Friday, November 21, 2008

G.R. Grove; "Flight of the Hawk"

The tale of Gwernin the bard continues on in this next installment of the Storyteller series. Flight of the Hawk, a historical fiction book set in medieval Wales, brings back a cast of familiar faces, including the intrepid hero and Welsh bard, Gwernin. I likened the first book to the Canterbury Tales, and I will reiterate it for this one. Unlike the High School required reading, however, this is actually something you would enjoy.

Gwernin continues his travels through 6th century Wales, however in this installment, the political atmosphere is turning sour and there is the rumour of war simmering over the countryside. Gwernin and his companion and fellow-bard Neirin are sent to the northern Wales to discover what they can about the unrest. But as expected, that particular task becomes secondary against the myriad adventures they encounter along the way. And those adventures are the best bits.

Flight of the Hawk takes up very well where the first book left off--possibly even better; not just in the story, but in its quality of writing, its engaging nature and cohesiveness of the story. The style is delightful. As with storyteller, the story stands well on its own, but what sells this book best is the voice in which it is told--in the stories told within the story. There is a musical, lyrical quality to it, but it is not by any means a labour to read. You'll fly through this book and close it wishing for more. As I reread my prior review of "Storyteller", I realize how similar my views are on this new book nearly a full year after I reviewed the first. How's that for consistency?

What I feel obligated to point out, is that this author respects her readers. It is obvious by the professional appearance of the book itself, the simple but elegant cover design, the well-edited, well thought out content within. This is a quality book and I recommend it to any and all who enjoy a good medieval backdrop, and those who appreciate well-researched books that almost make you feel as if you're there. I must also confess to you that I tore through this book. I read it in 'gulps'. I have had it in my possession for a long time, and I let life get in the way, and I spent last night and a good part of today finishing it because I promised the author. I was able to 'gulp' it up without a problem.

The Storyteller books are a unique type of book. They are not typical by any means in their presentation, they are artful. You need to keep that in mind when you pick it up.

I give this book 5 medallions.

Flight of the Hawk
Author: GR Grove
Paperback: 296 pages
Publisher: (September 19, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1430328517

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Michael J Sullivan; The Crown Conspiracy

I will admit, that over the last few years I have grown away from the fantasy genre, so this book sat in my "to be read" pile a bit longer than it should have. However once I opened it up, I was thrilled with the story. What we have here is a very well thought out tale of intrigue... regicide, battles over the throne, conspiracy, and two thieves thrown into the mix keep the story line moving at a rapid pace.

A short summary: To expert thieves are commissioned to steal something from the castle, little do they know that they are to take the fall for the murder of the king. When faced with the executioner's block, they are approached by an unlikely person to commit another crime which will possibly save their lives and possibly the kingdom. I hate to tell you any more than that lest the story be spoiled. The author has gone to such great care to weave this tale with just the right amount of suspense as to keep the reader glued to the book. As far as the fantasy aspect of this novel, I was thrilled that true fantasy was very rarely employed. Sure there is a bit of magic, and an elf or two, but they are simply background to an excellent tale about a kingdom in trouble that seeks help from the unlikeliest of its subjects.

The characters are almost instantly loveable, they are all stereotypes but I wouldn't really hold that against the author. Sometimes a good stereotype is what a book needs. We have the benevolent thieves, the whore with the heart of gold, the reluctant prince, the evil nobleman... so much of this book will be very familiar to the reader, but for some reason this really didn't bother me. I did feel that there were are few areas which could have used a little more umph, or a bit more follow through, however I feel that this is probably the first of at least 3 novels following our new king and his thieving friends. If that is the case, then there is still plenty of time to wrap up these dangling ends.

Would I read these follow up novels? It is highly likely. This is by far one of the most well written independent novels I have had the pleasure of reading. I highly recommend it to both lovers of fantasy, and also those who like stories along the lines of the King Arthur legends, and the tales of the Green Knight.

As far as age appropriateness, there is violence however it is not overly descriptive, there are prostitutes but their job is never detailed and then there are the questionable jobs of our heroes. I would say that this is probably readable by the 12 and up crew, however I would read it first to determine if it would be okay for your specific 12 year old. I would guess that by 15-16 they would be capable of fully enjoying the intrigue that is entailed. Again I highly recommend this book.

5 of 5 medallions

The Crown Conspiracy
Author: Michael J. Sullivan
Paperback: 310 pages
Publisher: Aspirations Media Inc (October 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0980003431

Additional notation from reviewer Stephanie J: The cover art is exceptionally well done.

Kurt L. Kamm; One Foot In The Black

I'll be honest; I wasn't exactly excited to read a book about Firefighting in the California wilderness... I'm not firefighter material, and I'm a strictly East Coast resident... though when I lived in FL it seemed liked I-95 burned from Jax to Orlando every year, and that every year it was the "Worst fire in Florida History."

Short Summary: At the tender age of 19 our young man, Kowalski travels from Saginaw, Michigan out to Auburn, California to learn to be a firefighter. Kowalski comes from a troubled home, and brings more mental baggage with him than physical baggage. Once he arrives in California he trains as a wild-lands firefighter, learns what it is to become part of a brotherhood, and deals with the emotional pains of his past.

This book is set up in alternating chapters, one from the present where
Kowalski is learning to be a firefighter, followed by one from his traumatic childhood. I'm not entirely sure that this was the most effective way to get the story across... and the biggest problem I had with this book is that I'm not sure what story the author was trying to tell. He did an excellent job with the technical aspect of training camp, firefighting, and the frat-like camaraderie of the firefighters. Kamm also did an excellent job with making the reader despise the boy's home life, particularly his father. There were other areas however, that felt very weak to me, and a chapter or two that were unnecessary in my mind.

For example, the character of TB is supposed to be a surrogate father figure to our lead, however as readers, this relationship is never fully shown or developed. I felt that for the effect of the relationship on the book, more time should have been spent on their relationship than some of the training they were going through. I also felt that the hotel scene, as well as much of the bus ride could have been cut and replaced with more relationship building chapters. Our lead character is a hothead, and it's easy to see why he would be... but as a reader, his choices in dealing with others make him difficult to connect with. We read dialogue, and we see them train to be firefighters, but there are no truly defined relationships in the book other than proximity.

This is by no means a bad book... where it is strong, it is very strong. If the weaker portions could be brought up to the rest of the book, then this could probably land on Oprah's book club. For Firefighters or those that love firefighting in general, this is a must read already, because that is the true strength of this book.

Parent Rating: Not for the kiddies - sex, domestic violence, some profanity, forest fire victims. Probably okay for 15 and up.

I give it 4 of 5 medallions

One Foot in the Black
Author: Kurt Kamm
Paperback: 261 pages
Publisher: (December 18, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 143570626

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Jennifer Swanson; Penny & Rio: The Mysterious Backyard Meeting

Penny & Rio: The Mysterious Backyard Meeting, is a very cute children's book. The illustrations are adorable and the story is both a mystery and a very sweet tale about two dogs, an Owl, a Squirrel, a Groundhog, and a Cat. Penny is a very rambunctious dog who loves adventure. Rio, is a lazy dog who would rather sleep the day away. Penny discovers that there are several animals having a meeting in her back yard at night and is determined to unravel the mystery of what they are up to.

Three of us have read through this book, the first to read it was my 10 year old son. His response was that he liked the pictures, but was confused by the underlined text and the use of italics. He also pointed out a typo that had him baffled for a bit. In the end he liked the story but didn't want to take it to school because it "Looked like a baby book" by which I am assuming he means the shape of the book which is 8x8 inches.

My youngest son is 7, at first he was very excited about the book (he is considered an advanced reader per his teacher). Once he started reading however, he was confused by the underlining and italics and started skipping pages. When I asked him if he liked the story he said there were too many words and not enough pictures, because the pictures didn't go with the words.

When I read the book aloud to him, I discovered what he meant, there is a lot of text per page for the little ones. A lot happens on each page, so in a sense he is right, the pictures can only show one of the many things that happen on the page. I thought the story was good, but suffered in the execution of the book. The book looks like a 5-7 year old book, but the writing is geared more for the 8-10 crew. Had the book either had more pictures and the text broken up more, I think my youngest son would have liked it. Or had the book been shaped more like a regular book my older son would have liked it more. I did find that the most successful way for us to enjoy this book is for me to read it aloud, this prevents the confusion with the underlined and italicized words.

As a parent I did find that there was a lot of negativity in this book, Penny is punished for trying to go outside, the animals break into the neighbors house (granted it was to stage a rescue), there are accusations of theft and lying, and mentioning mean people who send animals to the pound and how terrible it is. Though I see where the author was going with this, I think it's a bit much for the younger group to take all of those negative events in. Still this is a cute little book that I wouldn't mind my kids reading again.

Reading level: Ages 4-8
Paperback: 52 pages Publisher: Mirror Publishing (February 28, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0981590411

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Diane Dean Epps; Kill TV

Leslie Loyd has had a bad day. her boss is dead, it's tax day, she's missed her hair appointment and she's the prime murder suspect. Her bad day becomes a bad week as the rest of her news crew team start to become the news. She tries to hold it all together with caffeine and a possible new love interest while trying to solve a new and very close to home string of deaths.

Kill-TV is written in the internal dialogue of Leslie, we follow her most intimate thoughts as her mind wanders while her body blunders through life. Leslie's voice is what truly carries this book, every woman is a little like her, and we all have a friend she will remind us of. Her honest voice makes reading this book similar to listening to a hilarious and yet disturbing story being related to you over coffee by one of your girlfriends. Leslie is constantly having very entertaining mental battles with herself she has to come to terms with disturbing event after disturbing event. Written much like a murder mystery, the candid mind of Leslie never lets the reader sink too deeply into the tension of the plot. We all know she's innocent, but then who among
the lively crew of news people she works with - isn't so innocent? Who is it with blood on their hands, and are they gunning for Leslie next? The assembled cast of characters is for the most part very believable and fairly well fleshed out. The dialogue is spot on, even when Leslie places her foot in her mouth time and time again, the reader cringes with her.

This is one of the most well written indy-authored books that I have read, and with it being from a small press there are only minor printing issues that may or may not annoy the reader. One is that the font is small with wide spacing between the lines, I had no problem with it, but I cannot see anyone in the 50 and up crew reading it without the aid of a pair of readers. The second is simply that the justification used makes the final sentences of some of the paragraphs space way out. Nothing major, and if these are the only complaints I
have about the book then you know the author is doing something right.

Though I wouldn't say this book is for everyone, the audience it is for has a lot to look forward to. This book is geared more toward female readers, specifically those that like a little humor and a little mystery and have had their fair share of ups and downs in life. I can honestly say that I hope a large publishing house picks this book up and gives it the physical polish that the tale contained within deserves. So if you don't mind a few typesetting issues, pick up a copy of this to read while relaxing and enjoying a cappuccino.

Author: Diane Dean Epps
Perfect Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Hope Springs Eternal Press; 1st edition (April 14, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0981482902

Friday, September 19, 2008

A.K. Kuykendall; Conspirator's Odyssey

The government is evil, they are sneaky, they are hiding things and we had all better beware. Starting in the future, and then leaping back and forth through the past, we follow Kalista Flaker, a special Ops soldier who has risen in rank due to her ferocious demeanor and obsessive nature. When she and her team are deliberately sent on a suicide mission, Kalista begins to dig into the nature of the government beast that has been controlling her for all of those years, and uncovers a disturbing truth. Determined to bring down the system and expose the lies, she makes it her mission to obtain proof of the vast conspiracy.

Kuykendall has a very distinct voice and an excellent writing style. For conspiracy theorists that border on obsessive, this book will be a goldmine. Beginning with the Area 51 cover up, to the Bay of Pigs, to the tragedy of 9/11, it almost feels as though the author was determined to cover every conspiracy known to man. The author has done their historical research, and much of this book does read as though you are in a history class, giving you almost too much background on events like the Bay of Pigs, or the History of different military groups. But the author weaves his own take on the events into the tale, giving the "truth behind the conspiracy" that he has invented, some times they are intriguing, other times they seem to go a bit overboard.

The opening of the book is a bit muddled in that we leap around in time so much that if you don't carefully read the dates at the top of thechapters, it will be easy to find yourself perplexed. When you get past the initial history lesson, and into the story of Kalista and her team,the book really gets moving. I flew through the middle of the book, which reads like a military espionage tale. I was a very happy readeruntil about the last 30 pages of the book, when the tale went a bit sideways in my mind. Truly, the Sci-fi aspect had been there from thebeginning, we are reading about an alternate reality... the government has created a serum from alien DNA to create super soldiers... I boughtit all, but when we came to the end my suspension of disbelief wouldn't stretch that far. I don't want to spoil it, but it seemed almost as ifit was a throwaway ending that dumped way too many new conspiracies and sci-fi aspects on the reader out of nowhere.

Now I'm not saying that it's a bad ending, it just wasn't to my taste. I can probably name a handful of people who will absolutely love theending of this book. Also the book leaves the ending open enough to imply that this may be the beginning of a series, following Kalista andher brother in their attempts to save mankind from ultimate destruction. I would be interested in reading additional entries in this series, the author's writing style is very fluid, and apart from a few lines that irked me this is a very well written book (on of my biggest pet peevesin reading is when siblings address each other as "Brother" or "Sister", I've never in my life heard anyone calling their sibling that).

Final summary: Though I would not recommend this book across the board, I would recommend it to the military/sci-fi crew and to the fans ofconspiracy theories. If this becomes a series I can see this book developing a small but rabid fanbase.

3.5 of 5 Medallions

Conspirator's Odyssey: The Evolution of the Patron Saint (Paperback)
227 pages
Publisher: PublishAmerica (March 3, 2008)
Language: English ISBN-10: 1604742755

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Bernard Steele; Death in Small Doses

Steele is a first time author who has developed a very entertaining and complicated plot involving terrorist, the DEA, Cocaine and a nasty terrorist plot. Though the concept of drugs being smuggled next to bomb making materials and becoming irradiated has been done before in several other novels (see "Atomic Lobster" by Tim Dorsey for a comedic example) it is only a small trigger piece to a much more involving plot.

The Good: The plot is engaging and well thought out. The terrorists are once again planning to harm the residents of NY and we have all of the government agencies working to stop them. There are a few fire fights for those of you who enjoy a bit of action in your books and we also have a kidnapping, a poisoning or two, and a handful of drug dealers.

The Bad: Steele has difficulty in truly fleshing out his characters and making them believable personas. We have a lot of "he said" and "she said" but no real description of physical characteristics, character traits, tics, or even differentiating speech. The dialogue is extremely forced and often reads similar to a technical manual rather than individuals having a conversation. Often one individual will make a speech stating events then we cut to another chapter. There is very little true human interest, though it is obvious that the attempt to
interject some romance was made, because the reader is not able to "see" the characters through the writing it comes across as effective as simply writing "they went on a date". Still there is a lot of promise in this writer once he has delved more deeply into the human state of affairs rather than the technical side. A different issue that many readers will have is that the book comes across as preachy; several characters have paragraph or longer dialogue simply to put the author's opinions on drugs, evolution, racism, education, Muslims, or terrorism
on the table. No one argues with them and the dialogue reads as more of a thesis argument rather than people truly having a philosophical discussion or debate.

The Ugly: I am assuming that this is not the fault of the writer, but the editing of this book is non-existent. There are misspellings, bad grammar, words in the incorrect order, apostrophes used incorrectly, strange usage of italics, chapter breaks where there shouldn't be, and chapter breaks missing from where they should be. In the beginning of the book, there is a chapter break almost every two pages, towards the end of the book the focus shifts from the terrorists to the DEA agents, and back to the terrorists with no break or notification to the reader that we are shifting to a completely different location and group of people. It is not until the names change that the reader is able to catch on that the focus has shifted again.

It is my suggestion (and a humble one at that) that the author would be benefited by a very strong editor who is willing to work with him to clean up the printing issues and to assist him with cutting some of the unnecessary chapters in order to make room for fleshing out the main characters more. I cannot in good faith, with the grammar and printing issues in this edition, suggest it for purchase as is. I truly hope to see this book re-worked and edited because it is a strong story at it's

2 of 5 medallions.

Death in Small Doses
Paperback: 308 pages
Publisher: Trafford Publishing (September 20, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1425139108

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Keith Knapp; Moonlight

Though Keith Knapp's debut novel Moonlight is almost 500 pages long, don't let that deter you from reading it. There is a lot of space and the font is large. If "Moonlight" had been printed by most of the mass market crew this book would probably be in the 330-350 page range. Beyond that...the almost 500 pages of this book are very good and the author managesto entertain from beginning to end.

Short Plot Summary: The power goes out, and along with it everything else stops working from cars to watches to anything you depend on formodern civilization. As if that isn't enough, suddenly people aren't acting right... in fact they have become downright homicidal, and for some reason when you knock them down, they just keep getting back up,alive or not. We follow a band of survivors as they try to figure out what is going on and how they are going to live through the madness.

Meanwhile we have the dark man in the trench coat who isn't thrilled about our crew of scrappy survivors. With echoes of "The Stand" and "The Rising" this novel takes off quickly.

"Moonlight" is a very easy read, it flows well and although at first it appears that this might end up being something we've all read before, it quickly turns down a different path. The author does a good job of keeping the tension up and not spoon feeding the reader all of the truth as to what is going on too quickly. I also really appreciated that no-one in the book immediately had the answer.

There were guesses all over the ball park, which is far more realistic than many other horror novels where someone always seems to know exactly what the problem is right from the get go. Knapp also does a wonderful job with his characters. Though I won't say they were all multi-dimensional, the ones we needed to care about, he was able to evoke enough emotion for.

The reader will be concerned for many of them, and not all of them will make it. Though for the most part it is pretty clear who is going to live and die, there were a few stray deaths in there that I wasn't expecting (which is always good). As far as the ending... It could haveu sed a little more umph and fireworks but other than that, I closed the book and felt satisfied with what I had read. My only real issue with the book was the title, which really didn't have anything at all to do with the story. In fact many readers may be confused at the lack of werewolves in the story.

Oh and a warning for those of you who are not familiar with the horror genre, there is a good bit of gore in this book and there IS profanity, though I didn't personally find it excessive or out of place. I would suggest this book to the standard horror fans (King, Koontz, Matheson), I don't know that the extreme horror crew will find enough of the truly disgusting moments to keep them satisfied. Also this book is PG rated when it comes to the nudity and sex aspect (which I was completely happy with) but if that's what you are looking for, head for some Laymon or Lee rather than this novel. I really enjoyed this read and will pick up others by this author when they come out. Highly recommended.

Publisher: Outskirts Press (October 30, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1432715658
ISBN-13: 978-1432715656

Friday, June 20, 2008

Judith Copek; The Shadow Warriors

The Shadow Warriors, by Judith Copek, tells the story of Emma Lee Davis -- a vibrant character from the start -- as she works with an information security team to crack a series of computer agents for a secretive client. While the subject is slanted towards nerd-dom, Emma is first and foremost a woman, which is a refreshing change of pace from male-dominated thrillers.

Emma, nicknamed "Emmental" by her hacker buddies, is a busy woman. She must complete her job; balance two repressed romances while attempting to repair a marriage; protect herself and her friends from terrorists; decode a series of intricately interconnected computer agents; and all while (hopefully) wearing the right outfit to present herself correctly to her friends and peers. Don't be misled into thinking this is just another chick-lit thriller, however. Emmental's femininity is used to augment a fast-paced plot full of murder and intrigue, and her empathy strengthens the plot, rather than detracting from it. All of the characters are believable and richly crafted, and the plot is something you might find in an Ian Fleming novel: taking us to foreign cities and cultures, rich with language and cuisine that are reflected delightfully within the prose.

Unlike Tom Clancy's novel of the same name, Judith Copek's book is independently published: a point only worth mentioning because the production seems amateurish. Copek's The Shadow Warriors presents a potential reader with pixelated photos on the back of a poorly designed cover: a poor first impression. Yet it would be a pity to overlook Copek, as her story is robust, entertaining, and terrifyingly prophetic. As is often the case with self-published books, there are a few typographical errors tucked away inside this 476 page adventure--but only a few, and nothing that detracts from the enjoyability of the book.

I suspect that the author is not an expert on the rather sophisticated topics of computer hacking and information security, and yet the hacker lingo and technical terms are used correctly, both to further the plot and also to define the colorful cast of computer cryptics. Only small portions of this rather intricate tale seemed forced: the relationship between Emma and her distant husband was lacking, and I found myself not caring whether or not they reunited; also, as the story progressed, I found myself wishing for more detail of the events of the apocalyptic Info War, and less of the detail leading up to it. Overall, The Shadow Warriors, by Judith Copek, was well written, complex and entertaining.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Eric D. Knapp; Cluck: Murder Most Fowl

Eric D. Knapp’s “Cluck: Murder Most Fowl” is one of the best books we’ve reviewed so far on Odyssey Reviews. This tongue-in-cheek (or beak) work of brilliance will surely make you laugh. The writing is on par with the likes of Terry Pratchett. The story is brilliant, the writing unbelievably good; and a nearly 100% spotless manuscript peppered with delightful egg-shaped illustrations by Ian Miller. The sheer professional sheen of the book itself, down to the artwork on the cover – is the standard all independent/self-published authors should strive for.

You will find yourself in a bizarre world of zombie chickens, Poultry Exorcists, hicks, an ancient secret organization of frauds, and a car with a bit of an attitude. There is a restless house, and something else, another force thrown into the mix just to keep it interesting.

Armand/Arnold, who is the first true “Exorciste de Volaille” in generations, discovers, after years of ridding the world of pesky undead fowl, that he’s possibly met his match. A convergence of mystical forces brings together a massive rooster who’s been to Hell and back, his flock of subordinate ghoulish chicken zombies; a mysterious, vengeful force; a fidgety house and a less-than-intelligent hick by the name of Bobby—and Arnold has just stepped into the filthy thick of it.

Rotten eggs, tomatoes and stumbling, rotting chickens… this bizarre world is waiting for you to discover it. I think it should be an obligation for all independent authors to add this book to their library as an example of a professional, self-published product.

This book has effortlessly earned its five medallions.

This book has inspired me to create a new award for books that raise the bar of excellence for independent works.

Paperback: 340 pages
Publisher: BookSurge Publishing (December 10, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1419682644
ISBN-13: 978-1419682643

Monday, April 14, 2008

David Talon; The Last Guardian of Mosh Chaltun

The Last Guardian of Mosh Chaltun is an interesting amalgam of mythology, mystery, action, and romance. The story is told from the point of view of Juan Guerro, a boy who is given the huge responsibility of guarding an ancient Mayan site in order to prevent the release of an unstoppable evil force. Juan has the potential to succeed, possessing the spirit of a Wolf that he can call up to lend him power in battle, but he lacks the knowledge required to control that power. Our anti-hero simply isn't sure what he's supposed to do, or why; his grandfather dies early in the story, before he can fully prepare Juan for what lies ahead. Juan is brave enough that he never falters from his duty, although as he grows into a young man he's more inclined take a detour from his destiny to flirt with the red-headed heroine, Kat. There is so much time spent on the sexual tension between the various characters, that Mosh Chaltun often reads like the halloween episode of a Spanish soap opera.

The book holds a complex maze (or is that maize?) of plots and subplots concerning who loves who, who is going to sleep with who, who is simply trying to advance their careers, and who is making a pact with the Lord of Death, Ah-Puch, to take over the world and destroy all that is good. Although on the whole the complexity of the characters adds welcome depth to the story, there are times in Mosh Chaltun where the soap-opera intrigue is at risk of overpowering the main plot, leaving the reader to wonder why everyone isn't more concerned about the impending onslaught of evil.

Author David Talon is obviously comfortable with archaeology, Mayan mythology, and both Mayan and Spanish culture, making Mosh Chaltun an interesting setting for the various dramas to unfold. You are immediately immersed in a broth of Mayan culture, floating about with the kind of richly detailed temples, mysterious artifacts, and ancient lore that would make Indiana Jones drool like pavlov's dog. To continue the soup metaphor, The Last Guardian of Mosh Chaltun is a stew that doesn't seem completely cooked: the writing is raw, with an abundance of grammatical, typographical and formatting errors that should have been caught in editing; the plot is involved, but not always believable; and some of the characters taste, well, flat. I can't help but draw a parallel between the main character, Juan, and the book itself: both are rough creations, uncertain of their potential. Left to simmer on the stove a bit longer, this could be a four-medallion book. As it stands, The Last Guardian of Mosh Chaltun earns 2.5 medallions for it's intriguing and detailed exploration of Mayan mythology.

The Last Guardian of Mosh Chaltun, by David Talon
Paperback: 464 pages
Publisher: Cold Tree Press (November 5, 2007)
ISBN: 1583852212

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Ten Questions for an Author

Considering that we've reviewed two of John Lawson's books; "Witch Ember" and "The Raven", both of which received our coveted five-medallion rating, we figured it was only right to get some feedback from the author for the Odyssey site. We threw ten questions at him, and here is what he said:

Q: Both Witch Ember and The Raven have some pretty out-there imagery and situations in them and there is a darkness to these books that makes us wonder What’s going on inside your head; where does it all come from?

JL: Generally speaking, I derive events and images from the real world, either from historical texts, classical literature, case studies in psychology, or the nightly news. Sometimes, I glean inspiration from other books or movies, frequently in the form of “Wouldn’t it be cool if *** happens?” or “Gosh, it would have been better if…” I know I’m in the presence of a really good book or movie when my mind starts to wander and I start thinking up my own ideas. You know you’re in trouble when you have my rapt attention, because that means I’m bored.

More often than not, my darkest imagery comes from the real world.

Q: How long have you been writing creatively?

I’ve written creatively for nearly 30 years, although I’ve never had anything published before Witch Ember. Back in 7th grade, a teacher must have seen something in me, because she recommended my attendance at a weekend writing retreat at some college. I don’t remember much about the day other than how much older all the other attendees were and how bad the food was they gave us.

In 8th grade, we were given the assignment to conceive, write, and bind our own books. I spent a great deal of time on the details, striving to make it look as professional as possible. After I turned it in, the teacher actually suggested that I had my parents help me do it. My parents were outraged, but I was actually somewhat flattered.

But that was pretty much it. I really didn’t take my writing very seriously and even actively avoided doing anything that could result in any visibility or credit. I focused instead on developing my inner geek through trivial efforts like role-playing games, comic books, and computers until college, where I finally attended another creative writing class. This class turned out to be extremely damaging (the professor was completely out of control), so damaging in fact, that I literally refused to do any creative writing for nearly 10 year.

And then one day, I just sat down and started writing Witch Ember.

Q: I understand that writing is also a large part of your profession; can you describe a bit of what you do?

JL: I am a Principle Technical Writer for Oracle Corporation. I’ve been a technical writer for approximately 15 years. I was also the Submissions Editor for the somewhat successful webzine, which is currently on a semi-permanent hiatus while the webmaster gets his flippin’ act together.

Q: What authors, personalities or fellow artists influence you the most?

JL: From a book aspect, I have always admired David Brin’s ability to convey true alienness in his extraterrestrials. They weren’t just human beings with funny-looking foreheads. You could easily believe that his creatures possessed completely different physiologies, cultures, and thought patterns, and mere humans could never comprehend them. The Uplift War series is some of the best science fiction ever written. I endeavored to try to capture a taste of that in my own creatures, and it is why I’ll never write a story from the point of view of an alf or paqa.

Neal Stephenson is a master of characterization. His characters become real people, saying and doing real things. His work is my model for dialog and personalization. Esmeree never would have existed without Diamond Age’s Nell.

With a simple description of a grove of trees or an old ruin, Robert Holdstock can capture a sense of mythic power and deep time. Read Mythago Wood and be amazed. In my legends and lore and scenic descriptions, I tried to capture a mere shade of his genius.

Aside from his obvious accomplishments, Steven King showed in his Dark Tower series that you don’t need a medieval setting to make fantasy work.

Lastly, there is Gene Wolfe’s New Sun series. If I didn’t happen to know better, I’d assume my writing was derivative of his. His settings and themes were so similar to mine, at times I wanted to correct his work because he wasn’t using the right terminology. As it is, I consider the similarities a happy coincidence, and if he wasn’t an influence at first, he is now.

In artists, I’ve always admired Olivia De Berardinis, HR Geiger, Micheal Parks, and Bethalynne Bajema. And, of course, the three artists who did the artwork for my books: Jason Nunes, Jon “Bean” Hastings, and Walt Moore.

Q: Will the world that Esmeree and Guiromélans inhabit continue on or are you thinking of newer, darker places?

JL: I have lots of plans for the world of Esmeree and Guiromélans; it’s a matter of if I have time to write it all. I currently have a prequel finished and am currently working on another sequel. While The Raven is the chronological sequel to Witch Ember, my current work-in-progress will be my first return to telling Esmeree’s story. It’s like coming home to an old friend.

I also have a fourth book completed that takes place in the same Seven Kingdoms world, but follows the path of different characters.

I am currently seeking representation for both finished manuscripts.

Ultimately, I hope all the threads will come together, but whether or not I have the patience to write all the necessary books remains to be seen.

I currently have no interest in writing creatively about anything else.

Q: What tips would you offer any new authors who are considering the self-publishing route?

JL: There are many options nowadays open to authors who are looking to self-publish. Some publishers are better than others. I believe the key is to go into the relationship with your eyes open. Do your research. Go to "Predators & Editors" and "Writers Beware" and other author advocacy sites. Find out what publishers are scams and what are legit. Protect yourself, and choose your self-publisher carefully. And if you are an author that hopes to one day be part of the mainstream publishing community, you need to come to terms with some hard facts:

  • There are probably very good reasons why your book wasn't picked up a publisher or agent. Until you address those issues, you'll continue to run into the same problems.

  • Only vanity or subsidy publishers charge their authors fees. If a publisher claims they are "traditional" but tries to charge "reading fees," "processing fees," "editing fees," or any other kind of fee, run awaaaaay.

  • No matter how many sales you earn, self-published books do not count as publishing credit in the eyes of publishers.

  • There IS a stigma attached to self-published books. So if you seek a mainstream publishing career, you need to be aware of that. The agent, Nathan Bransford, wrote a very good blog post on the subject:

Q: For our fellow authors out there, who are always looking for tips on improving their writing, what would you tell them? How would they overcome writer’s block, for instance, or make their work more professional? Do you write on a schedule, or other discipline?

JL: I don’t recommend people follow my writing methodology. I’m a mess, and I’m mental.

I rarely do rewrites (and critics of mine might point and say, “Ah-HAH!”). The words I type into the word processor are frequently the final version, or very close to it, and I’ve almost never deleted large chunks of text and had to start over because I had written myself into a corner or because it just wasn’t working. For the most part, I don’t do much exploring as I type. When I sit down to write, I already know what is going to happen, and it’s just a matter of transcribing it onto the screen.

Creative writing instructors (including my much-loathed professor) would say this is exactly the WRONG thing to do. The process of free-flow writing and rewriting is part of the creative process. The reiteration and rearrangement of thoughts is what helps the author’s imagination massage and digest their thoughts. Like sifting wheat from chaff, it helps you bring what works to the top and to discard the rest.

I think I do that to a degree, but I have internalized the process. I am always thinking about the next scene. I roll it over and over in my head constantly. While driving, while showering, while watching TV, during important conversations with my wife. I explore the scene, play it out and see what happens. Then I do it again but change something and see how that changes the outcome. Over and over I do it, and I know when I’m done because my subconscious won’t let me move on until it is.

As I said, I’m mental, and I don’t recommend this process for anyone.

So in a sense, my writing might appear very stream-of-consciousness. But in another way, it is very meticulous. My books are long by intent. Their structure is by design, not by accident (or due to lack of plot control by a junior author, ahem). Three parts of 10 chapters each, with a prologue and epilogue, for a total of 32 chapters. I conceive of each chapter as a mini-event, with its own arc, its own climax. Each part of 10 can stand alone as well, and the 3 parts combined consist of the story as a whole. It is within that maze-like structure that my unconscious is allowed to run like a rat. So far, it’s worked out pretty well for me.

Q: How long did it take for you to complete each of your books?

JL: Witch Ember and The Raven each took about a year to write. The publishing process took a little while longer. Now that I have children, it’s become harder and harder to find time to write, but I still hope to have about a 1-2 year turnaround for new books.

Q: Both Witch Ember and The Raven are outstanding examples of a well-edited, self-published book. What is your editing/proofreading process?

JL: First off, I got a degree in Career Writing and a certificate in technical writing. I am a professional technical writer and editor (careers quite popular among the author set, so I know I’m in good company).

I am a compulsive editor. Upon completion of a new chapter, I proofread and edit it before starting the next one. Upon completion of a part of 10, I proofread and edit it as well. And finally, once the book is complete, I copy-edit it twice: once forwards, and once backwards. Editing a book backwards, line-by-line, is a great way to proofread because it removes all context from the reading and helps you focus only on the grammar, syntax, and punctuation.

Q: Finally, tell us more about your future projects, ideas and inspirations. What new John Lawson works can we look forward to?

JL: I intend to explore as much of Esmeree’s world and story as I can without becoming tiresome. I appear to be establishing a pattern where each book explores a different piece of geography. Maybe once I’ve visited all the interesting places, I’ll consider doing something different.

One thing I considered would be traveling 1000 years into the future and checking out how things have changed.

Thanks John Lawson! We can't wait to see you publish next!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Still Here, Albeit Occupied and Harried.

I am still here, I am still reading (although slowly) and I took a break from Self-Published works to read "Good Omens"; and another work by SM Stirling. I will resume reviews soon.

An author interview is possibly forthcoming; barring the *Outlook Express Disaster has taken that away permanently as well. Speaking of the Outlook Express disaster; I lost a good 26 previous queries which I had stored in a special folder... so if you submitted a query for a review, please resubmit just in case.

*Something mysterious happened with my Outlook Express where it simply decided it wasn't going to bear the burden of my huge mail storage a moment longer, and it completely crashed; taking the whole archive with it. Of course, I had it set to clean up my msn mailbox every time it downloaded mail, so there's nothing stored on hotmail. ::eep::

I learned my lesson and my apologies for the inconvenience. Please direct your anger towards Microsoft.


Friday, January 25, 2008

Odyssey Reviews in "The Writer" Magazine

Odyssey Reviews appeared in February's "The Writer" magazine in an article by Jocelyn Maeve Kelley. In her article "GET YOUR self-published book NOTICED" Jocelyn offers tips to self-published authors on how to best gain exposure for their work using internet resources and services, like online reviewers.

The article featured PODdy Mouth, PODler, and Darryl's Library, as well as Lulu's partnership with Kirkus Reviews. The issue can be found of the shelves of your local Barnes & Noble store. The article is on page 27. It is our hope that perhaps it might encourage readers to come to our review sites and to buy the books we raved about.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

John Lawson; The Raven

John Lawson’s book “Witch Ember” made an impression on my sister. Only two fantasy books have done so, and she reviewed them both (self-published books) here. I read both of the books my sister said were amazing, and I have to agree with my sister. They are indeed amazing. So, I cannot deny that “Witch Ember” is a work of excellence. Now I am reviewing the sequel to “Witch Ember”, John Lawson’s “The Raven”.

I can only start by saying that I am floored. In my mind, there is no reason why this author should not be published through a major publisher. His work is without a doubt on my part, beyond exceptional. The scope of his imagination surpasses most of the commercial Fantasy books I’ve read.

What makes this book stand out is the sheer magnitude of the world that the author has created; the attention to detail, the originality of the characters and the world, even with the strong influences from our own cultures, norms and religions. His skill at world-building was brushed on in “Witch Ember”; here, it is in your face. John Lawson also plays with language, and context and adds to the mood and the expressiveness of his characters using dialect. It’s brilliant, despite the need for a glossary (which the author thoughtfully marked with a post-it flag for me).

The Raven” is a dark adult fantasy, which like its prequel, has situations and bleakness in it that are not suitable for everyone. This book’s stories are harsh and in some cases, graphic and gory. The visuals the writing produces sometimes make you wonder what the heck could possibly be going on inside the author’s head. But don’t be mistaken, this isn’t just a gore-filled blood-fest; there’s depth, substance and turmoil here; a violently tormented knight and a journey where you perceive growth and discovery, and perhaps even redemption.

Guiromélans is a holy warrior; a tainted paladin; a man whose faith has been put into question, and whose identity is so steeped in faith that his entire being is thrown into turmoil by his doubt and confusion. You will follow him as he tries to make himself right with God again, and as he travels and adventures through a world of creatures and images fresh and gloomy. The three-dimensional characters that accompany him, who pass through his stories, whose lives he affects are as rich and complex as the world they live in.

The book is as clean as a whistle with only occasional blips here and there; it is quite decently edited. It’s a thick book, and luckily, fairly self-contained, so you can pick it up without having read “Witch Ember” and not feel lost or overwhelmed.

Obviously, John Lawson has earned another five medallions from Odyssey Reviews for “The Raven”. I highly recommend this book to any serious Fantasy reader--it's a solid investment for your library. You will be refreshed by its scope and originality. You will also enjoy the collection of illustrations peppered throughout the pages.

Publisher: PublishAmerica (July 24, 2006)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1424143802

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Fun Poll

Preditors & Editors is doing a series of polls for books, review sites, short stories, etc., and I've added Odyssey Reviews into the running. Please vote for Odyssey Reviews:

Also, a number of the books that I have reviewed are also on the other polls. Support our POD authors and pick (or enter) the books that have received five medallions from Odyssey Reviews!

Thank you!

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Michael A. Heald; A Rumor of Dragons

Marc is a Prince of Cathgar, and he seems to have little control of his own life. He is beloved by his father, and closely watched over by a Wizard named Kili. Marc has been betrothed to a Princess in Farling, a small kingdom some ways away. His future bride Alisse does not know that Marc was born without hands; and Marc’s insecurities about this betrothal are only part of his worries. Cathgar is under siege, his family endangered, and his own life in peril. He must escape to safety into a world he has been sheltered from; and learn truths that his lifelong teachings conflict with.

These characters reside on the world of Ganus. This planet is stretched to its limits every few thousand years by the passing of another planetary object. This last passing has left it scarred; and with a permanent dayside and nightside. There is a new passing to occur soon, and the world, both magical and physical is in turmoil. There are hints that dragons may be returning; after an absence so long that they’ve become myth. They are somehow linked to this planetary event; whether as part of the cause or part of the cure remains to be seen.

A Rumor of Dragons is an interesting work. There is a gritty bleakness to this world; and the characters are not the glossy, superhuman heroes of traditional fantasy, but flawed and insecure souls, with all the issues and baggage we have and more. The reader is taken chapter to chapter, switching back and forth from various character stories, as they slowly wend their way towards one another. This story ingeniously blends the forces of physics with metaphysics; magic and sorcery to tell the tale of Ganus and its people. It was artfully done.

I have a few criticisms of this book. First, there are chapters that stand out as ‘rough’ against the others. This is generally a polished work, however every once in a while, I ran into a chapter that was overly simplistic; short sentences, limited description, undeveloped conversation and motivations, and it would then segue into a chapter that is the complete opposite. It was disconcerting; as if I were reading chapters done by different authors, or done years apart. The second criticism I have is the use of the much-abused and overused device of the ‘wait-and-see’ ending. It is obvious the author intends to have a chronicle of stories based on this world, however even with closure of the main story, I felt extremely unsatisfied after following two particular characters to find that I would not know what happens until the next book. There is also a bit of a predictable nature to some aspects of the story. As a final nitpicking, the cover is beautiful, but it reminds me of 2001: A Space Odyssey. I understand how it correlates with the story; however I am not sure how well it will work in attracting Fantasy Readers. I could be wrong, but nevertheless, I’m a reviewer, so I must say these things. In general, the editing for this book was very good; I found only a few mishaps here and there.

All in all, A Rumor of Dragons is the beginning of an excellent chronicle of the world Ganus. I really resonated to the whole idea of introducing this delicious blend of science and the supernatural; I thought it was one of the most compelling elements of the story. I also reveled in each character’s flaws, weaknesses and imperfections; I found them extremely realistic and believable. To me, that’s refreshing in a Fantasy novel.

I have a lot to say about this book, but I am really torn about the rating. Despite my going through a very stressful time, I managed to finish the book. I carried it with me on multiple flights to the east coast and back, and it is dog-eared and roughed up by constant interruptions. The fact that I wanted to finish it says something. Despite my large paragraph of criticisms, I still believe this is a notable book. I think this author can go nowhere else but up from here, and so I am giving this book the full five medallions for bringing such a gripping, and unique perspective to the Fantasy Genre.

Paperback: 396 pages
Publisher: (January 10, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1430325097