The Red City Review For Sojourn In Captivity!

The Red City Review For Sojourn In Captivity!

Greetings all,

Sojourn_Ebook_CoverA while back I sent Sojourn in Captivity to be reviewed by Red City Review. The five-star feedback was humbling and kind.  You can find the official link here.

What I’d like to do most is take a moment to talk about one particular compliment.

“Essential plot pieces are set in place here for future series entries, but the real attraction is Weech’s world-building. Animals, trees and plants, domestic customs, and planetary weather phenomena are all described in detail, giving a well-formed view of life on Oron.”

The Perception of War series is huge, and my goal is to provide a truly universal story. This means the planets need to feel real. The aliens need to feel authentic. Is that what everyone will think? No. But it is my goal to help a number of readers feel like they’re on different planets interacting with creatures.

That comment from Red City Review was particularly validating because it showed that the effort I put into making Oron and the Seferam feel authentic worked, at least for that reviewer.

Honestly, I would have been elated for them to say that the world building was good, so to have the reviewer say the world building was the real attraction was actually a surprise, but a welcome one.

WeechLogoColorI’ve said a few times that I always strive first to have compelling characters. My new logo proclaims, “Great Characters. Clever Plots.” I want to stand behind that, but I also strive to grow with each project I work on. If I’m going to grow as a science fiction / fantasy author, I need to have immersive worlds, and this review indicates I’m off to a good start.

In related news, Sojourn is entered into the 2019 Red City Review Book Awards. I haven’t heard anything regarding whether or not it’s a finalist, but I’m hopeful. I truly do think Sojourn is a fantastic story (even if it’s short).

My hope is the review might convince you to give it a try if you haven’t already. If you have, even if you hated it, I’d sure appreciate a rating and review on Amazon or Goodreads.

Thank you for reading,

Matt

Story Review: Recidivism by Charles E. Gannon from Alien Days Anthology

Story Review: Recidivism by Charles E. Gannon from Alien Days Anthology

Happy New Year! I hope that the previous year was full of love and joy, and I hope this next year is even better!

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Cover image taken from the book’s Amazon buy page for review purposes under Fair Use doctrine.

Spoiler Free Summary:  Recidivism by Charles E. Gannon is the fourteenth story in the Alien Days Anthology. Dan had written a paper regarding potential methods for planetary defense from aliens. While holding the rejection letter from his educational peers, he ironically faces the very threat he was afraid of.

 

Character:  This didn’t work for me. The biggest reason is that while Dan is a character, this story is far more like reading a military defense or scholarly essay than a story. I had go back and scan the story just to recall that much. 

Exposition: This is probably the biggest area of improvement for this story. It had more exposition than anything else, which made this a particularly difficult story to get through and then remember when it came time to write this review. 

Worldbuilding: I can’t reveal the reason this area is so weak because it would be a spoiler to the plot twist at the end (or at least I think that’s what it was supposed to be). However, that plot twist isn’t foreshadowed or teased at all, so it just seems to come out of left field. The smallest bit of worldbuilding would have helped with that problem.

Dialogue: This is non applicable since there wasn’t a single conversation or spoken word in the entire story. 

Description: The only description I remember from this story was the detail put into the papers on which the essay or memo was written. Again, the ending would have been more rewarding if there was more (I do vaguely recall some details about Dan) description in the story. 

Overall: Regrettably, this story reads like a scholarly paper with brief, impersonal interludes into the life of the one who wrote it. There’s no conflict at all to speak of. There’s not lesson learned for the character. There’s no journey. I just didn’t find it entertaining or compelling at all. 

Thanks for reading

Matt

 

Book Review: A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

Book Review: A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

CoverSpoiler Free Summary:  A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab is the first book in the Shades of Magic series.  Kell is one of the few people alive who can travel across dimensions, which in this story revolve around alternative versions of London. As an adopted son of the royal family in Red London, he’s a messenger from one king to another. Since Black London was sealed off, strict rules exist about transferring objects from one London to another. That doesn’t stop Kell from doing it. When he accepts something that truly brings danger on not only himself, but also the world, he ends up in Grey London, where is’ promptly robbed by Delilah Bard. Can they work together to not only escape those who are after them, but put right what Kell’s impulsive actions set wrong?

Character:  For me, Delilah steals the show. I didn’t see Kell’s relationships enough to understand his motivations. I also don’t understand his motivation very well. I’m not saying it isn’t explained, but I don’t necessarily feel that connection. Delilah, however, experiences situations that help me connect with her better, and this might be why the book didn’t quite grab me the way it did pretty much the rest of the world.

Exposition: Any time you have a first book in a magic series, you’re going to be a bit heavy on the exposition. The reader needs to learn the magic system, get to know the characters, and understand the world. This book has essentially three worlds to refine. Then there is the culture. Fans who like broad, varied settings will love this (see below). However, all the (pardon the unintended pun) dimensions required explanation. This is the second of two (see above) reasons why I think this book didn’t really hit the home wrong.  If I’m keeping the baseball metaphor,  I’d say this was (for me) a double. But it was hard to get into the story and follow the characters amid the three Londons and magic system and history lesson crammed right in the middle of the plot.

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Image of V.E. Schwab taken from her website for review purposes under fair use doctrine.

Dialogue: While there’s still a certain amount of thinly veiled exposition in this dialog (normal in any book, especially fantasy), Schwab actually does use dialogue to advance and reveal the character. It’s not as snappy as a Sanderson or Rothfuss, but it’s absolutely  more than spoken lines to progress the plot.

Description:  This book has great description for settings, fight scenes, and even clothes, but I couldn’t tell you what color hair Delilah has or what skin color any of them are. Now, I’m not a very attentive reader to details of that sort, so please understand I’m not making the assertion that character description is absent; I’m simply saying that there weren’t enough descriptive beats to create a clear mental picture of the characters.  The settings were the best. Each time we saw a new London, we were immersed in senses that made each location feel real.

Overall:  This book has a creative magic system with great locations and worldbuilding. It was satisfying and fun to read, but the main character didn’t really grab me. Fans of deep worldbulding and mystery plots will probably love this series. No, I don’t think this holds up against any of my favorites, but I can see why some people love it.

Thanks for reading

Matt

Book Review: The Warden of Everfeld: Memento by Steven D’Adamo

Book Review: The Warden of Everfeld: Memento by Steven D’Adamo
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Cover image taken from Amazon for review purposes under Fair Use Doctrine.

Spoiler Free Summary: In The Warden of Everfeld: Memento by Steven D’Adamo Jaed is a young woman who’s sister carries a secret in her blood. When that secret threatens her family, Jaed takes her sister and runs. Aston has dreamed of being a warrior his whole life, but when he’s asked to track down the only woman he’s ever loved, he’s forced between his desire to be a fighter and his desire to be with the woman he loves.  NOTE:  Steven is a friend. I actually bought my copy directly from him while we were having dinner. He’s been a great source of support. You can factor that into your opinion of this review, but I assure you my opinion of this book is based on the book and not my deep respect for its author.

 

Character:  Jaed was a wonderful character.  I think her arc all by itself would have made for a wonderful story. She’s proactive and sympathetic. She’s smart without being too perfect. Sure she has a flaw or two, but what character doesn’t? The simple truth is I get her. She’s a sister watching out for her own, and that resonates with me.  Aston, well, not so much. There’s a lot of exposition (see below) and Aston suffers for it. Also, he spends a great portion of the book not really doing much, and that dragged the story down a bit for me.  Once Aston got moving, he got fun to read. I felt like his arc had some missed opportunities, but overall I enjoyed him once he was doing stuff.

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Back cover taken from Amazon for review purposes under Fair Use Doctrine. Steven doesn’t seem to have an image I can find quickly, and this back cover is just stunning!

Description: Fans of bigger fantasy books with heavy description will like this.  I thought it was a bit much, but I’ll admit it didn’t drag the story down. It’s probably still more streamlined than some of the work I mentioned above, but it had more description that I tend to like, which  is less than most readers want.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

Story Review: The Kra’daar by Chris Winder, From For a Few Credits More Anthology

Story Review: The Kra’daar by Chris Winder, From For a Few Credits More Anthology

510QAdWwRNLSpoiler Free Summary: The Kra’daar by Chris Winder s the 12th story in the Four Horsemen anthology, For a Few Credits More.  Nik’Thil is a Kra’daar who’s looking to determine the source of a series of fires that have started to haunt his home. Will he be able to learn what, or who, is causing them before on breaks out of control?

Character:  I recalled this story a bit more quickly than others. It’s not at the top of my list, but I remember liking the back and forth between Nik’Thil and the creature he’s chasing. This story had a nice sense of tension, and I think the character is the main reason why.

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Image taken from Mr. Winder’s Amazon page for review purposes under Fair Use Doctrine.

Description: This holds true from my last review. Any time I don’t think back in frustration about how many buttons that guy wore or what color the chips in the paint were, I feel like I was happy with the description. This element was a bit stronger than previous stories. I say this because I immediately remembered the overall plot and the world building, which only sticks if a scene or two stick in a reader’s head.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

Book Review: The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

Book Review: The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
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Image taken from Amazon.com for review under Fair Use Doctrine.

Character:  Honestly, the characters are a bit weak for me. Anderson isn’t very sympathetic. Emiko, the Windup, is sympathetic, but she’s not proactive. I’ll admit her lack of productivity is due in large part to her character flaw, which does add tension to the story, but it frustrates a guy who lives for sympathetic, proactive characters.  This book isn’t without stars though. The Tiger of Bangkok is this books best character by far. Note my bias mentioned above. Emiko is fascinating in a lot of ways, but she spends a good deal of the book doing very little.

Exposition: This is better. The author moves things along, letting the reader figure things out or simply move with the plot. There’s not a lot of info dumping, and that counters the slow place created by the description.

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Photo by JT Thomas Photography pulled from the authors website with his posted permission.

Description:  In a book where the world and culture are so integral to the plot, it’s fair to expect a lot of description. I think these were necessary elements. Again, fans of books like Dune will love it, I just prefer stories more based in character than setting. That doesn’t make this a bad book, just not the flavor of ice cream I prefer (and everybody likes some flavor of ice cream!). What I will say is the degree of description, which really slows the book down in my opinion, is what makes the world and the culture in it so spectacular. I don’t think you can have world building like this without a lot of description.

Overall:  Fans of deep, visceral science fiction like Dune will love this story for its fantastic world building and intricate plot lines that position characters against the setting in a fantastic man vs man vs nature triangle. This book sings to the heart of science fiction by asking tough questions about society and evolution as only science fiction can.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

Book Review: A Halo of Mushrooms by Andrew Hiller

Book Review: A Halo of Mushrooms by Andrew Hiller
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Cover and other images used for review and critique under Fair Use doctrine.

Spolier Free Summary:  A Halo of Mushrooms is Andrew Hiller’s second published novel. (NOTE:  Hiller did a story about me on his blog which I talked bout in my blog about My Journey So Far.) It’s about Derik a magical healer from another land who carries with him a very special mushroom. If I’m being honest, the cover leaves a lot to be desired. I implore you to ignore the cover and read the book as it’s a treat. It reminded me of Pratchett’s Discworld Series. I’ve mentioned a few times I’m a huge fan of Tiffany Aching’s saga, but not such a fan of The Color of Magic. This book has the traits of both books that I do like, and I feel fans of Pratchett would at least (if not enjoy) appreciate Mushrooms.  In the book, Derik has to find the right location to plant his magic mushroom all while earning a dollar and avoiding cats and monsters who are hunting him down for stealing the magic spud.

Character:  There are three main characters in this book, though it focuses on Derik. The other two characters are Imani, a baker, and Lara, a scientist. The characters are real enough, with decent identity and progress, but for my money, I think the most of Imani. Derik is the most well rounded of the characters, and we get a lot of insight into him, but Imani grows on the reader. Lara has some very interesting aspects, but I felt like her characters had some missed opportunities. What I feel makes this book stand out about these characters is that while they each individually may be lacking, this is a pretty strong ensemble cast. I realize as I write this that while I wish each character was more fleshed out, I moved through this book because of the way they interact with one another. For those who read my blog on plotting, this was a pretty effective relationship plot, and it’s honestly the strongest part of the book. These characters know Derik as a man trying to do something nice or right. They bond over their desire to help him.

mushroom-1765870_960_720Exposition: The exposition of this book is a little on the heavy side. There are a few segments where I feel Hiller is giving scope to the book, but I don’t think I personally needed it. Though there are patches of over exposition, they don’t slow the pace or enjoyment of the book.

Worldbuilding:  I’d say this is the weakest area of the book. The magic system here doesn’t make a ton of sense. Now…I have to explain that I’m a fan of either (1) books that have a sense of wonder in which the magic is a complication or (2) books that have well understood (even if complex) magic systems that are part of the resolution. This book maintains a sense of wonder, but I felt that cost something at the end. However, it wasn’t something that brought the book too far down as the reader has enough understanding of how the worlds work to believe what’s happening. Once the reader understand the effects of the “Poms,” things flow pretty well. Now, I just said the exposition here was heavy, and how does one explain a magic system with out more of what was already a lot of exposition? So I see the sense in limiting the explanations to what the readers must have.

andrew-hiller-radioDialogue:  There’s a scene near the end of the book between Imani and one of her regular customers that I felt was a sign of a next level from Hiller. I wouldn’t begrudge an editor telling him to delete it, but it was strong writing that helped reveal the character. We see this again when Derik talks to a character referred to as Baba.  Those two scenes are great examples of how dialogue can move a plot and define a character.

Description: I’m not as over the moon about description as some. It shows in my own writing, and it’s something I’m working on because I understand it’s something readers look for. With that said, I couldn’t tell you what any of the characters look like. The clearest memory I have is of a certain car that got great mileage without a lot of gas. There’s a lizard I can remember clearly as well. This didn’t bother me at all because of how much less invested I am in that sort of thing, but I evaluate the quality of description based on how much I can remember a day or so after reading the book. There are a few characteristics about Imani and Derik I can recall, but that’s about it. For my  money, it didn’t bother me at all, but readers who want down to the thread count descriptions may find this element of the book lacking.

Overall: I want to go back to what I said earlier. A lot of the readers who enjoy the Discworld saga find a charm in the satire and melting pot of ideas.  For me, this book has that sort of feel to me. The charm in my opinion is Derek’s sense of wonder in our world. I think that’s the main reason I enjoy it so much. Hiller shows our world from the point of view of someone from another world, and it made me feel more magic in our every day corner of the known universe. The ending was a cliffhanger, which I don’t generally like, but it did satisfy the plot of the book while pointedly indicating what I hope is a equally endearing sequel.

Thanks for reading

Matt

Book Review: Doomed by Chuck Palahniuk

Book Review: Doomed by Chuck Palahniuk

Spoiler Free Summary:  Doomed is a story about Madison Spencer, who is dead, but that doesn’t stop her from  posting blogs about her fight with the Devil.  She’s trying to prevent the end of the world, which is pretty hard because everyone seems determined to run toward just that, and they’re doing so in her name.

doomed-paperbackA note on content and content warning.  Not only is this book designed for adults, I must admit that this has some aspects of tone and conduct that strike me the wrong way.  While this affected MY enjoyment of the book, it does not diminish the quality of the writer or it’s narrative.  This is important for me to say because I developed this new review format to be objective.  The reasons I struggled with the book have more to do with my own past and my own issues than it does with why this book might be of interest to other readers.  That said, readers with an aversion to certain sexual situations may want to speak to a friend who’s read this book before reading it themselves.

Character:  Madison is actually a very sympathetic character.  Her situation is tragic for a great many reasons, and as the plot progresses, her story only becomes that much more compelling.  There are a few other cute side characters here and there, but Madison drives this story.   I’m unsure of some of her motivations, and this is an issue because they shift the plot forward when I’m not sure why she’d do such a thing, but the bulk of her actions make up for one issue that may be more a result from having to step away from reading than the actual plot of the book.  Even if there is an issue, it doesn’t degrade Madison’s overall sympathy.    This book is in first-person narrative, and that gives us a lot of insight.  It’s also written in a sort of “blog” style, which is cool to see, and if the reader pays attention, there are some small easter eggs here and there.

Exposition:  This backfired in my opinion.  There are breaks  in this narrative from an alternative perspective.  Those breaks didn’t do much for me in any way, and really only confused me.  It’s not to say that breaks in narrative NEVER work, but to date, I’ve only seen this done well a few times.  I mention it here because those breaks are for exposition.  I comprehend what it’s doing, but all of that information comes back to light in Madison’s narrative.  There isn’t a lot of it, but I don’t know that there needed to be any.

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Photo by Allan Amato.  Image used for the purpose of this review to identify author.

Worldbuilding:  This is a pretty deep world when I consider all the forces working together.  The wolrdbuilding is a strength in this book because everything builds on everything else.  It’s set in modern-day earth, but I’m not talking about the “physical” world.  I’m talking about Madison’s world and how it works.   Each time we gain more understanding in how she exists, we learn more about how the forces against her have been moving.

Dialogue:  The dialogue in this book is crisp and witty.   Madison’s tone is darkly optimistic, and that’s something I enjoyed a lot.  Not all of the dialogue is that good.  Madison’s parents were a lull for me in pretty much any scene they were in, but the dialogue between Madison and her grandmother was amazing.  Each character had a unique voice, and Palahniuk did a great job shifting those tones not from his perspective, but from Madison’s.

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This image is not related to the book in any way, but it was funny, and I already felt nervous about copyright.

Description:  A friend (Hi Woody!) gave me this book because I continue to assert description as a weakness of mine.  In terms of using this book to analyze and practice the art of description in narrative, this book was a great choice.  Palahniuk’s style and description adds a texture to the story that goes beyond just “knowing what was in the scene.”  Where some authors use scene out of obligation, Palahniuk uses it as a tool and even a plot device.  I’m grateful my friend gave me something like this to study.

Overall:  Fans of dark comedy will enjoy this book, though I didn’t find a lot of it funny.  It’s not graphic or controversial (I think) for the sake of shock value, at least not in my opinion. The cliffhanger ending didn’t endear itself to me either.  This book covers a few very important concepts.  The blending of setting, circumstance, and character makes for some very powerful drama.  It’s satirically funny at times and poignantly tragic in others.  Some of the characters frustrated me because I simply don’t find them believable, but Palahniuk works with characters like that.

Thanks for reading

Matt

Book Review: Magic-Scars by C.L. Schneider

Book Review: Magic-Scars by C.L. Schneider

One great thing about being on vacation is I can read much more.  I reblogged my review of the Summer Indie Book Award-nominated Magic-Price last week anticipating I’d be ready to post my review of Magic-Scars today.  This review also gives me a chance to try out my new format for reviews.

A note on format:  Reviews are essentially opinions.  Everybody has one, and at the end of the day, a person either likes a book or doesn’t.  The real question is how to be objective.  As a writer myself, I love an overall opinion of my book, but I also look for honest feedback.  So I’m taking a page from the writer’s group I was in while stationed in San Diego.  It allowed me to be objective.  It also allowed me to separate myself from what I think of the person.

This format came from what I like about books and what I look for when I read books.  My hope is that if readers don’t care about a certain aspect, they can skip to one they do. I’ll also give an overall opinion, which you can also scroll to directly.  Please feel free to comment on the format below as I want to help authors improve and readers find books they might like to read.

The crown of stonesSpolier Free Summary:  Magic-Scars is a sequel to Magic-Price.  Scars is the second book in the Crown of Stones Trilogy.  It takes place a few years after Price.  Ian Troy is still fighting with his friends to stop his father from using magic to take over the world.  The readers get a lot of treats here in terms of secrets revealed and progress in the story.

Character:  Ian Troy is awesome.  He’s why I liked book one, and he’s why I’m eager to read Magic-Borne, though I do want to read this Potter book I’ve heard tell about first.  (NOTE:  This has more to do with me trying to read The Cursed Child before someone spoils it.  I’m actually more excited to read Borne at this point.)  The first-person narrative drives Ian home, but I’ll be honest, I’m officially frustrated I can’t see more of the other characters.  The world is so deep.  As much as I love Ian, I’m upset that I can’t get into any other heads.  It doesn’t necessarily hurt the book at all because, like all books that do first-person narrative well, Ian is a wonderfully sympathetic, proactive character.  This is my number one requirement of all books.  I don’t care how cool the magic system is.  I don’t care how intricate the world building is.  If the main character isn’t sympathetic and proactive, it doesn’t rank very well on my book.

18714210._SX540_Ian isn’t the only reason to keep reading though.  There’s a whole cast of characters that are fascinating.  First-person narrative allowed Schneider to keep the scope of the world from getting out of control, but I’d have happily read two or three more books in the series if it meant I could have gleamed more insight as to the motivations of the other characters.  Like I said, it doesn’t hurt the book.

Exposition: Another benefit of first-person narrative is the fact that it sort of cheats the bulk of exposition.  Schneider didn’t beat us to death with exposition, but there’s a lot of it.  It’s woven in well with great dialogue, and it’s only something you notice if you’re up at 4 a.m. reviewing a few chapters to get a feel for it.  In my opinion, if a reader has to go back to the book and look for exposition, it was done right.

Worldbuilding:  This is one of Schneider’s two main strengths.  The magic system is complex.  As I think on it more and more, I’ll do what I always do and start looking for ways to punch holes in the system.  That’s the cool part about fantasy books like this.  As deep and well designed as the world is, there are a few questions about how the magic works that I’m hopeful the last book addresses.  The world itself is intricately designed, as are the cultures, histories and races of this series.

wQwMv69V.jpg-largeEverything feels real while reading this.  Yes, there are things about the magic system that give me questions, but I’m willing to let it go until I read the last book.  None of those questions feel like cheats.  Usually, by book two, I like to have a pretty solid feel for how a magic system works.  My gripe is that, while the basic premise is easy to grasp, I still can’t quite summarize the mechanics of how the system works.  This may be because the system is a part of the plot.  As we learn about the magic, we understand what’s going on in the book more.  To just come out with it would cheat the reader of discovering certain things for themselves.  Only those obsessed with diagraming and breakdown of abilities would be disappointed.  Bonus points for the Eldering.  Their history was a nice touch.

Dialogue:  This is sort of in the middle for me.  The characters all have a unique voice.  The exchanges feel more-or-less natural.  I can’t pretend to know what makes dialogue “better,” but the dialogue here isn’t bad at all.  There are a few instances where some readers might argue some of the interactions, but I’m not one of them.

indiepride3Description:  I have a better sense of the world than I do the characters.  I naturally see Ian more clearly in my mind that the other characters.  I confess characters don’t sit well in my imagination to begin with.  What I do know is that all the characters get their fair share of description.  It’s not enough to get through my particularly thick skull, but I think most readers will be fine with it. I think the settings are stronger because they bring better images to my imagination.  What Schneider does well though is weave those things in.  I hate being beaten to death with description or minute detail.  Not once in the book did I skim over a section because I felt it was just overwritten description.

A note on content:  There are some adult scenes in this book.  Normally, this is an automatic turn-off for me.  I’m more a “Fade to black” scene kind of guy.  Things get steamy in this novel, but it’s not over done.  In fact, one of my favorite parts in the book (one that sums up Ian rather nicely) is in such a scene. These scenes don’t oversaturate the book or get in the way of the plot.  It’s a well-done balance in my opinion.

1d9390_138339a396c348f9ade2dfafb512d4c8Overall:  I was a big fan of Price, and Scars is much better.  Scars pays off on the potential Schneider demonstrated with Price.  It’s a great second act that has just enough cliffhanger to make you want to jump straight to book three without robbing you of feeling like you’ve finished reading a novel.  (I absolutely hate true cliffhangers).   I’ll rate it on Amazon and Goodreads because they help authors, but ratings really are more or less an awful tool.  People either like books or they don’t.  So I won’t be providing a rating here because I wouldn’t invest 1,200 words on a book I didn’t love.  I wouldn’t have already bought the next book in the series either.    I’ll end with this…

I’ve made no secret that Schneider is a friend of mine.  What I feel is important to point out is that she became my friend because she’s a wonderful person who’s been an amazing help to me and my own development.  What made me seek her out was an amazing cover and a damn-well written book.  I sought her out because she has skills I admire in a writer.  If you’re looking for a great, fast-paced book to read, look no further.

Thanks for reading

Matt