Book Reviews, Fiction Blog

Indie Book Review: Maledicus (The Investigative Paranormal Society Book I)

maledicus-finalMaledicus: The Investigative Paranormal Society Book I by Charles F. French is a horror novel that mixes elements of paranormal suspense with historical fiction. In the relatively sleepy town of Bethberg, Pennsylvania, the Investigative Paranormal Society (IPS) team (Roosevelt, Sam, and Jeremy) search out strange happenings, then debunk them or dispel disgruntled spirits, as appropriate.

In the series’ debut novel, the IPS faces off against its toughest opponent yet: a demon named Maledicus. Once a proud (and depraved) Roman citizen, Maledicus now delights in bringing terror to the living. When Maledicus targets a young girl and her aunt, the IPS must stop him before he can devour their souls.

Before I dive into my review, I want to add two quick disclaimers. First, as always, I’ll be keeping the content details vague to avoid any spoilers. Second, I’m inclined to note that I received an advance copy of this novel. Therefore, it might have gone through further revision before publication (thus rendering some of my comments moot).

One of my most important concerns for paranormal novels is whether the story follows “the rules of its world.” Maledicus does exactly that. The paranormal content is believable within the story and “the rules” remain consistent throughout. French uses vivid language to bring the paranormal activity and demon Maledicus to life, which makes the scary moments all the more chilling for the reader. Without spoiling anything, the plot follows a clear trajectory, contains a great balance of action and quiet suspense, and reaches a satisfying conclusion.

Though the plot itself remains rather linear, the narrative structure of Maledicus jumps back and forth between different times, locations, and character perspectives. At first, I found this a bit odd to read. Like many classic novels, the narrative often reads more like the author is telling a story, rather than the reader is in the moment with the characters. However, once I adjusted to this style, it did flow rather well.

French offers the readers chapter flashbacks into the human life of the demon Maledicus (which makes him all the more despicable), as well as mini flashbacks within scenes that feature the IPS team. These are clearly given to add depth to the characters and succeed in that goal. However, personally, I would have preferred for the scenes featuring the IPS team members to stay in the present day, with hints at backstory peppered throughout. Of course, this might have just been my impatience to see if/how the evil Maledicus would be defeated!

As for the characters themselves, I found them to be well-rounded and distinct personalities. In particular, appreciated that they are mostly middle-aged to elderly, as I believe literature needs more diverse/fewer stereotypical representations of “older” characters. Roosevelt is the classic gentlemen, while Sam feels every bit the ex-cop (and jokester), and Jeremy perfectly fits his role as the more introverted one of the group. The main side characters are equally well-developed and compelling – I especially liked Helen’s passion for learning, dedication to her family/students, and unwavering bravery.

My only criticisms with the characters are that sometimes the dialogue came off a bit stiff and that I felt they were over-described. Many physical and emotional details were repeated multiple times, and while that is always a writing no-no, it was superfluous with such distinct characters.

maledicus-finalOverall, I enjoyed reading Maledicus: The Investigative Paranormal Society Book I. Horror in plot, paranormal/historical in details, and literary in narrative style, it’s a well-crafted debut novel with compelling characters and a nice balance of action and quiet suspense. Recommended for readers who like ghost stories, history, and cozy mystery.

Charles F. French was kind enough to contribute a guest post to accompany my review, where he discusses the theme of evil in Maledicus. Check it out here. If you’d like to read Maledicus, pick up your copy from Amazon.

Book Reviews, Fiction Blog

Indie Book Review: Checkmate by A.M. Offenwanger

checkmateCheckmate by A.M. Offenwanger
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: I received a free electronic copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Checkmate is the third novel in A.M. Offenwanger’s Septimus series. You can read my reviews of the previous books, Seventh Son (Book 1) and Cat and Mouse (Book 2) by clicking on their titles.

While this review does not contain spoilers for Checkmate, it does contain spoilers for the first two novels. I should also note that Seventh Son is FREE at the time of this writing, so if you haven’t read it yet, download your copy from Amazon today!

Thus far, Checkmate is my favorite novel in the Septimus series. It takes place several years after Cat and Mouse, and shows Guy and Cat’s growing family fully settled in the Ruph community. The main action revolves around the return of Bina’s (formerly Bibby’s) cousin Rhitha and her family to Ruph, as well as the two girls’ growing friendship.

As with the other books in the series, Checkmate was well-written in what I have come to recognize as Offenwanger’s distinctive narrative voice: a balance of playfulness and poetry. My only criticism is that some of the chapters would start in present time, then jump back to the past-perfect tense for a scene or two. I would have liked to be “in the moment” with the characters (especially Rhitha) as some of that action unfolded.

Since I don’t want to risk spoiling anything about the plot of Checkmate (it’s that intricately tied and well-developed), I’ll touch quickly on the aspects that made this novel my favorite in the series so far:

– Meeting new characters to love (or love to hate), who fit into the story as if they were always a part of it.
– Reading from the perspective of new characters.
– The complex and realistic relationships between the characters (both loving and hate-filled).
– The development of Bina’s powers and how she learns to control them.
– Seeing Andy and Ben advance in their prospective fields.
– The themes of family and friendship, with the moral message that family can be chosen and friendship should be steadfast and loyal.
– Learning about new traditions in the world (such as trade/economics, other countries, and Ruph’s Solstice festival).

The ending of Checkmate? Perhaps one of the most fun and cleverly executed magical climaxes I’ve ever read. I adored it.

Overall, Checkmate is a heartwarming addition to the Septimus series that comments beautifully on family, friendship, and the importance of both. A fun and magical tale, it will delight readers of fantasy and young adult fiction.

REMINDER: As I said at the beginning of this review, the first novel in the Septimus series, Seventh Son, is FREE for a limited time. Download your copy now, then leave your own review for Ms. Offenwanger!

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checkmateIf you are interested in reading Checkmate. and would like to help sponsor my writing and research, you can purchase it at my Amazon Associates Store. By doing this, you will not pay a cent extra, nor will the author receive a cent less, but I will receive a small commission on the sale. Simply click the book’s title or the book’s image.

Book Reviews, Fiction Blog

Indie Book Review: Cat and Mouse by A.M. Offenwanger

cat and mouseCat and Mouse by A.M. Offenwanger
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: I received a free electronic copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Cat and Mouse is the second book in A.M. Offenwanger’s Septimus series and the sequel to Seventh Son. (Click here to read my review of Seventh Son.) Please note that this review does contain spoilers for Seventh Son, so if you haven’t read it yet, go download your FREE copy today. Seriously, do it now. It’s only free for a limited time. (Sorry future readers!)

The plot of Cat and Mouse picks up after Catriona (Cat) and Guy’s wedding. At first, all seems to be well for the newlyweds and the land of Ruph. Cat and Guy learn how they operate as a married couple, Bibby is her regular adorable self, and Guy even takes on an apprentice, a mute boy who Bibby names “Andy.” However, their peaceful life is disrupted by a plague of mice…and the appearance of a mysterious rat-faced man.

Back in the regular world, Cat’s best friend Nikky is dealing with her own drama. Sepp (Guy’s brother) has stuck around, and she finds herself slowly falling for him. Likewise, Nikky ends up with guardianship of her step-nephew Ben…who is also plagued by the presence of a mysterious rat-faced man.

I really enjoyed reading Cat and MouseAs in the first novel, the characters and the world of Ruph stood out as my favorite parts. Offenwanger has crafted realistic, complex characters, with profound and believable relationships in a relatively quick space. As a reader, I got to know the characters from the first novel even better, while still meeting a few new friends. My favorite character arc was Nikky’s, as she moved from being “Cat’s best friend” to taking on an important role in the story. Reading as Nikky played the protective aunt, discovered truths about herself, and braved her fears was incredibly satisfying.

Another great aspect of Cat and Mouse was learning more about the world of Ruph. This happens through Cat, as she explores new parts of the village and takes on an active role in the community. Ruph remains a beautiful mixture between a Renaissance Fair and a fantasy land, with an ever-expanding palate of magical abilities and intricate mythology to inspire the reader. I cannot wait to see what layers Offenwanger peels back in the next book.

As for the plot itself, it moves along at a steady pace. Pieces of the mice mystery, Andy’s quietness, and Ben’s panic attacks slip neatly into place. For the most part, I guessed the respective outcomes. (However, regular readers of my reviews will know that I don’t mind this in a novel.) Although, I will admit that there was one piece of the puzzle that I did not foresee, but very much enjoyed.

Overall, Cat and Mouse is a fitting second book for the Septimus series and continues much of what readers will have loved about the first novel. If you like medieval stylings, family relationships, a dash of magic, and folk tales, you’ll love Cat and Mouse.

QUICK REMINDER: As I said at the beginning of this review, the first novel in the Septimus series, Seventh Son, is FREE for a limited time. Download your copy now, then leave your own review for Ms. Offenwanger!

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cat and mouseIf you are interested in reading Cat and Mouse. and would like to help sponsor my writing and research, you can purchase it at my Amazon Associates Store. By doing this, you will not pay a cent extra, nor will the author receive a cent less, but I will receive a small commission on the sale. Simply click the book’s title or the book’s image.

Book Reviews, Fiction Blog

Indie Book Review: Hills and Valleys by Helen Jones

hills and valleys helen jonesHills and Valleys (The Ambeth Chronicles Book 3) by Helen Jones
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: I received a free electronic copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Hills and Valleys is the third novel in Helen Jones’s Ambeth Chronicles. You can read my review of the first two books, Oak and Mist and No Quarter by clicking on their titles. To avoid major spoilers for all three novels, I will focus this review more on my personal reaction to the text and the writing itself, and will refer to the content in broad terms. That being said, some mild spoilage will occur. You’ve been warned.

As with No QuarterHills and Valleys picks up right where the previous book left off. The reader is launched right back into England and Ambeth, as Alma and the members of the Light grieve the tragedy that befell them at the end of No Quarter. Right away, it is clear that Hills and Valleys will have a more serious tone than the previous two novels, signalling both a maturing in Alma as a character and the growing threat in the quest to return the Regalia (whether Alma chooses to continue helping or not).

For me, this grieving period lasted a little longer than I would have liked. While I understand and respect Jones’s choice to spend a decent portion of the book working through the character’s emotional distress, I would have preferred for the action to move along at the same time. Chess pieces were slowly put into place, but some of the conversations and debates between the Light and Dark in Ambeth seemed repetitive, and I wish more space would have been allowed to show the development of Alma’s powers (which, though fantastic, seemed to emerge a bit out of nowhere for me).

Speaking of Alma, I believe she really comes into her own as a character in Hills and Valleys. She shows strength and independence in situations where I feel she might have faltered in previous books (especially with her support of her mother and her interaction with Deryck), and toward the end of the book, she accepts rather dramatic revelations with admirable calmness. Likewise, the supporting characters reveal new layers to their personalities as well. Deryck and Ellery both face complex moral and emotional conundrums, Lord Denoris unveils new levels of delicious evil, and King Thorion gives us more insight into his personal struggles.

As with the entire series, the settings in Hills and Valleys are beautifully described. The jewel of the Ambeth Chronicles remains Ambeth itself, and seeing it from a new character’s perspective made me fall in love with it all over again. Moreover, the introduction of Wales made for a gorgeous (and symbolic!) backdrop, and I’m pleased that it will feature in the next novel, too.

If you’ve been a fan of the Ambeth Chronicles thus far, everything you love is still there: the wonder of Ambeth, the twisting turns of the quest for the Regalia, and the enchanting sparks of magic. If you’re a fantasy lover who has not explored this series yet, I highly recommend you jump on board. Between developed, emotive characters, dazzling magic, stunning scenery, and dashes of romance Ambeth has something for everyone.

As for this novel itself, Hills and Valleys is a brilliant continuation of the series that will leave readers hungry for the next step in the journey. I know I can’t wait.

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hills and valleys helen jonesIf you are interested in reading Hills and Valleys and would like to help sponsor my writing and research, you can purchase it through my Amazon Associates Store. By doing this, you will not pay a cent extra, nor will the author receive a cent less, but I will receive a small commission on the sale. Simply click the book’s title or the book’s image.

Book Reviews, Fiction Blog

Indie Book Review: Hammer of the Gods by Christina Ochs

hammer of the godsHammer of the Gods (The Desolate Empire Book 3) by Christina Ochs
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: I was given a free electronic copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Hammer of the Gods by Christina Ochs is the third novel in the Desolate Empire series. You can read my reviews of the first two books, Rise of the Storm and Valley of the Shadow by clicking their titles. For the sake of avoiding spoilers, I’ll be focusing on the quality of Hammer of the Gods itself and my personal reactions to it.

I’ve said it once with these books, and I’ll say it again now: the Desolate Empire series is all-ages Game of Thrones. Ochs has crafted a vivid and complex world, with a large cast of engaging characters who are constantly locked in political maneuvers, fierce battles and other life-and-death struggles.

And Hammer of the Gods is the most intense yet. The story picks up right where Valley of the Shadows left off, and the reader is thrown straight into the action. The only thing I struggled with in the beginning was remembering some of the supporting characters and the world’s geography. If you’re in the same boat: don’t worry. Ochs provides maps at the beginning of the text and a glossary of persons and locations in the back to help you out.

As with the other two novels in this series, Hammer of the Gods rotates from multiple perspectives, with short chapters that allow you to breeze through the book despite its length. Ochs manages to cover years’ worth of action without making you feel like you’re missing anything. While sometimes this does result in more “summary” than I personally like, the fast pace and the detail of the main scenes make up for it.

Whether from Och’s writing talent, the intensity of the plot, or my now three-book relationship with the characters, I found myself having uncharacteristically strong emotional reactions to Hammer of the Gods. At different stages during my reading, I found myself fist-pumping, biting my knuckles, grinning from ear-to-ear, and holding back tears — all while on the train, of course.

If you’re a fan of “soft” cliffhangers, you’ll adore the ending. Like the other two novels, the main battles of Hammer of the Gods come to a close, but the individual characters leave us with some burning questions as to their fates and/or next moves. I found each character’s journey and growth profoundly satisfying, and I’m pleased with where each one is left at the end of the novel. There were a few twists that I did not expect throughout the story, and I’m very excited to see how they affect the next novel.

Fans of epic fantasy, historical fantasy, and/or military fiction need to read this series. Between bloody battles, political collusion, romances, religious zealotry, and even a dash of magic, Hammer of the Gods has something for everyone. Do yourself a favor and buy the entire Desolate Empire series NOW. And hell, at the time of this writing, Rise of the Storm (The Desolate Empire Book 1) is FREE on Amazon — there’s literally nothing stopping you from making your reading life 100x better today.

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You can find out more about Christina Ochs on her website, and you can read an interview with her on The 2016 2K Indie Books Tour here.


hammer of the godsIf you are interested in reading Hammer of the Gods and would like to help sponsor my writing and research, you can purchase it at my Amazon Associates Store. By doing this, you will not pay a cent extra, nor will the author receive a cent less, but I will receive a small commission on the sale. Simply click the book’s title or the book’s image.