First off, before we get to my regular Wednesday review, please let me wish you all a happy Fourth of July. I love my country, which was one of the main reasons I served it for ten years as an active-duty Sailor, and I still serve as a DOD instructor. God bless our country, bless our service members, and may we hold true to the principles under which our great nation was formed.
Spolier Free Summary: For Steam and Countryby Jon del Arrozis a story about Zaira’s life is thrown off course when her dead father’s will places her on the deck of the last remaining air-ship in the empire. She’s face with the choice to leave the life she thought she’d have or embrace the life her father led, the same life that took him from her. Her life grows even more difficult when she encounters the Wyranth Empire, the empire behind her father’s death. This was my June Book Cover of the Month winner.
Character: I’d say this was the strength of this story. There were issues I had with it, but the characters are proactive (for the most part). Zaira does seem to be a pretty standard character for YA novels. She’s the unsure, female on her own fighting to prove she’s tough enough. The trope is more of my problem than the execution of the character. My frustration is that Zaira seems to pretty much go with things. She does however, start coming to her own in the book, which gives her a pretty decent character arc. Constant reminders of how like her father she is annoyed me as a reader even more than her as a character. I felt like there was a missed opportunity here since her father had been absent for much of her life. Rather than investigate that potential conflict, the book focuses mostly on plot-driven events.
Exposition: This was by far the largest issue with the book. Arroz seemed to fall into a routine. Describe something, explain why it mattered, remind the reader of what just happened, and then explain the historical significance in relation to Zaira’s father. This really dragged down the pace of the story, and, after a while, felt like a bit of a broken record. There was one example of this in which we received a summary of a past event in the book only one chapter after we’d just read about what was being explained. In a book where Zaira is supposed to be the main character, we learn, hear about and observe far more about her father and his history. While reading all the exposition about her father and his grand adventures, I found myself wishing I was reading that book instead of reading a book explaining all of those adventures. In short, this book felt like an oral history of a secondary character with bits of the story I’m supposed to be reading thrown in, where I think the author wanted the opposite.
World building: This was a strength. Fans of worlds with detailed historical context and an interesting steampunk society would enjoy this aspect of the book. I’m always a fan of detailed history, and I could tell Arroz put a lot of time developing the society and history of his world.
Dialogue: I have to say this felt a bit stilted to me. At least have of the dialogue was an oral history of the world and other characters. This was made worse by the exposition of what the speaker meant or how the dialogue made the listening character feel. The most natural dialogue came from conversations between Zaira and the male crush, though even that had the issue of over-stating the “friend-zone” tension of that particular relationship plot.
Description: Other than the non-stop references to her similarities to her father’s physical traits, the description of this book is, what I feel, good for a steampunk novel like this. As always, I stress I’m not one who loves a lot of detail in description. For steampunk lovers, there might not be enough of those little, minute details the genre loves so much, but I wasn’t bothered at all. I saw what I needed to, and my imagination took care of the rest.
Overall: Where I wish I’d simply had the book about her father and his exploits, Zaira’s story is a fairly routine coming-of-age, YA story. If you enjoy those books, you’ll probably be happy with this tale. There is an interesting tease on the overall plot, which makes me think there will be new, more-unique angles investigated in future novels. The main character’s growth is the strongest part of this book. If one focuses on her actions and development, they’ll find a solid story that might have been great if we’d had a bit more dramatic content rather than relying on political intrigue and action, which there’s plenty of if you enjoy those things.
I’m very happy and proud to say that Shawn Compton has been selected and has agreed to produce the Audible version of Caught.
Out of twelve auditions, I narrowed them down into a shortlist of five producers. Shawn was honestly my first choice. It was tough, but the combination of the quality of his editing and the way he read the audition script gave him a slight edge.
Shawn has eleven audiobooks available on Audible, and all of them have at least four-star ratings. Three of those have twenty or more ratings, so it’s not just a few friends giving their buddy a bit of support. His resume is probably what pushed him over the edge. Those sorts of ratings on projects of which some have more than ten hours are a testament to his ability.
We’re hoping to get the book finished by Sept. 15, and out in the world before Balticon (my final convention for 2018).
I’ll be contacting the other producers who auditioned in the next few days just to thank them for auditioning.
I’m really thrilled to take this project to the next step. I’ll update you all as things progress.
Spoiler Free Summary: In Moth to Flame by C. Rose, Clover Moth gets in over his head as he’s set up to take the fall for hacking his company. His only possible source of help? Valerian is a mysterious bar owner who gives Moth a path to follow that will only make his situation worse. Moth must convince Valerian to help him get out of the situation she put him in.
Character: Moth is the person who shows us the story, but it’s Valerian who grows in this particular story. I honestly wish I had more from this character and a bit more from this story. It felt a tad rushed to me. It wasn’t bad, but I found myself wanting a bit more development from the characters.
Exposition: This probably went back to Rose’s norm for this anthology. It wasn’t bad, but there were some data-dump sections that I wish would have been different. They weren’t excessive, but they were notable.
Worldbuilding: This story does expand a bit more on the lore of this world. It introduces another dimension that I wish I’d had another story on. I won’t detract from this anthology because I wanted a few more stories, but this story took the most dramatic turn in this regard. Valerian’s origins were what fascinated me, and I wish I had more.
Dialogue: This was probably the main narrative device for Rose in this story. It drove most of the plot and events. It wasn’t stilted, but the dialogue was why I felt most of the plot was a bit forced. Rather than show things that could be translated visually, the characters talked. It’s a technique a lot of people do. I just wish I had more actions and demonstrations to go along with the talking.
Description: Rose got a bit more visceral. Where the other stories saw a jump in physical descriptions, this story opens up some other senses that give this story a bit more of a realistic feeling.
Overall: This story put ponderous end to Posh Bytes, but this book still sits high on my list of books read this year so far, even after all the books I’ve read after. I still stand behind my opinion that this book has a very “Hugo” worthy feel to it. It’s great for speculative fiction fans who like a bit of morality in their scifi. I was glad to meet the author and to have read this book.
Spoiler Free Summary: In Clover Fields Forever by C. Rose, Clover is looking for money to pay the rent. The problem is she’s a shopaholic narcissist who’s out of money. Lucky for her, Honey, (previously seen briefly in Eye of the Beholder)has some. Unlucky for her, Honey’s had it with her freeloading sister. Clover’s boss is fed up. Her landlord is fed up. She has to find a way to make it on her own.
Character: This story was probably my least favorite in the anthology. Clover’s arc wasn’t bad. In fact, it was expertly written. Where Supernova had a glimpse of hope and a tragic resolution, this story is tragic because of Clover and her actions. It’s not my least favorite because it’s poorly written; it’s my least favorite because it’s an expertly written story of a character who tragically refuses to learn. Some may say that makes it bad, but that’s more a matter of opinion. A lot of readers these days want to see the character evolve, and so they judge a story by whether or not the characters do. Some times people don’t change, and that’s unfortunate. This is a story I’d like to discuss with other authors after reading to evaluate the options and what could have been done. For me, I simply hated (and I’m supposed to) Clover.
Exposition: Strangely, where her exposition is normally a consistent knock on Rose, in this case, the exposition supported the theme. Readers have to see if they buy off on the theme. Those who do will appreciate this story. Those who don’t will not like it.
Worldbuilding: It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed one of these stories (I review stories in the same order I read them). With that in mind, I’d like to mention again how much I enjoy several stories in one setting (or planet). Add to that some clever character appearances, and I’m impressed. Honey’s role is larger here, but the reader can expect things from her because of her role in Beholder.
Dialogue: This might have been a bit forced at times, but it was never too bad. Dialogue and character are linked, and when one doesn’t like the character, he tends to be annoyed by the dialogue as well. There were some spots where the dialogue felt like exposition, but it never lingered or dragged the story down.
Description: This was solid. Rose gave detail on the things I needed to see clearly, but she didn’t beat me to death with specifics that my mind could just as easily fill in. The last few stories got stronger in this area.
Overall: Lest favorite story of the anthology or not, this is still one of the best books I’ve read this year. While my affection for this story was low, my appreciation for the quality of the writing remains as high as ever. This is a good anthology for fans of speculative fiction, especially those who spend time thinking about the vanity in today’s world.
Spoiler Free Summary: In The Desk Mask, from Posh Bytes by C. Rose, Beetle is a mortician who’s tired and lonely. Thyme is a woman who just lost a mother she never really had. As Beetle is about to finish his final service, he realizes he has the chance to do something he’s never done, and doing so means giving Thyme something she’s never had.
Character: It’s been weeks since I’ve read this book, and this story alone would have qualified as one of my favorites of the year so far. Beetle and Thyme really resonate with me. Watching those two was such a charming experience.
Exposition: Here’s where I freely admit that the type of story this is probably has me thinking unfairly high of the story as a whole. There is a lot of exposition that takes some of the drama and joy out of the story. The telling exceeds the showing. I didn’t notice as much because I was so enamored with the characters and their story. It felt a tad like UP. If someone else were to read it and not feel the same, I’d wager this is because this hit the right sort of emotional button with me and it might not with others. The exposition isn’t so bad as it slows things down. Please understand the difference. If it had far too much exposition, no amount of charm from any one character would be enough to hold my interest. More accurately, it’s fair to say this story simply relied a bit more on telling us how things went than showing us.
Worldbuilding: I can’t recall any of these characters overlapping, though it’s probable there’s an Easter egg in there somewhere I don’t remember. Here though, the conflux of character and theme left me feeling a lot like a pleasant summery blend of UP and Speaker for the Dead. To be fair and honest, I’m not saying this story reaches that level of power, but it resonates with those themes and connects to the same emotional scale.
Dialogue: The absence of Valerian detracted from the dialogue. I’m of the opinion the author knew and associated with that character most (Note: I’m discussing development of character and not similarity in behavior). This dialogue probably got a bit forced, but it was natural enough.
Description: Like with Supernova, this story relied on description more, and I could tell the author took more time with it. I hope to see more from Rose at some point, and if that happens, I hope she combines some of the elements that make these stories stronger.
Overall: This is my favorite story of the anthology. Supernova was powerful, but I’m a comedy guy, not so much a tragedy one. That’s not to say that The Death Mask didn’t have it’s share of sad moments, but I felt far more uplifted (no pun intended) at the end of it than I did with Supernova. I mention this because I feel strongly that these two stories alone would be worth the price of the entire anthology.
Siren’s Lure by Frost Kay managed to come in second, which means she gets a second shot at a Book Cover of the Month Award.
But for now, let’s look at this month’s winner!
When dreaming becomes an occupation…but it’s no picnic and what must be done is not for the faint of heart. Very few can do it successfully, or stomach it, until Amy comes along. She’s special, but not for any reason you’d imagine.
Jump twenty-five years into the future where the last of humanity survives in the last city, a quaint town surrounded by a great wall. Science is limited, except in the facility where technology stabilizes the world of dreams, where consciousness itself is harvested in exchange for protection.
When the unexpected happens Jim is faced with a gut-wrenching decision that could change everything. But it’s what his malcontent self had always wanted, right? Travel beyond the solar system, through wormholes, into The NOTHING—The SOMETHING as some call it, then explode out; to the edge of the universe, realms unrecognizable—and depending on his choice, possibly into a world of doom purposed for the unimaginable. But is this really just a dream, a MAP as labeled by Ted and the other scientists?
Journey into a vast desert with mezcal-drinking Felix in his clunker pickup where secrets run deep. Meet Mister Quain Renmore in a world unimaginable; he wants to disclose more than he’s allowed to—beware of his slaps and kicks. Push the boundaries of the system, testing its limits with newfound powers. Will it burst through causing the ultimate surge, or is it already too late? And will it even be enough to save them—the drone army has already punched through the defenses! Head to the safe room, pack in tight while Amy, Jim, and the lenders battle against all odds to pull off the impossible.
Experience the beginning where it all started, 25 years ago. Powerful companies race to develop AI, and one man with a prescience greater than your typical mortal manages something special by working nearly 20 hours per day. He’s rudely blunt and tells it like it is. But can he tear down the walls that hold him prisoner to a world of hate? Will he realize, he doesn’t have to go through this alone. Hatred forged from years of abuse and mockery, once a nerd but now a king, haunted by terrible speculations of a perspicacious mind he knows things will take a turn for the worse and decides to unfold a chair, pop open a beer and watch it all burn, but now…has everything changed? He finds someone special across the border in Mexico, but can newfound love assuage the demons raging war inside his mind. His immense mental capability is balanced by a terrible trio that bullies his rational and sanity.
With a select group of friends and a rescued heart, will he alter the plans? While there can be no stopping the coming destruction, could he and his team pull it off anyway? Maybe, with the assistance of another very special mind.
Horrific terrors delivered to your spine, encounter myriad dream worlds, learn lessons from goodhearted characters like old Nanny at the fair, laugh at red-headed Myron, Amy’s wacky chainsaw-wielding school buddy going ballistic on tourists in the canyon map. Cry when new love is born, also cry when trust is shattered.
A warning to all readers: attempt to retain your lucidity while things snowball for civilization, fires rage, and volcanoes vomit. Bear witness to mass destruction on a comprehensive scale—but just as the lights are about to go out for good: along comes Jim, Amy, Rico, and the lenders, assisted by head scientist Ted—in the future; Herald, the love of his life, and his friends—in the past. Can Herald and his team outrun the approaching nightmare in the hover-jet? Can Amy and Jim slip through where all others have failed? Will a species prove itself worthy? Will a beacon for intergalactic assistance be heard, and if so will it arrive in time to save the final stragglers?
I’ve added The Unlicensed Consciousness to my TBR. (For those who are new to the deal, I buy the Book Cover of the Month to read and review in the future. I buy all the winning covers. I’ve already bought March, February, January, December’s book.
Here’re Travis’s Facebook page. Give it a like if you’re curious about him and his work.
I’ll try to find out who did that cover. Truth is interviews are a bit hard to arrange on my end these days. I’ll try to get back on track, but things are looking a bit busy lately (in a good way).
The May Book Cover of the Month is almost set, and that contest will launch June 1.
I will continue to identify and select covers for each day from Amazon’s New Release section for fantasy and science fiction. If you follow and like my Facebookpage, you can see what covers will make the bracket.
What the heck is Stealing Freedom? Ok, I just changed the name of Worth of Words. You see, with The Power of Words anthology a full go, I felt the title was just a bit too similar and, honestly, presumptuous. This anthology has four fantastic stories, and I don’t want readers to feel like there’s one story with three others, but four stories that match one important theme.
As usual, the next draft is a beta draft. This means I’m wondering if anyone would like to read a free story and provide some feedback.
If you’re a fan of speculative scifi and you like a good heist story, you’re exactly who I’m looking for.
Here’s a blurb if you’re interested:
In the year 3753 on the planet of Leznova, all forms of communication are extremely regulated. Drones patrol the skies, seeking out gestures and expressions, executing punishments to any who violate the Communication Act of 3748. Every person over the age of 7 is fitted with Communications Monitor Collars, which send progressively stronger jolts of electricity into any who speak without permission. Should any wish to speak, they must purchase words at increasingly higher fees.
Ardelia Sabine wants it all to stop. She’s simply a mother who doesn’t want her daughter to be forced to stay silent. Formerly a monitor, a police investigator, she’s developed a plan to corrupt the server that regulates the policy and keeps the world silent. She leads a team of brilliant criminals, one of whom is the man she married after capturing him ten years ago. This band of thieves, led by one who used to chase them, must get into the most guarded server room on the planet. They do so knowing it isn’t likely they’ll all survive the effort. To make matters worse, a rival from Ardelia’s past seeks to make an example of her and her betrayal of the monitors. He’s fixated on stopping her, and he’s confident he’s already derailed the most critical part of her scheme.
What I need. I have a form that I send beta readers asking them to rate a group of categories for each chapter or segment of the book. I’m asking readers to get feedback to my by June 1. I’m anxious to get the anthology finished and laid out so I can get it published by Oct. 1. I’d need your help to do that. I will say that both my alpha readers and my editor both had some wonderfully nice things to say about the story. I’m obviously biased, but I think this is a real treat if you like the above stories.
Please feel free to email me if you’re interested.