I AM SLEEPLESS: Sim 299, by Johan Twiss: A Review

i am sleeplessAidan is a prime. Primes have special powers, but each of those powers comes with a price, a defect that limits the prime in some significant way. Except for Aidan: his multiple prime gifts have not come with any defects, except that he doesn’t sleep.

Aidan, in his sleepless hours, meets secretly with General Estrago, who provides him with forbidden books for reflection and discussion, but additionally, Aidan spends his time working through the levels of the simulations designed to prepare each coterie of primes for battle against the Splicers, the creatures that sent this race from their home planet in search of safety. Aidan has reached Sim 299, the top level and a level higher than any other prime.

In attempting to conquer the challenges of Sim 299, Aidan must seek the assistance of both his friends and his enemies among the prime coteries, endangering them not only in the simulation but in real life. As the battles become all too real, Aidan uncovers a web of secrecy, betrayal and rebellion at the highest levels.

I AM SLEEPLESS: Sim 299 is science fiction for the young adult/new adult reader. It is fast-paced, and the world-building unfolds competently through both the narrative and through ‘quotes’ from a character’s book at the beginning of each chapter. The concept of cohorts of young people being trained for battle is familiar from books such as Ender’s Game, but that very familiarity helps the reader in accepting and believing in the story, which is at its heart a quest story.

A couple of things niggled at me. I would have preferred the information about each type of prime, their gifts and defects, to have been presented at the beginning of the book, not at the end: I found that trying to sort out what each prime was capable of distracted me a bit from the flow of the narrative. As well, Aidan’s world contains beasts which are apparently hybrids between (for the most part) familiar animals: the cobramoth for one. These animals are charmingly illustrated in the book (by the author’s wife), but I wanted an explanation for them. Are they genetic modifications? I would also hope for some stronger female characters in the sequel; in this first volume they seemed to me a bit more like adjuncts than full participants in the story.

I AM SLEEPLESS: Sim 299 is the first book in a series. It ends with the story not complete: Aidan and his friends have overcome one challenge, but many more lie ahead. The characters and the conflicts presented were compelling; I look forward to the next installment. My overall rating is 3 1/2 stars for this debut novel.

The author provided me with a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.  The opinions expressed here are mine alone.

Reviewers wanted!

This may be an odd request from someone who reviews indie books, but I’m having a very hard time finding people to review my young adult/new adult e-book, Empire’s Daughter. In part, this may be because it doesn’t fit into any major genre and is difficult to classify. It takes place in a world inspired by Britain after the fall of Rome, but is not historically, geographically, or socially a direct copy. There is no magic. Human relationships cover all pairings, but there is no explicit sex.

You can check it out here:



If you’d like to give it a try in exchange for an honest review on Amazon and/or Goodreads, let me know and I’ll send you the electronic file of your choice for Kindle, iBooks, or Kobo (basically, any of .mobi, e-pub, or PDF).

Thanks, and keep sending me review requests for your indie work (review policy here).


Hunt (Freya Snow: Book One) by L.C. Mawson: A Review

Hunt (Freya Snow: Book One) by L.C. Mawson

Freya Snow, the unknowing child of magical beings, has grown up in foster homes her whole life. Moving once again in her teens, her discomfort at a new situation grows as her powers begin to emerge and she discovers that the social worker who has organized her new home is actually her magical guardian and mentor.

Freya has only one friend, an older girl at her last foster home, Alice,who is high-functioning autistic and whose disinterest in most social norms and trends Freya shares. Unsurprisingly for a child who has moved multiple times and perhaps borders on the ASD spectrum herself, Freya finds it difficult to make other friends. But at her new school she is approached by the somewhat odd Damon, who is not English and is unfamiliar with many of the cultural references of the school and society. The two become allies and then friends as Freya’s world becomes much more complex, confusing, and dangerous.

The basic premises of Hunt will be familiar to readers of young adult fantasy: the magical child from another world whose powers begin to develop in their teens, bringing them to the attention of the powers of evil and good from their own realm. But for this premise to be convincing, the magical world must be internally coherent, fully understood by the writer, and that internal coherence conveyed to the reader. In the case of Hunt, this coherence is missing. While introducing such a magical world in small hints and explanations, to build interest and plot, is a valid device, in this case it leads more to confusion than epiphany. Whether or not this stems from a lack of understanding of her own magical world by the author, or a lack of telling the story in a way that explains that magical world, is not clear.

Hunt would have benefited, in my opinion, from being a longer book, told from two points of view, the second being from the magical realm, which would have given the author an opportunity to more fully flesh out the structure and conflicts of that world. As part of a planned series, these may be revealed in later books, creating from a promising but flawed first volume a substantial and fully realized universe.

My personal rating is two-and-a-half stars for this story from a young writer who is learning her trade. I’ll be interested to see how Lucy Mawson develops as a writer over the next few years; I think she’s worth watching.

The author provided me with a free copy in exchange for an honest review. The opinions here are completely my own.

Magic of the Gargoyles, by Rebecca Chastain: A Review

Magic of the Gargoyles (1)

Mika Stillwater is a mid-level earth elemental adept, specializing in quartz working. Moonlighting from her unfulfulling quarry job, she is desperately working late into the night to finish a commission that will finally fund her own shop, when a frantic, terrified baby gargoyle arrives on her balcony. Seeking help in rescuing its kidnapped siblings, new hatchlings that have been taken for black-market sales, the gargoyle has been attracted by the strength of Mika’s magic.

The opening scenes of Magic of the Gargoyles grabbed my interest and attention immediately. Nor did either wane throughout the novella. Well-paced action, interesting and strong female characters, and a fresh and imaginative take on a magical world all contribute to the strength of this story. Chastain’s writing is crisp, with enough description to flesh out her world and the people and creatures that inhabit it, and her descriptions of Mika’s magic are tactile and convincing.

I had only one tiny niggle, and that was the description of a captured hatchling as “a gross mimicry of a Thanksgiving dinner plate”. To me, the inclusion of Thanksgiving into this magical world, clearly not our own, jarred, and it took me a few minutes to return to the state of disbelief (or belief) needed to thoroughly enjoy this urban fantasy.

I would recommend this book to good readers over the age of twelve (there is some violence, no love or sex scenes). Girls especially will enjoy it, but it shouldn’t be limited to a female readership. It is also completely appropriate for adults who enjoy urban fantasy…I’m well into my sixth decade but read it in one day with great enjoyment. Magic of the Gargoyles is available from Amazon. Five stars.

The author provided me with a free copy in exchange for an honest review. The opinions here are completely my own.

Mondo Bohemiano by Quentin J. Parker: A Review

Mondo Bohemiano is a sometimes funny, sometimes ironic and largely satirical tale of a man desperately trying to leave the love of his life behind, and, perhaps, grow up a bit in the process. Nigel Q. Bunnytail is our anti-hero, a man living a frenetic and aimless life in Philadelphia, hanging out with friends he’s mostly known since earliest childhood, sleeping with many women, working in a job perhaps not up to his skill level, pining for his beloved Millicent.

The aimlessness and frenzy of Nigel’s Philadelphia life is mirrored in the writing. I found the first half of the book a little hard going, but as I read on, the rapid and rapidly changing pacing and action began to make sense as a mirror of what is going on in Nigel’s psyche. Once Nigel makes his decision to move to the other side of the country – Spokane – the pace and mood of the book changes, reflecting the changes Nigel is making.

While Nigel is referred to as ‘the big bohemian’ several times, there are indications that he is hankering for a more structured life. He is attracted to the discipline of flying, both in real life and in a complex simulation on his computer. His clothes have a military styling. In moving to Spokane to attempt a relationship with Sigrid, he also appears to be leaving not just Millicent, but also the ‘Mondo Bohemiano’ behind. What he’s got himself into, though, is not what he bargained for.

The writing is original, witty, and fast-paced. The book isn’t easy to classify –satirical rom-com is the best description I can come up with. My only niggle with it was the characters’ names, which I found a little bit overdone – although there may be a relationship between Nigel’s last name and one of Sigrid’s obsessions – I won’t go further than that, to avoid spoilers. I am looking forward to the planned sequel, which is not a statement I would have thought I would have made at the half-way point in the book. Overall, three stars.

This is an independent review of copy of the book provided by the author. The opinions stated here are mine alone.

Falcon Boy and Bewilder Bird vs Dr Don’t Know in a Battle for all the Life of all the Planets, by Barnaby Taylor

At the beginning of the regenerated Doctor Who series, in the first Christopher Eccleston/Billie Piper episode, Rose, a wheelie-bin swallows Mickey. And then spits him out again….or is it him? As part of the plot, it was a hint – no, a statement – that we as viewers had entered a world of the absurd, where the rules of normal life were left behind. Within the first few pages of Falcon Boy and Bewilder Bird vs Dr Don’t Know in a Battle for all the Life of all the Planets, by Barnaby Taylor, I realized I was in another absurd world, missing the rules of normal life, where just about anything could happen.

Falcon Boy (A Fairly Hopeless Hero) is the series title – this book is the first in the series and currently the only one published. The story defies categorization. At one level, it’s a children’s book about a super-hero of sorts who really isn’t very good at what he does. On another, it’s very adult, the writer having a wry eye for the ridiculousness of life. Things happen just because the author – who is often present in the story as a commentator – decide they should. Characters seem familiar…but like the Mickey that emerged from the wheelie-bin, they aren’t necessarily what they seem. They also have lives of their own…several of them have Twitter accounts!

I haven’t laughed so much reading a book in some time. Falcon Boy isn’t going to be to all readers’ taste, though, and if you haven’t a clue what I’m getting at with the Doctor Who parallels, then it might not be for you. But if you know where to look for a tattoo to identify a dead bishop, understand that the Frog & Peach is in Yorkshire for the parking, or believe that Rocky & Bullwinkle is a cartoon for adults, you may want to read it, or at least read it to your kids. You can download it for free from Amazon.

This is an independent review, not sought by the author nor written for any benefit. The opinions stated here are mine alone.

A Pre-publication Review: Creeping Shadow: Rise of Isaac Book 1, by Caroline Peckham

Creeping Shadows:Rise of Isaac Book 1

Creeping Shadow is a young-adult fantasy by indie writer Caroline Peckham. Building on some of the best traditions of British children’s and young-adult writing, the story caught my imagination from the first pages and held it throughout the book.

It is truly difficult to find new ways to address themes and memes in young-adult writing. Some of my appreciation of Creeping Shadow almost certainly stemmed from the fact it was ‘familiar’: the opening events and settings, which have elements reminiscent of the introduction to Narnia, or to Susan Cooper’s Over Sea, Under Stone, began the story in a way that leads the reader to expect certain things to unfold, the way ‘Once upon a time…’ opens a classic fairy tale. And the reader is not disappointed!

Wizards appear; a quest is demanded; travel between multiple worlds is required. The challenge required of the young protagonists in this first book of the series, however, is modern, owing more to The Hunger Games and to some extent to the Harry Potter series than to C.S. Lewis, firmly siting the book in the modern young-adult universe.

The copy I read was an ARC – publication does not occur until December – and had a remarkably small number of production errors. The story is well-plotted and characters sufficiently complex in most cases to avoid being stereotypes, although roles are usually almost instantly identifiable. Creeping Shadow has the honour of being the first book I ever read on my iPhone, mostly because I really wanted to finish it and my phone is almost always with me, so I could read anywhere. Strongly recommended!

This is an independent review of an ARC. The opinions stated here are mine alone.

Cut Glass: A Novella by Susanne Valenti

In my earlier review of Chained, the first book in Susanne Valenti’s dystopian series Cage of Lies, I wrote “I found I had questions about the functioning of the society outside of the city from which Maya and her companions flee which were not answered in the narrative.”  Cut Glass, which is a novella set in the same dystopian world and which includes some of the characters introduced in Chained, helps to answer some of those questions. This addition of a novella giving background to both characters and their setting reminds me of the way Marion Zimmer Bradley created the complex world of Darkover through both novels and short stories.

Cut Glass is a stand-alone novella; it is not necessary to have read Chained (or its sequel Linked) to appreciate the story, which involves the emotional and sexual coming-of-age of the protagonist, Crystal.  No spoilers, but the attitudes and reactions of teens living challenging lives rang true for me, as someone who worked with troubled teens for many years.  Valenti has created a believable dystopian world and is more fully realizing that world in each installment of the Cage of Lies series and related works. ☼☼☼

This is an independent review of an ARC.  The opinions stated here are mine alone.