psychiatrist and receive extensive treatment, or even hospitalization, if he was determined to be a risk to himself. 

Trey’s physical, sexual and emotional abuse by his stepfather was shown in flashbacks. He had recurring nightmares, and difficulty enjoying sex, until Justin entered his life. Despite the inconsistencies and inaccuracies here, I felt the author realistically portrayed the effects of severe child abuse on adult survivors and created two broken but strong characters that were very easy to care about. 

I enjoyed being a part of Trey’s and Justin’s lives as they handle their struggles and cope with life’s challenges. Their strength drew me in and kept me involved right up to the very end. 

Flaws notwithstanding, I am very much looking forward to the sequel.

*Book provided by author in exchange for an honest review.

One Last Lie

One Last Lie - Rob Kaufman
Shortly after my 23rd birthday, a gay male friend asked me to marry him. We worked closely together for two years, our cubes separated by one flimsy wall. Our friendship started tentatively, gradually progressing from occasional lunches to spending quite a bit of time together outside of work. I learned he was deeply closeted and only out to me and one other gay man at work. Not even his parents knew. I also learned that despite being gay, his politics were very conservative. A few times he asked me to attend various Republican events with him as he was eventually planning to run for local office and didn’t want to be seen without a companion. So I put on my nice dress, smiled and shook hands, and tried to be a supportive friend. 

Right after one of those events, he popped the question. I thought he was joking, but the intense gaze and firm set of his jaw said otherwise. I dared not laugh or tell him no, and instead asked for a few days to think about it. After thinking about it, getting married didn’t sound like such a bad idea. My friend made decent money and lived in a small house in a good neighborhood. I lived in a dumpy third-floor apartment in a bad neighborhood and my car was always in the repair shop. If we lived together, my quality of life would improve dramatically. The only thing required of me would be to attend more of those foolish Republican events and occasionally entertain other fledgling politicians. Of course, we could both date whomever we wanted, as long as we didn’t bring them home. He also promised that I could bank my salary since his was sufficient to take care of our necessities. 

Lavender marriages have happened all throughout history. Could we make it work and live our independent lives? We were good friends, despite our political differences. What could possibly go wrong? 

After thinking about it, I decided against marriage. Friends are not always forever. Over time, people’s needs and desires change. Good intentions could go horribly wrong. Promises are made that could easily be broken. Suddenly, that good friend becomes an enemy. 

Reading One Last Lie reminds me that there are certain things you should never do with a close friend. Getting married is one. Having a baby is another. 

If only Phil had listened to Jonathan…

I loved the chapters with old Jonathan. The decline of his advancing age, his lack of control and independence, and the sorrow permeating his entire being were heartrendingly authentic and his tale told masterfully. 

“The old man was dying, and the worst part was, he knew it. 

He could feel it in his brittle bones, popping and cracking with every move. He tasted it in his mouth – the bitter phlegm sitting on his tongue. He could even see it through the viscous film caught between his quivering eyelids.

But the telltale sign of approaching death was the feeling of surrender that had crept into his aching body – complete resignation to his current existence and to the life he’d led. The fight was just about gone.”

Flashback to when Jonathan and Phil were younger and ready to start a family. When Phil’s bout with testicular cancer and subsequent radiation treatments rendered him sterile, they looked to Phil’s old friend Angie who drops in their lives out of the blue after 15 years. Angie has successfully battled obesity, but her depression, rage and unpredictable moods are troublesome to everyone she comes in contact with. 

It seems Jonathan has some problems of his own, an “irritated state of being”, according to his therapist. Things like a messy kitchen or nagging doubts and suspicion about Phil’s old friend disturb Jonathan’s neurotic sense of order. 

Then there was Angie’s boyfriend, who also had trouble controlling his temper even with Zoloft and Clozapine. 

My feelings about this story were all over the place. I couldn’t wait to get back to the old Jonathan, to feel his pain and share his grief. I was so close to having a good cry, when there were more flashbacks and eye-rolling moments with an over-the-top villainess, an idiot of a boyfriend who failed to see the most obvious warning signs, who dismissed Jonathan’s legitimate fears and concerns, and who disregarded the seriousness of mental illness by making ignorant and misogynistic comments like, “…first of all, she’s pregnant. We already know women are crazy before they get pregnant, and now the hormones are going haywire.

I liked the pace of the story, but found the clues heavy-handed, making the story very predictable. It would have been a lot better had the serious issues been explored more sensitively and the secondary characters were not so one-dimensional. 

This is Rob Kaufman’s second novel, and he promises “this is only the beginning”. He is an extremely talented writer adept at twisty, psychological suspense. I know his next book will be even better and I’m looking forward to it. 

*Also reviewed at Outlaw Reviews

**Book provided by author in exchange for an honest review.


Rise Again

Rise Again: A Zombie Thriller - Ben Tripp

Sheriff Danielle Adelman is one tough lady. Her younger sister runs away from home with Danny’s vintage Mustang, she suffers the physical and psychological effects from being a soldier in the Iraq war, she deals with petty criminals, and if that’s not bad enough, zombies are moving into her small California town. No wonder she drowns out her troubles with alcohol.

With her sister’s letter in her shirt pocket and a small band of survivors, Danny is on a mission to find her sister and keep her people safe. 

I loved Danny’s strength and sense of ethics, and the very different personalities she has to deal with. There’s Wulf, another hard-bitten war veteran whose shooting skills come in handy, there’s Patrick, gay TV personality who feels faint at the sight of blood and has a soft spot for Danny, and Amy, the veterinarian who prefers animals to people. Then there’s the private militia group who makes everyone’s life miserable and is as scary as the zombies. 

The zombies get more terrifying as the story moves along. First, they are mindless, shambling creatures who moan at the sight of living prey. Then they gradually evolve into fast-moving predators that are more adept at getting through doors and windows, and then they form packs who stalk their prey. It seems that bio-terrorism caused the zombie epidemic, though the author thankfully did not spend a lot of time dwelling on the cause. 

What I wanted was lots of action, believable flawed characters who have to learn to work together in order to survive, and scary zombies. What I didn’t expect was the gut-punch ending. 

If you’re a fan of zombies, and don’t mind a story that takes occasional digs at the government and private enterprise, then don’t miss this one.

Cross posted at Outlaw Reviews and at Shelf Inflicted

After the Apocalypse

After the Apocalypse - Maureen F. McHugh

Posted at Shelf Inflicted

I’m not sure why I haven’t read more of Maureen McHugh’s stories. She has a subtle, quiet style and writes with a graceful economy of language that is powerful but not overwhelming. There is no filler here, no unnecessary words or overly descriptive scenes. What these haunting stories have in common is their exploration of various ways in which the world could fall apart and how humanity copes. I loved these wonderfully character-driven stories and am thrilled I was able to find this at the library.


This collection definitely has more hits than misses. 

The very first story, The Naturalist, is not your typical prison or zombie story. The humans were definitely scarier. 

Special Economics takes place in a China ravaged by bird flu. Young Jieling is desperate for money and takes a job in a biotech company that sounds perfect until she discovers the reasons why people can never quit. 



Useless Things is about a dollmaker who lives in a southwest severely affected by drought. She is alone in her house, protected by several large dogs. 

“I make reborns. Dolls that look like newborn infants. The point is to make them look almost, but not quite, real. People prefer them a little cuter, a little more perfect than the real thing. I like them best when there is something a little strange, a little off about them.”

The dolls creep me out, almost as much as clowns do, but the real strength of this story is the arid atmosphere, the loneliness, and the sense of danger. 

In The Lost Boy: A Reporter at Large, dirty bombs explode in Baltimore and a young boy remembers nothing about his family.

The Kingdom of the Blind is an intriguing story about two programmers who work in a medical facility and discover that they can’t outsmart their computer system. Too much tech talk and too many acronyms kept me from truly enjoying this one.

Going to France went over my head, just like the people who were flying.

If I could pick out one favorite from this collection, Honeymoonwould be it. A wedding that never happened, the start of a new life, and a need to save money for a trip to Cancun. This is a taut and disturbing story that made me miss my bus stop. 

A young girl’s mom is dying of Avian Prion Disease (APD) in The Effect of Centrifugal Forces. This chilling story makes me never want to eat chicken again. 

After the Apocalypse is the perfect conclusion to this collection. A mother and daughter do their best to survive in spite of homelessness, unemployment and a constant threat of danger. 

I typically take short breaks between short stories, but I found myself immersed and had difficulty putting the book down. 

Highly recommended to those who like thoughtful short fiction that feels intensely real. 

Currently reading

The Best American Short Stories 2013
Elizabeth Strout, Heidi Pitlor