Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Miranda Mayer; "Tinna's Promise"

Tinna’s Promise is a story of change and determination; and keeping a promise above all. The story revolves around Tinna, an assassin from a matriarchal society; ostracized for her heritage, she wanders northwards to find somewhere to belong. She finds Taneth, an awkward, somewhat nerdy, even a bit arrogant man, who is Wiseman for a village of horse-worshippers. Tinna is immediately drawn in to their simple way of life, and drawn to the clumsy Taneth. Part of this world is a boy named Hanru whose own life is rife with troubles and abuse. Both Tinna and Taneth take the boy under their wings, and Tinna makes the boy a promise.

Unfortunately, Tinna is derailed on her attempt to fulfill this promise, and somehow brought into the middle of a seemingly unexplained battle between dragons and the human races. Tinna is now faced with finding her way home from a great distance, contending with this violent war with dragonkind, keeping her promise to Hanru. She also has to begin coming to terms with her own feelings about Taneth, and possibly a new life amongst the Horse-Worshippers. But none of that will matter unless she and her companion Rhoa survive the ordeal.

First-time author Miranda Mayer takes an ambitious leap into creating an original fantasy world. Her characters have realistic flaws, and the story has a gritty, human quality to it that makes it one of the more exceptional fantasy books I’ve read this year. The author makes the bold step of starting the book off with characters that might not be as likable as one would expect; she writes selfishness, arrogance and pride into them. She touches on subject matter not many fantasy authors care to, and keeps the interactions among the most realistic I’ve read in a long time. I particularly enjoyed the quiet conversations between Tinna and Taneth as they get to know one another in the beginning of the book.

As you read along, the characters grow on you; you watch their characters change and develop. It is a very well written story, which perhaps could have been padded a little more with descriptions. I was left wanting for descriptions of the forests of giant trees where the Nimrath live, and perhaps a closer study of Tinna’s homeland and heritage. Despite these missing elements, they did not take away from the story. I especially enjoyed the way she painted the Araki graveyards. Beautiful.

I highly recommend this book to all fantasy readers. Especially the lady readers. The book does have some minor sexual content, so I recommend it for more mature readers. Odyssey Reviews gives five medallions for this book.

Miranda Mayer

iUniverse (2007)

ISBN 0595431461

Monday, July 23, 2007

Ann-Marie Zakos; "First Class Ticket"

Ann-Marie Zakos takes an inspirational approach to presenting a work of spiritual and philosophical questions in her novel “First Class Ticket”. She presents nine truths of life, which she cleverly intermingled into a work of fiction; where three students are challenged by their philosophy professor with an assignment to unravel these nine truths.

The reader will follow these students as they realize, learn, ponder and grow. They are guided by various people into new epiphanies and a deeper understanding of their own individual being; making them look into themselves, and to reflect on their own choices.

These truths are discussed from various perspectives by the diverse characters, and the students use their personal experiences and perceptions to approach, digest and interpret each truth in their own way; at their own pace. The author was careful to give each character a distinct set of personality traits; and to bring them from various walks of life and belief systems to exhibit how each one might perceive each challenge. Any reader can find someone to relate to in these wonderful, three-dimensional characters.

Ann-Marie Zakos takes a collection of ideas and philosophies that would normally read as something dry and abstract by most standard presentations, and delivers them in a conversational, informal manner which makes these deeply relevant ideas easy to digest. She puts them into the context of real life, and fleshes these truths out into malleable ideas that are relevant to all of her readers.

This book is a refreshing change for its genre. The characters are fun and realistic, the challenges and ideas strong and meaningful, and the author’s writing style is engaging and descriptive, mixing ideas of depth and significance with beautiful visuals through the eyes of her main character. It is an easy, yet enlightening read. Odyssey Reviews gives it four medallions.

Paperback: 176 pages
Publisher: Magnum Veritas Publishing; 1st edition (August 1, 2006)
ISBN-10: 0976452332

Monday, July 16, 2007

S.M. Stirling; "The Sky People"

Mr. Stirling is a prolific writer. His works range from exceptional to wordy and anticlimactic. However the ‘The Sky People’ was an extremely satisfying read; and once again, Mr. Stirling does an excellent job describing an alternate history that is believable and three-dimensional.

The author does fall into his usual habits of creating characters that are based on the common stereotype of their nationality; the hickish swamp-dwelling Cajun, the African-American chick with attitude, the Brit with the stiff upper lip. The author tends to pour his characters into these molds instead of just exploring their own personalities, and the stereotypes can sometimes be tiresome.

The story follows an alternate timeline, where humanity discovers that the planets Venus and Mars are populated with humans, Neanderthals, dinosaurs and all manner of other beasts. It doesn’t take long for Humanity to create a foothold on the planets, and for the rivals America and the USSR to pursue their own agendas in doing so.

The main character, a brash and quick-witted Cajun by the name of Marc Vitrac, is embroiled in a heroic rescue effort that takes him deep into the wilds of Venus, and into a war between the Venus native humans, and their Neanderthal enemies. Marc faces a powerful alien intelligence, an army of cavemen armed with Kalashnikovs, the untamed, dangerous wilderness of Venus, and the captivating eyes of a beautiful Shamaness.

This book is an easy read. It’s hard to put down, and once you do, you spend the day hearing that little voice in the back of your head compelling you to find out what’s going to happen next. Despite some similarities to his other works, it is a singular story, with incredible visuals and a wonderful flow. Odyssey Reviews gives ‘The Sky People’ a four and a half medallion rating, and recommends it to anyone who enjoys a good Science Fiction/Alternate History read. Odyssey Reviews also recommends you seek out other titles by this author, including “Dies the Fire” and “Conquistador”.

Publisher: Tor Books (November 14, 2006)
ISBN: 0765314886
Author: S.M. Stirling

(This is a general review, not from an author-submission)

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Cover is Crucial

Your book cover is the catalyst. It is the thing that will make a browsing reader decide whether or not to reach onto the shelf (or click on the link) and to read the little blurb on the back. The blurb is important, but it comes a close second. It's the image that will catch the eye.

Picking someone to build your cover is also a challenge. Some POD companies offer artistic services; however in my own experience as a POD author, their services are without a doubt, questionable. It is hard to work with someone who hasn't read your story, or who hasn't sat across from you to understand your vision better.

But there are solutions out there that are affordable and professional looking. I personally saw what my POD publisher provided and got green around the gills. Here I was, ten days away from final print, and I had nothing. I turned to an artist who rendered beautiful images using special software. Gorgeous 3-D figures that are still illustrative and intricate. What worked well too was that she also happened to be a friend of 17 years. That certainly didn't hurt; but with someone who can render artwork via computer, revisions are much easier to complete.

You can find a ton of these artists at Renderosity.com and DeviantArt. The wonderful thing about these sites are that you can peruse through the works to find the artist that most represents your style. And many of these folks are quite affordable. They can also create content of any kind, from serious landscapes, stylized imagery, to Fantasy and Science Fiction scenes. There really is no limit to their abilities, and they look extremely professional.

You have to take into account the importance of the cover of your book--because the truth is, people *do* judge a book by its cover. It's up to you to figure out the best way to make them like what they see.