The Heathback Break by J.E. Clarkson

This installment in the Nemo & Co. series takes us to a prison, where The Cleaner has been captured. The Cleaner undergoes her most significant transformation to date through the course of this story.

We also learn more about her family and, through a letter from someone she believes she can trust, she is challenged to complete an impossible quest.

The Heathback Break by J.E. Clarkson

When reading this series, I always feel like I am racing through a maze. I know there’s going to be something unexpected around each bend and I can hardly wait to get there. The characters feel like they are part of a video game, fighting their way through a rapidly morphing world.

J.E. Clarkson has demonstrated once again why her books are an automatic buy for me. Whether it is this series or her detective series, her creativity and writing style keep me engaged. Anytime I’ve doubted whether Clarkson can keep The Nemo and Co. Series interesting, I have been proven absolutely wrong.

I wonder what she will think of next!

For more reviews of Clarkson’s books, check out the J.E. Clarkson category of this blog.

The Dark Cygnet Files

The Dark Cygnet Files by J.E. Clarkson
The Dark Cygnet Files by J.E. Clarkson

4 stars

The fourth installment in the Nemo & Company series, this book delves into The Cleaner’s family history. I liked that we learn more about The Cleaner and other characters in the series. In this book, we get some answers. Or, at least we think we do, as I’m never quite sure with this series what’s reality or what I’ll discover later was only a mirage.

“You always think you have more time in this life than you actually have.”

J.E. Clarkson, The Dark Cygnet Files

The storyline has evolved way beyond the original book. What started as a story about a woman working for an anonymous boss at a mysterious company has exploded into a haunting technothriller series about deception, a secret society, conspiracy, and deep mistrust. 

Can we spend a moment appreciating the breakneck pacing present in all of the books in the Nemo & Co series? Short chapters packed with action and intrigue always have me feeling like I can’t gobble up each book fast enough.

In The Dark Cygnet Files, like the other books in the series, the characters are constantly making their way through a maze of confusion and furiously trying to escape the present. And, again, readers are left with so many questions. Who will survive? And, will we ever learn The Cleaner’s name?

This is a series that definitely needs to be read in order, so be sure to start with The Vanishing Office. As for me, I already downloaded book number 5 – I will be seeing this series through until the end.

Dragon Emperor by Dawn Ross

5 stars

Dragon Emperor by Dawn Ross
Dragon Emperor by Dawn Ross

Dragon Emperor is book two in The Dragon Spawn Chronicles. The story picks up where book one left off, and features many familiar faces from the first installment. 

Dragon Emperor is a bit darker and more violent than book one. Surprisingly, I found myself even more drawn in by the increased intensity.

A central element in the story is conflict over whether showing emotion and understanding the feelings of others is a weakness. As someone who considers genuine empathy one of the greatest strengths an individual can have, I was fascinated by the debate in the story. I wanted to find out if Jori and company would come to the same conclusion as I have in my own life.

I appreciated how the author developed the relationship between brothers Jori and Terk, and how each of the characters grew in their own way.

While early chapters of Dragon Emperor offer a good summary of the main events in the first book, I recommend reading book one first. I also recommend reading the books in order.

Again, I appreciated the inclusion of a glossary to help explain the different types of ships, warriors, and devices used in Ross’s universe. While you can easily understand and enjoy the book without referencing the glossary, it serves as a great reminder of the well-thought-out world Ross has created. 

The action continues in a third book, Dragon’s Fall, and I plan to continue reading this intense and exciting series.

Information about where to purchase the books in The Dragon Spawn Chronicles can be found on the author’s website, https://dawnrossauthor.com/

Branches by Adam Peter Johnson

Four stars

I was drawn to this book because the description compared it to Dark Matter by Blake Crouch, which is one of my all-time favorite books. There are definitely some similarities between the two multiverse novels, but Branches is different enough that it still felt fresh and interesting.

Branches by Adam Peter Johnson displayed on an i-pad mini.

With the re-election campaign of an unnamed male authoritarian president shaping the events in Branches, this novel has a more political undercurrent than Dark Matter. However, its primary focus is on a family of three, and how different decisions could change their fates.

The science doesn’t get too technical and, with its contemporary setting, there isn’t a lot of world-building in this novel. This well-written story focuses on the decisions of one man – a husband, father, and son – and his slow realization of the impact his choices have on the people he loves.

Fate isn’t fate at all. It’s just people, and people are stubborn. The systems they build even more so.

Adam Peter Johnson, Branches

Branches was intriguing, observant, confusing, repetitive, and even funny (the paint colors!) at different points. One thing it never was: boring. It held my attention and made me think and feel. 

I recommend this for science fiction, semi-dystopian, and political thriller connoisseurs. Fans of Blake Crouch and of a story told across multiple timelines will enjoy this one. 

However, if you don’t want reminders of the 2016/2020 presidential elections embedded in your fiction, you may want to hold off on this one for now.  As for me, I will definitely be picking up the second installment of this series.

Branches is available for purchase on https://www.adampeterjohnson.net/

Refraction by Terry Geo

5 stars

A paperback copy of the book Refraction by Terry Geo.
Refraction by Terry Geo

Based on the reviews and the Twitter hype, I had high expectations going into this book. In fact, I was so excited about it, I bought the e-version and the paperback  so I would have my choice of formats when I was ready to enjoy.  Refraction did not disappoint!

With a lot of build up and a clear turning point for the action, Refraction feels like two different  books in the most amazing way. Geo takes his time setting up the adventure, planting little seeds and letting you get to know each of the characters who will go on an action-packed, head-spinning ride in the second half of the book. 

From there, we encounter a unique world where reality and dreams collide in unpredictable and unexpected ways. 

It is truly difficult to pick out what I enjoyed most about this book. From the London setting, the truly imaginative plot, the fun pop culture references, to the diverse cast of likable characters, there is so much to love and enjoy.

I read The Cracked Reflection, Geo’s introductory novella, first. After reading Refraction, I want to go back and reread it to see if it changes how I interpreted Maria’s story.

My review of The Cracked Reflection is available here.

Both books are available on Amazon and Terry Geo’s Refracted World website.

The Kill Switch by J.E. Clarkson

4 out of 5 stars

Clarkson keeps the adrenaline pumping in The Kill Switch, the third installment in her dystopian, techno-thriller series. The short, action-filled chapters keep the suspense high as the nameless main character known only as The Cleaner and her allies continue to fight against the evils of Stella and Nemo & Co. 

The Kill Switch by J.E. Clarkson

Leaping in where The Ghost Society ends, the book revisits some familiar themes and scenes present in the first book, while adding a political element reaching the highest levels of power. We also get a teaser for the fourth book with references to a parcel of documents labeled Dark Cygnet.

In addition to the fast pacing and endless curves, I enjoy the observations like, “They say you don’t hear the bullet that kills you,” which are present in Clarkson’s writing. Her astute metaphors also keep me engaged. One example: “I felt a bit like I was taking a slow walk into hell and the soles of my feet were beginning to burn.”

These books are definitely written to be read in order, not as interchangeable stand-alones. So, if this review sounds intriguing, and you haven’t read the first book in the Nemo and Co. series yet, do yourself a favor and download it today. You will quickly start to see why Clarkson has her own category on this blog.

As for me, I will be devouring The Dark Cygnet Files, the next in the series, as soon as I can.

Clarkson’s books are available on Amazon.

The Cracked Reflection by Terry Geo

5 stars

The cover of The Cracked Reflection diplayed on an e-reader propped on teal and green pillows.
The Cracked Reflection by Terry Geo

I almost always choose a full-length book over a novella, but lately, I have been enjoying novellas and short stories. Sometimes, a shorter read fits perfectly in the time I have available to read.

Novellas are especially satisfying when the writer packs a lot of action and character development into the shorter format. That’s exactly what happens in The Cracked Reflection.

In this sci-fi novella, Maria Braighton has an imaginary friend, Mr. Piggy, who creates havoc everywhere she goes. The story starts with Maria as a young child living with her wealthy parents and follows her into adulthood. 

This imaginative, sometimes petrifying, but never dull tale is incredibly enthralling – I read it all in one sitting. My interest is definitely piqued for Refraction, the full-length novel that follows The Cracked Reflection. I can not wait to see how the two books connect and to find out if any of my questions about Maria and Mr. Piggy get answered in the sequel.

The Cracked Reflection is available through Terry Geo’s Refracted World website.

Are you a fan of novellas? Or do you prefer full-length books?

StarFire Dragons by Dawn Ross

4 stars

StarFire Dragons, book one of the sci-fi/fantasy Dragon Spawn Chronicles by Dawn Ross,  follows what happens when the crew of the Odyssey starship finds two child-warriors on a Cooperative planet and must decide what to do.

The cover of StarFire Dragons displayed on an e-reader placed on top of a starry blanket.

New in his role, Vice-Executive Commander J.D. Hapker makes a choice that sets the rest of the story in motion.

My favorite parts of the book were the interactions between Commander Hapker and Jori as they competed, compared beliefs and outlooks, and decided whether to trust each other. I also enjoyed the observations about how the Grapnes and Tredons viewed each other. 

Ross throws in funny and lighthearted lines like, “The man was as out of place as a worm in a salad”, without taking you out of the complex universe she created.

Her commitment to creating that intricate universe went so deep she included a thorough glossary explaining terms and phrases. I wish I had realized that there was a glossary before I finished the novel, but it was still helpful to discover and read it at the end.

Several reviews and the author herself note that this book is reminiscent of Star Trek. As someone who hasn’t been bitten by the Star Trek bug, I still found this book enjoyable.

If I had one suggestion, I would have liked a few more references to the physical features of the main characters throughout the book to help me more fully visualize their distinctions and interactions with each other. 

On the whole, this was an interesting read that builds a strong foundation for several more sequels in the series. I look forward to finding out what happens in the rest of the series.

Thank you to Ross for providing a free e-review copy of the book. The opinions expressed in this review are my own.

All three books in the Dragon Spawn Chronicles are available for purchase through the author’s website and Amazon.

The Gene Solution by Mike Rochelle

4 out of 5 stars

“The details mattered…He had found through work that lives hung in the details.”

Mike Rochelle, The Gene Solution
A hand holding up an e-reader depicting the cover of The Gene Solution against a chalkboard with mathematical equations.
Mike Rochelle’s debut sci-fi thriller

In The Gene Solution, Dr. Tripp Galloway and his partner, Dr. Mortimer (Morti) Stein, are the doctors and fertility specialists at a prominent OB/GYN practice in New York City. 

Driven by Galloway’s desire to keep families from suffering the same devastating loss his family did, Galloway and Stein start running clinical trials aimed at eradicating diseases caused by genetic disorders like Cystic Fibrosis and Sickle Cell anemia.

To help fund their latest clinical trial, Galloway strikes a deal with Slavomir, a corrupt Russian shipping tycoon who wants to start a family. The deal has repercussions for Tripp, Morti, Aiden, their practice manager, and several others along the way.

The debut book is action-packed and covers a wide array of ethical issues. For the most part, the science was easy to understand, though it did get a little technical in parts. The author has a background in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries which came through in the writing.

The plot reads like a crime drama, like NCIS: Los Angeles, and would translate well to the screen. It was a worthwhile read that I would recommend to others who enjoy sci-fi thrillers.

Thank you to Book Sirens for the advance review copy. The views expressed here are my own.

The book is available at several book retailers and through the publisher’s site.

I, Volcano by Eule Grey

3 stars

Tree branches against a bright orange sunset.

I, Volcano is a dystopian novel set in an oppressed island nation. Jalob Baleine is a medic who was forced to evacuate from Skarle, her home nation, when she was 10. She meets Corail Esplash, a brash violinist from Ansar, and sparks fly. 

I was really torn when reading this book. There were parts that I really enjoyed, like Jalob’s character. The responsibility Jalob felt to save others, her struggle to articulate her feelings, and her longing for home endeared her to readers. 

I also liked the contrast between Jalob and Corail. From their personalities to their physical statures, the two women were opposites in every way. As much as I enjoyed the opposites attract theme, there were times when I felt like I was muddling through the story. In my opinion, the story would have been stronger with a bit more curation. 

The book includes a teaser for a sequel, and after reading the teaser, I would give it a try. Judging by the teaser, I’m betting Grey’s writing gets even stronger with the second installment in the series.

Thank you to the author for providing a free review copy. I am leaving this review voluntarily and it reflects my honest opinion.

I, Volcano is available on Amazon in Kindle and paperback formats.