Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The latest draft of "A New Threat" has been sent off to the publisher!

More details as soon as I know them...

Friday, December 13, 2013

Book Review: Freeheads

Book Review: Freeheads

Freeheads is the final book in the sci-fi series: "Dark Trench" by Kerry Knietz.

From the "back of the book":

"Having escaped the storms of Betelgeuse and the schemes of Jannah's inhabitants, Sandfly and HardCandy make their way back to Earth. They have a message to deliver. A society to free. And A~A3 is with them. Their mission is simple, and just. What could possibly go wrong?
Unexpectedly, DarkTrench drops into normal space. He is malfunctioning, wounded, and the only people who can fix him are still hundreds of light years away. Sand and Hard scramble for a solution while catastrophe hurtles blindly toward them.
They reach Earth to find a different world, an unexpected domain. One they can no longer connect with.
They are stranded, hopelessly separated beneath a wasteland of death and a planet of rules. Debuggers amidst a cloistered community.
Ultimately, Sandfly is alone, and Earth's freedom relies on him and his newfound faith. But does his mission even matter anymore?
He's a misfit, and a throwback. A symbol for all that's evil.
Perhaps he's the last freehead?"

Lots of characters from book one return here. ;)

Freeheads picks up right where The Superlative Stream left off. There are a lot of surprises in this book, but looking back to the first two books, all of them were foreshadowed, and the plot twists all dove-tail nicely into the rest of the series.

The writing is at it's best in this book. Characterization is great, and the balance of inner thoughts and external action is just right. I don't want to to give away how it ends, but the ending is great. Freeheads is my favorite in the series.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Book Review: The Superlative Stream

Book Review: The Superlative Stream

The Superlative Stream is the second book book by Kerry Nietz in the Dark Trench sci-fi series.

From the "back of the book":

"He crossed the stars to follow a song...
So where's the singer?
Sandfly is free of the rules and free of Earth, but now there's a new mystery to solve.
With his female companion, HardCandy, and a secret ship named DarkTrench, he travels across time and space to find the source and meaning of the transmission that changed his life.
When they arrive in the Betelgeuse system, they discover something the former crew did not--a planet. On it lives a civilization of humanoids that are technologically advanced, peaceful, and mystifying. Is their meeting an occurrence the Scriptures predicted? HardCandy thinks so. Sandfly is not so sure.
But what he most wants to know is why is he seeing things no one else can.
And where is the song that brought them here--or its singer? Where is the Superlative Stream?"

Sandfly, Hard Candy, and Dark Trench are back from book one. New characters are some of the aliens that go by "Ham", "Shem", and "Japeth" (there are actually lots of the aliens, but these are the main ones we interact with.)

This book is a lot more "literary" than the first, by which I mean there's a lot more inner dialogue, more character struggles than just external plotting.
Not that there isn't a plot, there is, and it's quite intriguing and immersive, it just takes a while to get to it. Most of the first half of the book is Sandfly wondering where the Superlative Stream they came to find is, and him growing in faith and stuff.

Still, it's a solid middle of the series book. Like most middle books, I'd recommend getting this and the next one (Freeheads) and reading them back-to-back, but the book still stands on it's own well enough--a refreshing change in modern series fiction.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Book Review: Storm Chase

Today's book review is Storm Chase, a new young-adult urban fantasy by K.M. Carroll.

From the "back of the book":

"Carda is the Strider of Chronos. But figuring out what that means may cost him his life.

Struggling through high school in Phoenix, Arizona was hard enough, but now Carda's hands are burning with magical fire and lightning. Worse, they affect time and space. Now all kinds of people want Carda dead, from a killer angel to the head of the extra-world Council.

Fortunately he has allies—his twin sister Michelle manipulates gravity with dance. His rival Indal is secretly a time mage—until Carda accidentally turns him into a werewolf. There's Ben, a black time-traveling lizard. And Xironi, a gorgeous catgirl with a growing crush on Carda.

Together they face the most horrifying enemy of all—an inept mage with far too much power. This power unleashes a chaotic subspace storm that consumes worlds—and Earth is next on the menu."

This is the authors first book, and, I understand, the first in a series that will follow both Carda and his predecessors adventures.

The plot is fairly straight forward, it's a fun ride the whole way through. It's fairly fast-paced, but from the back of the book copy you'd expect that... and I'd worry if the hero diddled around when the fate of the world is at stake...
Oh, and this book actually has an ending, too!

I love every character here. Carda's a ton of fun and is snarky throughout the book. I actually like this, as the other reaction (and the one chosen by most authors) to dealing with both strange, new powers; a new set of responsibilities; and people trying to kill him is mopieness. The other think I like about him, is he trusts and relys on friends and family, instead of pushing them away.

Xironi is a lot of fun too. She's brave, strong, helpful, friendly, and a cat-girl. What more could a guy want? ;)

The bad guy almost feels one-dimensional, but that's mostly 'cause there's kinda three, yet kinda one. The real bag guy is Inferna (basically a demon), but she's controlling the other two bad guys, Ryane and Demetrius. Demetrius has a little more depth, but Ryane is your stero-typical bully who's messing with stuff that's way over his head...

I've had the pleasure of reading several different drafts of this before the final version (I didn't get paid for any of them, and I don't have any financial ties to the book) and the story and characters still sucked me in. I like that in a book.

If I had to sum this book up by comparing it to something, I'd say it's Spiderman's wit with something akin to X-Men's powers. I eagerly await the next book, and highly recommend it you.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Book Review: Secrets Kept

Today's book review is Secrets Kept, the first in a new fantasy series by J.L. Mbewe.

From the back cover:

"With a curse, she will build an army.
With the dagger, she will undo the last sacrifice.
But first the sorceress must find the secret keeper.

Torn from her homeland and thrust into a betrothal against her wishes, Ayianna learns her family has a deadly secret that now has her on the run. She joins forces with Kael, an embittered half-elf, and Saeed, an elderly High Guardian, to seek answers to her father’s death, the destruction of Dagmar, and the plains people’s bizarre behavior.

Ayianna discovers there is more at stake here than just her mother’s disappearance and her familial duty to her betrothed. The sorceress has cursed the plains people, and it is a race against time to release them before the sorceress resurrects an ancient evil."

As mentioned, Secrets Kept is the first in a series of novels, but the author has released three short stories in the same universe as a prologue of sorts for the novel: Desert Rose, Dragon Thief, and Indestructible. You don't need to read the short stories to enjoy the novel, but they do introduce you to the world, and give you some background to Nalu that's useful, but not necessary to the story. (a few of them introduce some background characters as well.) I enjoy when an author does this, because you get to play in the world a little, but it doesn't bog down the main story.

The antagonist is Semine, a powerful sorceress who's basically out to destroy the world... well, she's trying to release the demoness she's bound to, but same thing... ;) In this, the first book of the series, she only gets hints of character development, but that's because she's a minor character in this book. I get the feeling she'll be more important later on. If you really want to get to know her, her character is fleshed out in much more detail in Dragon Thief.

Kael is one of our main characters. He's kinda mopy, but you would be too if you'd just seen your best friend killed, and now have to drag his useless sister and her even more worthless fiance through an enchanted woods...

Ayianna is our main character. I don't know what to think of her. One minute, she's strong and determined, the next she's bemoaning her fate, yet still determined to marry a man she doesn't know, and doesn't love just because her Dad set it up to save the family from financial ruin. She's similarly whishy-washy about the people out to kill her for who-knows-why. Sometimes she's strong and does what she can to help, other times she clings uselessly to her betrothed or Kael... Over-all, though, she does grow throughout the book and shows just enough backbone and promise to keep me rooting for her.

The book is well-written, and kept me sucked into the story and interested. I don't remember any boring parts, or parts that made me want to skim. There were some parts where I wanted to reach in and slap a character, but that's a good thing. ;)

As for how to evaluate the story as a whole and rate it, this is where I feel a rant coming on. And it's not really the fault of this book, it's the whole modern fantasy genre as a whole. This is one of those books that doesn't have an ending, you just turn the page in the middle of the story and find the back cover. A lot of books, and fantasy especially are doing this, spreading the plot of one story across multiple books. To me, it's like saying; "Knock-knock", and when the person answers; "Who's there?" replying with "Well, wait a year or so, give me another six bucks, and then I'll tell you the punchline."

I prefer each book in a series to have it's own beginning, middle, and end; it's own plot-lines that come to a satisfying ending, and them a few other plotlines that carry across the series.

I'm not, however, signaling out Secrets Kept as being a bad book because of this. Overall, I did really enjoy it, and I do want to buy the sequel. The problem is that I want to read it now. Perhaps if series written in this manner had a logo of some sort, then fans of this plotting style would know it's something they'd love, and I'd know to wait to buy the book until the whole series was written, then I could read them back to back.

This is also a problem when it comes time to rate the book. I live to give an almost holistic type of rating, where I'll give points for characters I love, deduct them if a character I love dies, or if a plotline is unresolved and whatnot. Which is impossible to do here. On the one hand, I'd give the book three stars because there is no ending. I don't know how everything turns out. On the other hand, this isn't fair because of course I don't know, it's not finished yet. By the same token, I'm tempted to give it a five, because I DID really enjoy reading it, and I want to read more, but, if in a later book, something happens with the plot and characters I don't like (for example, a book with an unhappy ending will never get five stars from me, and it'd better be at the pinnacle of it's genre to even eek out four...) or doesn't make sense, or isn't well thought out, I can't come back and change it. And, as I said before, it's not just this book that's doing it.

So, for now, I think I'm tentatively giving it four stars and hoping for the best from the next books. If the next books in the series show the same qualities or better, then the rating is justified, or may even go up.

Overall, if you don't mind being left hanging in the middle of a story, you'll love this book.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Book Release: Secrets Kept

A friend of mine has a new fantasy book that just came out on the 15th.
It's called Secrets Kept.

From the back of the book:

"With a curse, she will build an army.
With the dagger, she will undo the last sacrifice.
But first the sorceress must find the secret keeper.
Torn from her homeland and thrust into a betrothal against her wishes, Ayianna learns her family has a deadly secret that now has her on the run. She joins forces with Kael, an embittered half-elf, and Saeed, an elderly High Guardian, to seek answers to her father’s death, the destruction of Dagmar, and the plains people’s bizarre behavior.
Ayianna discovers there is more at stake here than just her mother’s disappearance and her familial duty to her betrothed. The sorceress has cursed the plains people, and it is a race against time to release them before the sorceress resurrects an ancient evil."

Find it at Amazon and Goodsreads.

... you know what, I could tell you more about it, but instead I think I'll just post a bit of the novel. (Shh, don't tell anyone...)

“The curse of the forest?” Vian stared at the trees, and then the river. “But what about breakfast?”
“No time, carry what you can; leave the rest behind,” Kael said. He kicked dirt over the smoldering embers in the small fire pit.
“Preposterous! I can’t leave my robes and blankets!”  The prince lugged an armful of blankets and clothes onto his shoulders, a sleeve of a robe trailing behind him. “Any chance of someone carrying this for me?”
Kael raised his eyebrows. “What do you think?”
“Couldn’t hurt to ask.” Vian forced a fragile smile.
Kael turned away and buckled the sword belt around his waist. He, then pulled out a small orb from his knapsack and whispered, “Yetakoith taheza.” A light sprang to life within the orb like the morning sun pushing through a darkened horizon.
Desmond jumped back. “What sorcery of the Abyss do you bring down upon us?”
Kael shook his head and stepped away, scanning the ground for remnants of the Naajiso trail. What exactly was he looking for?
“If a small charm of the guardians bothers you, then perhaps you should go back.”
Desmond’s lip curled. “Caution isn’t wasted when one can’t distinguish friend from foe.”
“Perhaps you should figure that out first. We don’t have time for mistrust.”
“Don’t worry, Desmond, I appreciate your caution, even if it is a little misguided,” Vian said with a smile. He staggered under the awkward bundle of blankets and robes that he had managed to cram into large lumpy mess.
Kael rolled his eyes and turned away. A few yards away a sliver of polished black stone glinted beneath a layer of dead leaves. Above it, large twisted trees stood like sentries guarding the entrance to the Forest of Inganno. Grey mist hovered over the ground and clung to their crumpled bark.
It breathed of dark magic and death.
Kael looked over his shoulder. Vian stood behind him and stared up at the trees.
Vian sucked in his breath. “Let’s hope we don’t return horrified and stricken with disease.”
“Or never return at all,” Desmond said. He clasped the prince on the shoulder and glared at Kael. “People avoid this forest for a reason. I should know—this is my uncle’s land.”
“It belongs to no man.” Kael eyed the formidable trees. An ancient force lingered at the edges of the forest like the foul stench of a beast. The unseen vapors tugged at him, threatening, demanding. But what could a forest demand of him? He tightened his hand on the hilt of his sword, and words from the sacred text flitted through his mind. But to whom I belong, he abides in me. For he is the true one, and truth is stronger than he who abides in the world of lies.
Too bad he and Osaryn weren’t on speaking terms. If he even belonged to the elven god anymore. An overwhelming sense of hopelessness drowned his grief. No, he could not think like that. Not when he stood on the threshold of his demise. Kael took a deep breath. To enter the forest meant death, yet Kael was about to lead a spoiled prince, an arrogant merchant and a na├»ve girl through its dangers. And what was he?
“…a few days, nothing more…” Saeed had said. “Stay on the trail and no harm will come to you.”
Kael held up the orb and entered the forest.

*end excerpt*

Buy it here:

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For more information on the book, interviews with the author... and did I mention prizes?, check out the other stops on the blog tour!

October 16th
J. L. Mbewe: Release Day Kick-Off
The Writer’s Window: Meet the Characters Part 1
October 17th
The Wonderings of One Person: Meet the Villains
Lightly Salted: Guest Post
Aaron DeMott: Excerpt
October 18th
J. L. Mbewe: Top Secret Project Reveal
Anne Elisabeth Stengl: Meet the Characters part 2
Pauline Creeden: Dream Cast

Friday, October 4, 2013

Book Review: Amish Vampires in Space

Book Review: Amish Vampires in Space

From the back cover:

Jebediah has a secret that will change his world forever and send his people into space.
The Amish world of Alabaster calls upon an ancient promise to escape destruction. Then end up on a cargo ship bound for the stars.
But they are not the only cargo on board. Some of it is alive…or used to be.
Now, with vampires taking over and closing in on the Amish refugees, these simple believers must decide whether their faith depends upon their honored traditions or something even older.

Amish Vampires in Space. I'll just let that title sink in for a moment...

Seriously, what??

What nutjob would write a book with this title.... and and even bigger question, how could it possibly get published?

Obviously, it all started as a joke. From the forward to the book:

"It was March 2010 and Amish fiction was all the rage in Christian publishing. Entire novelists’ careers were being made in the “bonnet and buggy” genre. Publishers were telling writers, “If you don’t write Amish, don’t bother contacting us.” What had seemed like a fad a few years ago was looking more and more like a subgenre that was here to stay. And it just cried out for a roasting. I mean, I’m quite sure that many, maybe most, Amish folks are delightful, genuine, and dear believers in Christ. But the way Christian fiction readers were flocking to novel about them, and the way Christian writers and publishers were all but worshipping them, was perhaps a bit overblown.
Whatever the cause, Amish fiction was everywhere, and it sort of frustrated those of us who didn’t love it. So I came up with the comical title Amish Vampires in Space to poke fun at it all.
Then I showed the cover around to a bunch of my publishing friends, just for yuks. Fast-forward to August 2012. One of my Marcher Lord Press authors, Kerry Nietz, who had already written four novels for me at that point, contacted me and said that he’d come up with a plot idea for Amish Vampires in Space and did he have my permission to write that book. I reserved the right to not publish it until I could read it, but I told him to go for it. To my surprise, Kerry played the idea straight. Despite the humor implicit in the title (see, People Who Might Be Mad at Us, we intended this to be funny), he created a fantastic book with an altogether believable scenario in which Amish people might find themselves in space, confronted with vampires.

And yes, despite the B-Movie title, the book is a straighforward (well, as much as possible...) sci-fi work. I really did expect more of a Douglas Adams or Piers Anthony type work from the title, but, somehow, Mister Nietz has come up with a plausible way to get Amish and Vampires into a sci-fi novel in a way that makes sense.

Now, I must confess to not reading many Amish books. I think I've read two that were recommend to me, both by big-name authors (well, big name among those that write Amish books...) Both portrayed the Amish as fundamentalist, evangelical Christians, who just happened to live in a different society and ride horses. I've gathered, from talking to Amish Book fans, that just about all of them are that way. Which really does an injustice to the Amish. Kerry Nietz doesn't do that here. Somehow, despite quite possibly the most bizarre setting you've ever heard of, he portrays a more accurate refection of both Christianity and the Amish.

The books plotting is a combination of action/adventure and thriller, but it doesn't get overly gruesome. I have a fairly weak stomach, and I wasn't grossed out at all reading this (it was one of my worries, a lot of vampire books are pure horror).
(If you're curious, the 'how can vampires exist' question is handled in a straightforward way that other sci-fi books have already done. What makes it unique here is adding Amish, of all things, into the mix.)

The sci-fi element was great. The world building was spot on. A lot of thought obviously went into how everything works, and how such disparate groups could all exist in the same story universe.

There was a lot of character driven interaction here too. Conflict between the different groups, and spiritual and moral dilemmas for Amish and Englisher characters over how to relate to one another, and how to deal with the vampire threat.

The one thing I felt was missing is the humor. With a title like that, I, personally, would have preferred campy humor. Puns, jokes, ridiculousness just for the fun of it, that sort of thing. Amish Vampires in Space has none of those.
In spite of that, the book is still funny. The humor, in this case, is supplied solely by the reader. There were moments when I was caught up in the tale, stopped, blinked a few times and thought "This is crazy, and yet it works..."

As long as you accept some standard sci-fi conventions, there aren't any plot holes that make the tale not believable. And for that, I think Kerry Nietz has firmly established himself as a mad genius.

I debated giving this four stars, for the lack of slapstick humor and such, but on the other hand, with a title like "Amish Vampires in Space", it's MUCH harder to do a straight sci-fi tale, and still make it good.

So, five stars!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Book Review: Steel Lily

Book Review: Steel Lily

From the back of the book:

AVERY PIKE is a commodity. No, more than a commodity. Her existence is guarded at all costs.
She's a water Elementalist, the strongest of her dwindling kind. She creates steam to provide energy to fuel Dome Four: the only thing standing between humanity and an earth ravaged by World War III. No steam, no Dome. No Dome, no life.
Or so she thinks.
That is, until a mysterious man offers her a way out of having to donate steam. A way to escape the corrupt government of Dome Four. While the offer seems too good to be true, Avery is intrigued. But when she arrives to her new home, she realizes the grass isn't any less dead on this side of the fence. Instead, the lies are just hidden better.
...Which means digging deeper.
When Avery enlists the help of her friends to uncover the truth, she learns that while some secrets are better left concealed, humankind was never meant to live in a cage. And when you can control the most sought after resource, you can learn to control anything...including the fate of your world.

The review:

I've been looking for some more steampunk to read (yeah, I know, Lady of Devices is on my list...), and I happened to win an ebook of this in a contest. (Probably on the authors facebook page, hint, hint). Anyway.

I'm not terribly fond of dystopyan, and this definitely is. That said, it had a more hopeful feel to it. Right from page one, you (and the main character) know there isn't something right in the world, and yup, sure enough, we learn that all is not as it seems. This is great setup for a larger, yet similar plot twist later on in the novel, that you see coming, yet not at all in the way you expect.

The characters manage to stay mostly positive in spite of their surroundings, and the ending has a nice hopeful feel to it.

There are a few minor issues with the world-building. Why steam? (duh, because it's steampunk! Oh, an in-universe reason, that makes real, practical and economic sense? Sorry..) However, it's minor, in spite of a lack of reason for steam that satisfies me, the tech works well in the world setting.

I sound like a broken record when discussing characters, yet they're always my favorite part of a book that I like. (If I don't like the characters, the highest your getting is a three star...) Anyway, Alice is probably my favorite character. She's kinda "the normal one" stereotype, but she refuses to let the author confine her to that role. She's possibly the most balanced character, and mostly tries to keep Avery out of trouble... mostly...

Four stars.
(It would have got five, except for some minor world-building issues, and mostly a spoiler-related reason. Spoiler: her mom dies, for mostly no other reason than no one else had, yet - End spoiler)

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Book Review: A Star Curiously Signing

Book Review: A Star Curiously Signing

From the back cover:

Sandfly is a debugger. He is property. Bought and paid for by his master. But now he’s been called into Earth orbit. Apparently the masters have a new spacecraft and the only robot on board went mad and tore itself limb from limb.

The Bad:

The setting of the world is a little depressing.

Also, the viewpoint is first-person-present tense. First person is probably my least favorite viewpoint...

The Good:
Despite being depressing, the book is fairly humorous, but in a subdued manner. The way the tech works, and how different characters interact with it is really engaging.
The plot moves right along and hooks you fairly quickly.

I give it four stars.

If dystopian is one of your favorite genres, and first-person-present doesn't want to make you throw things through the nearest window, you'll probably give it five stars.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Book Review: Cast of Stones

From the back cover:

In the backwater village of Callowford, Errol Stone's search for a drink is interrupted by a church messenger who arrives with urgent missives for the hermit priest in the hills. Desperate for coin, Errol volunteers to deliver them but soon finds himself hunted by deadly assassins. Forced to flee with the priest and a small band of travelers, Errol soon learns he's joined a quest that could change the fate of his kingdom.
Protected for millennia by the heirs of the first king, the kingdom's dynasty is near an end and a new king must be selected. As tension and danger mount, Errol must leave behind his drunkenness and grief, learn to fight, and come to know his God in order to survive a journey to discover his destiny.

The bad:

There are a lot of Latin terms in the book. It makes sense, as this is a very Catholic book, and it fits with the medieval feel, but kinda breaks the world-building. What's the history of the world that explains the latin terms? Is this then, more alt-history?

On the same note, the word "smallclothes" is used for "underwear".  I appreciate what the author is trying to do here, you don't want to use modern words that don't make sense for your story world (unless it's Latin, but I digress...), but the word "smallclothes" just doesn't work for me. Sounds weird.

The last thing I didn't like about the book is something that bothers me about a lot of modern fantasy. There's a bit of writing advice out there that says: "Find the worst thing that can happen to your character, and do it." I know, if everything went swimmingly, we wouldn't have a story, but it seems a lot of authors lately are taking this advice way too literally. The result is a somewhat depressing feel...

The Good:

... fortunately, though bad things happen to Errol, there is a sense of upward progression, and at least some good things happen to him.

I love the characters here. Errol goes from being a drunk, to a pretty good fighter (once he finds the right weapon...). All of this is felt out, and we're with him through the journey. None of it feels too rushed, and he's tempted even after he overcomes his alcohol addiction.

The other characters are just as layered. There's a bad guy who might not be a bad guy, and even our hero's friends have their own motivations that may or may not line up with his...

Despite the Latin, the world-building is pretty good. Sure, there's stew, and your drink choices are wine, water, or the ever-present "ale", but there's different population groups, different cities and villages, characters from back-of-nowhere are shocked by the city. Also, in keeping with the medieval feel, no one knows much beyond the kingdom's borders...

The plot is mostly politically based, with a hint of adventure and mystery. It kept me reading, and distracted when I wasn't reading it. ;)

Over all, I give it four stars.

One more thing I didn't like, and the only reason it didn't get five... it left off in the middle of the story. I know, it's part of a trilogy... but this still isn't my favorite way to read a series.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Book Review: Finding Angel

From the back cover:

"Angel doesn't remember her magical heritage...but it remembers her.

Start with a struggle revolving around the source of magic. Is it genetic--or is it part of your soul? What if someone was using his powers to run experiments based on a complete misconception of the source of magic? 
Throw in a twisted family tree that's rooted in a centuries' old feud, a painting that (literally) holds the key to the truth, a mysterious and talkative beetle, and an Elven rocker who can play the songs of the stars on an electric guitar. 
This is the world Angel Mason was born into, thrust out of, and returned to seven years later. To top it off, she must rediscover her identity and save her home from a madman at the same time."
First, the few things I didn't like about the book (I always like to end on a positive note...) One of the confrontations with the minor bad guys at the end of the book happens entirely off-screen. It makes sense, and the main bad-guy is appropriately dealt with, but the whole book has been working toward who "the scientist" and who "the assistant" is, and that whole part is wrapped up in a sentence or two, and most of it summary by another character as it happened before our point-of-view characters arrive.

Another very minor gripe is the use of the word "Talent" instead of "magic". It's a perfectly legitimate word, and, in the case of most modern fantasy, actually a better word... it's just that it seems everyone is using it lately. Ah, the writers dilemma, over-use a word, or invent a new one that's original, but sounds funny... (more on that in my upcoming "Cast of Stones" review...)

On to the good parts.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I like the characters. Angel is believably confused, she about acts like one of us would, were we thrust into that kind of situation. Gregor is a nice guy, who's got a lot of secrets of his own... I kept hoping that the two leads would fall in love or something, but the author wisely chose a different romantic beat, as there's an age difference, and some spoiler-ish reasons for it not to happen as well.

Another review I've read complained that the book felt too slow around the middle part. I couldn't disagree more. It's true that not much physical action occurs, but there's lots of character development, and a wonderful feeling of whimsy and wonder.

I give it four stars:


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Book Review: Heartless

From the back-cover:

"Princess Una of Parumvir has come of age and will soon be married. She dreams of a handsome and charming prince, but when the first suitor arrives, she finds him stodgy and boring. Prince Aethelbald from the mysterious land of Farthestshore has traveled far to prove his love--and also to bring hushed warnings of danger. A dragon is rumored to be approaching Parumvir.

Una, smitten instead with a more dashing prince, refuses Aethelbald's offer--and ignores his warnings. Soon the Dragon King himself is in Parumvir, and Una, in giving her heart away unwisely, finds herself in grave danger. Only those courageous enough to risk everything have a hope of fighting off this advancing evil."

The Bad:

About the first half of this book sounded like it was trying WAY too hard to sound like a fairy-tale. I like fairy-tales and all, but the word choices got in the way. Fortunately, around half-way through it stops trying so hard and gets caught up in the story. That's where I got really interested.

The book's also got some bad poetry. Disclaimer:  I'm not a poet, and in general, I don't like poetry, so I can't really tell if it's good or not. In an interview I read, the author stated that at least some of that is intentional, as she thought it'd be funny if one of the most famous poets of the land wasn't terribly good. And that does fit the character...

The other thing that annoyed me was the main character, Una. Boy is she whiny and stupid...

The Good:

Once the story forgets it's trying to be a fairy-tale, it really gets rolling. The pace and plot both pick up, and I was really hooked from there.
As far as characters go, yeah, I didn't like Una, but just about every other character was awesome. One of the minor villains was almost a cardboard cut-out, but then he was supposed to be as the real villain using and manipulating him.
Prince Aethelbald is a fascinating character. At first, I wasn't sure if he was the good guy just because the story said so, or if he was going to turn out to be a cheap Aslan clone.... then we got out of Una's viewpoint and into his and Una's brother's... and we get all kinds of character complexity.

Said bad poet from above is also a fascinating character, and funny too. Can't say much more about him without giving away spoilers, but I want to read more about him.

At the beginning of the story, I wasn't sure if I was going to give it two stars, or stretch for three. After about that halfway point (possibly a tad before it), I'm comfortable giving it four, and now I really want to see what the rest of the series has to offer. It helps that Una's character does develop by the end of the book...

I give it four stars:

In case your curious, here's how I break down my ratings:
1 star: I hated it, loathed it, and didn't finish it. Possibly even burned it. (Example: Rhapsody)
2 stars: Meh. Nothing really wrong, but I just didn't like it. Probably finished it, but might not have.
3 stars: I liked it, but thought it was just average. Might or might not re-read, or get more books by this author.
4 stars: I really liked it, enjoyed reading it, most likely will get more books by this author. Only one or two things in the book I didn't like.
5 stars: Congrats, you've joined the ranks of Anne McCaffery, Jules Vern, et al. The book is very close to perfection. I WILL re-read this book, and buy everything you sell. (Examples: Dragonflight, I, Jedi, Armored Hearts, Remnant in the Stars)

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Book Review: Warbreaker, by Brandon Sanderson

Last's month's book club book was Warbreaker, by Brandon Sanderson. I had mixed feelings for this, as I loved Elantris, and the first Mistborn book... but by the last Mistborn book Sanderson was almost added to my "Never read anything by this author again, EVER!" list. (I like happy endings. If you want to lose me as a reader forever, just kill off one of my favorite characters... or all of them...)

The beginning of the book wasn't that gripping, for me. We start off in one characters viewpoint, then jump right away to someone else's.
It's a tad jarring, and the first character just wasn't working for me.
After we meet Siri and Lightsong, though, things start picking up. Like most Sanderson books, there's almost constant switching of veiwpoints. This technique really works for me, as it allows you to get to know multiple characters. It's just about the only way you can do that, now that omniscient point of view is considered a big no-no. Another plus, is that you're not stuck inside the head of a character you don't like for too long. Case in point, I couldn't stand most of the Vivernia scenes (until almost the end). My wife, on the other hand, thought she was one of the best characters.

There's also a lot of quotable dialog in this book:

"There's one thing I haven't figured out. How juggling lemons fits into all this."

"What in the name of you are you doing?"

... and tons more.

The ending is where I think this book really shines. (we do lose one character, but it'd been forecast enough that I didn't mind it... that much...) There's a whole bunch of twists in the story that seem to come out of nowhere, but the more you think about them, you can see the clues were there from the beginning.

I give it four stars.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Armored Hearts Interview

The Christian Book Lovers Hop is still going on!

Last time, I told about Armored Hearts, and that I'm giving away a copy.

Today, we have an interview with the authors.

- Was collaborating frustrating at any point?

Pauline: Not particularly, Missy Lee and I get along well and I didn’t feel that we argued about any particular point at all…

Melissa: I don't think it was frustrating. Pauline might say differently. Some ideas she had or I had, we didn't always agree on but I think we compromised well. At least I hope so.

- I love the historical detail in the book. How much research did you do for it? What kind of research did you do?

Pauline: We researched the time period to make it as historically accurate as possible – even though it’s alternate history.  Wikipedia was very helpful :)

Melissa: I had to research English Peerage and how titles worked, were handed down and how people were addressed. It was all so formal. I also researched what actual women were doing as far as seeking rights. At that time, a woman with a brother could not inherit an estate. She could not own property if she was married or had a living father or brother. I researched what they believed about women's education. Girls in noble families did not go to school. That were taught just enough at home by a governess because it was thought that study was unhealthy for women. The medical books taught it would make a woman sterile if she studied difficult subjects such as science or math.

- At least one review I've read said they didn't like the book because it was way too feministic. I don't agree, but I do see where they're coming from. It seems like, in the world of Armored Hearts, it's mostly just the females who invent things. Did you write it that way on purpose, or did someone just get there shorts in a twist because we've just seen that issue through one or two characters viewpoints?

Pauline: In true history, women were put in their place which is to say they were not at all prized for their intelligence.  So as we wrote AH, we wanted to show that they were inventors alongside men – and in further episodes, I’m sure we’ll show just that.

Melissa: The book is set in Edwardian England instead of Victorian England. Progress and automation was already happening...by men. We mention automobiles are parked outside the house in preparation for the wedding. It wasn't my intention to make it look like only women were inventing but that women and men see things differently and that perhaps if the women had a say in the process too, there would be more variety in what was being automated and how during that time. I am not a feminist in the sense that women should rule over men etc. I do think according to the Bible, women are equipped to do much more than cultures have allowed due to picking and choosing certain verses over others to stress as important. Parts of the Bible clearly show women served in the early church. Proverbs 31 shows that a woman can have a mind for business and it is a good thing. There is a verse addressing an issue in one church that tells that church to have the women causing problems in that church to "keep silent." We need to read all the Bible and look at context.

- I loved the balance of steampunk tech, romance, and fantasy, but I see some fans wanted more devices. Will we see more tech, fey magic, a continued balance, or all of the above in Armored Hearts 2?

Pauline: There will be all of the above :) no one will be neglected!

Melissa:  That is the plan. I really hope we do not disappoint.

Minor spoiler (highlight to read):

- It was a little unclear if Gareth and Jess ever consummated their marriage. The way that topic was approached and worded was period accurate. But it's got me wondering. I got the impression that they did, but my wife thinks they decided to wait until Jess was feeling better. Who's right?

Pauline: Your wife is right, they decided to wait.

Melissa: You know, I don't know. I was scared to go there. I had some people quite upset with me about how I handled a honeymoon in another book (It was not graphic. Would never write that.) Jessamine was so flirty that I was afraid that might already be over-the-top for some folks. And I did get messages that it was for some. I can't please everyone. I think they are waiting on Jessamine to recover. We will find out. 

End spoiler

- It seems like AltWit Press has a few novels that show the whole of a romantic relationship, instead of portraying just lust and calling it love. Is this on purpose? What are your thoughts on this issue?

Pauline: Society certainly has a lot of lust without us adding to it.  While at the same time people are starting to disbelieve in love itself.  Our goal is to show that love exists and is still alive and well, and our hope is that by reading the kind of stories we publish, people will learn the difference.

Melissa: I'm not sure what AltWit's view is. I have always seen a parallel between romance and how God pursues us. There is a special connection between a husband and wife that mimics that spiritual connection. It tells a story to the soul about The Ultimate Love Story when you tell a genuine love story. I'm not a prude and I don't think God is either, given that He created intimacy and included a whole book of the Bible devoted to the physical love of a groom and bride the draws a comparison Himself. I don't want to feed what the world is tainting, but I also don't want the world's view to taint our view of the whole picture of love between a husband and wife. 

Enter to win the copy of Armored Hearts:

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Be sure to check out the other sites in the hop to win other cool stuff!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Christian Book Lover's Hop - And Giveaway!

Christian Book Lover's Blog Hop

For the blog hop, I've giving away a copy of Armored Hearts... signed by the authors!

From the back cover:

"Part Steampunk, part Fantasy, all Romance...

When a crippled young lord rescues a girl falling from a tree, it reveals a secret about himself and his mother's side of the family that could put him at the center of a war with beings he thought only existed in fairy tales. Tristan Gareth Smyth lived his entire life stuck at home at Waverly Park and left behind while his Grandfather makes trips to London, all because of his blasted wheelchair. Then an American heiress falls in his lap, literally, and he must find a way to keep her at a distance to protect not only his secret, but everyone around him from an assassin sent to kill him."
I read this book a few months ago and loved it, you can read my review here.

Enter to win here:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Be sure to check out the other sites in the hop to win other cool stuff!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Cover reveal for "Secrets Kept"

Secrets Kept Cover With a curse, she will build an army. With the dagger, she will undo the last sacrifice. But first the sorceress must find the secret keeper.

From the back of the book: Torn from her homeland and thrust into a betrothal against her wishes, Ayianna learns her family has a deadly secret that now has her on the run. She joins forces with Kael, an embittered half-elf, and Saeed, an elderly High Guardian, to seek answers to her father's death, the destruction of Dagmar, and the plains people's bizarre behavior.

Ayianna discovers there is more at stake here than just her mother's disappearance and her familial duty to her betrothed. The sorceress has cursed the plains people, and it is a race against time to release them before the sorceress resurrects an ancient evil.

This is the full-length novel by J.L. Mbewe set in the same world as the Desert Rose and Dragon Thief short stories. If you haven't read those yet, go do so!

Enter to win a bookmark!

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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

I write like...

So there's the "I write like" site (http://iwl.me/) I've done it before, and it's told me Author Clarke. I decided to try it agian.

"A New Threat" still gives Arthur Clarke.

"Wings of Truth" gives Issac Asmoiv

"An Unwanted Apprentice" gives J.K Rowling. (Personally, I think this is because the site has never heard of Piers Xanthony....)

Friday, May 3, 2013

Blind Taste Test: Mountain Dew vs imitators

Blind Taste Test: Mountain Dew vs imitators

Mountain Dew is my favorite soft drink (around here, it's called pop, down south, soda. More on that here.)

Everyone knows that Mountain Dew is the best, right? Or do those commercials just make us think that. I mean, the only reason we buy off brand is because we can't afford the real thing, right?

Well, a few of us Mountain Dew lovers decided to find out. We did a blind taste-test.

Products Tested:

What was tested:
  • Mountain Dew in a plastic bottle
  • Mountain Dew in a can
  • Mountain Dew Throwback in a can
  • Mountain Dew Throwback in a glass bottle
  • Diet Mountain Dew
  • Rocky Mist (Meijer)
  • Sun Drop
  • Citrus Drop (Kroger)
  • Moon Mist (Faygo)
  • Mountain Lightning (Wal*Mart)
  • Mello Yellow (Coca-Cola)
  • Mountain Holler (Save A Lot)
Each of these is marketed as a competitor (or at least store-brand knock-off...) to Mountian Dew. But are they really any good?

The Method

My wife mixed up the order of the product, then poured the same amount of each of these into identical glasses, labeled A through L. None of the tasters was in the room when this happened.

After the samples were poured, we came back in to sample each product. Judging solely by taste, we had to rank the samples from Best, to Worst, in order. Bonus points if we could correctly identify a sample.

Our tasters were four males who's favorite drink was Mountain Dew. My Mom was also curious, so she tried them as well.

The Prediction:

Each of us pretty much expected the different Mountain Dew varieties to be clustered together at the top, with the wanna-bees trailing after... and diet Mountain Dew as dead last (None of us like diet soda.. at all. It was tossed in as a control worst.)

Is that what happened? Keep reading...

The Results:

This is why I love science. It's fun, sometimes surprising, and, in this case, tasty. The first thing we all noticed was the variation in color (very close, all yellow. All oddly packaged in green containers....). There are also variations in carbonation, cloudyness, and scent.

Oddly, there are flavor variations as well, from subtle, to drastic. At one point, I wasn't sure we'd have a clear winner. A lot of the samples did taste nearly identical, with a few standing out as pretty good, and a few we didn't like. These results did vary by person, though.

Fortunately, a clear winner did emerge. More on that later...

Here's the results for each taster. The key is down below. Remember, we didn't get to see what product each sample was until after we'd turned in a sheet with our picks.

Aaron Joe Benny Phil Ranee
Note: Un-ranked samples for Phil and Ranee were declared too close to call.

So, what were our mystery samples?

A. Rocky Mist (Meijer)
B. Sun Drop
C. Mountain Dew Throwback - can
D. Citrus Drop (Kroger)
E. Mountain Dew - plastic bottle
F. Moon Mist (Faygo)
G. Mountain Lightning (Wal-Mart)
H. Diet Mountain Dew - plastic bottle
I. Mountain Dew - can
J. Mountain Dew Throwback - glass bottle
K. Mello Yellow -  (Coca-Cola)
L. Mountain Holler - (Save A Lot)

So, we have a clear winner, Mountain Dew Throwback in a can!

But, which one was worst? At first glance, everything but the winner is all over the board. This is probably due to us drinking cheap pop too often. Or, possibly the imitators do a really good job. Also, the sample size for this study is very small, and taste is a subjective thing too. Also, we're not trained tasting scientists, just average Mountain Dew fans.

The weirdest result is that diet Mountain Dew came out about in the middle of the pack. Remember, all our tasters hate diet pop. (It's that nasty aspartame aftertaste.) We all commented that it was very different from all the other samples, but not bad. A few moments later most of us were able to identify it as diet. And yet, it still only ranked dead last on one taster's list.

Let's assign points to each product, then add the points together, and see if that gets us some more useful data. Like in golf, a low score is better here. If a taster ranked it as their number one pick, it gets one point, if they ranked it their worst, it gets 12 points. With five tasters, the best possible score is 5, worst is 60.

Product Points
Mountain Dew Throwback - can 6
Mountain Dew - plastic bottle 19
Mountain Dew Throwback - glass bottle 24
Citrus Drop (Kroger) 28
Mountain Dew - can 30
Diet Mountain Dew - plastic bottle 33
Mountain Lightning (Wal-Mart) 34
Mello Yellow -  (Coca-Cola) 35
Rocky Mist (Meijer) 41
Moon Mist (Faygo) 42
Sun Drop 45
Mountain Holler - (Save A Lot) 47

Or, in chart form:

Well, now we're a little closer to our prediction, but you can see that the small sample size does some interesting things to the bottom and middle ranked contenders.

I also wish that I'd been able to find Mountain Dew Throwback in a plastic bottle. At the beginning of the test, we all had our favorite storage medium, but weren't sure if it actually effected the taste or not. You can see from above that just by being in a can, Mountain Dew got bumped down out of the pack from the other Dew. Of the four of us that state that Dew is our preferred beverage, canned Dew was at exactly in the middle of the pack. Only the tester that likes, but does not prefer, Dew, gave canned Dew a bump up. Just being stored in plastic bumped Dew up four rankings. That's got me wondering if Throwback in plastic might just be the best beverage ever. Only one tester ranked Throwback in a can as a number two, and he vacillated a bit.

Note however, that this may be co-incidence, as the small sample size is throwing results here, as well. One tester rated Dew in plastic as number one. No one else rated it as a one, or a two, but it did get a three, four, five, and six.

I also regret not being able to test more product in glass. It's just not available. Note that Dew imitators were only tested in plastic, two-liter bottles. It was hard enough ranking these... (and that'd add more expense.) We can see from the data that we do have that, though packaging does effect flavor, the formula used effects it more.

Another conclusion is that Pepsi shouldn't have switched from cane sugar to High Fructose Corn Syrup in the late 80's/early 90's. (For those that live in a hole in the ground, that's what's different about Throwback. It uses real cane sugar.)

I'm sure there's stuff I've done wrong in the above. Feel free to point it out to me in the comments (nicely!)

Do you like Mountain Dew? Prefer one brand/package/variety over another? Are you sure you do, or is it all in your mind? Feel free to try this experiment at home. Test your friends. Let me know what you find out!