Review by: Mark Palm
If the publishing world is still looking for The Next Big Thing in YA novels Scintillate: The Light Key Trilogy by Tracy Clark hits all the right notes. We have a lively teen protagonist in Cora Sandoval, a teen girl whom discovers by accident that she has a one-in-a-million secret power that is illuminating, but puts her life in danger. There are intrepid hip friends, Mari and Dun, a well-meaning but frustrating dad, a mysterious missing mother, and two hunky guys, both exotic Europeans to our California girl. Now the notes are all there, but I don't think that this book is going to soar to the top of the charts. It's a good solid novel, but there are a few things that trip it up a bit. One of the trickiest aspects of the book is Miss Clarks treatment of the romance between Cora and the first hunk, the Irish teen Finn Doyle. Without revealing too many spoilers a large portion of the book is given over to their budding romance. I don't think that I am so old that I have forgotten the power of teen hormones but after a few attempts on my life I might believe that the importance of my love life may seem less important that surviving.
Basically, after a near debilitating illness Cora discovers that she has the ability to see and "read" people's auras. She also finds to her dismay that there are certain people out there who are draining people's auras and killing them. While this is going on Cora seems to be more interested in her new beau, who seems to magically show up every time she turns around. This, as frustrating as I often found it is not an accident on Ms. Clark's part. She is playing a long game in this novel. Cora discovers that her mother may have had a similar ability, and she mysteriously disappeared in Ireland years before. So Cora takes off to find her story. In Ireland she meets Italian hunk Giovanni, and begins to piece together her mom's story. Here the story suddenly picks up the pace as she discovers the aura murderer has followed her, and that Finn is back in Ireland. She meets Finn's family, and the romance continues to hold a lot of our attention until Ms. Clark finally springs her trap. Now I found this plot twist, which I will not reveal, fairly satisfying, because it puts a lot of the annoying aspects of the earlier part of the book in a better light. What at first seemed like unlikely coincidence suddenly stands revealed as well-planned conspiracy, and the book began to grow more tense as Cora's mom's story also took an unpleasant but satisfying turn. As far as narrative gambits go I found it effective, but I fear that some readers may not be as willing to wait through the cloying romance for as long as I did. The last fifth or so of the book fairly explodes with revelations, twists, turns, betrayals, and redemptions. Ms. Clark takes a risk, but I think that it pays off. I am looking forward to book two.
Review by: Stacy Palm
I LOVE this series! Let's be honest, I adore paranormal romance books, but there are literally hundreds of various series out there right now. So I'm always a little hesitant at the start of new series. I have to say this is certainly one series I am thankful to come across! Although, it has resulted in a few sleepless nights while I feverishly finished each book. Now I did not read this series in order, which is out of sorts for me, but now that I'm up to date I can make the following observations. With each new book there is a gained strength of experience evident from the author. You can read and feel her full-hearted commitment to the characters and this story. This is not your typical "ghost" story; it is fresh, exciting, and completely engrossing. There are highlanders hotties, captivating pirates, lost and weary heroes, strong funny heroines, three headed beasts, and dragons!
This story is the third full length novel (4th story) in the series and it follows the tale of Hamish. I will not ruin story lines, but will let you know that Hamish is a character we love to hate. So picking up this book was scary because I was thinking how I was going to love a book about a character that I don't really like. This is where Ms. Luhrs talent shines! Not only was I so completely wrapped up in this book from the get go, but this book has become my favorite in the series.
I highly recommend this series and book to anyone who likes the paranormal romance and even those who may never had read the genre - this could be your stepping stone. There are plenty of hot steamy graphic moments so use better judgement for younger audiences.
Review by: Mark Palm
A Study In Ashes is the last book in what I am calling The Baskerville Trilogy, a series by Emma Jane Holloway about the adventures of Evelina Cooper, who just so happens to be the niece of one Sherlock Holmes. I was pleasantly surprised by the first book, and all but bowled over by the second, A Study in Darkness, and because of that book my expectations were even higher when I read this one. Except for a few small caveats this book stood up to its predecessors. When it comes to plot, Ms. Holloway has a dozen plates, and somehow she keeps them all spinning. Aside from Evelina and Nick, there are the stories of Tobias, Alice and Poppy, and Lord Bancroft, the Steam Lords, The Brothers Holmes and Watson, Moriarity, Imogen and the spirit of her sister, and the return of Buck, and even Dr. Magnus. If all that isn't enough Ms. Holloway also works in an incognito Prince, a prostitute named Hyacinth, and a fascinating glimpse at the Black Kingdom, a creepy Cthuloid landscape that exists in the tunnels beneath England. A little twist that I particularly enjoyed was the way Ms. Holloway worked The Hound of the Baskervilles into her story. Despite all that going on, and there is plenty of it, the centerpiece of the story is still Evelina, and Ms. Holloway does a grand job of keeping her heroine grounded, even as her powers, and her role in the events continues to expand.
While the second book was more about the hypocrisies of the Victorian society this one deals more in what happens when the rules don't just bend but actually break. There are kidnappings, and murder, and terrorist bombings. In the latter half of the book The Steam Lords are bombing London, and in a harrowing scene, Alice and Poppy find themselves struggling through a burning London scarred with violence. Evelina also has to confront her darker impulses, as her powers continue to grow, and the storyline of Tobias evolves into one of noble sadness, and one could almost say tragedy. If only I could just air all the spoilers. In fact, in writing this review I keep finding myself wanting to add this or that little scene, or plot-line, but as this is the last book of the trilogy I have to let Ms. Holloway has the final say.
Now unlike the first two books this one really does demand that you read the previous entries in this series. As much as I liked and admired this book I half to count that as a small strike against it. I also was a little unsatisfied at the battle near the end of the book. It felt a bit too much like I was watching a superhero blockbuster, where a lot of special effects and fireworks are necessary. There is nothing really wrong with the battle in this book, but I didn't find it nearly as interesting as the storylines of the characters that I have come enjoy so much, and in a series that surprised me so much I guess I shouldn't be shocked that Ms. Holloway managed, just at the end, to slip in one more surprise, one that left me a bit gob-smacked. I could ruin my no-spoiler policy and tell you about it, but trust me, you should definitely read this one for yourself.
Review by: Mark Palm
The last time I reviewed a comic I mentioned that I was a devoted reader until my early teens, when I slowly switched over to paperbacks. The transition wasn’t quick however, a few titles were hard to give up. I wish I could say that it was John Byrne's innovative run on The X Men or Daredevil as re-imagined by the grim and stylistic Frank Miller. It wasn't though. It was Red Sonja. Why? Well, she was created by Robert E. Howard, at the time my favorite author, and she was a gorgeous red-head in a chain-mail bikini. It was puberty, remember?
Now its many years later and I am back reviewing Red Sonja, written by Gail Simone and penciled by Walter Geovani. While I am not quite the sucker that I once was for a chain-mail bikini, I have to say that it certainly doesn’t hurt. Now as most of us know Red Sonja was a true bad-ass, because she had to be. To be a warrior in the Hyperborean Age was hard enough, with all of R.E. Howard's brawny guys with bulging hews, but to be a woman, well, that took a special breed. When the guys could kick back after a battle with a wench and an ale Sonja couldn't. So Ms. Simone has decided to give us an origin story, to show us how Sonja got so tough, and to also give her a bit of company as well.
This book starts with King Dimath of Patra, finishing the capture of a fabled din of iniquity. The former King had slave pits where he would send his vanquished foes to fight to the death, two per evening, until there was only one left. Dimath is informed that there are only two left, barely human anymore. One escaped, and the other, of course, is Red Sonja. She swears her loyalty to the King, and then rides off. Some years later he calls her back, using the scene-stealing twin warrior girls Ayla and Nias, and tells Sonja that he needs her. His city is about to be overrun by Bazrat the Butcher, King of Zamora, and she must take command of his forces. It's a hopeless task, as they are totally outnumbered, but Sonja does the right thing, and soon she is staring down her certain doom. To make things worse the opposing forces are commanded by the other survivor of the Pits; Black Annisha, another hottie in chain mail scantiness, with white dreads, black eyeliner, and a serious grudge against Red Sonja. Sonja engages her in single combat, in an attempt to talk her out of sacking the city and killing the army. It's a bravura fight, with great visuals, and we discover that Annisha has lost her marbles and is taking the advice of the ghosts that the two had slain together. After an epic duel Sonja does the one thing she swore never to do; she surrenders, to save her troops. Annisha then slaps a serious lip-lock on the kneeling Sonja and tells her that she won't kill her, but she infests her with the plague and casts her into the wilderness.
So far we are about a third of the way into the story and Ms. Simone has whacked us over the head three or four times. The next part of the story follows a fevered and blind Sonja as she wanders the countryside, and her past. In trippy flashbacks we see her origin story, from a tom-boy Hyrkanian hunting with her brothers and father, to the sack and slaughter of her tribe, which she alone survives, and avenges, one bad guy at a time. Meanwhile a near-dead Sonja is saved by the twins, who become her bodyguards and nurses, and inform her that with luck and she may be able to stop Annisha, and save the cities that lay helpless before her rampaging armies. As they work their way back the twins unfold a surprisingly complex story about Annisha, Dimath, his son Tiath, and the Butcher. The rest of the book see-saws back and forth as Sonja becomes in turn, a guerilla, a detective and of course, a kick-ass warrior. Annisha meanwhile is fleshed out and turns into a figure as much of pity as evil. By the end Sonja gets to the bottom of all the trickery and backstabbing, and cleans up the whole mess with a rousing battle, and rides off into the sunset to get drunk.
This isn't a sophisticated graphic novel, like the Watchmen or the works of Neil Gaimen, and it's not supposed to be. In the spirit of R.E. Howard it's a simple tale, with basic themes and basic virtues. The visuals are no-nonsense, and solid, and while I would have like a little more flair in the layouts, they get the job done. Sonja is brave and tough, and she gets off a bunch of good one liners, and while the winners aren't much better off than the losers, it's all you can ask for in a world like Hyperborea.