book review

Book Review: Back in the Game

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Back in the Game (Dream State Saga, #2)Back in the Game by Christopher Keene
Reviewed by Angela Oliver

“Back in the Game” continues Noah’s story, returning him once more to the Dream State virtual world – this time with a specific goal in mind: to seek vengeance for the murder of his girlfriend, Sue. However, the evidence, hidden in a Transfer Orb, has fallen into the hands of a newbie player, and Noah and his friends must fight through dungeons, monsters, and dragon nests to find it before Wona does – for Wona will do anything to keep its good name clean and its dark past a secret.

A stronger and more competent tale than its predecessor, Keene has clearly gained both in skill and confidence. In the virtual realm, his imagination can really take flight – into some rather unexpected places. There are twists and turns, and quite a few surprises, along with plenty of action. Due to the virtual nature of the world, perhaps the stakes were not as severe as they could have been: death is not the end, merely a chance to have your treasured possessions stolen, and character development could have stronger, but overall an engaging and interesting read, with an ending to make you eager for the next installment!

Back in the Game, and its predecessor, Stuck in the Game are published via FutureHouse Publishing. You can purchase them on ebook or in physical format via Amazon: here.

Book Review: Glint of Exoskeleteon

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A Glint of ExoskeletonA Glint of Exoskeleton by Robinne Weiss

“A Glint of Exoskeleton” is a highly entertaining and extremely enjoyable read, with a wonderfully adventurous heroine. Throughout her life, Crick has been able to speak to insects. The story begins with a snapshot of events as she grows up: meeting Peri the cockroach at the age of 3, learning to hide her abilities, until she becomes a teenager and then the story truly begins.

Peri is a very important cockroach – he’s decades old and basically the main spokes-bug for all the cockroaches of his species in the world. And he has some terrible to report: the mosquitoes are turning against humankind. After decades of persecution, they’ve had enough and, with the aid of a mysterious and devious human associate, they are engineering a virus that will destroy the world. And who can stop them? Well, adults can’t – they’d never believe Crick if she told them – so it’s up to Crick to save the world. And to do that, she must find a way to get to Panama, the birthplace of “leopard spot fever” as it is known. A place where, already, villages have been depopulated by the virus.

The writing was very vivid, I’ve never been to Panama, but the prose was so descriptive, so evocative, I was transported to that land of rice fields and mud. I shared with Crick her sense of despair at being alone in such a foreign environment. But Crick is never really alone, because she has her insect friends to aid her and they do – in no small way!

There are a few darker moments (such as the fate of the evil conspirator), and a few that are creepy (Crick is stalked by her school friend, after she does the responsible thing and reports his self-destructive behaviour to his parents), which may make it a little disconcerting for the more sensitive readers, but these are well balanced with a healthy dose of humour, an action-packed romp of a plot, highly entertaining characters and a gutsy heroine. This book is almost guaranteed to make the reader look at insects in a different light (Weiss is an entomologist and her passion for her profession shines through), as well as educating them (so subtly that they’ll hardly realise it’s happening). A great read for adventurous girls, and boys too!

Purchase “Glint of Exoskeleton” on ebook.


avatar-angAngela Oliver is a writer and illustrator, a reader and a dreamer.

Book Review: Devolve: The Wolf

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Devolve; The Wolf (Devolve #1)Devolve; The Wolf by Mike Hooper
Review by Angela Oliver

“Devolve” is the first in a series by a local author and is independently published. The design is competent and professional, and the story matches. It is a dystopia/post apocalyptic setting, where the people have been forced, by war, to live underground. Here they are ruled over by the amicable King Brown, who desires, above all, to be liked and admired by his subjects. Our main character is 4N, or Foren, and all of the characters follow a similar naming system. We have KC (Casey), an intelligent and caring girl; GO (Geo), belligerent and thorny; VC (Vici), kind, secretive and naive and many others, all students in Professor Will’s class. All students who are hoping to be chosen as part of the team that will venture upon to the surface in search of relics.

Foren is an orphan, and his greatest desire is to be a Cat – a surface explorer that seeks relics – like his mother. Although he is chosen for the team, it is instead as a Wolf, a protector and guardian. Together with five of his class-mates, he must breach the hostile surface, where the earth is poisoned and the water polluted, where merely breathing the air can kill.

Or does it?

Foren and his friends uncover not only a dangerous conspiracy, but enter into a deadly and violent game of survival. This is not a light read – there is a bloody body count and a few moments where I feared Hooper was channeling his inner George RR Martin. Filled with twists, turns and some rather unexpected surprises. A competent, and relatively easy read, with barely a dull moment.

I look forward to reading more.

Visit Mike’s website:

avatar-angAngela Oliver is a writer and illustrator, a reader and a dreamer.

Book Review: The Strange Sagas of Sabrina Summers

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Book 1: The Uncooperative Flying Carpet
Book 2: The Uncomfortable Glass Slippers
Book 3: The Uncontrollable Slingshot
by Michele Clark McConnochie

 Sabrina Summers is a typical quick-thinking, courageous, pre-teen girl. She likes hanging out with her best friend Persis, tolerates her little brother, Rory, and is not so fond of her new stepmother, Bridget. Then, suddenly and unexpectedly, Sabrina finds herself dressed in strange clothes, in a strange world, along with Persis, Rory, her rival, Olive and a flatulent clydesdale. They have been magically transported into the fairy tale world of Dralfynia, and their world is about to turn upside-down…

Their misadventures take them deep into the heart of the Scary Forest, where a cannibalistic witch waits in her candy cottage, and then into a foetid depths of a goblin lair. It is a frantic, non-stop, action-packed, adventure, as they struggle to return safely to their own world.

Only to find that someone has followed them back…

In The Uncomfortable Glass Slippers, our heroes make a rather reluctant return to Dalfynia.

This time, Sabrina assumes the appearance of Prince Charming, and her companions are Goldilocks (Olive), Sleeping Beauty (Persis) and Baby Bear (Rory, who is an genuine ginger bear). This time, their mission: to find the glass slippers, to keep Ruggy the uncooperative magic carpet from the hands of the “Beast”, and to find their way back home.Again.

Unfortunately, if the best made plans can go astray, than the hastily made plans by a group of pre-teens stuck into fairy-tale personas is certainly going to. Our heroes are in for a roller-coaster ride involving a shoe museum, goblins, a sometime-dragon, wolves, treachery and deception. That too, and having to deal with cleaning up the mess they left behind them after their first visit.

But the mess has just got worse, and new revelations are realised, and Sabrina and co must make their final return in The Uncontrollable Slingshot in a vain effort to make things right.

These tales are a fun roller-coaster ride. Short chapters, combined with hook endings, capture even those with a short attention span. Whether the characters are falling out of one bit of trouble and deeper into another, or experiencing a brief (sometimes pun-fulled) reprieve, the prose is fun, wry and entertaining. I can highly recommend these tales, especially for middle-grade readers—aged about 8 plus—and reluctant readers.

And you can meet Michele, if you like (plus win stuff):


Book Review: Beyond the Briar by Shelley Chappell

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Beyond the Briar: A Collection of Romantic Fairy TalesBeyond the Briar: A Collection of Romantic Fairy Tales by Shelley Chappell
Reviewed by Janine Lattimore

“The stories she wove as a result were quilted masterpieces which audiences could tuck around their shoulders for comfort and warmth.  By listening to the people she met, she learned what different folk feared and loved and laughed about, and she told tales that joined them together”

Description of the story-teller, Sunny, in Ranpasatusan – Beyond the Briar

In Beyond the Briar, author Shelly Chappell has taken four traditional fairy stories and given them an intelligent retelling imbued with beauty, grace and a deep understanding of the human soul.  Ostensibly written for young adults, this insightful reincarnation of the stories of Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, Rumplestiltskin and Cinderella also captivates adult readers.  Chappell’s narratives are sometimes light and playfully humorous, sometimes moving and thought provoking and sometimes beautifully lyrical.

While the stories retain the fairy tale elements of romantic love, magic and happy endings, Chappell’s tales all contain significant twists on the original versions both in the story-lines and in the characters.  In some stories the geographical location is different, in others the setting is brought forward to a more modern time, in others the gender of the key characters is swapped.  The main female characters are all strong, confident women, but this is not a simple reversal where the women are strong and the men weak.  The characters are much more complex than that.  The strength of the female characters establishes a balanced equality with the leading male characters.  In Chappell’s stories there is no one hero, male or female, who swoops in to save the day, instead the main characters both contribute to save each other.

I have to confess that at first the idea of retold fairy stories didn’t really grab my interest, but I decided to read this collection because it was a finalist for Best Collection in the 2015 Sir Julius Vogel Awards (Ranpasatusan was also a finalist for Best Novelette and Chappell was a finalist for Best New Talent) and because the author is part of the writers’ guild that I belong to.  However, I was captivated from the moment I started reading the first story by the quality of the writing and the originality of the narrative.  If you like romance, especially historical romance or fantasy romance I think that you will enjoy reading Beyond the Briar.

A great read for something fun and different.

You can buy “Beyond the Briar” via Amazon.

Janine Lattimore is a reader, writer and home help guru, who regularly blogs as The Happy Homemaker. This has been cross-posted from her blog with permission.

Book Review: The Natural Order

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The Natural OrderThe Natural Order by R.J. Vickers
Reviews by Angela Oliver

Do not be deterred by the apparent plot similarities to Harry Potter – “The Natural Order” may be a magic school-type novel, but it is a wholly original take on the genre. The protagonist, Tristan, is serving time as a juvenile delinquent, accused of manslaughter. As he mourns the brother whose death he caused, a stranger turns up and whisks him away, along with 14 other students, to an obscure location. Here he is thrown into a school unlike any he has ever known – a school with an entirely unique array of subjects. Here he makes friends, and a few fiends, and begins to unearth the dark secrets behind the Lair.

Well written, and enjoyable, R.J. Vickers has designed a magic system that is uniquely her own. She has created a believable cast of troubled teens, sprinkled in a generous amount of typical High School drama and insecurities and added a dusting of magic. Her concepts are well considered and should lead into a promising series as Tristan and his friends discover more of what their future entails.

Buy the book from Amazon, available in paperback or ebook format.

avatar-angAngela Oliver is a writer and illustrator, a reader and a dreamer.

Book Review: The Silver Hawk by Beaulah Pragg

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The Silver Hawk (Chronicles of Tyria, #1)The Silver Hawk by Beaulah Pragg
(Chronicles of Tyria #1)
Reviewed by Janine Lattimore

Maat and Mikael are twins, genetically modified immortal beings, assigned to a space lab chronicling the lives of an experimental human population set up by their mother on the planet Tyria.  To the humans they watch they are gods; gods who are supposed to simply observe and not interfere;  gods whose nanite engineering is supposed to keep them free from developing emotional attachments.

Supposed to.  

The humans on Tyria are divided by differences of belief; belief so strong that it leads to violent actions of a genocide nature.  Into this world of prejudice and power struggles a new princess is born.  She is born blind and thought to be cursed.  Her mother dies at birth and her father is killed as a source of dark magic.  The baby princess is almost killed herself but fortunately the Queen has mercy and wisdom and diplomatically brings into the princess’s life a balance of protectors.  One is a priestess devoted to the reigning religious Order which views men with fear and contempt.  The other, unbeknownst to the Queen, is a spy.  Tasya is the daughter of the King of the Guild, the subversive collective fighting for a society where men and women are treated as equal.  She is also the result of one of Mikael’s personal genetic experiments, along with her twin brother.  Both priestess and spy come to love the princess passionately and when the ultimate threat comes would give their lives to save her.

Maat and Mikael do become attached to the humans they watch, but they are torn between their attraction to some aspects of human behaviour and repulsion of others.  Then Maat and Mikael’s mother contacts them to say that she is shutting down the Tyria experiment meaning that all trace of human civilisation will be wiped from the planet.

How can Maat and Mikael save the human population on Tyria?

Do they want to?

And is there another alien life force hiding on the planet below?

Author Beaulah Pragg weaves together the two main stories in The Silver Hawk with a seamless flow that is swiftly moving and action dense.  I found this book hard to put down and was left hungry for more at the end.  From the sneak previews I have seen from Book Two: The White Heron, I think my hunger will be well satisfied.  I only hope that the wait is not too long.

The Silver Hawk is a young adult science-fiction fantasy.  Young adult in that it contains no overly violent or sexual content but still interesting and enjoyable for adults.

Highly recommended.

You can buy this book online, via Amazon: in ebook or physical form.

Janine Lattimore is a reader, writer and home help guru, who regularly blogs as The Happy Homemaker. This has been cross-posted from her blog with permission.