Saturday, November 12, 2016

Book Review: DARK GODS OF ALTER TELLURIA - Barton Paul Levenson

Barton Paul Levenson
Barking Rain Press

Barton Paul Levenson's DARK GODS OF ALTER TELLURIA is a taut, tense fantasy thriller. Levenson wastes little time getting into the meat of the tale. We're quickly introduced to college professor, Milo Standford. The astrophysicist believes he has it all. A wonderful woman, a job he enjoys . . . the world in his pocket. That is, until he receives devastating news and wonders off during a bizarre thunderstorm.

In an almost Wizard of Oz fashion, Milo wakes up in another realm. Perhaps one parallel to our own. Modern technologies do not exist. He is inside a castle, where Sania, Mistress of Lake Gulia rules at Highview Castle. Perceived as an interesting character, and immune to Sania's rituals, the Mistress spares Milo's life.

Mingling with the scholars of the realm, Milo proves himself worthy, making Sania . . . happy she had not killed him.

It isn't long before things get turned around again. Just when Milo began adopting to the new world, accepting his life, his role in the unknown universe, an evil wizard abducts the Mistress. All hope is lost, chaos ensues. Only Milo can save Sania!

Despite his initial put-offish mannerisms, Milo resigns to the role of hero. With so many odds against him, Milo fears the rescue mission is so impossible that not only might he fail attempting to save Sania, but could he also lose his own life trying?

Levenson has crafted a fast-read story. It is both engaging, and entertaining. The plot is solid, and the characters believable. The dialogue is nicely done. The novel is nicely paced, and the action peppered in perfectly! DARK GODS OF ALTER TELLURIA was well worth the read!

Phillip Tomasso,
Author of The Severed Empire series, and
The Vaccination Trilogy

Friday, November 11, 2016

Book Review: STARCRAFT-Evolution - Timothy Zahn

Timothy Zahn
STARCRAFT: Evolution
Del Rey
Science Fiction

I have been reading Timothy Zahn books since he started putting out Star Wars novels. There is not one book that he has ever written that has ever disappointed me. STARCRAFT: Evolution is no exception. I do, however, have a confession. I am not a gamer. I've heard of Starcraft, but . . . When I was reading this book, I'll admit, I was Google-Imaging the monsters. Not that Zahn didn't describe everything wonderfully, but because I knew there would be a ton of images out on the net. And there was. And it was extra-helpful.

The War between the Terran, Protoss, and the Zerg is over. It is a time for rebuilding. Trust among the races is limited. After the death of his father, Valerian Mengsk has stepped up as the new emperor of the Terran Dominion. Unlike his father, he refuses to brain-pan marines, and now allows ghosts who want out of the program to leave. Peace, aside from restructuring, is his primary focus. When they receive a vague request for assistance from the Zerg, Valerian is determined to at least try bridging an alliance.

Against counsel, Valerian assembles a small team for the journey across the stars. Marine Sergeant, Foster "Whist" Cray, Lieutenant Ranger, Dennis Halkman, Ghost, Tanya Caulfield, researcher, Protoss Ulavu, and xeno-biologist Dr. Erin Wayland.

The Zerg, a race of exoskeleton beasts like mammoth monsters, are led by Zagara, Queen of the Swarm. She and her evolutionist, Abathur have also been busy since the war. Now living on the plush planet, Gystt, once thought destroyed, they are doing their best to rebuild, cultivating new plant life, and new life in general.

Although Zagara claims the Gift of Choice was given to her by the Queen of Blades, and that her ruling is no longer violence based, but to create an empire of peace, neither the Terran nor the Protoss believe her. They want to, they are just struggling to accept the sudden one-eighty in behavior.

With limited information, Valerian and his team decidedly rely on goodwill and faith when they agree on helping the queen. What they uncover is a trap. Mutalisks, (almost like the grunt soldiers of the queen), and a new race, psyolisks, have some kind of sinister plan in store for the Terran, and Protoss enlisted to offer the queen aid.

On the planet, the ambushes are relentless. It looks like the queen may have employed sneaky tactics to trick the other raises to respond to her pleas for assistance. As Valerian’s team works to uncover the mystery around the pods of infantile creatures, and the odd attack patterns.

With limited long range communications, the fight on Gystt’s surface looks as if it will be one to the death. Unless, that is, they can uncover the truth behind the new breed of monsters attacking them!

Timothy Zahn’s novel (almost) makes me want to go out and buy the Starcraft video games. It does, however, make me wish for more books in the series. The characters are three-dimensional, and clear. I can see them as if real people while reading. The banter, the wit, the frustration, the anger, and the friendship was all evident in crisp, concise dialogue, and relevant narrative.

STARCRAFT: Evolution was a fast ride, an intense journey, and epic tale of war! Loved it.

Phillip Tomasso

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Book Review: THE GATES OF HELL - Michael Livingston

Michael Livingston
TOR / A Tom Doherty Associates Book
Historical Fiction / Fantasy

After reading the first book in this new series, THE SHARDS OF HEAVEN, I couldn't wait for more. Thankfully, I didn't have to wait. And with relish, dug right in!

The dust jacket says: Alexandria has fallen, and with it the great kingdom of Egypt. Cleopatra is dead. Her children are paraded through the streets in chains wrought of their mother's golden treasures, and within a year all but one of them will be dead. Only her young daughter, Cleopatra Selene, survives to continue her quest for vengeance against Rome and its emperor, Augustus Caesar.
To show his strength, Augustus Caesar will go to war against the Cantabrians in northern Spain, and it isn't long before he calls on Juba of Numidia, his adopted half-brother and the man whom Selene has been made to marry -- but whom she has grown to love. The young couple journey to the Cantabrian frontier, where they learn that Caesar wants Juba so he can use the Trident of Poseidon to destroy his enemies. Perfidy and treachery abound. Juba's love of Selene will cost him dearly in the epic fight, and the choices made may change the very fabric of the known world.

THE GATES OF HELL takes place two and a half years after THE SHARDS OF HEAVEN. Characters are reintroduced nicely. Juba --Octavian's step brother, who was once meant to rule Numidia before Rome seized it, is married to the young Cleopatra Selene. With Cleopatra and Antony dead, Selene was destined to rule as queen of Egypt, but again, Rome interfered with her fate, as well.

There are at least four collected Shards. Pieces of Heaven that splintered when God died. Each holds its own mystical power. Only the select few can even touch, much less, wield the power contained in the black crystals. Juba and Selene are headstrong about seeking revenge against Octavian (who know calls himself Augustus). They are intent on destroying Rome. And with the Shards, they know they have the power to accomplish anything.

The Ark of the Covenant is safe (for the time being). Caesarion (son of Julius Caesar and Cleopatra) and his wife Hannah have the Biblical relic hidden. Vorenus and Pullo know that the Ark needs to be moved to a better location. Transporting the powerful ark will not be simple, if anything doing so could prove very dangerous.

Augustus wants to move against the Cantabrian, to bring even more to Rome! The barbarians have more than arrows and steal on their side. They too possess one of the Shards. The battle, with Juba at the frontline, is nothing shy of destructive.

Tiberius, the stepson of Augustus, knows that Selene stole from Rome. He is determined to figure out what she took. He will stop at nothing until he has all he wants. And what he wants is to rule in Augustus' place!

Can one man bring peace to the world What if that one man is wanted dead by so many because of his aspirations? Or will the revelation of an evil truth ignite a new war where wielding the Shards brings death, destruction, and literally opens the gates of hell? THE GATES OF HELL was impossible to put down. Livingston uses a host of complex characters, each some kind of bizarre mix on family trees, and somehow manages to make the reading simple, and concise. The tale his told at a heart-pounding pace. The action is constant, and the suspense always building. Always. I love the characters, and the dialogue, both informative, and witty! Folks, do yourself a favor. Add Michael Livingston to your to-be-read list of authors. He's going to be around for a while. Jump on his bandwagon now, ahead of the game!

Phillip Tomasso

Monday, November 7, 2016

Author Interview: C.T. Phipps

Welcome to our First Ever Author Interview.

Today we are talking with C.T. Phipps, who is a lifelong student of horror, science fiction, and fantasy. An avid tabletop gamer, he discovered this passion led him to write and turned him into a lifelong geek. He is a regular reviewer at The United Federation of Charles and the author of The Supervillainy Saga, The Red Room series, Straight Outta Fangton, and Cthulhu Apocalypse.  Hope you enjoy the interview . . . I know I did!

1. When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Oh, that’s a question which has no answer. I was scribing away at (awful) books when I was six years old. Whether it was make-believe, Dungeons and Dragons, or amateur writing I’ve always been a storyteller. When did I become a “serious” (heavy on the quotes since I got my start writing humor book) writer? That was the year before I met my wife when an author gave me a card which said that I should try to find a writing group to help me refine my craft.

I joined up with the now-defunct Permuted Press “Pit and the Pendulum” group which helped me tremendously by saying that my writing sucked. Too often you get positive feedback when you need actual criticism to know what works and doesn’t. Under their direction, I wrote The Rules of Supervillainy, Cthulhu Armageddon, and Esoterrorism.

For me, I always wanted to be a writer but it was a question of whether I could make a living at it. Changes in the market as well as growing experience now means that’s a yes and I couldn’t be happier.

2. How much time do you dedicate to writing per day/week?

I write in feasts and famines depending on the available time I can get. My best writing success is, of course, when it's dark and quiet with just my computer glowing beside my bed.

However, I've also been known to have flashes of inspiration I swiftly just put down a few paragraphs for.

Generally, though I try and fit in at least a few hours every day in writing. Really, it depends on what I'm in the mood for and whether the angel of inspiration can get my wiring working. I recall the most condensed bit of writing I've ever done in my life was Straight Outta Fangton, which I managed to do in just under a month and half in just under a week. Cthulhu Armageddon, by contrast, took years and involved several rewrites.

3. Do you listen to music when you write? If so, what’s on the playlist?

Oh yes, I definitely do. I prefer to choose a playlist based on the genre I’m choosing to write in. For Cthulhu Armageddon, I got a Fallout-based collection of music from the games as well as Wild West music like Red Dead Redemption’s original soundtrack as well as The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly’s. I also listen to a lot of heavy metal with a focus on Blind Guardian when doing fantasy. Youtube is particularly good for this as you can find all manner of genre-appropriate music which can play in the background while you’re working at your laptop.

4. Why did you choose to write in the genres you write in?

This is a complicated question because I’m not one of those authors who sticks to a single genre. I write in post-apocalypse sci-fi fiction with Cthulhu Armageddon, urban fantasy spy fiction for Esoterrorism, space opera for Lucifer’s Star, superhero fiction for The Rules of Supervillainy, vampire fiction for Straight Outta Fangton, and epic fantasy for Wraith Knight.

I sometimes think I may have taken on too many projects but I would rather find myself immersed in too many worlds than too few. As for why I was inspired to write in various worlds, I can’t say. I wrote Cthulhu Armageddon because I love Mad Max and Fallout as well as H.P. Lovecraft’s monsters. I wrote The Rules of Supervillainy because I love the intricacies of superhero fiction but also know the worlds don’t quite make sense. Lucifer’s Star? Because I’d just seen The Force Awakens and wanted to see what a darker, less forgiving galaxy far far away would like.

So, why do I write in X genre? Because I want to.

5. If you could only have one type of food for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Chinese. It’s more a genre of foods anyway.

6. Is there an author, or book, that inspired you into becoming a writer?

I am going to say The Hobbit since it was probably the second or third "serious" book I ever read. I was amazed at the strange, serious, silly, and wonderful world I was introduced to by it. To this day, I still consider it superior to The Lord of the Rings--at least for my tastes. It's also a huge influence on my writing since I can't quite take any genre I participate in completely seriously. I enjoy deconstructing tropes and challenging the assumptions of whatever settings I experience.

7. Tell us something about your latest release?

My latest release is WRAITH KNIGHT from Ragnarok Publications. Wraith Knight is a dark fantasy which takes place in a world where the Dark Lord has been defeated, his armies routed, and after the happily ever after of your typical fantasy series. Except, this means all of the various groups of "good" and "bad" species have to learn to live together now. The protagonist is a Ringwraith-like being named Jacob Riverson.

Jacob has regained his free will and reverted back to his arrogant power-hungry but heroic self. A man who was tempted by evil and enslaved long ago but now finds himself in a world falling apart without a common enemy. Accompanying him is an idealistic young heroine named Regina Whitetremor who believes the world is falling apart rather than just going through the growing pains of reality.

8. What are you currently working on, and when can we expect to see it?

I'm working on THE SCIENCE OF SUPERVILLAINY, which is the fourth novel in the Supervillainy Saga series. I'm also working on the third CTHULHU ARMAGEDDON book, THE TREE OF AZATHOTH.

I finished the second CA novel, THE TOWER OF ZHAAL, a little while ago.
I’m hoping we’ll release The Science of Supervillainy in March of 2017. I’m not sure about the Tower of Zhaal but I’m hoping for December or January of 2017.

9. Do you judge a book by the cover?

I think that's inevitable. We've got so many wonderful books out there that we must have our attention gotten before we can stop to look them over. This is why choosing the right sort of cover for your book is so important. I was lucky with the artists for my books as they've given me some truly wonderful covers. A great cover doesn’t guarantee success but it certainly helps.

10. If you could live in the world of any TV show, what show would you pick, and (of course) why?

That's a tough call as there's comfortable places (Star Trek) and awesome places (Game of Thrones) but you must balance those two. For example, as awesome as Westeros is, I'd end up digging ditches and dying of cholera. If I had to choose, I’d probably Rapture from Bioshock even if I’d end up joining the Atlas underground and dying in the revolution. Why? Well, I’d get to live 20 years in a comfortable underwater city of weird science. Alternatively, Conan’s Hyborian Age if I got to be an evil sorcerer.

11. Do you write full time, or have a day job as well? (And if you have a day job, what is it? What are some of your responsibilities?)

I have been lucky enough to have had a job which allowed me to do a number of my books. Now I'm actually a full time writer and able to live off the revenues of my work. While "don't quit your day job" is always good advice, I'm glad to say I was able to.

12. A meteor is one week away from destroying earth, how do you spend your last seven days?

Playing Xbox. My wife would probably object, though.

13. Do you have any words of wisdom for aspiring writers, or things you wish readers / perspective readers knew about you?

Try to get your book out in multiple formats. Listen to any criticisms people have of your writing. Get social media (Twitter, Facebook, and a website). Don’t pay for reviews or promotions since they probably won’t work. Keep writing and do it for the love of the craft.

This is Phillip Tomasso -- and I want to say, hey, man -- thanks for stopping by. I can tell you now, all I am thinking about is Chinese food! Readers, be sure to follow C.T. Phipps on the Social Media Links we have provided below. Have a fantastic day!

C.T. Phipps Links:

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Book Review: WOUND TIGHT - Tessa Bailey

Tessa Bailey
WOUND TIGHT (A Made in Jersey Novel)
M/M Romance

I admit when I heard that the 4th book in the Made in Jersey series was going to be M/M I was a little nervous. I’ve tried to read M/M before and it was not my cup of tea but since this is Tessa Bailey the Queen of everything dirty I went into Wound Tight with an open mind and was not disappointed one bit.
We were introduced to Renner in the third Made in Jersey book, Worked Up. The owner of the factory in Hook, NJ Renner used to not being liked and tries his best to minimize his interactions with his employees. He planned on returning to the city however he still finds himself in Hook to “oversee” the operations of the plant even though he really is not needed.  Head security guard Milo is well liked with the factory staff and is the polar opposite to quiet brooding Renner. Milo takes a personal interest in Renner acting as his personal security guard even though he was never asked to do so. While Renner is open with his sexuality Milo is still insecure and wishes he had the confidence that Renner exudes. Milo opens up to Renner and asks him to help gain some confidence with the goal of attracting a long lost love however things don’t go as planned.
I love tension and angst and this book did not disappoint on that front! The continual power struggle between Renner and Milo added so much depth to the story and truly showed how opposite these two were but at the same time on a basic level they were very much the same. At times I wanted to reach through my kindle and give both of them a smack upside the head as they each were their own worst enemies at times. In the end all of the tension, stubbornness and angst made for an explosive, hot, dirty and surprisingly sweet story for these two complex men.
For those of you who may dismiss this book because it is M/M I beg you to give this one a chance. I went into Wound Tight expecting it to be like the other M/M novels I had read and didn’t enjoy but it was anything but. Tessa knocked it out of the park with her first M/M novel and for all of our smut loving sake I hope it is not her last!

Eliza Wise is a Travel Planner, and mother of 4 school age kids who started reading as an escape from reality and is now an active member of the Indie Romance Community.

Book Review: AHSOKA - E.K. Johnston

E.K. Johnston
Disney/Lucas Film Press
Science Fiction / YA

I loved the animated Star Wars: Clone Wars, and I am an major fan of Disney's Star Wars: Rebels. So, naturally, when I heard a book featuring Ahsoka was going to be released, I pre-ordered my copy as soon as it was available.

The novel AHSOKA takes place well after the title character Ahsoka leaves the Jedi order. She keeps moving around. Her past haunts her. Not being able to help everyone has left her feeling as though she shouldn't try helping anyone.

When Ahsoka finds a small moon, Raada, along the Outer Rim, she figures it is the perfect, isolated, place to try setting up camp, and maybe--just maybe--growing some roots. It's a farming colony, and she figures she can make a nondescript, modest living fixing things.

It isn't long before the long arm of the Empire reaches the moon. Plans for dictating crops planted, and harvested force the residents to work longer hours, and little extra. It's a win-win for the Empire, and once the moon's soil is depleted of nutrients, certain death for the people.

Forced to take a stand, Ahsoka assists coordinating a rebellion. Attacks don't go as planned, and Ahsoka's true identity is revealed. Ahsoka is faced with a choice, stay and fight, or flee hoping she can find somewhere else to live under the radar of the Empire.

In the mix of it all is the Grey Man. It seems his purpose is sensing the Force, and then striking down any left over Jedi's, or people strong with the Force. Children all over the galaxy who would have been Jedi, are now just in danger. "Something is hunting them down."

This is the first book I have ever read by E.K. Johnston. There is plenty going on! She does an amazing job with introducing new characters, and fleshing out existing ones. The dialogue was spot-on. While I understood this was almost an origins story, (and I KNOW we will see additional installments --fingers crossed), I was hoping for a bit more action, and a bit less preparation. Don't get me wrong. It worked. The pacing was tight. The tension was there. And overall, I enjoyed the tale.

Phillip Tomasso
Author of The Severed Empire Series