Book Review – Zombies of Byzantium by Sean Munger (2013)

Zombies of Byzantium
by Sean Munger
Release Date: February 5, 2013
Publisher: Samhain Publishing

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I enjoy historical fiction in its regular form (PILLARS OF THE EARTH by Ken Follett is one of my favorite books of all time), but ZOMBIES OF BYZANTIUM combines that genre with my favorite horror subject, the living dead. The result is a fun and entertaining jaunt back in time that will leave you wondering if history was written correctly.

If you are not familiar with ZOMBIES OF BYZANTIUM, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Samhain Publishing:

It’s the 8th century A.D., and the Byzantine Empire has got problems. A ruthless schemer has just overthrown the emperor and taken the crown for himself. The Saracen army is attacking Constantinople. Only one thing could make these problems look petty by comparison: an invasion of undead, flesh-eating zombies.

One young monk has witnessed the horror of the zombies and lived to tell the tale. When the new emperor hears of the danger, he hatches a wild plan. He puts the young monk in charge of creating an army of zombies to defeat the invaders. But it’s not that easy to control the living dead…

As I mentioned, I like historical fiction, especially when it is written around this time period. Something about the rawness of the world back then really draws me. But although it was a simpler time, the people back then obviously still had problems and issues just like we do today. For this reason, I think the concept of pitting ancient peoples against something like zombies is a clever and original idea.

ZOMBIES OF BYZANTIUM is well written with simple prose and plenty of imagination. Author Sean Munger does a brilliant job of recreating the ancient world with words and putting the reader in the center of the 8th century Byzantine Empire. This realism allows for complete immersion into the story, and thus gives a more enjoyable reading experience.

My sole complaint about ZOMBIES OF BYZANTIUM is that the characters sometimes use modern day phrases (or phrases that I don’t believe were around at that time); a couple of examples are “life of the party”, “hard-ass”, and “assholes”. This doesn’t detract from the story itself, but it was something that jumped out at me early on as I started reading.

Still, ZOMBIES OF BYZANTIUM is a great read and is definitely one you should check out. It is inventive and original, a stylish entry into the zombie fiction genre. It hits store shelves early next month, so make a note to give it a look.

MSB

Movie Review – Lightning Bug (2004)

Lightning Bug
Directed by Robert Hall
Courtesy of Image Entertainment
Original Release Date: 2004
Blu-ray Release Date: January 15, 2013

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Most horror fans would probably be hesitant to watch a film with the title of LIGHTNING BUG; honestly, I was…but that was before I realized the film is based on the life story of horror icon Robert Hall. If you don’t know who Robert Hall is, then you probably know his work: he’s the owner of Almost Human, a make-up and special effects shop that has done work on a slew of movies and TV shows including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, QUARANTINE, THE CRAZIES, and much more. LIGHTNING BUG is a vivid depiction of Hall’s teen years, and an excellent film as well.

If you’re not familiar with LIGHTNING BUG, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of the Image Entertainment press release:

LIGHTNING BUG is a nostalgic journey through the budding aspirations and sobering realities of youth, as told semi-autobiographically by writer/director Hall. Bret Harrison stars as Green Graves, a young Alabama man desperate to escape the stifling grip of his rural confines. In a Bible-Belt town chock full of misfits, Green finds escape and solace in his longing to create special effects creatures in Hollywood. Despite finding a kindred spirit in a local girl with a sordid past, Green soon learns that sometimes the most frightening monsters aren’t always made of rubber and latex.

Even if this film did not portray the life of a horror icon, I would still highly recommend watching it. It is a gripping, powerful drama that shocks as much as it entertains. Yet its also a visceral glimpse into the harsh reality that can and does befall many of today’s rural youth.

LIGHTNING BUG is shot well and the special effects are (obviously) superb. The acting is top notch as well, with Bret Harrison giving a powerhouse performance as the lead. I was not familiar with Harrison’s work prior to this film, but I daresay I will keep an eye out for his future works.

The situations within the film that Harrison’s character has to deal with are what truly capture the buzz about this film. He is in a situation that could literally be taken out of any of today’s headlines. And the odds he overcomes to achieve all that he has today is astonishing.

LIGHTNING BUG is a pure hit and it is one that both horror AND non-horror fans will like. I highly recommend checking this one out. And if you get a chance, be sure and check out Robert Hall’s LAID TO REST films…both are excellent and full of the stuff all horror fans will love!!

MSB

Comic Book Review – The Secret History of D.B. Cooper by Brian Churilla (2013)

The Secret History of D.B. Cooper
by Brian Churilla
Release Date: April 24, 2013
Publisher: Oni Press

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(PLEASE NOTE: This cover is not the final; the actual hardcover edition will probably look different)

I have a confession: I am a closet comic book geek. Yup, that’s right…I’m one of THOSE guys. I’ve liked comics for many, many years and used to collect them almost religiously. I was not really into the mainstream stuff, but usually found myself drawn to the more obscure titles. Back in 1997, however, I made a very bad decision and sold my collection for next to nothing. Last year, I decided to get back into collecting, and it wasn’t long before I decided to start reviewing some of the better titles I’ve run across. Today’s entry is an excellent and original series titled THE SECRET HISTORY OF D.B. COOPER, courtesy of Oni press.

If you are not familiar with THE SECRET HISTORY OF D.B. COOPER, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of the Oni Press website:

The most infamous airline hijacker of all time, D.B. Cooper remains on the FBI’s most-wanted list almost 40 years after the crime. For the first time, the secret history will be revealed. During the height of the Cold War, a fringe group within the C.I.A. wages a crusade on the deadliest battlefield of all: the mind. Aided by powerful psychotropic compounds, Cooper assists in a campaign of psychic assassination against the Soviets but are his government’s motives the same as his own or is his true mission something else entirely? Collecting the hit series from visionary cartoonist Brian Churilla, this oversized hardcover offers new insights into Cooper’s multi-faceted quest.

I absolutely LOVE speculative story ideas like this one. The mystery of D.B. Cooper is one that has lingered in my imagination for many years, so to see something like this pop up is a real treat. Needless to say, I was on cloud nine while reading this series.

THE SECRET HISTORY OF D.B. COOPER is full of eye-popping artwork, boisterous characters, and a full throttle storyline. The action is intense and is displayed nicely through easy-to-follow storyboards. While the whole concept is rife with originality, I particularly enjoy the wide variety of creatures that Cooper encounters on his trek.

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My favorite character has to be the red teddy-bear that accompanies Cooper on his travels. Innocent most of the time with a slightly mysterious spark, the bear is an enigma throughout the series until the big reveal at the end. I am also very impressed with the ending overall, and feel like it gives closure to the story…and yet, possibly leaves the door open for future entries.

THE SECRET HISTORY OF D.B. COOPER is an absolute win for me and I insist you check it out once it hits shelves in April. I don’t normally review titles this far in advance, but word about this title needs to be spread around before its release. Thus, make a note to pick this one up ASAP once its available. You won’t be disappointed.

MSB

Graphic Novel Review – Alien: The Illustrated Story (1979)

Alien: The Illustrated Story
by Archie Goodwin & Walter Simonson
Original Release Date: 1979
Release Date for this Version: September 4, 2012
Publisher: Titan Books

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The ALIEN franchise is on my Top 5 All Time Favorite List of Movies, Books, Comics and, well, everything. I love every movie made within the franchise (both the ALIEN and PREDATOR series), every book published, and every comic created about them. I just can’t seem to get enough of those indestructible, hideous killing machines! Because of my obsession, the fine folks at Titan Books saw fit to send me a copy of their re-release of ALIEN: THE ILLUSTRATED STORY. I am beyond ecstatic that they did because this is an amazing adaptation of the movie and a welcome addition to my ALIEN collection.

If you are not familiar with ALIEN: THE ILLUSTRATED STORY, here is the synopsis courtesy of the Titan Books website:

Two of comics’ greatest talents joined forces in 1979 to bring Ridley Scott’s epic Alien motion picture to the comic book page. Out of print for over thirty years, this brand new edition (released in time to coincide with Scott’s latest opus Prometheus) has been ∂f the greatest sci-fi horror ever produced.

As I mentioned above, I *love* all things that deal with the ALIEN franchise, so it’s no wonder ALIEN: THE ILLUSTRATED STORY was on my “must have” list. I actually have a rather worn copy of the original Heavy Metal issued graphic novel from way back in ’79. But I have to be honest: this re-release looks WAY better than the original, with remastered artwork and emblazoned color recreation.

ALIEN: THE ILLUSTRATED STORY captures the mood and tone of the movie with perfect detail. I have seen many graphic novel adaptations of movies over the years that fall far short of the mark. Fortunately, this is not the case here; this graphic novel is the ideal companion to Ridley Scott’s visionary film, and it is a must have for any fan.

ALIEN: THE ILLUSTRATED STORY is a beautiful, lavish graphic novel that will fit perfectly into any science-fiction or horror lover’s collection. It features exquisite artwork , painstaking detail, and the superb storyline that was made famous by the movie. I highly recommend this and suggest you pick it up soon.

MSB

Book Review – Satan’s Toybox: Terrifying Teddies (2012)

Satan’s Toybox: Terrifying Teddies
Edited by Stacey Turner
Release Date: December 1, 2012
Publisher: Angelic Knight Press

Satan's Toybox

I absolutely love original anthologies, especially when they are based in the horror genre. Last month, Angelic Knight Press published a treasure-trove of unique and mesmerizing stories in the latest edition of its Satan’s Toybox series, TERRIFYING TEDDIES. The tales in this collection are excellent forays into darkness, and each will make you think twice about sleeping with a teddy bear.

If you are not familiar with TERRIFYING TEDDIES, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of the Angelic Knight Press website:

Satan’s Toybox has escaped from Hell. In our world, vengeance is unleashed. This time around it’s everyone’s favorite toy. Ever wonder what’s beyond the huggable exterior and button eyes of your beloved Teddy Bear? Fourteen authors share their stories. Read on if you must, but don’t turn your back on these Terrifying Teddies. Featuring the talents of: Rob M. Miller, Phil Hickes, Lisamarie Lamb, Blaise Torrance, Delphine Boswell, Donald Jacob Uitvlugt, Edward Medina, Lisa McCourt Hollar, Steven Gepp, J.G. Williams, Adam Millard, Stacey Turner, and Blaze McRob.

I have to admit that the concept of this book is what initially drove me to read it. The idea of making something so lovable and cherished an instrument of evil thrilled me. And I am not disappointed in the least. Every story in this collection is written well and offers an interesting premise.

I am impressed with the amount of horror that is crammed into these short stories. TERRIFYING TEDDIES is exactly that: terrifying. There are scenes in here that will make you chunk your teddy bear into the fireplace (you don’t want to throw it away because it might crawl out of the trash and come after you!). And there are even a couple of stories that will make you think.

One of my favorites is “Bobo” by Steven Gepp. In this story, a young man returns to the scene of a horrendous childhood crime, only to find his long lost teddy bear. Unfortunately, the bear is not happy at having been abandoned. This tale is very well written and projects an insane sense of terror into its ending.

Another favorite is “The Woods Today” by Lisamarie Lamb. This one tells the story of two children that venture into the woods despite warnings, where they come across a scene not meant for human eyes. Like “Bobo”, this story leaves an uncomfortable pit in your stomach after its over.

My sole complaint about the collection is that one of the stories, “Edward” by J.G. Williams, confused me; I reread it three times but still could not fathom its meaning. Perhaps I am looking at it the wrong way, but something about it just did not click within my brain.

Still, TERRIFYING TEDDIES is an amazing anthology and it belongs on every horror fan’s bookshelf. Whether you like teddy bears or not, these cringe-inducing tales will have you doubting your sanity and checking behind your back as you walk down the hall. I highly recommend this collection and suggest you pick it up ASAP.

MSB

Movie Review – The Possession (2012)

The Possession
Directed by Ole Bornedal
Courtesy of Lionsgate
Release Date: January 15, 2013

The Possession

If I were able to meet and talk to only one person from Hollywood, it would definitely be Sam Raimi. For me, Raimi is a living legend, an icon of horror, fantasy, and science-fiction (he did Hercules and Spider-man, remember?). His movies are visionary and even timeless (the EVIL DEAD trilogy is on my Top 10 Movie List of All Time), and I jump at every opportunity to see what he does next. And while he only produced THE POSSESSION, you can definitely see his influence in it; this film is a top-notch fright fest that horror fans will drool over.

If you are not familiar with THE POSSESSION, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Lionsgate:

Clyde and Stephanie Brenek see little cause for alarm when their youngest daughter Em becomes oddly obsessed with an antique wooden box she purchased at a yard sale. But as Em’s behavior becomes increasingly erratic, the couple fears the presence of a malevolent force in their midst, only to discover that the box was built to contain a Dibbuk, a dislocated spirit that inhabits and ultimately devours its human host.

I love the fact that Raimi’s films still have the power to scare me. This is saying A LOT because I’m 39 years old and have seen thousands of horror films over the years. THE POSSESSION got to me on several levels…and I loved it!

The film is shot very well and the production value is high. Visually, the movie looks amazing and contains some truly chilling scenes. The haunting itself does not disappoint, either. Some of the scenes involving the box will literally make you crawl out of your chair!

The acting in THE POSSESSION is excellent, with Jeffrey Dean Morgan leading a stellar cast. I always enjoy seeing Morgan on-screen, regardless of the role he’s playing. It’s nice to see Kyra Sedgwick back on the big screen as well. But a specific mention needs to be given in regard to Natasha Calis, who portrays Em. Calis does a mesmerizing job in her performance and gives merit to the realistic integrity of the film. I look forward to her future performances.

I particularly enjoyed watching this film in hi-def. Aside from the excellent picture quality, the surround-sound is astonishing. Ambient noises can either make or break a movie in some cases, and they truly heighten the experience in this one! The Blu-ray also comes with a nice featurette about the real history of the Dibbuk Box, which is interesting as well as entertaining.

If I were forced to find a negative with THE POSSESSION, I could not. The film delivers on every level and is hugely successful in the entertainment department. I recommend this film for everyone that loves horror…although I would not pay too much attention to its PG-13 rating. I think there is a petition to rerate it as R, which would probably be a good thing; with as intense as this film is, adults would probably appreciate more than 13 year olds. Regardless, give this one a look for sure.

MSB

Movie Review – Tai Chi Zero (2013)

Tai Chi Zero
Directed by Stephen Fung
Courtesy of Well Go USA
Release Date: January 22, 2013

Tai Chi Zero

The steam-punk genre is relatively new to the movie industry, but that doesn’t make it any less entertaining. This is ESPECIALLY true when you can combine something like martial-arts with it! TAI CHI ZERO does this on an epic scale. The result is a fast-flying thrill ride that will leave you aching for the second film.

If you are not familiar with TAI CHI ZERO, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of the Blu-ray cover:

In legendary Chen Village, everyone is a martial-arts master, using their powerful Chen Style Tai Chi in all aspects of their lives. Lu Chan has arrived to train, but the villagers are forbidden to teach Chen Style to outsiders and do their best to discourage him by challenging him to a series of fights. Everyone, from strong men to young children, defeats him using their Tai Chi moves. But when a man from the village’s past returns with a frightening steam-powered machine and plans to build a railroad through the village at any cost, the villagers realize they may have no choice but to put their faith in Lu Chan…who has a secret power of his own.

I mentioned the next film in the paragraph above because this is the first in a trilogy from what I understand; the follow up film is titled TAI CHI HERO, although I have not heard a release date for it yet.

TAI CHI ZERO is an excellent martial-arts extravaganza and it is a feast for the eyes to behold. The film is shot very well and includes some stunning scenery from its on-location sites. The acting is also pretty good, although I have to admit that I’m not familiar with any of the cast.

The story is fun and even humorous to an extent; when Lu Chan has to fight the individual villagers, the action is fast and furious but also includes a hearty dose of humility-imbued hilarity. Lu Chan is a likable goof who ultimately comes into his own by the end of the film, a fact that the audience cheers for as the credits roll.

The fighting is well done in TAI CHI ZERO and even the steampunk itself is impressive. My sole complaint about the film is that a particular incident at the beginning of the film is never explained (this is in regard to Lu Chan getting hit in the head and then turning into a demonic creature of some sort). I am hoping this is discussed more in the second film.

TAI CHI ZERO is a lot of fun and I highly recommend it. It is a unique and visual trek into a new genre, and it is also a very enjoyable film to watch. The film is available in a couple of weeks, so make a note to check it out.

MSB

Book Review – Revolution 19 by Gregg Rosenblum (2013)

Revolution 19
by Gregg Rosenblum
Release Date: January 8, 2013
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers (HarperTeen)

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** Courtesy of guest reviewer Skylar Baker, my 14 year-old daughter **

It took me approximately 10 hours in all to finish REVOLUTION 19 – a stunning feat for me considering the “busy” life I uphold. This book gives a wonderful new twist on the whole “robots overthrowing the human race” genre. After I read the first two pages, I was completely hooked. REVOLUTION 19 left me on the edge of my seat from the minute I picked it up and can simply be described as “an explosion on paper.”

If you are not familiar with the epic that is REVOLUTION 19, here is the synopsis, courtesy of the HarperCollins press release:

Twenty years ago, the robots designed to fight our wars abandoned the battlefields. Then they turned their weapons on us.

Headstrong seventeen-year-old Nick has spent his whole life in a community in the wilderness, hiding out from the robots that have enslaved mankind. But when the bots discover the community’s location, he, his tech-geek younger brother, Kevin, and adopted sister, Cass, barely make it out alive—only to discover that their home has been destroyed and everyone they love is missing.

All survivors were captured and taken to one of the robots’ Cities. The siblings have been hearing tales about the Cities all their lives—humans are treated like animals, living in outdoor pens and forced to build new bots until they drop dead from exhaustion. Determined to find out if their parents are among the survivors, Nick, Kevin, and Cass venture into the heart of the City, but it is nothing like they’ve been told.

As they live among the bots for the first time, they realize they’re fighting for more than just their family. The robots have ruled for too long, and now it’s time for a revolution.

REVOLUTION 19 puts the reader right in the heart of the action and is chocked full of thrills and suspense. Each character is well developed, the author’s voice is strong, and the attention to detail is phenomenal. Heck, author Gregg Rosenblum does such a good job with his descriptions that I could describe for you the personalities of each main character right now if I wanted to!

Rosenblum takes careful time to weave and flesh out the storyline throughout the book, always taking the time to add the heart-stopping action we all love. He embeds an underlying current of suspense into the reader’s mind, so there’s practically never a boring scene.

REVOLUTION 19 isn’t just your classic Sci-Fi-robo-thriller but gives a whole new outlook on the concept of robots taking over humanity. It incorporates the typical genre traits, such as survival, action, taking-down-the-whole-robot-empire thing; but Rosenblum gives this book unique character (literally and figuratively) by twisting the plot into something exceptionally surprising and even more epic.

If you are interested so far in REVOLUTION 19, I would advise you to pick it up as soon as it hits stores, because you’ll be missing out on the next Hunger Games if you don’t. Gregg Rosenblum takes your mind on a never-before conceived journey and will leave you begging on your knees for the next book to come out. Check this one out for sure.

LSB

Movie Review – Branded (2013)

Branded
Directed by Jamie Bradshaw & Aleksandr Dulerayn
Courtesy of Lionsgate
Release Date: January 15, 2013

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I can honestly say that BRANDED is one of the strangest movies I’ve seen in the past several months. And trust me–that is REALLY saying something. But is it good? Yes! It is! Aside from looking great onscreen, this film is an original and unique entry into the science-fiction thriller genre.

If you are not familiar with BRANDED, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Lionsgate:

In a dystopian society where mega-corporations rule, a terrifying conspiracy has been unleashed — one that controls the minds of the citizens. One man is determined to unlock the truth behind the conspiracy. His quest to find it will plunge him into a tangled web of power and intrigue, leading to a shocking revelation and an epic battle with the hidden forces and creatures that threaten the fate of mankind.

Reviewing this film is going to be a bit difficult without giving too much away. Thus, I am going to try to stay as vague as possible. This is truly one of those films you must see to appreciate, and I don’t want to dissuade you from seeing it by saying too much.

BRANDED is shot very well and looks amazing; the imagery is powerful and the visuals do not disappoint. I will admit, however, that the CG looks a bit cheesy; it reminds me of the type they used on WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT. This doesn’t detract too much from the film, but it is noteworthy.

The acting is great as well, with Ed Stoppard stealing the show as the main character. And, although I personally don’t care too much for her acting, Leelee Sobieski does a good job in her supporting role. I always enjoy seeing Jeffrey Tambor onscreen, and it is nice to see him play a bad guy every now and then.

The best aspect about BRANDED is the plot. Rife with originality and symbolism, the story mimics real life in that it depicts how marketing truly affects us as consumers. Going a step further, the movie also shows how branding can change the way we make decisions on what we buy, based simply on brand names instead of products. This film could very well be shown in the classroom, as it prompts much discussion about consumerism.

BRANDED is a film that every person in America should see, if not for entertainment value, then for informational purposes. It makes you think…it makes you question…and then it shows you what could happen if things are left “unchecked” in society today. Part PSA, part social commentary, but ALL entertainment, BRANDED is one of those films that will leave you thinking long after the credits have started to roll. Check this one out for sure.

MSB

Book Review – Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier by Myke Cole (2013)

Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier
by Myke Cole
Release Date: January 29, 2013
Publisher: Ace

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Early last year, I had the distinct pleasure of reviewing a book that broke new ground in a cutting-edge genre of fiction that few people have heard of: Military Fantasy. That book was SHADOW OPS: CONTROL POINT written by Myke Cole. At the end of that book, I was salivating for more, eager to learn what happens to the main character, Oscar Britton. Well, lo and behold, the fine folks over at Ace answered my prayers and saw fit to grace me with an ARC of Cole’s next book in the series, SHADOW OPS: FORTRESS FRONTIER. I have to state up front that this book will blow you away, even more so than its predecessor.

If you are not familiar with SHADOW OPS: FORTRESS FRONTIER, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of the press release:

The Great Re-awakening did not come quietly. Across the country and in every nation, people began to develop terrifying powers — summoning storms, raising the dead, and setting everything they touch ablaze. Overnight, the rules changed…but not for everyone.

Colonel Alan Bookbinder is an army bureaucrat whose worst war wound is a paper-cut. But after he develops magical powers, he is torn from everything he knows and thrown out onto the front-lines. Drafted into the Supernatural Operations Corps in a new and dangerous world, Bookbinder finds himself in command of Forward Operating Base Frontier. Now, he must find the will to to lead the people of FOB Frontier out of hell, even if the hope of salvation lies in teaming up with Oscar Britton, public enemy number one…

Man, Myke Cole knows how to entertain with his writing!! I tore through this book in about four days, and that’s saying quite a bit since I’m usually pinched for any kind of time. Just as he did with the first book, Cole weaves an intricate and spellbinding tale of military action and the mayhem that magic can throw into it.

Also as before, Cole writes with smooth-flowing yet action-oriented prose that blasts the reader straight into the book itself. I particularly enjoy how he does not waste time on overly saturated sentences that do little to advance the story; instead, he writes with crisp, concise precision and nails his narrative with sniper-like accuracy.

With FORTRESS FRONTIER, Cole is able to do do something that many authors try to accomplish but fail: he introduces a new main character into an already existing storyline, and then integrates the new main character flawlessly with the previous one! I’ve seen this tried a few times in other books prior to reading this one, and most of those authors failed. But Cole pulls the integration off with ease, adding to an already rich and diverse character cast.

The new character, Alan Bookbinder, is the true portrait of a hero…a man that starts off as the reluctant protagonist, but who eventually grows into and accepts his role and where he fits. I do not want to say too much because you must read this book to understand, but I am extremely pleased with how Bookbinder fits into this universe.

The magic in the series remains tight, with non-standard attributes, and even more focus is put on its military applications this time. But in addition to the magic, Cole gives us an even bigger view of his world-building; much more time is spent in the Source, and we even get to “meet” a few new races.

I love how the book ends, but I’m already frothing at the mouth to read the third one! Cole does a monumental job of building tension, and there’s plenty of it in this book. SHADOW OPS: FORTRESS FRONTIER is not due out until the end of January so make yourself a note to grab it when it comes out. In the meantime, if you are not familiar with the series, snatch up the first book and join the squad; if you’re already a fan, revisit the first book and get reacquainted. Either way, you’ll be glad you did.

MSB