Review of Jarek the Scholar by Cliff Hamrick

Jarek the Scholar: Adventures in Ebesu

by Cliff Hamrick (Amazon author page)
Fiery Blade Publishing (September, 2022)
Sword & Sorcery Fantasy, 165 pages

This short collection of fast-paced, high adventures features Hamrick's cerebral-leaning hero, Jarek the Scholar, as he travels a foreign land, adrift after a significant personal loss as well as being cast out of his family. His wits and sword are all that he has left.

Although we never quite discover his full backstory, we're along for a thrilling ride as Jarek makes his own way in the world - to prove himself, to gain wealth, reputation...and a little self-respect. He's good in a fight, but better with his wits, and the mysteries he solves are dark, dangerous, and intriguing.

Hamrick sets up a number of fascinating scenarios in a classic sword and sorcery setting full of strange and horrific monsters and cosmic powers. I first stumbled upon this series when the author posted a freebie in a Facebook group I'm in, Poison in the Dark. Here's my Goodreads review of that short tale:

Enjoyed this clever fantasy thieving adventure novelet featuring Jarek (my first exposure to this character and first story I've read by Cliff Hamrick). I thought I'd stumbled upon sword and sorcery erotica the way the story opens (so reader beware!) but the tale quickly unfolds into a fun and plot twisty romp. Very well done and a series I may want to get into.

S&S erotica? Sign you, up, you say? Simmer down, dear reader. Most of Hamrick's stories don't go there. Some are dark, others a bit lighter, but almost all of them I've read have been quite enjoyable. Here's the Table of Contents of Adventures in Ebesu...

The Silent Ship, Desert Nightshade, The Grand Theater, Star of Uskuk, City of the Dead, The Crystal Flame, and The Blue Butterfly. This last one appears only in this collection - the others can be found as stand-alones. If you are in Kindle Unlimited, find them there.

I've also read The Secret in the Library and The Cure for the Sleeping Woman; currently reading Battle for the Blood Oak. I believe the only Jarek adventure I haven't read is The Priestess of Callata and that's because there's a naked woman on the cover. Perhaps another S&S erotica tale? You'll have to let me know! ;-)

If you enjoy sword and sorcery adventure fantasy with a different take on the genre's typical anti-hero, then check out Cliff Hamrick's Jarek the Scholar stories. Recommended for mature readers. 4.5 Stars.


E-Zine Review - Worlds of Adventure Issue 1

This is an interesting experiment - and I wish the publisher, Allison Tebo, well. She's introducing a quarterly e-zine called Worlds of Adventure, where she and her two sisters (all writing under pseudonyms) can share their unique worlds of, well, adventure.

Tebo is a Christian writer of magical stories full of excitement, grit, and a few laughs as well. She seems to gravitate toward romantic comedy retellings of popular fairy tales; and Issue 1 is a nice sampling of this genre.

Her indie publishing venture is T Spec Fiction and this quarterly e-zine contains clean, speculative fiction for YA and MG readers (though adults will enjoy the stories as I did, I'm sure).

I was given a free copy of the zine so that I might share a review here and on Goodreads and Amazon. Here are my thoughts on each of the 7 stories in this issue.

* Rendezvous - a cute vignette (a slice of a larger story) featuring a defector's accidental escape from custody. The writing is wry and succinct. Not a bad bit of flash fiction. Has a steampunk feel to it.

* One Last Shot - also a short scene (not a full blown story), featuring another escape but this time done with ingenuity and bravery against a robot guard. Would like to know more about this space opera world; how the protag got involved with her new alien friend whom she helped break out of prison.

* The Queen’s Cure – a bit longish ‘fantasy world vs modern machines’ story, where the traitor to the kingdom advances his science against the realm’s reliance on the Fae. Quite tragic and thematic. The queen employs a long forgotten remedy to save her people, but at what cost?

* Treachery Aboard The Nautilus – probably my favorite story, a pastiche of what happens right after Nemo’s victory over the giant squid in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Imaginative, well written, with a nice resolution. A new story in a familiar world is a risk for a writer, but this one works.

* Seven Strong – A fairytale reimagining of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in a steam punk, robotic, business conglomerate world. Had a hard time getting into this one, but maybe because I never particularly cared for the original story and the re-told setting was just too unusual a mash-up for me.

* Night Raid On The Zone, Part 1 – I have to admit I skimmed this one knowing it was the initial installment of a serial novel and is to be continued in future episodes. I usually want to read a novel as is and not one chapter at a time over time. The premise looked interesting, though.

* The Trent-Featherstone Journals: Episode 1 – This, too, is a serial but this first episode is intriguing. “Victorian ladies fending off hungry dinosaurs on the planet Venus” is how another reviewer put it. I like it. Steam punk, sci-fi, fantastic adventure. If this ever develops into a full novel, I’d probably want to read the whole thing.

So, five stories and two continuing stories make up this first issue. Great concept, overall. Clean and mostly wholesome (PG’ish) with some tragedy, tension, and thought-provoking themes. If you want to support indie projects, this is a good one to look into.


Review of Variable Star by Heinlein and Robinson

Variable Star

by Robert A Heinlein and Spider Robinson

Listened to the audio, read by Spider Robinson himself. Fantastic narration. He wrote this novel based on an 8 page outline (and a bunch of character notecards) of a 1950s novel that Heinlein never got around to. 

Eight pagesof notes minus one! Heinlein either never penned an ending or the last page was lost. Spider Robinson did a heck of a job wrapping it up. In fact, it’s really a Robinson novel based on a Heinlein outline.

At the end of the audio, the author talks about how it all came about. This “last” novel by Heinlein was authorized by his estate, normally not a good idea, but the opening chapters are quite delightful. 

(Trigger warning for those who don't hold to 1950s traditional family values. If you can't handle a retro-style novel, then I don't know what to tell ya. I was pleasantly surprised at how pro-life, pro-family, and Creator-friendly - aka Intelligent Design - the novel turned out to be.)

However, at about 40% (chapter 10), the storyline went nowhere fast and I lost the direction of the plot. I slogged through some interminable physics (planetary gravity, relative mass, time travel theory, etc – actual SF stuff which I don’t particular care for being more of a space opera fan) and then skipped to chapter 19. 

Good choice, because the climax and denouement were pretty good and the main characters that were there in the beginning of the novel returned for a memorable showdown.

One other quibble. I enjoy humor, and this novel was full of it. Wit, sarcasm, funny cultural allusions. But the wittiness got so overwhelming that I sighed a lot as I listened to the story. Robinson is funny, no doubt, but the one liners were just too relentless. 

So I give the book 3.5 stars. If you’re a fan of either author, you’ll probably enjoy it. I did overall, but it was almost too much of a good thing, if you know what I mean.


Review of Forsaken Earth by Dalton Cortner

Forsaken Earth
by Dalton Cortner
Mil SF - 40 pages

Forsaken Earth is a prequel story (short novella) to Dalton Cortner's military sci-fi two-book series, The Athena Operation. It's a pretty good entry-point adventure focusing on two key characters in the author's main novels. This episode has Seraph, a human, and his alien soldier-at-arms, Sadhis, investigating a potential uprising on the long forsaken planet Earth. As the blurb states: "Earth is abandoned. Those left behind refuse to be silenced."

I thought the action, tension, and revenge motivation reflected the war-torn environment of a future devastated Earth pretty well. The two soldiers are not on the same page with regard to the ultimate mission (the capture of the rebel leader), which makes for a nice subplot to the story. It's gritty, fast-paced, and without a lot of techno-jargon, which I appreciate. Now it does have a few too many f-bombs for my taste, but those of you who follow my reviews know this is a common complaint of mine - but then I am reading mil/sf. Heh.

If you are looking for a new short series to jump into, grab this story and the two other books in The Athena Operation. I'll give it 3.5 stars, so not bad for a relatively new writer. The story telling is generally solid and gets the job done. You should know that the author contacted me and asked if I would review the story, but you can also get it free from his website by signing up for his newsletter at www.daltoncortner.com.

Here's the blurb for The Athena Operation series:

The entire universe is being purged.

Seraph Aydrian is the furthest thing from a model soldier. He's one reprimand away from a dishonorable discharge. Time off from the military didn't sound so bad. But when the seythra betray the universe and start killing everyone indiscriminately, Seraph knows he is going to have to fight for every second he continues breathing.

Forced to band together with soldiers, mercenaries, and civilians, Seraph is tasked with leading the fight against the seythra. He must uncover the sinister plot of why the most-trusted species in the universe turned on everyone at the height of their respect and accomplishments.

Can Seraph and his team put a stop to the chaos and destruction? Or will the seythra put them among the numbers of the dead they've amassed?

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Review of Lost Tribe of the Sith

The Lost Tribe of the Sith 
by John Jackson Miller
Star Wars Legends book published by Del Rey, 2012
Released in eight installments, 435 pages total.

This series of novellas (or novelets, really) form a pretty good overall story. I have to admit up front, though, that I've only read episodes 1 to 6, and still have to read numbers 7 and 8. 

Why, you ask, stop at 6? Because I downloaded these 6 ages ago from Amazon when they were free and never got around to reading them to realize that there were 2 more I was missing!

So here are my quick impressions as I finished each installment. I started the first novel in 2017 and finished #6 in 2019 or something. I guess it took awhile to get into! lol


Precipice and Skyborn are the first two novellas in a six part series [sic. which is what I thought at the time]. Very good writing, strong world building, really enjoying this story so far.

Paragon is the third novella, not a very satisfactory installment, but it does reveal the machinations of a main character. 

Lost Tribe of the Sith is an episodic novel. I downloaded them free from Amazon at one point awhile back. Working my way through each "chapter" (each book is less than 40 pages) in the story.

Found out this series is 8 episodes long, and Savior is the 4th installment. After the Sith are destroyed, this lost tribe survives a crash landing on a distant planet. Books 1 to 4 (each one a novelet in length) form a complete story arc, how the Sith using the dark side of the Force are taken as gods by the local inhabitants. Not a bad series.

Purgatory and Sentinel are books 5 and 6 (novelets really) in an 8 book series. But this story arc only lasts 2 episodes and takes place 1000 years after books 1 to 4. Well done.

So I guess that's why I haven't finished books 7 and 8 - two story arcs within the series are done and I'm sure the finale wraps it all up, so will eventually get to them. 

Definitely recommended for Star Wars fans. Miller is a solid writer and balances world building, charaterization, and interesting scenarios and tense plotting really well.

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Review of some Aston West Space Opera by T.M. Hunter

I'm a friend of Mr. Hunter's and I'm always excited when he releases more Aston West stories. Aston is my favorite space pirate and his adventures are always fun and exciting. 

What's cool is that Hunter has bundled his many Aston West space shinanigans into three story sets called "Triple Shots." He has five collections of such bundles and all are worth checking out. 

Here's my review of his latest:

Sweet Embrace and Other Adventures 

by T. M. Hunter 

Published by Crosshairs Press, 2015 (about 35 pages)

Three more Aston West adventures centering around the space pirate/smuggler's relationship with a relative newcomer to the smuggling game, knock-out beauty Diedra Cane. 

In tale number one, Conventional Wisdom, Aston gets in and out of a sticky situation...with a little help from Diedra. In the second story, Sweet Embrace, we see a more compassionate side to Aston, grace under fire, if you will. And finally, he wins the day in Ridealong, the third story where Cane's naivete once again gets our hero into a bit of trouble. 

If you like space opera, wild adventure, and a turnabout storyline, these triple shots are just the thing for a quick lunch break escape or bedtime reading.


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Review of How to Write Pulp Fiction by James Scott Bell

How to Write Pulp Fiction
by James Scott Bell
Compendium Press (October 2017)

Okay, maybe not a 5 star end-all beat-all, but for what it is - a quick handbook and overview of what goes into writing pulp fiction - it was really pretty good. Insightful and entertaining. 

I liked the fact it contained a lot of primary source advice from the original pulp writers; and some good resources and "where to look" links as well. Recommended for writers of all genres, I would think.

Another reviewer, Armand Rosamilia, a prolific writer of short stories of horror, zombies, contemporary fiction, thrillers, and more, described Bell's book positively as "a refresher course" for those who are fans of pulp fiction, concluding that he "took away a lot of new tricks to use." 

So did I. Now if only I could actually put them into practice by writing something! Are you a fan of pulp? Have you tried your hand at fast-paced adventures? Let me know!


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A Few Short Stories Reviewed

I went to a writer's workshop and made a number of new acquaintances. Among them, Stefon Mears and Michael Warren Lucas. They are both prolific writers and publish their projects regularly. I linked to their Amazon profiles - check them out!

Here is just a sampling of two or three short stories of theirs. 


The Final Survey of Andrei Kreutzmann by Stefon Mears

On a deep space prospecting trip, Andrei Kreutzmann finds a planet valuable enough to set him up for life. Buy a new ship. Maybe even win back his lost love.

Unfortunately, the imperial military recalls him to active duty. His old captain, now a marshal, orders him to scout a key strategic sector. Andrei can't refuse...and flies straight into a trap.

My take: This was a fun, short read, an enjoyable slice of life, space opera style.


Michael Warren Lucas writes SF as well, and one short story of his (among others!) grabbed my attention:

No More Lonesome Blue Rings by Michael Warren Lucas

My take: This short story was free on Amazon (but worth purchasing if it's for sale) and offers an intriguing SF off-world premise. 

Disease and disabilities figure prominantly into the plot and the main character's surpise decision at the end left me pondering her motivation and the upended theme of the story - as most good SF scenarios do.

Both authors are worth tracking down. Who have you discovered lately that you'd recommend? 


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Review of Becalmed by Kris Rusch


Becalmed by Kris Rusch
A Diving Universe Novella
From WMG Publishing, 2012

This is a straight up SF novella within Rusch's fairly expansive Diving Universe. I've read a few of her books in this series, including Diving into the Wreck (book 1) and Boneyards (book 3, see my review here). Somehow I missed book 2, City of Ruins, but will get to it eventually.

Rusch also writes short stories in this universe and has many of them published in mainstream magazines like Asimov's. In this novella, we have a ship stuck in deep space ('becalmed') after an inter-species conflict. The only person who can provide the key to the war's beginning is a survivor too traumatized to remember. 

As with most of her science fiction books, this has a solid premise, employs good writing, and has a unique voice. I wouldn't be surprised if these stories get picked up for some streaming series on Amazon or Netflix. Recommended for SF and space opera fans.


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Review of The Chase

The Chase 
by Clive Clussler and Justin Scott (Isaac Bell #1)
Hardcover, 404 pages, published by G.P. Putnam's Sons

Aptly titled, The Chase is a pretty good thriller until about half way through when the actual chase begins. And though it's meant to be a mile-a-minute daredevil of a ride up and down the California coast and then across the Sierra Nevada range by train, I found myself skimming quite a bit.

I mean, Detective Isaac Bell will get his man in the end, right? And yep, that's what happens. Sure, Cussler provides some fascinating historical detail along the way (but he's first and foremost a fiction writer, so don't press him on all the facts necessarily) featuring the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, there is only so much one can take when reading what probably looks better on the big screen.

Overall, though, I like this series (having read #3 first, so I'm a bit out of order) and will likely read more. Good stuff. 3 1/2 to 4 stars.

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Review of The Italian Secrerary

The Italian Secretary
by Caleb Carr

Blurb: At the invitation of the Conan Doyle Estate, Caleb Carr has created a new adventure for Holmes and Watson, set in the grandeur of Holyrood Palace in the twilight of Queen Victoria's reign. (Paperback, 288 pages, published 2015 by Sphere, first published 2005)

Reviewed by Lyndon Perry
4 Stars

The audio version of this novel is excellent. The voice characterization is amazing and submerges you into the golden age of Sherlock performance (for me, that means the television era of the 1980s/90s).

However, you're going to have to love that era and really enjoy Conan Doyle's writing style if you're going to like this book. It's not a fast-paced, thrill-a-minute story. It's historical, it's literary, it's, well, Sherlockian.

And Caleb Carr captures the essence of the original perfectly. The plot isn't that memorable but the fun is in experiencing the whole adventure. Recommended for die-hard Conan Doyle fans.

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A Few Philip Harris Stories

Philip Harris writes, blogs, and gives free books away at his website, Solitary Mindset. I enjoyed the three short stories available for free and his prequel novella to Serial Killer Z is definitely something different.

Here are super quick reactions to the three short stories I've read:

Bottled Lightning - Good short science fiction story - a first contact tale.

Curfew - Another short science fiction story, but this one is more military based. Ends as a horror tale.

Saviour - Not as good as two other short stories above but still intriguing. Harris is a very good story teller.

As to Serial Killer Z: Infection, the blurb says this series is Dexter meets the Walking Dead. Since I've not seen either nor do I want to, this zombie thrasher serial killer gore fest isn't for me.

Now I have to say, it's well written but it's pretty darn gruesome. I think this intro novella is still free, as a prequel to the author's new series. So if this is your thing, you might like it.

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Review of The Wild's Call

The Wild's Call
by Jeri Smith-Ready

A fair prequel novella to a series of books called Aspect of Crow about an emerging magical society where survivors of 'the Collapse' each have some kind of spirit-animal super power. We don't know any details, the story begins in medias res, and the author does a pretty good job hinting at the post-apocalyptic context rather than explaining the details. The emphasis is on the two main characters as they escape a volatile Baltimore and head for the woods where they meet up with others like them.

It's a mildly interesting premise, but I was put off by all the sexual innuendo, sex talk, and actual sex that occurs between the two main characters. The story could have done without it. After I finished I saw that it was originally published by e-Harlequin Romance and thought maybe that's what they expect of their authors. I won't be reading the actual trilogy (Eyes of the Crow, Voice of the Crow, The Reawakened) that follows since I'm not into explicit romance. But if this is your thing, you'll probably want to read the whole series as this prequel affords just a taste and not the satisfaction of a complete story. I think I got it free on Amazon a few years ago.

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Review of Animal Farm by George Orwell

Animal Farm
by George Orwell

One of the classics I must have missed in high school. A timeless story, however, which should be read at any age or stage of life. It's such a transparent allegory of the Bolshevik Revolution and the ensuing years of Leninist terror (e.g., the use of 'comrade' throughout and the lead pig named, of course, Napoleon, a symbol of tyranny) that it reads almost like history, despite the zoomorphism and fantastical premise of animals running a farm.

And yet, it's not an allegory. Orwell subtitled this piece, "A Fairy Story." And that's about right. The story, like all good fairy stories, transcends time and context and simply "tells it like it is" without moral comment. I think it's obvious this is a story about totalitarianism (Orwell was a strong critic of the ideology) but Animal Farm doesn't so much condemn it as expresses it in its logical extreme - and let's the truth of the matter hit the reader full force. The most compelling "truth" of totalitarianism comes near the climax, the famous observation that all animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others. Hnh, boy.

One application for today is poignant. The regressive left (with roots in the sexual revolution of the 1960s) has overthrown what they think is the tsarist autocracy of Christendom (in their minds equal to white male privilege) and declared all genders, gender identities, gender expressions, etc. equal. "Multi-sexes good, two sexes bad." But what the regressive left has done is simply established a new totalitarianism in which all dissent is quashed and thoughts are censored. Well, there's more to say but that's probably enough to show I recommend this book today, especially for leftist leaning teachers of high school lit. I only hope they see the irony of the message they want to discuss.

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Quick Reaction to Beacon 23 by Hugh Howey

Beacon 23
by Hugh Howey

An anti-war novel that fails in its very argument. Instead of a big reveal outlining an enlightened path to peace, the story ends with the hopelessly humanistic status quo and only a wish and a dream for something better as our way forward. 

Sadly, the motif reflects the atheism of the author and while providing some excellent food for thought on the traumas of war nevertheless leaves one dissatisfied as to what we do with it. 

The writing at times is quite inspired, however. Howey is an excellent observer and communicator of human pathos. Still, our collective angst can only take us so far. If only the author had true hope to communicate and not mere imagination to draw upon. 3 stars.

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Review of Something Wicked This Way Comes

Something Wicked This Way Comes
by Ray Bradbury

Confession. I don't have a review exactly since I didn't read the book exactly. I listened to an audio adaptation, which I think was Bradbury's own dramatization of his novel. It was a pretty good production, but I think it was a different experience than reading the story.

Here's the blurb from the publisher: A carnival rolls in sometime after the midnight hour on a chill Midwestern October eve, ushering in Halloween a week before its time. A calliope's shrill siren song beckons to all with a seductive promise of dreams and youth regained. In this season of dying, Cooger & Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show has come to Green Town, Illinois, to destroy every life touched by its strange and sinister mystery. And two inquisitive boys standing precariously on the brink of adulthood will soon discover the secret of the satanic raree-show's smoke, mazes, and mirrors, as they learn all too well the heavy cost of wishes - and the stuff of nightmare.

That does capture the essence, but it's really not that scary of an adventure. More of a coming-of-age story set within the weird and horrific world of life, death, and what's in between. Overall, 3 1/2 stars (or 4 since it's a classic). What I didn't know was that this novel is the second of four in the Green Town series. Interesting! Book one is Dandelion Wine, imagine that! 

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Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451
by Ray Bradbury

Find a copy. Read it.

That's my review.


Read. It.


Review of Have Space Suit - Will Travel

Have Space Suit—Will Travel
by Robert A. Heinlein

I listened to an audio production of this middle grade novel written in 1958 (originally serialized over three issues of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction). I have to admit, I was not aware of this story, nor its place as the final book (#12, I think) in a juvenile series written by Heinlein. Overall, I enjoyed it. 3 1/2 stars out of 5. It's dated, of course, but was cute, witty, and wry.

Not sure how this would be received by middle grade or high school readers today. Quite a bit of exposition throughout and it bogs down just before half way with a lot of astrophysics technojargon. It was almost like the author was trying to provide a science lecture / engineering lesson to his younger readers. Most of the math went way over my head! Still, there is enough catchy dialog, nostalgia-filled references, and literary and historical allusions for adults with a bit of cultural background to thoroughly enjoy this science fiction outing originally intended for a juvenile audience.

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Review of Divergent Series by Veronic Roth

Four: A Divergent Story Collection
by Veronica Roth

Really enjoyed these four 'prequel' novellas. They provide the necessary background information on the factions to understand the Divergent trilogy. For those yet to discover this series, I'd even recommend you read this collection first (but ignore the short snippets at the end). Four stars.

The other books in the series are: Divergent, Insurgent, Allegiant.

Here's my review of the third book and the series as a whole.


Well, the series as a whole wasn't as good as Hunger Games, but it was better than Maze Runner. Of course, all three series are dystopic favorites among the YA crowd and each involve some "big bad government" tyranny involving tests or manipulations or conspiracies. If you're into that genre, I guess you could do worse than Roth's venture, though it does kind of get lost in itself during book 3 when you realize the secret to understanding their society isn't the ultimate secret. It's like those Russian dolls, you only reveal another manipulator behind the first one you unmask. So there is really no resolution to the "big bad government" problem and the state of the world continues on in its path of hopelessness at the book's end.

Which I think is the overall message here. The author tackles issues of sin (though she doesn't use this term), guilt, forgiveness, community, and friendship - within the conceit of genetics and human conditioning. And the answer to the human dilemma of evil and tragedy and loss? Well, there is no answer, but we soldier on anyway relying on love to guide us. Sort of a half-baked humanistic solution that is ultimately all the world can offer. It's the same answer the movie Wonder Woman gives (which I just saw recently) so it seems to be a common theme right now, which I guess is better than straight up nihilism. I'll give the whole thing 3 1/2 stars out of 5.

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Quick Review of Art & Fear

Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking
by David Bayles and Ted Orland

Thought-provoking and engaging. I got bogged down early on by so many interesting, challenging, even profound statements on art making, fear, and our relationship to art vs craft, etc., that I sort of lost the forest for the trees. Then I realized this is one of those books you should give a quick first reading to and then return for a more reflective interaction.

Recommended for artists of all stripes. 4 Stars.
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Quick Review of Grendel

by John Gardner

I should rate this higher than 2 1/2 out of 5 Stars because, you know, literature.

But, alas, it just didn't grab me. It seems like it was written for a college lit discussion group, but one where everyone knew what the author was trying to accomplish except me. I had to constantly refer to Sparks Notes online to figure out what I was supposed to be getting, but even then I didn't get it.

Anyone else have that difficulty? Sorry Mr Gardner.

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Quick Review of Specter of the Past

Specter of the Past (Star Wars: The Hand of Thrawn #1)
by Timothy Zahn

In the deft hands of Timothy Zahn, any Star Wars novel is a delight. This is book one of a duology featuring the return of Thrawn about ten years after his (apparent) demise. The second book is titled, Vision of the Future.

The Empire's Grand Admiral Thrawn first made his appearance in Zahn's Heir to the Empire trilogy which is set about 5 years after the story in Star Wars Episode VI.

I still want to read Zahn's latest book, Thrawn, where he "chronicles the fateful events that launched the blue-skinned, red-eyed master of military strategy and lethal warfare into the highest realms of power—and infamy." (from the publisher's blurb)

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Review of "Leonard" - A Biography of Leonard Nimoy

Leonard: My Fifty-Year Friendship with a Remarkable Man
by William Shatner 

Published by Thomas Dunne Books (February 16, 2016)

This was well done. It's as much a memoir by Bill Shatner as it is a remembrance of Leonard Nimoy, but the story telling fits and reveals quite a bit about Nimoy's career and his many and diverse avocations. The book pulls back the curtain on the golden age of television as well and how actors scrambled from job to job simply trying to make ends meet. Nimoy struggled for 17 years in Hollywood (never working in a project for more than two weeks!) before landing his first recurring role as Spock. He then spent the rest of his career alternately running from and embracing that identity.

Very interesting relational history as well between these two icons. Most of us know of their - at times - turbulent friendship, but their deep, deep love for each other isn't as well known or publicized, I don't think. I was struck, though, by an apparent crumbling of their friendship which occurred about two years before Nimoy's death and, much to Shatner's disappointment and regret, never found resolution.

Shatner writes (page 268/269): "Essentially, he stopped speaking to me....It was very painful to me. As I'd never had a friend like Leonard before, I'd obviously never been in a situation like this, and I had no idea what to do about it. If I knew the reason Leonard stopped talking to me, not only would I admit it, I would have taken steps to heal those wounds. If I had done something wrong, if I had said something that was perhaps misunderstood, I would want to know it so I might make amends. But none of that took place. I have no idea what happened....I was mystified. It was baffling to me. I kept asking people, 'What happened?' But no one could give me an answer. It remains a mystery to me, and it is heartbreaking, heartbreaking. It is something I will wonder about, and regret, forever."

I include this snippet not only because it is a great sampling of the heartfelt remembrances that characterize this book, but also because it is a poignant reminder that life is often like that. I've had friendships crumble and can't for the life of me figure out why. I've reached out, I've tried making amends, but for whatever reason people in my life who were once good friends have left me behind. I would gladly renew those relationships - as I think most of us would - but something is preventing it. A misunderstanding, a perceived slight, a misspoken word. Would that these relational potholes could be patched. But like Shatner, after doing my part to heal the brokenness and not finding any reciprocity, I'm left wondering and with feelings of regret.

Still, Shatner provides a wonderful picture of a dear friend, and hopefully, that be what readers and fans will remember, celebrate, and identify with most. Highly recommended for Star Trek fans or anyone interested in film and television and authentic celebrity friendships.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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