Love is like a box of chocolates

Love is like a box of chocolates.
You see her in the crowd, all dressed in bows and lace
Her colours pop amidst the dismal greys
And you think, for a second, do I have enough?

Your hand shakes
Change rattling in pockets
Desperate to claim her before prince charming comes back,
Because that man is more than twice of you,
And even if he stepped down off his mighty steed
You would still be shorter, smaller,
Like jam between his toes,
An ant staring up at great laces and bows.
She’s beautiful.

You climb the outside of her box like a mountain hiker,
Lungs drawing breath, then failing,
Heart beating, then stalling.
The air is so thin up here, that when you reach her lips—
Not for a kiss, but just the chance to speak with her—
Words are not enough to express
How she stole your breath away.

Chocolate boxes sit on shelves, all dressed in delight.
Hands shake as she walks home with you.
Heart beats faster, waiting for that day when man will be husband and she will be wife
And then… you can pull off the ribbons, and bows, and lace.

Love is like a box of chocolates
Never knowing what you might get.
But boxes have labels read by in-laws at table.
Chocolates have wrappers,
Unopened, fresh, unbroken…
Or perhaps broken.
Pieced together and wrapped in foil frame,
Done up with a red bow,
And like a stop light it screams,
But you press on, blind to box labels and deaf to in-laws.

You peal off the label on that wedding night.
Her dress falls, silk to cover the alabaster of her skin.
You pull her close, rough hands caressing hers—smooth as chocolate—
And for a moment you think, this is it.
Then, you roll her between the sheets, take a bite, and faint beneath the flood.
Sweet. Sweat. Wet with caramel gushing from the fountains of her deep.
And you laugh, and love, consume each other;
Lick creamy milk chocolate melted on fingertips.
Love is sweet.

Like a child on Christmas morning, you rush
Opening presents, longing for the next candy inside.
The wrapper falls away and you swallow it whole,
Savour the chocolate as it melts down your throat,
Salty caramel exploding from within,
Leaving you longing like a love addict.
Can’t wait to come home for your next fix of her beauty.
She is your delight.
The apple of your eye, your salt and light.
Love is salty.

The next chocolate is smashed.
A mess underfoot, stuck to the wrapper,
And when you peel her open, she pulls those covers tight
Hides her nakedness. Shame.
Not willing you to see that part of her,
To taste the dirt mixed with broken candy shards:
The one who paid for nothing, but ripped her open
Ravaged the chocolate like a rabid dog at prey…
Then spat her out.
Disgusted.
Wrapped her back up in pretty bows
Left for another to discover.
You to discover.
Love is broken.

You try to remind her of that day
All wrapped in bows and lace.
Breath catches in your throat again, words failing.
This time, it is not her beauty that stops you so… but tears.
Her label is faded, and now you see why,
A woman trying to scratch the pain away,
Cover it in sweetness and wrappers,
Tears bleeding the ink.

You tell her, “We can get past this.”
Reminder her of your love.
Work her wrappings off again,
But she holds back,
And when finally you coax her,
The chocolate pops in your mouth like a sour patch kid,
But she is not a kid.
A woman angered that you would ignore her pain,
Throw away the broken with the used up wrapper,
Only keeping the parts of her that you like.
Love is sour.

You bite down, hard,
Try to draw her in with your arms,
But she pulls away
With dark circles under her eyes
90% pure and 10% soft cream–
Feeling 10% hard and 90% dirty–
The silky smooth milk of that chocolate first no more than a memory.
Love is bitter.

You stare at the empty box in your hands,
Watch her back as she goes,
Still feeling the salty longing on your tongue for her,
But now it shares a place on your face with salty tears,
And an empty heart like a chocolate box.

Love can be like a box of chocolates,
In so many ways.
Sweet, salty, broken, sour, bitter, empty…
But it is not a box of chocolates.

Love ebbs and flows like the mighty ocean
And you drown in those waves,
Kiss in the rain beneath those crests
Then get lost for a time in the after-wake…
Heart empty like that chocolate box in hand.

See, with chocolate, what is bitter is bitter
And sweet is sweet,
But love ebbs bitter and flows sweet,
Then crashes down leaving salty droplets dribbling.

And so, you stand with an empty box of chocolates,
Waiting for the next wave, sweet smell of love on its crest.
When sweetness comes, breathe her in like a whole field of flowers just for you.
Linger beneath the caress of that salty wave,
And when it crashes, leaving a sour taste in your mouth,
And empty chocolate box,
And bitter remembrance of her kiss.
Breathe in hard.
Squint.
Wait for the one flavour that chocolate does not have:
Love is forever.

A Shadow in the Flames

The Rating: 
Mature-Content Rating: PG (Coarse language and violence)

What would you do if in a single moment, the whole world you knew went up in flames? No, I am not talking about the proverbial flames of societal/relational loss, but actual flames. You know, the orange-tipped red tongues that lick at the night sky, dwarfing the stars with their wonder, fire exploding in arson’s wake, and there is only one obvious answer: find the bastard that destroyed your life. Enter the world of “A Shadow in the Flames,” a futuristic thriller with moon exploration, vampires, explosions, airships, and cybernetics. Sounds too good to be true? Well… it is.

The Good:

This is a real struggle for me. Normally I try to find what the author does well before getting into the bad, but I find myself scratching my head a lot while trying to come up with something to say under this heading. Why rate it 2 stars instead of 1? Short answer: I managed to finish the book. Long answer: there is a bit of humour in the dialogue… Okay, so that answer wasn’t much longer. Looking at the book with a broad perspective, it is not that the book fails to hit every mark, and indeed it tries for many of them, but it is just rather bland.

The Bad:

The biggest issue that “A Shadow in the Flames” had was consistency. Have you ever eaten a piece of meat that is full of tiny bones and you have to chew carefully, then inevitably stop eating to pull them from your mouth? Reading this book felt a bit like that. The POV jumped all over the place adding much confusion to things. Not only than, there is a completely separate POV/plot line where almost nothing happens and it remains 90% unrelated until the very end. A poorly written Epilogue tries to tie the two together, but mostly it just prolongs the ending. I wish that the moon exploration plot pieces were completely taken out of the book. I understand, based on the ending, that such plot lines will be the focus of the sequel, but if so, all of that plot should have been kept under wraps until that book was ready to be released.

Not only does the plot jump around, and the POV changes cause confusion, but one character has three different names throughout the book. This can work, if certain people call them by one name, and others call them by something else, but the names seem to be virtually interchangeable. There is some kind of mystery woven in about the character’s “true” identity being a secret to some people, but then everyone ends up using that “true” name at one point or another, so that left me confused. It especially becomes strange when that character is the POV focus for a scene. They call themselves by all three names throughout the scene, which made me wonder if the character was actually multiple people at times, but then I remembered that they just had three names for no reason.

Also, there are far too many elements involved. No, not in the plot, but in the general world that the story takes place. This wouldn’t necessarily have been a problem if the book was longer and the author spent more time addressing each cultural/world nuance, rounding things out. Instead, they are poorly explained, or just thrown in because someone thought it was cool. The book reads mostly as a police procedural without the procedure, even though it is marketed as a science fiction novel. Yes, it has flying machines, people with enhanced vision or hearing, and vampires (for some random reason), but they add nothing to the story and often get in the way of the plot.

The writing style feels a bit juvenile. There is an over-use of passive voice throughout (he, thought, he imagined, he wondered, he believed, he was scared, it was black, the job was simple, etc). Every POV change is littered with long drawn-out paragraphs filled with passivity in an effort to explain how someone is feeling, differentiating them from the other characters, but instead of rounding things out, it just make the writing quite bland.

Unfortunately, because this is exclusively how the author chose to develop the characters, once these paragraphs are over, all of the characters sound and act pretty much the same. There are slight nuances at particular points (one character being overly humorous) but for the most part, if the dialogue tags were taken out, the reader would not know who was talking when… and it wouldn’t really effect the progression anyway. This makes the characters feel flat.

Conclusion:

I wish there was more good things to say about this book, but too much poor writing gets in the way of the potential and it was hard for me to identify. “A Shadow in the Flames” is a light thriller with specks of uninteresting mystery and pockets of humour. It suffers from POV issues, pacing problems, and lack of characterization as well as a poorly stitched together plot. It will not leave a sour taste in your mouth, just not much taste to begin with. I suppose its ability to remain bland is at least consistent.

Where you can find it:

Smashwords
NOTE: This book is available at other retails, but is not DRM-free

Thread in the Tangle by Sabrina Flynn

A fantasy tale about fiery nymphs and flaming lust

The Rating: 
Mature-content Rating: PG-13 (Sexual content, fantasy violence)

Fire. It is in us all. Sometimes it comes out, forged with passion or shaped by rage. Ears turn red, face ruby from infused flames licking beneath flesh. Fire can be strong or weak, fighting from beneath rain’s blanketing assault, or combusting the world with spontaneity like a desert: dry. Yes, I speak figuratively, but what if such flaming manifestations could be a reality. Imagine, living in a world full of wonder, a fantasy world with flames bursting from ears, licking beneath flesh, destroying all in its wake (wilfully or by accident’s design). If you can imagine such, then your mind is comparable with Sabrina Flynn, the author of A Thread in the Tangle.

The Good:

The above description does no justice to this book, but instead (like a raging fire) is a spark to catch the dry wood in imagination’s realm, drawing in the reader before consuming them completely. A Thread in the Tangle implements a similar technique, drawing in the reader with beautifully crafted prose and life philosophising from the first line. I can say it no better than the author herself.

Time is fickle, ever chang­ing and flow­ing, ebbing like the sea.  A vast ocean of mo­ments brush­ing against the next, rip­pling be­neath wa­ters both turgid and calm.  It slips be­tween our fin­gers when we wish to hold it, yet moves with slug­gish stub­born­ness when we seek to flee it, rid­ing upon our shoul­ders like an op­pres­sive yoke.  Time is a bur­den we can­not es­cape.  Our lives are swal­lowed in the cold, dark wa­ters of its un­fath­omable depths; never to be re­mem­bered or re­called, fad­ing like a whis­per that never was.  On oc­ca­sion—a very rare oc­ca­sion—one mo­ment will brush against the next and a spark will flare to life that re­fuses to be ex­tin­guished. This is the mo­ment, the spark, and this is how the end be­gins for a shat­tered realm—with a small nymphling who was cold.

This prologue drew me into a story full of emotional turmoil, political intrigue, love, loss, and all that is in between. The characters are wonderfully crafted so that, by the time this story’s fire is raging, the reader can see all shades of blues and reds amidst the orange flames. The banter between said characters is delicious. It adds a fresh element of humour to some of the longer scenes that would be, otherwise, dry. This keeps the pacing up during character development.

Most of the story is told from select points of view. Shifting between these, speckled with a touch of intrigue, works great for building suspense. Some of the concepts have just enough explanation to make them believable, then are left to linger, keeping the reader invested, turning pages faster before the flames catch hold — the story dying in such wake.

The Bad:

Despite all of the glory seen in this flame, sometimes fire can be destructive, leaving nothing but charcoal and death behind. The story is mostly believable and manageable, but in a few places it rages out of control, getting lost in it’s own beauty without realizing there is a story to tell. Behind all the character magic and descriptive excellence, the plot stands still, like logs waiting to be lit. Once the plot starts, it progresses nicely, but lighting this flame earlier would have enhanced this book immensely.

Once fires rage too high, they begin to lose some beauty. This is the case with some longer, drawn-out descriptions of the world’s history and concept explanations through dialogue. These are brief and easily forgettable, but bring the book to a screeching halt like a water barrel to snuff out flames. These wet logs, then, take some time to get started again, creating pacing issues.

Conclusion:

Despite some too-extensive, dry world development and a plot coming too long over-due, A Thread in the Tangle is enjoyable. The philosophising through prose is wonderful, and the characters are well developed. If you enjoy fantasy with flame-eared nymphs tangled in the treads of time, this book is for you.

Where you can find it:

Smashwords
Amazon (COM) (CA) (CO.UK)

Amber Bridge – Excerpt

Recently I have been working on a novella idea. I can now proudly say that I have completed the first draft of Amber Bridge: a psychological thriller philosophising about life stuck in neutral. It has been an interesting journey and a nice reprise while still working through my fantasy novel “Pawns of Time.” For lack of a better idea, I have decided to post an excerpt from the story for all of my lovely readers. Is your life like an Amber Bridge?

Original photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/runner310/167293027/

Embers, burning, burning, burning. Smoke, billowing in the night sky, desperately working to bring life into the shapeless black shadows. Below, the highway is almost dead, one odd car after the next — some crawling hopelessly, forward circling the drain of life, others racing like water trapped in a pressured pipe, seeking for spout’s escape — flying, or crawling, to some destination beyond the darkened horizon. Street lights cast fabled breath, life into the shadows — deceitful facades shining promises onto the tarmac, buzzing voices in the night whispering down life’s runway while cars pass, flying or crawling, reaching for the promises beyond those deceitful amber leads.

A man sucks in smoke, night air filtering through drug-soaked cigarette. Embers burn on its tip, one more fabled light casting promises, hope, into the dark. The ambers below are filled with life’s warnings — speed up or slow down for the lights? When will they turn red? — but the glowing smoke in this man’s hand has none to share. It glows hot against the crisp chill, like a final flame almost smothered by night’s coffin.

One long draw, one longer exhalation; the smoke swallows itself, slowly dying with each bright burning light, each smoke plume, each fire trying to break free of night’s chains.

The man squints, eyes strain to spot some light in the distance, that fabled story of old. Nothing but darkness speaks from that light-tunnel’s end below. The ambers draw closer, taunting left and right, dying on night’s horizon. That bridge seemingly leads into the void — one empty, black spot down the road. Some shamble, some race, but do any reach that light at tunnel’s end, that destination of life’s bridge? Or are the ambers coming together, a maw swallowing all in darkness, warning lights embraced for a final, endless, hopeless grave?

They say life flashes before your eyes, when death comes calling, when we reach that door at tunnel’s end, crack it open, let light spill onto the road. The man never sees those flashes, save for through windows when flying along the path — ambers buzzing, whizzing, whispers warning of the encroaching darkness.

Now, there is no flash of life as he pulls one final fag drag. The ember burns a smokey tip, burns his fingers, lips, but he holds it there. One final breath comes out, cold, attempting to add one parting message to the night, breathe meaning into his life: this bridge with no destination, no purpose beyond the constant warning ambers.

He lets it falls, watches that last ember burning, tumbling, dying. Slowly. Smoke curls from one red light among many yellow lies, swallowed by the black, disappearing on the road below. It lays there, broken, bleeding smoke, not at road’s end — no destination to be seen — but right there, in the middle, nothing but final darkness to follow.

That ember dies, no purpose left; those ambers die, unheard warnings.

The man jumps, breathing in smoke, breathing in death, breathing ambers and embers, but nothing green. No reason left to fly or crawl along the bridge of life toward… no destination. Some might have a desire to test the yellow, screaming through or crawling to a stop. Some might work for that end that never comes, all their life searching for a purpose beneath those winking lights. This man, has one light left to share. It lies on the pavement with his broken body, seeping, slowly, from worthless veins. Red.

Then black.

Just a Dream

Attribution: http://www.flickr.com/photos/28519734@N00/6181993069/

Attribution: http://www.flickr.com/photos/28519734@N00/6181993069/

Dreams, they start in darkness, spread from death to life like a match flicked. Fire shoots into our minds, leaving the emptiness of sleep behind, filling us with love, hate, horror, thrills, chills: emotions. Life.

But not real life. Just a dream.

Dreams can spur us on, cause us to press toward some distant goal, reach for that prize past the horizon. The question: is the goal — the prize — real, or just a fantasy wrought from night’s shifting flames?

At night, we can dream of sorrow, suffering, death. The scenes play over and over, horrific images flashing through our minds. Perhaps when we wake, floor-boards still creek, faucet dripping — less like water and more like blood-rain, and that face in the shadows…? It is real… right?

No. Not real. Just a dream.

Dreams are not always so. Some can be filled with mirth — joy to replace sorrow, love for suffering, and trading death for life. These are the dreams we hold close; as the match-flame dies, eyes awaken, heart cries, and we seek for sleep again. We blow on the embers of that match, the charcoal in our minds, willing the fantasy to go on — wishing it to never end; re-kindle that flame to replace the following day when we rise. Replace our life.

But no. It is not life. Just a dream.

Some dreams we wish to forget. Others, we cry when they forget us: when we wish to visit them again each night, but sleep plays a darker song, or a blank slate — no flickering match to fill the shadows. Instead, we live, chase dreams, and live some more.

The match dies. Flames fade. Some old fire is replaced with new, life (or dreams) from those embers. We must stoke the pit each night, squeeze life from those coals. It is hard, when the rains come, harder with flames speaking dark dreams, promising nothing but pain… and death.

But not the death of dreams.

Walk away. Let the flames die. Leave matches, untouched, forgotten in their box. Let the coals become a soup of death. But, if we want to come back, return from those wayward travels, the flames will hide between sheets of darkness, and when we sleep… dreams will not come.

What lies beyond my pit of flames? Fame? Fortune? Progress? Some semblance of normality? Will I blend in with the darkness out there on the fringes, or will I be swallowed by the cloud, never to return. And then, when the darkness has taken its last morsels from me, and I long for those brighter days — the days when I could dream, those days of matches and pillow clinging — will my match book be too wet for flames, or too lost in the dark? Will my hearth be cold, lifeless, impossible to stoke again. Will I find it in the dark?

No. That’s just a dream.

And so, I sit. The world passes, one success at a time. I glance at the stars above, briefly wishing for their glory… but no. I am not one of them. I do not belong in that darkness. Here, my flames might sputter, die beneath those who rain on me. Sometimes my fire is hot, too hot, and it hurts. Raging out of control… but going nowhere.

Progress? Riches? Or just a dream?

I am a dreamer, seeing art in my flames. No, my life is not easy. No, my fire is not strong. Yes, it often dies, runs out of fuel: left clawing at nothing, hoping to make something… out of nothing. But, that is what dreams do. That is what they are for. I would rather dream, and live, dream, and fail, dream, and dream again than walk away. Life without dreams is darkness without matches. Flames without the darkness? Dreams without life? Impossible. I am a dreamer. I stick by my little flame.

It is just a dream. But it is mine.

The Man Who Ended The World by Jason Gurley

All he wanted was to be alone…

The Rating: 
Mature-content Rating: PG-13

Dystopian fiction is exploding in today’s culture. Everywhere you turn, there is some new end-of-the-world piece of media, ready to be consumed. What would happen if it came true? What would you do if the world ended, and you were one the survivors? More importantly, what would you do if you knew the man who was going to end the world?

The Good:

The Man Who Ended The World is the first thing I have ever read by Jason Gurley, and I must say, that it was a treat. The story is told from two different perspective — the man who ended the world and a young boy who finds out about him. These two select POVs add flavourful suspense as two lives work toward each other. The POV split between this little boy and the man adds different layers to the sociological reveals as they mirror each other wonderfully with the book’s progression. As the plot progresses, the chapter endings and POV switches are particularly punctuating, adding suspense by leaving the reader hanging, but informing about what is to come.

The book opens with a young boy tailing the man who will end the world. This early reveal of him is a great suspense builder as well. It keeps the reader guessing what will happen next, already knowing where the story will end up, but not how it gets there. Watching the man progress from a lonely bachelor, who just wants solitude, to a crazy psychopath killer is a wonderful psychological trip. His character is wonderfully developed, and the progression is believably sadistic.

A number of times, the story jumps backward in a “memory” scene. This adds incredible flavour to the character(s) while keeping the pacing up and functioning as a world building mechanism.

When the “computer” becomes a character, you know that the book is going to be a classic science fiction treat. Witnessing the human-AI interaction is a wonderful comedic treat, adding humour to this dire-straights end-of-the-world plot.

Conclusion:

From beginning to end, the book is wonderful. Jason Gurley has a handle on character and plot development that leaves many other books swimming in a post apocalyptic wasteland while Gurley hides out, safely underground, imagining worlds and breathing life back into the death above. If you like well-rounded characters, science fiction, comedy, and dystopian art with a touch of psychological thrills, this book is for you.

Where you can find it:

Amazon (COM) (CA) (CO.UK)

The Clinic by David Jester

The Rating: 

Mature-content: R (Coarse language, gore, and sexual content)

Sometimes petty crimes aren’t satisfying enough, when the mother-load is just on the horizon. Why steal from a sleeping drunk when a clinic looms just out of town, filled with rich rehab patients? This is the question that Malcolm, Darren and Eddie ask themselves — three delinquents raised by the streets.

The Good:

This book starts out really well. The introductory scene draws the reader in with a unique third-person omniscience point-of-view that makes everything from the thieves, to snoring man, to creaking floorboards come to life. From here, the story progresses into a wonderful telling of three adolescents ignored and abused by their parents. It is not wonderful in the sense that these boys have “wonderful” lives, but the intense focus on this character development through back-story is refreshingly pleasant.

Once the action picks up, it doesn’t let go until the very end. The heist is pleasantly set-up so that it doesn’t feel like a bunch of random teenagers running across the pages, but instead a group of semi-friends brought together because of their horrible lives at home. From their very first step into The Clinic, the suspense is invitingly creepy. David Jester uses internal monologue and prose together for such suspense, causing the reader’s heart to beat out of control with each slapping foot as it comes closer, closer, closer, and each bulb buzzing to life, ripping secrecy from the shadows.

The Bad:

I loved the back-story presence, and Jester knows his way around setting up a scene, but sadly, The Clinic falls flat after this. The first 20% was wonderfully promising, but then things start to fall apart. There are so many editing issues that I struggled to make sense of certain sentences, and the ones that did make sense just sounded choppy and ill-crafted. An editor would have helped this book immensely… at least some of its issues.

There is no easy way to say this… okay, maybe there is. In short, The Clinic is unrefined. No, it is not just the editing issues that make it so, but the writing style is stilted and juvenile, making this feel more like a first draft than a final sellable product. There are many repeated words in close proximity to each other, applying the breaks to any style points afforded through word craft. Jester seems to particularly have a problem with third person pronouns and their over-use… or perhaps he doesn’t have a problem with their over-use. This is not just a word-craft issue, killing any potential magic the words have to share, but it even gets in the way of some sentences making sense, particularly where there is more than one “he.”

“He wanted to scream. He wanted to see what his face looked like when he took his fist from his face; he wanted to see the damage he had done to him. He also just wanted to sit there on top of him, bathing in his own victory.”

This is the biggest issue with The Clinic, as it runs throughout. It, however, might not have taken so many points away if the plot was good… or existent. 80% of the book is just mindless gore speckled with a few key moments of suspense. The last 20% is when the plot finally gets introduced, and then promptly concludes. This constitutes a total of about 30 pages. The plot was not necessarily bad in concept, but some presence of it before the final confrontation would have been nice.

Conclusion:

Sadly, despite the promising introduction, I cannot recommend this book. True, I managed to get from beginning to end without setting it aside, but that is all that really can be said. The Clinic is full of editorial errors and juvenile word choice. This coupled with the lack of plot does not do the book any favours. The first 20% is The Clinic’s only redeeming factor, setting up the characters well. If you like mindless gore, that is what The Clinic has to offer.

Where you can find it:

Amazon (COM) (CA) (CO.UK)

Thieves and Kings by Tommy Clark

Note: A unique author spot-light follows this review.

The Rating: 
Mature-Content Rating: PG (course language and mature themes)

Thieves and Kings by Tommy Clark is the first book of the Rogue’s Phoenix series. It is the story of squires desiring for knighthood, the gods and how they relate to their created world, people and how they relate to each other, robbery, kidnap, political games, rogue factions battling for power: in short, it is about thieves and kings (oh, and also, there is a dragon. It is a fantasy book after all). With such a complex plot and world built, filled with all the goodies that fantasy readers have come to love, what is there not to love? First, let me share with you what is to love, and we will go from there.

The Good:

The first thing I must say is this: Thieves and Kings will grow on you. I was not blown away by the beginning, but as the reader gets to know the world, characters, and plot, eyes travel faster than pages can turn, morphing reader into a book zombie shambling for the next chapter (or maybe just for lack of sleep). The plot is wonderfully paced, rises and falls flowing seamlessly throughout to bring the story from its humble beginnings to an epic conclusion.

From beginning to end, the reader is treated to a story from multiple different perspectives. Instead of breaking up the flow, such point-of-view changes are speckled in wonderfully to introduce characters, concepts, build suspense, and generally round out the book as a whole. They are often related closely, and scenes are kept short enough to allow for a continuously succinct flow. Instead of getting lost in a messy soup of characters, the reader is afforded the sweet luxury of seeing this tale unfold from different angles like multiple cameras for stylistic, panoramic excellence.

Tommy Clark has a philosophical mind (or so I imagine based on his writing) and it bleeds from the pages. The world building is not just thrown out there for reader enjoyment, but meticulously mulled over to add a holistic feel. There are brief scenes where this magic comes through, and I would have loved to see more of what hides behind the curtains in this world called Rogue’s Phoenix, but… there are more books to come.

The ending blew me away. I was ready to rate Thieves and Kings as a three star wonder until the epilogue rolled out. It is almost a mini-tale of its own, going back to describe much that was left hanging in suspense. This side-quest epilogue really brings the world to life and even adds some great plot teasers for future books, while still wrapping things up beautifully. In short, it was a very satisfying ending, leaving the reader thinking about how everything fits together even after the last word is read. A story that sticks with the reader because of the well thought-out and implemented conclusion is, indeed, one worth time and money.

The Bad:

This book did a lot of things right, but sadly, it didn’t get everything perfect. Though I loved how the world develops, a few things were left far too open ended and “assumed” for my liking. Because of this, a magic system is introduced seemingly out of nowhere. I excused the brief mention of a dwarf having clairvoyance as a one-off fantasy gaming carry-over, until fireballs start getting thrown around, super speed manifests, and all in the middle of a fight scene. It seemed that, all of a sudden, numerous characters (previously introduced) developed magical abilities like they always had them. In truth, such magic always existed, but there was so little (in fact no) mention of them before hand that it messed with my head once it was revealed.

Waving hands at the presence of magic, let’s move on to the action scenes. Most action is close combat, small-time scrapping. Because of the one-on-one sort of focus in battles, Clark chose to go all out with the description. Clearly, this would not work in a larger fight with POVs jumping way too much, but it doesn’t really work in a smaller-scale fight either. Does it matter that much to the reader if a sword hit above or below the knee, and is it that important to mention that is was indeed the left appendage being assaulted? The biggest problem with this is not gratuitous description, but it messes with the pacing. Slower scenes have a right to feel slower, and in fact are better when they do, but faster scenes should, conversely, feel fast. Short, to-the-point sword jabs breathe life into an action scene, a life that, sadly, much of Clark’s action lacks. The odd scene is well done, but for the most part, the action feels more like a spectator’s sport than the blood-rushing adrenaline fest it should be.

I mentioned that the plot is well done and the POV changes are wonderfully implemented, but this does not mean that the beginning of Thieves and Kings doesn’t feels a bit scattered and unfocused. Because of the short scene changes, this can be mostly excused, but it is a minor point against the book, thus deserves mention here.

Conclusion:

Thieves and Kings is a wonderful fantasy tale filled with the highs and low of life, political upheaval, and battle with men and gods alike. It has an extended “epic” feel to it without getting weighed down, and captures reader attention throughout. Save for a shaky beginning and some pacing issues with the action, this book is a wonderful trip into the potential of indie fantasy. If you love fantasy, you will love this book (especially if you stick it out until the end. The Epilogue is particularly choice).

Author Spotlight:

While reading Thieves and Kings, I noticed a pattern running throughout. Many of the characters are effected by father/son relationships in different ways. (Such a profound statement, I know!) I had the opportunity to interview Tommy Clark, and asked him the following question about it:

There are some father-son tragedies in “Thieves and Kings” that alter plot and character dynamics, forcing particular characters into situations that they were, perhaps, not prepared for. In reading about your life story, I see that you have experienced a lot of death/sickness in the family over your short 9 years of marriage. Could you talk about personal dynamics between fathers and sons that you feel are integral to effecting how fathers view themselves, and how children are raised?

Now, to introduce the author of Thieves and Kings, Tommy Clark. Enjoy his thoughts and reply to my question. It is quite informative, and really brings to light a lot of the relationship implementations in his writing:

My father was a great man. I was named after him and I could not feel a bigger honor in this world. My dad, known by many as Cowboy, was one of the nicest guys a person could know. He took me fishing a lot and would always invite my friends, many of whom didn’t have their own fathers in the picture. I can remember several occasions where my friends would tell me how much they appreciated my dad and how big of a role he played in their lives. Other friends I had did not get along well with their overbearing fathers and found mine to be a break from their relationships with their own.

My dad played a major role in helping me to grow into myself. He was the sort of guy who would say “I don’t want you to do something stupid, but I don’t want you to regret your choices in life. You’re going to do some things that you will later look back on and know they were stupid. I want you to accept those things. Those decisions will help you grow.”

My dad always seemed to get it – understand what I was going through. He was always willing to listen and offer guidance if needed. I put a lot of stock in him.

When I lost my dad during my first year of marriage, just as I was stepping into this new chapter of my life, I was heartbroken. It has been nearly 10 years now and it still chokes me up to think about that loss.

When I started writing Rogue’s Phoenix, I hadn’t quite noticed the effect my dad had on me or my creativity. As the book came together – and these relationships came together – I noticed all of these differences between characters and their fathers/sons. It doesn’t affect the book on a direct level, but there are elements there that speak to this. Whether it be a king and his son or Kryon (the god) himself, the effects their fathers had on them become evident. For the princes, the effect their fathers have on them seems to have affected their very nature. The development of these relationships unfolds throughout the first book as well as the second.

I tend to write with inspiration from my life. I never really put much thought into it, but looking back I have began to notice a trend. Many of my characters don’t have a father in the picture. I think it’s an easy place to put characters. It’s a great place to start a character. Without this figure in the story it creates a challenge to push these guys to grow. Where there would be a fatherly figure, instead, we have the buddy who seems to always have some insight.

I really enjoy this writing mechanic. I have the main character who needs to learn something; I have the mouthy, immature buddy; then I have this voice of reason, the one with the level head. I can then use the immature one to lay the ground work for the comic relief. He’s also a very handy hurdle for the main character to jump. The voice of reason allows for the main character to have someone to converse with – to brainstorm. I think this character fills the role of father when a real father is absent.

I lost my father in June of 2005 and found out I was going to have a son in January 2006. After the initial fears of being a new dad for the first time, a different type of fear settled in. My son would not get to know his grandpa. I would not have him to lean on for any fatherly advice. My dad raised me with respect and that laid the foundation on how I treat everyone I know. My dad didn’t know an enemy-and I feel the same about myself. I know a lot of people and therefore have a lot of friends. I raise my son, Dylen, as best I can with the same values my dad taught me. I hope to live up to the image I hold of my dad. I think the way a child looks at their father says a lot about how good a man that person is – how compassionate, loving, strong and intelligent.

As Dylen grows up (and now Braelyn, my daughter), I hope to fill the same shoes to him and his friends that my dad did for me and mine. I want to be the guy they come to when they need advice, or when they mess up. I want to be a disciplinarian but with compassion and understanding. I hope that as Dylen and Braelyn grow up, they feel I was a good dad, that I did my best for them. If they can tell their friends that their dad was firm but just and a good man, then I’ve done a good job. 

The Legacy of the Fallen

In the city there is death. Motors roar to life, chopping down stocks, leaving us broken and bleeding. Slashed limbs stick up amidst the massacre, green chutes fighting the blades. Again and again the machines come, buzzing faster, spinning harder, cutting deeper. Again and again we fall, cut short, left to bleed on the broken blanket of green beneath. The motors die with the sun, and we are left to weep under the stars. Tears rise from our shattered forms, the dew of our sorrow sticking against dead grass and shattered limbs. Sometimes a single golden head pokes up, defying the roaring machines. The motors do not torture one, leaving it to flower, to seed, to spread. The wind carries more heads about. We take root in the grass, just to be cut down again. There is no escaping death.

The city pulls at us, chops us up, leaves us finished and broken. Iron cages are clasped around our stocks, squishing leafs and crushing flowered heads. An odd seed might escape between the bars, as we are ripped from lush soil beneath our feet, roots and all. Breath slowly disappears, life leaving us in the dark. The cage is thrown off, and we are cast aside, piled in heaps, raked away to decompose in a mound of putrid waste. Those cages rip life from us. No bleeding limbs remain. Nothing remains, nothing but death, no legacy for the fallen. We battle that inescapable monster by day and fight from nightly terrors.

We tuck our pedals tight, press the golden florets against each other, squeezing eyes shut as darkness falls. We tuck tight against the cold, squeeze, shiver, try to block out the terrors that will come. Death taunts us on the wind, and we suck in against the onslaught. Death hangs down from the stars, gleaming in the blackened waste above, and we pull close to block out the memories, block out the vision of what is to come.
Morning rises, dew-filled tears fall, and death comes again, those terrors of night being realized. Today there are no motors, blades, or metal cages. No tools fill hands of men and women, no slicing bars or chopping mowers. A soft mist rests on our pedals, caresses our shafts, running down to leafs and roots beneath. We bask in the glorious showers of death, soaking in the moisture, before realizing the deceit. The poison spills on us, soaks into our skin, shrivels up our pedals, turns our leafs crusty and brown. We can no longer breathe, suffocated by the death in those clothes of life, the watering-can in grim-reapers tattered clothing. His scythe slices into our hearts, spilling blood from the deepest parts of our growth. Death holds nothing back in this city that kills. Nothing is left but a field of waste: the legacy of the fallen.

My brothers, sisters, friends in the city are lost. Death fills them with dread by night, torturing their minds before the sun promises its physical mirror. It shows them death inside the glass, then dashes them to pieces by motor, blade, cages, poison. I feel their pain, but know not the experience, my life filled with freedom. Where urban meets rural there is some talk of death, light gossip’s on the wind, but those blackened hands, metal cages, motors, poison, none reach me in the field. Death keeps his distance, and I care not for his deceit. More heads of yellow poke up around me than I could dare imagine possible in the city. Row upon row, we stand, soaking up the sun, soaking up the rain, basking in rural freedoms.

I tuck my pedals tight when the stars come out, but it is not out of fear. I seek not to block out the tortures of death on my mind, blocking out the nightmares as my brothers in the city do. Out here, I relish the day, and savour its taste at night. I hold tight those pleasant memories, before unfolding again, the sun creeping up on horizon beyond. Tears of joy touch my yellowed fingers as they open, receiving the surrounding dew, that shower of spring’s delight.

Day after day I bathe in freedom, bask in the beauty if my rural existence. The field of flowers, that is my home, works in waves around me, closing and opening with the sun. No fear. No care. Nothing but freedom and the remembrance of peace. I sleep with promises of another day’s glories on the tips of every floret, moist with life’s emotions, messages of freedom on the tips of those tiny tongues, eyes wet with the impending joy as they close, expectantly desiring the beauty of tomorrow.

But tomorrow never comes.

The night is harsh, but I am unafraid until morning comes. I do not rise. I can feel the sun’s heat as it rises in the expanse of blue above, fading from darkened blues, through greys, to reds of sunrise, to cobalt. I see the clouds billowing with life above, life’s light poking through empty spaces to shine down on me… but they are only in my memory. I know the sky to be blue, but see only red. It is not the red of rising or setting sun, but the red of that unknown, gossiped about visitor. The whole field shivers with his presence, overcome with blood-red waves in mind’s eye. Death.

No blades, cages, poison: death holds no foul tools. He works hard in the city, daily crushing us with the varieties of tortures available to his blackened heart, deceiving us by day, and taunting by night. I am so far removed from such pains, sorrows, lies, that I missed the greatest deception. Death slowly trickled up my stalks, forced my eyes shut, the life surrounding me sealing my fate, gluing my florets together in an unshakable grasp.

I strain against the power of death, fight the poison continually working its way up the shaft into my head, clouding mind, skewing vision, blocking all hope, joy, freedom. The red sun continually beats down, torturing me with its presence. I feel the burn from above, but cannot see beyond my sealed lids. I feel the poison rising in my throat, but cannot open my mouth to retch. The vomitous pool within cooks under the sun. My pedals begin to shrivel, die, burned away by the acrid life turned death within.

Night comes again. I do not see the setting sun, or stars smiling down on me. The air around me chills, growing wet with tomorrow’s pregnant dew. The red burn in my eyes fades to a blackened darkness, shot through with ghosts of that beast on high. Memories of the pain flash past my eyes, spectre visions to torture my mind. I wish to close my eyes, shake off the death that has taken hold of me, forget the pain of yesterday – the pain now dormant, raw, and throbbing in my head. Death is not a blanket to be removed, or a monstrous machine left to rust, but it is in me. Inescapable.

I now know the pain of my brothers in the city, the torture my sisters endure, the screaming of my friends as limbs are cut away, roots are ripped up, bodies left to shrivel in a steaming, poisoned mass. I know the pain. It is in me. It is me. I give up, falling into the apathy that has become my life. Depression overtakes my mind: the will to die. I wish for bars to cage me in, grasp at my roots, pluck the remaining life from me, but the Reaper is not so friendly. He plays a sad tune in my heart, scraping it away one scythe-shaped shaving at a time.

The day, the night, it is all the same. One is filled with blood-red fire, the other torturous visions of what is to come, visions of tomorrow, memories of yesterday. All is death, but he does not come in full. Soon I forget the pain, day and night becoming as one, one lonely existence, one dead heart in an almost lifeless body. My florets seemingly fall away as that body decays, moulting within the impenetrable shell of my head. I want to dash my skull against a stone, let the blood run from that self-inflicted hole, keep the black emptiness of death, no more red days to taunt me.

No more red days come. The nights remain black and lifeless, but the days return to their former blue that I once knew. My head finally cracks, pedals spilling outward to receive the life of the morning. Dew sticks to my florets, but I can barely feel it. These are not the tears of joy that I once knew, but those of pain, sorrow, emptiness, death. This field that once was a beautiful patch of gold has fallen into decay. We stand tall, but not free as before. Row upon row of white fluff, we stand, the bright yellows of life sucked away by death.

He hangs over me, mixing with the wind, tugging at the shreds of decency I have left. One at a time, my florets-turned-spores are ripped from my skin, torn from my scalp like lifeless hairs from a lifeless head, my legacy ripped from dying stalk. The hair turned white with age, and now begins to fall out, but not with the grace of a slowly receding hairline. The process is sharp and jarring… but I hardly feel the pain.

Again and again the wind blows, death grasping at the wispy strands in which I once took pride. My golden tresses fall away, floating by one at a time as death comes like a thief. By night, by day, he cares not for my sorrow, continually plucking out those floret spores, leaving me to die naked and raw. That final strand of life hangs on, but I care for it no more. The rest of me is gone. My legacy is dead. Why care for a single piece of life when death holds prevalence? I let the wind pick it off, speaking no blessing as it disappears into the night air.

My head sinks low as the rain starts to fall. Those mounds of life in the sky have turned purple in wicked death. They lash out at the dead field below with the fury of a forgotten god. Drops of water push hard against my naked skull, crush my back in the downpour. When that final cry of the storm gives way, rumbling the earth beneath, shaking my dead roots from their life-long home, lighting the field with fire, I have nothing left to care for. The red fire rushes for my naked, broken, dying carcass, and I give in to its will. The burn of death is my only comfort, my only hope, joy, freedom, my only legacy. The red rages in my mind, fading into the blackness of lifelessness that I can finally call my own: my new home.

In the city there is death. Motors, cages, poison have all finished their job. The city is bloodied and broken. We are bloodied and broken. No hope, no freedom, no legacy, nothing but death all around. Wind whips through the shortened grass, tired stalks, broken limbs. Tufts of white stick to those tears of sorrow, the rising dew of the morning. The city of death is transformed into a field of white: field of new life. We burrow into the earth, hide from death, hide from the blades, cages, poison. They continue to assault our brothers, sisters, friends above, but death cannot touch us. We wait in patient expectation, germinating beneath the ground.

With a final burst of life, we shoot from beneath the well turned earth, death’s fertilization feeding our growing limbs. We suck in the flavour of a lost past, stretch out limbs to the sky, spread forth new tresses of golden life. The city is a glorious scene of beauty, golden tipped stalks rising above the death below.

I open to see the sky above, feel the wet dew of joy touching each eyelash, each floret, as I greet the morning. In the distant expanses of memory I hear shrieks of death, feel the wind carrying me, see blood-red, but none of it seems real. I stand tall and proud in the city, defying death in the new field of gold surrounding me. I know someday that I will close my eyes, never to open them again. I feel the death in my distant past, but see its results around me. Row upon row of golden heads poke up from the dead spores we once were, the remains of a dying body. Death is inescapable, but life is much the same. One death gives birth to many lives: the legacy of the fallen.

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lorri37/5620085419/

CyberStorm by Matther Mathers

A post-apocalyptic book without zombies!

The Rating: 
Adult-content Rating: PG-13 (Coarse Language and mature subject matter)

The Good:

This book had all of the things that make an end-of-world scenario great. #1 the main focus was on the relationships and how the disastrous situations were effecting everyone. As far as I am concerned, this is key. Too often I find that end-of-the-world type of books are a lot about the action, but forget that there are characters behind everything going on.

Mather sets the scene well by introducing families and friends, developing relationships before the the world starts falling apart. As a reader, I got a feel for what was happening inside the character’s heads, and could relate with them the whole way through. They played off of each other’s strong/weak points well, making for a fairly well-rounded cast.

The story moved along at a steady pace. This is not an “action heavy” book, nor is it a slow romp through a world that has fallen apart. CyberStorm follows the lives of key individuals as the world is falling apart, and the reader gets to see how they interact before, during, and after the fact. The day-to-day survival is a big focus, and naturally there are some people working toward this common goal, and others… not so much. The tension of learning how to survive and just get along, while still deciding what (and who) is the most important, is knit together really well. There is just enough tension (relationally) to keep the reader pressing on. This is, by far, the selling feature of CyberStorm.

The Bad:

I was ready to rate this book 4 stars up until the end. It is fairly well-put-together until the post-crisis moments. Mather uses a “24” style of progression, setting up time/day markers instead of chapter headings. This lets the reader know exactly when things are happening, and serve to build tension in a few places. This, however, falls apart at the end where weeks go by and “things happen.” It goes from skipping hours within a day to jumping weeks (and even months) ahead without any real warning. Because of this, much of the “so, why did x happen in the book?” answers fall flat with long drawn-out passive voice descriptions of “this is what happened over the last week/month that we just skipped.” I understand that the author wanted to pick up the pace a bit for the ending, but I feel like it could have been done a lot better.

The only complaint I had for most of the book (taking it from 5 to 4 stars) is that the reader is kept in the dark of what actually is going on as far as the over-arching plot. This is, mostly, made up for by the day-to-day survival that sucks you in, but a better plot over-all would have done wonders for this book. And, as mentioned above, because of the poor over-arching plot, when things finally do come together, it almost feels silly to keep reading. Because the book is mostly about the relationship struggles and the drama of just trying to survive (lacking any real bigger picture moments) once all of this is taken away, the pages pass by dryly.

Conclusion:

I enjoyed this book quite a bit. It held my attention with the suspenseful dire-straights living scenarios and relationship issues caused by the end-of-the-world writing environment. It is a pleasant treat to see characters that have real feelings and struggle with them as people would in such dystopian situations. Sadly, the bigger picture is patchy at best, and the ending makes this book fall flatter than it should. If you enjoy low sci-fi and dystopian fiction, I highly recommend this book.

Where you can find it:

Note: This book was originally self published and DRM-free in multiple places, but because of some recent publishing changes (CyberStorm now gone traditionally published) there is no longer anywhere to acquire this book without DRM. My apologies to those wishing to purchase this book DRM, and highest hopes to the author as he continues to flourish in his writing career.