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Book Review: LifeGames Corporation

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Title: LifeGames Corporation

Author: Michael Smorenburg

Genre: Thriller

Book procurement: Received from the author for an honest review, and also for Mystery Thriller Week.

Synopsis:

Da Vinci Code—meets Paranormal Activity—meets The Matrix.

Ad-agency boss Catherine Kaplan is a danger junkie. Bold and brave, she’s cornered the juiciest prize in the global arena, a LifeGames Corporation contract. But now it’s time to pay the price—a dare to cross the forbidden line. There’s a deal sweetener of course—give a little… and enjoy some intriguing secrets.

The first… Artificial Intelligence runs the LifeGames operation. Key to the success is an automated hypnosis sequence that suppresses each subject’s mind, convincing them that the immersive Virtual Reality crisis they’re about to experience is reality. The training technique has been fabulously profitable, allowing company founder Kenneth Torrington to indulge his every perverse fantasy.

Governments, militaries and business are so reliant on LifeGames that it is said to control mankind’s future. Yet, nobody has realized—a door has opened and a character of unfathomable capacity and unknown motives is looking back, pondering the next move.

Review:

First Thoughts

Michael and I have sort of a history after I reviewed his novel The S.K.A at Carnarvon – A Trojan Affair. It was a great novel that touched on the very personal topic of religion. So here I was, reading LifeGames with that backdrop, and to my shock and awe the story spins in a completely different direction. Well almost haha, there is still a couple of shots to religion but this isn’t about that. Also, a couple of things from the previous novel that had been of a minor annoyance were addressed in how LifeGames was written and all in all, made for a really great thriller. Michael Smorenburg is climbing up my list of favourite authors.

The Story

Virtual Reality is an amazing technology. One which has been on the forefront of human development and hopeful expectancy – to be fully immersed in a different world that looks and feels real is something we all want to exprience. We see it in the anime Sword Art Online, .Hack/Sign, Log Horizon, in movies like Surrogates, Total Recall, Gamer, and of course current technology is getting closer with the Playstation VR, Occulus, Samsung Gear and others. What Michael Smorenburg wrote in LifeGames, and the virtual reality system built is just next level stuff.

We follow Kenneth Torrington, founder and CEO of LifeGames Corporation. He is a pig, a male chauvinist, a manipulative, self-entitled man who only has money and power at the forefront of his ambitions. He has built LifeGames from a number of shady dealings and has wrought immense success. The governments of the world use the Virtual Reality simulation to train individuals. Lawyers, Doctors, Military personnel, and all sorts of people in power are fully immersed in a simulation of real life events that is so realistic, it actually helps prepare them for their job roles. Years of training condescened into mere days or weeks. The technology is brilliant, but of course with great power comes great responsibility.

Catherine Kaplan is a PR who has landed LifeGames as her biggest client ever. She’s a strong woman, bold and daring, but unaware of the dark secrets behind LifeGames and the sweet-talking Ken Torrington. She’s unaware of how close she is to the fire until it’s too late and she’s psychologically, and spiritually, thrown into the deep end. Something sinister lies deep within the system. No one knows what (or whom), and the truth of it will send a chill up your spine.

It’s more than just a story about the repercussions of technology, but perhaps a delve into horror?

The Writing

The writing is good. Slightly disjointed at times when switching between the different characters but otherwise it flows really well. A few shocking moments keep the story engaging. The characters are written amazingly well, with unique quirks of their own. I had an enjoyable time reading through the novel.

Final Thoughts

Okay so I wasn’t expecting that end. It seemed to be hinting at one thing, then knocking it out for something else, then twisting it to something else again, then a cliffhanger ending to wrap it all up. I was completely thrown.

As a side note, my previous discussions with author Michael Smorenburg allowed me to glean insights that perhaps someone else would have missed. For example, the heavy skepticism continuously bashing against the very idea of the supernatural, and the concept of God and how religion is borne, is given logical reasoning while there’s quite a bit of decent Christian philosophy too. I found it quite interesting.

Rating: A solid 4 out of 5

Nthato MorakabiBook Review: LifeGames Corporation
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Book Review: Rules of the Game

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Title: Rules of the Game (Engame #3)

Author: James Frey and Nils Johnson-Shelton

Genre: YA/Action

Book procurement: Bought from my new favourite bookstore Estoril Books.

Synopsis:

The revolutionary Endgame trilogy concludes in this explosive finale to the series. One key remains—can the Players find it before the end of the world?

The strongest are left.
One final key remains.
The fate of the world is in their hands.

The world of Endgame is populated by twelve ancient bloodlines. In each line, a Player trains for a catastrophic event that has not yet happened—until the Calling. Once they were called, the Players set off on a journey in search of three ancient keys that will save not just their line, but the world. Two keys have now been found, and the remaining Players must find the final key—before Endgame brings about the ultimate destruction.

Review:

First Thoughts

You know there was a point where I literally put the book down, put my head between my knees and shouted obscenities at James Frey and Nils Johnson. Honestly. I was angry because they just… ugh. Anyway.

The story continues where where Sky Key left off, and the approach of Abbadon – the beginning of the end of the world. Once the final player gets all three keys, that’s it. Game over. And Keplar 22b will do anything to ensure that a winner is crowned. Heading into this novel, I was worried about where the story would go. Who would survive. Who would kill who. A lot of drama, flared tempers, one crazy player who is losing their mind, and the entirety of Earth at stake. Still brilliantly written.

Writing

The writing flows right through from the first book to the final book. You can’t tell it is written by two authors. We still switch between all the respective players, experiencing their side of the story. It’s so fascinating to know all sides of the story and wanting to yell at the characters in the book who don’t know that they should turn around!! Riveting writing.

The characters were all real to me. Their personalities shone through with each chapter, their motivations clear and relatable. There was still a lot of action. Sometimes I wondered just how intense these teens’ training was that they can so easily fly planes, steal a car in under 5 seconds, pull off headshots from miles away, and still be teens.

Final Thoughts

The ending felt slightly anti-climatic but fair. Well fair in how it ends but not who survives Endgame – okay not fair to me. I’m still upset as you can clearly see haha. I would still recommend this series to everyone who enjoys a good action-adventure, thriller, sci-fi story about ruthless killer teens hoping to win an ancient game set up by Makers who traveled to the Earth ages ago. An interesting blend of religious context and alien conspiracy theories amalgamated into a fantastic series.

Rating: A satisfying 5 out of 5

Nthato MorakabiBook Review: Rules of the Game
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Book Review: Sky Key

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Title: Sky Key – An Endgame Novel #2

Author: James Frey and Nils Johnson-Shelton

Genre: YA / Action

Book procurement: Bought from my new favourite bookstore Estoril Books.

Synopsis:

Endgame is here. Earth Key has been found. Two keys—and nine Players—remain. The keys must be found, and only one Player can win.

Queens, New York. Aisling Kopp believes the unthinkable: that Endgame can be stopped. But before she can get home to regroup, she is approached by the CIA. They know about Endgame. And they have their own ideas about how it should be Played. Ideas that could change everything.

Kingdom of Aksum, Ethiopia. Hilal ibn Isa al-Salt narrowly survived an attack that leaves him horribly disfigured. He now knows something the other Players do not. But the Aksumites have a secret that is unique to their line. A secret that can help redeem humanity—and maybe even be used to help defeat the beings behind Endgame.

London, England. Sarah Alopay has found the first key. She is with Jago—and they are winning.But getting Earth Key has come at a great cost to Sarah. The only thing that keeps the demons at bay is Playing. Playing to win.

Sky Key—wherever it is, whatever it is—is next. And the nine remaining Players will stop at nothing to get it.

Review:

First Thoughts

Well what can I say, I loved the first book. It was riveting and action packed and those players were ruthless. Some were human to a good degree. Others were monsters. This second book continues the ongoing saga to save humanity from Endgame… but the rules are changing. It’s amazing to see how at one point everyone was moving in one direction and then suddenly they are moving in a different direction. It’s brilliant.

Writing

Nothing has changed from the initial book in terms of writing. We switch between the remaining Players as they seek out Sky Key, the second of three keys that are supposed to save their line from Endgame – a world ending cataclysmic event.

Every character is unique. They have their own quirks that make them not only the best Players, but the best of who they each are as Players. Assassins. Snipers. Fighters. They are not only resourceful, but they are mentally amazing. I could never think, react or even manage to survive like they do. And the writing switching between the characters allows you to see from their own perspectives. There were times when I was freaking out because Player A knew Player B was approaching and Player B didn’t know! I was reading as fast as I could to get to the encounters! I almost cried at one point.

It’s interesting to see how some of the Players have changed during the course of the game. Moving from determined killer to compassionate killer. Other’s spiraling head first into pure psychotic behaviour. It’s brilliant.

Final Thoughts

Although I feel the ending is somewhat anti-climatic, it was a fair ending. A good ending. A proper ending. The first few hundred pages of the book I’m just trying to see where everyone is going. We as the readers know where Sky Key is and just waiting to see when everyone else will catch up. Then it’s a whole new game and I’m just trying to root for one of the Players but I have no idea who. I don’t even know whether I want them to find Sky Key after all or not. It was emotional in every sense.

Rating: An emotional 5 out of 5

Nthato MorakabiBook Review: Sky Key
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Book Review: Tales of Wonder

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Title: Tales of Wonder

Author: E.M. Swift-Hook, Jessica Holmes, Leo McBride, Matthew Harvey, Rob Edwards, Brent A. Harris, Terri Pray, Jeff Provine, Ricardo Victoria.

Genre: Science Fantasy

Book procurement: Received from Inklings Press for an honest review.

Synopsis:

Science Fantasy is the collision of science fiction and fantasy – where the impossible and the improbable come together. This is a universe of spaceships and sorcery, of mechanics and magic, where zeppelins soar through the ether and conjurers stalk dark tunnels with a ball of light in their fist. So cut loose, let slip the mooring ropes on your imagination, and join these nine authors as they set course for the horizon – and beyond.

Nine tales of science. Nine tales of fantasy. Nine tales to make you wonder.

Review:

First Thoughts

Ah Inklings Press. Quite literally my favourite publishers right now. The talent they have “harvested” to compile their anthologies is just brilliant and once again I find myself treated to amazing stories.

From the first story The Lair of the Thunderlord, right through, I fell more and more in love with this Science Fantasy genre. This intermingling of science fiction and fantasy, where magic and science coalesce with fascinating characters to enrich the stories told. Just brilliant.

Stories and Writing

A total of nine stories make up Tales of Wonder. I usually don’t dig through each short in anthologies for a review, but I think this anthology deserves proper in-depth reviewing:

The Lair of the Thunderlord by Rob Edwards

The crew of the Acumen are suddenly pulled from the dark recess of space, and onto a planet they shouldn’t be on. They are a “scout” ship afterall. The crash leaves them unprotected, and the magic they carry doesn’t work quite right. Martins is the ship’s Documenter, and for the first time gets to experience life on another planet. But things don’t go as planned and… well you’ll have to read the rest to know.

Really solid character work, and… chickens. Yep you heard that right. It’s brilliantly told, and it all culminates shockingly as the in the end.

Changeling Child by E.M. Swift-Hook

It begins with a nursery rhyme. If you know anything about nursery rhymes then you can guess that they are not as playful and innocent as they seem. And neither is Changeling Child.

What I loved most is the innocence of young Tani, who finds herself in quite a predicament and remembers the nursery rhyme as her guide. That link between the unfolding story, the rhyme, and Tani is pieced together really well.

Kaana by Ricardo Victoria

When one thinks of terraforming, they think of massive alien ships hovering over the skyline drilling through the Earth’s core, changing it for suitable environments. One might also think of gargantuan parasitic lifeforms tethered from space onto Earth and rearranging the atmosphere to suit the new hosts. One does not think of a humanoid creature uttering incomprehensible words (spells? wink wink nudge nudge) to coax life out of barren patches of land. I was already sold.

And then, of course, things begin to unravel that shed more light on this multi-racial planet and it’s custodian mages in the form of… giant robots? Adding that dash of science fiction to the fantastical world was a great touch. The magic is so unique. I hope Ricardo turns this into a proper novel. It definitely has that potential after that ending.

An Honest Trader by Jessica Holmes

This was an interesting one. Captain Prikos sails the skies on a ship that also sails the seas. It’s clever. Of course it doesn’t end there, and this rather short, short story has rich world building, fascinating technology, and an ending that begs for more.

Sedna’s Hair by Jeff Provine

One always wonders just how true myths and folklore are. Whether a superstitious belief has some semblance of truth or if it’s all just hogwash. Sedna’s Hair finds ship Inuit crew members on a routine swing around a blackhole. Their artificially intelligent captain urges the crew member to explain a long held tradition for the new crew member; the story of Sedna, a rather gruesome tale I might add. I can’t say much without ruining the story… you’ll have to read it to enjoy what happens next.

A Twist in Time by Brent A Harris

Okay so you don’t have to read far to see the correlation between Oliver Twist and this short story. But things aren’t about an orphan reduced to being a thief. No. Oliver steals a pocketwatch from a mystrious man only to find it is no ordinary watch. The man is no ordinary man. The adventure he is dragged in to… is no ordinary adventure.

There might be a nod at “the Doctor” in this story but as Brent A Harris so cryptically said to me, “I can neither confirm nor deny. Afterall, it’s all timey-wimey, wibbly-wobbly stuff.” Well played sir. Well played.

A Very Improper Adventure by Matthew Harvey

I’m writing a Steampunk novel at the moment, so when I started reading this short story… well you can imagine I may have swooned a little. Lady Madeleine Bierce is an upstanding woman in her community. Sharp of tongue. No nonsense type. Her daughter Lady Lillian Bierce – not so much. An engineer at heart, with an adventurous soul, hopes to explain why her dress is in disarray. Her explanation sparks quite an adventure atop an airship.

There’s just so much to applaud here. The writing style. The dictation. The pacing. The world building. The action. Or maybe I’m just biased haha.

Grace by Terri Pray

He is a code monkey. A programmer. The greatest of his time. His life is his work and his work is his life. Until the “delicate woman with an elegance that matched her name, Grace,” walked into his life. The story takes place on a distant planet, where the genius programmer lives in solitude to focus on his work, save for the servant-cum-guard who watches over him. Only none are like Grace. None at all.

You know it’s good writing when you begin to feel what the character feels. When you are moved by them. With them. Grace is an enchanting tale that is more than just Science Fantasy.

The Last Sorceror by Leo Mcbride

Oi what riveting good stuff here of magic vs technology; either one cannot exist around the other. All set in London where technology has slowly prevailed over magic to the point where magic is almost out of existence. Eli and Maggie are on the run from Techquisitors – enforcers who are hell bent on eradicating all sorcerors.

It feels much like The Sorceror’s Apprentice but set in a future where magic is banned. Eli has appointed Maggie as his own apprentice but Eli has never used magic in fourteen years. His vow. And his burden to guard Maggie. Fast paced. Witty. Intense. Leo Mcbride writes a story right out of the top drawer, and ends the anthology on a high note.

Final Thoughts

The one thing I dislike about anthologies, is the fact that you only get a glimpse of the bigger picture. Of the full story. Of the potentially immersive world. However, there is no doubt that this collection of short stories is worth a read. I implore you to get yourself a copy and let your imagination loose for just a smidge, and enjoy some Tales of Wonder.

Rating: A wonderful 5 out of 5

Nthato MorakabiBook Review: Tales of Wonder
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Book Review: Cold Counsel

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Title: Cold Counsel

Author: Chris Sharp

Genre: Fantasy

Book procurement: Received a copy from Tor.com for Gamecca Magazine Vol 8 Issue 90.

Synopsis:

In Chris Sharp’s new epic fantasy Cold Counsel, Slud of the Blood Claw Clan, Bringer of Troubles, was born at the heart of the worst storm the mountain had ever seen. Slud’s father, chief of the clan, was changed by his son’s presence. For the first time since the age of the giants, he rallied the remaining trolls under one banner and marched to war taking back the mountain from the goblin clans.

However, the long-lived elves remembered the brutal wars of the last age, and did not welcome the return of these lesser-giants to martial power. Twenty thousand elves marched on the mountain intent on genocide. They eradicated the entire troll species—save two.

Aunt Agnes, an old witch from the Iron Wood, carried Slud away before the elves could find them. Their existence remained hidden for decades, and in that time, Agnes molded Slud to become her instrument of revenge.

For cold is the counsel of women

Review:

Got permission from my editor to post the Gamecca book reviews here so there’ll be more regular. The reviews in the magazine have a max 200 word count so I’m expanding.

I actually didn’t read the synopsis to this book before I selected it, which happened to be a good thing. It is merely the introduction to a grander story that slashes it’s way onward. Intermingled with a lot of Norse mythology, Cold Counsel was a book I enjoyed far more than I thought I would.

It follows the story of Slud. He doesn’t seem to be the sharpest knife in the kitchen, merely a fantastically large brute who has been raised by Aunt Agnes, a witch living in a dark forest called Iron Wood. His upbringing is brutal, riddled with tests and challenges and tales of great battles between gods and monsters. All of this, is merely a taste of the unfolding story.

The writing flows really well. You get a sense of the characters and the world around them clearly. Good vivid descriptions incorporating the senses like smell, and sight, and sound, that it was easy to imagine Slud’s exploits during the course of the story. The characters are also given so much life. From Neither-Nor and his almost eccentric paranoid nimbleness to the seething anger that boils within Aunt Agnes.

A really fantastic novel, unfortunately quite short, but engaging and fun.

Rating: A riveting 4 out of 5

Nthato MorakabiBook Review: Cold Counsel
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Book Review: Doctor Sleep

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Title: Doctor Sleep (The Shinning #2)

Author: Stephen King

Genre: Horror

Book procurement: Purchased from Exclusive Books – Greenstone Mall.

Synopsis:

Stephen King returns to the characters and territory of one of his most popular novels ever,The Shining, in this instantly riveting novel about the now middle-aged Dan Torrance (the boy protagonist of The Shining) and the very special twelve-year-old girl he must save from a tribe of murderous paranormals.

On highways across America, a tribe of people called The True Knot travel in search of sustenance. They look harmless—mostly old, lots of polyester, and married to their RVs. But as Dan Torrance knows, and spunky twelve-year-old Abra Stone learns, The True Knot are quasi-immortal, living off the “steam” that children with the “shining” produce when they are slowly tortured to death.

Haunted by the inhabitants of the Overlook Hotel where he spent one horrific childhood year, Dan has been drifting for decades, desperate to shed his father’s legacy of despair, alcoholism, and violence. Finally, he settles in a New Hampshire town, an AA community that sustains him, and a job at a nursing home where his remnant “shining” power provides the crucial final comfort to the dying. Aided by a prescient cat, he becomes “Doctor Sleep.”

Then Dan meets the evanescent Abra Stone, and it is her spectacular gift, the brightest shining ever seen, that reignites Dan’s own demons and summons him to a battle for Abra’s soul and survival. This is an epic war between good and evil, a gory, glorious story that will thrill the millions of devoted readers of The Shining and satisfy anyone new to the territory of this icon in the King canon.

Review:

I’ve read a number of King books through the years, and this was the first one I had to consider twice when reading at night. It wasn’t necessarily scary but it had its moments where paranoia creeped up on me faster than you can say Abracadabra. I still expect dead people to just show up in my bath.

The story starts off after the events from The Shining, when little Danny is revisited by ghosts of his past and realizes that his past will always be a part of him. We fast forward to an older Dan struggling with alcoholism, fighting the “shine” that still sparkles within him and his eventual sobering up at an AA that all links back together in a typical Stephen King fashion. There are no such things as coincidences with this man.

King is the master of characterization. I can imagine each of the characters in the book and won’t even need to read a name to know who is who. As usual. We have young Abra, who is a feisty, strong young girl with quite a “shine”, we have Dan whose shine get’s him the name Doctor Sleep, and we have the travelling band of “shine vampires” known as the True Knot who go around collecting “steam” from children who have the shine. Then there are plenty dots of characters thrown in the mix to help better understand who Dan Torrance, Abra Stone and the True Knot are. Each with their own characteristics and vital roles to play in the story.

In terms of writing, it’s all typical King. Vivid characters with identifiable attributes that I was able to visualise clearly in my mind. Worldbuilding at it’s finest, travelling across America through the eyes of Danny and the True Knot to experience the landscape. Flashes of The Shining in various places, and the passage of time that King’s recent books use (Revival comes to mind).

Once again, ordinary folks in extraordinary circumstances have been written into chilling reality by the King of horror.

Rating: A sleepless 4 out of 5

Nthato MorakabiBook Review: Doctor Sleep
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Book Review: 11.22.63

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Title: 11.22.63

Author: Stephen King

Publisher:  Hodder & Stoughton

Book procurement: Bought at Exclusive Books.

Release Date: Jul 5, 2012.

Synopsis:

Life can turn on a dime—or stumble into the extraordinary, as it does for Jake Epping, a high school English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine. While grading essays by his GED students, Jake reads a gruesome, enthralling piece penned by janitor Harry Dunning: fifty years ago, Harry somehow survived his father’s sledgehammer slaughter of his entire family.

Jake is blown away…but an even more bizarre secret comes to light when Jake’s friend Al, owner of the local diner, enlists Jake to take over the mission that has become his obsession—to prevent the Kennedy assassination. How? By stepping through a portal in the diner’s storeroom, and into the era of Ike and Elvis, of big American cars, sock hops, and cigarette smoke…

Finding himself in warmhearted Jodie, Texas, Jake begins a new life. But all turns in the road lead to a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald. The course of history is about to be rewritten…and become heart-stoppingly suspenseful.

Review:

Gee this book was long. 700 (740 if you add author’s notes) pages of time travelling goodness. Well it started off that way but… let me not jump the gun.

So the premise is quite simple. Jake Epping is dragged into going back in time to stop the assassination of J.F. Kennedy. He’s just a simple English teacher with zero CIA/FBI/Time Patrol training, only a stack of notes that Al Templeton, the person who convinced him that time travel was not only possible, it was also just behind his pantry, had compiled about the assassination and the person who killed J.F.K. – Lee Harvey Oswald. He jumps back to 1958 – and proceeds to ignore every warning and do whatever he pleases. Okay maybe that’s not fair but come on Jake, what were you doing!

The novel is written in first person perspective, giving us insight into the mental workings of Jake Epping. He’s intelligent. He’s resourceful. He’s human. His humanity makes him both vulnerable and prone to stupidity, especially considering he’s a man from 2011 going back 50 years to a world where he is not born yet. Has he heard of the butterfly effect? He has. Does he live in light of it? Gee, I don’t know. Have you read any Stephen King novels? You know how it’s going to go right? *bangs head on table*

The book starts off slow. Not boring, mind you, but slow nonetheless. Jake takes a trip through the course of history and changes a few things here and there for the sake of preventing something awful in the future. The results are not what he expects… which should be a given considering he’s messing with time travel. (Are time travelers always trying to mess up the time line? *Looks askew at The Flash, Morty McFly). It never ends well does it?

Did I enjoy the book? Well… it started off really well. King has a tendency of providing foresight to what’s about to happen (as he usually does) which builds tension. I like that. He also likes to create coincidences that aren’t really coincidences that the main characters see, internalise in a monologue, and then completely ignore anyway. Like… what? Oh and that ending? The one part I saw coming as it was about to happen. It was the only way it should have happened. The second part I was like “Huh? Well okay then.” and you know what, that’s okay.

As usual, King’s characters are on point. Authentic. Believable. And he doesn’t spare them a dime. Imagine the worst thing that could happen to a character… and then keep making it worse into a downward spiral. Yeah. That’s King for you.

Rating:  A meh 3 out of 5.

Nthato MorakabiBook Review: 11.22.63
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Tales from Alternate Earths

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talesfromalternateearths

Title: Tales From Alternate Earths

Author: Jessica Holmes, Terri Pray, Brent A. Harris, Ricardo Victoria, Rob Edwards, Cathbad Maponus, Leo McBride, Daniel M. Bensen, Maria Haskins.

Publisher:  Inklings Press

Book procurement: Received from publisher because they are an amazing bunch.

Release Date: August 19, 2016.

Synopsis:

Our world could have been so very different…

Eight stories take us on a journey into how our world could have been. What if the nukes had flown that day over Cuba? What if Caesar had survived? Imagine the Tunguska meteor with a different outcome. What if there was a true story behind HG Wells’ most famous tale? See the world as it might have been if China discovered the New World first. And what if all of this was never meant to be and dinosaurs ruled the Earth?

Authors Jessica Holmes, Daniel M. Bensen, Terri Pray, Rob Edwards, Maria Haskins, Cathbad Maponus, Leo McBride, and collaborators Brent A. Harris and Ricardo Victoria show us the world that might have been – if the butterfly’s wings had fluttered a different way, if the world changed between heartbeats, if a moment of decision saw another choice.

This is the fourth anthology from Inklings Press, aiming to provide a platform for new and upcoming authors and to open the door onto different worlds.

Review:

I was never a fan of history at school. I think when you’re younger, those things seem irrelevant and pointless. Now that I’m a little bit older I find history fascinating. Watching the world change around me. I visited my old neighbourhood and drove past my previous house to find that nostalgia was not forthcoming as I would have expected. Things had changed so drastically that I had nothing to reminisce about; even the tree I had spent days pretending was a giant robot, was gone.

Now imagine if we hadn’t moved out. How different would my life be now? Would I be seeing that tree as a sentimental token to my youth, or a nuisance in my front yard? Tales From Alternate Earths doesn’t explore such trivialities, but pushes the boundaries a bit further. In it, cutting down that tree myself may have led me to find a time capsule from the 1500s telling me where I can find an ancient medallion that makes me president. Or something.

The writing by each of the authors is brilliant. There wasn’t a story I read where I was put off by the writing style, tense or anything. Flowing freely between scenes, building up to the great reveal that changes the world as we know it, and all while keeping the suspense high. These are the history lessons that never were, and could never be, and make for compelling history nonetheless.

Of the eight stories, I would pick out Twilight of the Mesozoic Moon, a collaboration by Brent A Harris & Ricardo Victoria where sentient dinosaurs rule the planet. The Secret War by Leo McBride with a fantastic twist regarding the famous HG Wells. Lastly, Tunguska, 1987 by Maria Haskins has an ending that deserves an entire novel!

I was also able to read through these short stories in a single sitting. I enjoyed them so much I wanted to get into the next story rather than take a break and at the end I wanted more. Great work by the authors and a wonderful collection by Inklings Press. Keep up the great work!

Rating:  A fantastic 4 out of 5.

Nthato MorakabiTales from Alternate Earths
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A Space Between Worlds Vol 1: Conception

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aspacebetweenworlds-cover

Title: A Space Between Worlds Vol 1: Conception

Author: J.D Woodson

Publisher:  Royal James Publishing

Book procurement: Received from publisher in return for an honest review.

Release Date: October 17, 2016.

Synopsis:

Songstress Shanti’s final performance is no different than any other. Gazing into the mirror, the Songstress laments her faceless curse. To hide her unsightliness, she dons a beautiful mask. She knows she doesn’t belong in the darkness. Her desire is to live in a world of eternal light, to be seen for who she truly is.

An enigmatic man who calls himself Avidia beckons Shanti, claiming to know how to conceive the world of light sleeping inside of her, and escape her current world of darkness, Cauraaha. Avidia poses the question that will be the key to her desire, as well as an unresolved pain:

“What is your first memory?”

Reno, a gentle florist, has his own stigma, a translucent coil of thorns wrapped around his arm, draining him of life at the utterance of the word “Promise”. Hidden away in his heart is the knowledge of a past he doesn’t wish to face, one that connects to Shanti, Avidia, and her curse.

A dual narrative of introspection and self-discovery, A Space Between Worlds eloquently questions the truths of life and death, timeless bonds, and regret through lyrical imagination, philosophy, surrealism, and a journey through the unconscious mind.

Review:

We are thinking, feeling beings currently experiencing the ebb and flow of life. Guided by our past, driven by the prospects of our future, and engaging in the instance of our present. We question our existence, the banality of day to day life, the adventure of hope, regret, love, friendship – and the inevitability of death. Do we remember our first memory? Do we know what happens when we die? Will we cease to exist? Will we live eternally in the presence of the Creator? Will we return to the world in an endless cycle of life and death?

These are the questions JD Woodson explores in this poetic narrative A Space Between Worlds: Conception. We follow the mysterious songstress Shanti, and her faceless existence seeking to be seen. We follow the emotive Reno with a dark past coiled around his arm in living, life draining thorns. The story flits between these two characters as they seek to figure out who they are and what secrets theirs pasts hold – and the space between worlds where the enigmatic Avanti continues to unravel.

The writing is poetic, story cryptic, and although occasionally difficult to figure out, A Space Between Worlds makes for an evocative tale.

Rating:  A stirring 3 out of 5.

Nthato MorakabiA Space Between Worlds Vol 1: Conception
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Ready Player One

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ready-player-one

Title: Ready Player One

Author: Ernest Cline

Publisher:  Broadway Books

Book procurement: Bought online on Takealot.com. Also available on Amazon and major book stores! (or it should be!)

Release Date: June 5, 2012.

Synopsis:

It’s the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place.

Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets.

And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune — and remarkable power — to whoever can unlock them.

For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that Halliday’s riddles are based in the pop culture he loved — that of the late twentieth century. And for years, millions have found in this quest another means of escape, retreating into happy, obsessive study of Halliday’s icons. Like many of his contemporaries, Wade is as comfortable debating the finer points of John Hughes’s oeuvre, playing Pac-Man, or reciting Devo lyrics as he is scrounging power to run his OASIS rig.

And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle.

Suddenly the whole world is watching, and thousands of competitors join the hunt — among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize. Now the only way for Wade to survive and preserve everything he knows is to win. But to do so, he may have to leave behind his oh-so-perfect virtual existence and face up to life — and love — in the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

A world at stake.
A quest for the ultimate prize.
Are you ready?

Review:

I’m perusing all my old online gaming haunts, checking out tutorials on YouTube and playing online on my Xbox, PC and Nintendo 3DS all at the same time. Why? Because this book is just that life changing. I mean, I’d always considered myself a gamer (I write for a gaming magazine after all) and own a variety of gaming consoles as well as building a new gaming PC. But I was twenty pages into this book and I realized I’m a noob by all standards.

So when a book is able to make you reassess your life, you know it’s brilliant. It also plays on every gamer’s dream console – fully immersive virtual reality. You don’t have to watch the .Hack series, Sword Art Online, Log Horizon anime etc or see the Samsung Gear VR, Microsoft’s Hololens, Playstation VR, Facebook’s Oculus to know that we all want that OASIS experience. We don’t want to press buttons, or look ridiculous in front of the Wii, Playstation Move or Microsoft Kinect (even though to be honest that’s what we’ll probably look like in-game anyway). We want to get inside the game and feel like we’re part of the game and not just interactive spectators. And this is the world of Ready Player One. It’s a world where you can be whatever and whoever you want.

I loved Wade. Honestly do. He’s just the kind of high level gamer you find in forums and on MMOs playing solo yet willing to go on that really difficult mission/quest/dungeon with you. He’s not an egotistical jerk. And he has a great sense of humour. I feel like I could relate to him in the gaming world. And that’s a well written character. All the other characters are just as well rounded. No one is a demi-god with amazing good looks and perfect personalities, traits and gaming skills. They are flawed. They are regular folk like you and me. They are real and believable. From Art3mis to Aech (ha! I did not see that coming) to the brothers Shoto and Daito, and even Halliday, Ogden (Og) and the antagonist Sorrento. Just gamers doing what they do best.

The story flows really well. The writing is personal as it is descriptive. You are Wade and experiencing his emotions, thoughts, struggles, hopes, dreams – everything. Ernest Cline really did his homework on all these 80’s titles. I’ve never heard of quite a number of games, anime, movies and music referenced in this book. And yet it all falls under my favourites: anime, gaming, rock and 80s tv shows. There were so many twists in there. Wow. I just wanted to keep reading more and more and more. Between finding the Egg hidden away in the gaming world, and all the conflicts happening both within and outside of the OASIS, I couldn’t help but go on a rollercoaster of emotions. I’m still reeling! I’ll probably read this book again 400 million times during the course of my life. It was that good.

I don’t even know what else to say. It was just… wow. I loved it. Completely. From a story telling perspective to content, characters, ending and all things geekery. If you love games, anime, rock, movies and the like, you’ll love this book.

Rating:  Look it’s a 10 out of 5 okay? My rating system, my rules.

Nthato MorakabiReady Player One
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