W1ck

The Rating: 
Mature-Content Rating: PG (action violence)

From the mind of Michael Bunker and the political excellence of Chris Awalt comes this nice piece of dystopian fiction. It is not often evident what an author is all about simply by reading their art, but Wick is a pleasant exception. Not only do you get to know the characters and world being build, but also are afforded a unique opportunity to enter the mind of the author(s). Science fiction with Amish and political leanings makes this a wonderful piece of art that is hard to compare with. If you are the type of reader that likes lots of action and little thought this may not be your thing, but if you like to think there is no better piece of art. Throughout Wick there is a wonderful amount of matter-of-fact life philosophising built into the prose which make for a delightful ride that feels dense. No, not dense because it is hard to get through, but like a pit of tar: once entered, it will suck your mind right in, and you may have trouble getting out. Because of this, the point of view taken feels reserved, almost making the narrator/author a character of their own, allowing for wonderfully crafted observatory world building.

Because of this feeling of separation between the narrator and the character, at times pacing issues are evident. It has been said that if do not enjoy slower books, this may not be your thing, but that is not the issue here (for if a book is meant to be slow, and does it in an engaging manner [i.e. W1ck] then it works). The biggest issues I had were with the “section” or “part” splits. This Omnibus was originally published in 4 different parts, three of which make sense on their own. The middle two parts should, realistically, have been one because of the way the story progresses. Also, at times, there are too many characters and it is difficult to follow.

The biggest issue, however, I had was with the ending. Much like the ending of the different “parts” of W1ck, the pages are just suddenly blank. No, I don’t mean that there is some kind of strange print error. Bunker just decided to call it a day, and that is that. I will admit that this format fits well with the reserved POV chosen, and if it were done any other way, the results would have been mind-jarringly worse. I suppose with this type of ending, it makes me want to read more to find out what happens next, but there is nothing that happens next. This Omnibus is the complete package. The “sequel” (if you will) happens 20 years later, being a world sequel and not a direct descendant.

All in all, W1ck is an enjoyable journey filled with great philosophical musings, and out-spoken activism that you can only not get in trouble for if it is folded inside the covers of a book labelled “fiction.” This, coupled with great storytelling and wonderful prose, makes Michael Bunker an author that I will definitely return to. His writing style is so gloriously fresh and interesting that I found it easier to ignore the pacing failures throughout and poor conclusion. Reading W1ck feels like watching a painting unfold before my eyes, colour splashed by the voice of God.

Where you can find it:

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

Floats the Dark Shadow by Yves Fey

The Rating: 
Mature-Content Rating: R (Graphic visual descriptions and overt sexuality)

There is a world deep seated in history. This world is filled with the flavour of a simpler time, but no problem free society is found. Psychotic killers have a full-time job hunting out their next victims and keeping them under the influence of dark torture until finally releasing them to the Reaper’s scythe. Inspecteur’s are equally busy follow the clues dropped by Grimm and his acolytes: drying fast as blood. Mystery and murder weigh hearts and minds heavier than a judges gavel giving courtesan’s a full-time job relieving such stresses through their secret seductive arts. This world is historical France, and you may have to quit your full-time job so that you can spend as much time as desired reading Floats the Dark Shadow by Yves Fey.

The Good:

Being not a historian myself, I cannot speak to the true accuracy of the facts, locations, and honourable mentions by Yves Fey, but I can say–as a reader–that it feels authentic enough. To me, art is about being drawn into a world and feeling like a character in the story as it unfolds. This, Fey does well. The book is quite character driven, and as a result, the reader is more invested with those involved in the plot than what is actually happening. This is not, however, to say that the plot is flat. By no means! It is, however, over-shadowed by the great characterisation.

Fey uses real French word and phrases speckled throughout to enhance that sense of immersion and add great flavour. This is not to say that one must know French to read the book. Most words are translated or explained through humorous pros with give the great sense of an American living in France (as one of the characters is said import) while appealing to the English speakers who will be reading Float the Dark Shadow.

Said import works as a painter. Normally this character setting would not be worth mentioning in a review, however, watching the story unfold through her eyes is imbued with great colourful flavours, giving a real sense that it is a painter’s eyes the reader is seeing this world through while, at the same time, adding intense pop to the description. Words and worlds come alive when the whole colour pallet it on the tip of your descriptive brush strokes.

The Bad:

I cannot say there is any one thing that bothered me with Yves Fey’s writing in this work. I have not rated it 5 stars because that spot it reserved for those books which leave me in tears, tie my stomach in knots, or make me laugh until it hurts (or all three). I believe such books should have a special place in the review process. Floats the Dark Shadow did none of these for me. Because of this, I say that it lacks a certain amount of emotional attachment between reader and character(s).

My only complaint is that the plot was less developed than it could have been. As has been said, this is a character driven book. The plot does not fall apart, but it simply did not draw me in as a reader. There were very few mysteries in this mystery-focus plot except “who done it,” leaving everything more like one big question mark instead of multiple tiny ones coming to a great exclamatory head at the end.

Conclusion:

Floats the Dark Shadow will draw you in; there is no doubt about that. The prose are flavourfully crafted and the characters are well balanced. Just watching them interact with each other and the world around them is a great treat. The plot is your standard “serial killer on the loose” motif. If you enjoy historical mysteries and like to be drawn into a book through some good word and crafting choices, this book is for you.

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. 

Venom of Vipers/Blood Pact by K.C. May

A science fiction medial thriller with a deadly virus and Frankensteins.

The Rating: 
Mature Content Rating: PG-13 (Mature themes and coarse language)

Have you ever read Frankenstein? If not, chances are you have heard of it. A scientist creates a being named Frankenstein. This scientist’s name might not have been Katie Marsh, and the creation’s name might not be Frankenstein, but Venom of Vipers/Blood Pact by K. C. May holds a similar premise. These new Frankensteins are created to hopefully save humanity from the deadly Molio virus that threatens to wipe everyone out.

Non-human beings, a dystopian virus, and science: what does that equal? Venom of Vipers/Blood Pact — A science fiction medial thriller, full of thrills, science, medicine… oh and there’s some fiction in there too. 😉

The Good:

The last medical mystery novel I read turned out to be surprisingly superb, and Venom of Vipers/Blood Pact is again no disappointment. The best way I can describe this book is as a roller coaster. It starts out as a slow climb, characters coming to life, the plot unfolding, the world filling out from written words. All you can see is blue sky, birds flitting in tunes of their own between God’s wispy breaths above. And then… the bottom falls out. Sky turns to ground. Air rushes by in a cacophonous torrent. Heart racing. Skin breaks out in a sweat. The thrill breaks from your lips in a scream: mixed terror and mirth. This is the plot of Venom of Vipers/Blood Pact. All the building blocks of plot, setting, and characters balance on each other until, before you know it, a house has been built.

I was following along the story, enjoying myself, until at about 75% through, the roller-coaster rocketed forward, leaving my heart racing and mind reeling to catch up. The pacing/plot flow nicely. Like a summer’s stream, the reader remains unaware of the waterfall up ahead. All of a sudden, the water gives out, and the thrill-ride beings. The plot thickens to the point of breaking, all while the reader is still trying to recover from the thrilling fall.

This book not only offers a great plot that is beautifully paced, but point of view changes throughout are wonderfully implemented for further character development. The POV switched between various  “good guys” and “bad guys” letting the reader see the plot from all different angles. This enhances the suspense immensely. Characters are so well developed by the time the bottom falls out of the river that the reader truly cares what will happen to them. The build up is just as important for the plot as it is for the characters.

Character interactions between Ryder and Katie are pleasantly humorous at times and cute at others. I like how the fact that they grew up as childhood friends is mentioned and then expanded upon throughout to develop their characters. I really felt like these two were childhood friends, watching how they interacted. Important past events and dealt with in flashbacks instead of gratuitous tell vs. show, or being skimmed over. These aid immensely in character development, not only for Katie and Ryder, but the other characters involved in this world.

The Bad:

One of the characters is plagued by nightmares that feed off of his internal turmoil. A lot of this turmoil is brushed over, and mentioned in an off-hand kind of way, making it lack substance. His nightmares are told in a this-is-what-happened-point-form style instead of allowing the reader to re-living the horrors in all their realism.

The prose were not very full or flavourful. I love scene crafting, and this book missed the opportunities that the plot and characters opened for it. More investment in world description could have potentially enhanced the emotional impact of the scenes.

The ending comes a little fast. I like the drop that leaves the reader breathless, but once the bottom of that hill is reached, the bottom out is short, followed by screeching brakes. The pacing is good up until the final couple chapters, where I felt not enough justice was given to one of the major plot points in order to wrap it up well.

Conclusion:

Venom of Vipers/Blood Pact is an enjoyable romp through a near-future, potentially dystopian world. The character interaction are wonderful, and the plot flows like a river followed by a waterfall (in a good way). The thrills are heart-pounding, and the character are pleasant to travel with through the words, phrases, pages, and chapters. If you enjoy getting to know the characters of a story, all while the world and plot form around you, this book is for you.

Where you can find it:

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

Thirty Scary Tales by Rayne Hall

Thirty Scary Tails… oops… I mean Tales. (Although thirty scary tails would be exciting too, I imagine.)

The Rating: 
Mature-Content Rating: PG-13 (disturbing images and sexually mature scenarios)

There are a few numbers that can cause fear or trepidation. A common number is “13,” being avoided because it is “evil” or “unlucky” to the point where, in some countries, floor 13 is omitted when building high-rises. Some people are afraid of the number “4” because of similar reasons, and it is equally omitted from elevator buttons and staircase labels. My favourite number fear is “666.” All three of these fears have specific terms to go along with them, which I will not bore you with, but the word for “fear of the number 666” is so incredible, I must share it. Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia – and don’t ask me to pronounce it!

Rayne Hall has written a collection of scary tales. Not 4. Not 13. Not 666 (maybe she has a mild case of Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia just thinking about writing that many…). The number to be scared of here is 30. Thirty Scary Tales is a wonderful title that tells the reader exactly what is lying beneath that cover. Hall brings a great variety of horror styles to the eyes and hearts of any who dare pick up this collection. Hidden in the darkened depths is everything from a foreboding realism of the things that go bump in the night to the grotesque, macabre style of Victorian horror. If you can name it, think of it, be scared of it, its here: ghosts, zombies, psychological thrills and chills – some modern day, some Victorian age, and some in fantasy worlds. Some of the stories are based on real events, others are retellings of children’s stories or fairy tales, and still others are completely fresh ideas sprung from the creative juices flowing in the darkness of Rayne Hall’s imagination. Each story is accompanied with a brief note from the author concerning the inspiration for the writing and telling, which adds a unique and delightful touch.

The Good:

Before reading this book, I had heard of Rayne Hall, but never sat down and cracked open a cover with her name embossed (digitally or otherwise) thereon. It may be some time before I may that mistake again. As the cover is lifted, those words bleed out, and the beginning of a story unfolds, I was immediately drawn in with wonder. Though it is hard to do each story justice through a simple review, I will try to reach across the pages with ever-broadening strokes. The best way to discover the magic behind each story, each page, and each sentence is to read the book.

Hall uses an interesting stylistic descriptive format that helps build suspense while, at the same time, painting scenery around the story and characters. The action builds, fear is swelling, and Hall fires off punctuated descriptions in the midst of it all, striking the reader like a bullet from an unseen gun. The world is empty, the unknown darkness filling readers and characters alike with mounting trepidation, until pieces of scenery begin to fall like a driving rain, locking into place from some unknown realm beyond. Often slow and drawn-out descriptions can be masterfully done, but their use is more suited for tortoise pacing than the sprint of a rabbit through shrubs, running away from the fear rising like a cloud behind it (or is that just the dust kicked up by its quick escape? 😉 ). Punctuated descriptions fit the mood, describing scenes with wonder-filled emotion, making every scene come alive with fear.

A lot of the stories have well thought-out back stories for the characters therein. The stories are not bogged down with too much information of the past, but just enough to build the scene, informing the reader of why they are where they are, and why they are so afraid. This is coupled seamlessly with a delightfully rich use of internal monologue often forgone is shorter stories. Hall builds fear by letting the reader process through each moment, the characters and their emotions coming alive as fears become reality in their minds.

The Bad:

It is hard to be picky with such a vast collection of stories. Some of them fell short of my expectations/preferences, but others were engaging and well-developed. The collection (as a whole) has a lack of focus, just being a bunch of stories lumped together with a cover on top. Some potential magic, through more integrated connections between the stories, was lost because of this choice of formatting.

Some of the stories weren’t as satisfying as others. This is a point concerning personal preference, and not necessarily the writing style or quality as a whole. Every reader will experience this collection differently, each story speaking individually to personal fears, being seen through different eyes.

For the most part, the stories did not scare me because I saw what was coming. Though the internal monologue was great, a lot of the time it was easy to tell what was going to happen and how it would effect the character(s) is question because the reader is so invested in their thought processes. The ability to discern what is going to happen through reveals in the writing takes away some of the edge-of-your-seat thrills that are often prevalent in the horror genre. Sometimes the internal monologues were so blatantly pointing the reading toward the obvious conclusion that it almost felt silly.

Conclusion:

This collection of short stories is worth a read no matter who you are. There is something in here for every flavour of reader. The scenes are punctuated and fresh, stories coming alive with character motivations and the fears lying beneath their skin. Many of the fears are predictable, but satisfying none-the-less. Maybe four of the stories will really scare you, maybe thirteen, maybe all thirty. Find out by cracking open the cover, and let the words bleed into your imagination, filling in those cracks of horrific desire. If you like horror of any flavour, this book is for you.

Where you can find it:

Smashwords
Amazon (COM) (CA) (CO.UK)
Barnes & Noble
iBooks

The Art of Forgetting by Peter Palmieri

A medical mystery that you won’t soon forget

The Rating:

Mature-content Rating: PG-13 (sexual content and coarse language)

Having you ever kicked yourself for forgetting something? Have you ever been in one room, and you leave to do something, but upon arriving, you forget what you were going to do. Maybe you open the fridge and just stare at it blankly before realising you have no idea what you are looking for. This a condition that effects us all to some extent, but for some it can be crippling. Standard every-day forgetting can be annoying, and sometimes humorous, but what happens if the problem gets worse? Standing with broom in hand in the middle of your living room, or grabbing a bagel on the run for breakfast, just to realize that you actually left one on the back of the toilet when you were brushing your teeth: these types of situations can be embarrassing, hilarious, and cause you to shake your head at such silly forgetfulness. Problems don’t arise when you forget little things like your kid’s birthday or anniversary (okay, maybe that could cause some problems…), but what if you forget you have children, or who your wife is? What if you can talk to someone, and half an hour later, not have a clue who they are? The Art of Forgetting is about a doctor, Lloyd Copeland, who is struggling with this very problem. To put it in the words of the author, Peter Palmieri, “Dr. Lloyd Copeland is a young neurologist who is tormented by the conviction that he has inherited the severe, early-onset dementia that has plagued his family for generations.” Because of this, he is working on a cure. However, it is not the medical or forgetful side of things that get in his way… just everything else you can think of.

The Good:

There are certain core elements of writing that can be an author’s forte, and not many of us (if any) are gifted in all the areas that make up a book. Some are great at plot building, others write great prose, some can pen witty dialogue, and the list goes on. Considering Peter Palmieri, the final thing in this list is his strong suit (one of them at least). The dialogue was humorous at times, surreal at others, but all the time it was believable. The banter between characters was no just there to get the message of the story across or build the characters (although it did both of these masterfully). There was a sense of realism to every words between the “quotes”  that draws the reader in with a sense that they are listening in (or participating) in a real conversation between friends, enemies, lovers, acquaintances, and any other relationship brand that comes along the way.

There is always room for back-story when it comes to characters. Sometimes the back-story holds incredible importance to character’s motivations, and sometimes it is the icing on an already delicious cake. There is not a lot of back-story reveal in The Art of Forgetting, but Palmieri does a good job with the scenes that are present. Too often, when telling back-story, author’s lapse into passive voice, and though it may be important to the story, the implementation is poor and thus leaves the reader unengaged. This in not the case with The Art of Forgetting. The past/memory reveals are both delicious and icing enhanced.

This book is listed as “medical suspense.” Yes there is medicine, and yes there is some suspense, but the real meat of the novel is in the drama. When I think suspense, I think thriller. When I think thriller, it is often packed full of action, ending chapters with so many cliff-hanger moments you can’t decide whether to throw the book across the room or keep reading because you… just… can’t… stop. The Art of Forgetting seems to have forgotten (see what I did there. 😉 ) that it is a medical suspense novel, spending more time with drama and romance than medical and suspense. This, however, is not a bad thing, because the romance is delightfully well crafted. In most suspense novels, it is the “suspense” (go figure) that keeps the reader going, but here it is the romance and character interactions that make the book unforgettable. However, have no fear. This is a medical suspense novel, and when the suspense eventually arrives, it is well punctuated and contrasted with the drama that you almost fall off your chair,heart screaming in your chest, fingers twitching, not wanting to put the book down. The better part of the book is very drama intensive which really plays into the thrill when things start happening to the characters the reader has learned to love through said dramatic excursions.

Once the thrills start coming and plot start to thicken, it keeps getting thicker and thicker until the soupy concoction before you is impossible to stir by hand. “At least it can’t get any worse.” That may be a fine thought, and though it doesn’t start raining in The Art of Forgetting when the reader starts thinking this, things certainly get worse. All at once, the world comes crashing down, and because the reader is so invested in the story and the character by the time this happens, it can almost bring tears to your eyes. Once the high of world-crashing is over, the book pulls you through an intense mood setting scenario. The very air you breath while taking in the words will be filled with the emotions of the moment, and a lump will rise in your throat with every crafted phrase.

The Bad:

With a book this good, the biggest problem was its length. It is not novella length, but it is not incredibly long either. Though this is not necessarily a problem, I felt like this book could have been even stronger with more building up before the climax. A few times I was thrown for a loop for some scenes completely skipped over, presumable to keep things moving/save time. The question is, why would you want to save time in something this good?

Though there were some back-story elements, and they were well done, I would have loved to see more. A lot more. If Lloyd Copeland is supposedly fighting off the family curse of early-onset-dementia, it would have been good to see more of this battle. The main facts are there, and the reader is not left questioning the motivations of Dr. Copeland, but we could have been drawn into the story more by a greater focus being given to Dr. Copeland’s past. I liked how character focused the books started out, and there was the odd scene thrown in for flavour, but once the plot gets going, the focus is taken off of the characters in favour of the “bigger picture.” I loved the characters, loved their development, cared for them, and because of this I would have loved to see more. The plot was good, but the characters are what sells this book, so more about them would be a huge plus.

Conclusion:

The Art of Forgetting was an unexpectedly good read. I liked the cover art, the synopsis, and the prologue draws the reader right in. I had little knowledge of what to expect going in, and coming out the other end, I will not soon forget the magic in these pages. The plot is great, the characters and better, and the dialogue is wonderfully believable. If you like good drama, suspense, and characters that will make you laugh one moment and cry the next, this book is for you.

Where you can find it:

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

Auto by David Wailing

A Science Fiction Thriller about you – on Automatic

The Rating:
Mature-content Rating: PG-13 (coarse language and sexual references)

Do you ever feel bogged down by technology? There have been so many advancements recently that make it easier to connect with people. Facebook and Twitter have taken a running leap off of the social networking ledge, hoping someone with catch them… and so many people have. Social networking has attracted everyone from the 10 year old kid looking to stay in touch with friends when they aren’t together to the 80 year old lady reconnection with friends and family she hasn’t seen in years, or decades. This is great, but sometimes it can get a bit much. Sometimes we see that list of 100+ emails, or scroll through pages of new posts on Facebook or Twitter and before you know it, the day is gone. David Wailing says, “Have no fear! Auto is here!” This is a near-future science fiction thriller that is so believable, it’s scary. In the world of Auto everyone has a computer. No, not those old clunky laptops (gross! Those things have physical keyboards and are so heavy!) but computers embedded in sunglasses or hanging in the air as paper-thin machines. The most impressive thing is not the computers, but the people behind them. Everyone’s profile is in “the cloud” and these personal computers work furiously to deal with internet traffic sent to you, automatically. No more wading through pages of junk mail, keeping your Facebook friend list up-to-date, or deciding which tweets are important enough to pay attention to. Your Auto will manage, categorize, and give you everything you need from the most important to the least. With so many things happening automatically, how much of your on-line identity are you really in control of, and how much is controlled by the internet itself? Will this new technology make your life easier, or change it completely? Find out in Auto.

The Good:

Right off the bat, I fell in love with the concepts that this book puts forth. Letting your “auto” compute your “compatibility index” with someone before going out with them, or being able to tell if someone is gay/straight, in a relationship/single before even talking to them is wonderful. It has been said that science fiction is meant to send messages of what is good/bad in our society today, and Auto definitely does this. Having someone’s “paedophile index” go up because they happen to walk past an elementary school to and from work every day, or getting hate-mail automatically plastered all over the internet because you are in a relationship with a “foreigner” says a lot about some of the social profiling issues that we face in the world today. I will say no more regarding specifics (to prevent spoilers) but it must be said that the magic of tech, and how it relates to the near-future world portrayed, is magnificent.

Not all of the stories in this collection implement the same things, but many of them share similarities. Many of the stories use computer (auto) status updates speckled throughout to increase suspense. It is almost like watching a progress bar, which in itself isn’t that thrilling, but when the needle reaches 90%, whether you’re installing a program/OS or downloading a movie, there is a thrill that finally you will reach the end. A computer telling you that there is 25%… 32%… 45%… 66%… 83%… 91% that you are going to die will put anyone on the edge of their seat, watching the number climb higher and higher, the story unfolding in a pleasant climax. The waves are rising higher and higher in front of you, and there is no way out, but once they come crashing down, a settling calm washes over you. The suspense builds until you can’t stand it any more, and then it breaks with such a glorious conclusion that you have to sigh, or smile, watching the rainbow revealed after the storm. This (for me) was the selling feature of Auto.

Each story has good pacing, one building on the the concepts of the last. Not only is each story paced well, but the collection as a whole is built in such a way that by the end you will be shaking your head in awe of the magic therein. At first, I was reading a bunch of little stories from different characters in the same universe, and it was wonderful… then something changed. I will not spoil the magic, but the best I can say is that the stories may be more connected that it initially seems. This surprised me, especially since each story was released individually to start out with. They are great on their own, but reading this collection as a cohesive whole is the only real way to give it justice.

With all of this, is there anything more to say? I usually like to talk about general concepts in my reviews, but certain elements of the auto universe were so beautifully implemented that they deserve specific attention. As I have mentioned, the tech in general is absolutely brilliant and makes the world come alive. Specific things that really sold it for me were people being able to “sim” certain things in their lives. Everything from going to a friend’s party to having sex can be simulated, giving a whole new meaning to social networking. A particularly magical and often humorous implementation of this is that dead people do not die. No body? No problem. So many people are doing things online that dead people can still go to parties, make friends online, and talk to you. Wonder what your dead father would think about this new guy you are dating? No problem. Just ask his computer. It lives on, emulating him as perfectly as it did when he was alive.

The Bad:

A lot of the bad is a bi-product of the format choice of this collection. There was some magic in the individual stories holding their own, yet being knit together all at the same time. Despite this, certain elements of the collection could have been stronger if it was told as one long and flowing story. I do not necessarily suggest a format change to be the solution, because I enjoyed it the way it was formatted, but… well, let me try to explain. There is only so much room when telling a short story. Only a certain number of words can be dedicated to back-story and prose. Because of this, certain scenes were completely skipped over and talked about later as if they happened. This was surprisingly not as bad as it could have been and, though it was tell vs. show, it was not horrendous. I do, however, feel that certain scenes or back-story elements would have been stronger if they were fully fleshed out instead of skipped and skimmed over. In order to do this properly, a lot of words would need to be added to this collection, but since when is more of a good thing bad? 😉

Conclusion:

I liked some of the stories more than other, but as a whole, the Auto collection is wonderful. It is a flavourful near-future science fiction short story collection that not only works as individual stories, but works even better as a packaged whole. The tech is fearfully realistic and the suspense will keep you turning the pages until there are none left. If you like science fiction, thrillers, wonderfully crafted plot, humorous dialogue, and an all around delightful page-turner, this book is for you.

Where you can find it:

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

Blood of the King by Bruce Blake

A DRM-free epic fantasy tale about a bloody coward (to understand the joke read further… or just disregard my awful sense of humour)

The Rating: 
Mature Content Rating: R (Sexual content, language & disturbing imagery)

Can a coward save a kingdom? This is the big question being asked by Bruce Blake in his novel Blood of the King.  You may know a coward or two, you might even be a coward or two… (but that would make you two people?) You are, however, not the one on trial.  Our protagonist’s name is Khirro, a farmer made to fight in a battle that soon turns into something more than your common kingdom feud.

The Good:

Have you ever been in that position where you are reading/watching something and the protagonist gets him/herself in more trouble than they can handle?  This is often times what makes a good story, but what if the character has been proven to be unexplainably invincible?  That’s right, we have all been there thinking, “I know they are going to get out of this.  You just can’t kill off a main character.”  Such thoughts take away from the peril of the situation, and sadly we are more often correct than not.  Bruce Blake has no qualms about killing off characters, when it makes sense.  As many Dark Fantasy stories go, Blood of the King is not afraid of death and any of the other more depressing things in life that will fill the reader with that sense of dread, or the gut wrenching feeling that there is no rose garden with some thorns… a lot of thorns.  Blake uses words to craft a world that comes alive, sometimes revealing more of an awful scene than some would like, but he does it in a way that makes you want to hold onto that book for dear life as you watch the characters living out their own nightmares.

Not only does Blake have a handle on how to write wonderful prose, but he doesn’t let it bog the story down.  Blood of the King starts in the middle of an all out war and from there progresses on a journey through a land of terror that make you think twice about carrying some mystical vile of blood to the ends of the earth.  (I hope that you would think twice about this already, but for those of you who don’t…)  Beautiful imagery, intense action, and intriguing plot are woven together in a way that keeps things moving and sets the world alive.

Words might be what make up a book, but they aren’t everything.  Books need story and characters, two things that Blood of the King is gushing with.  The reader will learn a lot about the back-stories of many of the characters introduced throughout this epic tale.  Ever wondered what motivated the characters is a book, or wish that there was more meat when it comes to the whys of some of their psychological quirks?  Bruce Blake will not leave you wondering.  The author reveals said information in a variety of ways, but something that is magnificently used (thus deserving special attention) is dreams/visions.  Khirro is reminded of his past by certain triggers in scenery, the words of mannerisms of his motley crew, but more importantly is informed through vivid dreams/visions.  These scenes are what makes Khirro come alive and are the biggest selling feature of Blood of the King.

Have no fear.  Khirro is not the only character that the reader will learn about.  Some titbits are dropped about other characters along the way, but most important, the antagonist(s).  Khirro gets most of the attention, but the POV changes to the perspective of the bad-guys often enough to give the reader an inner circle view of their motivation(s) and watch as they creep closer and closer to their goal(s).  There is no crazy high-wizard twiddling his thumbs in a dark tower until Khirro walks in and says, “I’m here to slay you, Evil Man!”  The reader gets to know the antagonist(s) in parallel to Khirro and his crew… and not all of them are as they seem.

The ending is very well done, giving that sense of suspense and final resolution that make for a stomach-knotted conclusion that is the selling point of many thrillers.  Such a strong conclusion does still pleasingly leave some unanswered questions that will make the reader want to come back for book 2 and book 3 after finishing this title.  The final chapter is almost a tease for what is coming next in the series, but ties up a few unanswered questions enough to leave that sense of intrigue for the reader to chew on until they click the “Oh my goodness, buy it now” button at their favourite distributor for book 2.

The Bad:

I must say that I loved learning about the character’s back-stories in this book.  It isn’t too often that the reader is able to get into so many character’s heads… but sadly a lot of this isn’t revealed until later on in the story.  The beginning has a fair amount of hand waving when it comes to “so, why are you coming on this quest again?  And don’t say, ‘because I feel like it,’ or ‘because you look like you need a hand,’ because those aren’t real answers.”  A lot of the party members with Khirro are thrown together in a poorly implemented, “let’s do this thing” moment to the point where the reader isn’t totally convinced of the reason that any of them (including Khirro) are there.

Along similar lines, Blood of the King suffers from the classic, “don’t you remember this magic thing” syndrome.  What is that, you say? Well, Khirro carries the blood of the dead king in a vial.  He is tasked to bring the king back to life with it.  That is okay, but the blood has some weird “let’s fix this problem” powers to it.  Don’t know where you are going?  Let the blood lead the way!  Mortally wounded?  Let the blood heal you!  Don’t know whether to trust that person or not?  It’s okay.  The blood says that they are a good person.  I excused this with some reservations until a reveal at the end that will squash a lot of the reasoning behind it… For the sake of remaining spoiler free, I will not say any more.

Another big issue I had with Blood of the King is the primary female character.  At first she seems like someone that Bruce Blake wants to spend a lot of time developing.  She is portrayed as strong and the sort of “I can take care of myself” sort of woman.  Sadly, save for a few scenes, she is essentially useless, and her DIY mentality fades over time.  It’s almost like Blake forgot who she was.  By the end she puts off that damsel in distress vibe that she is adamantly opposed to upon her introduction.  She does a little bit in developing Khirro’s character, but I feel like the book would have almost been stronger without her.  She seems to only add some “Oo, that is sexy” moments, and they come fairly more frequently for my taste.

Conclusion:

Despite a few hand waving scenarios and poorly developed female character, Bruce Blake tells a wonderful story.  The prose is magnificent, the action is wonderful, and the characters back-stories are truly informative and enlightening.  If you like fantasy and don’t mind a darker story with some mature content, feel free to enter the dream world of Khirro, travelling with him through whatever perils may await you in Blood of the King.

Where you can find it:

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

The Cutting Room by Edward W. Robertson

A DRM-free sci-fi thriller. Travelling through time, one episode at a time.

The Rating:
Mature Content Rating: PG (Moderate to strong language)

Every episodic adventure that I have seen out there gets flack.  There is this idea that somehow each episode should be stand-alone enough to make an impact all on its own.  Let me ask you a question.  If you read the second, third, or fourth book in the series without reading the first, does it always make complete sense?  There is always that feeling that you are missing something (well, most of the time… some series keep each book as a stand-alone).  Now, let’s think about television.  The idea behind episodic content is that it is episodes in a series.  Yes, there are those TV shows that you can just jump right into and it doesn’t really matter whether you have been following it, but I find this to be more the exception than the rule.  The beginning of a season usually starts off pretty slow as some new concepts or characters are introduced, but as the episodes ramp up to a conclusion, things get a little harry and you just have to keep going to find out what happens next.  This is the case for The Cutting Room.

For simplicity’s sake (and the fact that I will say no more about the tired debate of episodic content) I will treat the complete season of The Cutting Room as a single entity.  Yes, you can read a single episode, just like you can watch a single episode of a TV show… but is that really satisfying?  Okay, enough of that. What is this book/season about?  Time travel.  After reading it, I briefly thought, “it this is about time travel, could I read the episodes in any order I want?  Can I travel back and forth through the season and still have it all make sense in the end… as much sense as time travel makes anyway?”  Sadly no, but this has nothing to do with the book.  Enough idle rambling.  Let’s get to the review.

The Good:

The Cutting Room consists of six episodes.  Each episode tells a different portion of the same story, in the same way that a book split into “parts” or “sections” would. Edward W. Robertson uses this episodic style and mixes it with time travel in a way that sets each episode apart from the last yet still tied together to tell the same story throughout the season.  Each episode has a different setting as Blake Din travels through the different parallel dimensions of the earth in search of nasty time travelling criminals.  Little does he know that there is more to his job as a Cutting Room employee than catching the baddies.  Every episode brings a fresh feel of its own as the reader is taken through settings spanning from the wild west, to a post-apocalyptic wasteland, to outer-space.  How can the same story be told in so many different settings?  Find out by reading The Cutting Room.

After reading the first episode I was intrigued by the concept and so went out and bought the whole season.  The story continued on, almost as if the first episode was a prologue of sorts and had no real lasting effect on the rest of the season.  This troubled me somewhat, but I set it aside as a minor gripe… until I finished The Cutting Room.  The mystery is in how this first, seemingly disconnected episode fits into the over-arching plot.  That is a mystery that I will not spoil for you, but suffice it to say, though Episode One seems disconnected, it is not.  The season concludes beautifully, tying everything together with just enough left over to keep the reader interested in a Season Two ends up coming to the shelves.

There were a few times that some witty humour came through in the dialogue and I found myself laughing as I hope was intended.  (What other intention would humour have?)  I would have, however, liked to see more of this.  Most of humour came in the dialogue exchanges between characters, and Robertson’s writing style opted out of choosing to include lengthy dialogue section, which I feel would have been quick enjoyable if they were present.

The Bad:

I wasn’t sure to put this under “the good” or “the bad” so just consider it a general comment I suppose.  A lot of the nitty-gritty of events that happen in The Cutting Room are glossed over.  Days will pass within the span of a single paragraph, not allowing the reader to be as invested in the world that they are to be placed in.  Granted, world building must be difficult when each episode essentially has a different world, and purple prose could easily bog down the action and plot element, but I would have liked to see more description of the world around Blake Din and the other characters in the season.

Even though there isn’t a lot of description, there are still times when the story seems to slow to a near crawl while the characters figure out the mystery of everything going on.  Often times the characters are left clueless as to what to do next, so they wander around aimlessly and take the reader with them through meaning strolling until something happens.  Some episodes move along faster than others, and the slowest portions come in the middle, which is honestly the best place for them.

It seemed like the scope was a lot larger than maybe it needed to be.  Entire sections are dedicated to particular elements that have little bearing on the over-arching plot.  They aren’t poorly written, but get a lot more focus than seemed necessary.  The plot is the driving force of this season, but sometimes I feel like it took a back seat while the characters ran around figuring out what it actually was.  Granted, this allowed for some character development moments, but they were short-lived and detracted from the focus of the season as a whole.

Conclusion:

All in all, I don’t have many complaints about this book/season.  Usually specifics stand out to me about what was exceptional and what was not so great, but nothing really stood out to me while reading The Cutting Room.  I enjoyed it, and the use of the episodic model added an interesting element to things that really worked in the favour of the writing style.  If you like all things time travel, this book is for you.

Where you can find it:

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

A Question of Will by Alex Albrinck

A Science Fiction story free of spaceships, aliens, and DRM

The Rating: 
Mature Content Rating: PG for violence

OATH NUMBER ONE: I vow to never knowingly share with any non-Aliomenti human the unique knowledge, technology, and power of the Aliomenti.
OATH NUMBER TWO: I vow to never knowingly share with any non-Aliomenti human the existence of the Aliomenti.
OATH NUMBER THREE: I vow to never enter into a committed relationship of any type, most notably marriage, with any non-Aliomenti human.
OATH NUMBER FOUR: I vow never to be the biological parent to any child.

I hereby state my understanding that any humans involved in the breaking of the Four Oaths shall suffer death at the hand of an Aliomenti assassin.

Every society has certain laws that are morally particular to the society around them.  Generally speaking murder, thievery, rape, and chasing kids with shotguns are considered unacceptable by society.  Despite this, wrongs occur every day in varying degrees (for instance, I haven’t seen that shotgun wielding lunatic in a while) and every poor choice has a consequence.  Alex Albrinck has developed a secret society where knowledge of and general fraternisation with outsiders is forbidden.  This may not seem that out of the ordinary (as far as secret societies go) but disallowing marriage and child-bearing isn’t often on the “Thou Shalt Not” list.  Will Stark, a self-made multi-billionaire philanthropist, is happily married and a proud father.  Normally this wouldn’t be a problem, but he is mistakenly suspected of being an Aliomenti and thus must serve the consequences.  An assassin has come to kill his family.

The Good:

Right out of the gate, Albrinck throws the reader into the action while we watch Will Stark fighting for his life and the life of his family.  If you generally put a book down for it being too slow out of the gate, A Question of Will will give you no problems there.  The first third of the book reads more like an action-adventure with a sci-fi focus that leaves just enough draw and mystery to keep the reader engaged.

The Point-of-view use in A Question of Will was very intriguing.  It starts out as your standard third person perspective with chapter/section breaks splitting things up when the POV changes, but this isn’t always the case.  Sometimes the words just flow and all of a sudden you notice that the POV had changed.  It is wonderfully and sometimes subtly done in a way that did not feel slapped together or disorienting.  For the amount of books that I have read with major POV-confusion issues, I was impressed at how Albrinck has a good handle on the proper way to implement multiple POVs, and do it well.

The tech/magic in A Question of Will is wonderful.  All Aliomenti have a certain “Energy” reserve, and the more Energy you have, the more you can accomplish.  There are many things that this Energy can do, and I have a feeling that we have only seen the tip of the ice-burgh in this first instalment of The Aliomenti Saga.  I will not comment on specifics, however, so as to not spoil any of the goodies therein.  Despite the fact that the source of the tech/magic is mundanely named “Energy,” at least it wasn’t some crazy 16-syllable word that no one will remember.  I will leave the decision to you whether calling it “Energy” is wonderfully simple or just lazy.

Now, we get to the selling feature of the book.  (Maybe I should have mentioned this first! 😉 ).  A wonderful twist comes in the last third of the book that made me so excited I just had to finish it right then and there!  I was a little bit afraid that certain plot elements introduced at the beginning of the book would be left unexplained, thus forcibly roping the reader into a sequel, but this fear was quelled and made me no longer waiting for the revelation but longing for more.  The ending is set very well, leaving just enough unanswered to wet your whistle for the sequel, but answering enough to give it a concise and believable conclusion.

The Bad:

Despite how good this book is, and the fact that it start right into the action, I was less than impressed with it at first.  The initial action, though exciting, is drawn out by the variety of POVs.  The quick changes doesn’t leave the reader confused (per the norm) but instead forces re-explanation of things that have already happened.  The reader sees the assassin coming for Will Stark, then Will sees it, then his wife dreams it, then the assassin does it, then the police witness it… etc.  Once getting past the initial third of the book, this problem is no longer prevalent, but the beginning is left a little rough and uninteresting because of it, despite all the action happening.

There is quite a bit of tech/magic in A Question of Will and it is explained very thoroughly, so thoroughly in fact that entire paragraphs can be skipped in order to prevent getting tired of the long, drawn-out monologues.  The reader is not left questioning any of the inner workings of Energy, but it comes across in a very “tell” instead of “show” kind of way.  Have you ever had a friend explain to you the rules of a game, but they are so complicated that your eyes glaze over during the rant and you really don’t get what he is saying at all?  Finally, you throw up your hands and say, “let’s just play, and if I have a question, I will ask.”  This will probably be your response as a reader while your eyes glaze over words of meaningless explanation in favour of saying, “If I have a question, I will ask.”  The problem is that Albrinck isn’t around to answer your questions… so I guess you have to read the boring description of the tech/magic anyway, or just go without.  Once everything is out on the table it picks up again for the satisfying conclusion, but the second third of the book drags a lot because of this over-explanation problem.  I hope that in subsequent books in The Aliomenti Saga that this problem will be eliminated as “Energy” has already been very thoroughly explained, in perhaps more depth and detail than was necessary.

Conclusion:

A Question of Will might not grab you at first, but it is worth sticking with until the end.  Sloshing through some repeated scenes and dry tech/magic explanations will be well rewarded by a conclusion that makes you want to go out and buy book two of The Aliomenti Saga right away.  Despite some pacing issues, the story is rewarding enough to make Alex Albrinck an author that you won’t soon forget, and might want to come back to with books 2 and 3 in this series.

Where you can find it:

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