Tag Archives: books

“The Future’s Disposable”

20 Jan

“Yeah, so are you, chombatta.”

I love cyberpunk the genre–I’ve read all of William Gibson’s books, I own the Cyberpunk 2020 RPG book, and love anything that’s even tangentially related to the aesthetic. So what is it about the dark future that attracts me?

The obvious answer is right place, right time. I grew up in the 80’s, went to high school in the early 90’s and Cyberpunk is very much a subgenre of its era. Johnny Mnemonic (the short story) and Neuromancer (the novel) that Gibson wrote came out in 1981 and 1984. We were still reeling from the 70’s: oil crisis, unemployment, disco. Then came the conservative ascendency, which for liberal writers was the ultimate sign the world was going to hell. (The comic book V for Vendetta was a response to Margaret Thatcher’s rise to power.) It was depressing. It didn’t take much to a consider a future that was even worse.

So growing up as a middle school teen, imagine the effect that something like the Cyberpunk 2020 RPG had on me back in 1987. Guns, chicks, tech–hell, yeah! Plus it was wrapped up in a sense of humor that told you that everyone was in on a joke. If the world’s crap, after all, you might as well have fun.

Of course, the authors didn’t get it quite right–you never do. He predicted the internet, but Gibson was sure it was going to be virtual reality. No flying cars, but I think we all realize what a clusterf#$* that would actually be. The drugs have changed, and if we don’t all have implants, we have prosthetics that are just as amazing.

I think it’s the aesthetic–the technopunk style. The emphasis is “style over substance.” Do you look cool while you’re go through your daily grind. Of course, the characters aren’t grinding… they’re petty criminals, they’re homeless, they’re the antiheros your English teachers talked about. Maybe that’s part of the appeal. Anyone can be a hero of the story–they’re in a worse situation than you and they’re having an adventure! Why not you?

So as I listen to the Cyberpunk 2077 soundtrack this morning, I’m feeling great, jamming through the dawn. I’d like to buy the video game–bugs and all–but I honestly don’t enjoy those type of games. I’d rather watch someone else play it. However, they’ve used all the details from the 2020 RPG that I played that I’m hit by a beautiful wave of nostalgia. It might be a while before “I’m chipping in.”

Do you like Cyberpunk? Do you find it silly? Is it just a different taste of dystopian literature? Let me know in the comments below!

Okay, so… that happened.

15 Jan

I’ve been asked to review many books before, but children’s books aren’t necessarily my forte. On the other hand, I’m a father of two and have read MANY children’s books before, so I’m gonna call myself an expert. Let’s dive into Honeycake.

Honeycake is a evil child with special magical powers who threatens to destabilize the world economy by… no, of course not. Honeycake is our protagonist’s nickname, whose actual name is Nala, a mixed-race girl who goes with grandma and Uncle JD to give her leftover toys to charity. I mention that she’s mixed-race, not because I care, but because it’s the first thing you notice on page… two? (Could be four–children’s books are formatted with maximum space for small readers.) The child is black, the grandma is white; since the author (Medea Kalantar) is mixed-race herself, she’s basing it on her own life.

Okay, let’s move on, the art is amazing! There are so many children’s books where the art is either sub-par or they had a professional illustrator have to come in and save the day. This is done by the author herself and it is excellent. Since there is so precious little text in children’s books, this makes me move my review WAY up, because I give great respect to illustrators. After all, in a kid’s book, the art is over half the material.

Now I’m pretty cynical, and there’s not a lot of text in this book, so the author gets to the message rather quickly. “Talk less, smile more.” (blink) Wait, that’s Aaron Burr in Hamilton. Let me have the book tell it: “When you give a someone a nice smile, it makes them feel better,” said Grandma. (Grandma might need an editor there, or it’s supposed to be a delightful brogue, but it’s a kid’s book–so who cares?!)

So when Honeycake uses her special magical power of smiling, you show kindness, and spread sunshine wherever you go. Okay–good message.

Going through the visit, Nala’s experience reinforces her special magical power of kindness, and she learns that she can use her power to spread kindness wherever she goes. Nice. Although, having the stars around the phrase “special magical powers,” puts a ™ in my mind, as if the author trademarked it. 🙂

There’s not much else to review, because it’s only 36 pages, and half of them are art, so I’ll just say this is a great children’s novel. It feels about right for a 3-6 year old and it’ll probably have good repeat value. It’s got a story, a relatable character, so I think it’s worth getting. As much as I gushed about the art earlier, she does repeat many of the same pictures, so I’m gonna dock her a star in my review, especially because the best children’s books are those that are a little quirky and the message is not so blatant. But this is good and I’m sticking to it.

What are your favorite children’s books–the ones that are heavy on pictures and not much on text? Let me know in the comments section below!

The Battle for Downers Grove

10 Jan

Yesterday, I started a review of Salford World War by Mike Scantlebury. It’s a solid book, but it has flaws, and I’m not sure if the flaws are with the novel… or me.

The first thing that frustrated me was the book title–if you live in England, you might know where Salford is. I figure Great Britain is about the size of Illinois, the American state where I grew up. I know… most of the towns, and can probably rattle off most of the Chicago suburbs. However, that doesn’t help anyone who doesn’t live in the UK. That being said, if I named a novel Downers Grove World War, that still doesn’t make any sense. The Battle of Salford might work, or the Fight for Salford, but it still doesn’t grab me. The Fight for All at the Salford Mall might intrigue me, but “mall” has a different connotation in American English (shopping center) than in British English (wide avenue).

The second issue I have is the way that Mr. Scantlebury does conversations. As mentioned previously, I like the main character (Melia), but when she talks to people, the author doesn’t use quotation marks. That makes it real difficult to know if she spoke or not. For example:

Melia wanted to smile at that, maybe laugh out loud. It was ridiculous! People were checked, and double checked.

“I’m only saying what I hear,” Terry said, and walked away, back into the throng of technicians.

Mike Scantlebury, Salford World War, Chapter 4, p. 38

It’s implied that Melia spoke to Terry, since he responded, but did she just think it? I don’t know! AAAAAAAGGGGGHHHHHH!!!

Now am a former history teacher–the conceit of the book is that since the assassination of Franz Ferdinand started WWI, then the assassination of a Chinese minister in Salford could start WWIII. Okay, I can buy that–I don’t need that repeated 3-4 times in the book. What I really needed Mr. Scantlebury to do is explain it clearly the first time. Then near the end, he starts throwing in tons of historical references for kicks… ugh.

When he finally gets to the minister arriving, things pick up, and all the whodunit changes to whodoesit, and that’s very enjoyable. So the book ends on a high note and Melia saves the day. Or does she? The love interest (Mickey) who keeps showing up in the book just long enough to torment Melia, then disappears again, does a serious amount of badassery near the end, which helped, but since Melia is our POV character, shouldn’t she have done it?

Since it’s a spy/mystery novel, there’s a lot of stuff happening that Melia doesn’t know about, and is trying to get to the bottom of. However, I’m left with the sneaking suspicion that we should have been following Mickey this whole time. It would have been more interesting. And perhaps that’s the most frustrating part of it. It wants to be a spy novel, but spy novels involve travelling to interesting locations, getting involved in action scenes, doing the cool stuff you can’t do. That rarely happens–it’s actually a mystery novel, where people die and the investigator is trying to figure out the answer. But since the stakes are so high, the author has to keep throwing in elements that… honestly don’t work for a mystery novel.

As much as I complain, I finished the novel, and it ended well. I’d give it a 3 out of 5. Good solid story with some serious flaws. It’s worth a read–try it for yourself!

What do you think? Have you stories you like but can’t get over the formatting, or the tone, or anything? Let me know in the comments below!

The War Next Door

9 Jan

People say you should write what you know–so if you live in a suburb of Manchester, England, that’s where you set your world-changing spy story! But how do you turn suburban Britain into a international crime thriller?

Full disclosure–I was asked to review this novel by the author himself, and considering this is the third time I’ve done this, I’m… a little cautious about book reviews. As an indie author myself, I want to support my fellow writers, but I want to be honest, but polite. The first two books I read were absolutely awful–so I didn’t post those reviews here–but since this is appearing here, Salford World War doesn’t fall into that category. This is a solid book.

Okay, that isn’t glowing praise, but part of my problem with this book is that spy/mystery novels aren’t really my genre either. I don’t like puzzles, or figuring out whodunit, but I’ll enjoy watching the detective figure it out.

This book is fun–a young female spy who is stationed in Salford (instead of Manchester–why?) and is responsible for protecting a Chinese minister who’s visiting the town. However, not everything is as it seems. The Chinese immigrant community has one agenda, the Chinese government another, and her own agency (MI-5? It’s never said) seems out to get her. And what about her love for her fellow agent, who now can’t seem to give her the time of day? Has he gone rogue?

The characters are interesting, but there are a lot of them, and there is the implication that this character has met many of them before. Which leads to me a strike against me–this is obviously the third or four book in a series. Unfortunately, if you go to Mr. Scantlebury’s website, you have no idea what order the books are supposed to be in. I really wish I didn’t have to keep guessing what the previous job was that she was on with this guy, or what her relationship with the love interest was before this, or what she was doing when dating the guy before he was killed. If it was just to add flavor, fine, but it seemed an integral part of why I should care about this character.

However, I said there were a lot of characters, and even though they are interesting, they mostly show up for a scene, do their thing, and are never seen again. This is very frustrating–it goes along with why I don’t read short stories. If I’m going to invest my time in a novel, I want to care about what happens to the characters. The only two characters who are consistent are our heroine and the love interest… and even the love interest keeps flitting in and out, which seems rather rude.

I’m realizing that this review is running way over, so I’ll need to continue it tomorrow. Also, check out Mr. Scantlebury’s book for yourself–let me know what you think!

However, let me ask you–have you run into a book that you fundamentally like, but the flaws make it difficult to love? Let me know in the comments below!

When you put “Knife” in the title…

8 Jan

When you put “knife” in the name of something, it grabs your attention. Sure, a knife is a common enough item, but it’s also dangerous, and when you use it out of context (kitchen), your mental eyebrows go up. So let’s see what happens when you add “knife” to the conversation.

Take–for example–the book I’ve chosen. Lois McMaster Bujold is a great author; love her Vorkosigan books. To my shame, I haven’t read her Sharing Knife series, but that’s mostly because I love sci-fi and not fantasy. It seems silly, because there’s a reason why the two genres are lumped together. Both involve going to different worlds, both involve some sort of advanced ability/technology, and both meet alien species. Although in one it’s an extraterrestrial, the other an elf. For me, fantasy has to have some quirk for me to be interested, such as magic using calligraphy, or low-magic politics-heavy (Game of Thrones), or urban fantasy (Dresden Files).

However, I remembered the name, didn’t I? Which is the point of this blog post–“knife” grabs your attention.

Take this electronic dance party (EDM) band–Knife Party. If you’re even peripherally into EDM, such as myself, you’ve heard of these guys. They are really good and throw in fun quotes by some serious sounding woman saying, “You blocked me on Facebook, and now, you’re going to die.” Again, the word “knife” grabs your attention. After all, a knife party is not something you want to be invited to. It’s like playing stabscotch–sure, it looks cool when someone else is doing it, but when someone is trying to stab a knife between your fingers over and over again, it’s not so fun.

Do I want the sharing knife? But I am curious… what is it? It doesn’t have the same effect as saying, “Year of the Cat.” But maybe if we add “Black Cat,” would you be more likely to pick it up? It’s hard to come up with another word that grabs your attention like that. Okay–“sex” always grabs your attention. But unless you want to put in that book section, your list of grabbing words shrink.

Can you come up with some other words that grab your attention? Let me know in the comments below!

The God of Continuity

28 Dec

Plot holes can go undetected for years or covered up rather clumsily. They can throw your audience out of the moment and you may never get them back. So how do you avoid that problem?

The easy answer? Get someone to read your story before you publish it. There are so many things that can be caught by having a fresh pair of eyes. For example, in my most recent book, Drag’n Drop, I thought I’d throw in something really cool for the villain to say: “And then I will become the singer and not the song.” To which my friend, “What on Earth does that mean?” Whoops–not everyone got it. So I actually included my friend’s quote in my hero’s response, which allowed my villain to explain what the heck he meant.

In my old writing circle, all of us had one superpower that helped out the rest of us. For example, one of my friends was the Technobabble God. He was more interested in science than the rest of us, so if you had trouble with a particular technology that you were trying to make sound believable, he could give you a line of BS that sounded good, and you put that in your story.

I was the God of Continuity; I found your plot hole and ensured that whatever wacky #*$&@($ idea that you got in your head to put your story that somehow, someway, it would makes sense as part of your plot. You happen to use a digital gate in your story, because you just read Piers Anthony, and thought that turning a ship into an energy signal, and then rebuilding it on the other side was a cool idea. And it is… except that you’ve already established that we use hyperspace gates. So… why another method of travel?

The answer–the digital gates were an experiment by the government to improve space travel. However, they were so expensive that they could only be used on one established route. Duh-da! Your prayers have been answered, writer!

For my father-in-law, he built a world where the colonists had been medieval reenactors who wanted to get away from the modern world. It happened to be a world where psychic powers could be mistaken for magic. So when you run into a ghost of one of the original colonists, and he sees this computer, he didn’t know what it was. Except he should have–and one of his fans pointed this out. So in the prequel, he had to put in a bit about erasing their memories, so that the original colonists wouldn’t be having second thoughts about leaving. Plot hole closed.

If a friend won’t read your book, then it helps to wait a while between finishing your story and publication, then come back and read it again. Sometimes, just giving yourself time to breathe between finishing the first/second/fifth draft and getting it ready for print that you can realize, “Oh, Sancho Panza disappeared for two chapters!”

Is there an easier way to detect (and close) plot holes? Do you have an army of beta readers who can figure these things out? Can you lend them to me? 🙂 Let me know in the comments below!

Drag’n Drop is now available!

24 Dec

Through much trial and tribulation, I’m proud to announce that Drag’n Drop, my most recent novel, is now available for purchase on Kindle or in paperback through Amazon, for the low, low price of $1.99! If you ever wanted an alternate history urban fantasy story, now is the time!

A dragon should be able to go wherever he wants, right? But in modern-day Nieuwe Amsterdam (you’d know it as New York), magical creatures are hidden, and citizens of the Staats-General von Amerika aren’t interested in such nonsense like wizards, orcs, elves, dwarves, fairies… and most importantly, dragons, coming to light. However, magic exists and it changed history. For four hundred years, the European colonists have only managed to cling desperately to the coasts, outnumbered by the native tribes that threaten to push them back into the sea.

Caleb, a big green dragon who’s been living in New Amsterdam has seen native invasions come and go, but this time, something’s different. The united tribes have burst through the Cordelyou Line–a massive defense work built along the western border–with a new magic that should be impossible. Now they are threatening to finally destroy the European Settlements once and for all. Threatened with the loss of his home, he gathers his friends–a washed-up wizard and an arcane librarian–to travel across Amerika. His hope: find the source of the natives’ new power, gather an army of magical creatures, and destroy it… before it’s too late.

I’m very proud of my new book–considering it took ten years to come to the light of day–and hope you’ll enjoy it as well. Keep supporting independent authors!

This is Why You Hire Staff

22 Dec

Just when you think you’ve done it all before, what should have taken a half-hour ends up taking all morning. So I’m getting my new book, Drag’n Drop, ready to go on the Amazon site and… hilarity ensues!

Now here’s what really chafed my heinie–I actually got all the formatting done on my book text two months ago! Thanks to my generous (and good-looking) brother-in-law, Editor Ed, he actually had a professional artist make my cover. This is a new experience to me. I tried making my own cover for Defending Our Sacred Honor and I thought it came out good… but the more I look at it, the more it looks terrible. So I was rather grateful that Ashley Cser took the commission.

As mentioned, graphic design is really not my thing–which is ironic, because video production is my day job. But composition and performance are two different skills; just because I can find all this cool pictures and video and put them together doesn’t mean I can draw worth crap.

Speaking of which, I’ve got Kindle’s own e-book creator (Create), which works very well, and plugs everything exactly as I need it to. That worked fine. However, when trying to make the paperback version–because to stroke my own ego, I need to have them on my bookshelf–there was one major problem. The cover and the map weren’t fitting within the guidelines.

Getting the cover to work was understandable–after all, it’s the first thing that anyone sees. Ash had drawn the cover; after all, that’s what I paid her for. However, then I had to write the teaser text on the back, and put it all the other graphics. Took me an hour just to get that correct and then manipulate it so the picture appeared in the correct fashion. On the plus side, this will be the first book of mine that has the Albigensia Press icon on the spine!

If you don’t think that’s cool, you can instantly tell which books are professional or not by the publishing house icon on the spine. Interesting side note: All the hardcover books have the publisher icon at the bottom, all the paperbacks at the top. Weird.

Of course, once I conquered that hurdle, then there was that map. Considering I’ve blasted the last three authors who didn’t include a map in their book, I figured this was pretty damned important. However, my original map was pretty low quality, and it was drawn for a standard 8″x11″ page… and my book is 5″x8″. So I had to redraw it, left out a lot of the detail I originally included to fit it on the page, and thought I had it down. Nope. It took multiple tries to get the stupid thing in the right place so it wouldn’t get cut off by pagination.

However, four hours later, I think it looks great. Once you get a chance to see it on December 24th, I think you’ll agree. Yet I wish I had staff I could pay to do this for me–oi! I can’t be the only one who has this trouble. What issues do you have in your workday that you wish you could pass off to someone else? Let me know in the comments below!

I Spit You Out Of My Mouth

21 Dec

Looking over what I’ve read this year, I realized there weren’t a lot of middling books. There were books I loved, books I hated, but rarely “okay.” Is that a reflection on the books I choose to read or me?

So I started looking through my list and seeing a lot of fives and ones. That seemed rather odd. While I’m scanning these books, a strange biblical quote came into my head.

So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth.

Revelation 3:16 (NIV)

Am I just naturally gravitating to the books that I find really good or really crappy? So my next thought was, “Maybe I’ve just read a lot of crappy books?” Ever since taking up the challenge of expanding my network, I’ve been asked to read other people’s work that I’ve met online, as well as read other independent authors to help the cause. A couple are amazing – Programmed to Serve by Jenna Ivey is an amazing erotica story – and that is REALLY not my favorite genre. But then there are books so awful, I didn’t want to even give their titles, lest karma comes back to curse my own books.

Then maybe I considered, “Perhaps my tastes have changed.” For example, I just finished reading Mamelukes by Jerry Pournelle… or actually written by his son and David Weber, but it was solid military sci-fi. However, I’ve read a lot of military sci-fi, so I know what I enjoy and what I don’t. So I treated it like popcorn, had fun, but wasn’t wowed by it. Similar was Pirates of the Milky Way by Jaxon Reed – solid, enjoyable sci-fi, but nothing that blew me away.

So because I’ve been jaded from reading so much, it’s easy to go from love or hate. The Emigrant by Leo Champion really surprised me on how good it was whereas The Plague Dogs by Richard Adams showed me what a travelogue pretending to be a novel looks like. And I’ve reread a lot of my favorite books, because sometimes you want something you know you’ll enjoy.

Have you found this in your own reading habits? Are you getting more intolerant of the same old, same old? Or is there a warm spot in your shelf for popcorn reading? Let me know in the comments below!

A Dragon is Coming For Christmas

19 Dec

I’m happy to announce that my new book, Drag’n Drop, will be coming out next week–right in time for Christmas! If you ever wanted to read an alternate history urban fantasy novel (and who hasn’t), now is your opportunity! 🙂

Okay, now that I’ve piqued your interest, what is it? Imagine an America where magic exists–not openly, but in the shadows there are wizards, orcs, elves, dwarves, fairies… and most importantly, dragons. Now imagine how that would have changed history. Europeans still colonized the continent, but only the coast, because the natives had their own medicine men to fight back. England didn’t conquer New Amsterdam, but instead was repelled. Pushed back against the sea, the colonists were eventually forced to unite together, and formed the multicultural Staats-General von Amerika.

So in the modern day, Caleb, a green dragon who’s been living in New Amsterdam (you’d know it as New York) has seen native invasions come and go, but this time, something’s different. The united tribes have burst through the Cordelyou Line–a massive defense work built along the western border–with a new magic that should be impossible. Now they are threatening to finally destroy the European Settlements once and for all. Threatened with the loss of his home, he gathers his friends–a washed-up wizard and an arcane librarian–to travel across Amerika. His hope: find the source of the natives’ new power, gather an army of magical creatures, and destroy it… before it’s too late.

I’ve had a lot of fun writing it and I hope you enjoy it when it comes out! I’ve got a great cover–which you can see–and it’ll be available at the low, low price of $1.99! Right in time for you to use all those Amazon gift cards you got for Hanukkah. 🙂

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