Review of The Light of Eidon

Review by Timothy C. Ward

Karen Hancock has made a significant contribution to the genre of Christian Fantasy with her novel, The Light of Eidon. Her allegories are illuminating, accurate to biblical truth and very creative. I enjoyed her characters and how they came from so many viewpoints; they were all true to themselves and left a lasting impression. Her crisp prose never settled for boring description and in doing so kept this world alive. I was glad that she kept me guessing, and even more at how many times I guessed wrong. Karen also does a great job keeping you emotionally involved. Her main character, Abramm is a strong protagonist that is well worth being the focal point of a series. On top of all this, I loved her action scenes. This world has a gladiator type system of fighting that makes for great battles, not to mention her unique magic system and monster creations.

For anyone writing Christian Fiction, this book provides a great lesson in how to write quality fiction that embraces spiritual truths we all battle. Her characters have depth to their reasoning and in doing so Karen addresses the many concerns people have with embracing a God of grace. I did not find this book preachy — in part because she does not dismiss challenges to biblical faith. Some people accept that gift and others don’t, plain and simple. She is not writing this book to make converts, but rather to show how real the struggle can be and that people can go either way and still be real. You don’t know coming in who will and who won’t, so there is plenty of drama to keep you till the end.

The world Karen created is a fantastic example of carrying truths from our world to a fantasy, while using those allegories to express truths in ways you’ll never forget. The golden shield of the Tertsan is an idea I wish I came up with, but I won’t tell you why. The Gospel and how to be saved are both creative and truthful. The opposing religions are complex and not at all straw men or two dimensional in any way. You can really feel what it would be like to live within their religious system and in providing these examples we get a better understanding of the faiths around us. I’m excited to see what adventures are in store for Abramm as he battles against the many enemies left to face in future books.

I would have paid for this, but because it was not only free but a very good book, I’ll definitely be buying more of her work in the future.

About the Reviewer: Timothy C. Ward is the author of the new fantasy novel, Godsknife: Revolt! which is available from Amazon, as are his other books.

Note about this review: This review first appeared in 2011 on Goodreads and is republished here with permission from Mr. Ward. Other books by Karen Hancock are available at Amazon.


Review of The Man in the High Castle

Review by Lyn Perry

Heads up for those who've not read The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick or seen the series on Amazon Prime - I'm bound to reveal a few spoilers in talking about this story, but I think you can still enjoy the book even though you know where it's going. Just an FYI.

First off, if you're looking for plot and action and interesting character interactions, the TV show is quite a bit better than Philip Dick's original. Dick offers a literary, strongly thematic exploration of an alternative socio-political reality. It's not so much science fiction as a commentary on the then current state of affairs in the US (it was written and set in 1962), and is an obvious speculative musing on 'what might have been.'

The premise, if you are totally unfamiliar with the novel or show, is that Japan and Germany won WW2 and now occupy the west and east coasts of the former United States, respectively. The trope seems quite exhausted today, but I don't think many writers by the 1950s had explored alternative history in quite the same manner; though there were some published, including Bring the Jubilee by Ward Moore (1953) which has the Confederacy winning the Civil War. (Dick says this book was an inspiration for his novel.) The Man in the High Castle, however, doesn't spend a lot of time exploring the inner workings of Japan's and Germany's new regimes; it focuses instead on the interior life of three or four characters as they seek to come to grips with love, loss, work, and future dreams in the occupied states.

And this will either make or break the book for you. If you enjoy literary musings (often abstract and philosophical), interior dialog as a narrative device, and getting to know characters through their psychological ramblings, then you'll 'get' this novel. It has strong themes like xenophobia will destroy the world and alternate paths won't necessarily save the world. It explores questions like, what is reality/authenticity and does it make a difference? Symbols abound as well - counterfeit items, technological devices, and (at the center of the story) an explosive novel by the Man in the High Castle himself. So while I didn't enjoy the book as much as I wanted to, I think it would make for a pretty good discussion with mature high schoolers who enjoy reading or in a junior college lit class.

A major difference, then, between the novel and the television show is that there are no 'alternative history' films in Dick's original story. For those who've been watching the series on Amazon Prime, season one is all about discovering who the Man in the High Castle is and why he wants to collect all the various newsreels that are circulating alternative facts about the outcome of World War 2. So instead of films, in the book there is a 'novel within the novel' called The Grasshopper Lies Heavy (a biblical reference) which has many people agitated. It's a testimony to the power of propaganda, the power of the written word, the power of an idea which can (thus another theme) change the world.

As for the show itself, I'm really enjoying it. The characters are nicely developed (Childan especially, played by Brennan Brown, is one of my favorites), personal situations intersect with global events in meaningful ways, and the teasing out of the importance of the films and what they mean to everyone involved keeps the story line suspenseful. The series deals a bit with religion (a strong factor in Dick's novel), though is not heavy handed. Family and friendship are key elements as well. It's rated MA for mature and is a bit graphic at times, but it has very little skin showing. Lots more to say about the show, but to cut to the chase, I'd recommend it. The book, maybe 3 stars, but the series, 4 1/2. Hope season three takes us closer to a satisfying conclusion.


Review of Cyberstorm by Matthew Mather

Review by Lyn Perry

Cyberstorm by Matthew Mather is a snowmaggedon/society breakdown kind of novel. The author does a good job setting up the story and then peppering it with some realistic survivalist tactics and probable prepper type scenarios. However, the story started to drag about a third of the way in and I started skimming once I realized we were going to live each day in real time with the survivors of an apartment building in NYC.

The writing is pretty solid, though, and Mather purposefully focuses on the characters and their interactions; but the genre itself primes the reader for more action I think. I kept expecting the story to widen out and pull back the curtain on the cyber attack itself and its impact on the rest of the world. As another reviewer wrote: "This ended up being more of a survival story amid a disaster in the concrete jungle, than a book about cyber espionage." And I agree, though for what it was I was generally captivated by the narrative's inevitable slide toward chaos, which seemed quite realistic.

Not a bad read, really. Three or three and a half star rating from me because there wasn't much of a climax. The survivalists' desperation ends in a bit of an anti-climax, in fact, and the last 5 to 10 percent of the book is exposition on how a cascade of unfortunate events and paranoid misunderstandings led to a truly terrible breakdown of Manhattan and the rest of the Eastern seaboard. But maybe that's how future disaster situations will spindle out in real life. We may not face an actual dramatic world-ending apocalypse, just an increasing number of dangerous and tragic catastrophes that change our lives in ways we can now only imagine.


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 story. 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.


Quick Review of A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin

Brief Reaction by Lyn Perry

Look, if you've made it this far in this sprawling saga, A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin, you're either all in (4 to 5 stars per book) or you're just wasting your time.

If you haven't read the series and you want to jump in now, then a word of caution: before you start with A Game of Thrones (book 1), be aware you're embarking on an epic journey that takes time and effort. It's too big to review. It's too vast to summarize. It's excellent writing and powerful story telling. It's violent and vulgar. It's not your grandpa's LOTR sit by the fire and tell me a tale before I go to sleep kind of series.

And if, once you get started and you feel the books are a bit too intense for your taste, then skip the HBO series completely. The novels stand on their own (obviously!) and mostly avoid the raw titillation of the on screen adaption. Mostly. Now I enjoy both the books and the television series, but they are different 'things' so be forewarned. I'm definitely waiting for book 6 and the promise of "The Winds of Winter" to see how the marshaling forces of truth and treachery come together before the final showdown. You probably are too!


Review of Jack Brand Stories

Review by Lyn Perry

This book featuring space adventurer Jack Brand by John M. Whalen (the publication was re-titled The Big Shutdown in 2015 when the author self-published it) is a collection of space western short stories about a hired raygun-slinger and former employee of the Tulon Security Force who's finding his way on a wild and wooly planet far from Earth. The stories are tied together by a small cast of believable characters and Brand's perennial search for his kidnapped sister. It's a good set up and the full effect is that these intertwined chapters read nearly like a regular novel.

Every episode offers some exciting action, though I admit, some of the scenarios can get a tad tiresome. A few of the bad guys border on the bumbling criminal stereotype and too often leave Brand a way of escape when the best solution is to simply kill him outright. (Obviously, a book's hero can't die in the first story! So the escape trope is part of the adventure.) Brand does get beat up quite a bit, though, making this fairly realistic (PG-13 for violence).

Overall quite enjoyable. A few of the stories are a bit campy, however, reminding me of those sci-fi B movies from the 1950s. But if read in the spirit of pulp action and adventure, they make for some fun escapism. The writing is solid and most chapters conclude with an understated observation of the human predicament. Quick, thrilling, and at times quite thoughtful. Recommended for space opera and space western fans of all ages.

Note: This collection (many of which, if not all, were first published in an online space opera zine called Raygun Revival) was originally published simply as "Jack Brand" with this remarkable cover (above). I received a free PDF version of the book a long time ago from Pill Hill Press. At the time, I asked fellow editor and avid spec fic reader Keanan Brand - no relation to Jack Brand! - to write a review back in 2010, which you can read on this blog here.


Review of The Kobalos Trilogy

Review by Lyn Perry

The Kobalos Trilogy by Ty Johnston is a high fantasy series featuring Kron Darkbrow. Here are my short reactions to each of the books.

Book 1, City of Rogues - Excellent high fantasy in the tradition of David Eddings featuring magic, action adventure, and a fully developed setting with the requisite religious factions, dark lords, powerful wizards, and rogue heroes. But this is no knock-off quest novel. Johnston is strong storyteller and world builder who offers characters you can immediately picture and sympathize with. If you're a lover of epic fantasy, then you'll want to follow along with Kron Darkbrow as he takes on his most challenging opponent yet.

Book 2, Road to Wrath - I must not have written a full review of this on Goodreads, but I remember this novel as a "transition" episode, more of a traveling narrative (see the title) to get from the set up in Book 1 to the climax in Book 3. Good writing, expanded the characters' motivations, just not that memorable as a stand alone adventure.

Book 3, Dark King of the North - A satisfying conclusion to this trilogy. Somewhat violent for my taste (it would definitely earn an R rating as a movie), but the torture scenes, though hard to take, do have resolution. The world-building borrows heavily from the epic fantasy tales we're all familiar with, but the prophecy element is different enough for this not to be a cookie-cutter knight's quest adventure. The presumed hero, Kron, actually takes a bit of a back seat in this novel, which is okay as his constant dark attitude starts to wear thin after awhile.

Overall, though, Johnston's writing is solid and the novel delivers. The 3-part tale starts strong with book one, drags a bit in book two, but picks up nicely in this third and concluding chapter. 4 to 4 1/2 stars. If you enjoy epic, heroic fantasy with a medieval religious bent in the vein of David Eddings or even Robert E. Howard, this trilogy is recommended for mature audiences.


Review of Child of Two Worlds by Greg Cox

Quick Review by Lyn Perry

It's been a long time since I've read a Star Trek novel, and, fortunately, I picked a good one for my Christmas present to myself upon my return to the Star Trek universe. It's a Spock and Captain Pike novel, the captain of the Enterprise before Kirk, set just a few months after the events detailed in the series television pilot, "The Cage." This story entails Klingons (both the more human looking but genetically malformed from TOS, and the more aggressive looking warriors we all know and love), an out of control virus aboard the Enterprise, and a thwarted mission of mercy. Good stuff.

Greg Cox is a solid writer; the plotting is strong, the story engaging (though the explanatory sentences that regularly pad the paragraphs were at times a tad much), and the familiar characters were nicely drawn. It's a fast read, nothing surprising there. Full of action, adventure, repartee, and subtle in-the-know quips and references - including an expendable ensign, Spock's implied future with a new captain, and a medical staff person who says, "I'm a nurse not a doctor." ;)

Recommended, especially to Star Trek fans.


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.