Month: April 2014
Overture to Disaster by Chester D. Campbell is a post-Cold War political thriller that, in light of current events in Ukraine and other parts of the former Soviet Union, reads as if it could have been taken from the headlines or the lead story on CNN. I received a free copy for review, and found myself immersed in a story that rivals the best Tom Clancy novel.
This novel has everything – rogue former KGB agents who are determined to bring the U.S. to its knees through the use of stolen nerve gas with the help of the Peruvian terrorist group, Shining Path; senior U.S. officials who put profit and position before honor; and a few daring individuals, Russian and American, who are willing to put their lives on the lines to preserve peace and order.
Campbell’s knowledge of weaponry, tactics, and bureaucratic and political doings is first-rate, and he weaves it all together with characters that, while true to life, seem larger than life. The suspense is drum-tight, and the odds are astronomical, as a wrongly cashiered Air Force special operations pilot and a dedicated Russian criminal investigator race against time to prevent what could tip the world into a catastrophic confrontation with no winners.
Don’t even think about reading this book unless you have several hours to devote to it, because once you start reading, it’ll suck you into a world of betrayal and intrigue, and not let you go until the end.
I reserve five-star reviews for only the best of books, but if I could, I’d give Overture to Disaster six. Don’t let this one pass you by.
Since some asshat authors who have been attacking some friends of mine for leaving less than glowing 5-star book reviews on their work, here’s this helpful list on How to Deal with Bad Reviews on Your Book:
1. Take a deep breath.
2. Read the review.
4. If there is valid criticism, take heed of it. Think about it and perhaps use it to better your style of writing.
5. If the review is a rant by an apparent lunatic (or loonie, for short), spam for another book, or an attack by a detractor, identify it as such and confine said review to where it belongs: Oblivion. Forget it exists. Insanity breeds insanity, and being a writer, you don’t need more madness than what you’ve already got between your ears.
6. If point #4 is in effect: In certain instances, when a review is touching or right…
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The FCC is currently proposing new rules regarding net neutrality. According to the FCC chair, Tom Wheeler, these new rules are designed to keep ‘the underlying goals of transparency, no blocking of lawful content, and no unreasonable discrimination among users’ originally imposed by the FCC’s net neutrality rules. The new rules, Wheeler maintains, create a roadmap for enforcing ‘rules of the road’ to protect an open Internet.
Unless you happen to be really savvy about the Internet and how it operates, a lot of the brouhaha that has erupted regarding the new rule proposal will probably be over your head. All the talk about broadband provider changes, commercially unreasonable activity, and preferential agreements between providers and their affiliates, is about as comprehensible to the average Internet user as a scroll written in an unknown language.
Because they will impact information flow and pricing, though, the proposed rules have generated a blizzard of commentary. Predictably, a lot of the opposition to them has come from small companies and startup operations who view them as hamstringing them in their efforts to compete in the content market with large entities with mega-budgets and battalions of lawyers and lobbyists.
In the storm of reaction to the proposal, though, the one segment of the content market that has not been discussed, as far as I can determine, are the content creators. The impact of the proposed rules on small bloggers and content writers like you and me, doesn’t seem to have received much notice or consideration.
The FCC commissioners are due to vote on the new rules on May 15, after which they will be open to public comment. You can bet that commercial entities, big and small, will flood the FCC, the White House, Congress, and the Internet with their comments. But, if the new rules go into effect and small content providers find themselves squeezed into the Internet’s slow lanes, those of us who create content, most of which goes to these smaller outfits, could find ourselves edged out of the market – our creations relegated to the parking slots alongside the information super highway.
It behooves us, therefore, to ensure that our voices are heard in the cacophony of argument that is sure to ensue.
The first step is to educate ourselves on the potential impacts of the proposed rules on our business. To look closely at your current content markets and blog readership, and assess as best we can how they will fare under the new regime. If they’re shunted to the leftover slow lanes of the broadband spectrum because of sweetheart deals that the FCC deems are ‘commercially reasonable’ we could find our markets drying up.
Next, make your voice heard. Contact your members of Congress and let them know that true net neutrality is important to you as a writer, a consumer, and a citizen. Contact FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, and politely inform him of the impact the new rules will have on you as a writer. You might also consider contacting the White House and reminding the President of his promise to support net neutrality.
As a final shot across the FCC’s bows, consider sharing this post and related articles on this issue with your contacts, encouraging them to let their voices be heard as well.
For further information on this issue, check the following links. They are not all-inclusive, and certainly not the final word, but they will begin your education process on an issue that could quietly sink your writing boat.
In Short List, author L.R. MacAllister takes us into the twisted mind of a serial killer. Not your usual ‘abused as a child, mind wired differently’ serial killer, but one with a specific motive, and a specific list of victims.
Richard Calder is a tormented soul who has hit bottom, and who blames others for his downfall. He plots a macabre revenge, and thus begins the saga of the Dart Man.
The story starts at a slow, almost leisurely pace for the first few chapters, and then, like a roller coaster that pauses at the top before plummeting toward the ground, it takes off at a breakneck pace that will leave you breathless.
I received a free copy of Short List for review, and I have to commend MacAllister for his twisted imagination, and his ability to suck me into his convoluted plot, and keep me reading for over 380 pages. I was a bit confused at first by the prologue, but by the end it finally became clear. I usually prefer dialogue earlier than MacAllister introduces it, because it moves the tale along faster, but in this case, the first chapters of a sort of inner monologue and description added to the dark tone of the story. My only real complaint – and this is minor in the greater scheme of things – is the switching back and forth on point of view, especially the insertion in places of a second person point of view. I understand the author’s reason for doing it – and it worked, sort of – but, I still found it a bit disconcerting.
Having said all that, I still thoroughly enjoyed Short List. Four stars to L. R. MacAllister.
Good advice for any country, not just Zimbabwe.
When 10-year-old Megan Kim disappears from her coastal Alabama school, a desperate search for her begins. In San Francisco, newspaper reporter Enzo Lee is desperate to find a cure for his grandmother’s leukemia. The lives of these two people become inextricably linked. Lee is seeking Walter Novak, a scientist who was working on an experimental drug that just might cure his grandmother. Novak is also the man who spirited Megan from her school.
In Megan’s Cure, author Robert B. Lowe takes the reader on a harrowing journey that spans the continent, and involves shadowy figures with dubious motives, all of whom have an interest in Megan Kim. Pithy dialogue and colorful narrative descriptions make this a story that is hard – no impossible – to put down until you reach the end.
I received a free copy of Megan’s Cure in exchange for my unbiased review. But, I have to confess to being biased. The Enzo Lee mysteries are for me the epitome of what a good mystery should be. Fully developed characters with whom the reader can identify, and settings that are skillfully and accurately drawn. Lowe is a master at showing how different cultures interact, and at sucking the reader into the story until you’re convinced you’re reading a fictionalized version of true events.
An easy 4-star rating for this outstanding mystery!
Scott Belgrade is a rebellious health teacher at Middlesex High School. He ended up there after being hounded out of his previous teaching job for putting students before politics. Ali ‘The Cat’ Armeni appears to be an unassuming math teacher, but in reality is a terrorist mole for an outfit that is determined to destroy Middlesex.
Jeffrey Belanger’s Code Blood Red puts these two on a collision course. Witty, fast-paced dialogue and pithy, on-the-mark narrative description mark this breathtaking thriller that will have you alternating between holding your breath in dread or gasping in horror. There is action enough for the most rabid action junkie, but at the same time, Belanger does a credible job of fleshing out the mental and emotional map of his characters.
The story could well have been taken from today’s headlines, and will leave the reader wondering about what really goes on behind the brick walls of academia. I finished a free review copy of this book in one sitting – and look forward to seeing Belanger’s next offering.
A piece of advice: if you’re prone to heart problems, you might want to avoid this book – it’s guaranteed to put a strain on your ticker.
A solid four-star book!
LA fashion designer Sabrina Miller wakes up in a tanning salon and comes face to face with a nude version of herself. Not just a double, but an identical copy of herself, a clone who has been enhanced by a scientist. Thus begins a wild journey of terror as Sabrina and Eve (the name she gives her double) find themselves fleeing the US Government, the CIA, and the Japanese – all of whom want Sabrina out of the way, and Eve for themselves.
The Living Image by P. M. Richter is a thriller with a decided twist. Gritty dialogue and crisp action scenes will keep you flipping pages as you cheer Sabrina and Eve on in their headlong flight from danger. I received a free copy of The Living Image for review, and thoroughly enjoyed its blend of fear, humor, and emotion. The perfect book to curl up in front of a fire with. An easy four-star rating for Richter.
Get the latest in the Buffalo Soldier series, Battle at Dead Man’s Gulch, free for your Kindle or Kindle app, April 22 – 26.
First Sergeant Ben Carter and his detachment are dispatched to the western part of New Mexico Territory to track down a band of renegade Apache who have bolted the reservation. After days on the renegades’ trail, they’ve come up dry, until they encounter them in the mountains south of Santa Fe. After a brief skirmish, the renegades elude Ben once again. Hot on their tail, Ben and his men are faced with life and death decisions – they discover a grisly scene indicating that the Apache are not the only deadly perils awaiting them in the shadow of the mountain.
Nor are they only ones in danger. At Dead Man’s Gulch, they come upon a small detachment of the Sixth Cavalry, a white unit stationed in Arizona Territory that has been chasing its own band of renegades, only to find itself trapped and in danger of being annihilated until the Buffalo Soldiers of the Ninth Cavalry come to their rescue.
Ride along with the Buffalo Soldiers as they face death, danger and discrimination on the western frontier.
Kyle Vine is about to make the biggest mistake of his life. A professor, he is about to secretly meet one of his students, a girl not much older than his daughter. Before he can take that fatal step that could mean the end of his teaching career, however, something happens that threatens even more – his life. The young girl, Allie Shelton, suddenly collapses. Kyle sees a strange man in the vicinity, but doesn’t immediately connect him with the incident.
The Perfect Game by Stephen Paul is a mystery with a touch of the supernatural that will keep you on the edge of your seat from the first page to the last. I received a free copy of The Perfect Game for review, and am not at all hesitant to admit that it’s one of the best mysteries I’ve read in a while. Paul skillfully combines razor-sharp dialogue with chilling narrative to keep the reader guessing as he unfolds more twists, turns, and folds than an origami sculpture.
Paul’s pacing is superb, as he dangles clues, makes you think you’re on to something, and then yanks the rug out from under your feet – only to set you back on the clue trail with a vengeance. The Perfect Game is just about that – nearly perfect. I give it four stars.
The Doppelganger’s Dance by Libi Astaire, a free copy of which I received for review, is the second Ezra Melamed mystery I’ve read. Astaire writes in a style that was common in English cozy mysteries in the late nineteenth, a style that is very appropriate for her characters and setting – London’s Jewish community in the early 1800s.
Ezra Melamed, a wealthy Jew in London, is more than just the head of the Jewish community – he is also something of a philanthropist and amateur private detective. The main – and most interesting – character, though, in this story is the narrator Rebecca Lyon, daughter of the community clockmaker, who is at the center of every significant event.
When Rebecca’s father is asked by Melamed to go to Leeds to escort the widow Salomon back to London, Rebecca goes along, and they find themselves, as is the norm in this series, in the middle of strange and sometimes threatening events.
Astaire’s descriptions paint a picture of society as it must have been during the early 1800s, and her dialogue just sounds credible. If you’re a fan of cozies, I can strongly recommend The Doppelganger’s Dance. If you’ve not read one before, this is probably a good place to start.
If you like mysteries, you’ll like Lucky Dogs by Jason Krumbine. If you like science fiction, you’ll like Lucky Dogs by Jason Krumbine. Lucky Dogs is both, with a healthy dollop of humor thrown in for good measure.
Alex Cheradon, a 30-year-old private detective with a strange crew of associates, is now working out of Las Vegas. When he’s asked by Peter Perkins to help when a con man scams Perkins out of a priceless family heirloom, Alex and crew have to fight not only gangsters but werewolves, et al.
Krumbine puts more fun, action, and mayhem in a short novel than you’re likely to find in longer works, and he leaves you panting for more. Great dialogue, detailed descriptions, and non-stop giddiness mark this third volume of the Alex Cheradon series. After you’ve read it, I strongly recommend you rush out and get volumes one and two, and keep an eye out for the next one in the series.
Four stars to Krumbine for Lucky Dogs.
The summer that Mercy graduated from high school was marred when her family was killed in a tragic auto accident. Then, at their funeral, Mercy sees a mysterious figure in black that no one else can apparently see. Later, she meets her new neighbor, Kit, who does a blog about paranormal phenomena. Together they try to understand what Mercy has seen.
Chasing Mercy by Stacy Claflin is a fast-paced paranormal fantasy that keeps the reader guessing from the first page to the last. Some of the dialogue seems forces and a bit trite, but Claflin does a fairly good job of moving the action along to a surprise ending that will please lovers of the genre.
I reviewed a free advance copy of this book, the first in a planned series. Not at all bad for a first novel. I give it Three Stars.
Chris Allard is a disgraced social worker who finds himself unemployed in Toronto, so he reluctantly accepts a job in the isolated community of Sioux Lookout. Once there, he finds murder, but more importantly, a lot about himself.
Death in Sioux Lookout, by Richard Schwindt, is the first in a trilogy that was first published twenty years ago. Schwindt has a keen eye for detail and fully develops his characters and their locale. While there is probably more development of minor characters than is absolutely necessary, and the book has a few distracting typos, it is nonetheless an interesting read. He knows how to keep the reader guessing until the very end – not as satisfying unfortunately as I was led by the first half of the book to expect, but not a deal breaker.
I received a free review copy of the book, and despite the few glitches mentioned above found it a credibly written mystery. I gave it three stars, but if I could, I’d add another half star for a fairly well done tale.
It’s another first Wednesday, which means it’s time for another Insecure Writer Support Group post. Hope this bit on engaging readers’ senses will help all you up and coming scribes out there.
PUT YOUR READER FULLY IN THE PICTURE
If you want readers to identify with – and hopefully love – what you write, you have to engage them in the story. This of course means having characters with whom readers can identify and snappy dialogue that moves the story along. Another element of the story, though, that should not be overlooked is the setting. Giving readers a good sense of time and place puts the characters and their witty dialogue in a frame that will help with a reader’s effort to become a part of the story. Every tale takes place somewhere, and how you describe that ‘somewhere’ is important.
Setting can be described in detail – as some authors do – or sketchily. I tend to the latter. Which road you take is up to you, but if you engage all the reader’s senses, she’ll go along for the ride.
A room, a house, a town, whatever; what does it look like? Is it neat or messy? Gloomy or well-lit? You can use visual descriptions of the setting to help set the mood for your story, or even foreshadow events in the story. By letting your character(s) react to what the scene looks like, you can use it to give the reader clues to them as well.
Do the floorboards creak? What about the sound of wood settling in the cool of the evening air? The sounds of traffic or birds singing? You don’t need to go into excessive detail. A few words about the sounds in a particular setting tell the reader where they are.
This sense is often overlooked in describing settings, but used properly it can do a lot to help establish the setting in a reader’s mind. The smooth hardness of a metal door knob or the silkiness of a linen bedspread can evoke memories for some readers – or, more importantly, for your character as he or she navigates the setting.
Think back to your childhood. Remember the smell of bacon frying early in the morning, the pungent, sweet smell of the trees in a pine forest? How about the dusty smell of a closet, or the talcum that your favorite aunt sprinkled on her ample bosom? Everything has an odor, and describing a few of the main smells of a place will help to make it unique.
You probably think this is reaching, but think again. Think about how your mother’s cooking tasted as compared to the same dish at the local greasy spoon. How does your food taste when you’re angry or upset? I’ll wager not the same as when you’re happy. While description of taste is character-specific, when done in conjunction with a particular setting it can be extremely effective in establishing mood or motivation.
If you want to see how setting is used effectively in fiction, check out the works of some of the masters. George Orwell in 1984, for instance, opened with “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” Another excellent example of describing setting is from William Faulkner’s The Sound and The Fury, “Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting.” As a final example, here is Sinclair Lewis in Babbitt, “The towers of Zenith aspired above the morning mist; austere towers of steel and cement and limestone, sturdy as cliffs and delicate as silver rods.”