Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens - Spoiler Review

So, I finally got to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Note, this review does contain spoilers, so if you haven't seen it yet, leave now...

I'm going to try and organize this into stuff I didn't like, then stuff that I did like, but I may wander a bit.

THE BAD: (or meh, or confusing... not all of this is 'bad'...)

- I was expecting a sequel. What we got instead is a reboot of A New Hope, with a few sequel elements thrown in. I mean, we have Jakku, which is the same as Tatooine, an orphan living there who doesn't know anything about her parents, an ace rebel x-wing pilot, the Falcon getting tractored into a hanger, a death star (bigger, badder!), the heroes sneak around on the death star,  a weak target on said death star that the x-wings have to take out before the rebel base is blown up, an x-wing trench run, a quirky droid that saves the day, a bad guy in a black mask with a deep voice, the list goes on an on. Not to say that this makes it a bad movie, it's done, for the most part, quite well. Most of it's just re-hashed. So, we got the plot of ANH, but none of the optimism. But people seem to like the dark these days...  But that's a whole 'nother essay... (and, honestly, opinion, neither right nor wrong...)

- Speaking of that, Abrams can't seem to do subtle. In Star Trek, we got a redshirt who died, but instead of quietly dying in the line of duty, perhaps saving Kirk and making the character grow, it's shoved in our faces. He dies of his own stupidity, and it's shoved in our faces as though we wouldn't catch that it's a homage to a TOS redshirt if was done subtlety.
Same thing in TFA. I'm sure there's some references I'll catch on the second viewing that are more of an homage, but there's a LOT of 'shoved in your face, see, look, a Star Wars reference!' stuff, like the list in the point above.

- Lack of answers. All the questions you have going into this movie. Only one or two of them will be answered by the end.
The big one: EVERYONE wants to know "Where's Luke?" He was the main character in the first trilogy, the son of the main character of the prequels. He was (almost) everyone's favorite character as a kid. The main draw of watching TFA (at least for me, and I assume a lot of other people as well) is, "What happens to our favorite characters after ROTJ?"
For Han, Chewy, Leia, C3P0, R2D2 (kinda), and a few others, those questions are answered. Not so for Luke.
'Why isn't Luke in any of the trailers, or on the poster, or anything?' The answers is, because he's not in this movie. Well, I think he's got a total of a minute of screen time, and no dialog. I think he might be the Yoda type role in the next movie, but just because Yoda wasn't introduced until the second movie isn't a good reason not to have Luke in this one. On the other hand, including his story would've made the movie really long, so perhaps they're saving an entire movie for that?
Speaking of that, story-wise, why isn't Luke in the movie? The movie answer is that when Ben Solo turned to the dark side, Luke got so depressed that he went and hid. That's not really in Luke's character, from what we've seen of him in the first trilogy...

If you're wanting to know what happened between ROTJ and TFA, good luck. The movie only hints at a few little pieces of that. Want to know how Finn gets Luke's lightsaber that he's holding in the trailer? That's not addressed at all either. There's a half-dozen or so plot threads that aren't fleshed out. Some of them most likely will be completed in the next two movies. I've also heard the theory that some of them are left out on purpose to make you buy the books, games, comics, etc. that tie into the movie to get the whole story. (I haven't read Star Wars: Aftermath. I've heard it fills in some of the details.) If that's the case, that's good marketing, but bad story-telling.

- Where the heck did Luke's lightsaber come from?? The last time we saw it, in ESB, it was hurtling into the center of a gas giant. How did it get halfway across the galaxy? The movie answer: "That's a story for another time."
It really feels like it was put in just for nostalgia. I can't think of an in-story way or reason for it to be there, and apparently neither could the film-makers.
It's the little things like this that are insignificant on there own, yet pile up enough to draw you out of the movie.

 - If you've read any of my book reviews, you know it's a pet-peeve of mine to split one plot across three different books/movies, and call them separate stories. They're not, it's one story in three parts. There's nothing wrong with telling a story this way, it's just that I don't like it. If you have three separate movies, each with their own plot arc, and a few (or a lot) of over-arching plot elements, you end the trilogy with four stories told, instead of one. I left the theater feeling like I'd seen part of a movie, instead of a whole movie. I will admit that this one is just my pet-peave, and I don't expect some people to be bothered by it at all.

- The way the Force works. So, Rey's force-sensitive, she's discovering her powers. Okay, cool. Wait... she just did a Jedi-mind trick, with no training? What??? She just defeated a partially-trained dark-side user... with no training???
In interviews, Abrams has (rightly) said he wants to ignore the midi-chorine crap. Good. He wants to treat it as if the Force is around everyone, if you tune into it, it's available to everyone. Good, that meshes more with the original movies.
I like that idea, but the implementation of it has all the finesse of a sledge-hammer.
In ESB, Luke has had some training with Obi-Wan. On the low end, a few hours, on the high end, a few weeks. All he's able to do is move a light-saber, heighten his instincts, and call out to his sister. Lucas has stated that Luke is the most powerful Jedi there ever was, or ever will be.
And yet, somehow, Rey is able to use the mind-trick, mentally keep out a dark-side user, over-power him telekineticly, and out lightsaber fight him... with absolutely zero training???
Come on. Even most other trained Jedi Masters couldn't do the mind trick as well as Obi-Wan, yet we're expected to believe that she can do it with no training at all....
To quote Han: "The Force doesn't work like that!"

The Middle:

- The villain. I'm not sure where to put Kylo Ren. There's good points and bad, kinda all tied together.
It's kinda like Disney said, "We need to have Darth Vader in the movie!" So, we got a Darth Vader clone. Yet, the way they did it is consistent with the story. It's Darth Vader's grandson, who the darkside has twisted him into idolizing.
It's also kinda neat that, though the EU is no longer cannon, they have borrowed some of the better ideas from it. (Kylo Ren is really Ben Solo, Han and Leia's son, who trained under his uncle Luke before he turned to evil.)
That's really neat that they've nodded to the EU, acknowledged that Luke is "passing on what he has learned," and whatnot. Yet, at the same time, it feels a little re-hashed. Is the Skywalker family doomed to repeat the same story over and over again in successive generations? And, if so, that's not necessarily a bad thing, as it reflects on real-life ("Those who do not learn from the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them.")


- I loved BB8. There's always the risk when introducing a cutesy kid-friendly character that you'll end up with another Jar-Jar. Not the case here. He was integral to the plot, funny, and well-acted (if a droid can be considered an actor...) Nothing was over-done with him (it?).

- Finn's character arc. There's some really good story telling done here with the character of Finn. His arc has a beginning, middle, and end, and still leaves room for him to play a big part in the sequels. The character's motivations for everything he does are there and plotted out, while not falling to cliche.
One of the problems I have with any evil-empire, be it fictional or in the real-world, is "Can't anyone see that what they're doing is evil? How can they think it's right?"
That's one of the reasons I love Finn so much. He's been born, bred, and conditioned to do his job, yet when they're killing innocent villagers, Finn can't do it. He wakes up emotionally, and realizes it's wrong. They could go cliche here, and have him go into full hero mode, but they don't. He does the right thing following his conscience, but he's still just trying to run away from the evil for a while.
He does seem to get attached to Rey really quickly, but I suppose they've been through a lot together, and she's the first other person he meets who tries to do the right thing...

- I love the character of Rey too, just not quite as much. The movie sets up a complex character here, who I'm sure we'll see more of her backstory later.

- Everything with Han and Chewy. I've got some little nitpicky things to say about most of the characters. Not so here. Everything is spot-on. To me, some of the other characters have to act slightly out of character to make the plot of the movie work. Not so with Han and Chewy. Han's reasons for leaving everyone are completely consistent with his character, the balance of snark, humor, and everything else we love about Han is here and perfect. Including when he dies. I would've like his last words to be, "I forgive you," or something, but just caressing his son's cheek and saying a thousand things with actions and not words (not to mention that the character hasn't ever been good at mushy stuff) is totally within the character, and works. (Yay! Abrams did one subtle thing right!)

- the "lived in" feel is back. A lot of people criticize the prequels for feeling new and shiny, and not at all like the gritty lived-in fell of the first trilogy. I don't think that's a valid criticism, as the gritty feel is symbolic of the decay that evil has brought to the galaxy.
That feel is back in TFA, and is appropriate, as one evil empire has fallen, only to have another rise in it's place. (The weariness of fighting evil for a lifetime shows in Leia's face, too.)

- I really get the felling that once the other two movies are out, the plot elements of TFA will mesh really well with them. Like I said earlier, there's a lot of plot stuff that's left dangling. To me, this is irritating to watch a movie and not get a complete arc, but the setup is there to have this be one of the most tightly integrated trilogies ever. I'm really expecting to like TFA a lot more once the next two movies are out and I'll be able to marathon all three of them.

Overall, I enjoyed the movie (and, as I said, I believe it will be better in context with it's sequels, and possibly some of the tie-in material) , but I didn't think it was perfect. Most of my issues have to do with nitpicking the plot. Fortunately , I like the characters more than the plot, and the characters really shine.

I do kinda want to read Aftermath, and some of the other tie-in material, then re-watch it. (but again, that other stuff should enhance the experience, not be required...)

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Geek Feast Blog Hop

Today we're talking favorite geeky (or related) foods. Since this is the internet, I can't share with you, but you CAN visit all the sites in blog hop, pull up all the recipes, and make your own feast to eat along with us. That's kinda the same thing, right?

I feature a bunch of different foods in A New Threat, from sandwiches, chips, steak, veggies, and inordinate amounts of tea. Now, I like tea and all, but Nilre's the tea drinker, not me. If I tried to walk you through making proper tea, she'd laugh at me.

So, we're going to talk about a Meskka's favorite food: steak.

Now, most Meskka prefer their steak raw, as in, un-cooked. Most humans, though, like it with at least some browning to it.

If you like it rare, it's easy, slap it on the grill, wait a few seconds, flip, wait, eat.

Me, I like a good well-done steak. I know, most of you at this point are all, "Eww, dried out and nasty!"
Well, that's only if you're cooking it wrong.

Let's start with equipment. You can cook a steak on a variety of implements, from a skillet, or oven, or, if you're ambitious, over open flame. Me, I like the charcoal grill. It adds some flavor, and it's a little nostalgic.

Anyway, back to cooking a great, juicy, well-done steak. You see that picture over there to the right?

That's the wrong way. Completely wrong. If you're aiming for well done, and your fire looks like that, you're going to end up with shoe leather.

To start, light a smaller amount of coals. Once they're lit, close the lid, and watch the temperuature.
When it gets around 160F to 180F, (You do have a grill thermometer, right?) shove them all over to one side of the grill.
Place the steaks on the other side of the grill.
I've got best results slathering them in barbecue sauce, that adds a little extra moisture, and flavor. You can also use a dry rub, or leave them plain, whatever you like best.

These are going to take a while to cook. The secret to a good well-done steak is low temperature, for a long time. About an hour, possible two, depending on how many steaks, the cut, the size, and what your exact grill temperature is.

Check the steaks about every fifteen minutes to a half hour (again, depending on the variables mentioned above) and make sure nothing's caught on fire. Also check your grill temp, and if you have one of those probe-type thermometers, check the internal temp of the meat (if you don't have one, go get one ;) )

Yes, cooking this way is more of an art form, but it's fun, and really yummy.

Don't forget your favorite beverage. I like Mountain Dew, but there are other options:

Visit the other sites in the blog hop:

J. L. Mbewe
Laura VanArendonk Baugh
Josh Smith

H. A. Titus
Aaron DeMott

Christina Maloney
Janeen Ippolito

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, December 14, 2015

Book Review: Namesake

Today's book review is Namesake, by AC Williams.

From the "back of the book":

"Xander and her friends onboard the bounty hunter ship, Prodigal, risk their lives to recover the derelict spaceship that could restore the shattered pieces of her memory. No one realizes what that decision will cost them.

A ruthless syndicate is determined to capture Xander by any means necessary. For protection, she turns to top Prodigal hunter and former assassin Kale Ravenwood, but as their relationship heats up, so does the syndicate threat. The closer they grow to each other, the more danger they face, for Xander can’t remember enough, and Kale remembers far too much.

Xander’s search for her memories leads her across the solar system, only to discover the unbelievable secret of the Destiny Project. When Xander learns the truth of her identity and origins, she must choose between the comfort of her former life and the new, dangerous life she has come to know and love.

Either choice means sacrifice. What would she rather give up—her friends or her name?"

First, this is the sequel to Nameless (which I've reviewed here.) I LOVED Nameless, so I was really looking forward to the sequel. Sadly, I was disappointed. I'm not sure how to review the book without discussing major spoilers, so you've been warned. Let's see, two stars, it hit several major pet peeves of mine, you might like it if those things don't bother you. I think that's as spoiler-free as I can do. If you want to know why I didn't like it, keep reading. If you don't want spoilers, stop reading here.

Seriously, MAJOR spoilers below!

I'll get to the two things that really made me dislike the book in a moment. This first thing is a minor irritation, but it added to the effect. Namesake is the middle of a trilogy. Thus, it suffers from the same lack of anything happening as most middle books do. To be fair, Namesake does it better than most. There is a beginning, middle, and end of this book, but since it's in the middle of the overall story, the main plot threads are unresolved. If this were the only issue I had, I'd just ignore it. Like I said, it's the middle of a trilogy, and AC Williams handles this problem way better than most authors do.

There is no happy ending. Namesake ends on a real downer note. I hate unhappy endings. Perhaps this doesn't bother you, but it's one of the three major things that will make me quit reading a series/author. Now, this is the middle of a trilogy, so there might still be a happy ending, but at the way things are at the end of the book, I can't see how.

Everyone dies. That's number two on the "How to get me to quite reading" checklist. In the first three chapters, we lose FOUR main characters! Holy crap! By the end of the book, only Xander (and one bad guy that we've met before, but that doesn't count. I don't mind if they die) is left alive.
Yeah, I know all the arguments about being a better writer by killing your characters, blah, blah, blah. I, personally, as a reader HATE this. I know some people like it, but they're wrong. This one item alone is enough to make me quit reading a series/author.... but we're not done...

Xander is brutally raped and tortured. The scene isn't written explicitly, but still in way too much detail for me. Sure, this fits in the hellhole of a world the characters inhabit, and some would argue this makes the story more "real." Screw that (no pun intended.) The real world is awful enough. When I want to read a story, I want hope for a better future, I want to spend my time in a world where the good guys stop things like that from happening... wait, the good guys are all dead...
I could see how, in book three, this could bring a message of healing and hope or something to people that have been through something awful... but I'm not that target audience. Maybe it's because I'm a male, or have read too many hero stories, or respect women too much, but I can't stomach reading that kind of thing. To me, when I'm reading and a book is well-written, and Namesake is, it's like it's really happening to a real person that I care about, and I can't do a thing about it, and that bothers me.
Yup, this is number three on the "three ways to get me to quit reading a series/author" checklist.

So, this book has everything I can't stand in a story. Two stars.
Why not one, you ask? I'm really hard to get either a one or a five star out of. Out of hundreds of books I've read, I've only read one (maybe two...) that I'd give a one star rating to. It would have to have at least one of these three things, and bad writing, and a horrible plot, and characters I couldn't stand. Namesake has a great plot, and characters that I love.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Name the stuff on my desk winner

So, before we name the winner, what all is on my desk?

1. Clone Commander Rex  Alarm clock radio
2. Lt. Carey body in a Bacta Tank. (Long story....)
3. Micromachines model of The Ghost from Star Wars Rebels
4. Blue Spartan Super-Solider from Halo
5. Romulan Ale
6. Kaname Chidori from the Full Metal Panic Anime
7. Mt. Dew Throwback in a glass bottle
8. Sousuke Sagara from the Full Metal Panic Anime
9. R2D2 action figure that has been converted into a flash drive
10. Gundam Mobile suit from 0083: Stardust Memories pencil sharpener
11. C3P0 (and R2, he's hiding behind the gundam) dressed up for Christmas
12. Cortana from Halo
13. Lego TIE fighter
14. A bunch of different 64th scale trucks, most of the Dodges, some customized.
15. Speakers
16. Delorean time machine
17. staff
18. Wizard's staff
19. Storm Trooper Pez dispenser
20. Darth Vader Pez dispenser
21. Me, my wife, and youngest dressed as Jedi (computer wallpaper)
22. Cheap katana (kinda hiding)
23. Sakabato (reverse blade katana)
24. Dr. McCoy
25. Yomiko Readman from Read or Die
26. Mouse
27. Type II phaser from Star Trek the Next Generation (Made by Playmates)
28. Kim Possible mouse pad
29. Noise canceling headphones
30. Scrivener, with my NaNoWriMo 2015 project open
31. Un-assembled paper model of the Ghost (I know, almost impossible to tell...)
32. Kenshin Himura (from the anime Ruroni Kenshin)
33. Either Thorin Oakshield, or Gimli, I forget which (looks more like Thorin, but I don't remember buying a Thorin, and I do remember buying a Gimli... ... AND MY AXE!)
34. DHD (Dial-home device, from Stargate)
35. Magic: The Gathering cards (Battle for Zendikar)
36. Star Trek Communicator Pin (Voyager style. Not my favorite spin off, but it is my favorite com design)
37. Fisher Space Pen
38. iPad (that I write most of my first-drafts on)
39. Star Wars hot cocoa mix
40. Lightsaber (Qui-gon's. Hasbro battle style from just after ep 1 came out)
41. A New Threat, by Aaron DeMott (Proof copy!)
42. Spider man
43. Star Gate
44. Alt-Wit Press business card (publisher of A New Threat, as well as other awesome spec-fic)
45. Optimus Prime, from Transformers
46. The Rocketeer
47. Various themed playing cards (Yu yu hakusho, Star Wars, Spiderman, etc...)
48. Superman
49. Yoda bobblehead
50. mini Star Trek TOS tricorder
51. Locutus of Borg
52. Quark
53. Q (from Star Trek)
54. Captain Jeane-Luc Picard
55. Cyclops (from X-Men)
56. Goku from Dragon Ball Z (non-super sayian)
57. Cin, from Scrapped Princess anime
58. Pencil book sheets from Stratos 4 anime
59. Emperor Palpentine
60. Yoda stamp
61. Coke bottle that says "Aaron"
62. Christmas Darth Vader plush in a Star Wars mug

Also, hiding behind Cortana is a picture of me on the Enterprise D bridge, but you can't see it well at all... And, not pictured (I tried...) is the IBM Model M keyboard (made in 1990) that I'm typing this article on.

The winner is: Cindy K, with 51 correct answers (and a bunch more funny guesses that weren't quite on the mark... ;) )

Happy (belated) Birthday to my Keyboard

So, I realized I missed my keyboard's birthday...

...by a few months... As you can see in the picture, my keyboard was made on August 13th, 1990.

I know, everyone's wondering, "Who cares?" or "Why's he using an antique keyboard?"
There's already a bunch of stuff written on that. Just search for "IBM Model M Keyboard" on Google. I first blogged about this back in 2013 when I got a USB adapter to make it work on the new computer. Anyway, my keyboard turned 25 this year. How many other computer anythings are you still using everyday that are that old?

I first got this keyboard from MSU Salvage about, oh, fifteen years ago for $5. I had to replace one spring (it was missing... it had a hard life at the university...) Since then I've written several novels on it, and it's not had one problem.

A few years ago, I found this keyboard in a dumpster:

It's also an IBM Model M, but this one is a little younger (born on 6/4/93) and made by Lexmark (IBM spun off keyboards and a few other things into the Lexmark corporation.)
This one just needed a bath, and was good to go. I've been keeping it as a backup for parts or whatnot, until I found that little white box. It happens to be a PS/2 and USB to Bluetooth adapter. That's right I can now use The One True Keyboard with my iPad! (So what if the keyboard is around six pounds, and the iPad is about one and a half....)

The next step is to tear the guts out of the adapter, and integrate them into the keyboard case. I should have plenty of room, and I might even add a bigger battery.

What old stuff do you use everyday? Comment below!

Friday, November 6, 2015

Get to know your author...

So, an author friend of of mine posted this, and it looks like fun. I might post this stuff on Instargram, but let's face it, I'm likely to forget about this halfway through... So, I'll post everything here... Well, most everything. Some don't apply (why does everyone assume that all authors are girls these days?) And some are picture specific.

My Instragram page...

1. Go to comfort book
Pleasure reading, or if I need emotional comfort? Dragonflight, for the first, the Bible for the second.

2. Must have writing accessories
Depends on where and when I'm writing. Either my iPad or my IBM Model M keyboard. Those I can take pictures of... how can I get a picture of "alone time so I can write"...

3. Office or writing spot?
Eh, I kinda have an office... it just needs a door...

4. WIP (Work in Progress)
The project I'm working on for NaNo is "Etherno: Rise of the Dragongirl". It's about a group of collage kids with super powers, one of whom has multiple personality disorder.

5. Coffee, tea, or other?
Mostly I prefer Mt. Dew over both of those, but I'll choose tea if forced to choose just between those two.

6. Music picks
Anything but rap. When I'm writing, I like to listen to electronic.

7. Fave paranormal
Uh... not sure...

8. Paperback or ebook?
Yes. (I like each, and each has their pros and cons.)

9. Author's breakfast
I'm not much of a breakfast guy. Usually just cereal.

10. Writing journals
I don't really journal. Tried it a few times, didn't really stick. I prefer fiction.
Now, for ideas, I just use the notes app in my phone.

11. Fave classic book
Hmm... hard choice... Sherlock Holmes,  Twenty-Thousand leagues under the sea, Robinson Crusoe...

12. Author selfie
I don't really selfie, either... check on the 12th, maybe I'll post one...

13. last book that made you cry
Don't remember... (don't remember, or don't want to admit to it... hmmm....)

14. Guilty pleasure writing snack
Let's see... anything within reach and a high sugar content. Check Instagram on the 14th to see what's on hand that day...

15. Author hoodies/yoga pants
 I don't really wear hoodies except when I'm camping. And I've never worn yoga pants. No one wants to see that...

16. Stack of paperbacks
A stack of my paperbacks? I only have one out so far.
A stack of books I've read?
A random stack?
I dislike non-specific instructions...

17. Messy bun
Again, not all authors are women. I have VERY short hair... and when I cook I like to think I'm fairly neat...

18. Video to fans
Instagram can post videos and not just pictures?

19. Fave childhood cartoon
Hard choice... Rocky and Bullwinkle?

20. fave funny meme
 You'll have to check later to see what one I pick...

21. Swag pics
 Again, check Instagram... or keep checking here or my Facebook page to win some...

22. Writing quotes
Hmm... a site for pictures, and they ask for text...

23. headphones or earbuds
I'll use both, but prefer headphones.

24. fave book blogger
Then there's this... how do I post a picture of that? Screenshot? I'm not even sure if I have one...

25. craft writing books
So many.  A few of my favorites:
- Self-editing for fiction writers
- The Irresistible novel
- The Power of Resonance in Writing
... and many more.

26. Author socks/flops
Why would anyone want to see a picture of my socks? I mostly either go barefoot or wear shoes with my socks. Flip flops only at the beach, and even then sandals are preferred.

27. Fave 80's movie
Star Wars. (Okay, technically the first one came out in the 70's, but the next two are 80's movies)

28. Best fan gifts
I have a fan-art of one of my characters... 

29. Laptop/computer
i-Pad, mostly, but desktop at the moment. I have a laptop, but it's getting a little long in the tooth.

30. Author in the morning.
What's morning? I'm a night owl.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

You won't believe what's on his desk!

Yeah, it's a click-bait-y title. We'll see if it works...

Anyway, this is my writing space:

We're going to play a game:

- Find as many geeky things in the picture as you can.
- Send your list to: yoda47 (at) gmail dot com
   (Note: you need to send a list of things (iPad, stormtrooper, etc.) not a number of things (I counted 2,000 geeky things!). We want this to be a fun, "find the hidden picture" game, not "guess a random number" game.)
- The person who finds the most things wins a signed paperback copy of A New Threat!
- If we get lots of entries, I might see if some of my other author friends can throw in prizes too!
- Contest will run until Thanksgiving

(If there's a tie, I'll assign the winners a number and use random.org, or a die or something to pick a winner.)

Download a larger version of the picture, so you can zoom in to look for more hidden items..

Have fun!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Behind the names

Have you ever wondered how I came up with the character names in A New Threat?

Wonder no more, I've guest blogged about it over at Castle Gate Press.

Go check it out!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Book Review: Maggie for Hire

Book Review: Maggie for Hire by Kate Danley

From the "Back of the Book":

"When monsters appear in Los Angeles, Maggie MacKay is on the job. No one is better at hauling the creepy crawlies back where they belong. No one, that is, except her dad, who disappeared in the middle of an assignment.

Now an elf named Killian has shown up with a gig. Seems Maggie’s uncle teamed up with the forces of darkness to turn Earth into a vampire convenience store, serving bottomless refills on humans.

The only hope for survival lies in tracking down two magical objects and a secret that vanished with Maggie’s dad.

WARNING: This book contains cussing, brawling, and unladylike behavior. Proceed with caution"

 First off, let's discuss that warning that's part of the "back of the book" copy. There are a lot of f-bombs. Most people and things can't be described without a "colorful metaphor".

The plot is pretty decent, a straightforward mystery with a few unique twists to it. Most of the setting is standard fantasy set in an urban setting. The whole thing with the lions was kinda cool and unique (but I won't say more because spoilers.)

Really, Maggie for Hire reminded me a lot of Magic Lost, Trouble found, by Lisa Shearin. Both have wise-cracking female heroines, both have a fae companion, both are magic trackers, the list goes on. The plot in Magic Lost is slightly better, and there's a lot less f-bombs. (How many f-bombs are in Maggie for Hire? More f-bombs than are in this review (were they spelled out).)

The characters were fun to hang out with, but they had a kinda flat character arc. Maggie swears a teeny bit less at the end of the book. Her elven companion, he doesn't do much character-wise through the story, and at the end he's still the same as he was at the beginning.

Overall, I'd recommend this book if you like the urban fantasy with wise-cracking, butt-kicking heroes with fairy companions who swear a lot genre.

Three stars, I liked it. Iit's not the best I've read in the genre, but it did keep me turning the pages. Also, it's free on Amazon (at the time this review was written), so you can't go wrong there.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Book Review: Blood for Blood

Book Review: Blood for Blood by Ben Wolf

From the "back of the book":

"What if a vampire got saved? Calandra, an evangelist's daughter, is amazed to watch as Raven, a century-old vampire, develops faith. As Raven ceases to drink blood and becomes more human with each passing day, Calandra cannot deny her growing attraction to him even though she is being courted by another man. Raven's newfound salvation is both a relief and a burden, as he encounters multiple vampire taboos and must overcome them. Just when Raven begins to get the hang of his new lifestyle, Calandra is attacked by bandits. Will Raven revert to his old vampiric ways to save Calandra from certain death? Or will he rely on his faith in God to help him ransom Calandra from a new brand of evil more horrifying than he ever was as a vampire?"

Hmm... how to talk about this book without spoiling the plot... Well, a vampire comes to prey at a tent meeting (see what I did there ;) ) and, well, things progress from there as stated in the "back of the book" copy.

The closest book I can think of to this in terms of plot is "The Difference between Night and Day", by Melissa Lee. Both books central concept revolve around what happens when Christianity and Vampirisam clash. Night and Day, however, is paranormal romance, while Blood for Blood is philosophical action/adventure.

The characters are well-rounded, and fun to hang out with (well, except one, who's a jerk and does something really, really, really, really stupid... but that's getting into spoilers.)

Some readers are likely to complain that the book is too preachy, but I think it flows well with the story. It's set in the 1800's when tent meeting revivals were sweeping the nation, and one of the main characters is a preacher. There is a lot of theological content, but given the book's premise, that's to be expected, and it's done in a consistent way that blends with the story.

Overall, I really enjoyed the story. Four stars!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Halloween is for... a free vampire book!

Halloween is for... a free vampire book!

Vampires have a favorite spooky creature for quite a while. So, it's appropriate that, just in time for Halloween, my friend Ben Wolf has put up his award-winning vampire novel, Blood for Blood, on sale for 99 cents this week!

Did I mention you can also win a free paperback copy?

But first, about the book (as always, I'll start you out with the "back of the book" copy:)

"What if a vampire got saved?

Calandra, an evangelist's daughter, is amazed to watch as Raven, a century-old vampire, develops faith. As Raven ceases to drink blood and becomes more human with each passing day, Calandra cannot deny her growing attraction to him even though she is being courted by another man.

Raven's newfound salvation is both a relief and a burden, as he encounters multiple vampire taboos and must overcome them. Just when Raven begins to get the hang of his new lifestyle, Calandra is attacked by bandits.

Will Raven revert to his old vampiric ways to save Calandra from certain death? Or will he rely on his faith in God to help him ransom Calandra from a new brand of evil more horrifying than he ever was as a vampire?"

(Note: I haven't read this yet. I have a copy, and am going to read it this week, so stay tuned for a review coming soon.)

You can buy the e-book version here. Also, make sure to check out Ben's facebook page.

To win the free paper-back version, comment with your favorite vampire story, be it a book, movie, or other. (The winner will be chosen from a pool of entries from this, and other entries from the book promotion.)

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Book Review: Song of the Wren Falcon

Today's Book Review: Song of the Wren Falcon, by Mary Ruth Pursselley

From the "back of the book":

"Orienne Seritan is a loyal Adelfian who wants nothing more than peace for her country and a life free from the darkness and violence of war. But when the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy entangles her life and the fates of those she loves with the destiny of an embittered traitor, she finds herself being dragged even deeper into the darkness.

Enemies are pouring over her nation’s borders. People she loves are dying. The cryptic prophecy offers no clues as to who will be left standing at its end...nor does it disclose the magnitude of the role that Orienne is destined to play."

Orienne pulled me in right away. Her eyes change color depending on her emotions, and no one else's do. At first, the plot is fairly standard fantasy, but the characters and their relationships keep it interesting and engaging.

About a half to two-thirds of the way in, the plot takes a turn in a way that I've never seen before. Without revealing too much, one of the themes is forgiveness and redemption, and how the characters react to and deal with that.
Some might say it's not realistic. I disagree, I think it just feels that way because we don't often explore themes of forgiveness for a character that doesn't deserve it.

In terms of world building and plot, I'd give the book three stars -- everything's well done, just generic. In terms of characters and relationships I'd give it four and a half stars, and five for theme. So, overall....

Four stars! I'm looking forward to book two, and seeing how the characters deal with the fall-out from the events of this book.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Book Review: By Darkness Hid

Book Review: By Darkness Hid by Jill Williamson

From the "Back of the Book":

"Given the chance to train as a squire, kitchen servant Achan Cham hopes to pull himself out of his pitiful life and become a Kingsguard Knight. When Achan's owner learns of his training, he forces Achan to spar with the Crown Prince--more of a death sentence than an honor. Meanwhile, strange voices in Achan's head cause him to fear he's going mad. While escorting the prince to a council presentation, their convoy is attacked. Achan is wounded and arrested, but escapes from prison--only to discover a secret about himself he never believed possible."

Achan is an interesting character. Despite being treated like crap, he tries to do the right thing and have a positive attitude.

Vrell... I don't know what to think of her. She's an interesting and sympathetic character, but I'm sure both her and her mother are morons. Okay, I get that she wants to hide so the nasty prince can't marry her. Let's see, we could disguise you as a boy. Boys don't ever pee or change in front of each other, right? What could possibly go wrong? While we're at it, let's also disguise you as a stray, they're treated worse than slaves and anyone can abuse them without consequence. Just to be extra safe, let's only tell one other person that you're really a noble. Great plan, right! And then she makes it worse by not telling anyone that could help her. So, nice girl, but really dumb.

I really liked the story world. For the most part, it's a standard fantasy world... except half the continent is perpetually covered in darkness. That's pretty unique, and it made me wonder how that works. Are there plants there? If so, how do they grow? What do the animals and people eat? Apparently there are several thriving, strong nations over there. Sadly, the book doesn't explore these questions, but it is book one in a trilogy, so I have high hopes that book two will go into some of that stuff.

One of the main plot lines was fairly predictable, but there were enough twists and other stuff thrown that it didn't bother me. The whole "bloodvoiceing" thing was neat, I've never seen a fully realized telepathy system in fantasy before (the generic "wizards think to each other via 'magic'" doesn't count), and the way this ability interacts with the politics and characters is interesting.

It was a nice, fast read, and I look forward to the sequels. I give it four stars

Monday, August 31, 2015

Today's Book Review: The Irresistible Novel

Today's Book Review: The Irresistible Novel: How to Craft an Extraordinary Story That Engages Readers from Start to Finish, by Jeff Gerke

Something different today, non-fiction!

From the "back of the book:"

"Discover Your Voice and Enthrall Readers!
The craft of writing is filled with various debates: Should I include a prologue? Should I delete all adverbs from my manuscript? Just how much backstory--if any--can I include in my story? These questions--and their often-contradictory answers--can cause confusion, frustration, and even paralysis in the writer.
The Irresistible Novel frees you from the limits of so-called "rules" and instead provides you with a singular goal: You must engage your readers from beginning to end. Filled with down-to-earth discussions on the various debates of writing, as well as innovative research on neuroscience and reader response, this book shows you how to:
  • Navigate the various debates on writing fiction--showing versus telling, purple prose, outlining, writing description, and more--to decide what kind of novelist you want to be.
  • Hack your reader's brain to hook her interest and trigger emotional engagement from the very first page.
  • Incorporate enduring elements of storytelling from masters like Joseph Campbell, Aristotle, and Carl Jung.
Readers want to be swept away by your stories. When you eschew the rules and focus on your readers' desires, you're free to write truly irresistible fiction."

The back of the book sums it up nicely, so I'll just give an example.

Chapter 78 is about Outlining. I've read at least six writing books that have said that pantsers are all amateurs, and real novelists always outline. But then I've talked with some award-winning authors who don't outline. What's the truth here? In The Irresistible Novel, Jeff Gerke gives both viewpoints about outlining, then his thoughts (he does a little of both.) Basically, everyone's different, and as long as you can still have good story structure, go ahead and write away with no outline.

That's part one. Part two covers the brain science of engaging readers, what goes on inside a reader's brain when they get sucked into the story. Part three covers a few different broad tools that help you engage your reader.

I really recommend this book for two different groups of people: writers who have read all the "rules" of writing fiction, and are feeling confused and/or inhibited by them. This book is really freeing for them.
The other group of writers who will find this book a valuable resource are writers who have a solid story, but want to hook readers faster, suck them into the story and keep them there.

All that, and it's not a dry read, either! Five stars!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Book Review: The Legend of Sheba

Today's book review: Legend of Sheba, by the awesome Tosca Lee

From the "Back of the book":

"There is the story you know: A foreign queen, journeying north with a caravan of riches to pay tribute to a king favored by the One God. The tale of a queen conquered by a king and god both before returning to her own land laden with gifts. That is the tale you were meant to believe. Which means most of it is a lie.

In the tenth century BC, the new Queen of Sheba has inherited her father’s throne and all its riches at great personal cost. Her realm stretches west across the Red Sea into land wealthy in gold, frankincense, and spices. But now new alliances to the North threaten the trade routes that are the lifeblood of her nation. Solomon, the brash new king of Israel famous for his wealth and wisdom, will not be denied the tribute of the world—or of Sheba’s queen. With tensions ready to erupt within her own borders and the future of her nation at stake, the one woman who can match wits with Solomon undertakes the journey of a lifetime in a daring bid to test and win the king. But neither ruler has anticipated the clash of agendas, gods, and passion that threatens to ignite—and ruin—them both. An explosive retelling of the legendary king and queen and the nations that shaped history."

So, most of what I review is science-fiction or fantasy. This is historical fiction.
What all do you read, you ask? That's easy. I like books with words. ;)

Anyway, the plot is what it says it is, a historical fiction account of the Queen of Sheba. Tosca has done a lot of research to make the book as accurate as possible, while presenting the historical figure as a real person.

The story was a fun, engaging read that kept me interested, despite already knowing the end outcome. (You can't really expect a surprise ending from historical fiction... well, unless you know nothing about the time period...)

I quite enjoyed the book, four stars!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Book Review: Lady of Devices

Today's Review is Lady of Devices, but Shelly Adina

From the "back of the book":

London, 1889. Victoria is Queen. Charles Darwin’s son is Prime Minister. And steam is the power that runs the world.

At 17, Claire Trevelyan, daughter of Viscount St. Ives, was expected to do nothing more than pour an elegant cup of tea, sew a fine seam, and catch a rich husband. Unfortunately, Claire’s talents lie not in the ballroom, but in the chemistry lab, where things have a regrettable habit of blowing up. When her father gambles the estate on the combustion engine and loses, Claire finds herself down and out on the mean streets of London. But being a young woman of resources and intellect, she turns fortune on its head. It’s not long before a new leader rises in the underworld, known only as the Lady of Devices.

When she meets Andrew Malvern, a member of the Royal Society of Engineers, she realizes her talents may encompass more than the invention of explosive devices. They may help her realize her dreams and his . . . if they can both stay alive long enough to see that sometimes the closest friendships can trigger the greatest betrayals . . .

The beginning of the book is a little slow, as it sets up the alt-Victorian setting, and the plot that will catapult the rest of the story forward.

Claire is a really fun main character. You can sympathize with her right away... a smart young woman who society wants to cram into a boring life... but Claire isn't having any of that, and forges her own path much to the chagrin of almost everyone she meets. When she finds herself homeless, doesn't panic, but instead takes over the gang of ruffians that stole her car... and improves their lives as she makes them her friends.

Speaking of said ruffians, they're one of the best parts of the book. Snouts, who becomes here right-hand man, Tigg who adores her (mostly because she has a car...), Jake, who might betray her at any time, the moppsies, 8 year-old twins who are more street smart than most adults, and little Willie, who can't or won't talk.

After Claire becomes homeless, the plot picks up and becomes a really fun ride. All the characters have depth, and I loved spending time with them in their world.

What I didn't like:
Either the author doesn't have a really good understanding of physics, or things work differently in this story world. She goes a little too much into detail about why the internal combustion engine fails, and explanations of how "electriks" work are just plain hooey... sometimes less is more. But, I'll forgive that as this is alt-history, and I consider steampunk to be a sub-genre of sci-fi, so wonky "science" kinda comes with the territory.

Speaking of "eletriks", why the "k" in the spelling? Sure, it adds flavor, but my brain kept tripping over the strange spelling of an otherwise normal word. There were a few other such odd word choices in the story. As I said, they do add flavor and setting, though...

Overall, I give it four stars. (and the e-book is free, so why not. Although, you might do what I did and buy the next books in the series when you're done...)

Monday, August 10, 2015

Leave a Review, win a book.

Leave a Review, win a book

Realm makers was this last weekend.... so much fun. More on that later...

 I went to the Realm Makers convention and met a bunch of friends, learned a lot, and bought a bunch of books. After I bought the books, I won the "best costume" award.

Well, okay, my wife and youngest daughter won, and I kinda tagged along for the ride, but anyway... 

The prize was a big stack of books!

Some of these are duplicates of the books I'd already paid for, so... my loss is your gain. I'm giving away the extras!

Did I mention these are all signed by the authors? (No, not personalized, just signed...) Yes, I'm giving away:

- Forged Steel, by H. A. Titus
- The Irresistible Novel, by Jeff Gerke
- Nameless, by A. C. Williams

(If you want, I can give out a signed paperback copy of A New Threat instead)

So, what do you have to do to win?

Read my book, A New Threat, and leave an honest review somewhere, fill out the form below, and win!

What, too hard? Fine... I'll give out a free e-copy for you to review. You guys are tough, come on, the book's only 99 cents on Amazon... Anyway, if you want the free e-copy, send an e-mail to: freecopy a t aarondemott dot com, and I'll e-mail you a copy (specify whether you want ePub, mobi, or PDF format).

After Rafflecopter picks a winner, and I verify that they really did post a review, I'll contact the winner, and ship them their choice of book!

What happens to the books the winner didn't choose, you ask? Well, I'll either host another contest later, or, if I get a big response to this contest, I might give them all out... so send this to all your friends!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Book Cover Reveal: Forged Steel

Today, one of my friends is revealing the cover to her new book!

First, the description:

"Downton. Coffee shop. 2 AM.
One minute, Josh is firing off sarcastic remarks at his best friend Marc – the next, they’re running from shape-shifters. Apparently, even best friends don’t share all their secrets. 

Now Josh is in danger. He can see the monsters among the humans. 

When Marc is kidnapped, Josh finds himself pulled into the schemes of the fae courts, and throws in his lot with Marc’s allies: the lovely Larae, a human named David, and the fighter, Eliaster. But what began as a rescue mission becomes something much more involved… 

And all Josh wants to do is get out before it’s too late."

Forged Steel is a new adult urban fantasy by H. A. Titus, releasing on July 17th. It will be available in print (Amazon) and ebook (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iBooks, and Scribd) If you'd like a chance to win free books, ask questions, and hear trivia about the writing/publishing of Forged Steel, there will be a Facebook event party on July 17th from 7-9 pm eastern time on the author's page, H. A. Titus Author.
The first five chapters are vailable for preview on Wattpad.

And now, the cover:

Friday, June 5, 2015

Interview with Tomed Nor

The paperback version of "A New Threat" is now out! To celebrate, we're doing two special things:

- The Kindle version is on sale for 99 cents for a limited time

- Ella Font with the Inter-Dimensional News Network has an exclusive interview with Tomed Nor. Keep checking back, she's also going to be interviewing Bast, and Nilre and Ara over the next few days.

The interview with Bast is up now...

Buy the Kindle version now...

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Book Reveiw: Nameless

Today's book review, Nameless, by Amy Williams

From the "Back of the Book":

"A girl with no memories. A man with too many. And an assassin who starts a war to find them.

On the seedy backwater moon where a NUSovian ship dropped Xander off to scratch a living among the mines and brothels, true friends are a luxury she can’t afford. What kind of person doesn’t know her own name? Waiting tables and fending off amorous drunks barely earns Xander enough to survive, let alone escape to the civilized colony of NUSaxony to find a nuerotherapist who can help her regain her lost memories.

But help often comes from unexpected places.

An ex-assassin on the run from his own past, Kale and a team of bounty hunters as eclectic and derelict as their ship saves Xander from a syndicate operative who started a space colony war to find her. They race against time, seeking the spaceship that holds the key to Xander’s memories before the syndicate catches up with them.

As the net closes in, Xander faces a choice.

Is finding herself worth the price her friends will pay? Or does true friendship mean sacrificing Xander’s memories—walking away from everyone she loves—to keep them safe?

After all, some things are more important than a name."

First, I'm going to get out of the way what I didn't like, because there's so little of it, yet it may be important for some readers.
There's quite a bit of swearing in this book. It's all "mild" swear words, no f-bombs. Which is going to set me off on a rabbit trail, so if you're in a hurry, skip ahead a few lines. Anyway, sex in the book (more on that later) is referred to as "tumble" or "tumbling". On the one hand, I like this, as it gives some setting to the book. However, every time you see the word "tumble" you could replace it with an f-bomb... most other books do. So, if there's other "mild" swear words, why not this particular one? I've never understood why one swear word is so much worse than any other (with the exception of mis-using the names of certain deities... but that's another rant...)

The other thing I don't like. There's a handful of sexual situations in the book. And not the good kind. Xander almost gets raped a few times, fairly graphic in detail in one of them. This is a problem for me. Women should NOT be treated that way. It was a bad guy who (attempted) to do it, and she gets out "intact" (mostly), but I don't like reading about it. Fiction, to me, is at least partially an escape where I can pretend such evil doesn't exist, or at least that the good guys stop it. At the very least, I'd like to see the subject explored more. It happens, she's saved in barely the nick of time, then everything's fine. I'd liked to have seen: A. The bad guy who did it terminated with extreme prejudice, and B. Xander and her friends dealing with the trauma. She just shrugs it off and goes on with life.

I'd give the book a PG-13 rating for these two things.

(Also, there's the cover. It makes sense and is a very good cover... if you've read the book. If you haven't, it doesn't scream "space opera". Oddly, one of the cover concepts from the author's website fits the book much better...)

Anyway, on to what I loved.

Have you seen the anime Cowboy Bebop? If you have, and you liked it, you'll love this book, and that's all I need to say. For those that haven't...

Xander has amnesia. All she knows is that she was dumped off on the worst place in the solar system. Despite this, she has a good attitude, and tries to do the right thing. She eventually meets up with a group of bounty hunters. Spike has a mysterious past, Faye is kind of a jerk, Jet is tough but has a kind heart, Ein is a dog, and Edward is just a weird little girl... I may have got some of the names wrong... ;)

I couldn't put the book down. Great characters, the plot moves along fast and sucks you in, and it's set in a nicely realized universe with colonized moons, all kinds of different space ships, and filled with several different political/social groups. I really enjoyed spending time here, and I'm so going to buy the sequel. (The ending is abrupt, and makes you want to read the sequel right away...)

I could go on and on about what I loved... but it'd be full of spoilers...

I give it four stars. I'd give it five, except for half a star deduction for the language and sexual situation issues, and another half star deduction for the ending, as mentioned above.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Book Review: Hero, Second Class

Today's Book Review: Hero, Second Class

From the "Back of the Book":

"Have at You! Cyrus Solburg is a young man who dreams of becoming a Hero in a fantasy world in which Heroes owe monthly dues and Villains are allowed only one eclipse per fiscal quarter. Cyrus becomes the apprentice to Sir Reginald Ogleby, also known as the Crimson Slash, a towering swordsman with a titanic sword and a penchant for self-narrating his own battles. It's up to Reginald to train Cyrus in the essentials of Heroism so that one day, at the conclusion of his first Quest, Cyrus may become a Hero, Second Class. More is afoot than the routine of training in the arts of Heroic Derring-Do, however. A bona fide Arch-Villain is on the loose. And this Villain is particularly interested in Cyrus, not least because of how Cyrus seems to have magic coming to him in spite of himself, resulting in tremendous disruption of the magical planes. Entering into the fray come a wise-cracking Dragon, a petulant gargoyle, the Heroes' Guild, the Army of DarknessTM, and a horde of cursed invisible Centaurs. Cyrus will have to call on his friends, a beautiful young cat girl, and all the power of the Capital Letters and Arbitrary Numbers if he is to live to become a full-fledged Hero. *** When Mitchell was 10 he and his friends created an adventure game called Quest. Mitchell played all the supporting characters, quest givers, and (his favorite) the villains, while his friends played the brave heroes who thwarted them. That game became the basis for Hero, Second Class. Mitchell is a young man with theatrical inclinations, a wry sense of humor, and storytelling ability well beyond his years."

My review:

First, this book parodies the fantasy genre. So, there are a lot of bits that are "bad writing", but they're done that way to make fun of a cliche. This works... most of the time. There were many such moments throughout the book that made my laugh out loud. However, there were also quite a few that made me think: "Okay, I get the cliche that this is making fun of, and said cliche needs mocking, but for the same reasons the cliche is painful to read, this passage is also."

So, I'm not quite sure what I thought of the book over-all. Most of the characters are parodies of cliches... which are funny, but that makes it really hard to connect with them. Also, it took me a really long time to read.. there were times when I just put the book down and didn't come back to it for a few days. I'm not sure if this was the story, or just that I've read about five fantasy books in a row...

Anyway, three stars. I liked it, it just didn't suck me into the story.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Win a copy of A New Threat...

A New Threat is on a book tour right now. Follow the link below, and you could win a paperback copy! (Not to mention read some interviews and stuff...)


Oh, did I mention the paperback copy will be out soon? I got the proof copy the other day, and there's a few tiny details to fix, then I'll post and let everyone know when it will be for sale.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Book Review: Seeking Unseen

Today's book Review: Seeking Unseen by Kat Heckenbach

From the "back of the book":
"It may be Angel's wish...but it's Melinda's journey.
It's been two years since Angel learned the magic chip of wood inside her locket would grant any wish. What is taking her so long to choose?

An alarming discovery about her beloved foster brother Zack makes the decision easy...but everything else gets complicated after she runs into her old friend Melinda, who demands to go along for the return to Toch Island.

Melinda doesn't fit in with the magical freaks any more than she did with the losers back in Florida, but she never wanted to belong before. A secret world surrounds her where even the bugs have magic...She's more of an outsider than ever. So when ex-con Doran Ashe slinks out of the shadows and offers her an easy road to powers of her own, Melinda follows him despite--or maybe because of--everyone's warnings."

Seeking Unseen is the sequel to "Finding Angel"

First, a spoiler about that "back of the book" text....

Angel looks at the wood chip once or twice, but doesn't use it. Yup, no major role in the book...

Seeking Unseen is a little faster paced than Finding Angel, which isn't a bad thing, and it still has a whimsical feel to it.

Angel is about the same here character wise as she is in Finding Angel, only now it's here turn to play old hat at showing the newbie around the magic island. Also, she gets a love interest in this book, which was nice, as the author writes the character interactions almost the same as she did with Angel and Gregor in the first book, which is nice, as that's one of the things that Finding Angel was missing, a nice, sweet romance.

Then there's Melinda. I'd almost forgotten here from the first book. She's back now, and I spent the first half of the book not being able to stand her. As the character changes throughout the book, she becomes more relate-able, and by the end we the readers are able to see the tiny seed of good in Melinda that Angel saw from the beginning.

The story was fun and enjoyable, and it's always nice to spend time with old friends. Four stars, easy.

Book Review: Failstate

Today's book review: Failstate, by John Otte

From the "Back of the book":
"Why did Robin Laughlin (aka. Failstate) think being a superhero on a reality show would be a good idea again? Things seemed so simple: win the show, become an official, licensed hero. But with his brother, Ben (aka. Gauntlet) stealing America's heart and his own powers proving too unwieldy even for the monitored studio challenges, Robin begins to wonder if his calling isn't to save the world after all.

Until one of his competitors is murdered.

Vowing to find the killer, Robin sets out on a very real quest to unmask the hidden villain. Can Robin find justice? Or will his lunk of a big brother ruin everything?"

Failstate is the first in a series (followed by Failstate: Legends, then Failstate: Nemesis) of superhero novels.

Let's talk about my favorite part of any book, the characters.

Failstate is basically me when I was in Jr. High... nerdy, average looking, and not popular. And he makes similar choices to what I would have made. Looking back at this from an adult prospective, he's an "average Joe" character, but I probably would have seen this differently in Jr. High or High school (most popular books then, as now, are usually about the good-looking, popular, great at everything types) So, the character resonated with me.

Gauntlet comes across as a real jerk in this book... which surprised me, as I'd read the novella "Gauntlet Goes to Prom" before I read Failstate, and in that, he's a nice guy... but then, the novella is in his viewpoint, and Failstate is, of course, in Failstate's viewpoint, so...
And did I mention that Guantlet is Failstate's older, good-looking, popular, and gets-away-with-everything older brother?

And then there's Elizabeth... *sigh* I spent the first 2/3rds of the book loving her. She's nice to Failstate, and sees him for who he really is. And then the last 1/3rd of the book hit, when she [SPOILER] (Editor's note: This portion of the spoiler is redacted for being too spoiler-y) (Author's note: These posts are edited? ...and I don't think "spoiler-y" is a word...) so after she did that, I wanted someone to throw her under a bus... and have the bus back up... and possibly forward, then back again... But Failstate has to learn to forgive her to stop the real bad guys. Sadly, that scene only got a paragraph or two... I would have loved to see a whole chapter dedicated to how Failstate learns to forgive and tolerate her mere presence after she did THAT. [/SPOILER]

On the one hand, I expected to love this book because it's basically a comic book only better because it's a novel, and you can get so much more detail. On the other hand, I'm surprised I liked it, because it combined two of my least favorite things: - High School, and - Reality shows.
Despite that, I really liked the book. Otte is great at giving characters depth and keeping the reader engaged in the story.
Four stars!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Book Review: One Realm Beyond

Today's book review: One Realm Beyond (Book 1 of the Realm Walkers series) by Donita K Paul

From the "Back of the Book":
"Cantor D’Ahma waited his whole life for this day. Born with a gift to jump between worlds, the young realm walker is finally ready to leave his elderly mentor and accept his role as protector and defender of the realms.

But mere hours after he steps through his first portal, Cantor discovers that his job will be more dangerous and difficult than he ever imagined. The realms are plagued with crime and cruelty, and even members of the once-noble Realm Walkers Guild can no longer be trusted. To make matters worse, his first assignment—finding a dragon to assist him on his quest—has led him to Bridger, who is clearly inept and won’t leave him alone.

With the help of his new friends Bixby and Dukmee, Cantor must uncover the secrets of the corrupt guild before they become too powerful to be stopped. But his skills aren’t progressing as fast as he would like, and as he finds himself deeper and deeper in the guild’s layers of deceit, Cantor struggles to determine where his true allegiance lies."

I've been a Donita K Paul fan since Dragonspell first came out, so I've been looking forward to reading her latest series. The premise is rather interesting, instead of different planets, there are different realms, described as a stack of discs sharing the same orbit. Realm Walkers can see and use portals to go between the worlds. Each Realm has it's own culture, geography, and climate.

Cantor is our main character. He's eager and adventurous, but tends to act and then think. Still, he has a good heart and cares about his friends.

Bixby was my favorite character in the book. She's fun, whimsical, and a tad mysterious. They don't really name her race, but she's short and tiny and described almost like a pixy or elf (the north pole kind.) She's a good counter balance to Cantor, and a lot more knowledgeable about the different realms.

Bridger is Cantor's dragon. Well, everyone but Cantor knows this... more on that in a moment. Bridger reminds me a lot of myself--good at his own talent, but really clumsy and too curious for his own good.

The dragons are always my favorite parts of Paul's books. The dragons in the Realm Walkers series are rather classic fantasy dragon in appearance, and part Pern dragon and part Meech dragon in temperament and intellect.

The story is written on a YA level, and, in my opinion, the characters outshine the plot. There's basically enough plot to give the characters a reason to exist. This might change as the series develops... and that leads me to my (least) favorite fantasy rant. I'll put a minor spoiler alert here. I won't say anything explicit about the plot, but still...





Why, oh why must EVERY fantasy book I've read lately not have a self-contained story? Just as we get to the climax of the plot... BOOM the book's over. Buy the next book to find out what happens. I don't care that you have to wait six months to a year to find out. Now, don't get me wrong, you want at least one over-arching plot element in a series, but you still want to have your main plot lines wrapped up by the end of the book. This is the reason I bought the box set of The Lord of the Rings, instead of buying one, reading it, then buying the next one... it's one story, not three. Same problem here.
To be fair, Paul does this better than a lot of other authors I've read, but it's still irritating. Especially since Paul's other books aren't written in this style, and do a nice job of balancing book and series plotlines.

Overall, though, the story was enjoyable, and I loved spending time with the characters. Four stars.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Book Review: Star of Justice

Today's book review is Star of Justice, by Robynn Tolbert.

From the "Back of the book":

"She joined the knighthood for the scholarship program...

A thwarted assassination attempt drags Caissa Ocren into a secret war between elemental spirits and dragon worshipers. More accustomed to solving puzzles than wielding swords, she undergoes a crash course in survival from a mercenary minstrel, a shape-shifting druid, and a legendary spirit warrior.

An ancient book may hold the answers she seeks, but understanding requires the memories of a wizard. With time against her, Caissa faces the hardest lesson of all: how to serve when the cost is her life."

First, a note about some other reviews. Some other reviews have said they don't like the cover, or the description. I'd agree with those, though not perhaps to the extent that others have said... I've known about this books existence for about two years, and it hasn't made it to the top of my "to be read" pile, for the reasons cited. Last week, I read a review that compared it to Anne McCaffery's "Pern" series. Now, Pern is about my favorite fiction of all time, so I picked up a copy of Star of Justice based on just that review. (After reading the series, I wouldn't say it's the same as Pern, but it does share one common plot point... namely that it's a sci-fi book that feels like fantasy.)

Anyway, from word one I couldn't put the book down (metaphorically speaking; I still had to do dumb stuff like sleep, eat, and *grumble* go to work...)

The "back of the book" doesn't begin to do the characters justice.

Caissa (The author insists it's pronounced "Ca - Shay", which I don't get...) Ocren is a knight... who is covered in ink stains, loves research, and doesn't like to draw her sword... She also has no magic in a land where almost everyone does.

Merritt MacEwan is a minstrel... or so he says. A "minstrel" who carries a giant, cursed sword, no instruments, and is drunk more than he's sober. He's thoroughly a barbarian, and won't stop tagging along behind Caissa... no matter how much she wants to be rid of him. (Favorite line: "I'm a barbarian, na a idiot!" Followed closely by: "But look, my whole head fits in the bowl!")

Raven is a druid... kind of. Half human, and half druid, most of the time Raven looks like a young woman who spends WAY too much time alone in the forest. She's a fascinating character. Really stoic, very competent, and perhaps a tad too literal.

Lots of other fun characters too. The book was a fun, fast read. I want another story in this world.

Five stars!