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Reviews: Jackaby and Beastly Bones by William Ritter


Jackaby
Author:  William Ritter
Series:  Jackaby 1
Publisher:  Algonquin Books, August 25, 2015
Format:  Trade Paperback, 304 pages
     Hardcover and eBook, 304 pages
List Price:  $16.95 (Hardcover); $9.95 (Trade Paperback);
     9781616204341 (eBook)
ISBN:  9781616203535 (Hardcover); 9781616205461 (Trade Paperback)
     $9.95 (eBook)
Review Copy:  Trade Paperback provided by the Publisher

Reviews:  Jackaby and Beastly Bones by William Ritter
Newly arrived in New Fiddleham, New England, 1892, and in need of a job, Abigail Rook meets R. F. Jackaby, an investigator of the unexplained with a keen eye for the extraordinary--including the ability to see supernatural beings. Abigail has a gift for noticing ordinary but important details, which makes her perfect for the position of Jackaby’s assistant. On her first day, Abigail finds herself in the midst of a thrilling case: A serial killer is on the loose. The police are convinced it’s an ordinary villain, but Jackaby is certain the foul deeds are the work of the kind of creature whose very existence the local authorities--with the exception of a handsome young detective named Charlie Cane--seem adamant to deny.


Trinitytwo's Point of View

The year is 1892 and adventuresome Abigail Rook has recently arrived via merchant ship to the New England port town of New Fiddleham. Abigail has nowhere to stay, is short on funds, and desperately needs a job when she comes across an advertisement for an assistant in an investigative service paying $8.00 per week. Presenting herself at 926 Augur Lane, she soon learns that this is no ordinary detective agency. Instead, Abigail learns that her potential employer, R.F. Jackaby, specializes in the paranormal and has a gift for detecting supernatural beings. Abigail is skeptical but is determined to keep an open mind. She accompanies him to a murder scene where Jackaby senses the aura of the murderer, an unknown paranormal being of a highly malicious nature. Together, Jackaby and Abigail discover that the murderer is in fact a supernatural serial killer whose brutal spree is far from over.

Jackaby, a paranormal detective story by William Ritter, is an exciting romp through old New England seen through the eyes of the extremely likable Abigail Rook. Abigail's back story underscores her thirst for adventure and she is an excellent foil to the supernatural investigator's somewhat dubious methods of cracking a case. Jackaby is delightfully reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes, and the fact that he specializes in the preternatural gives this series an exciting twist. Like Sherlock, Jackaby is brilliant but socially awkward and Abigail, who deduces mundane clues often beyond her employer's grasp, completes the puzzle as the perfect Watson.

Jackaby is satisfyingly unconventional and his eccentricities, such as sharing his home/office with both a beautiful ghost and a duck, who was once his assistant, add a flavor of the pleasantly unpredictable. His matter-of-fact introduction of various types of supernatural creatures to Abigail is entertaining and kept me amused and engaged.

I like everything about this YA novel. Abigail and Jackaby's search to track down a supernatural serial killer makes it a page-turner, and as the body count surged, so did my adrenaline. I highly recommend Jackaby; it's a winning combination of wit and whimsy with characters that are earnest and likable. It's filled with enough mayhem and mystery to leave its readers craving more.




Beastly Bones
Author:  William Ritter
Series:  Jackaby 2
Publisher:  Algonquin Books, September 22, 2015
Format:  Hardcover and eBook, 304 pages
List Price: $17.95 (print); 17.95 (eBook)
ISBN:  9781616203542 (print); 9781616205539 (eBook)
Review Copy:  Provided by the Publisher

Reviews:  Jackaby and Beastly Bones by William Ritter
“I’ve found very little about private detective R. F. Jackaby to be standard in the time I’ve known him. Working as his assistant tends to call for a somewhat flexible relationship with reality . . .”

In 1892, New Fiddleham, New England, things are never quite what they seem, especially when Abigail Rook and her eccentric employer, R. F. Jackaby, are called upon to investigate the supernatural.

First, members of a particularly vicious species of shape-shifters disguise themselves as a litter of kittens. A day later, their owner is found murdered, with a single mysterious puncture wound to her neck. Then, in nearby Gad’s Valley, dinosaur bones from a recent dig go missing, and an unidentifiable beast attacks animals and people, leaving their mangled bodies behind. Policeman Charlie Cane, exiled from New Fiddleham to the valley, calls on Abigail for help, and soon Abigail and Jackaby are on the hunt for a thief, a monster, and a murderer.

Beastly Bones, the second installment in the series, delivers the same quirky humor and unforgettable characters as Jackaby, the book the Chicago Tribune called “Sherlock Holmes crossed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”


Trinitytwo's Point of View

In Beastly Bones, the second installment in the Jackaby series, paranormal detective R.F. Jackaby and his young assistant Abigail Rook are sent on assignment to the rural town of Gad's Valley. A perfect set of dinosaur bones have been unearthed on Hugo Brisbee's farm, but on the heels of this momentous discovery comes a brazen theft and a baffling death by unnatural causes. Another body turns up in New Fiddleham with an identical cause of death. Due to the unusual circumstances, the acting Police Commissioner feels that only someone with Jackaby's unique skill set can solve the case. Shape-shifting police officer Charlie Cane, who has recently transferred to Gad's Valley, concurs with the Police Commissioner's assessment. Together, with Jackaby's friend Hank Hudson, a hunter of rare and extraordinary creatures, the trio must discover the secrets surrounding the Beastly Bones.

Not as strong or as fast-paced as its predecessor, William Ritter's second offering in the Jackaby series still delivers a fresh and exciting adventure. Ritter's portrayal of both his major and minor characters is flawless; it's the story itself that lacks the same bite. Part of the problem is the loose ends. For example, much time and effort is spent on 926 Augur Lane's resident ghost and questions about her mysterious past, but maddeningly no answers are provided, just the promise of some in the future.

Abigail's frustration at never being able to accompany her famous father on any of his archaeological digs was put to good use. She revels in the opportunity to work on an actual site, but the incessant bickering of the rival paleontologists and the tedious dig ended up weakening the story.

Beastly Bones is at its best when Jackaby and Abigail engage in their special brand of bantering. While their professional relationship is similar to Sherlock and Watson, Abigail's attention to detail complements Jackaby's brilliant deductions which puts them on a more even keel. Abigail possesses a vibrancy and enthusiasm lacking in Watson. The fact that she is not afraid to kick her employer in the shins if he needs it makes her even more likable.

Reading book one in this YA series is not a necessity, but I would definitely recommend it. Beastly Bones is a solid follow-up into William Ritter's humorous and horror-filled fantasy world. Reluctant readers rejoice, this series is a gem.

Reviews: Krampus the Yule Lord by Brom and Krampus (the film)


It's the Holiday season, so why not immerse oneself in the frightening folklore of Krampus? Before this year I had never even heard of this European legend. Apparently, he looks like a demon with cloven hooves, large horns, a long pointed tongue, and sharp teeth. This counterpart to Saint Nicholas is said to punish wicked children with beatings or carry them away to Hell. Two recent adaptations of this legend is "Krampus", a film by Michael Dougherty and Krampus the Yule Lord, story and illustrations by Brom. Both renditions have unique attributes and both are worthy of your consideration, so read each review and choose wisely because Krampus is coming to town.


Krampus the Yule Lord
Author and ArtistBrom
Publisher:  Harper Voyager, October 27, 2015
Format:  Trade Paperback, 368 pages
     Hardcover and eBook,  October 30, 2012
List Price:  $19.99 (Trade Paperback)
ISBN:  9780062095664 (Trade Paperback)
Review Copy:  Provided by the Publisher

Santa Claus, my dear old friend, you are a thief, a traitor, a slanderer, a murderer, a liar, but worst of all you are a mockery of everything for which I stood. You have sung your last ho, ho, ho, for I am coming for your head. . . . I am coming to take back what is mine, to take back Yuletide . . .

The author and artist of The Child Thief returns with a modern fabulist tale of Krampus, the Lord of Yule and the dark enemy of Santa Claus

One Christmas Eve in a small hollow in Boone County, West Virginia, struggling songwriter Jesse Walker witnesses a strange spectacle: seven devilish figures chasing a man in a red suit toward a sleigh and eight reindeer. When the reindeer leap skyward, taking the sleigh, devil men, and Santa into the clouds, screams follow. Moments later, a large sack plummets back to earth, a magical sack that thrusts the down-on-his-luck singer into the clutches of the terrifying Yule Lord, Krampus. But the lines between good and evil become blurred as Jesse's new master reveals many dark secrets about the cherry-cheeked Santa Claus, including how half a millennium ago the jolly old saint imprisoned Krampus and usurped his magic.

Now Santa's time is running short, for the Yule Lord is determined to have his retribution and reclaim Yuletide. If Jesse can survive this ancient feud, he might have the chance to redeem himself in his family's eyes, to save his own broken dreams . . . and to help bring the magic of Yule to the impoverished fold of Boone County.


Tracey's/Trinitytwo's Point of View

In the wee hours of Christmas morning, wannabe musician Jesse Walker contemplates the mess he's made of his life. He hates himself for failing his family and knows he's been a constant disappointment to his estranged wife, Linda, and five year-old daughter, Abigail. Now that Linda and Chief Dillard are in a relationship, Jesse is tortured by the fact that another man is providing them with the finer things in life. Sitting outside his trailer, wallowing in self-pity and contemplating suicide, Jesse is shocked when a man dressed as Santa frantically dashes by, pursued by shadowy figures with glowing orange eyes and horns. Santa leaps into a crimson sleigh complete with reindeer, but before he can achieve lift-off the attackers pounce. Jesse watches as the assailants battle the man in red and the sleigh disappears upward out of sight. Screams follow and a figure plummets from the sky, smashing into the windshield of a neighbor's car. Seconds later, he hears another crash as something plunges through the roof of his trailer. As he investigates his mobile home, he discovers Santa's red sack sitting on his bed. Desperate to give his daughter a Christmas present, he picks up the bag, hoping for a miracle. The sack is indeed miraculous but two powerful entities vie for its possession: Santa Claus and Krampus, the Yule Lord. Jesse's possession of the sack leads to Krampus's minions, called Belsnickels, taking Jesse hostage and bringing him and the sack to the cave where the Yule Lord is held prisoner. Krampus has been languishing in shackles for centuries and is weak from his imprisonment, but with the magical sack back in his possession he can finally free himself. The Yule Lord thirsts for revenge and, against his will, Jesse becomes involved in a supernatural vendetta between the two deities. The reinvigorated Krampus's innate ability to punish the wicked wreaks death and destruction upon the human world as the Yule Lord embarks upon his quest to regain his rightful place in human legends and slay his nemesis; Santa Claus.

Krampus the Yule Lord by Brom is two stories intertwined; one, an amazing tale of legends sprung to life and two, a story of human redemption. I thoroughly enjoyed Brom's rendition of the mythological origins of Krampus and Santa and their links to Odin and Loki. Since they are immortals, they each have their own agendas, and I especially enjoyed how human concerns such as breaking and entering, vandalism, and murder didn't merit Krampus's attention. He simply punishes or rewards whom he sees fit. This story is fresh and fantastic; I was surprised that somewhere along the way I began rooting for Krampus over Santa. It's wonderful not to have any clue where the story is going and to root for the bad guy for a change.

Jesse's story is tense, exciting, and thoroughly captivating. His journey is all the more poignant because the guy is a complete loser and garners little to no sympathy from the start. Brom masterfully draws his readers to Jesse by gradually depicting where his life went wrong, how he got caught up with the wrong people, and how he stopped believing in himself. As the story unfolds and Krampus teaches Jesse some hard life lessons, it evolves into one wild ride littered with danger and dead bodies.

This trade paperback edition is packed with luscious illustrations by the multi-talented Brom which enhanced my reading pleasure. I absolutely love this book and plan on rereading it every year during the Yule season. Its multiple cautionary messages about the environment, technology, and being good are worth heeding. Krampus the Yule Lord is a dark and thrilling tale that I would wholeheartedly recommend to horror enthusiasts everywhere, with one proviso: if you don't enjoy eviscerations or intense violence, this is definitely not for you.






Krampus
Legendary Pictures and Universal Pictures
December 4, 2015 (USA)
Rated PG-13

When his dysfunctional family clashes over the holidays, young Max (Emjay Anthony) is disillusioned and turns his back on Christmas. Little does he know, this lack of festive spirit has unleashed the wrath of Krampus: a demonic force of ancient evil intent on punishing non-believers.

All hell breaks loose as beloved holiday icons take on a monstrous life of their own, laying siege to the fractured family’s home and forcing them to fight for each other if they hope to survive.


Tracey's/Trinitytwo's Point of View

Folklore tells of Saint Nicholas's counterpart, a horned figure with a lolling tongue who punishes the naughty with beatings and then spirits them away to his lair. "Krampus", the movie, (directed by Michael Dougherty) centers around two dysfunctional families joined together for the holidays. Max (Emjay Anthony) shares his love of Christmas with his sweet German grandmother, Omi, (Krista Stadler) but is dismayed by his unhappy parents (Toni Collette and Adam Scott), his self-absorbed sister (Stefania LaVie Owen), and their obnoxious relatives (Conchata Ferrell, Allison Tolman, David Koechner). Max finishes his letter to Santa only to have it intercepted by his cousins who humiliate him for still believing. In a fit of anguish, he tears up the letter and throws it out his window. This act of disbelief heralds the arrival of someone less jolly than old Saint Nick. Krampus and his helpers come to town with the sole purpose of teaching Max and his quarrelsome family the consequences of their outrageous behavior.

"Krampus" is an enjoyable alternative to traditional holiday films. The cast was terrific; displaying great versatility in both the comedic and horror elements of the film. I especially enjoyed Tolman and Koechner as the heads of household from the redneck side of the family. Koechner and Ferrell deliver some of the funniest lines but Koechner's "Honey, I just got my ass kicked by a bunch of Christmas cookies" has to be one of the best.

Krampus's demonic servants, scary snowmen and possessed gingerbread men, provided a feeling of impending doom and dread. Krampus, when finally revealed, was not quite what I was expecting, but still eminently creepy. The film's effects, both digital and practical, were well executed. The animated segment of Omi's past encounter with Krampus is delightfully eerie and reminiscent of the movies "Coraline" and "Nightmare before Christmas". Listen for the song, Krampus- Karol of the Bells at the end credits, it's my new favorite Christmas song.

I was disappointed that with its PG-13 rating, "Krampus" had no guts or gore to back up its grim warning of the payback for a lack of Christmas spirit. I would still recommend the film to both the naughty and nice, because "Krampus" delivers its fair share of laughs, thrills and chills.

Review: Queen of Fire by Anthony Ryan


Queen of Fire
Author:  Anthony Ryan
Series:  Raven's Shadow 3
Publisher:  Ace, July 7, 2015
Formats:  Hardcover and eBook, 656 pages
List Price$28.95 (Hardcover); $14.99 (eBook)
ISBN:  9780425265642 (Hardcover); 9781101612989 (eBook)
Review Copy:  Provided by the Author
Trade Paperback to be published on June 7, 2016

Review: Queen of Fire by Anthony Ryan
In the thrilling conclusion to the “deftly and originally executed” (Booklist) New York Times bestselling trilogy, Vaelin Al Sorna must help his Queen reclaim her Realm. Only his enemy has a dangerous new collaborator, one with powers darker than Vaelin has ever encountered…


“The Ally is there, but only ever as a shadow, unexplained catastrophe or murder committed at the behest of a dark vengeful spirit. Sorting truth from myth is often a fruitless task.”

After fighting back from the brink of death, Queen Lyrna is determined to repel the invading Volarian army and regain the independence of the Unified Realm. Except, to accomplish her goals, she must do more than rally her loyal supporters. She must align herself with forces she once found repugnant—those who possess the strange and varied gifts of the Dark—and take the war to her enemy’s doorstep.

Victory rests on the shoulders of Vaelin Al Sorna, now named Battle Lord of the Realm. However, his path is riddled with difficulties. For the Volarian enemy has a new weapon on their side, one that Vaelin must destroy if the Realm is to prevail—a mysterious Ally with the ability to grant unnaturally long life to her servants. And defeating one who cannot be killed is a nearly impossible feat, especially when Vaelin’s blood-song, the mystical power which has made him the epic fighter he is, has gone ominously silent…


Trinitytwo's Point of View

Queen of Fire is the third and final book in the Raven's Shadow series by Anthony Ryan. Blood Song, book one, and Tower Lord, book two, should definitely be read first. If you haven’t had the
chance, start there. They are remarkable epic fantasies.

Queen Lyrna awakes to find she is miraculously healed through the power of one of the Gifted. Realizing these people are to be valued, not put to death as wielders of the Dark, she rescinds the old law at an assembly of her supporters and her newly unified army. There, she rallies her people to march to Varinshold and retake the Unified Realm's capital from the Volarian invaders, seeking justice for the death and torture inflicted upon them through the malignant machinations of the Ally . Lady Governess Reva Mustor, has warily accepted the mantle of Blessed Lady by the masses and makes plans to lead a contingency of her own to join the Queen's crusade. Meanwhile Frentis and his group of fighters also make for Varinshold, continuing on their quest to retake cities lost to the Volarian invasion along the way. Frentis is haunted by dreams of his former master, the woman who through a dark binding forced him on a rampage of murder that culminated in the assassination of King Malcius and his family and the horrific burning of Lyrna. He is well aware that when he reaches Varinshold and the Queen, he will face judgment for the crimes he committed, albeit against his will. Vaelin, the queen's Battle Lord, receives instructions to seek the Song of a man who cannot die, to learn the true nature of the immortal Ally in order to defeat him and bring balance back into the world. Since he no longer has a Song of his own, he must now rely on the aid of other Gifted to find the answers he seeks and his mission takes him on a hazardous journey far to the east. All paths are fraught with peril and bloodshed and ultimately lead to a final showdown at the great arena in Volar with the fate of humanity hanging in the balance.

Finishing Queen of Fire, the epic conclusion to Anthony Ryan's high fantasy trilogy, left me with a mixed bag of thoughts and feelings. Truth be told, I was slightly let down. Not because it was a bad book, or had a bad ending but because by the conclusion, many of the characters didn't matter to me. They seemed to have lost their heart and soul. Part of the problem was that there were so many characters that I had a hard time keeping track of who I was reading about. I understand why multiple POV's were introduced; the scope of this novel necessitated it. But when they died or suffered I felt no connection or loss. They failed to matter to me. Another problem was the war itself. Ryan did a fantastic job of describing the brutality and waste of human life that is war, but after a while it became business as usual. The shock value was lost to me, and so it seemed, to some of the story's characters.

That being said I was truly impressed with the novel's complexities and Ryan's masterful orchestration of its considerable characters and events. I loved the complicated relationship between Frentis and the horror show of a woman who was once his master. Their connection through dreams ranged from uncomfortable to perverse, but ultimately it was inspired. I found Queen Lyrna's inner dialogue fascinating as she experienced the power rush of her newly minted monarchy. I also really enjoyed Reva's story arc, and her character's strength of will and legendary fighting skills kept me rooting for her. On the other hand, I was disappointed that Vaelin, the darling of Blood Song, who after being sent out to the frozen wastelands to discover more about the Ally, became simply another ensemble player.

However, even with all my complaints I still think it's quality reading. Anthony Ryan will draw you into the world he created and it will hold you in its thrall. Ryan truly is a brilliant writer; Vaelin will always remain high on my list of favorite all-time literary characters. I would definitely recommend the series to lovers of high fantasy although, at 637 pages for this book alone, be prepared to invest a good chunk of time. I am truly looking forward to reading more from Anthony Ryan in the future.





Previously

Blood Song
Raven's Shadow 1
Ace, February 3, 2015
Trade Paperback, 592 pages
Previously published in Hardcover and eBook, July 2013
Previously published in Mass Market Paperback, June 2014

Review: Queen of Fire by Anthony Ryan
“Fans of broadscale epic fantasy along the lines of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series and George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire novels should find this debut much to their liking.”—Library Journal
The first in the “powerful” (SFFWorld.com) New York Times bestselling series

Vaelin Al Sorna was only a child of ten when his father left him at the iron gate of the Sixth Order—a caste devoted to battle. Vaelin will be trained and hardened to the austere, celibate and dangerous life of a warrior of the Faith. He has no family now save the Order.

Vaelin’s father was Battle Lord to King Janus, ruler of the Unified Realm—and Vaelin’s rage at being deprived of his birthright knows no bounds. Even his cherished memories of his mother are soon challenged by what he learns within the Order.

But one truth overpowers all the rest: Vaelin Al Sorna is destined for a future he has yet to comprehend. A future that will alter not only the Realm but the world.


See Trinitytwo's review here.




Tower Lord
Raven's Shadow 2
Ace, June 2, 2015
Trade Paperback, 624 pages
Previously published in Hardcover and eBook, July 2014

Review: Queen of Fire by Anthony Ryan
New York Times bestselling author Anthony Ryan returns to the “wonderful universe” (Fantasy Book Critic) of Blood Song, as Vaelin Al Sorna continues on his inevitable road to destiny…

King Janus’s vision of a Unified Realm has failed, drowned in the blood of brave men fighting for a cause that was forged from a lie. Sick at heart, Vaelin Al Sorna, warrior of the Sixth Order, returns home, determined to kill no more, seeking peace far from the intrigues of a troubled Realm.

But those gifted with the blood-song are not destined to live quiet lives. Vaelin finds himself a target, both for those seeking revenge and those who know about his gift. And as a great threat once again moves against the Realm, Vaelin realizes that when faced with annihilation, even the most reluctant hand must eventually draw a sword.



See Trinitytwo's review here.

NYCC 2015 - Weta Workshop


WETA WORKSHOP - NYCC 2015
by Tracey Maknis/Trinitytwo




Being a huge Lord of the Ring's fan, I am always excited to visit Weta Workshop's booth at NYCC and 2015 was no exception. This year was even more thrilling because I was able to spend quality time getting to know a few of their talented, behind-the-scenes people. Take Warren Dion-Smith; Warren is an acclaimed hair and makeup artist, working on such films as The Hobbit trilogy, Man of Steel, King Kong and The Amazing Spider-Man 2. At NYCC, fans of Middle Earth had the opportunity to have Elf or Hobbit ears applied by the artist himself. I really enjoyed my time spent with Warren and the ears even impressed, John Rhys Davies, LOTR's Gimli, with whom I had a photo op later in the day. Fans could also watch Warren perform make-up magic as he transformed ordinary men into dwarves or warriors.


Daniel Falconer was also manning the Weta booth. Multi-talented, Daniel is both a designer and writer at Weta Workshop. He is best known for working on conceptual design for The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Avatar, and The Hobbit trilogy. He has written books such as The Art of District 9, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: Chronicles: Art and Design, Smaug: Unleashing the Dragon and the most recent, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies: Chronicles: The Art of War. When I visited, Daniel was busy signing books, Hobbiton maps (note the personalization in the bottom right hand corner of the map) and interacting with fans.


I was fortunate enough to strike up a conversation with Isaac (Ike) Hamon who works both in the stunt and motion capture departments for Weta. Ike was gracious enough to grant me an interview (see below) and give me a tour of the Weta booth. Although, I begged, he couldn't give me too many details about the Krampus movie that is set to hit U.S. theaters December 4th, but he did tell us a bit about himself, the motion capture process, his most memorable film moments, and spoke about Weta's upcoming projects. Ike is a fantastic emissary for Weta because he is passionate about his work and his enthusiasm is contagious.


Weta's booth was one of my favorite things about NYCC 2015. It was staffed by friendly, knowledgeable and gifted people and I hope to be fortunate enough to visit them again next year.



Review: Koko Takes a Holiday by Kieran Shea


Koko Takes a Holiday
Author:  Kieran Shea
Series:  Koko 1
Publisher:  Titan Books, July 28, 2015
Format:  Mass Market Paperback, 400 pages
     Trade Paperback and eBook, June 10, 2014
List Price:  $7.99 (print MMP); $7.99 (eBook)
ISBN:  9781783298990 (print MMP);  9781781168615 (eBook)
Review Copy:  Reviewer's Own

Review: Koko Takes a Holiday by Kieran Shea
Five hundred years from now, ex-corporate mercenary Koko Martstellar is swaggering through an early retirement as a brothel owner on The Sixty Islands, a manufactured tropical resort archipelago known for its sex and simulated violence. Surrounded by slang-drooling boywhores and synthetic komodo dragons, the most challenging part of Koko’s day is deciding on her next drink. That is, until her old comrade Portia Delacompte sends a squad of security personnel to murder her.



Trinitytwo's Point of View

Five centuries from now, life as we know it has drastically changed. Wealthy vacationers looking to indulge in fantasies or fetishes can book trips to The Sixty Islands, a trendy tropical hotspot. Based on the size of their wallet, guests can experience a wide range of simulated violence, demolition, and danger, or encounters of a more personal nature.

Former mercenary Koko Martstellar owns and manages a brothel/saloon and enjoys the perks of the job; all the booze, drugs, and boy toys she can handle. That is until some unruly customers get out of line and Koko is forced to take matters into her own hands. Koko isn't worried about repercussions from the local authorities because her ex-mercenary buddy, Portia Delacompte, is now Executive Vice President of Operations on The Sixty Islands and Portia owes her, big time.

But when the SI security detail show up, they come down unexpectedly hard. Koko is surprised to discover that her friend Portia signed the order. It's even more puzzling because Portia is the one that offered her the opportunity of retiring to The Sixty in the first place. A mini war zone erupts in the bar and Koko escapes by the skin of her teeth, heading off planet to the Second Free Zone. She ends up on a mammoth residential barge with an assassin hot on her trail. Koko needs to get to the bottom of Portia's vendetta before she becomes komodo meat, and she's not afraid to destroy anything or anyone in her path.

I chose Koko Takes a Holiday for two reasons: I enjoy reading debuts and this is author Kieran Shea's first novel; and I was drawn to the kickass book cover. One look at that blue-haired badass and I thought 'I want to meet this woman', and as I read her story, I wasn't disappointed.

Shea's version of life in the future seems pretty grim, but Koko is the life of the party. She is a great lead character because what you see is what you get. Surprisingly enough, even though she's a hardened killer, Koko is quite likeable.

Shea's style of writing left little room for any slow spots. It was wham, bam from start to finish. I enjoyed the settings, ranging from the steamy decadence of The Sixty Islands to the more gritty and grim confines of the residential barge Alaungpaya.

Koko Takes a Holiday is a simple story, told with great panache. This book is not for the weak of stomach as it is full of graphic gore, dismemberment, and other assorted atrocities. I love its boldly irreverent, in-your-face style; it's a wild ride that I would recommend to anyone looking for a good time.

Review: Unhinged by A. G. Howard


Unhinged
Author:  A. G. Howard
Series:  Splintered 2
Publisher:  Amulet Paperbacks, January 6, 2015
Format:  Trade Paperback, 416 pages
      Hardcover and eBook, January 7, 2014
List Price:  $8.95 (Trade Paperback and eBook)
ISBN:   9781419713736 (print); 9781613125342 (eBook)
Review Copy:  Reviewer's Own

Review: Unhinged by A. G. Howard
Alyssa Gardner has been down the rabbit hole. She was crowned Queen of the Red Court and faced the bandersnatch. She saved the life of Jeb, the boy she loves, and escaped the machinations of the disturbingly appealing Morpheus. Now all she has to do is graduate high school.

That would be easier without her mother, freshly released from an asylum, acting overly protective and suspicious. And it would be much simpler if the mysterious Morpheus didn't show up for school one day to tempt her with another dangerous quest in the dark, challenging Wonderland—where she (partly) belongs.

Could she leave Jeb and her parents behind again, for the sake of a man she knows has manipulated her before? Will her mother and Jeb trust her to do what's right? Readers will swoon over the satisfying return to Howard's bold, sensual reimagining of Carroll's classic.



Trinitytwo's Point of View

In Splintered, (review here) book 1 of the Splintered series, author A.G. Howard demonstrates to her readers that Wonderland is real, but its reality is much more garish, vicious and deranged than Lewis Carroll dared to reveal. Book 2, Unhinged, takes place a year after Alyssa Gardner's return. Alyssa is a descendant of the original Alice and her harrowing adventures in Wonderland have left an indelible mark on her and her family. As her senior year comes to a close, she is looking forward to her immediate future; attending prom, studying art at an English college, and being close to her boyfriend Jeb. However, Alyssa's art has begun mimicking her nightmares and she finds herself creating disturbing and violent images of Queen Red rampaging and destroying Wonderland and its occupants. She soon discovers that her netherling companion, Morpheus, has crossed into her world in human form with hopes of trying to persuade her to return to Wonderland and set things right. But Morpheus isn't the only inhabitant from Wonderland that has crossed into the human world. To protect those she loves, Alyssa must finally embrace her heritage and the dark magical madness that gives her power.

I am seriously enthralled with this YA series. Howard's reinvention of Wonderland is absorbing and fascinating. I'm continually impressed that Howard finds the perfect balance of making the weirdly bizarre positively believable. Alyssa is a great hero. The nature of her dual citizenship gives her a Jekyll and Hyde persona and I have to admit celebrating when she goes full Hyde. She longs for a normal human life and is willing to fight for that, but also recognizes her obligations to Wonderland and her internal struggle for balance feels very realistic.

Love triangles can be tricky but I'm enjoying the bickering, misunderstandings and misconceptions between Alyssa, Jeb and Morpheus. They provide a humorous foil to some stressful situations. Having a daughter of my own, I thought the mother/daughter tensions were realistic and are depicted perfectly.

I have to hand it to A.G. Howard, Unhinged is a real page-turner. I read it in just a few days, excitedly devouring each page well into the wee hours of the morning. Unhinged can stand alone as Howard seamlessly intersperses the pertinent details from Splintered into its pages, but I advise starting on this adventure from its inception. I recommend this book to lovers of Lewis Carroll, admirers of strong female protagonists, and readers who crave adrenaline-packed adventures. It would also appeal to people who love the off-beat. The creepiness of the creatures from Wonderland are the stuff of nightmares and readers will revel in their sinister deliciousness. Let Unhinged draw you deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole.




Previously

Splintered
Splintered 1
Amulet Paperbacks, February 18, 2014
Trade Paperback, 400 pages
      Hardcover and eBook, January 1, 2013

Review: Unhinged by A. G. Howard
This stunning debut captures the grotesque madness of a mystical under-land, as well as a girl’s pangs of first love and independence. Alyssa Gardner hears the whispers of bugs and flowers—precisely the affliction that landed her mother in a mental hospital years before. This family curse stretches back to her ancestor Alice Liddell, the real-life inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alyssa might be crazy, but she manages to keep it together. For now.
When her mother’s mental health takes a turn for the worse, Alyssa learns that what she thought was fiction is based in terrifying reality. The real Wonderland is a place far darker and more twisted than Lewis Carroll ever let on. There, Alyssa must pass a series of tests, including draining an ocean of Alice’s tears, waking the slumbering tea party, and subduing a vicious bandersnatch, to fix Alice’s mistakes and save her family. She must also decide whom to trust: Jeb, her gorgeous best friend and secret crush, or the sexy but suspicious Morpheus, her guide through Wonderland, who may have dark motives of his own.




Upcoming in Paperback

Ensnared
Splintered 3
Amulet Paperbacks, December 15, 2015
Trade Paperback, 416 pages
      Hardcover and eBook, January 6, 2015

Review: Unhinged by A. G. Howard
After surviving a disastrous battle at prom, Alyssa has embraced her madness and gained perspective. She’s determined to rescue her two worlds and the people and netherlings she loves. Even if it means challenging Queen Red to a final battle of wills and wiles . . . and even if the only way to Wonderland, now that the rabbit hole is closed, is through the looking-glass world—a parallel dimension filled with mutated and violent netherling outcasts.

In the final installment of the wildly popular Splintered trilogy, Alyssa and her dad journey into the heart of magic and mayhem in search of her mom and to set right all that’s gone wrong. Together with Jeb and Morpheus, they must salvage Wonderland from the decay and destruction that has ensnared it. But if they succeed and come out alive, can everyone truly have their happily ever after?

Review: Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig


Star Wars: Aftermath
Series:  Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Author:  Chuck Wendig
Publisher:  LucasBooks, September 4, 2015
Format:  Hardcover and eBook, 400 pages
List Price:  $28.00 (print); $13.99 (eBook)
ISBN:  9780345511621 (print); 9780804177665 (eBook)
Review Copy: Reviewer's Own

Review: Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig
The second Death Star has been destroyed, the Emperor killed, and Darth Vader struck down. Devastating blows against the Empire, and major victories for the Rebel Alliance. But the battle for freedom is far from over.

As the Empire reels from its critical defeats at the Battle of Endor, the Rebel Alliance—now a fledgling New Republic—presses its advantage by hunting down the enemy’s scattered forces before they can regroup and retaliate. But above the remote planet Akiva, an ominous show of the enemy’s strength is unfolding. Out on a lone reconnaissance mission, pilot Wedge Antilles watches Imperial Star Destroyers gather like birds of prey circling for a kill, but he’s taken captive before he can report back to the New Republic leaders.

Meanwhile, on the planet’s surface, former rebel fighter Norra Wexley has returned to her native world—war weary, ready to reunite with her estranged son, and eager to build a new life in some distant place. But when Norra intercepts Wedge Antilles’s urgent distress call, she realizes her time as a freedom fighter is not yet over. What she doesn’t know is just how close the enemy is—or how decisive and dangerous her new mission will be.

Determined to preserve the Empire’s power, the surviving Imperial elite are converging on Akiva for a top-secret emergency summit—to consolidate their forces and rally for a counterstrike. But they haven’t reckoned on Norra and her newfound allies—her technical-genius son, a Zabrak bounty hunter, and a reprobate Imperial defector—who are prepared to do whatever they must to end the Empire’s oppressive reign once and for all.



Trinitytwo's Point of View

Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig blasts into a galaxy near you by reintroducing an old friend from the original trilogy, Captain Wedge Antilles. Members of the Galactic Empire are scrambling after the destruction of the Death Star and the deaths of the Emperor and Darth Vader. As the New Republic works to eradicate the Empire's iron grip planet by planet, Wedge feels compelled to scout the Outer Rim for Imperial strongholds. Above the planet Akiva, he stumbles upon a covert meeting of high level Imperial personnel and is able to send a local distress call before being taken prisoner. The call is received by returning war hero, native Norra Wexley, who has just reunited with her teenage son Temmin after spending three years off-planet, fighting for the rebel alliance. The fortunes of Norra and Temmin become intertwined with those of bounty hunter Jas Emari and ex-Imperial officer Sinjir Rath Velus. They form an unlikely team as they try to avoid capture, free Wedge, and thwart the Imperial's plans.

I've loved all things Star Wars since I saw the first movie back in the summer of '77. I think it's pertinent to note that I've read many of the books that comprise the Star Wars Expanded Universe and became invested in many of those characters. That being said, the fact that Disney has opted to go in a different direction made no difference to my enjoyment of this book. I was completely caught up as each event unfolded and was rooting for the story's unconventional set of heroes from the get-go. I usually despise Imperials, but I surprised myself by choosing the ex-Imperial as my favorite character. Sinjir plans on drinking himself into oblivion, but being in the wrong place at the wrong time changes everything. His quick wit and snide mannerisms completely won me over. I felt less empathy for Norra and her son, Temmin. I suppose I am worn out by angsty teens with chips on their shoulders and their guilt-ridden parents, but luckily Temmin and his mom turned out to be much more than that. Temmin's a survivor and a brilliant tech wizard. His reworked battle droid, Mister Bones, instantly earned a spot on my "favorite droid ever" list. Norra is brave and courageous in the face of everything that is thrown at her and if she sometimes seems just a bit too brave and too courageous, well, I can overlook that. Rounding out the roster is Jas Emari, the Zabrak bounty hunter whose unique code of ethics makes her strangely appealing. It's a nice change of pace to have such a well-rounded cast of characters.

I also enjoyed the glimpses into the crumbling world of the loyal Imperials. Their squabbling, power plays, and self-serving attitudes seemed on point. Wendig does a great job of fleshing out their motivations which allows the reader insight into perspectives rarely revealed.

My only peeve; Wendig's writing style of repeating short sentence sequences would from time to time distract me from the story.

Aftermath is everything the Star Wars universe deserves: an exhilarating, epic adventure that introduces new characters and reintroduces some old friends. It sets the stage for the highly anticipated movie, The Force Awakens, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to lovers of the Star Wars saga of any age.

Review: William Shakespeare’s The Clone Army Attacketh and William Shakespeare’s Tragedy of the Sith’s Revenge by Ian Doescher


William Shakespeare’s The Clone Army Attacketh
     Star Wars Part the Second
Author:  Ian Doescher
Publisher:  Quirk Books, July 7, 2015
Format:  Hardcover and eBook, 176 pages
List Price:  $14.95 (print and eBook)
ISBN:  9781594748073 (print); 9781594748202 (eBook)
Review Copy: Provided by the Publisher

Review: William Shakespeare’s The Clone Army Attacketh and William Shakespeare’s Tragedy of the Sith’s Revenge by Ian Doescher
In time so long ago begins our play,
In clash-strewn galaxy far, far away.

To Shmi or not to Shmi? Torn between duty to the Jedi, attraction to Padmé, and concern for his beloved mother, yeoman Jedi Anakin Skywalker struggles to be master of his fate. The path he chooses will determine not just his own destiny, but that of the entire Republic. And thereby hangs a tale.

Alack the day! A noble lady in danger. A knight and squire in battle. And a forbidden love that’s written in the stars. Once again, the quill of William Shakespeare meets the galaxy of George Lucas in an insightful reimagining that sets the Star Wars saga on the Elizabethan stage. The characters are familiar, but the masterful meter, insightful soliloquies, and period illustrations will convince you that the Bard himself penned this epic adventure.


Trinitytwo's Point of View

Prerequisite reading: William Shakespeare's The Phantom of Menace (review)

In a galaxy far, far away, Padawan learner, Anakin Skywalker plays the part of Romeo to the fair Senator Padmé Amidala's Juliet. Their forbidden love slowly blossoms amid assassination attempts and ill-fated rescue missions. Obi-Wan Kenobi is sent to the mysterious planet of Kamino where he discovers an army of clones commissioned by the Jedi and encounters Jango and Boba Fett. William Shakespeare's The Clone Army Attacketh is the second installment in the Star Wars prequel trilogy.

At this point in my review, I think I should insert a personal disclaimer: I love all things Star Wars with the exception of the prequels. However, author Ian Doescher does a fantastic job of making me rethink my stance. I have never been a fan of the romance between Anakin and Padmé and that hasn't changed. Yet, I did enjoy Doescher's spin; painting the tragic couple as Romeo and Juliet actually gave their love scenes a sense of grandeur and sacrifice that I felt was missing from the film version. Doescher adds new material in the form of asides and soliloquies that readers should pay special attention to as they never fail to delight. In my opinion, the coolest part of the book was Yoda's kick ass battle scene with Count Dooku. Although the results are the same, it adds so much to the sequence to be allowed the insight of both combatants' thoughts.

With still a few months left in 2015, I am voting The Clone Army Attacketh's cover as my favorite of the year. Nicholas Delort's delightful artwork featuring the nefarious Jango Fett is absolutely stunning.



Review: William Shakespeare’s The Clone Army Attacketh and William Shakespeare’s Tragedy of the Sith’s Revenge by Ian Doescher



William Shakespeare’s Tragedy of the Sith’s Revenge
     Star Wars Part the Third
Author:  Ian Doescher
Publisher:  Quirk Books, September 8, 2015
Format:  Hardcover and eBook, 168 pages
List Price:  $14.95 (print and eBook)
ISBN:  9781594748080 (print); 9781594748219 (eBook)
Review Copy: Provided by the Publisher

Review: William Shakespeare’s The Clone Army Attacketh and William Shakespeare’s Tragedy of the Sith’s Revenge by Ian Doescher
The curtain rises once again on that star-crossed galaxy far, faraway—this time, to chronicle a once-heroic knight’s transformation into the darkest of villains. William Shakespeare’s Tragedy of the Sith’s Revenge is the climactic conclusion to the fall of the house of Skywalker, a collaboration between William Shakespeare and George Lucas that’s filled with masterful meter, stirring soliloquies, inside jokes, and intricate Elizabethan illustrations. You’ll fall in love with Star Wars—and Shakespeare—all over again. At the same time!


Trinitytwo's Point of View

Grab a cold glass of blue bantha milk and snuggle up with your favorite Wookie for the thrilling conclusion to Ian Doescher's delightful, must-read series, William Shakespeare's Tragedy of the Sith's Revenge. True to its source material, it's the tale of an impressionable young Jedi corrupted by the diabolical machinations of a master Sith. Anakin Skywalker's spiral to the Dark Side of the Force by the malevolent orchestrations of the diabolical Chancellor Palpatine is heartrending. Doescher's version serves to emphasize the Sith's corrupt and violence-ridden brand of evil more than the movie ever could. Another key element to this tragic tale is that Doescher was able to poignantly articulate Padmé's and Obi-Wan's despair and loss at Anakin's transformation.

What's so great about this book and its predecessors is that the reader is allowed insight into situations and characters that can actually change perceptions, or deepen emotional attachments. Doescher's pairing of Shakespeare and Lucas continues to captivate and entertain. Tragedy of the Sith's Revenge, along with the rest of the series is seriously clever, and truly a bright star in the galaxy of mash-ups. I recommend it wholeheartedly to Star Wars fans, Shakespeare fans, educators looking for a way to hook their students, and also art lovers. Art lovers? Yes, because Nicolas Delort's illustrations and covers are amazing.

Honestly, I'm hoping that someone makes these into actual plays because I'll be the first in line screaming "Take my money!"

Review: Devil's Pocket by John Dixon


Devil's Pocket
Author:  John Dixon
Publisher:  Gallery Books, August 4, 2015
Format:  Trade Paperback and eBook, 352 pages
List Price:  $10.99 (print); $8.99 (eBook)
ISBN:  9781476738666 (print); 9781476738710 (eBook)
Review Copy: Provided by the Publisher

Review: Devil's Pocket by John Dixon
The follow-up to the critically acclaimed Phoenix Island, which reads like “Lord of the Flies meets Wolverine and Cool Hand Luke” (F. Paul Wilson, creator of Repairman Jack) and inspired the CBS TV show Intelligence.

With a chip in his head and hundreds more throughout his body, sixteen-year-old Carl Freeman was turned from an orphan with impulse control issues into a super-soldier. Forced into the mercenary Phoenix Force group, he begins to fear he’ll never escape. Sent to a volcanic island to fight for them, he’ll compete in a combat tournament that awards teens with survival for merciless brutality. But just when all looks lost, he spies a friendly face…and possibly a way out.



Trinitytwo's Point of View

In the hard hitting sequel to John Dixon's award winning Phoenix Island protagonist Carl Freeman finds himself in the Devil's Pocket. The chip that has enhanced Carl's mind and body has transformed him into the ultimate fighting machine. It's made him stronger and faster, but has also unleashed a murderous rage which takes all of his discipline to curb. When Commander Stark offers a new assignment with a reward he can't refuse, Carl happily accepts. His mission is to win the Funeral Games in which fighters from all over the world will battle in a secret arena. Stark promises Carl the position of second in command if he triumphs, which would allow Carl the opportunity to get the information he desperately needs to destroy Phoenix Island for good. If there is one thing Carl knows, it's how to fight and he finds himself excited to be a part of this blood sport competition. However, the stakes at the Funeral Games are deadlier than Carl ever imagined and even his enhancement chip won't prevent him from ending up against the ropes.

Devil's Pocket is a combination of jabs, crosses and uppercuts that will keep its readers engrossed in its pages. Dixon's sequel packs a punch and the savagery of the cage fighting sequences really had me on the edge of my seat. I like the unexpected twists and turns in the storyline. Unlike Phoenix Island, this book is not a straightforward psychological thriller, as Dixon adds a healthy dose of intrigue and espionage to the mix. He also reunites Carl with some old allies and enemies with accompanying complications. The novel's ominous setting creates the perfect backdrop for the action. Dixon definitely knows his fighting techniques, so much so that this book may not be for those squeamish souls who cringe at blood. Not being one of those people, I really enjoyed the fighting choreography and at times felt I was sitting ringside. Another positive is Carl's character development. It rang true that his limited life experiences would cause him heartache. I appreciated that even though the chip has made Carl something of a superhuman, at heart he is still a teenage boy struggling with difficult decisions and the fallout of his own mistakes.

Devil's Pocket can definitely stand alone, however I would point prospective readers in the direction of Phoenix Island to start. I highly recommend this book to readers who like fast-paced, action-packed thrillers.


Read Trinitytwo's review of Phoenix Island here.
Reviews:  Jackaby and Beastly Bones by William RitterTracey/Trinitytwo’s Favorites of 2015Reviews: Krampus the Yule Lord by Brom and Krampus (the film)Review: Queen of Fire by Anthony RyanNYCC 2015 - Weta WorkshopReview: Koko Takes a Holiday by Kieran SheaReview: Unhinged by A. G. HowardReview: Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck WendigReview: William Shakespeare’s The Clone Army Attacketh and William Shakespeare’s Tragedy of the Sith’s Revenge by Ian DoescherReview: Devil's Pocket by John Dixon

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