Review: Hollow World by Michael J Sullivan

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Publisher: Tachyon
Publishing Date: April 2014
ISBN: 9781616961831
Genre: Fantasy/Scifi
Rating: 2.6/5.0

Publisher Description: Ellis Rogers is a seemingly ordinary man who is about to embark on an extraordinary journey. All his life he has played it safe and done the right thing. But when he is faced with a terminal illness, Ellis is willing to take an insane gamble. He’s secretly built a time machine in his garage, and if it works, he’ll face a utopian world that challenges his understanding of what it means to be human, what it takes to love, and what the cost of paradise really might be.

Review: The cover art is not too bad. Wondering what the frick Pax is doing. Looks like a manic robot.

This is a quality of writing that is NOT reminiscent of the Ryria Chronicles, in depth and breadth. The story-line is tethered to an exhausting explanation as to why Hollow World exists and how it currently operates. Mr. Sullivan is known for creating a story-line that is inter-woven into the tapestry of movement. So why this sudden regression? It may have to do with the authors unfamiliarity of writing a stand-alone novel with an abrupt story-line or one that doesn’t cover the expansiveness of a world building epic. There is evidence that this occurred where the author utilizes the tried and true easy way to explain emotions without the character development and story-line to build it. The dreaded “actually” adverb is used quite a bit to form this consensus believability about actions and thoughts. Other word crutches relied on were “growled”, “scowled” and “scowl”. Not enough to piss you off like most of these indie authors, but really not acceptable coming from an exceptionally accomplished writer. My other shjtpick was Ren’s calling the M1911 pistol a “Browning”. It is not a Browning. Is was designed by Browning but never manufactured under that moniker. The author’s preface really reads like a “this is my reasoning for time travel, don’t try to bludgeon me with authenticity, and I apologize in advance”. He should really consider deleting or editing that preface. No one wants to read a novel where the author makes indirect excuses for his work that follows. If he only cares that his wife likes it, then why the qualifiers? Heck it is a scifi/fantasy novel…go with it.

I liked the character Ellis and Pax. This un-dynamic duo were good anchor points in a decidedly blasé’ novel. While their relationship travels more quickly than would normally occur, there is this innocence that draws in the reader to those particular characters. Innocence coupled with honesty and this belief in the underdog shtick make for riveting reader involvement. The author touches on a variety of societal schisms that he claims are part of his dualist approach to life. Which may be a way of saying “I have no position on anything as I have no real embedded faith based on the experiential”. This is a cop out IMHO as any centrist has always taken this “I am enlightened and above it all” approach to life’s problematic pursuits. The author talks about how certain instances in this novel will garner negative reactions. I think I am more disappointed in the authors lack of conviction in any one process due to his chronic look at fulfillment in all things that are presented as an external manifestation of the mind (Religion, politics etc.). In this future the author decides that God is fleeting and that love for one another (no matter the orientation) is all we ultimately have. At least that’s how I read it. The author pre-supposes that all things of the mind (identity, intelligence, ego, emotive qualities, physicality etc.) is the only vehicle entertained on a path towards enlightenment. No wonder he’s cynical errrr……. dualist. This dualistic approach to life resides within the current progressive philosophy.

I read this novel presupposing that it would deliver like Sullivan’s prior works. It is hard not to with Mr. Sullivan, as his work inspires many authors and counts many in his fan base, me included. This novel had it’s moments of scene engagement coupled with the characters advancing in depth. There was just too much back story on Hollow World that the author tried to fit in (and around) an interesting story-line. I kept waiting for the story to take off and build in intensity like the Ryria series. There was this brief yet very interesting mystery that could have been expanded to involve the reader more while eliminating the lengthy descriptions and explanations of Hollow World. If you want to buy this, I would still recommend it, just don’t expect this work to mirror any prior novels by this author. The author has plans for additional novels based around Pax and Ellis. Dunno about that. The story-line and character development would have to marry in a way that supports the movement implied. Perhaps a new editor is called for, rather than a known group/individual that has too much emotional investment in the author and his works.

Review: Talented (#1) by Sophie Davis

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Publisher: Indie Linked
Publishing Date: January 2014
ISBN: 9781618429940
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: 1.2/5.0

Publisher Description: If Sookie and 007 had a love child with a yearning for vengeance, her story would be TALENTED.

Review: Wow, Sookie huh? That should create of flood of readership. This reads more like if two retarded baboons had a manifestation of frenetic copulation their story would be TALENTED…. The cover art looks like a magicians assistant in a stage performance.

The first 30% of this novel is a lengthy backstory told within the bounds of LUV between Donavan and Talia. He is so ready for sex and she is teasing him beyond belief. She allows him to undress her to her undies and gets him all worked up only to back out. This is a constant theme throughout the novel. Talia is really Donavan’s step-sister who came to live with them when her parents were killed at a very young age. So its kind of creepy that they are kissing and fondling when in reality they should be repelled by those actions. The “It’s like kissing your sister” line.

So there were these underground nuclear reactors worldwide that melted down, no one could fix it then all of a sudden children were born with various abilities. No one can link any genetic mutation to the environmental crisis and trees are growing fur and dogs have feathers. So blah, blah, blah, and Talia’s’ parents are killed by rebels who hate Talents but Talia goes apeshit and kills Ten rebel operatives with her mind during a fit of rage/mourning. Why? Because she is oh so freakin’ speshul, that’s why. And don’t you forget it or Talia will telepathikinesis yur ass straight back to Texas/Nevada/Utah/Idaho/Arizona (all the bad states) for fucks sake. They have hormone addled teenagers performing deep covert ops to retrieve “information” from the coalition. Inter-twined within this non-existent story-line is this sordid love triangle.

Talia is a whiney, dick teasing asshat with the morals of a pigeon. She invokes love triangles amidst her burgeoning desires to screw anything male and hairy. Her failsafe response to everything are these mini-tantrums where indignant behavior is tantamount to righteousness. And then the coin lands on tails and we have clingy, whiney-baby Talia who wuvs her man and needs his stwong awrms awound her. Fug. There is this lengthy teen angst emotive spew page after page after page. Talia finds Donavan in the arms of some “blonde slut” bimbo. Well duh. What do you expect? But never fear, she has a backup plan that involves Mr. Turquoise eyes/ripply muscles Erik because she has never felt a kiss like that that has effected her so profoundly. Talia wastes no time teasing Erik by performing the same undie ritual as she did with Donavon.

The writing utilizes the tried and true overuse of certain words to help describe scenes and situations. About halfway through this disaster, I counted the word “Actually” 84 times as it was used pretty repetitively. Other words used consistently to the determinant of the novel were; “thankfully”, “gratefully”, “defensively”, “grudgingly” “mentally”, “grumbled”, “regretfully”, “carefully”, “scowl”, “pointedly”, “dryly”, “tentatively”, “mumbled x30” and “growled”.

Character development revolves around an extremely ego-centric and insecure main character. Rather than cheer for her, you end up loathing her actions that are based within the bounds of her little mind. There is no real giving of herself. Every decision she makes is predicated on what’s best for her. She seems to reflect the current state of consciousness in most people, so the author got that right at least. This novel needed to be edited way down in terms of dialogue and the story-line compressed. Talia needs to stand on her own as a tough operative in a world of espionage. She can be tough yet tender not clingy, whiney and self-absorbed. The men in her life should be minor interests for the sake of believability. This is slated to be an ongoing series. The author needs to consider getting professional editing services prior to publishing.

Review: The Book of the Crowman The Black Dawn #2 by Joseph D’ Lacey

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Publisher: Angry Robot
Publishing Date: February 2014
ISBN: 9780857663498
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: 4.6/5.0

Publisher Description: The world has been condemned. Only Gordon Black and The Crowman can redeem it. The search for the shadowy figure known only as the Crowman continues, as the Green Men prepare to rise up against the forces of the Ward. It is the Bright Day, a time long generations hence, when a peace has descended across the world. It is the Black Dawn, a time of environmental apocalypse, the earth wracked and dying.

Review: The cover art is really good. Fits the modus of the novel perfectly.

Holy shjtsnacks this was a good novel. It is a dance between worlds of existence that overlap in surprising ways. There are moments within the novel that send clear messages about living in our current state of unawareness or choosing awareness for the sake of diminished ego by sacrificing our desires. The author weaves this message into the good vs. evil idiom on the macro scale while elevating the inner diametric towards enlightenment.

The world impacted is relevant to the author’s premise that unaware actions pursued to their ends, manifest in not only a degraded ecosystem but are a reflection of maligned intent. This message of the grand diametric is carried within as a constant message of striving for “balance” (as the inner goes so goes the outer etc.). There is also this interesting and fluid Coptic movement throughout the novel that is reminiscent of Christianity, mainly the iteration and intent of Jesus and his relationship to god. There is definitely a Gordon Black/Crowman paradigm of the same lineal bent.

There is no reading this novel with literal intent. The imagery that the scenes evoke adds to the message crafted within a wending story-line. “The end of the world as we know it” in this instance, strays from what would actually occur, IMHO. There is this desultory penchant for misanthropic guile that pervades the tenure of the novel. While agreeable, this subtle and overt negativity would be rampant, overt and cloistered. The author touches on what I think would be all pervasive so shortly after a collapse when Gordon comes upon a group that is hunting/eating humans in order to survive. I also think there would have been a quicker expansion out of city centers into the countryside. The author’s manifest intent is to create a story within a broader context (message) and the vehicle for this is a designed apocalypse.

Without being too pedantic (oops, too late) you will enjoy this novel at any one level. I think there will be a people whom either really like the process and those that will detest the novels cogent and fugue state allegorical prose.

Review: Blades of the Old Empire by Anna Kashina

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Publisher: Angry Robot
Publishing Date: February 2014
ISBN: 9780857665041
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: 1.5/5.0

Publisher Description: Kara is a mercenary – a Diamond warrior, the best of the best, and a member of the notorious Majat Guild. When her tenure as protector to Prince Kythar comes to an end, custom dictates he accompany her back to her Guild to negotiate her continued protection.

Review: The cover-art looks like a lady boy elf. It also has this unfinished look to it. Kind of “cartoony”.

This novel follows the lives of Prince d-bag and his body guard/love interest Kara. Kara works for the Majat guild whom are essentially mercenaries for hire. Within the guild are different levels of accomplished assassins’ guards. The highest rank and most expensive to hire is the Diamond. Kara is the best of the diamonds (of course) and must relinquish her guild status in order to protect Prince Dumbass. There is this mounting insurrection against King Evan by a host of factions, both known and unknown. Prince Kyth, has a friend since childhood named Ellah. Ellah is chosen by Mother Keeper to accompany her as part of the King’s traveling retinue to learn more about her “gift” and provide truth divinations for the King.

This novel kind of fell flat for me. It had scant character development in that you didn’t really come to care about any of the characters. The story-line falters around the lack of movement. As you move along with the characters through the story-line, it comes to a screeching halt while either Ellah or Prince Buttercup get goo-goo eyes over their respective Majat guards, Mai and Kara. Ellah’s got the hots for a dude named Mai that “Always has mischief in his eyes…” The author subscribes to the NRSOW (Nora Roberts School of Writing) where every romantic interlude is fraught with a combination of lust/shyness or aggressive/tender interactions. When Ellah is fearing for her life she has time to notice that “their bodies felt like one..” and “his sense of balance had become a part of her…” and “his voice engulfs her in the incredible feeling of warmth……and nothing could possibly happen to her…” or “his skin had the faint smell of spring water and pine……” Prince Dunce is the same with Kara, and stumbles around infatuated with her. Ellah is the worst. She is constantly blushing or noticing his rippling muscles and mischievous eyes. I really don’t know why a fairly good author thinks it is necessary to develop a character focused solely on their innate insecurity and myopic self-centeredness. This is neither character development nor does it generate any sense of comradery or sympathy from the reader. I was really hoping that Mai would let Ellah drop into the chasm, then we would be done with her annoying, cloying and plaintive character.

The fight scenes are just plain absurd. Yeah we all get that a Majat Diamond is bad ass, and can run through 12 trained warriors in less time than it takes to squeeze a reluctant fart out. They move faster than the eye can see and perform all sorts of badass things with their weapons. For instance Kara is sitting at a table and some buffoon in a bar (of course) starts hassling her, and she throws 12 knives at once that embed themselves in a chair equidistantly apart and at the same depth. Really. At least make some of the actions that the guards perform somewhat believable. Sharim, a Majat of Jade rank fires arrows from his bow at a hurled stick and hits it so many times that it looks like a bush when it lands. Mai takes on about 15 warriors that have the dreaded morning star/Orben as a weapon (why this is a big deal I have no idea) and chooses to not kill them as he has this code of bs that guides him. Um, yeah. So…..15 dudes are trying to kill you but……….hmmm. They are constantly harassed on their road to nowhere in particular, yet never remove the threat much to their detriment at a later time. Absurdity reaches new heights when Kara takes on 50 armed men in order to pass through their city. But of course she doesn’t kill any of them, as they just needed some bruises to show the guild that they put up some resistance. .

All of this absurdity, from the Majat Guards to King Evan’s trip to freakin’ nowhere, center around Prince Dumbass and his “gift”. See, anyone that might have a gift is tested by the priests of whatever. Finding any freakish gifts, the priests summarily murder the child/baby/dog. Yet at the same time Mother Keeper is running around with her convent of gifted weirdo’s saving every baby/dog/child that expresses a gift and places them in a school of training so that they can eventually save the world. So in this dichotomous world of make believe, how is it that Mother Superior exists outside of the law, while working blatantly out in the open? Got me. Well anyway, the priests demand that the abomination (Prince Dumbo) necessitates the King abdicating his throne as there is no real successor. The King is given a choice to marry a damn fine young princess to join both houses and create a new heir. King Evan turns them down as she is a better fit for his son. Whaaaaah?? Wow. A perfect solution and King Fucknut places his age before the goodness of the Kingdom. Yeah, screw marrying a hot princess, lets go to war!!!! Meanwhile every situation that involves even a hint of Ellah, she is somewhere in the scene casting glances at Mai and blushing. Fug me.

There are a lot of scene failures. At one point, Mai has fought a dozen or so crazy zealots and is riding his horse away from the melee. Prince Dummy sees a streak of blood appearing in the corner of his mouth on three separate occasions within the scene. Yet while still mortally wounded “his eyes gleamed with mischief”. I personally guarantee that you will be happier having finished than ever starting.

Review:The Fifty-Seven Lives of Alex Wayfare By MG Buehrlen

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Publisher: Angry Robot
Publishing Date:
ISBN: 9781908844941
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: 4.9/5.0

Publisher Description: For as long as 17-year-old Alex Wayfare can remember, she has had visions of the past. Visions that make her feel like she’s really on a ship bound for America, living in Jamestown during the Starving Time, or riding the original Ferris wheel at the World’s Fair.

Review: Why o’ frickin’ why do publishers put bad cover-art on the best novels? Especially Angry Robot, who has the best cover art of anyone. How did AR fall down on this one. It looks “The Ring” movie poster.

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This one was up there with one of the best YA novels I have read since starting online reviews. Alex Wayfare is a freakin’ gem of depth and color. You feel her angst, worry, anger, love…all of it. The author does a spectacular job of letting you into her psyche. Not only are you woven into the initial pain of Alex’ existence but grow with her burgeoning self-realization. You get to experience her growth as an individual whose self-esteem begins to flourish.

The story-line is fascinating. There has been quite a few novels that look at reincarnation as a vehicle, but none that I know of that address the theory of “walk-ins”. Walk-ins are supposedly souls that can enter a person who wants to move on. In this case, Alex has had many lives, and in her current “base-reality” can enter any of those lives. There are possible history altering ramifications if she impacts that reality adversely. She walks through limbo at will and can choose which past life she wants to enter. Once she descends into her past life, she has rules or sideboards to adhere to. No sex, killing etc. She can retrieve any skills (physical or mental) acquired in past lives and apply them to her base-reality.

There is this universal “Good vs. evil” pattern that the author pulls off quite nicely. No one is perfect on the good side, and the evil is humanistic and believable. Everyone is flawed, yet strives to accomplish the best they can even in the face of failure. This author mixes inner and outer dialogue with precision, so you are never bogged down with bovine ruminations but are elevated with movement that is transposed on those emotive exchanges.

The writing is superb as is the character development. The story-line will rivet until the wee hours of the morning, and thankfully, the novel is longer than most so you can make the enjoyment last a little longer. I want more of this story and more of this author.

Review: Emilie and the Sky World by Martha Wells

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Publisher: Strange Chemistry
Publishing Date: March 2014
ISBN: 9781908844538
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: 2.5/5.0

Publisher Description: When Emilie and Daniel arrive in Silk Harbor, Professor Abindon, an old colleague of the Marlendes, warns them that she’s observed something strange and potentially deadly in the sky, a disruption in an upper air aether current. But as the Marlendes investigate further, they realize it’s a ship from another aetheric plane. It may be just a friendly explorer, or something far more sinister, but they will have to take an airship into the dangerous air currents to find out.

Review: I like the cover art. Gives it that old timey big top feel reminiscent of the Steam Punk genre/era.

The character development was scant in this “adventure”. Pedantic dialogue and petty emotions on display did little to develop the characters. About the first 40% of the novel is finding a mystery airship in the aether, flying to mystery airship, and boarding mystery airship. In between this slow boat to china, are the inner thoughts and emotions of Emilie. Emilie is about as deep as a kids wading pool. She runs around in awe of everything and then suddenly goes Bettie Davis on her brother. At no time are we lent a sense of processing that occurs at a deeper emotive level. Its all hyper-reactive, sudden and brash. You get no sense of the characters intent. The same can be said for most of the characters. There is this outward emotive quality that resides in negative form without developed qualities. Professor Abidon is a prime example. She is abrupt, negative and haughty. There is some history between her ex-husband and daughter, but no reasoning as to the emotions that boil. Put simply the characters lacked depth.

Emilie and her cohorts get lost in the aether and end up the targets of exiled aether beings whom can inhabit a human and influence the minds around them. As they are searching for their comrades on a derelict dirigible of alien design, they are shifted into a composite world with one of the remaining aliens. This alien resembles a walking plant with flowers, whom Emilie dubs “Hyacinth”. Hyacinth was fascinating in every aspect. From the form to it’s thought processes. This alien was the highlight of the novel. Now the bad news. Although the technical ability of the author is really good, the story-line for this particular installment was diminished by the lack of scope. The only analogy I can come up with is the movie “Speed 2: Cruise Control”. Somehow the author tries to create all this tension within the bounds of dirigibles and a place in the aether that is an amalgamation of other places. You can have all the crash, boom and banging you want, but if it resides in or around sedentary objects, it becomes overly complex because it lacks scope and movement. Take the Romulus Buckle series. Here we also have dirigibles but with movement to other places which translates to adventure. There is never this limiting presence of stasis. Even when Buckle is engaged in battle, the scenes shift constantly to expand the scope of the event, which summarily draws the reader in.

This was a real frickin’ snooze-a-thon. The target audience should be around 10-12 years old and not Young Adult. The author uses Emilie and her brother as a tool to engage the YA reader, but it is a scant attempt at an embedded genre where many authors are successful in the development of this panged age class.

Review: Season of the Witch by Natasha Mostert

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Publisher:Portable Magic Ltd.
Publishing Date: January 2014
ISBN: 9781909965096
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: 2.5/5.0

Publisher Description: Gabriel Blackstone is a cool, hip, thoroughly twenty-first century Londoner with an unusual talent. A computer hacker by trade, he is also a remote viewer: able to ‘slam a ride’ through the minds of others. But he uses his gift only reluctantly — until he is asked to find a young man last seen months earlier at Monk House, in the company of two mysterious women. Gabriel becomes increasingly bewitched by the house, and by its owners, the beautiful Monk sisters. But even as he falls in love, he suspects that one of them is a killer.

Review: I like the first cover, although the second one is not bad…just ho-hum in a romantic cover art sort of way.

Reviewers were either ambivalent or liked this novel. One reviewer had some great insight into the overall tenure of the novel. She said it is a book of happenstance. That is a great descriptor. It is akin to adding spice to daily life. Its not really a dull novel by any stretch, yet there is quite a bit of content that just fails to rivet. The only real mystery (and only to Gabriel) is who loves him, and who the killer is. Not really a mystery at all, just a fair amount of in-depth dialogue about Gabriel’s relationship and desire for two extremely hot witches.

Gabriel’s old flame Frankie (lets call her Tramp) has manipulated Gabriel into finding out where her stepson has gone, as her super rich husband is dying and needs reconciliation. Everyone suspects the witches for killing the stepson as they were the last ones to see and interact with him. Tramp starts to “Wonder” what might have happened if they had stayed together, while her husband is busy croaking in the room next door. Pretty shameless. Of course they end up together, but is only discussed as a side note at the end.

Some of the elements that I liked were Gabriel and Isidore’s vocation of stealing/hacking corporate secrets. I thought the author could have built the novel more around that relationship and a job gone awry. The writing flows really well and is exceptional in that regard. I can see why people might like the novel based on the writers technical ability. I can also see why others were not enamored as the creative portions were not very interesting unless you’re into self-realization, alchemy and what not. The novel resides in the torment of the mind through the Remote Viewing process. So as we skip around in the present having a fairly good time, we are then transported into someone else’ process towards enlightenment. Still not sure why the sisters needed Gabriel as someone to “play with”. Ultimately it doesn’t make any sense if he becomes an all powerful being. As an inverted process, you would think the sisters would continue to develop and refine the “rooms” on their way to discovering the hand of God, by themselves. Not a real believable story-line. The story line is often counter intuitive as well. Most of the Alchemy and the verses quoted instill a sense of mind/ego that must be developed in order to realize “God” and that memory is divine. Then in other passages the referents are about going through life “aware and awake” and in the moment.

Despite the failed message within the context of the story-line (which I think embodies the mishmash of collective ideas from a variety of sources) this was somewhat enjoyable. There wasn’t anything put forth that was revelatory or enlightening. It felt as though it was thrown out there in hopes of building a story-line cemented around Remote Viewing. I thought the remote viewing portion was inventive yet the ideas and pathways to enlightenment could have been re-invented or had a creative twist. One minor distraction is the authors bio. In this case (which is exactly like a few others) the author lets you know that she kick boxes and is still looking for the perfect crescent kick and teaches afghan women to box yada yada. Self-deprecating the author is not.