Thursday, March 29, 2012

REVIEW: SufferStone

Title: SufferStone – Book 1 of the Dolvia Saga
Author: Stella Atrium
Genre: Science Fiction
Price: $3.03 (Kindle) / $19.95 (paperback)
Publisher: iUniverse
ISBN: 978-1462070428
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

Some books are easy to review, whiles others, not so much. For me, SufferStone falls into the latter category. Stella Atrium, the author, is local to me (Chicago) and I think I’ve seen her around at various science fiction functions. I found out about the book via an email, and I asked for a copy to be sent to me. So, on one hand, I want to recommend this book. On the other…

Stella’s web page and back-of-book blurb says in part, “I began to wonder why the protagonist in a sci-fi or fantasy story was always a man, even when the writer was female.” This baffled me, since I’m a big fan of Elizabeth Moon, who writes books chock full of female characters. I suspect it would baffle Ms. Moon, who recently had a bit of a rant on the “missing” female characters. (Hint – they’re not missing at all.)

At any rate, when I started reading SufferStone, I was expecting a female protagonist. I was wrong – the first 91 pages are told from the point of view of a man, one Brian Miller of Earth. He also tells the conclusion of the story. This got me thinking about other world-building questions. Miller is from Earth, and works with / around the Company, an autocratic entity controlled by Chinese and given near-Imperial powers. Okay, fine – humans have colonized at least part of the galaxy. Miller is sent to Dolvia, a planet being colonized by humans. Except there’s already a large human presence there, which has been on-planet long enough to develop tribal customs and relationships with the planet. How did the humans get there?

Another factor which drives the book is a decision by the Company to mine uranium at a site sacred to the locals. In the book, the author has miners getting radiation burns from uranium. Well, here on Earth, naturally-occurring uranium doesn’t have nearly enough radioactivity to do that. In fact, the main threat of uranium mining is inhaling radon gas in closed mines, which will eventually cause lung cancer. Some of the other authorial decisions had me scratching my head. Miller is tasked with getting a local clothing mill operating on Dolvia. That dominates the first 91 pages, and once we get to more substantial events, all the action is off-stage. Lastly, Atrium has invented a native language in which the same character can have multiple names, sometimes in the same sentence, and I found myself struggling to keep track of who was who.

In short, SufferStone is probably not the book I would have written. On the other hand, I did find myself being drawn into the book. Based on what I had written above, I would have expected to not finish SufferStone. But finish it I did. I found it oddly fascinating, and something about the book kept drawing me into it. I think part of what pulled me in was seeing the patterns of imperialism playing out again. I also think that Ms. Atrium made me care about the characters, thus I cared what happened to them. So, I’m putting SufferStone down as an interesting read.

Rating: 7/10

Monday, March 26, 2012

REVIEW: Witch Dancer

Title: Witch Dancer
Author: Michael Robb
Genre: Mystery
Price: $0.99 (Kindle)
Publisher: Amazon Digital Services
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

Via that highly-scientific method known as “dinking around on the Internet,” I became aware of Michael Robb. He’s written a couple of books, and on a whim I purchased and downloaded one of them – Witch Dancer. I’m glad I did.

Set in New Orleans in the mid 1990s, this is the story of Detective Billy Ray Timmons of the New Orleans PD. He’s close to drawing a pension, not having much fun in his marriage, and trying not to get wrapped up in either of several Internal Affairs investigations underway at his precinct. Oh, and by the way, there’s a murder who calls himself Simkiel running around, “collecting” and then slicing up local women.

Witch Dancer opens up with Billy Ray arriving at the latest murder, and getting sent out to knock on doors. One of the doors is opened by a woman named Jeri Brooks. Besides being stunningly attractive, it turns out that she may have seen the murderer. From there, were off to the races, as Billy Ray tries to figure out whodunit while Jeri Brooks tries to stay alive.

This proved to be a fun book to read. It’s a fairly straight-forward murder mystery and stays on a quick pace. Robb avoids the usual pitfall of the thriller writer, and keeps his characters realistic. I don’t think Witch Dancer is trying to win any literary awards, but rather to provide the reader an entertaining few hours. At that, Witch Dancer succeeds brilliantly.

Rating: 8/10

Friday, March 23, 2012

Subject Lines

About half of the queries we receive have the subject line: "Review Request".

Yes, from the authors point of view they are sending a review request.

But from the reviewer's point of view they are being offered a book.

Organizationally, it would really help if folks put the book title in the subject line.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

REVIEW: Insurgent, Episodes 1 & 2

Title: Insurgent
Author: Charles Sheehan-Miles
Genre: thriller / near future
Price: $2.99 (Kindle)
Publisher: Cincinnatus Press
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

I’ve been a fan of Charles Sheehan-Miles since I reviewed his near-future thriller Republic. Well, he’s finally cranked out another book in the same vein, the new novel Insurgent. It was well worth the wait.

Insurgent is being released in six episodes, and I’ve read the first two so far. All I can say is “wow!” The previous book, Republic, chronicled a near-future West Virginia attempting to secede from the Union. In Sheehan-Miles’ scary vision of the future, the Department of Homeland Security is exercising the near-Gestapo levels of power given to them by the current system, while the various economic machinations of the “One Percent” are ravaging the economy.

Alas, West Virginia fails to gain independence, and the events of Insurgent are set a few months after that failed war, as the US government attempts to pacify West Virginia on the cheap. Any resemblance to our occupation of Iraq is entirely intentional. I don’t think I’m giving anything away to note that the locals aren’t feeling very pacified, and so an insurgency is brewing, despite several attempts by calmer heads to stop the bloodshed.

Sheehan-Miles is a combat veteran of the First Gulf War, and has extensively studied the tactics and events of our more recent adventures in the Middle East. He brings that keen eye for detail to the crisp writing and events of Insurgent. But more importantly, Sheehan-Miles has an understanding of politics. This is not “gun porn” where weapons are lovingly described and people are cardboard cutouts on rent from Central Casting. Here, Sheehan-Miles spends a good deal of time explaining why people are acting as they are, including how innocent screw-ups can turn a tense situation into a disaster.

The world of Insurgent is not one I want to occupy, and hopefully Sheehan-Miles’ writing can be a lesson on how to avoid it. But even without the political overtones, Insurgent is one damned fine read.

Rating: 9/10

Monday, March 19, 2012

Review: Draculas

Title: Draculas
Authors: Jeff Strand, F. Paul Wilson, Jack Kilborn, and Blake Crouch
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Joe Konrath
Pages: 326
Kindle Edition: Free Normally $2.99
Reviewed by: Cheryl Anne Gardner

Description: Mortimer Moorecook, retired Wall Street raider, avid collector, is losing his fight against cancer. With weeks to live, a package arrives at the door of his hillside mansion—an artifact he paid millions for…a hominoid skull with elongated teeth, discovered in a farmer’s field in the Romanian countryside. With Shanna, his beautiful research assistant looking on, he sinks the skull’s razor sharp fangs into his neck, and immediately goes into convulsions.

Let me preface this review by saying, it's not really a novel. It's more of a B Horror novella. Fifty percent of the book is author interviews and advertising excerpts, so if you are looking for a well-developed Bram Stoker type literary monster novel, you won't find it here. I was looking for a light monster read, something fast, something not overly deep, and I wanted monsters: disgusting blood-sucking meat-chewing monsters. I got it.

If you are looking for a back to basics hack and slash where the vampires are really monsters a la Thirty Days of Night and a plot line along the lines of Romero's Night of The Living Dead, or AMC's The Walking Dead or 28 Days Later, you might enjoy it. Like I said, this is a short book, so while we have two failed romantic relationships playing center stage between our "heroes," the word count and the monster story force the interpersonal relationships into the background where they are used primarily as reprieve from all the violence and gore. And there is a lot of violence and a lot of gore. There are no grand social statement here like you find in Walking Dead or 28 Days Later. This is an old school slash fest, and it isn't made to be taken too seriously. All the characters were pretty much standard fare: the troubled macho men Rambo styled heroes, the guilt ridden damsels in distress, and the Dr. Evil old man who wants to take over the world. Cliché, yes, but still fun. I thought the brief historical tie-in was plausible, and the bleak ending was refreshing. I was surprised no one said "Nuke the site from Orbit," we got that close to Aliens at a few points.

Out of all the characters, I think I enjoyed Benny the Clown the most. He'd got the short end of the shit stick from the moment he was introduced, and you just couldn't help but cheer those squeaky shoes on.

So, if you are looking for a literary work, don't bother. If you are looking for sparkly romantic vampires, again, don't bother, and if you are looking for subtle and skin tingling creepy like Salem's Lot, again, don't bother. But if you want a fast paced B-horror movie slash fest type of read, you will love it. I certainly did. There were enough stringy intestines slapping the walls to satisfy the gore lovers.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Review: Saluki Marooned

Title: Saluki Marooned
Author: Robert P. Rickman
Genre: Literary fiction
Price: $3.99 (ebook) $11.95 (paperback)
Publisher: Saluki Publishing
ISBN: 978-1466368163
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

A Saluki, for those not in the know, is a kind of dog popular in Egypt and used for rabbit hunting. It’s very similar in appearance to a greyhound. It’s also the mascot of Southern Illinois University (SIU), situated in the “Little Egypt” section of far Southern Illinois. The "Marooned" of the title is a play on the gray-and-maroon colors of SIU. I know all of this because, like Robert Rickman, author of Saluki Marooned, I attended SIU. The campus of SIU and the education provided therein are critical parts of this book.

The story is told from the point of view of Peter Federson. When the novel starts, he’s a 58-year old man, divorced and working an exceptionally-dead end job that barely covers his drug habit and single-wide trailer home. After a couple of (frankly depressing) chapters of Peter’s life, he ends up at the campus of SIU in the small town of Carbondale, Illinois. Via some vague and ill-defined effect, he ends up taking over the body of his 20-year-old self in the spring of 1971.

As it happens, this is the spring that Federson flunks out of SIU, thus getting drafted, shipped off to Vietnam, and the point at which his life starts the spiral down the toilet. The old man Peter, slowly realizing his opportunity, attempts to change history and prevent the collapse. He’s assisted by Marta, a hippie with a genius-level understanding of physics, and hampered by both his own problems and the two women of his life in that era, Tammy and Catherine.

Although as stated I found the first three chapters somewhat tedious, once we get to the meat of the story in Chapter 4 things really started to cook. Peter’s struggles to get out of the very deep hole he’s dug for himself are interesting and realistic. The characters around him are well-drawn, and act plausibly. I really found myself rooting for Peter, which is critical if you’re going to enjoy a first-person narration.

Literary fiction, going back to Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, has a long tradition of characters suddenly cast back in time. So, although Saluki Marooned waves a hand at the science of time travel, I’m classifying this novel as literary and not science fiction. Wherever you put it on the bookshelf, Saluki Marooned is an enjoyable read. Although it would help to have attended SIU, I don’t think that’s truly necessary to make this book a worthwhile read.


Thursday, March 15, 2012

Coming Attractions - Insurgent by Charles Sheehan-Miles

I've been a fan of the writer Charles Sheehan-Miles for a while now. Regular readers will remember my review of his exciting novel Republic.

Well, he's finally cranking out the sequel, a novel called Insurgent. He's doing it in ebook form and in six episodes. Episode 1 and 2 are out, and sitting on my hard drive, waiting for a review. Watch this space!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Getting Reviews

I was mildly appalled at Charissa Newark's advice on how to get Amazon reviews, recently posted by the Independent Publishing Magazine.

"The easiest way to get reviews for your book is to create fake profiles and then review it yourself. (You'll be sure to get a 5 star rating!) However, many authors don't feel right about doing this."

They don't feel right about outright dishonestly?  Well, then there might be hope for us yet.

"The next best way to get reviews for your book is to ask friends and family to read it and to post a review. They'll be likely to give you a favorable review, but you won't have to coach them on what to write."

Okay, so posting fake reviews is "best", and getting your mother to do it is the next best?

My suggestion would be to consider slightly more than how your book does in search results. And if you do want to use black hat SEO methods, consider not talking about it publicly like it is the most normal thing in the world.

Oh, and at least consider getting reviews from the most obvious source: customers. They may not be easy to get and all 5-star, but they mean a hell of a lot more to other customers, to Amazon and--I would hope--to the author.

I would also recommend getting book promotion advice, wherever possible, from a person who has actually successfully written, published and promoted a book.

(Of course the entire post was only written in the first place to game the Google PR system by getting the backlinks in the bio.)

Monday, March 12, 2012

Review: Leaving Lukens

Title: Leaving Lukens
Author: Laura S. Wharton
Genre: historical romance
Price: $20
Publisher: Broad Creek Press
ISBN: 978-0983714804
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

Leaving Lukens is Laura S. Wharton’s second novel. The book was advertised to me as a romance set on the North Carolina coast during 1942, intermixed with exciting adventures with Nazi submariners. All those elements appeal to me, and they are in fact in the book, but the combination created by Ms. Wharton proved unappetizing at best.

The novel opens in the present day, with a group of senior citizens assembling for a boat ride to visit the abandoned town of Lukens, North Carolina, a spit of land cut off from the mainland by a marsh. Ella May Hutchins, unseen by all of the locals for fifty-eight years, shows up for the event. Chapter 2 and the rest of the story, save the last chapter, are an extended flashback of her youth on Lukens, when all of the excitement happens. Frankly, I found this structure useless, and would have much rather the novel started with the events of Chapter 2.

My next problem with the book was, well, in Chapter 2. The promised Nazis make their appearance, with one Nazi grabbing Ella May as she walks through the woods at night. So far, so good. Then, they don’t appear again until two-thirds of the way through the book, where they are dispatched with shocking ease. It’s at this point we discover that Ella’s boyfriend, Griff, the one stranger in the tiny town of Lukens, is really a US spy. After the Nazis get sent away, the remainder of the book deals with Griff’s career troubles then closes with a convenient late-season hurricane.

Leaving Lukens is a historical romance, and I found the history problematic. For example, Griff refers to “The Pentagon.” That building wasn’t even built in 1942, and was not headquarters of the US military until 1943. Griff is involved in underwater salvage work for the Navy. He uses scuba gear (not invented until 1943) and a sonar set small enough to rig on a wooden sailboat, which didn’t exist back then either.

Unfortunately, the romance portion of the book didn’t work for me either. In a romance, one needs three characters, namely the two lovers and somebody trying to get between them. There was no such character in this book. So, lacking romance, conflict or historical accuracy, I found very little to like in Leaving Lukens.


Saturday, March 10, 2012

10 tips for getting me to give you money on Kickstarter

Kickstarter is a website where you can solicit funds for... well, pretty much anything. I have two accounts there and have helped to fund a bunch of projects including eight books and two magazines. I can't speak for anyone else, but here are ten top tips for authors and editors trying to get money out of my pocket.

1) Show evidence of being able to write.  Prior publication, samples, or at the very least a well written pitch and synopsis.

2) Offer decent rewards.  For example a copy of the book either earlier or cheaper than standard retail, or preferably both.

3) Don't ask me to pay for you to write the book.  None of us are gentlemen or ladies of leisure.  If you need to find time to write, that's your problem.

4) Don't ask me to pay for expensive fee-charging reviews.  Don't ask me to pay for an overpriced book trailer unless you have a really good reason for thinking it will actually help your profile and/or sales. Don't, in general, ask me to pay for useless fluff like posters, postcards or shiny key-chains with your logo on them. I want to help you deliver your book to an audience. Don't waste my money on anything else.

5) Do ask me to pay for things that will actually make the book better. For example: research materials, editing, cover art, file conversion and/or printing costs.Do say exactly what you will be spending the money on.  Do ask for an adequate but realistic amount of money not just something with three zeroes on the end that would make your life easier.

6) Don't go on and on about how you are a born artist that has been working on this novel for decades.I am investing in your book, not your ego.

7) Do make the book sound interesting, entertaining and/or informative.  Or something.  Make the book seem to have some significance. Do describe exactly what kind of book it is. Don't be vague, pretentious, coy or just throw together two-dozen buzzwords in the hope that I will be dazzled.

8) Do keep it brief.

9) Do seem to have a plan, preferably a well informed and sensible plan that has some chance of succeeding, and do explain it to me as a potential investor.  Do have specific goals and deadlines. Have a project that will be complete within months, not years.

10) Do keep me informed; do deliver updates and rewards as promised.  Don't email me daily for months.  Don't ignore me for more than six months.

Those would be my tips anyway.  I think Kickstarter is going to really help a lot of authors, but represent yet another waste of time and effort for the unrealistic and under-prepared.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Review: Ties to the Blood Moon

Title: Ties to the Blood Moon
Author: Robin P Waldrop
Genre: YA/paranormal
Price: $2.99
Publisher: P. Waldrop
Reviewed By: Emily Veinglory

Ties to the Blood Moon was just one of those books I could not get into.  Maybe I am just outside the target readership, maybe I have just read to many books like this.  The writing is generally competent (other than a tendency to capitalize dialogue tags).  But when  a teen girl without a mother is a chosen special princess and offered boyfriend options in the two different paranormal flavors... well. This is well trodden territory.

The action aspect of the story has qute a few exciting twists and turns. But so many of the detailed are tired tropes that I found it difficult to get to the end of the book, and only after putting it down for weeks at a time. The characters, teen and adult, all seem to suffer from wild mood swings. And the ending when it arrived was extremely inconclusive. It was a bit like reading half of a very long book. So while it was readable, sentence by sentence, the whole seemed to be less than the sum of its parts.


Friday, March 02, 2012

Yes, Postings Have Been Light

In my case, I haven't been posting because I'm trying to market my new novel. But if you want to see the Big Idea behind it, come on over and read all about it.