Review of Beckoning Darkness by J.D. Stonebridge

Review by Lyn Perry

This angel/demon novel is not your grandfather’s Frank Peretti, that’s for sure! Author J.D. Stonebridge turns the angelic genre on its head, and that’s not a bad thing. But if you’re expecting a traditionally biblical take on the conflict between Heaven and Hell, you won’t find it in Beckoning Darkness. Be prepared for a mash-up of sorts, where angels and demons interact with monsters of every kind, including witches and doppelgangers. It’s really more of an urban paranormal story – a supernatural suspense novel – and maybe slightly YA (I’d say mature high schoolers would like it); and most urban fantasy fans will likely enjoy it.

However, Christian fantasy advocates might not be as pleased. In addition to a smattering of swear words (and a needless f-bomb), the premise is that something is brewing between the forces of Heaven and Hell. Maybe an alliance? Maybe an impending war upon the creatures of earth? All the main characters seem to have ulterior motives and it’s not clear who the “good guys” really are. Although certain expected angelic characters like Michael and Raphael do make an appearance, they come across as untrustworthy narrators because something is definitely amiss.

Like I said, the author is not presenting the traditional view that heavenly beings are automatically good and that their fight is against the demonic forces wanting to harm humans. We don’t know who is pulling the strings behind the scenes at this point. Which is a refreshing and suspenseful way to keep the reader’s interest, I have to admit. What we do know is that two misfits – one an Angel who has a blotted past and one a Demon with secrets of his own – are thrown together and used as pawns in a spiritual game, the nature of which we only catch a glimpse of by the end of the book.

Which brings me to a few critiques. First, be prepared to begin a series of novels (four books called The Damned and the Pure) if you want answers. The complete story arc is just getting started in this novel. That isn’t to say this slice of the story is incomplete; one key relationship (the Angel Ariel and the Demon Caelum) is certainly explored and comes to a somewhat satisfying hint of a conclusion, this being the set up to what I imagine will be their eventual coming together. (Yes, a bit of romance and unrequited love are involved too.) So if you absolutely hate cliff hangers, you won’t want to go into Beckoning Darkness as a pure stand alone.

The other critique, somewhat minor but worth mentioning because it opens the book, is that it starts with an unnecessary prologue. My advice is to just skip it. It almost had me putting the book down, but since I’d received a free copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review, I simply powered through it. So again, if you’re the type of reader who doesn’t like prologues (I typically don’t), just start with chapter one, you won’t be missing anything. There is plenty of action, however – spiritual battles, captures and escapes – right from the get go for those who enjoy that sort of thing. I found myself skimming most of those parts, but not because they weren’t well written, it’s just I don’t particularly care for fight scenes.

Overall, though, this is a solid read. Stonebridge can write and write well. The storytelling unfolds quite naturally. For example, the reader thinks the plot is going one direction during the opening chapters but then expands about a third of the way in, revealing a much broader landscape and more interesting plot scenario. In fact, Beckoning Darkness is interesting and entertaining enough that I might go ahead and buy book two in the series. Which is what pleases most of us readers (and the author), I imagine – an intriguing story that leaves us wanting to stay immersed in the world the writer has created. Four out of five stars, especially for fans of supernatural suspense.


Review of The Atlantis Gene by A.G. Riddle

Review by Lyn Perry

I have to admit, I skimmed large chunks of The Atlantis Gene by A.G. Riddle, which actually didn't hinder my understanding of the plot and action very much at all. So the story wasn't hard to follow despite some critiques by other reviewers that the major players and opening scenarios melded into a confusing haze. My advice is to just blast through those details until it straightens itself out. Which translates into: there was just too much storytelling and extraneous details for my taste. Now, I don't like bare bone plot novels but neither do I care for the sprawling adventure that gets unwieldy from near the start (which this novel got precariously close to doing, imo).

For those who enjoy expansive series with lots of characters, storylines, subplots, and short chapter interludes, this may be right up your alley. Especially since there's a lot of great stuff in this book. Unfortunately, for me, I endured the first 75% so I could enjoy the last 25%, which was pretty fast paced and exciting (like a lot of books, truth be told). The challenge, though, is this novel doesn't reach a conclusion. I knew this was book one in a trilogy, but it's actually only part one of the story. There's a difference. The Hunger Games was book one. Catching Fire and Mockingjay were parts 1 and 2 of the sequel. See what I mean? The Atlantis Gene is an intriguing alien/time-travel/conspiracy theory adventure, but it didn't satisfy my expectation of a complete story.

Now I say all this knowing this book is a phenomenon in indie publishing and commend the author for meeting multiple thousands of readers' needs. It just goes to show that a fairly good story told fairly well (which is what 3 stars means to me, and how I'd rate it) is enough to please plenty of a writer's fans and keep them coming back for more. Recommended for indie book lovers and sci-fi apocalyptic lovers.


Review of Auckland Allies by Mike Reeves-McMillan

Review by Lyn Perry

Teens with magical powers, contemporary urban setting, good v evil subtext - all expected elements of your typical YA lit that's out there today. But somehow Auckland Allies by Mike Reeves-McMillan is different. Better and refreshing. First, it's set in Auckland, New Zealand, so there's a bit of out-of-the-ordinary feel to the story right off the bat. Which is good. Then, the characters come across as real and their magic isn't a superpower substitute so the predicaments and solutions the 'allies' go through are realistic as well. And overall the storytelling is clean, maybe a few swear words, but refreshingly not "new adult" which is a sad trend in a lot of contemporary YA (i.e., the inclusion of sex and swearing for no good reason). Fortunately, I could recommend this book to middle and high schoolers alike without embarrassment.

 As for the writing, it's solid. I enjoyed the 1st person snippy narrative of Tara, whom I consider the main character. I just wish the whole story was told from her POV. Instead, the book alternated between the three friends, all in the 1st person, and it got confusing at times. I'd put the kindle down then pick it up a few days later and forget who's telling the story at that point. And like a lot of books, it started to drag in the middle. Once the situation was figured out and the solution was in sight, the "getting there" was a bit on the slow side. But overall, a pretty quick read and enjoyable.

One more thought: I don't want to sound overly critical, but the cover art didn't grab me at all, nor did the title. If this was on a shelf at B&N I would probably have skipped it altogether without a second glance. Which has me wondering how I picked up the ebook in the first place. Maybe it was a gift, maybe part of a story bundle, maybe just a random purchase to support indie writers (which I recommend, btw). But after reading this, I'm inclined to see what the rest of the series holds. (Three books in this series, I believe, all stand alone novels.) Which is what all writers want, right? Us coming back for more? So three and a half stars for this one and recommended if you like clean, not too heavy, urban magic novels.


Quick Review of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Quick Impression by Lyn Perry

Read this in a day or two and really enjoyed it. But some will not. So fair warning: since Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is actually a play, you'll want to read it as such and imagine the story unfolding on stage. Caution: quite a few (too many?) scene changes. Just be forewarned and read the play for what it is - an extended telling of all that we know and love about Harry and Voldemort, but featuring "TNG."

If you keep that in mind, then it's a nice revisiting of the HP canon, a trip down memory lane (and into Godric's Hollow). In fact, it's kind of like an homage to the original series while introducing another related storyline. Sort of what Star Wars Episode 7 did for the original 3 movies. So if you want to immerse yourself in Pottermore, then this offering from J.K. Rowling (and company) serves that purpose well.


Review of Quest Beyond the Stars by Edmond Hamilton

Review by Lyn Perry

Wow, this was pretty bad. Even if it was written in 1940s, the science was terrible and the prose was worse. It read like a rejected Tom Swift book - with the requisite superfluous adverbs - but the target audience wasn't juveniles. Quest Beyond the Stars by Edmond Hamilton really stretches the definition of pulp space opera. 

The plot is linear and uninspired: Captain Future and his crew think and fight their way through every tough situation without so much as breaking a sweat in pursuit of their quest, which I can't even remember what it was. Which is fine, adventure heroes are supposed to do that. But the solutions were mostly deus ex machina in nature and the payoff was a foregone solution. So 1 1/2 stars for effort? 

(Note: This short novel is #9 in a series of about 20 books written by various authors in the early 1940s. So maybe other Captain Future books were better. But I won't be finding out unless I have absolutely nothing else to read.)


Recommending Scavenger Series by Timothy C. Ward

Scavenger: Evolution and Scavenger: AI are two books in Timothy C. Ward's Sand Divers series. Evolution came out initially as three episodes (short novellas) - Red Sands, Blue Dawn, and Twin Suns. These stories are based on and were my first exposure to Hugh Howey's world of Sand. (Ward's books are written and sold with Howey's permission.)

With only a vague understanding of Sand's premise, I was able to follow Scavenger: Evolution without a challenge and make sense of the Dune-like setting and conceit. Although it's a tie-in work, Ward's novel definitely holds its own as a stand alone story - and with as much gritty realism as can be found in Wool or any other story by Hugh Howey. Ward pays tribute to some excellent indie SF with these two outings.

If the intriguing concept of sand-diving is of any interest (and it should be!), and you want a taste of the promise of Danvar, I recommend Ward's addition to this post-apocalyptic SF epic. - Lyn Perry


Review of Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke

Review by Lyn Perry

This is one of those novels from the Golden Age of science fiction that we're all supposed to revere as a classic. I think if you read Childhood's End as a teen (say pre-1980s), then you might still hold that view of it, but I think your memory is probably tainted. After all, there weren't a lot of thought-provoking, human destiny pondering stories out there way back when. But today, this philosophizing exposition-heavy treatise disguised as a story amounts to just a whole bunch of hooey. Having read this for the first time in 2016, I can safely say this novel's just shy of being a dud.

First, Arthur C. Clarke, frankly, isn't that great of a writer. Oh, he was groundbreaking and all (2001: A Space Odyssey, hello), and evidently as smart as heck (he helped develop the first communications satellites), but his style is stilted, talking-headish, and not very compelling. It's simply boring reading.

Second, Clarke's atheism is painfully obvious and hurts his story telling. This novel is about humanity's 'coming of age.' We're leaving our childhood behind and evolving to our next stage of existence - union with the universal mind. Meh. Utopia on steroids. Stop the presses.

But what's funny here is the underlying theme - the climax of evolution is pantheism! Funny how so many atheist writers deny God's existence and yet their ultimate vision of utopia is a kind of apotheosis. Tired drivel, and ultimately vacuous. Which is the main reason this story failed, it ended in nothingness.


Review of Saint Death by Mike Duran

Review by Lyn Perry

Reagan Moon is a paranormal investigative reporter and a sceptic. Or at least he used to be. But ever since having a tau (a cross-shaped magic totem) emblazoned into his chest, he's become more open to the reality of the supernatural realm. That, and he's personally met his guardian angel. Oh, and the fact that he has some innate but mysterious powers. After his adventures in Mike Duran's first urban fantasy novel, The Ghost Box, Moon has now become a reluctant believer.

So he's not completely surprised to discover, in Duran's second outing in this series, Saint Death, that there are others out there like him. They're called the Imperia, a kind of paranormal 'justice league,' a rag tag team of earth guardians charged with countering the evil forces slipping into the natural realm. And what a variety of evil forces there are to battle!

One of Duran's strengths as a writer is to pull back the curtain on a spiritual dimension that is usually treated, well, two-dimensionally, by so many others. In a typical urban fantasy there are werewolves and vampires galore, but in Duran's imaginings the paranormal realm is much more interesting and diverse. We're dealing with a truly evil realm that gives some real depth to the good vs evil trope so prevalent in the traditional horror genre. You get a sense when reading these encounters that the battle between heaven and hell really matters - even when the one fighting on the side of heaven isn't a confirmed believer.

When it comes to describing these climactic spiritual encounters, Duran shines. It's almost as if he's telling a 'been there done that' story (ever hear of 'write what you know'?) that brings the reader into the scene itself. Though this is not a Christian fantasy (it's written for the general market), a savvy reader will pick up on the supernatural realities and worldview the author holds to. It's subtle, but there. As it should be with most good storytelling.

In fact, Saint Death is the kind of story Left Behind could have been. No, it's not a post-rapture apocalyptic tale. But it hints at the demonic forces at work in our world today that are preparing the way for an ultimate antichrist. The novel is not heavy-handed. It's a story, first and foremost. But it has a bit of weight and a positive theme undergirding a kind of modified superhero quest adventure. Now about a third of the way in, it does bog down a bit with some background exposition and some predictable elements. But don't let that section fool you; keep reading and you'll realize half way through that there's a whole lot of story left that you had no idea was coming.

Note on Genre and Rating: Urban fantasy, paranormal noir, supernatural suspense. This is not YA, but mature late middle graders would enjoy it. Due to occult themes and swear words, I'd say it rates between PG and PG-13. Four and a half stars. Highly recommended for those who enjoy paranormal urban fantasy but are tired of the same old same old. (Note: I received a free advanced reader's copy of this novel from the author.)


Quick Review of Avarice by Annie Bellet

Review by Lyn Perry

A quick impression rather than a review, actually. To start, I really liked this short novel, Avarice by Annie Bellet. Sort of a "Law & Order: Fantasy Guild" kind of story. What a great mash-up. If this blend of crime/mystery and alt/medieval fantasy has been done before, I haven't noticed, so I thought it original and new and very well done. Bellet is a solid writer, pacing an intriguing storyline while remaining witty and descriptive. A refreshing take on two of my favorite genres.

I gave it 5 stars on Goodreads, which says it's Book 1 in the Pyrrh Considerable Crimes Division series. But so far, no Book 2. I hope there are more novels in this fantasy world coming soon.


Review of Friends In Deed by T.M. Hunter

The Aston West Series by T.M. Hunter
Review by Lyn Perry

Although a sequel to Heroes Die Young, the short novel Friends In Deed can be read as a stand alone adventure. It is set in the Aston West universe and features a reluctant space pirate hoodwinked into carrying out one last deed with some former "friends" that he'd just as soon forget.

The protagonist's first person voice is wry and witty, but isn't overdone. We get to know Aston's back story a bit and can sympathize with his predicament, struggles, and decisions. Good story telling mixed with adventure and a plot that builds until the end. It is a fast paced thriller in space - space opera usually is, so fans of this genre won't be disappointed.

The novel starts strong; an early turning point and rising action hint at where you're headed but spools out enough mystery to keep the pages turning. Overall, fairly well plotted, but with a few loose ends - which allows, conveniently enough, for a third novel in the series, Death Brings Victory and also a fourth, All Good Things. The whole series is solid story telling, btw. 

Hunter's Aston West novels are adult themed, although nothing objectionable language-wise; however there are a few "senseless" deaths (not by Aston's hand) in book two, but this is part of the novel's subtle theme and poses a necessary crisis and internal struggle for the protagonist. Overall, the books are probably more YA and than MG if you're thinking you might want to buy them for your kids.

I'd recommend this series to anyone interested in adventure, even if space isn't your preferred setting. The science isn't intense, but the fiction is. In fact, I liked Hunter's collection of short stories, Dead or Alive: An Aston West Collection, enough to publish them via Tule Fog Press

So while I like Hunter's short stories featuring Aston, his novels (of which I haven't published any) allow the author's storytelling skills to really shine, in my opinion. I'd give them something close to an 8 out of 10. Well worth reading.


Review of The Muse

The Muse by Fred Warren
Published by Splashdown Books (2009)

(I received an advance copy a few years ago, and am ashamed to say I just now got to it. I should have read it earlier as it's very good and comes highly recommended from this reviewer, probably 8 out of 10 stars. Maybe I should buy the sequel, The Seer, and read and review that as soon as possible!)


Fred Warren's The Muse is a heart warming fairy tale that moves from reality to creative imagination and back again while expertly weaving together plot, setting, and characters - obviously the key elements in any good story. This short novel is a nicely accomplished metafiction (a story about storytelling), which is difficult to pull off, from my perspective. Many novel-themed novels can be self-conscious and this one isn't due to Warren's unpretentious third person voice and likability of Stan and his two friends, Jilly and Davos.

The set up is simple: These three writers meet a muse, of sorts, and strange things start happening. Some of the strangeness is a bit unbelievable, and yet the characters are so likable you just go with it. Creativity is strange, after all. And while it doesn't take long to realize that the "muse" turns out to be just as bad as she was suspicious when she first showed up, the experienced writing and interesting scenarios kept me hooked. While it's not necessarily a page turner plot-wise, there are just enough creative revelations (which Warren hints at throughout) that are wonderfully revealed in the final climax and resolution that reward the faithful reader.

Most of the writing is solid (some wonderful turns of phrases) but some of the dialog colloquialisms are already dated (da bomb!). However, this is a minor quibble and can be explained by this particular character's idiosyncrasies. Recommended as a middle grade or young adult novel (or for those who are young at heart) with nothing objectionable, although a few deaths do occur. And while the novel deals with some spiritual issues (and a little bit of angel speculation) it is not a tract for any particular religious group. A family safe bet for the whole family.


My Review of Boneyards

Although I enjoyed Boneyards by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, it was a complex read and one that can't be dipped into every few days or so. That is, it's not a novel that can be picked up and set down at random (you know, like those cozy mysteries that make for great bedtime reads, allowing you to drift off and pick up the storyline the next evening). This book insists that you jump in, figure it out, then stick with it until it's done. A couple of reasons for this... 

The main reason is the narrative structure - it's a dual narrative that comes together in the last third of the book. Boss tells her story in first person present, a difficult POV for those used to the traditional 3rd person past. The other narrative is about Squishy (not the most endearing of nicknames, imo) and is 3rd person, but not traditionally told - there are numerous flashbacks that span years, which can throw the reader for a loop. Rusch is an excellent writer, so she pulls it off (thematically tying the flashbacks to present day), but reading this novel is like sitting down to a ten-course meal when you thought you were invited over for a picnic. Star Wars it is not - although we do have an Empire and (a Nine Planets) Alliance. 

A second reason this isn't an easy read is that the flashbacks and backstory, while interesting, are a slow build to the faster paced last third of the book. I like a bit more action in my space opera, but again, the author knows how to tell a complex story and does it well. It's just that this book feels like a long interlude to the next book in the series. Which leads to the final reason I struggled with this novel a bit. And that is it's the third and latest book in what Rusch calls the Diving series. While this book is a stand alone, I gather that the first two books (which I didn't read, but probably should have) provide most of the background, characters, setting, and situation (space diving old wrecks) necessary to fully appreciate this one. 

That being said, Boneyards (referring to a graveyard of abandoned ships that Boss and her team will eventually dive and salvage for the benefit of the Alliance) does shine as a solid example of science fiction adventure. After struggling through the opening chapters, it intrigued this reviewer enough to want to go back and catch the two previous stories as well as follow Boss and her team back to the Boneyards when the next novel is released. I rate it 4 Stars.

(Note: I bought my paperback copy of Boneyards at our local B&N.)


Review of Firedrake at War

Firedrake at War: Raids of the Zeppelins 
by Mark Wolf

The Blurb:
It is 1914. The British Empire is threatened to be conquered by Germany. Captain Jesse "Jester" Hobbes, a colonial from the Central Colonies of the Americas and his firedrake, Lanaree, serve in the Royal Flying Corps, fighting to stem the tide of the German aerial bombardment of England by Zeppelins and heavy Goth bombers. Hope and inspiration can sometimes take strange forms.

My Review:
I received a free copy from the author and have to say, I was pleasantly surprised by this alternative history. WW1 with dragons? Great idea - take a bit of inspiration from Pern and transplant it to the early 20th century and you have a wonderful little mash-up historical SF/fantasy. Mark Wolf is a solid writer and while the story line isn't edge of your seat exciting, the characters are interesting and you end up truly caring if Captain Jesse Hobbs and his firedrake Lanaree make it through the battle of the Zeppelins alive. Good novella, worth 99 cents for sure.


Guest Blogger Ty Johnston

Today we welcome fantasy writer Ty Johnston. His latest novel, Demon Chains, has just been released and is available in a variety of e-formats from all the regular e-tailers. His other novels include City of Rogues, Bayne's Climb, and Ghosts of the Asylum (all available for the Kindle, the Nook, and online at Smashwords). You can follow his blog at tyjohnston.blogspot.com.

And now...here's Ty!


I have a confession to make. Actually, sort of, several confessions. I’m a fantasy writer, but there are still a lot of other fantasy writers I’ve never read, or I’ve read very little of their work. Many of these are names you will likely know, and yes, I feel guilty for not having read these authors.

Who are they? Here are some names:

George R.R. Martin
Robet Jordan
Jacqueline Carey
Brent Weeks
Brian Jacques
Stephen R. Donaldson
David Eddings
Terry Pratchett

Now, before you go all fan boy on me and roll your eyes saying something like, “Oh my gosh, how can he call himself a fantasy writer when he has never read (insert fanboy’s favorite author here),” keep in mind one simple thing.

I’m human.

There are a lot of writers I’ve never read, and while I spend a lot of time reading and writing, certain authors have slipped past me over the years. I average reading about 50 books a year, which I consider slow. I wish I were a faster reader, one of these people who plows through 200 novels a year, but unfortunately, I’m not.

It’s not that I’ve intentionally ignored such authors as the ones listed above, but that there is so much out there to read. For that matter, I do own books and e-books written by all of those writers above, but I’ve yet to get around to those books.

Concerning my career as a writer, mainly a fantasy fiction writer, I still consider myself fairly well read in the genre. Here are some of the speculative authors I have read, most quite extensively:

Steven Erikson
J.R.R. Tolkien
Lord Dunsany
R.A. Salvatore
Karl Edward Wagner
Neil Gaiman
Stephen King
Anne Rice
Glen Cook
David Gemmell
Steven R. Boyett
Terry Goodkind
Terry Brooks

Have you read all the works of all those authors? If not, then don’t judge me. If you have, well, laddy da! Good for you.

Truthfully, though, I’ve read a lot of other fantasy authors, as wells. A number I’ve never gone back to because I did not care much for their writing. I won’t name names, but there are some better known fantasy authors who didn’t do much for me. I don’t hold it against them. I simply figure I am not their audience.

And that’s the thing about opinions concerning fiction writing. If there is something you don’t like, an author or a book, you are not part of the audience for that particular writer or product. Oh, the writer always had hope you and a bunch of others might be part of the audience, but in the end, it doesn’t always work out that way.

Some writers have lots of fans, some don’t. The same can be said for novels, short stories, movies, food, music, etc. If you like it, if you love it, you’re part of the audience. If not, well, then you’re not.

Before you try something, at best you are part of the potential audience. Then after you’ve come to an opinion, you fall down either within or outside of the audience.

It’s really that simple.

So, for you writers out there, don’t get worked up too much if someone doesn’t like what you write. They are not your audience. What you do with that knowledge is up to you. You can keep working the way you are, hopefully building upon your current audience, or you can try something different in hopes of retaining your current audience will drawing in others.

For readers, just keep in mind not everything written, filmed, cooked, recorded, etc. necessarily is intended for your personal, unique taste. Sometimes it is, but often enough it is not. There is little reason to be offended when something doesn’t draw your love, though it is likely time to move on to something else, to search elsewhere for that which you will enjoy.

For instance, I hate pickles, but I don’t lose sleep over it. I also don’t spend my life on the Internet griping about pickles. Now, I admit, if someone tries to force pickles upon me, that’s a different story. Then I would rail to the high heavens about how much I hate pickles and the individual trying to force pickles down my throat.

Otherwise, I keep my mouth shut.

Looking back over what I have just written, one might think I had a bone to pick with readers or reviewers. Actually, I don’t. I have had some bad reviews, as has any writer with works in the public eye for any amount of time, but for the most part they don’t bother me. Oh, I’ve had some I thought were downright silly or even mind boggling, making me wonder if the reviewer even read my material, but again, I don’t lose sleep over it. I keep chugging along, doing what I think is best, because that’s all any writer can do.

No, I’m not out to target reviewers. There are some good ones out there and ... well, some who need some polish, in my opinion. If I am to offer any advice on the subject matter, I would suggest reviewers try to be civil and, if possible, to be helpful. Writers truly want to know what readers do and do not like about their works. Such information can help to inform the writer what he or she is doing right and what he or she is doing wrong.

Because readers are where it’s at. Readers are what keep us going. Hell, readers pay the bills.

I’m not suggesting writers should totally sell out and give readers everything they want, but readers do need to be in the writer’s mind when working. All writers write for themselves to some extent or other, but we also write for the pleasure of others.

Because if we’re not pleasing others, at least to some extent or other, we won’t be writing very long.

And none of us wants that.

Okay, none of us writers want that. Some of the rest of you might wish some of us would just go away and shut up.

Which I will now do.

Thank you.


Redding Up for Guests

Used to live in Western PA (pronounced P-A for you'ns who are a little backward and don't want to come with) and we'd red up the house if we knew company was comin'. Gotta love regional dialect. At any rate, ready or not, we'll soon be hosting a couple of writers here in our neck of the woods (or in PA it would be down here in the holler).

First up? Ty Johnston is coming February 2nd. He's going to make a confession. Stay tuned, but so that you know what you're in for, here's his cred:

Fantasy author Ty Johnson’s latest e-book novel, Demon Chains, has recently been released. As a way to promote Demon Chains, and because he enjoys meeting new people online, Ty is taking part in a blog tour running from February 1 through February 29. His novels include City of Rogues, Bayne’s Climb and Ghosts of the Asylum, all of which are available for the Kindle , the Nook and online at Smashwords. To learn more about Ty and his writing, follow him at his blog tyjohnston.blogspot.com.

So be on the lookout for Ty around the web and be sure to check out his books. Then, check back here for his guest post and for other writers making an appearance. In fact, here's his schedule:

Below is [the first half of] my schedule for my February 2012 blog tour. I'll be updating this list as details solidify. If you would like me to appear on your blog, please let me know. And, just to clarify, I don't mind guest posting on blogs I've appeared at before, I'm just trying to reach out a little more, so if I have appeared at your blog, please don't think that means I'm not interested in doing so again. Make sense?

Feb. 1 -- Indie Book Blogger
Feb. 2 -- Residential Aliens
Feb. 3 -- Colin McComb
Feb. 4 -- Journal of a New Guy
Feb. 5 -- Ben Dobson
Feb. 6 -- Scott Fitzgerald Gray
Feb. 7 -- Darrin Drader
Feb. 8 -- Weblog of Zoe Winters

Feb. 9 -- Carson Craig, nascent novelist
Feb. 10 -- Derek J. Canyon: Adventures in ePublishing
Feb. 11 -- Uri Kurlianchik: D&D Kids
Feb. 12 -- James Grenton's Blog
Feb. 13 -- Greg Hamerton 

Also, you can catch me asking fellow writer Hugh Howey about his new SF series of interrelated novellas called Wool. These stories are tearing up the charts at Amazon. I'll be back with an indepth review, but for now you can catch over 100 5 star reviews right here. That is nothing short of amazing.


While the Morning Stars Sing

An Anthology of Spiritual Infused Speculative Fiction

More than 30 short stories, poems, and illustrations, make up this collection of speculative fiction with a spiritual thread running through the whole volume. From science fiction and fantasy to magic realism and supernatural thriller, this new volume from ResAliens Press introduces readers to new and established writers who can not only tell great tales but at the same time touch on eternal themes.

The authors and artists who contributed to this volume, include: Pete Mesling, Aaron Polson, Steve Goble, Breanna R. Teintze, Rodney J. Smith, Stoney M. Setzer, Jonathan D. Stiffy, Marshal Latham, Margaret Karmazin, Jonathan Shipley, Cate Gardner, Rachel Starr Thomson, T. J. McIntyre, J. J. Steinfeld, Rachel Kolar, Mark Joseph Kiewlak, Michael W. Garza, R. L. Copple, Fred Warren, Vonnie Winslow Crist, Joyce Frohn, Carole McDonnell, Kat Heckenbach, Ray Foy, Harper Hull, S. J. Higbee, Jeff Draper, Richard H. Fay, John C. Mannone, Brad Foster, and Lance Red (cover artist).


Available at:
CreateSpace (paperback)
+ Smashwords (all e-formats, coming soon)
+ Barnes and Noble (Nook, coming soon)
+ Amazon (Kindle, coming soon)


Monsters! Anthology Call for Subs

The good folks at A Flame in the Dark are putting out a call for submissions to their new anthology, Monsters! Here are some pertinent details.
First, you don't have to deal with classic monsters. You can make up your own creature, or use variations on nontraditional themes. However, if you do choose to write about a more traditional monster (like vampires and werewolves, for example), classic movie rules apply. Silver hurts werewolves. Vampires hate garlic and crosses, have a severe sun allergy, and can be killed with a stake through the heart.

And speaking of classic monster movies, think about your favorites as you write. Stories can be serious, or perhaps a little cheesy (humorously so). Imagine your story playing on-screen at a 50s or 60s drive-in. We're going for pulp, here.

Stories must also contain an element of faith. As the website's title suggests, A Flame in the Dark is about shining a light in the darkness.
They're accepting stories from 500 to 7500 words. Submission deadline is May 31, 2012 with a publication date set for October. Participating authors will receive a contributor copy of the anthology. Be sure to read their submission guidelines for all the info. Sounds like a fun, frightful - and inspiringly delightful - collection. I'll be submitting a story, for sure.


Changa's Safari by Milton Davis

You've heard of Sword & Soul, of course. What? You haven't yet? You will. It's a dynamic, adventure-packed genre of African-based fantasy that is growing in popularity. Place Conan in the Congo and you'll start to get the picture. But I say that as a Euro-American reader to other Euro-Americans who, like me (at least until a few years ago), are unfamiliar with the genre.

Really, Sword & Soul stands on its own. The genre description was coined by Charles Saunders, author of Imaro (introduced in the 70s) and Dossouye novels. According to Milton Davis, sword and soul is "action-adventure fantasy based on ancient and medieval African culture, mythology, and traditions." It differs from European based fantasy in that it combines the vibrant myths and kingdoms of Africa with the Griot tradition of story telling.

One of the new voices in this tradition is Milton Davis, founder of MVmedia and author of a number of fantasy novels, including Meji Books I and II, and Changa's Safari, an epic tale of sorcery, friendship, betrayal, and ultimate triumph. Here's the blurb from Changa's Safari.
In the 15th century on the African continent the young prince Changa Diop flees his homeland of Kongo, vowing to seek revenge for the death of his father and free his family and people from the foul sorcerer Usenge. He survives slavery and the fighting pits of Mogadishu, eventually becoming a merchant adventurer whose extraordinary skills and determination make him a legend. From the Swahili merchant cities of Mombasa and Sofala to the magnificent Middle Kingdom, Changa and his crew experience adventures beyond the imagination. Despite his reputation, Changa will not rest until he has fulfilled his promise to his people. The anchors are lifted and the sails are dropped. Let the safari begin!
Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I was privileged to edit Changa's Safari, Volume I and just finished editing Volume II - which is the second book of a planned trilogy. And I have to say I hope I get the job for Volume III. If not, I'll just have to buy it! I found myself getting caught up in the story and forgetting to proof every now and then. Milton does a fantastic job of submerging the reader into a swashbuckling tale of 15th century African adventure. His stories - and the genre - come highly recommended.


Castle of Endless Woe Reviewed

The Castle of Endless Woe

by Ty Johnston

This is a solid novelette set in the same world as the author's epic fantasy trilogies known collectively as The Ursian Chronicles. The setting of this story is vivid and the pacing is steady, and like a novel it takes awhile to warm to the plot. But by a third of the way in I was hooked.

Johnston is a deliberate writer, choosing words and images with care. His characters are soundly developed with just enough ambiguity to keep you guessing as to their drives and motives.

As for the suspense, it definitely simmers but doesn't quite boil over, in my opinion, and ultimately the mystery surrounding the Castle of Endless Woe isn't fully explained. Not all loose ends need to be tied up, but I was expecting a bit more revelation as to the evil residing in the haunted manor. However, if you enjoy storylines with an episodic feel to them, this long short story will provide some engaging entertainment while leaving you wanting more.

(Note: I downloaded a free promotional version of this story. It's now 99 cents at Amazon, which is not a bad deal for an afternoon of reading pleasure.)


The Metaphysics of Magic

Guest Blogger, Dean Hardy, presents...
The Metaphysics of Magic:
Writing Christian Fantasy from a Christian Worldview

While a philosopher by trade, I am a fantasy writer by heart. But sometimes these worlds collide and I can’t help but to allow the left side of my brain to wrestle and pin down the right. I can’t stand to do anything passionately until I understand what it means to do that specific action. That’s why I’ve had to address my own questions: “What does it mean to write 'Christian' fantasy? What are the essential marks of a Christian fantasy writer?”

Christian fantasy writers are of a different suit than other artists. Painters create works of art, musicians write songs, and dancers dance, but fantasy writers are charged with creating another world; an alternate or additional story to the reality we now inhabit. The writer is free to ask, “What if our world was different? Or if it never existed at all.”

With this in mind it’s safe to say that fantasy writers are artists who teeter on blasphemy. For if we create merely for the sake of creating, or put even more selfishly, if we write for our own mere enjoyment, then there can be nothing more blasphemous. For to create an alternate world with no intent to bring God the glory is a bold and brazen attempt at being God, who did create this world for His own glorification.

While there may be some disagreement on this last point, I make it merely to showcase the concept that a positive intent is a necessary component of Christian fantasy. It’s not merely a fantastic tale, there must be a focus on “something more.”

Please don’t interpret this last sentence as an argument that all Christian fantasy must be blatantly gospel-laden. Rather, just like Tolkien’s notion that Lewis’ Narnia was “heavy-handed,” I think that Christian fiction writers may sometimes be too overt in their integration of the gospel. Just to think, we could have even more stories that end in a risen hero who has sacrificed himself to free his friends from some sort of bondage. While allegory is often practiced, it’s rarely done in such a way that seems original and entertaining to the reader.

One of the most neglected motivations for fantasy writing (and reading) is for discipleship. Many valuable lessons can be taught and learned from a truly good story. There are obvious examples like the value of friendship and sacrifice in The Lord of the Rings and the Narnia books, but there are plenty of examples of philosophical and theological discipleship in other works of fantasy as well.

Consider C.S. Lewis’ Perelandra, where the writer explores the nature of an alternate Adam and Eve that never sinned or even George MacDonald’s At the Back of the North Wind, where a young boy considers the problem of evil when the noble North Wind performs some questionable actions. Under the beautiful guise of fantasy, concepts about our Creator and general truths about our world should overflow.

While magic is not an essential part of the Christian fantasy story, it’s a quite common element to many. The question the writer should ask is not, “Should or shouldn’t there be magic in my story,” but rather the question should be, “How does the magic in this story work, especially if there is no explicit God figure in the tale?”

I believe it’s right and reasonable to ask, “From what or whom does this power come?” when you are reading a magical story set in this world. Is it from Satan or from God? This is exactly the reason why there was so much buzz and ridicule of The Harry Potter series. While Hogwarts was a magical school, it still took place on earth and the powers were not limited to an alternate world.

But if the magical powers or the story as a whole are bound in a different reality, the question above makes little sense. In a speculative realm what we may call “magic” may be as normal as simple physics. No one cried, “Foul!” when Gandalf’s staff illuminated, or Lucy’s cordial healed Reepicheep. Why? Because the reader realized that things of that world were very different from ours, and that no supernatural being (good or evil) was necessary for the magic to take place.

The question should then be reformulated pragmatically for the reader, “For what is this magical power used? Something good, or something evil?” For the source of the magic is no longer the question. The action is as normal as any other action in that world. The inquiry then turns to the motivation and consequence of the magical deed.

That leads us to our last point: there should be an easy-to-discern good and evil in the story. This doesn't mean that there must be a perfectly good protagonist and horrendously vile villain, but rather that goodness itself is established in the tale, and evil the obvious lack thereof. Goodness itself, the qualities that God personifies and the virtues we strive for should be clear, encouraged, and unquestioned.

While not an exhaustive set of attributes, the essential elements of Christian fantasy have been considered, and a manifesto of Christian fantasy writers has commenced. Comments, reactions, and differing views welcome below.


Dean Hardy, Bible Department Chair at Charlotte Christian School in North Carolina, is also the author of Magnus Kir, an allegorical YA novel published by Ambassador International. You can connect with Dean at his Facebook page.


Review of Magnus Kir

Magnus Kir by Dean Hardy

Published by Ambassador International

Reviewed by Lyn Perry (I purchased my copy.)

Read my review at Bloggin' Outloud.


Review of The Worker Prince

The Worker Prince by Bryan Thomas Schmidt

Published by Diminished Media Group, October 2011

Cover art by Mitch Bentley (high res image worth a look)

Reviewed by Lyn Perry (I received a free advance copy.)

Read my review at Bloggin' Outloud.


Free Magazine and Book Giveaway

This is your week!

ResAliens Press is giving away a free issue at Smashwords (download the e-format of your choice). Issue 4.11 of Residential Aliens Magazine features 5 spec fic stories (over 25k words total) ranging from sword-and-planet fantasy to science fiction, and magic realism to zombie exterminators.

Here's the TOC. Enjoy! (Download Here)
1. Petition by L.S. King
2. The Fluttering Flies by Gary Raven
3. Plague Ship by Kurt Heinrich Hyatt
4. Full Moon Gala by Lachlan David
5. Tarzan at the Earth's Corps by Walt Staples

Like I said, this is your week. You visited the right blog at the right time. Especially if you're visiting from the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour. Welcome! Enjoy the free magazine and be sure to enter the drawing (it closes August 30, 2011).

(BTW, if you arrive here for the the drawing at Goodreads to win T. M. Hunter's anthology of space opera, Dead or Alive - An Aston West Collection, it is now over. These 11 new and classic space opera tales feature everyone's favorite space pirate, Aston West. Ride along with Aston as he treks across the galaxy and discover for yourself why he is so often wanted either dead or alive. More information in the ResAliens Press Bookstore.)


Humour in Flash Fiction

Note: Our Guest Columnist is Camille Gooderham Campbell, Managing Editor at Every Day Fiction. I asked her to share some thoughts on writing flash fiction, EDF's specialty. Here's what she has to say.

Back in the early days of Every Day Fiction, we decided that we’d make a point of scheduling something humorous for every Monday. Mondays are hard enough, we thought, without adding a gritty tale of abuse, terminal illness or abject poverty to the mix. And so, over the past four years, we’ve done our best to make sure that the start of the week brings a laugh from EDF.

However, finding enough humorous pieces to fill our Mondays hasn’t proven to be as simple as all that, for two reasons: genuinely humorous storytelling isn’t the easiest thing in the world, and even leaving writing skill aside, we don’t all share the same sense of humour.

Many of the unsuccessful humour submissions that we see at EDF fall into the category of joke-telling rather than storytelling:
Since to some extent jokes are stories, there’s no clear line between a joke and a story, and a flash fiction piece can play both roles through character development and narrative skill. A joke virtually never develops its characters; when a man walks into a bar, he doesn’t have any characteristics that don’t function as part of the joke – he’ll be tall or ugly or a priest as the punchline requires, but that’s it. In a joke, the setup exists only to serve the punchline, rather than the humour serving the story. The difference is a matter of perception and taste, and has a lot to do with the way in which the piece is delivered. Told as a story, it comes alive as a story; told as a joke, it is reduced to a joke. (from my essay “Connecting the Dots” in The Best of Every Day Fiction Two)

Unfortunately, since perception is a subjective thing and tastes differ from person to person, and especially with flash fiction since so much of the story has to be sketched in, implied, hinted at and left to the author’s imagination, the difference between a joke and a story is an imprecise grey area. A humorous story is an exercise in tightrope walking, with half the readers ready to shoot it down for being only a joke and the other half ready to find it unfunny and either boring or offensive.

There’s no formula for success in writing humour, but after reading too many flash fiction submissions to count, I’ve come up with three tips that seem to be relevant more often than not:

* Develop real characters and settings. Make them as real as anything in your head. Give that tall ugly priest a secret lover and a weakness for chocolate, give that bar a grotty washroom and watered-down booze. Even if you only hint at those dimensions when you pare your story down to the bones of flash, you’ll be thinking of them as real and they will come across as real.

* Tell the story naturally; don’t editorialize or try too hard to be funny. If you’ve got a genuinely humorous concept, it will make people laugh without any additional window-dressing and finger-pointing.

* Value the flow of the story as a whole over individual witty lines; falling in love with a particularly clever turn of phrase can impair your inner editor, and a great line isn’t great when it has to be shoe-horned into the story.

Writing a good story is only half the battle, though, since you then need to match the story to the right publication for a good fit.

When you choose where to send your finished piece, keep in mind that not all publications have the same level of tolerance for humour involving bodily functions. Whether we’re talking about comedy of the gastrointestinal system or the lighter side of getting sexy, there’s a delicate balance between funny and gross, and the line falls in different places for different magazines. Think about the target readership when deciding if a piece is appropriate for a particular venue; for example, at EDF we know that many of our readers are eating while they read and may also be at work (on a coffee or lunch break, right?), so we’re cautious about stories that push the gross factor. We’ve seen some very funny pieces that are just too extreme for us.

Finally, remember that humour is largely a matter of taste, and that goes for editors and publishers just as much as for any other reader. There’s no benchmark of humour, no way to authenticate whether something is or isn’t funny – the reader either laughs or doesn’t laugh, end of story – so if a piece gets rejected on the basis that it isn’t funny, recognize that it wasn’t funny to that editor, and try a different market. Collecting a stack of twenty-five “it wasn’t funny” comments might suggest something, of course, if only that your sense of humour is fairly esoteric and you might be hard pressed to find an editor who shares it.

[Thanks, Camille, for sharing your take on humor (American spelling ;) and flash. I have a similar opinion regarding the difference between jokes and short stories. At my other blog, I talk about it in Part 3 of my short series on writing flash fiction. Read Part 1 and Part 2 as well. - Lyn]


Dead or Alive by T.M. Hunter

Disclaimer! I'm the editor and publisher of Dead or Alive - An Aston West Collection by T.M. Hunter. That being said, I think it reasonable to assume that if I liked these stories well enough to publish them I should be able to talk about them! After all, editors are simply people who promote stories they enjoy reading. So read on...

The Aston West series is classic space opera where rawhide adventure of the frontier meets sophisticated technology of the 23rd century. T.M. Hunter has developed an engaging and likeable antihero in Aston West, the reformed (?) space pirate who still manages to get himself into a number of ill-advised scrapes. That, despite the gentle guidance of his AI companion, Jeanie, who is his ship's brain and has a few adventures of her own.

In Dead or Alive, Hunter pulls together a representative collection of 11 new and classic stories featuring Aston, Jeanie, and a number of other recurring characters. These short fictions coordinate nicely with Hunter's longer works, Heroes Die Young and Friends in Deed. (Visit AstonWest.com.) These compact novels, along with the novella Seeker, establish the author as a fresh voice in the expanding universe of space opera/science fiction. T.M. Hunter is here to stay, and we can thank him that Aston West is as well.

Note: The Kindle, NOOK, EPUB, and other e-versions are on their way. In the mean time, you can buy a 10 story collection at iTunes for your iPad/iPhone (see the different cover to the left? That's why!). Also, the paperback is always available at CreateSpace.

Some Amazon Reviews:
“Fabulous book! I was kept in suspense on every page and I couldn't stop reading until the end!” - About Heroes Die Young

“My favorite sci fi hero is back! Aston West, the reluctant hero and space scavenger, seems like an old, dear friend to me.” - About Friends in Deed