Thursday, May 31, 2012

Review: Written in the Ashes ~ by K. Hollan Van Zant

written in the ashes

Review by John for:  Written in the Ashes ~ by K. Hollan Van Zandt (2011)

Historical fiction with a touch of mysticism – set in Alexandra with an uncivil mixture of Egyptian, Greek and Roman civilization.

About:  It’s the 5th century, and as the Roman empire collapses there is turmoil in the Egyptian city of Alexandria. For centuries it has been the world’s greatest center of learning, epitomized by its fabulous and legendary Great Library, but now the city is plagued with unrest caused by religious factions. In particular the powerful Bishop, Cyril, is on a mission to convert or root out non-Christians; and all forms of Paganism are declared illegal and punishable by death.

The Great Library is used to opening its arms to learned people of all backgrounds and religions and Hypatia, its amazingly talented headmistress, does not appreciate the Bishop and his intolerant priests. Likewise, many of the city’s elders are used to worshipping their traditional old Gods and some are not prepared to bow down to the new order.

Into this volatile situation comes Hannah, a Jewish shepherd girl who has been kidnapped and sold as a slave to Alizar, an Alexandrian Alchemist. Aided by her fabulous singing voice and musical talents, she becomes involved with the Library, the Temple of Isis and a group of people determined to protect their rights and freedoms. Finally she must undertake a dangerous quest to the lost oracles of Delfi and Amun-Ra to find the Lost Tablet – the only thing that could help protect the pagans and the Great Library. But as tensions rise in the old city, time is quickly running out.

John’s thoughts:  There are many things about this book that I like. It’s set in a time and place where the ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman civilizations are intermingling, and that makes for a fascinating backdrop. While I’ve always been interested in history, until recently (when I read “Cleopatra: A Life) I knew little about Alexandria, and the more I find out about it the more intrigued I become – what an amazing city it was. Van Zandt then uses Alexandria and the turmoil of the time as a factual foundation for a story that helps to shed light on some dark deeds. It’s primarily storytelling rather than history, of course, and isn’t intended as a history book – nonetheless, I did learn a lot. The book was another reminder of some of the horrors that have happened as a result of religious dogma gone wild.

It’s an interesting story that weaves together history, adventure, a quest, a bit of mysticism, some strong female characters and a touch of romance - the story covers a lot of ground. I did find it somewhat sprawling and felt at times that there was too much in there; consequently the pace dropped off a bit. Personally I would have preferred some tighter editing and a lesser page count. Nonetheless this was an enjoyable read. If you enjoy historical fiction with a touch of the mystical, this one is for you. It’s also the first in a series, so there is more to come. I’d rate the book 3 stars.

July 6, 2011 | Balboa Press | Hardcover | 448 pages.Kaia_tilted_light

Bio: K. Hollan Van Zandt has always loved libraries, oceans, ancient history and migrating birds. Her mentor, novelist Tom Robbins, instilled in her an abiding love and respect for language.She lives in Southern California, and dreams of a home in Greece. This, her first novel, took ten years to complete.  You can also find out more at her website; and her book group on

Here’s a link for the book’s trailer:

This book review is part of a blog tour, hosted by Virtual Author Book Tours. For more information on this tour for K. Hollan Van Zandt link to the website via the badge below:


Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Incoming Books: Dark Shadows: Angelique’s Descent and The Salem Branch ~ by Lara Parker


Two re-releases up for review! 

Dark Shadows: Angelique’s Descent and The Salem Branch.

With the recent release of the movie Dark Shadows staring Johnny Depp as a very different sort of Barnabas Collins, there is a renewed interest in the cult series and anything related it. Tor too has joined in and has republished several books in honor of the movie’s release.

They are written by one of the original show’s characters Lara Parker, who played Angelique and contain a historical and gothic flavor which I am liking a lot.

The third in the series will be re-released later this year by Tor. It’s called Dark Shadows: Wolf Moon Rising.

Dark Shadows: Angelique’s Descent ~ by Lara Parker; Tor Books; April 2012.

Blurb:  The dashing heir of a New England shipping magnate, Barnabas Collins captures the heart of the exquisite, young Angelique amidst the sensual beauty of Martinique, her island home. But Angelique’s brief happiness is doomed when Barnabas deserts her and becomes engaged to another. With this one betrayal, Barnabas unleashes an evil that will torment him for all time.

For Angelique is no ordinary woman. Raised in the mysterious black art of voodoo witchcraft, she long ago pledged her soul to darkness and became immortal. Vowing to destroy Barnabas, a vengeful Angelique damns him to eternal life as a vampire—a companion to accompany her forever. Little does Angelique understand the depth of Barnabas’s fury.... DS---The-Salem-Branch_thumb2_thumb

Dark Shadows’s two most popular characters, Barnabas Collins and Angelique, were eternally bound by love and hate. Now actress Lara Parker, Angelique herself, tells the story of how it all began.

Dark Shadows: The Salem Branch ~ by Lara Parker; Tor Books; April 2012.

Blurb: Freed from his vampire curse, Barnabas Collins is ready to embark on a new life and marriage with his savior, the virtuous Dr. Julia Hoffman. But when Antoinette, a beautiful flower child with a shocking resemblance to the immortal witch Angelique, rebuilds the Old House, his past returns to haunt him. Discovering a grisly corpse in the basement--where his old casket once lay--Barnabas realizes another vampire has invaded his domain. His fight to protect his family from this new threat will take Barnabas back through time to an evil moment in America's history: the corrupt witch trials of old Salem.

Author Bio:  Lara Parker grew up in Memphis, TN, attended graduate school at the University of Iowa, where she worked on a MA in Speech and Drama. She was cast as Angelique on Dark Shadows, and moved to Los Angeles in 1972In 2004 she earned a Master's Degree in Creative Writing, and now teaches in Los Angeles.

Lara has written three novels. Her first book was published in 1998 - Dark Shadows: Angelique's Descent. It was a bestseller and has been reprinted three times. In 2006 Tor Books released the sequel, The Salem Branch. Both have been re-released this April and a third Dark Shadows novel, Full Moon Rising is due out in fall.

Today Lara and her husband live in the Santa Monica mountains. For more information see the author’s blog:

What are your experiences with the TV serial Dark Shadows and/or the new movie?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Summer Header: for Multi-Dimensional Space Trips!

dimensional astronauts

It’s a new summer header! 

Our new multi-dimensional layered space-tripping header is live to spruce things up on the blog a bit. Since we may not be doing much actual travel this summer, we will be doing some other world travels via our reading experiences.

Like our floating astronauts here in this new header we hope you’ll join us in some of the new dimensions and places that we will be visiting this summer.

Header’s attribution: The end result was created by me, but the real credit goes to the picture’s artist:

Here’s to wishing everyone a great summer ahead!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Giveaway Hop: Splash into Summer ~ 5/25 to 5/31

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Welcome to the Splash Into Summer Giveaway Hop ~ May 25th till the 31st! Hosted by I am a Reader, Not a Writer and Page Turner’s Blog. (To access our host’s original post for the hop, please link to her site via the badge above).

There’s nothing better than reading a special book on a warm day. What’s even better is winning a great summer read. We have such a book for you that will be released in a few days. It even has summer in its title. How fun is that?


The Book of Summers ~ by Emylia Hall; May 29th 2012; Mira.

Blurb: Beth Lowe has been sent a parcel. Inside is a letter informing her that her long-estranged mother has died, and a scrapbook Beth has never seen before. Entitled The Book of Summers, it’s stuffed with photographs and mementos compiled by her mother to record the seven glorious childhood summers Beth spent in rural Hungary.

It was a time when she trod the tightrope between separated parents and two very different countries; her bewitching but imperfect Hungarian mother and her gentle, reticent English father; the dazzling house of a Hungarian artist and an empty-feeling cottage in deepest Devon. And it was a time that came to the most brutal of ends the year Beth turned sixteen.

Since then, Beth hasn’t allowed herself to think about those years of her childhood. But the arrival of The Book of Summers brings the past tumbling back into the present; as vivid, painful and vital as ever.

  • This book is available for US addresses only.
  • Please be a reader/follower to enter this contest and fill out the Google form.

You Must Follow - you have a two ways to follow Layers of Thought:

  1. Google: via the blog’s side bar (I will follow back if I can find your blog.) or
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Here are some Optional Ways to keep up to date:

  1. Your Email Box. or
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This contest and hop are now closed. Come back and visit since we will have another up very soon!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Guest Post: S.G. Browne ~ author of Lucky Bastard

SGBrowne Author Photo

Guest post and invite to join an interactive Q&A with S.G. Browne today at 6 pm Eastern time.

We have S.G. Browne here to share with us to his thoughts on his choice of setting for his recently published novel - Lucky Bastard.

We are especially curious since we live so very close to (and adore) San Francisco. And we think it’s a wonderful setting for a funny and exciting book! (See John’s recent review for Lucky Bastard.)

We also have an invite for you. It’s an interactive Q&A with the author (all information is listed below.) It’s for anyone who would like to ask S.G. Browne questions about his book, process, writing in general, or to lurk and listen. It’s happening at 6 pm Eastern time today (3 pm West Coast time for us here near the Pacific Ocean.)  Everyone is welcome! 

Lucky Bastard Final Cover

Welcome S.G.!  With such a wonderful city and giving that you live there, tell us about your setting choice for your latest novel – Lucky Bastard?

The setting of a story can play an important role or it can just be a place to hold the action. Personally, I like it to matter, to be a silent character lurking in the background that doesn’t get much of a speaking role but nonetheless plays a part.

My first novel, Breathers, was set in Santa Cruz, where I lived for a dozen years, while my second novel, Fated, took place not quite exclusively in New York City.

When I moved to San Francisco six years ago, I knew at some point I would want to set one of my novels here. Turns out it ended up being the perfect place to host my third novel, Lucky Bastard.

Green Street Market #3

Centered around a private detective by the name of Nick Monday who has the ability to steal luck, Lucky Bastard starts out on the roof of the Sir Francis Drake Hotel and then promptly jumps back in time about twelve hours to trace the path our hero takes that eventually leads him back to the hotel roof.

Doing the research was the easy part. I just had to step out my front door and start walking or get on a bus and take notes and pictures or sit down and write out a scene.

Because I discover the story as I write it, I didn’t plot out how Nick Monday wStarlight Room #2ould spend his day or where his actions would take him, but he ends up hitting famous and obscure locales alike, including Nob Hill, Chinatown, Lombard Street, Union Square, Starbucks, Bob’s Donuts, the Green Street Market, the Nite Cap Bar, O’Reilly’s Irish Pub, the Tenderloin, the Marina, Pacific Heights, and Harry Denton’s Starlight Room.

It’s a lot of ground to cover in a single day, but Nick Monday gets around.

So for an exciting trip to this fun city - explore it vicariously through this latest action packed novel. Thank you for sharing with us S.G.! 

(Picture credits are for the author and are of the Green Street Market and Harry Denton’s Starlight Room.)

Now for a special invite for all our readers and writers out there in blog land!

Please join in the conversation today Wednesday, May 23 at 6:00pm EST (or 3:00pm for those of us on the west coast), S.G. Browne, author of critically acclaimed novels Breathers and Fated will be doing a virtual video chat through a new platform called Shindig.

He'll be reading and discussing his latest novel, Lucky Bastard, and hosting an interactive Q&A.  You’ll be connected globally online via webcam where you can socialize with other participants. Or if you'd prefer, you can just sit back and watch and listen. Here’s how it works. About 15 minutes before it starts, go to the following link and register:

At this point, you might want to test your microphone and camera to make sure everything's working. Then when the event starts we'll have an interactive reading and discussion, complete with a Q&A session that will last about an hour. The more the merrier!

Date: Wednesday, May 23
Time: 6:00pm EST (3:00pm PST)

What questions do you have for S.G. Browne?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Review: The Cove ~ by Ron Rash

the cove

Review by Shellie for: The Cove ~ by Ron Rash

A dark and tragic World War I historical fable that examines the role of superstition and patriotism gone awry within the rural Appalachian mountains.

About:  Pretty and smart Laurel lives in a gloomy cove that her parents purchased many years before within the iconic Appalachian mountains. The superstitious locals believe the area is haunted, think Laurel is a witch, and believe that she and the cove are the cause of any bad luck or misfortune falling upon the town. So she is avoided and shunned. Left alone in the cove - her parents dead, her brother just returning injured from the war efforts in Europe - she feels like it’s a gift when she hears lovely and mysterious music. Following its sound she finds a man playing a flute. He has a secret that Laurel will soon discover.

Although the war is believed to be ending, in the town there remains the remnants of patriotic fever. In particular there is one local, a recruiter, who is obsessed. Sadly his beliefs and actions will have consequences for the characters as their lives inevitably become horrifically and intimately intertwined – leading to an ending that will blow most readers away.

Thoughts:  Several years ago I fell in love with Ron Rash’s writing while reading his fabulous book Serena. I would say that this recent book, The Cove, is a bit simpler in style than this previous book, which I think may make it more accessible to a larger variety of readers. Nevertheless, it is just as thought provoking.

With a style that is reminiscent of some of my favorite classic American authors such as Willa Cather and John Steinbeck, the author gives the reader a feel for a rural setting within the US where one can experience the daily life of the people detailed within the story. He uses the language of the natives in these mountains, with their special dialect and its slow simplicity; very effective for helping the reader to feel like they are there. The best part is that imbedded in the story is a moral around the foibles of human behavior that is akin to a dark fable. I like books which exemplify my country’s heritage, are surprising, and provide a reason to think. This book does all three.

I would recommend this book to readers who like historical horror as there are some very dark aspects to this story. Ron Rash has included some shocking scenes with one section where I was out of breath, expecting a huge calamity. Although not something all readers enjoy, I did since I love horror.

This was a romantic, tragic page-turning novel for me. It was easy to read, lyrical, and heartrending. With Serena and now The Cove, I have Ron Rash on my list as a favorite contemporary author. I give The Cove 4.5 stars and highly recommend it to readers who like a “take your breath away” twist in their reads.


Hardcover: 272 pages; Ecco (April 10, 2012.)

This book review is part of a tour from TLC Book Tours. For more information link to their website via the badge, where you can find other reviews for this book and more.

For your convenience, and to help support our host and the author, below are links to the last several reviews for The Cove:

This book will also be included in the War through the Generations - WWI challenge

Thanks for reading.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Review: Cinder ~ by Marissa Meyer


Review by Shellie for: Cinder ~ by Marissa Meyer

A science fiction/fairytale with a strong female protagonist and a handsome prince. It’s a fun start to what looks to be very popular and exciting young adult series.

About:  In a future world, plague is ravaging the population and everyone lives in fear of being it’s next victim. The main character, Cinder, is a teenage cyborg - a human with artificial and computerized body parts, including a too small artificial foot that she is self conscious about and has had since she was ten. Sadly, as a cyborg, Cinder is not considered entirely human in this society and has very few rights. So the story starts with a special and discriminated against main character.

She lives in what is now considered New Beijing with her unkind stepmother, two step sisters (one is evil and one nice), and a sweet robot helper. She works as a mechanic - the best in the overpopulated city. She is the forced provider for her family, though her stepmother allots her only a closet sized room and dirty oil stained clothes. Cinder however, while berated in her home and society, is reasonably comfortable in her less-than-human place in this future world’s hierarchy. Life is looking up since she has found a replacement for her too small foot and there is to be a coronation for the local prince with a ball to celebrate. When Cinder meets the prince unexpectedly (he needs help with a broken android) it appears as if the Prince likes her.

As things become complicated and drama ensues, it becomes clear that Cinder may be a factor in saving their world.

Thoughts:  This is a sweet and fun story and I just loved Cinder. She is imperfect and smart and stands up for herself. She works hard and gets beyond the grease and grime and does something of value other than fix her hair and make-up. She also has the gumption to tell off some evil and unkind people in the story, creating some excellent dialog that teens will love. Me too – it kept me rooting for this character. 

I listened to this book in audio as well as read bits here and there. It was done very well with the reader having a strong and pleasant voice, which helps make an audio book listenable for me. It’s an interesting and surprising take on the original fairytale, with some unusual twists, a strong and smart heroine, some interesting science, and paranormal aspects, all of which kept me happily reading/listening. The only negative aspect for this story is that it’s a cliff hanger – so if you read this book you will most likely be sucked into the rest of the series. Sad thing is that you will have to wait for the next several books in the series as this was just released. Nevertheless, it’s a great book for young adults and adults that love teen reads; a fun one too! In my opinion this sci-fi-ish fairytale re-working gets a 4.5 star rating.

400 pages | Feiwel & Friends | Age 12 and up | January 2012

This book has been amazingly popular, has been given many wonderful reviews, and is well deserving too. Take a a look at this interesting review at io9 for Cinder.

For more information link to our - Incoming Books feature which includes Cinder.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Incoming Books ~ May 18, 2012

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It’s our Incoming Books feature – May 18th, 2012.

It’s our listing of the books that we have coming up for review. In this selection we have a variety of books to share, many of them indie or from small publishers; a few have speculative elements contained in their pages.

The best part about sharing these books is finding out which interest you – our friends and blog readers - the most.

So please tell us: Which of these books do you want to pick up and read first?

You Came Back_thumb[2]

You Came Back ~ by Christopher Coake; June 12th 2012; Grand Central Publishing.

Thirty-something Midwesterner Mark Fife believes he has successfully moved past the accidental death of his young son Brendan, as well as his subsequent divorce from his college sweetheart Chloe. He's successful, he's in love again, and he believes he's mastered his own memories.

But then he is contacted by a strange woman who tells him not only that she owns his old house, but that she believes it to be haunted by Brendan's ghost. Will Mark--who does not believe in ghosts--come to accept the mounting evidence that Brendan's is real? Will his engagement to his new love Allison be threatened by the reappearance in Mark's life of Chloe--who does believe? If the ghost is real, what can these two wounded parents do to help their son?

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The Woman with the Bouquet ~ by Eric- Emmanuel Schmitt; Europa Editions; September 2010.

In his new collection of stories, Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, author of The Most Beautiful Book in the World, probes the paradox that the events that shape our lives are often the stuff of dreams, yet nonetheless true. Humor, tenderness, irony and exquisite writing have always been the hallmarks of Schmitt’s work. Here, he adds a pinch of philosophy.

A translated from French collection by one of Europe’s most beloved authors.


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The Age of Miracles ~ Karen Thompson Walker; June 26th 2012; Random House.

On a seemingly ordinary Saturday in a California suburb, Julia and her family awake to discover, along with the rest of the world, that the rotation of the earth has suddenly begun to slow. The days and nights grow longer and longer, gravity is affected, the environment is thrown into disarray. Yet as she struggles to navigate an ever-shifting landscape, Julia is also coping with the normal disasters of everyday life—the fissures in her parents’ marriage, the loss of old friends, the hopeful anguish of first love, the bizarre behavior of her grandfather who, convinced of a government conspiracy, spends his days obsessively cataloging his possessions. As Julia adjusts to the new normal, the slowing inexorably continues.


Spartacus ~ by Ben Kane; June 5th 2012; St. Martin's Press.

Long the stuff of legends, Spartacus is known to most modern readers through the classic Kubrick film version of Howard Fast’s novel. Now bestselling historical novelist Ben Kane returns to the source material and presents a lively and compelling new vision of the man who was Spartacus—Roman army auxillary, slave, gladiator and ultimately the leader of an army of slaves who nearly brought Rome to its knees.

Ben Kane’s brilliant novel begins in the Thracian village to which Spartacus has returned after escaping from life as an auxiliary in the Roman army. Jealous of his attachment to Ariadne, a Dionysian priestess, the Thracian king betrays Spartacus to the Romans who take him, along with Ariadne, into captivity and to the school of gladiators at Capua. Against the background of the unbelievable brutality of gladiatorial life, Spartacus and Crixus the Gaul plan the audacious overthrow of their Roman masters. They escape and flee to Vesuvius, where they recruit and train an army of escaped slaves that will have to face the conquerors of the known world, the most successful deadly army in all of history in a battle that will set in motion the legend that is Spartacus.

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Girl Below ~ by Bianca Zander; June 19th 2012; William Morrow Paperbacks.

Suki Piper is a stranger in her hometown. . . .

After ten years in New Zealand, Suki returns to London, to a city that won't let her in. However, a chance visit with Peggy—an old family friend who still lives in the building where she grew up—convinces Suki that there is a way to reconnect with the life she left behind a decade earlier. But the more involved she becomes with Peggy's dysfunctional family, including Peggy's wayward sixteen-year-old grandson, the more Suki finds herself mysteriously slipping back in time—to the night of a party her parents threw in their garden more than twenty years ago, when something happened in an old, long-unused air-raid shelter. . . .

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Permanence ~ by Vincent Zandri; Bear Media; May 4, 2012.

Based upon Vincent Zandri's most anthologized Pushcart Prize-nominated short story of the same title, Permanence, is the story of Mary Kismet, a travel agent and grieving mother of a toddler who suffered an apparent accidental drowning. Now, all alone in the world, she attempts to ease the pain of her suffering by immersing herself, body and soul, into a love affair with her psychiatrist, a man haunted by his own demons. A tragic novel of obsession, dark compulsions, and madness, Permanence transports the ill-fated lovers from New York to Venice, Italy, and back again.

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Come Back ~ by Sky Gilbert; May 1st 2012; ECW Press.

The year is 2050 and contrary to popular belief, Judy Garland did not die in 1969, but rather, after several liver transplants, she has lived to the grand old age of 138. Re-embracing her real name, Frances Gumm, she becomes a feminist scholar working on her PhD and writing her thesis on a little-known gay Canadian playwright Dash King, whose career ended in drugs and promiscuous sex. Frances is obsessed with King’s antiquated notion of gay politics, and his tragic story triggers her own meditations on what it means to be an addict. This is the intense communication between Frances and her PhD advisor in a dystopian future that holds more than a few surprises. Included in these digital missives are musings on everything from the merits of post-structuralism, the future of queer theory, and a passionate monologue about the past and the future by one of the premiere divas of our time.

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The Complete Lockpick Pornography ~ by Joey Comeau; May 1st 2012; ECW Press..

Combining two stories into one volume, this collection explores the effects of prejudice and the ramifications of violence with a slightly unhinged sense of humor and unexpected tenderness. Lockpick Pornography, originally published in 2005, is a gender-queer adventure story that was not widely available until now. We All Got It Coming presents the experiences of a young couple dealing with the aftermath of an act of violence. From kidnapping the son of a "family values" politician to violent confrontation, these are characters who fight back.

So, tell us, which of these books would you read first?

Have a great weekend! 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Review: Mindscan ~ Robert J. Sawyer


Review by John for: Mindscan ~ by Robert J. Sawyer

Excellent award-winning storytelling from one of the brightest stars in science fiction – exploring the ethics of biotechnology and the nature of human consciousness.

About:   Jake Sullivan has spent his life expecting to die at any moment. He has a rare hereditary syndrome that could cause blood vessels in his brain to burst at any time; and he has seen what the impact of that would be – his dad was reduced to a vegetative state and yet lived on for a further thirty years.

It’s the year 2045 and the company Immortex offers to copy ailing peoples’ minds and consciousness into android forms. The androids are made to look almost exactly like the biological bodies of Immortex’s clients – or much younger versions if they so desire; the minds are totally perfect copies. After the “mindscan” and android activation has taken place, the fully conscious but sick person is shipped to a resort on the far side of the moon. There they will live out their last days in luxury but isolation, while the android takes over the life of their biological partner. These androids are fully upgradeable and are expected to live for many centuries.

So far Immortex’s clients have all been very wealthy old people who are near the end of their lives, but younger Jake comes from a rich family and decides to undergo the “mindscan” in his mid-forties, desperate to escape the illness which has always hung over his head. At first all seems to go well and this new android “Jake” is healthy and full of energy.

As the new Jake tries to reconnect with his old friends and contacts, the troubles begin. Although he is essentially the same person, the android Jake is met by puzzlement and suspicion from some people and is shunned by others. Jake now becomes increasingly close to Karen, an android version of an extremely successful author.

While their relationship develops, things start to go awry. Karen’s son sues her, claiming that by undergoing the mindscan the android Karen has cheated him out of his inheritance. How can an android claim personhood and have human rights? A complex and high-stakes courtroom battle ensues. Meanwhile a treatment has been found for biological Jake’s illness, and the original Jake on the moon is cured. But now the human Jake is faced with several decades isolated in the moon resort, and decides he wants to return to earth and take over from his android double. However, he has signed a contract and Immortex cannot allow it, otherwise their business model would be destroyed. As attorneys fight to define consciousness and what it means to be a person, the biological Jake becomes ever more desperate and decides to take hostages.

John’s thoughts:  Mindscan is a great combination of science fiction, courtroom drama, philosophical conundrums, twisty plot and a good dollop of humor. It was very thought-provoking. It has such clever ideas and is extremely well written. I have come to rely on Sawyer for being highly imaginative, innovative, creative and entertaining. His books (or those that I have read) have all been set in the not-too-distant future and are full of wonderful ideas that are “out there” but just about believable - based on extrapolations from the realties of today. I’ve also found that his novels have interesting characters and are very easy to relate too, a key draw and interest for me.

You may think that this is sounding like a totally rave review. It almost was, but the ending bugs me. I can’t say too much for fear of spoiling the story for others; suffice to say it feels like this excellent storyline has some loose ends and that a whole new plot develops in the last few pages. In retrospect I have had similar views after reading some of his other books.

Nonetheless this was a most enjoyable read that I blew through in no time. It has a great storyline and the appeal of the book should go far beyond science fictions buffs. If you want to delve into some philosophical head-scratching over what it means to be human when technology is racing ahead, give this book a read. I’d rate it 4 stars.

Mindscan ~ by Robert J. Sawyer;  304 pages | Tor Books | December 2011 (originally published April 2005) | John W. Campbell Memorial Award – Winner.

Do you have trouble with certain types of novel endings, when reading? Does an unsatisfying ending change your feelings for a book?

Let John know in the comments!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Review: Fever Series ~ by Karen Marie Moning


A five book review by Shellie for: Fever Series (in audio) ~ by Karen Marie Moning

Set in the rainy city of Dublin, Ireland, this paranormal romance/urban fantasy series has a complex mythology, intense sexual tension, two alien fairy factions, and loads of interesting drama and action. It’s a completely addictive series and highly recommended in its audio version for a five book escapist read.

About:  This series (with a promise of more books, using a different character set in the same urban world) portrays a powerful, alien, and dark Faery population which are divided into two factions - the dark and ugly “Unseelie” faction and the not so dark and beautiful “Seelie” faction.

It may be the end of the world as humans know it if the boundaries between the dark fairy realm is not sealed quickly since someone or some thing is allowing the darkest Fae faction – the “Unseelie”, to infiltrate the earth. Lucky for humans there may be a person who has the skills to save the world. She’s a special sidheseers (pronounced “she-seer”) who can, unlike normal humans, see and detect the Fae. The problem is she has no clue what, who, and how important she really is.

This person is Mackayla Lane (Mac for short), a twenty something southern bell, with soft curves, feistiness, and old fashioned mores. She has traveled to Dublin Ireland to find the murderer of her beloved sister, Alina. Arriving soon after her sister’s death, Mac finds that the police have dropped her sister's case and immediately senses something is amiss. She is frustratingly faced with a variety of locals who refuse to help, tell her to get on a plane and go back to Georgia, and to leave well enough alone. As she tries to make sense of what has occurred, she discovers that seeing monsters is a newly found ability and that most humans can not see these other world beings like she can - so she is horrified, confused, and even more determined to avenge her sister’s death.

In her efforts to escape one of these horrific “Unseelie” monsters she stumbles into a local bookstore where she is confronted by its owner, the exquisitely masculine, and mysterious Jericho Barrons. He is cold, yet treats her with intrigue, contempt, and disdain. However, being strong and stubborn Mac will not take any of his bad attitude without a comeback. It may be because he actually needs her for her special abilities. So their conflicted relationship begins.

Enter the high court “Seelie” Faery prince named V’lane. He apparently needs Mac for the same reason as Jericho. With him she has to deal with yet another attitude - as he is superior, mind numbingly handsome and possessing a sexual glamor that is completely addictive and which may cause death for unsuspecting humans.

As the two “males” compete for Mac’s skills, and perhaps attention, an amazing tension is created causing drama and heart pounding intrigue. As they hunt for magical relics and try and figure out what is wrong with their monster-infested world, they attempt to stop the death and mayhem. And Mac begins to realize that perhaps faction lines are not a distinct black and white or good and bad, but are actually every shade in between.

Thoughts:  I devoured and thoroughly enjoyed this series in its audio version. One big reason is that the author starts the reader out slowly, with its real-life setting, likeable and strong female lead character, and specifically – there is no swearing or kick-butt action in the first part of the first book (I have a problem with this when reading). The author waits until you know and like the characters before harsher language, violent action, and sex is used. But be aware - after the first book in the series there is quite a lot of all three.

I liked the characters – especially Mac. She is a strong and feisty character and I was also interested in the two potential romantic leads for her. Both are complex and mysterious “men” which helps to create this sexy adult paranormal romance series. It will pull readers in and keep them up reading into the early hours of the morning. I could not stop thinking about and finding time to listen until I had completed the entire series. Very rare for me.

Recommended for anyone who enjoys or would like to explore paranormal romance/urban fantasy. Since this series is complete it’s nice that the reader does not to have to wait months for the next book. A definite plus. I recommend that it’s read in order - to feel completely immersed in the story and understand the characters.  This entire series is a 4 star in my opinion and is a terrific escape into a familiar, sexy, and exciting paranormal world.

Reading order:

  1. Darkfever
  2. Bloodfever 
  3. Faefever
  4. Dreamfever
  5. Shadowfever

Below are the covers and data for the audio books in the series:


  • Darkfever (book 1) ~ by Karen Marie Moning; Brilliance Audio; 8 hours, 57 minutes;  Oct 31, 2006; read by Joyce Bean.  
  • Bloodfever (book 2) ~ by Karen Marie Moning; Brilliance Audio; 9 hours, 3 minutes; Oct 16, 2007; read by Joyce Bean.
  • Faefever (book 3) ~ Karen Marie Moning; Brilliance Audio; 9 hours, 46 minutes; Sep 30, 2008; read by Joyce Bean.   

dreamfever shadowfever

  • Dreamfever (book 4) ~ Karen Marie Moning; Brilliance Audio; 12 hours, 12 minutes; Aug 18, 2009; read by Natalie Ross. 
  • Shadowfever (book 5) ~ by Karen Marie Moning; Brilliance Audio; 19 hours, 52 minutes; Jan 18, 2011; read by Natalie Ross.

There are several new books from the series – Iced: A Dani O'Malley Novel, to be released October 30, 2012 (and mentioned above,) a graphic novel based around Mac and Jericho called Fever Moon; The Fear Dorcha, to be released July 10, 2012, as well as re-release of novella which combines elements from Karen Moning’s two popular series - the Highlander Series (8 books) and the Fever Series (5 books). It’s called Into the Dreaming. It was re-released in April of this year.

Karen Marie Moning is a prolific writer. She graduated from Purdue University with a bachelor's degree in Society & Law. Her novels have appeared on the New York Times, USA Today, and Publishers Weekly bestseller lists and have won numerous awards, including the prestigious RITA Award.  For more information link to her website:

So guess what I was doing while packing up our house for our move from Arizona to California? Yep this was it, listening to a five book series. It certainly saved me from a boring packing job.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Review: Heft ~ by Liz Moore


Review by Shellie for: Heft ~ by Liz Moore

A fable-like novel with a variety of relatable characters, addictions as a subject matter, and a kind, intelligent, yet very overweight protagonist that one cannot help but adore. His opening line draws you completely in with:  “The first thing you should know about me is that I am colossally fat.”

About:   Two characters tell this story - Arthur Opp and Kell Keller - and as more characters immerge heartfelt entanglements develop.

We have Arthur Opp, who describes himself as immense. He continues on in resignation as he cannot leave his home in fear of the reactions to his appearance from others. He is depressed and damaged, but it’s clear from his voice that he has a contemplative and considerate nature.

The story begins as he writes a letter to the unrequited love of his life, Charlene, to tell her his predicament and to re-establish contact for a glimmer of hope for a change in his life. He soon finds that she has a teenage son, Kell Keller, who is in his last year of high school. Kell is to become the other of the narrators.

As these two characters tell their stories the reader glimpses, in small pieces delved out slowly, how their lives interconnect with each other in significant ways.

Thoughts:  Written with a variety of interesting techniques via letters and by narration from the two main characters, the text flows well, sucking in the reader. Liz Moore expresses Arthur Opp’s character skillfully and surprisingly; it’s admirable that she could have so much insight into the psyche of such a man and create such a likeable and lovely character. I want to be friends with Arthur Opp.

I listened to it in audio, with some occasional reading of the text too. (The hardcover edition is a small and an easy-to-handle size and the audio version is well done). It’s literary fiction since it is exceptionally thoughtful with loads of in-depth character development. Yet it has some of the narrative elements of genre fiction so there is some of the natural ups and downs – which caught me into the drama so I had to keep reading it.

It’s a wonderful book for group discussion, since it may dispel many negative notions about individuals with weight problems, health issues, and addictions - giving readers so much to talk about. And it’s a hopeful tale too, with a subtle moral. I just loved it. A definite cure for the dark story doldrums. Recommended for anyone who loves sweet endings that one will probably not guess. I give this lovely book a 4.5 stars.

W. W. Norton & Company; (January 23, 2012.)

Liz Moore is a writer, musician, and teacher. Her first novel, The Words of Every Song was published in 2007. Soon after Liz released an album, Backyards, and obtained a MFA in Fiction. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Writing at Holy Family University in Philadelphia, where she lives. Her second novel, Heft, was published in January 2012.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Giveaway: Shadow Blizzard ~ by Alexey Pehov

shadow blizzard

Giveaway ~ We have five copies for US addresses on offer from the publisher of Shadow Blizzard ~ by Alexey Pehov; Tor Books; April 24, 2012.

It’s the latest adventure from “Russian Master of Fantasy”, Alexey Pehov, and is book three of the bestselling and translated - Chronicles of Siala. Link to check out the book trailer!

About the book: 

Shadow Harold’s quest is almost at an end: he and his companions have fought long and hard to make their way to the tomb Hrad Spein, in search of the magic horn that is their only hope to defeating The Nameless One. The journey was perilous, and many in their company did not survive. Together, however, they have come further than anyone else ever has—but their struggle isn’t over just yet…

Pehov has already proven himself as the fastest growing young fantasy writer in Russia. Shadow Prowler, the first of the Chronicles of Siala, became one of Russia’s most successful and unexpected debuts when released in 2002, and overall, the series has sold over a million copies in total and received the Russian fantasy community’s highest professional honor, the Silver Kaduzei. Video games based on the series are now in development. Tor is proud to offer the series in English for the first time and translated by Andrew Bromfield.

You do not need to be a follower to enter this giveaway but please fill out the Google form completely.


Winners will be chosen randomly via Your address will only be used for the purpose of this giveaway and will be deleted once the winners have been chosen. Promise.

If you liked this giveaway become a reader of Layers of Thought since we have more books that you can win coming up soon. Here are your options to keep up to date:

  1. Google: via the blog’s side bar (I will follow back if I can find your blog.) or
  2. Facebook: for updates in your feed there - add me as a friend. or
  3. Your Email Box. or
  4. Twitter (I will follow back, if your account is not protected.) or
  5. Feed Reader.

Good luck!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Reading Challenges Completed ~ 2011

booknutchallengelink completed 2011

Competed Challenge List ~ 2011

Lists, lists, lists. I love lists and yes I know this post is really really late, but my excuse is that we are still catching up  from our “fun and fiasco” filled 2011. And let me tell you the first half of 2012 has been just as crazy. With all things considered I think we did fairly well even though we did not finish every challenge.


Read A Myth Challenge  (host’s review page link) ~ 8 books to cover more than 3 different countries, and at least 1 non-fiction book.

Shellie: 6 different countries, 0 nonfiction; short by 2 books; almost completed.

  1. Delirium ~ by Lauren Oliver (US)
  2. Possession ~ A. S. Byatt (England)
  3. The Penelopiad: The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus (in audio) ~ by Margaret Atwood (Greece)
  4. “A Memory of Wind” ~ by Rachel Swirsky (Greece)
  5. The Conference of the Birds ~ by Peter Sis (Middle East)
  6. Galore ~ by Michael Crummey (Newfoundland)

I am so sad that they are not doing this challenge for 2012.


LGBT Book Challenge 2011 ~ any number 

Shellie: Completed!

  1. Possession ~ A. S. Byatt
  2. Willy ~ Robert Dunbar
  3. The Picture of Dorian Gray (in audio) ~ by Oscar Wilde; read by Simon Vance
  4. Galore ~ by Michael Crummey
  5. Trouble and Her Friends ~ by Melissa Scott

John:  Completed!

  1. The Windup Girl ~ by Paolo Bacigalupi


Haruki Murakami Reading Challenge 2011Hajime - Read one book.

Shellie:  Completed!

  1. Kafka on the Shore ~ Haruki Murakami



2011 Eastern-Europe Reading Challenge: 4 books by an author from any of the following regions: 

Croatia, Ukraine, Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro, Hungary, Belarus, Estonia, Albania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Poland, Czech Rep., Latvia, Lithuania, Russia, Romania, Moldova, and Kosovo.    

Shellie: Short by 2 books; half completed.

  1. The Oracle of Stamboul ~ Michael David Lukas   
  2. The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine ~ by Alina Bronsky (translator Tim Mohr)

gn2 button

Graphics Novel Challenge 2011 ~ 3 books each. 

Shellie:  Completed!

  1. Electric Ant ~ by Philip K. Dick (adapted by David Mack; illustrated by Pascal Aline)
  2. The Sandman - The Dream Hunters ~ by Neil Gaiman; illustrated by Yoshitak Amano 
  3. The Hobbit ~ by J.R.R. Tolkien; adapted by David Wenzel

John: Completed!

  1. Banksy: Locations & Tours vol. 1 ~ by Martin Bull
  2. Banksy: Locations & Tours vol. 2 ~ by Martin Bull
  3. On the Odd Hours ~ by Eric Liberge  (not reviewed)

book bucket

2011 Book Bucket Reading Challenge ~ books from on your shelf.  Goal ~  10 books.

Shellie:  Short by 3 books; almost completed.

  1. The Afflicted Girls – Suzy Witten
  2. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (audio) ~ by Susanna Clarke
  3. The Picture of Dorian Gray (audio) ~ by Oscar Wilde; read by Simon Vance
  4. Wuthering Heights ~ by Emily Brontë 
  5. Bury Your Dead (Armand Gamache #6) ~ by Louise Penny
  6. Shadow Bound ~ by Erin Kellison
  7. Wuthering Heights ~ by Emily Brontë


War Through The Generations ~ US Civil War 2011  Read 3-5 books. Read 5 books and watched 3 movies. Completed! 


  1. The Killer Angels ~ by Michael Shaara 
  2. The March ~ EL Doctorow


  1. Those Across the River (audio) ~ by Christopher Buehlman
  2. Short Stories “Lament for Lost Atlanta” ~ by Arlan Andrews
  3. Journal of a Civil War Nurse” ~ by Georgiann Baldino

Shellie and John: Movies:

  1. Seraphim Falls (links three movies reviewed)
  2. Gettysburg
  3. Amistad

Chivalorous Deeds

Chivalrous Deeds: Historical Fiction Challenge 2011  (Review post link)

Visit any court from any point in history as long as the book you are reading is Historical Fiction.  



Shellie:  Completed!

  1. The Oracle of Stamboul ~ Michael David Lukas
  2. The Hermetica of Elysium ~ by Annmarie Banks
  3. The Penelopiad: The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus (in audio) ~ by Margaret Atwood
  4. The Conference of the Birds ~ by Peter Sis
  5. The Hermetica of Elysium ~ by Annmarie Banks
  6. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (in audio) ~ by Susanna Clarke


Historical Tour de Genre Reading Challenge ~  Read 6 books. 

John:  Completed!

  1. The Killer Angels ~ by Michael Shaara
  2. The March ~ EL Doctorow  
  3. The Hum and The Shiver ~ by Alex Bledsoe (historical fantasy)
  4. The Devil All the Time ~ by Donald Ray Pollock (historical horror)
  5. The Curse-Maker ~ by Kelli Stanley (thriller/mystery)
  6. The Time Machine ~ by H. G. Wells (Gas-lit Century)

Shellie:  Completed!

  1. Those Across the River (audio) ~ by Christopher Buehlman (plantation/horror)
  2. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (in audio) ~ by Susanna Clarke (fantasy)
  3. Eddie - The Lost Youth of Edgar Allan Poe ~ written and illustrated by Scott Gustafson (young adult)
  4. The Penelopiad: The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus (in audio) ~ by Margaret Atwood (fantasy horror)
  5. Galore ~ by Michael Crummey (light fantasy)
  6. The Picture of Dorian Gray (in audio) ~ by Oscar Wilde; read by Simon Vance (horror/Victorian)
  7. The Hermetica of Elysium ~ by Annmarie Banks (fantasy)
  8. The Oracle of Stamboul ~ Michael David Lukas (fantasy)
  9. The Afflicted Girls ~ Susy Witten (horror)
  10. Wuthering Heights ~ Emily Bronte (Historical Romance/Horror/Victorian)
  11. Possession ~ A. S. Byatt (romance/England/mystery/Victorian/glbt)

2011 Global Reading Easy

 2011 Global Reading Challenge: The Easy Challenge (8 books.)

  1. Africa
  2. Asia
  3. Australasia
  4. Europe
  5. North America
  6. South America
  7. The Seventh Continent ~ Antarctica or a ´seventh´ setting, eg the sea, the space, a supernatural/paranormal world, history, the future.
  8. From your own continent

John:  Missing Africa and South America; almost completed.

Shellie:  Missing Australasia, South America and Africa; almost completed.


Get Steampunked! ~ 5 books; review page; completion page.

John:  Not completed!

  1. The Map of Time ~ by Felix J. Palma
  2. The Time Machine ~ by H. G. Wells


 Dystopia Challenge ~ 2011:  5 books to read. review page, completion page.

Shellie: Completed!

  1. Feed (audio) ~ by M. T. Anderson
  2. Trouble and Her Friends ~ by Melissa Scott (SF)
  3. Wither ~ Lauren DeStefano (Shellie)
  4. Delirium ~ by Lauren Oliver (Shellie)
  5. Several shorts from the anthology:  Nebula Awards Showcase 2011 ~ edited by Kevin J. Anderson
  6. “Lament for Lost Atlanta” ~ by Arlan Andrews

John:  Almost completed!

  1. The Immortality Virus ~ by Christine Amsden
  2. The Windup Girl ~ by Paolo Bacigalupi
  3. The Healers  ~ by Thomas Heric (JD)


42 Challenge 2011 ~  read, watch, listen, and (possibly) review 42 sci-fi related items. We read and watched 41 so almost complete!

See our dedicated post for this fun challenge! Between the two of us we almost completed 42 sci-fi related things. 


blog widget mind voyages tripping through the nebulae


Mind Voyages 2011:  Nebula and Hugo Award winners and nominees ~ any number of books.



John:  Completed!

  1. WWW: Wake ~ by Robert J. Sawyer
  2. The Windup Girl ~ by Paolo Bacigalupi

Shellie:  Completed!

  1. Nebula Awards Showcase 2011 ~ edited by Kevin J. Anderson
  2. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making ~ by Catherynne M. Valente
  3. The Women of Nell Gwynne’s ~ by Kage Baker

For additional challenge information see our:

Friday, May 4, 2012

Review: This Perfect Day ~ by Ira Levin

this perfect day

This Perfect Day ~ by Ira Levin; Pegasus Books (2010). 

Originally published in 1970, this is a classic adult dystopian novel that portrays a frightening future in which a pseudo-government medicates its citizens and regulates all behavior, creating a hive like community. Everyone is equal and its adherents chant: "Christ, Marx, Wood and Wei led us to this perfect day".

About:   “Chip” (Li is his real name and one of four names for every man given by the society) is a member of a “perfect” society where the members are semi-sexless, have no discernable race and exist through genetic modification. They live a day-to-day drone like existence where men do not have to shave, women have no breasts, they all wear identical coveralls, eat cakes and drink coke for every meal, and everyone gets along.

When Chip decides what he really wishes to do with his life and expresses it out loud as a youngster, his desires are superficially quelled as unacceptable and is told he is to have the career chosen for him by the government for the good of the whole. Then one day his internally conflicted self meets up with a group of members who have figured out how to avoid taking their weekly scheduled meds. When Chip joins them temporarily, he finds he has never felt more alive and decides he wants to live this way everyday.

This is just a glimpse of what happens to Chip, because things become decidedly more involved as the story continues. 

Thoughts:  I enjoyed this classic novel – even though it did not completely absorb my interest for the entire novel since I did a fair amount of skimming; a key sign that the novel was not going to be a big favorite. It felt like the first part of story, detailing Chip’s life in this medically created  “utopian” society, went on a bit longer than needed for me. It did pick up in the second part of the novel and I do think that the story line is an intriguing one, and supports the fact that the book is often considered a corner-stone classic for the genre and included with the likes of 1984 and Clockwork Orange.

It also stimulated several questions – because as in all dystopian, this society is not as idyllic as it appears. I found I started asking myself: Who or what is leading and monitoring this society? What is their reason behind creating this pseudo-utopia? And are these leaders as altruistic as it first appears?

Recommended to anyone who enjoys social science fiction where a society has gone askew or indeed to anyone who plans to write one. So if you’re interested in a read that may be a bit chewy, or you would like the answer to the above questions, this will be a great story for you. For those not interested in reading the book, but who have a curiosity about the plot there is a complete summary (with spoilers) at its Wikipedia page.

So I give This Perfect Day a 3 stars. I would have considered it torture as a teenager forced to read it in a high school literature class, like when I read 1984, but as an adult it was quite a decent read with a complex and surprising plot.

This Perfect Day was written in 1970 and won the Prometheus Award soon after it was published. Ira Levin, its author, passed away in 2007 and also wrote other books now considered classics - The Boys from Brazil, Rosemary’s Baby, and The Stepford Wives. The novel has been consistently re-published over the years with a variety of interesting covers. This latest publication makes the book available in e-book format.

I will be including this book in The Basics Challenge where I explore speculative fiction and Fill in the Gaps.

Thanks for reading.

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