Sunday, October 30, 2011

REVIEW: Snow Comes to Hawk's Folly

Title: Snow Comes to Hawk’s Folly
Author: J. Kathleen Cheney
Genre: Fantasy novella
Price: FREE at Smashwords
Publisher: Smashwords
Point of Sale: Smashwords
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

I’m very fond of the works of J. Kathleen Cheney. She’s a newer writer, working in fantasy, and at the moment she’s writing that hardest of works to sell, novellas. She wrote two novellas set among the horseracing set of Saratoga Springs, NY around the turn of the last century. One of them was published in Alembical 2, reviewed on this site. The other novella, Snow Comes to Hawk’s Folly, came out in Panverse Two. Well, in an effort to get more readership, Cheney released both novellas in ebook form. Since I hadn’t read Snow, I decided to download and read it. It was a very pleasant experience.

Imogen Hawkes inherited a horse farm when her first husband, Henry died. During the events of Iron Shoes, she met and married a puca, one of Ireland’s Lesser Folk, a man who could take and hold the form of a horse. This union resulted in a child, Patrick, who has more than a little puca blood and abilities in him, alas somewhat problematic in a two-year-old child.

Snow Comes to Hawk’s Folly starts with the arrival of mysterious visitor from Ireland, a man named Finnegan. Imogen can tell that he’s got magical powers of his own, and is concerned to learn that he’s bought the house next door. Very quickly thereafter, a freak September snowstorm blows in, and little Patrick goes missing. This sets up the events of the rest of the story, in which a number of people aren’t who they seem to be.

Ms. Cheney has a gift of writing magical systems that are believable, as well as a gift for characterization. Both those gifts are on full display in this short work. Imogen’s concern for her son, and even the motivations of his kidnapper are logical and well-thought out. The story has just the right pacing, not feeling rushed or cramped in any way. In short, Snow Comes to Hawk’s Folly is a wonderful read.

Rating: 9/10

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

REVIEW: Pandora's Grave

Title: Pandora’s Grave
Author: Stephen England
Genre: thriller
Price: $19.99 (paperback) / $3.99 (Kindle / Smashwords)
Publisher: N/A
Point of Sale: Author’s website
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

As promised, here’s a review of one of the four books that recently came my way, the thriller Pandora’s Grave by Stephen England. The premise is simple – a group of American and Israeli archeologists working in Iran discover in the ruins of an ancient city an especially virulent form of bubonic plague. This attracts the attention of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, who kidnap the researchers with a goal of exploiting the plague as a weapon.

The CIA, not aware of the plague but knowing Americans have gone missing, sends in Harry Nichols and his team to get the Americans out. But apparently there’s a mole in the CIA, as the Iranians are waiting for Harry. Let’s just say things get complicated from there.

One of the ways to dismiss a book, especially a thriller, is to call it “formulaic.” This is unfair to thrillers, or for that matter any work of fiction. All fiction has certain formulas, also called conventions, which need to be followed in order to meet the readers’ expectations. It’s the difference between a well-executed recipe and throwing random stuff into a pot then calling it dinner.

So, yes, Pandora’s Grave does follow the thriller formula, but, with one minor exception, the formula is well-executed. The paperback clocks in at 422 pages, but the book is a real page-turner, and delivers a lot of high-voltage thrills. England has a couple of opportunities to engage in cheap sentimentality which he avoids while keeping his characters believable. My one nit was the identity of the mole – England spent too much time painting one of two suspects as the mole, leading me to automatically suspect the other person.

One of the highest forms of praise in the self-published world is to say that the book was just as good as the best commercially-published works in its genre. Well, Pandora’s Grave is just as good as any Ludlum or Carre novel. If you like thrillers, or just entertaining reading, you should read Pandora’s Grave.

Rating 9/10

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Coming Attractions

We've all heard the saying "feast or famine." Well, it seems like we at POD People have been in the famine mode when it came to books to review.

I have good news - the cycle has swung, and now we have a feast of books. Here's what's coming down the pike, listed in no particular order:

1) From Stephen England, a contemporary thriller ebook Pandora's Grave.

2) From political blogger Roy Edroso, a novel Morgue For Whores. Apparently it starts when the protagonist wakes up to find two naked and dead people in his bedroom. Roy had a conventional publishing contract for this book in 2008, but his publisher went bankrupt.

3) From Joshua Palmatier writing as Benjamin Tate, two fantasy novels that will be under the "What a Pod Peep Reads," Well of Sorrows and the sequel, Leaves of Flame.

4) From the team of Debra Doyle and Jim Macdonald, the self-published ebook re-release of their space opera The Price of the Stars.

Darn, I got tired just typing all of that! Looks like a busy fall review schedule.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Publishing Is A Business

while Writing Is An Art. Found from Tobias Buckell, very sage business advice on the sustainability of an Indie Author. The writer asks (and answers) the question "will self-publishing survive?"

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

REVIEW: Quartershare

Title: Quartershare
Author: Nathan Lowell
Genre: science fiction
Price: $10.87 (paperback) / $4.95 (Kindle)
Publisher: Ridan Publishing
ISBN: 978-0982514542
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

Amazon has a “recommended for you” list that I occasionally visit. Now that I buy ebooks, I’ve noticed some new authors showing up on the recommended list. One of those authors was Nathan Lowell, a very prolific SF author publishing through Ridan Publishing. Ridan is a small commercial publishing firm that uses POD for their paper books and does a lot of marketing on their ebook line. Their marketing was sufficient to convince me to spring for the $4.95 and buy the Kindle version of Quartershare, the lead book in Lowell’s “Golden Age of the Solar Clipper” series.

Lowell’s book starts, ironically, in a very similar fashion to my first novel The Mars Run, in that a young 18-year-old is forced by circumstances to sign on as a crewman on a merchant space ship. In Lowell’s case, the 18-year-old is Ishmael Horatio Wang, and the circumstances that force him to ship out are the death of his mother. They are living on the planet Neris, a “company planet” where you’re either an employee of the company or need to pack up and leave. Thus Ishmael gets a berth as a mess steward on the Lois McKendrick. As a mess steward, he is eligible for a quarter share of the ship’s profit, thus the title of the book.

I suppose the nice way to describe how the rest of the book unfolds would be to say “gentle.” A less nice way would be to say “nothing happens,” because, well, not much happens. There are no aliens, pirates or other serious bad guys in Quartershare, and the one serious event, a mugging, is off-screen. Quartershare is the story of Ishmael figuring out how the society of the ship works while handling the everyday drills and work of the crew. There is absolutely no formal training or orientation offered to Ishmael, which I found very unusual.

Having called the book “gentle,” I should say that I found it both enjoyable and interesting. In writing, a work falls on a continuum from “plot-driven” to “character-driven.” Quartershare is definitely a character-driven book, and it works because, thanks to the author, we care about all of the characters. They are realistic, interesting and likeable, so the fact that they’re not running around saving the Universe is okay. The author spent a few years in the US Coast Guard, and his experiences there show through in subtle details about what lubricates shipboard life.

Quartershare is a short book, clocking in at 282 pages, but one I found quite enjoyable to read.

Rating 8/10

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Publish America Shows its Spots

This is an actual letter sent to an author requesting return of rights from Publish America:

"Oh, stop the whining already. We're sick and tired of hearing your ilk bark up the wrong tree, so either shape up or shut up you dumb idiot.

Listen Eistein, this no rocket science. We publish 50,000 books. Each one is produced, manufactured, published, and made available to bookstores worldwide the exact same way. Everything is the same. We don't do preferential treatments for no one, especially dicks like you. Instead we do the whole thing for absolutely free.

Did you get that numbskull? Free....want me to edit that for you by the word. Regular people don't argue with free. Misguided people like you do. You are seriously misguided, stupid.

Some books sell very well, in the millions. Some books sell very few copies, even none. Everything else is the same.

The difference despite the exact same treatment? Different content, different author.
Those who sell well never give us this kind of crap, ever. Those who don't occasionally barf just like you. Because they can't handle the thought that maybe it's them, or their story.

It gets old. Go away now. You're wasting our time. Your book remains under contract.

Thank you,"

Saturday, October 01, 2011