Thursday, November 26, 2015

Battle of the 2013 Books, Bracket One, First Round :: Mist by Susan Krinard vs. Shadow People by James Swain

We continue the first round of Bracket One of the Battle of the 2013 Books. The bottom half of the draw begins with Mist by Susan Krinard against Shadow People by James Swain. The winner will be the book I (Jackie) most want to continue reading after 25 pages.

Mist:  July 2013; 382 pages; cover illustration by Fred Gambino. Susan Krinard had written paranormal romance and fantasy since 1993. She has written three books for her "Midgard" series: book one, Mist; a prequel Freeze Warning; and book two in the series, Black Ice. She has also published books with Harlequin.

Mist begins with a prologue. The setting is 1942 Norway, during World War II. Mist is a Valkyrie, a female warrior of Odin from Norse mythology. She is with two other sister Valkyrie: Horja and Bryn.

The All-father Odin exiled the Valkyrie from Valhalla and forbade the use of their "treasures" (weapons) in battle until the Aesir return. Mist has rebelled and encouraged her sisters to join her in wielding their treasures. Horja holds Thor's unbreakable staff; Byrn uses the magic feathered cloak, which gives her the ability of flight by changing into a gyrfalcon; and Mist wields Gungnir — Odin's spear that never misses. All are activated by chanting runes. These three Valkyrie have lost contact with the other nine Valkyrie since the Last Battle, not knowing if they are alive or dead.

The three Valkyrie are helping a group of people in the Norwegian Resistance escape, through the snow, from Nazi soldiers. Unfortunately, the soldiers find them and kill most everyone, except two girls. During her fight as a gyrfalcon, Bryn's cloak loses its magic, and she falls to the ground. She dies after impact. Mist goes her separate way from Horja who will help the two survivors cross the border into freedom.

Mist feels responsible and guilty for the deaths since she persuaded her sisters to use the forbidden weapons.

Moving into the future, Mist continues in present-day San Francisco. Mist is sword playing with her boyfriend Eric. When they part, Mist finds herself drawn to a city park. There she is confronted by a chill of fog, "slithering and hissing like the serpent Nidhogg…." Out of the fog appears the frost-giant Hrimgrimir. Mist still controls some magic. She finds a stick, and with blood and runes, changes it into a sword. She injures the giant and he retreats. She goes after him and encounters a homeless person who seems to be something different.

Shadow People:  June 2013; 351 pages; jacket art by Trevillion Images; Jacket design by Base Art Co. Shadow People is the second novel in the Peter Warlock series that began with Dark Magic. Swain has also published crime and mystery books in the Jack Carpenter series and the Tony Valentine series.

The dark entities you might see out of the corner of your eye are called Shadow People. They are between this world and the world of spirit. They are "evil apparitions that attach themselves to humans, and refuse to let go."

Peter Warlock, magician and psychic, is conducting a séance with friends — including a psychic reader, an aspiring witch, and a blind fortune teller — in a New York apartment. This weekly event usually goes well, and sometimes crimes are solved or stopped because of Peter's visions. Before starting the séance, Peter gets a glimpse of a shadow person. Before pondering more on this entity, Peter transports into the future to the basement of a serial killer who's about to go snatch his next victim.

Usually, when Peter transports to a location, whether in the past, present, or future, the people he sees cannot see him. However, this evil man, whom Peter calls "Dr. Death," can see him, which means that Dr. Death is in cahoots with the devil. Dr. Death tries to run over Peter with his car and then attempts to shoot him. Peter can die in this future place, and while he faces the gun, he begs his spirit helpers to snap him from this place. They usually respond immediately, except for this time. He barely makes it back to the séance.

Peter dictates his experience at the séance. Peter plans to contact his FBI friend Agent Garrison with the details, hoping the FBI can track down Dr. Death and end his future killing spree.

Peter leaves with Homer, the blind fortune teller, and walks him to the bus stop. Homer tells Peter what he knows about shadow people and how they can "destroy your life." When Homer had to deal with the shadow people in the past, he and others wore five-pointed star talismans against the evil.

Herbie, Peter's limo chauffer, drives Peter home. On the way, he tells Peter that a cab driver he knows saw Homer disappear under the arch in Washington Square Park.

Peter, standing outside his brownstone, calls FBI Agent Garrison. During the call, Peter's girlfriend Liza is trying to call him. He ignores it, until she tries again, which means it's important. Then his shoe flies out from an upper window. Peter rushes in to see his brownstone in shambles. Many of his magician's tools and tricks are broken and trashed. He runs upstairs to find a shadow person in the bedroom and Liza hiding in the closet. Peter opens a wall safe to retrieve a necklace of his mom’s — a five-pointed star — and gives it to Liza. The shadow person closes in on the two. Peter tries to protect Liza by pushing her behind him. He has a plan.

The Battle:  A Norse urban fantasy Mist battles a dark occult fantasy Shadow People.

Mist takes us into two time periods: WWII and then the present day.

In the past, Mist seems broken and frustrated to not be able to battle the Nazis as a true powerful Valkyrie, using the "treasures" that should work and defeat the enemy. Innocent people die around Mist for centuries, and she is helpless to do what she was made to do. But when was the Last Battle? How long have they been wandering the earth?

Next we jump to present day where Mist is in a sword battle with her boyfriend Eric. She considers letting him win, "male pride being such a fragile thing….," but doesn't because Mist has the Valkyrie instinct to win battles.

When Mist confronts the frost-giant Hrimgrimir coming out of the fog, it seems surprising that she can use powerful magic to force the creature to retreat, yet she and her Valkyrie buddies couldn't do much against the Nazis. I wonder how strong Mist's magic really is, and why didn't she and fellow companions use it back in 1942?

Shadow People follows a normal time line until Peter enters a trance. His soul or astral body moves to these places and can be killed in these places. I'm curious to know how and why.

At first, Peter's last name, "Warlock" seemed over the top and typical for someone who conducts séances and performs magic. However, the story propelled me forward right away, and my curiosity continues to be tweaked. Homer, the blind psychic, interests me. I want to know more about him, too.

Even though Shadow People is the second book in the series, I followed along without feeling backstory details were necessary.

Both books have great compelling hooks at the end of the 25 pages that made me want to read more. Both included happenings in different times, jumping from past to future or present to future. I liked the characters within each story. This is a tough choice.

I think my reading experience of Mist would have been enhanced had I been more knowledgeable of Norse mythology and the stories of the Valkyrie and Odin. The poem helped a bit, but I wanted more background.

On the other hand, considering Shadow People, I’m not a big reader of occult fantasy, especially if it has to do with serial killers of women.

However, I (Jackie) must choose a winner after reading 25 pages, and for me that’s the book that gave me the clearest visuals after reading 25 pages.

THE WINNER: Shadow People by James Swain

Shadow People advances to the second round to face the winner of the battle between Burning Paradise by Robert Charles Wilson and Trinity Rising by Elspeth Cooper.

To see the whole bracket, click here.

Monday, November 23, 2015

"Solder and Seam" by Maria Dahvana Headley :: Aaron's Story Recommendation of the Week

"No one ever thought of themselves that way, but statistically, it had to be true that some people were exactly what they thought they weren’t."

My Story Recommendation of the Week is for "Solder and Seam" by Maria Dahvana Headley, a short story from the October 2015 issue of Lightspeed Magazine.

Set in a mostly depopulated far-future Midwest, "Solder and Seam" is the story of a soldier turned farmer, who one day decides to build a whale out of wood in the middle of the prairie.

Our protagonist is building a white whale, at once putting us in mind of Noah and Captain Ahab. But we also know he is emotionally scarred from fighting in a revolution on another world. And we know he has hidden his true identity for many years:
The afternoon he painted the whale, there was a storm. It wasn’t raining where he was. It’d stopped raining on the dirt. Now storms took place above the ground and if you were watching, you could see rain disappearing fifty feet above you, sputtering out like it had hit some invisible drought. He watched the storm roll across the sky like his first wife had rolled across his bed and out the other side. He’d done that one wrong. He probably could have told her who he was, but he had a new face, and why take responsibility for his old soul when he looked like someone who hadn’t been born into it?
This is an evocative, beautifully-written story. Even if you've guessed the protagonist's identity, the way it is revealed is memorably done.

Maria Dahvana Headley is the author of the YA fantasy Magonia, the historical vampire novel Queen of Kings, and the memoir The Year of Yes. She has previously been nominated for the Nebula Award, and "Solder and Seam" is written at an award-caliber level.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Battle of the 2013 Books, Bracket One, First Round :: The Secret of Abdu El Yezdi by Mark Hodder vs. Mage's Blood by David Hair

This fourth match-up in Bracket One of the Battle of the 2013 Books has The Secret of Abdu El Yezdi by Mark Hodder going up against Mage's Blood by David Hair. The winner will be the book I (Jackie) most want to continue reading after 25 pages.

The Secret of Abdu El Yezdi:  A Burton & Swineburne book: Pyr; 2013; 438 pages; cover illustration, John Sullivan; cover design by Jacqueline Nasso Cooke. Mark Hodder is the author of A Red Sun Also Rises and the Burton & Swinburne books, which also include The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack, The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man, and Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon.

The Secret of Abdu El Yezdi first puts us in 1859 on a British dirigible, the HMA Orpheus, with the feverish Captain Burton, recovering from malaria. He feels like two people, and each persona remembers history in a different way.

The young man Laurence Oliphant, Lord Elgin's private secretary, enters the room and talks with the delusional Captain Burton, telling him the real history of who is alive and who died. He calls in Sister Raghavendra, Burton's nurse and fellow explorer, who says the Captain's misconceptions stem from the medication, and he’ll be better soon.

When Captain Burton does feel a bit better, he wakes up to hear chanting in a far-away room. Staggering, he grabs a bottle of Saltzmann's tincture from a drawer, which has cocaine as a major ingredient. He swigs half the bottle. Burton feels this snake oil is the best cure for any ailment one has. Next Burton sees Oliphant's walking stick that has a hidden sword inside, and he takes it with him.

Captain Burton staggers down to his friend Stroyan's cabin and finds the cabin empty — with blood on a pillow. Burton enters a different cabin and finds Oliphant standing in the center of a pentagram drawn on the floor, chanting and hovering over a kneeling and dazed Stroyan. Oliphant then slits Stroyan's throat. The walls are covered with symbols and numbers. Oliphant sees Burton and declares that Burton can't stop him now because the master has been summoned. Burton whips out the sword from the walking stick and attacks Oliphant eventually knocking him out, despite Burton's wild state of mind. Fortunately, the airship captain, 2nd officer, and Doctor Quaint enter the room to help Burton. Oliphant is shackled in a cabin to await further questioning when he gains consciousness.

Around this time the telegraph develops problems. It is disconnected but still works as it reveals a disjointed message with English words and "nonsensical balderdash," which no one understands. Also, strange lights are in the sky, similar to an extraordinary aurora borealis.

Meanwhile the dirigible lands in Vienna to pick up Lord Stanley, Lord Elgin and Prince Albert, widower of Queen Victoria.

Captain Burton discovers that he will be knighted when they land in England.  Burton hears about the difficulty England is having with China, concerning silver and opium. Lord Elgin says, "Trade is warfare and warfare is trade."

Lord Elgin discusses details about his secretary Oliphant with Captain Burton. Apparently, the murderer Oliphant had become overly involved with a book called Wisdom of Angels, which stated that there are multiple levels of existence that can be seen by using mind-altering drugs. Burton says, "Utter claptrap," to this concept.

The airship lands in London's Royal Navy Air Service Station, which is beside Battersea Power Station. Upon landing, Prince Albert, Lord Elgin, and Lord Stanley climb into a six-wheeled armor-plated carriage pulled by two steam horses. As they leave, a voice in the murky smog yells, "Ahoy there, Orpheus! Welcome back to the civilized world!"

Mage's Blood:  first book in "The Moontide Quartet." Jo Fletcher Books; 2013; 686 pages; cover art by Patric Carpenter, Jem Butcher, and Paul Young. The second book in this series is titled Scarlet Tides and the third book is Unholy War. David Hair had published two YA fiction series: The Aotearoa and The Return of Ravana.

Mage's Blood, epic fantasy, takes place on a world with two continents: Yuros and Antiopia. The continents are "divided by...300 miles of impassable sea," which, according to the Yuros people, the God Kore created to keep East from mixing with West. However, 23 years ago, an industrious Antiopian named Antonin Meiros built The Leviathon Bridge (or Moontide Bridge) between the two continents. This 300-mile bridge is only accessible once every 12 years, during Moontide, when the tides are low enough. People from both continents can cross the bridge and trade and intermingle during that time.

On the continent Antiopia, a centuries-old witch named Sabele replenishes herself by inhaling the energy of animals and people as they die. When she does this, she can commune with ghosts and her spirit guardian. After inhaling the energy of a doomed baby, she discovers that Antonin Meiros, who she dislikes and distrusts, is coming to attempt to avert an upcoming war. Both Sabele and Antonin are Diviners, who can commune with the ghosts, thus gaining knowledge of what is happening in both continents.

Meanwhile in Yuros, a celebration is taking place to canonize the Emperor's mother Lucia as a living saint. The next day, there is a secret meeting between some noblemen, the Emperor of Sacrecour, his mother Lucia, and three magi who hail from the country of Noros.

The people of Yuros have a history of war and destruction. During one of the wars came the beginnings of the Magi, or the mages, who have the gnosis power and can destroy with a thought. Many people since then are mage-born from the proliferous co-mingling of mages and commoners. However, with each generation, some of the mage power is diminished. Most mage-born people wear channeling gems that enhance their power. During meetings, mage-born are asked to leave their gems at the door.

At a meeting with the nobles and the Noros mages, Lucia (the Saint) spouts her anger and bigotry against the people of the continent Antiopia. She declares that many people need to be killed. She rages against the merchants and bankers who grow rich from trade with Antiopia. Her whiny son the Emperor defers to his mother while she rails against others who don't meet her standard. The plan to destroy the Moontide Bridge is about to be revealed.

The Battle:  An epic fantasy Mage's Blood battles an alternate history steampunk novel The Secret of Abdu El Yezdi.

Mage's Blood delves immediately into the fantasy with the witch Sabele who can talk with ghosts across the planet. I find that to be a clever means of communication. The concept of seeing the dead has been around forever, but having this as a way to know what's happening in the world is unique.

The maps at the front of the novel are clear and easy to follow. The Moontide Bridge that is only open during special low tides is another distinctive concept, especially because the seas are too wild to sail or cross. However, we were introduced to Lucia who was literally flying from window to window, so I wonder if that was a trick or a real power.

The continents Yuros and Antiopia feel distinct in both the people and government. Not much has been revealed about Antiopia at this point. However, the people seem more intent on enjoying the trade between the two continents when the bridge is open. The Yuros government, on the other hand, consists of arrogant supercilious self-involved people who want to destroy the bridge and eliminate the mutual benefit of Moontide trade.

I like the idea of the diviners on Antiopia as well as the gnosis power on Yuros that is enhanced when wearing the "periapts" gems.

A few events in Mage's Blood parallel things that happened in "real" life, such as the legend of King Albrett and "his knights of the round table." I wonder why the author included this fact that is so close to our history. Also, Yuros's newly-sainted woman Lucia is ready to get involved with a holy war against Antiopia. The holy war is called a "Shihad," which is too close for me to "Jihad" in our world. These similarities pulled me out of the story.

I wish the first 25 pages of story details in Mage's Blood were written in a less disjointed manner. Inserting historical events seemed misplaced. Interesting to read, but sometimes it stopped the flow of the story.

The Secret of Abdu El Yezdi immediately pulled me into the story with Captain Burton and his confusion of reality. The introduction of the supernatural in a steampunk world takes the alternate-reality novel in a different direction, according to my limited steampunk experience.

My unfamiliarity with British history was a negative for me, but I still enjoyed the first 25 pages. Anyone reading this book with knowledge of the historical background will probably enjoy it all the more, extra gravy. On a positive note, the book includes an appendix of sorts — a quick reference — that explains the important historical people and events as they happened in the "real" Victorian era. This is a definite plus in understanding some of the book's alternate realities.

Both books have political and trading issues. However, one novel will pull in the occult and the other deals with a holy war.

After reading 25 pages of each, I (Jackie) like both novels, so this is a tough decision. Unfortunately, I'm not yet drawn to any of the characters in Mage's Blood, although I wanted to learn more about Antiopia.

I do like Captain Burton from The Secret of Abdu El Yesdi. I’m not excited about a demon-mixed-with-steampunk situation, unless the demon is atypical. I am, however, looking forward to reading more about Burton and the so-far-elusive Swinburne.

THE WINNER: The Secret of Abdu El Yesdi by Mark Hodder

The Secret of Abdu El Yesdi advances to the second round to take on The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord.

To see the whole bracket, click here.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Battle of the 2013 Books, Bracket One, First Round :: 23 Years on Fire by Joel Shepherd vs. The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord

The third match in the first round of Bracket One of the Battle of the 2013 Books features 23 Years on Fire by Joel Shepherd doing battle with The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord. The winner will be the book I (Jackie) most want to continue reading after 25 pages.

23 Years on Fire:  Pyr; 2013; 438 pages; cover illustration by Stephan Martiniere; cover design by Jacqueline Nasso Cooke. The novel 23 Years on Fire is the fourth book in the military science fiction Cassandra Kresnov series. Joel Shepherd has written nine science fiction and fantasy novels.

23 Years on Fire begins with Ari, creeping through a dark city on planet Anjula, then entering Vice President Moon's apartment to steal security codes. He plans to overthrow the government with help from his fellow terrorists that are, at the same time, entering the atmosphere in their pods. The 56 pods are transporting manufactured GIs (which include Cassandra Kresnov, part of the "elite six") who are created for war.

While Ari continues his quest to control the security systems of the city, Kassandra and her warriors break out of the pods on their "jumpjet" vehicles, landing on roofs and working their way into the government buildings, hoping to take over the city as quickly as possible.

Kassandra enters a building with a few of her elite group. They separate and Kassandra goes alone, fighting and destroying with her amazing guns and incredible agility. The government workers are experimenters, doing genetic manipulation on the GIs. They are actively breeding, creating, and killing these GIs in the name of science. Kassandra and her elite GIs and other GIs plan to eliminate this government program, by taking control of the island city.

The Best of All Possible Worlds:  Del Rey; 2013; 306 pages; book design by Victoria Wong. Keren Lord's debut novel, Redemption in Indigo, was published in 2010 and won the Frank Collymore Literary Prize in Barbados.

The Best of All Possible Worlds, galaxy-spanning science fiction epic, begins with a third-person narrator. Dllenahkh, who is on an off-world meditation retreat from his home world. A messenger tells him that the people on his home planet have been destroyed, all poisoned. Very few Sadiri females are left from this race because the females don't meditate off-world, thus most of them were on the planet when it was attacked.

Dllenahkh's people, the Sadirians, have discovered that the Ainya people from planet Ain were responsible for poisoning the Sadirians.

The Ainya people, also called the "taSadiri," are the same race as the Sadirians, but do not practice the mental disciplines like the Sadiri. This offshoot group left planet Sadiri to settle on planet Ain, although they felt they were ousted from the homeworld, which might be the reason for their poisoning of that world.

Chapter 2 changes voice to the first-person viewpoint of biotechnician Delarua, the Second Assistant of Tlaxce Province on planet Cyrus Beta. Delarua must work with the Sadirian Counsellor Dllenahkh, who left the meditation world and has moved to Cyrus Beta, which is a planet that has been described as "a galactic hinterland of pioneers and refugees."

Other male Sadirians join Dllenahkh on the planet Cyrus Beta. The Sadirians have an agenda.

Second Assistant Delarua takes Dllenahkh on a tour of the Tlaxce Province. Delarua deduces that the male Sadirians' goal is to procreate with genetically-compatible Tlaxcian women, hoping to increase the Sadirian race. Delarua calls Dllenahkh out for being an arrogant race. Dllenahkh seems impressed that Delarua is so astute.

Delarua arrives at work one day to find he has been demoted from Second Assistant to Civil Service liaison, which mostly involves working with Counsellor Dllenahkh and the Sadiri people. Delarua is not happy to relinquish his biotechnician job to the famous Dr. Freyda Mar. Delarua has two months left before his career takes a detour.

The Battle: An epic science fiction novel The Best of All Possible Worlds battles against the fourth book in a science fiction series 23 Years on Fire, which puts a lot of pressure on the beginning structure of the latter book-in-a-series.

The Best of All Possible Worlds introduces two interesting people: Dllenahkh and Delarua. Delarua is a humorous, fun-loving, blunt guy, who tells-it-like-it-is, which is very refreshing, and his bantering humor keep me engaged in the story. I like Delarua, and his first-person observations help move the story along without getting bogged down in too much foreshadowing.

The arrogant Dllenahkh is faced with the possible extinction of his race after the Ainya poisoned his home world and killed most of the females on the Sadirian planet. The two plots intertwine as do the lives of these two characters, Delarua and Dllenahkh. I want to know more about these people as well as other curiosities (like who are the Caretakers) that were mentioned within the first 25 pages of the book.

Despite how much I, Jackie, have enjoyed these chapters so far, I was greatly upset that these two main characters have names that begin with the same letter. It's always easier for me to keep people straight when names are not similar.  Fortunately, I didn't have any other issues with this novel.

In 23 Years on Fire I had problems with how the author introduced the back story, since we are reading the fourth book in a series. I had to decipher and remember too many acronyms: VTS, VR, CNS, NCT, CDF, FSA, NCT. I also had to figure out too much military tech vocabulary: tacnet, armscomp, optocam, UAVs, AMAPS. Finally, after trudging through 19 acronym-filled pages, the story began to get interesting.

Following Ari from page one, I didn't realize that he was part of the "good guys" until Kassandra entered the story. I had to do a reversal in thinking, deciding that I should now be on the side of Ari and Kassandra instead of rooting for the "innocent" sleeping city.

My curiosity grew about the details of the GI soldiers. However, I did not find out what the difference was between "straight humans" and GIs. I’ve deduced that the GIs are manufactured (cloned?) people, which is fascinating because (just a guess) they must "awake" as an adult soldier. I have no idea how they wake up as a fully-functioning adult—or if they do. One of the soldiers was a series 47, 4-year-old.

When introduced to Kassandra, I do become interested in the story. Kassandra and her modified human GIs made me realize why the attack was necessary. She has great insights. Commenting on why the government scientists on Anjula were experimenting and genetically messing with the GIs without questioning the humanity of their actions, Kassandra says, "All human psychology has a natural inclination toward consensus." Good observation, but it’s not a new concept.

I feel 23 Years on Fire would have stood out better had I previously read the first three books in the series.

In conclusion, after reading 25 pages of each book. I (Jackie) found 23 Years on Fire failed to garner my attention until about 20 pages into my reading. Although I’m interested to know more about the GIs, I was disappointed with most of the pages I read. Too many acronyms, for me, cluttered the beginning of this book.

The Best of All Possible Worlds caught my attention from page one. Although my only complaint so far dealt with both main characters having names beginning with a "d," I am intrigued and want to know more.

THE WINNER: The Best All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord

The Best All Possible Worlds advances to the second round, to take on either The Secret of Abdu El Yezdi by Mark Hodder or Mage's Blood by David Hair.

To see the whole bracket, click here.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Battle of the 2013 Books, Bracket One, First Round :: Fiend by Peter Stenson vs. Never by K. D. McEntire

Our second match in Bracket One of the Battle of the 2013 Books is Fiend by Peter Stenson versus Never by K. D. McEntire. The winner will be the book I (Jackie) most want to continue reading after 25 pages.

Fiend:  Crown Publishers; 2013; 295 pages; cover design by Christopher Brand. Stenson has published stories and essays in various magazines, newspapers, and journals. He was nominated for a Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Publishers series.  Fiend is Stenson's first published novel.

Fiend begins with first-person narrator Chase Daniels looking out a window. He watches a cute little girl creep up to a Rottweiler and rip out its throat. Thinking that his high from smoking "scante" has warped his vision, Chase retreats from the window toward the company of his friend named Typewriter. Both guys are getting high in Typewriter's house.

Typewriter is just as high as Chase, if not more; so both of them are shocked when the Rottweiler-killer girl breaks into the apartment with the intention of killing again, accompanied by little girl giggles. Typewriter picks up a typewriter and kills the zombie girl.

Chase decides to leave this murderous scene and go home to his apartment building, with Typewriter right behind, hoping this weird "trip" will end soon. They eventually notice that no one is in the streets, no cars drive by. Stores are empty. The first thing Chase sees at his apartment building are cats eating another tenant named Rebecca. Next the guys try Svetlana's apartment. A computer is on and some guy on the computer says they should kill Svetlana. Confused, Chase and Typewriter look around the room — and there is Svetlana, in the corner, ready to pounce on them, already turned into a zombie.

Never:  Harlequin MIRA, September, 2013; 300 pages; cover design by Grace M. Conti-Zils Berger. McEntire has written the first two books of the YA "Lightbringer" trilogy: Lightbringer and Reaper. She has also published a short story, “Heels.”

Never begins with a prologue. It's one a.m. when Laurie hears noises coming from the basement. Laurie opens the basement door of their fix-up home in San Francisco and walks down the steps. Her girlfriend Kara is using a sledgehammer to demolish a brick fireplace. Laurie joins in and both ladies continue with the demolition. Soon the whole façade falls down to reveal a hidden opening.

Laurie has the ability to see a "grimacing and growling" face in all the mirrors. There's a mirror in the basement. When the bricks fall and the hidden room is revealed, the face laughs.

Chapter 1 introduces new characters. A child, Wendy, walks on the beach gathering shells with her mother, Mary. Mother tells Wendy that babies aren't in the Never because they are too pure. Along with other bits of knowledge, Mary gives philosophical advice, such as, "You have to sense what you are missing for suffering to exist....Only with reason, with higher thought, does true misery come." While Wendy asks questions and talks, Mother takes the shells and creates a doorway in the sand. Wendy opens the door and walks through.

Chapter 2 introduces us to adult Wendy who is in a coma and doctors are zapping her to bring her back to life. Walking on the beach with her mother was a coma-dream she had conjured up. Going through the dreamscape shell-lined doorway had awakened her. Surrounding Wendy are some friends: Eddie, Piotr, Lily, and Elle, who are all dead spirits. The Never, I assume, is the real world with which we are all familiar.

In the past, the Lightbringer Wendy had trusted her Light with a Reaper named Jane, who had twisted it. That's why Wendy was in a coma. And Wendy's mother is dead.

The Battle:   Here we have a vulgar, coarse, offensive, dark, zombie-apocalyptic novel battling against a YA urban fantasy novel, the last book of three.

The first 25 pages of Fiend were filled with unique metaphors that helped stamp a definite visual to each scene. However, many of the metaphors and similes were crude and crass; i.e., the bloodied little girl who killed the Rottweiler is compared to "a used tampon." Other metaphors work well by giving details that run smoothly into the story: "my heart is 16th notes." Ignorant comments also fill the pages. Typewriter says that he "smells butt plugs." Chase responds, "grow up." Surprisingly, the crass statements flow smoothly, and fit in as well as the word "fuck" fits in with The Big Lebowski movie — necessary inclusions because the foul-mouthed words help define the characters. We're getting more than a glimpse of the world of drug addicts. The first 25 pages of this dark book drags you into the horror of addiction and spits you out when you have to close the covers of the book. It's decadently exhausting.

The narrator, Chase, shares his internal dialogue and thoughts, which are realistically clear and detailed. As soon as the killer girl-child is dead, Chase worries about how to keep from going to jail. Where did he touch things and leave his DNA? What story should he give to the police, because he didn't kill the girl — Typewriter did! Chase's stream of consciousness goes on tangents as well, with a few alternate-reality "what if" possibilities, which we all create from time to time. There are paragraphs of smoothly flowing flashbacks, giving backstory about our main character.

Stenson seems to be a true writer, which is why he can draw us into this bizarre, zombie-apocalypse novel. It's as if there are two kinds of zombies in this story: the drug addicts who would do anything for a hit and the zombie killers who would do anything to devour some blood and guts.

Never jumped from prologue to chapter one to chapter two with different settings and characters. It seemed to be a strategy to remind people what happened in books one and two — to bring us up-to-speed in order to understand where this series has been and where it's going.

McEntire uses onomatopoeic, sound words, such as, huurrk, slam, and whoosh-hisssshhhh. I loved the words. However, they made me think of words I might find in a book for younger readers. The main character, Wendy, is a strong female heroine, who has amazing abilities — always refreshing to read. I enjoyed learning that "The Never" was our world. Usually, books have characters from our reality entering other realms that have unique names. This twist intrigues me.

In conclusion, after reading 25 pages, I (Jackie) find the obscene, foul-mouthed Fiend an interesting, yet grueling, read. This zombie story has a stimulating plot and makes me want to read more to find out how this zombie disaster began. Never, on the other hand, failed to completely pull me in within the first 25 pages, most of which seemed to be backstory. I understand that some backstory is necessary, but I found the jumping from scenario to scenario not as exciting as it might have been had I read the first two books in the series. Despite my negatives, I give McEntire kudos for writing well and for creating excellent visual scenes.

THE WINNER: Fiend by Peter Stenson

Fiend advances to the second round to take on Electricity & Other Dreams by Micah Dean Hicks.

To see the whole bracket, click here.