Friday, March 31, 2006

'RealmShift' by Alan Baxter

Reviewed by Ed Kane

TITLE - RealmShift
AUTHOR - Alan Baxter
PRICE - $15.00 (through
GENRE - Contemporary fantasy/dark fantasy
ISBN - 1-4116-6862-6
PUBLISHER - Alan Baxter,

RealmShift has a strong foundation in an unusually coherent fantasy cosmology in which humans, gods and those in between are embroiled in each others' schemes. Upon this Alan Baxter has constructed a sound, logical plot and four main characters with clear motives and identity. The story spends most of its rather slow opening stages with Isiah, a preternatural being whose role in the cosmic 'balance' is only gradually revealed. Carlos, a brutal mercenary, and Samuel an unwilling pawn also have roles to play and journalist, Katherine, is placed in the middle of their schemes. Deep in the jungle Katherine seeks a mysterious crystal skull but it is dangerous men, whom she does not even know exist, that will ultimately determine her fate.

This is a substantial dark fantasy novel written in clear, effective prose. I was impressed with all of the technical aspects from the book which was well edited and seamlessly constructed with a plot that picks up speed slowly but then barrels towards its conclusion.

My greatest complaint is that there are several features that led me to read the story dispassionately, without great involvement with the otherwise convincing characters. The story started slowly with Isiah and only after dozens of pages is the context of his actions properly explained, and the other crucial characters introduced. Most tellingly there are no strong relationships in the story--each important character bounces off incidental supporting characters, co-operates with others for only the most ruthless reasons and pursues his or her goal essentially as a loner until the last third of the book. Most vivid moments in the story for me were in the few recurring meetings such as between Isiah and the 'balance' and with the informally addressed angel 'Gabe', and Katherine almost saying 'I love you' to the boyfriend the reader is never shown.

It is on the closing chapters that the reader is rewarded in the interactions of Isiah, Gabriel and Samuel, and Katherine with her traveling companion Thomas, which we are now fully equipped to understand--and a clear dénouement where all their efforts will protect the cosmic Balance, or unravel it. The final scene, that 460 pages have led inexorably towards, cannot help but be a little anti-climactic.

Alan Baxter shows glimmers of unusual talent in his world building and prose style. However RealmShift bears all the hallmarks of a ‘director’s cut’ and future works would benefit from rather more forceful editing for pace and length.


10/10 Lulu
10/10 Amazon
7/10 Gloomwing


Wednesday, March 29, 2006

'The Hawk Flew South' by Phineas Narco

Reviewed by James Buchanan

TITLE: The Hawk Flew South
AUTHOR: Phineas Narco
PRICE: $13.05; e-book: $3.13
GENRE: psychological thriller

This is an interesting and sometimes compelling story of a man’s battle with mental illness. While the author does have some thought provoking things to say, they tend to get bogged down within the framing of the story. Time and again, I found myself skipping large blocks of text. Now as a reviewer, I made myself go back and read them, but it was often hard to do so.

The Hawk is written in both 3rd and 1st person POV. While I understand the concept in trying to show how unattached the Narrator sometimes becomes in his own life it made it hard to follow and often destroyed a scene. Further, the 3rd person character of Nervous Man disappears half way through the book and never comes back. No explanation or epiphany is presented to explain this.

I am certain there are people who will find something meaningful within the novel. There are some grabbing scenes. Overall, however, it could have done with a little more sorting out.

RATING: 5/10

10/10: Lulu


Sunday, March 26, 2006

Please recommend...

POD People is seeking recommendations. We would like to seek out the best self-published books currently available. So please us the comments feature to tell us about any self-published books that truly impressed you--impartial opinions only please.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

'Conviction' by Skylar Hamilton Burris

Reviewer: Stephanie C.

TITLE: Conviction: A Sequel to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice
AUTHOR: Skylar Hamilton Burris
PRICE: $13.95
GENRE: Romance/literary
ISBN: 1-58939-597-2
PUBLISHER: Virtual Book Worm

It's one thing to judge a novel on its own merits, but quite another to stand it up against one of the most well-loved satires of the last two centuries. However, Skylar Hamilton Burris' novel can hardly escape this fate, being as it is a POD sequel to none other than Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.

In the introduction to Conviction, Burris openly acknowledges her inability to sufficiently mimic Austen's "unique and superbly subtle wit" and it's to her credit, I think, that she takes the liberty of writing in her own style. Consequently, Conviction straddles an obscure boundary between fan fiction, Regency drama and intertextual exploration. The result is something closer to a Georgette Heyer novel than an Austen satire—but this is by no means an unworthy fate.

Conviction opens some six months or so after the wedding of Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, and the reader is immediately confronted with Georgiana Darcy's "creative plots for thwarting unwanted suitors". While Mr Darcy and the former Elizabeth Bennet feature quite frequently as part of an extensive supporting cast, Burris resists the temptation to indulge in the details of their relationship. Instead she chooses to focus on the romantic aspirations of Kitty Bennet and young Georgiana, and introduces an array of original characters that put new expressions on those much-loved faces.

While occasional bursts of cringe-worthy romance threaten to punch holes in the bottom of this gently lilting society drama, it manages to steer clear of anything that looks too much like fan fiction. The proofing errors are trifling; the language has a period feel without being pretentious or incomprehensible and while the characters lose something of their original shape, they aren't necessarily changing for the worse.

So how does Conviction stack up against Pride and Prejudice? Well, that depends on why you read Austen in the first place. Much of the social criticism and satirical edge is blunted here, although marriage and money still remain central to many of the characters' motivations. Similarly, anyone picking up Conviction to indulge their soft spot for Darcy and Lizzy may be expect to be somewhat disappointed. It's a tough call, because any kind of adaptation may be automatically tainted in the view of hard-core Austenites, but if you can hold the original at arm's length, you may just find yourself enjoying the romantic romp that Burris has offered. I did.

RATING: 7.5/10

9/10: Amazon
POD-dy Mouth


Friday, March 17, 2006

'Graduating into Greatness--Beyond the Books' by Mart A. Nickison

Review by Ed Kane

TITLE: Graduating into Greatness--Beyond the Books: a method for improving your grades without studying your life away
AUTHOR: Marty A. Nickison II
PRICE: CD: $11.95
GENRE: Non-fcition/self help

Mr. Nickison makes a stream of good points that any under-performing undergraduate would do well to heed. The essence of 'Beyond the Books' is presentation--of your work and your person. I might quibble with some of the details (students will need to customise the advice to their own institution) but the overall thrust is a message the best students learn from experience and many would benefit from hearing early in their university careers. I am quite sure that Mr. Nickison also knows that when a student takes the time to present themselves and their work in a professional, polished fashion--the quality of their work tends to follow suit. This book would sit well as the first volume of a series that would go on to tackle other crucial and oft-neglected skills such as networking, building a c.v. and planning ahead for employment (or graduate school).

It is particularly unfortunate that a message about professional presentation suffers from persistent flaws in its own appearance. The jacket graphics go too close to the edge so that parts of words have been cut off, but the graphics on the CD are too small so that the square template can be seen on the round CD. More importantly, Mr. Nickison's informal delivery style sacrifices coherency and some passages are halting and too ungrammatical even for spoken delivery. If this material was presented on a website or a book chapter I would not hesitate to recommend it to my students--but it fails to capitalize on the audio-book format and is a little too slight for the $12 price. I would recommend further polishing of the script with more focus on repeating only the most important points and sufficient rehearsal to make the delivery smooth and effortless to listen too repeatedly, in order to get maximum benefit from the message and audio-book format.

That said, if you are having trouble getting through to a student who simply doesn't understand what is wrong with dressing like a tramp (in either sense of the word), addressing the professor in slang and handing in crumpled, tardy work--Mr. Nickison's informally presented 'insider' advice might be the perfect way to get through to them.

RATING: 5.5/10

8.3: Lulu


Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Favorite genre?

The initial round of book reviews is close to being finished! I would love to know if there are any specific genres that visitors would be interested in hearing more about? What genres should I add to the site and actively seek? Just click 'comment' and let me know.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

'Casualty of Duty' by David D. Drexler

Review by Dawno

TITLE: Casualty of Duty
AUTHOR: David W. Drexler
PRICE: $14.99
GENRE: Thriller/polictical
ISBN: 1-905-36377-X
PUBLISHER: Exposure Publishing

What if a Presidential election was found to have been determined by one state’s votes, b ut those computerized votes turned to have been manipulated? Casualty of Duty is based on this intriguing premise. Captain Gary Hallstead is introduced on the first page as the defendant in a court martial. He stands accused of sedition, treason and conspiracy to overthrow the government.

Hallstead is the project manager of a Department of Defense program to create the system that runs the computerized voting for Congressional and Presidential elections. Set in recent years (1996) using fictional political characters, Drexler tells the story of how a dedicated military man, committed to his oath to protect and defend the United States is instead accused of crimes against it and finds himself trapped in circumstances from which he has no escape and left with no one who can vindicate his actions.

Hallstead is a political naïf in the early chapters, but his long time friend and colleague, Larry Davis has a great love of politics and gives him an education in the platforms and personalities of the candidates who will be running for President in the upcoming election.

As the election draws near it becomes apparent that the incumbent, President Anderson stands a very good chance of losing. The challenger, Bill Barnes has chosen a “loose cannon” as his running mate, Ray Kline. Kline had been an opponent in the primaries and his delegates and support in the national campaign were crucial to Barnes’ ultimate success. Kline accepts the second chair and promises to align with Barnes’ agenda.

Unfortunately, in the campaign, Kline breaks his promise and makes statements contrary to Barnes’ position. None of this would matter if there wasn’t a problem that arises that calls into doubt whether Barnes will actually live to become President. This closely guarded secret becomes known to Senator Damon Larsen, who is having an affair with Barnes’ physician’s nurse. The Senator is from the same party as Barnes but he feels that a Kline presidency is worse than losing to the opposing party and starts the sequence of events that leads to Captain Hallstead’s trial. Unbeknownst to the Senator and Hallstead there are many more layers to this conspiracy and the ultimate desires of the instigators are not as they believed them to be.

The idea for this work is a good one that held early promise. The details about the computer programming project, the mindset and attitudes of the military characters and the description of election politics are solid. Where the book falls short is in the machinations of the antagonists – primarily some members Congress, both Democrat and Republican, who feared having Kline in the White House, and of the CIA who are darkly over-dramatic. It strains ones credulity as to the lengths these characters were willing to go in achieving their goals and that they could actually get away with it. Lastly, there are several instances in the plot where the author introduces somewhat maladroit plot devices to ensure that every effort to rescue Hallstead goes awry leaving the reader with a book where justice does not prevail in the end.

As to the construction of the work, the frequent shifts from the first person to the third person point of view are a bit bewildering. A reader is left wondering how the first person narrator knows what’s going on in the back rooms and minds of the other characters. There is also a lot of detailed information written as straight narrative more suited to a freshman political science lecture. Add to that the numerous typographical and grammatical errors and the final analysis is that this story needed strong editorial oversight before it was published.

RATING: 3/10

8/10: Diggory press
7/10: Lighthouse