Review: Fade & Night’s Black Agents (Paxton Locke #1 & 2)

I decided to do this review blog as a two-in-one. I read the first two books in Daniel Humphreys’ Paxton Locke series because I got to be Tuckerized (and red-shirted!) in book two. Of course, that meant I had to read from the start. Now I’m totally hooked on this incredible series!

So, here are my reviews (on Goodreads) for both books. Enjoy.

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Signed book placard from LibertyCon

Fade (Paxton Locke Book 1)Fade by Daniel Humphreys

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Contemporary Paranormal Fantasy. That’s the term that comes to mind for this book. Yes, there is a mixture of horror, but paranormal captures that, I think. This is not my normal genre (let’s face it, I’m a sci-fi junkie), but I have two ulterior motives for picking this one up.

1) I beta read for Daniel Humpreys’ Z-Day series.
2) I’m a red-shirt character in book 2 of this series.

The book was not given to me, however. Now that the disclaimers are out of the way, here’s the review.

SHIVER! GASP! ZOOM! BANG! POW! HOLY…!

These are the typical onomotopiatic & exclamatory words you will generate in your mind as you read this book. It starts you at the top of the roller-coaster drop, then yanks the track out from under you, then turns on the jet engine on the back car. Now we’re not talking about combat or physical action here… we’re talking about suspense building. You don’t get a break. The reveal for the first bit of tension is done in the middle of the build-up of the next.

Am I exaggerating a bit? Maybe a little, but I’m telling you this book is well written, and a page turner. It has some of the best ‘info-dump hidden within the scenes’ writing I have seen in quite a while. Even the backstory portions are so tantalizing that when they interrupt the main action, you don’t want to stop hearing THAT PART to go back the first.

I guess I should mention what it’s about. Paxton Locke, a man in his mid 20s, is a ghost hunter. His ability is an after-effect of some really ghoulish crap foisted upon him by his demented mother some 10 years previous. I won’t spoil anything else. Think Paranormal (TV) crossed with Dresden Files, crossed with… well, that other thing that happens in book 2.

If you like paranormal, read this book. If you like ‘urban fantasy’ in it’s current definition (circa 2018), read this book. Mystery, thriller, horror… yep, those too. These are not my typical reading genres, but this book still pulled me in for the ride.

I give this book four stars and call it an engrossing read.


Night's Black Agents (Paxton Locke #2)Night’s Black Agents by Daniel Humphreys

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Picking up where the first book left off, Paxton Locke tries to move on with his self-appointed task of ridding the world of ghosts… and maybe his mother the witch… the real kind.

So, disclaimer… I bought this book, but:
1) I beta read for Daniel Humpreys’ Z-Day series.
2) I’m a red-shirt character IN THIS BOOK.

There. Now the review.

HOLY CRAP! There is a lot to digest in this one. While a bit slower than book 1, it is chock-full of reveals and new twists that move the series to a whole different level.

The main character is starting to realize that his little ‘dismiss the ghosts’ thing is just the frost on the tip of the paranormal iceberg. While he is helping his stand-in father-figure to solve some really strange goings-on in Denver, his fugitive Mommy Dearest is tearing around the country gathering her power to… well, gather more power. And a shadow agency begins to reveal its presence to the reader as well. The book is just as engrossing as the first, but for different reasons. You get many new characters with backstory teasers you have to keep reading to figure out. You get much more in depth into Helen Locke’s personality (can you say, ‘Bitch’ with a capital ‘B’?) And you get sucked into a whole other arc of story that is seperate, but just as deadly. It’s a wild ride.

My only complaint is the cliffhanger ending. I plan to keep reading the series, but I don’t like books that end with serious unfinished business. Robert Jordan burned me out of that. Hopefully, the next book will be out soon, though, so I won’t have to wait long to find out what’s next.

I give this book four stars and call it a ‘The Hits Keep Coming’ read.

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Review: Speed of Sound by Eric Bernt

The Speed of Sound (Speed of Sound Thrillers #1)The Speed of Sound by Eric Bernt
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I decided to read this book for three reasons: 1) It showed up as a search result when I was setting up an Amazon ad for my own book. 2) It was a thriller of a somewhat ‘techno’ variety. 3) It had a character who was a high functioning autistic, and I wanted to see what the author’s take on that would be. I have another book idea that I shelved a long while back that requires more research in that area. I decided to try this one even though the science of the main technology is complete BS. I shoved that into the ‘suspended disbelief’ folder as soon as I started. Maybe I shouldn’t have.

Since this was a research read, rather than an enjoyment read, this review is going to be a critique. If you are looking for a recommendation on whether to read it or not, I think you should weigh my rating and comments on the side of YMMV. This is outside my normal Science Fiction genre.

——————–Flaws – Major & Minor——————

  • The book starts slowly, even with the opening intrigue. It is overly long, and could probably use some truncation.
  • There are parts where it seems the author summarized some wikipedia excerpts in his description of certain things creating mini-info-dumps that broke the flow of the story.
  • The head jumping is absolutely atrocious (a special thanks to my own editor for pointing out this faux pas in my own writing… it’s hard to see if you don’t know to look for it.)
  • There is a distinct contradiction in what is said about the hyper-competence of some of the characters versus how they actually perform. It could have been played off as ego had the descriptions not been written from the omniscient point of view, unfortunately, it was given as fact rather than self-opinion. Also, it becomes very difficult for me to suspend disbelief when every character is hyper-competent. This book is chock full of Mary Sues and Marty Stus.
  • One other issue that I did not care for was super-short chapter sizes. 114 chapters is a LOT of chapter for a book. It made it feel like more a slog to me. That’s a nitpick though.

———————————————————————

All that being said, the plot was decent, if unsurprising, and the main characters were fleshed out well. I did have a vested interest in reading to the end after I made it past the slow start hurdle.

These issues cost the book two stars in the rating. I would have given it a solid three had the next part not been true as well.

While the political leanings of the author are fairly well hidden, the fact that he has characters who buy into the ‘G.W. Bush was stupid’ song and dance, I’m going to assign some of that to the author himself. Some subtle complaints about ‘the current president’, though never named, are transparent because the Obama admin is referenced directly as ‘former’. Kudos for subtlety, but I’m so hyper-attuned to political rhetoric at the moment that it would have been better had it been left out completely. The other negative I have is that I was never able to identify who the bad guys were. There are two groups vying for control of the main character’s invention, one is bad and the other is also bad? The puppet masters seem to be winning, but their aims and goals, other than control of the people and thus the system, are left too vague. They are Ober Deep State, but what is their ultimate goal? The hook for the sequel is left dangling for you, but I don’t think I’m going to bite.

So, that is what lost half of the third star. Unfinished business and not-quite-subtle-enough political jibes.

Then there is the complete crap-bomb fail that made me question… no, actually, it made me completely shit-can that validity of the autistic traits expressed by the character, which was one of the main reasons I read the book. The fail is not even about that, but it is so blatantly stupid that it made me question the research used for all aspects of the book.

First, let me state emphatically that I am not a gun nut. I have a novice familiarity with them. I read a lot of Mil-Sci-Fi, but I am no expert. But you don’t have to be to see this mistake. Chapter 77 (did I mention there were a LOT of chapters in this book?): An SR-25 Sniper rifle does not use .22 cal bullets. A .22 cal bullet does not do significant damage to a chest cavity from a distance. There is a cut-and-paste description of the sniper rifle and a reference to part interchangablity that is used, but the author & editors could not get the fact that the weapon uses a 7.62 Nato round into the next paragraph correctly. For a spy thriller this is inexcusable. I knew that a .22 bullet was not capable of doing the damage described, so I looked up the gun using my smartphone. Wikipedia literally lists the ammo type in the first paragraph. Inexcusable. It was at that point I realized I could not trust any of the ‘facts’ in the book. This means I had pushed through a hard point in a book, giving it the benefit of the doubt because I wanted to know more about autistic behavior patters, only to realize at 71% thought that the author doesn’t know how to do his homework right. headdesk.

That’s why the book only gets 2 stars and a really detailed review that shows all the flaws I saw.

If you like Thrillers with intrigue, accuracy & plausability… skip it.

If you just want to read Rainman vs the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, go for it.

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LibertyCon 31 – My First Con as a Pro!

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LibertyCon 31 ended Sunday. Now I haz a sad. When you anticipate something for a year, then go do it for three whirlwind days (I swear there is a time-warp that speeds stuff up around this Con), you can experience a euphoric crash after you get home. It doesn’t last forever, but I do seem to have it happen every year. I just want more! It’s a drug, man!

The trip up to the ‘Noog was picture perfect. I didn’t even have to argue with the Google Maps app about wanting me to go the wrong way to I75. The hotel app let me do a pre-check-in the day before, so when I got there, they handed me my card and said enjoy your stay in about 2 minutes. The attendant schlepped my luggage upstairs (including my too many boxes of books) while I went an parked the truck. I took a photo of my slot so I would remember where I parked (not that it helped b/c slot 509 is on floor 6… ). Then off too the room… a very nice room. The Marriott is the best hotel I’ve stayed in in Chattanooga thus far.

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The view from floor 12 was pretty awesome.

I got to observe one session before my own schedule kicked in. I was highly entertained by the Black Tide Rising panel featuring John Ringo and friends. The tales of how the stories in the anthology came about were quite entertaining. The announcement that volume 2 is coming out in 2019 was also well received.

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Black Tide Rising Panel – (l to r) Sarah Hoyt, Eric Flint, Jason Cordova, Jody Lynn Nye, Kelly Lockhart (aka Gary Poole), John Ringo, Mike Massa, Griffin Barber, Kacey Ezell, Chris L. Smith, Robert Hampson/Tedd Roberts

After that, it became super busy time! The reason is that I was attending as a PRO. Yep, I’m officially listed in a convention handout as a professional writer. Who’da thunk it!?

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I got to try to sell books. ‘Try’ being the key word here. I had my spirit animal, Grumpy Cat, with me for good luck. It was awful. Didn’t sell a single book that time, but I think it was the fact that it was so early and people were still checking in and such. It did a bit better on Saturday & Sunday. I am not a salesperson. I hate marketing. This must change. Goals, I have ‘em.

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Author’s Alley – Day 1
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Author’s Alley – Day 2 (photo by Anita Moore)

Right after that I was on a Panel for the Superversive Planetary Anthology with a vast array of writing stars.

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Planetary Anthology Roundtable – (l to r) Hans Schantz, Mona Lisa Foster, Julie Frost, Arlan Andrews, Jagi Lamplighter Wright, A.M. Freeman, Jody Lynn Nye, J.D. Beckwith, Jon Del Arroz, John C. Wright, Lou Antonelli (picture by Robert Dean)

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Yes, that’s correct; I was sitting next to Jody Lynn Nye. I watched her crochet something under the table while still remaining completely engaged in the conversation. It was all I could do to keep my elbows off the table (which was not always a successful endeavor). I have  discovered I’m a leaner (see above). Need to fix that. More goals.

Also, the ever-chipper April Freeman (left side of the above picture) and I finally realized that we both reside in the same county… AFTER we talked on Facebook a day after the convention closed. Folks, the world is small and full of tricks and shenanigans.

By the way, if you want to read some really amazing stories written by these folks, you need to grab a copy of the Planetary Anthologies. There are four out now, Mercury, Venus, Mars, and also the just released Earth. I have stories in Mercury, Venus & Earth.

After that, the official Opening Ceremonies commenced. We were highly entertained by an adaptation of ‘Brandy’ by the talented Gray Rinehart, followed by this year’s MC, Chuck Gannon who shared with us some rather curious theories of the ‘real reason for LibertyCon’.

Here’s Gray’s Intro Song!

 

Immediately after, I went on a book buying binge. I got autographs, some oldies from the Huckster’s room and then some generous soul dropped a load of free books on the table outside! I was like a really excited euphemistic analogy (think about that for a minute)! And then I took the heavy bag of books to the room and took a picture in really bad lighting! See!

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I did some posting and slide-show editing for my next Author’s Alley stint, then went down and tried to play some Call of Cthulhu, but was force to my bed by a headache before it got too interesting. Such is life.

Saturday was a blur. I went to several panels for Indie Authors. I got some good advice from others in the field on how to do things right, or at least how to avoid doing some things wrong. Then had another sales stint. Sold a few, but still not many. I’m not too worried about that though, because it all counts as experience. I’ll do better in the future.

Afterward, I made a trip to the Urban Stack, a local restaurant that serves some of the best food around, with a D&D buddy. We had an awesome meal together, and caught some interesting scenery on the way. Only at a Sci-Fi Convention will you find a tricked-out Zombie Response Vehicle with programmable Gatling gun outside your hotel door.

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Zombie Response Vehicle
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Zombie Response Vehicle – complete with bumper mounted Gatling gun

Late Saturday was the Mad Scientist Roundtable. I was invited to be a panelist, but I really felt out of place. The people on that stage are seriously in the realm of super-geniuses! As happens every time I attend one of the Mad Scientist events, I got smarter just by being in the room with these people.

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Mad Scientists’ Roundtable (photo by Arlan Andrews)

 

Sunday was the Kaffeeklatch, where I got to meet and talk to some other authors, as well as some fans. I had a great run-down of the Taylor Hoch D&D session (which I didn’t get to go to b/c they were both during my sales times..arrrgh!) from one of the kiddos who got to play.  Right after was my 3rd and last Author’s Alley stint. It was my best sales day, but also a rush because I had to deal with check-out right after.

And now, I am seeing all the posts and pics on Facebook, realizing that even with the fun I had, there was still so much more going on that I missed! I’ll have to seriously consider if I want to try bookselling again next year or not.

Well, that’s about all I’ve got on this years LC adventures. It was a blast as usual!

Tickets for LC32 go on sale at 8AM July 4th. Get ’em while they’re available, because they will not last long! The location is going to be The Read House hotel next year, and rooms in the discount block will be available starting September 1st.