Micro Review: Satan’s Fan Club

Micro Review: Satan’s Fan Club

Satan's Fan Club Indie Book Review

Reviewer: Michael Keenan

Review: 

Incest is a subject rarely covered at a romantic level, which is enough to make Satan’s Fan Club unique, to grant it a laurel on which to rest. It embraces that laurel and rests on it in great, luxurious decadence. Definitely an enjoyable read, especially early on, but the ending was more than enough to sour the experience.

 

Satan’s Fan Club tells twincest in a romantic, moving, delicious sort of way. It does little to nothing else. Maybe that’s enough?

The Snow – Ross S. Simon

The Snow – Ross S. Simon

The Snow indie book review by the review hartTitle: The Snow

Author: Ross. S. Simon

Amazon Link: The Snow

Length: Roughly 154 pages

Reviewer: Shen Hart

Rating: ♥♥

 

Blurb:

It’s a bloody cold winter.
Throughout history, he has secretly visited this world again and again.  The Prankster, the mischief-maker, of Norse mythology…Loki.  And now, one Donald Holly—an ordinary, lonely man living in northern Minnesota—comes to be possessed bodily by the Asgardian deity of evil, robbed of his will…and of his very humanity, as horrific death and bizarre destruction blossom from the Trickster’s power, in the town of Eau Froid in the dead of freezing winter.  And even Federal experts cannot separate Holly from this parapsychological parasite that manifests in him, as Loki is just too powerful.  Yet, Holly himself might just find the will to overcome the evil magic of the demon who would be a god, even if it means the destruction of all that he is…

Notecard Review:

This is a book for people who want blood, guts, and gore, and nothing much else. There is little to no plot within this book. There were vague attempts at character development, and if the reader pushes very hard they may be able to call this a character study. Unfortunately, the only redeeming features of this book are the unusual idea at the heart of it and the lack of typographical and grammatical errors. The pacing is non-existent, and the language and descriptions verge on childish. When it comes down to it, there isn’t much of value in this book.

Full Review:

This book was very much focused on blood and gore. There is nothing wrong with that, when it’s done well. Unfortunately, this wasn’t even close to being done well. The descriptions of the scenes were verging on childish, and included such artistic phrases as, “Then, with both hands, the backwards-headed Don Holly demon squeezed, as if busting the cheese out of a very grotesquely elongated zit.”

All impact and chances of shock value were removed entirely by the incessant repetition of the poorly written gore. There were no fewer than two such scenes in every chapter, though none of them had any purpose nor added anything to the story. The opening was focused on them and gave no clue as to what the story was supposed to be about or even hinted at the main character. They merely sat there, apparently for the author’s own amusement.

On the topic of the author’s amusement, the narrator insisted on continuously changing the name by which they referred to the main character with no apparent rhyme or reason. Perhaps they grew bored? That was frustrating and removed any small shred of immersion that may have been present at that time. The constant switching and changing got in the way of the surrounding images and concepts, reminding the reader that there was a narrator and they were likely as bored as the reader.

That brings us into the plot and the story itself. To call it a story almost seems a stretch, given the absurd paper-thin excuse of a plot that, realistically, is closer to a collection of scenes that the author thought would be fun to write. There are no real threads to connect the scenes; there is no overarching desire or progress for the character. It is just a jumble of gore, destruction, and madness. Oh, with a ridiculous romance thread that makes even the worst, most implausible romance look well constructed.

The characters themselves were outlines and images at best. The main character could quite easily have been an author insertion, a vessel for the author to enjoy the scenes of destruction, power, madness, and lust through. The rest of them were merely background noise that filled in some gaps and provided some more intestines to stick to a ceiling somewhere. The main character didn’t develop in any form or fashion. There was nothing redeeming or likeable about him. He was a weak, generic man who for all intents and purposes had no personality, drives, desires, or willingness to even consider trying to go anywhere or do anything.

All in all, this is a collection of absurd, nonsensical attempts at gore and not much else. There is little to no plot, the characters are there purely to facilitate more intestine-ridden scenes, and that’s it. The ending is also trite. It is entirely unsatisfactory, and the ending acts as one last laugh at the reader who managed to stick with it right until the last word.

 

Reviewer Bio:
Shen stalks innocent stories down dark alleys where she dissects them, revealing the bare bones and silky threads. She is driven by the need to sate her readers’ lust, their addiction for new books to ravage. She is, the Review Hart.

Windfall – Colin Dodds

Windfall – Colin Dodds

Windfall book cover Colin Dodds Indie Book ReviewTitle: Windfall

Author: Colin Dodds

Amazon Link: Windfall

Length: Roughly 318 pages

Reviewer: Michael Keenan

Rating: Three tortoise whiplashes out of five.

Point at which I would have quit had I not been reviewing it: 55%

 

Blurb:

WINDFALL takes place two weeks from today. Seth Tatton is a divorced, middle-of-the-pack attorney just keeping his head above water. But he has one advantage —he knows where the bodies are buried. That’s because Seth has been recruited into an ambitious cabal of politicians, billionaires and military leaders. And with the help of foreign provocateurs and domestic oil companies, they plan to divide the United States in half, and to found a new nation in the American West.
But even beyond his life of constant deception, things are not what they seem. That’s because Seth, even on his most solitary missions, is not alone. There is something inside of him has big plans for him, plans that it and others like it have nursed for thousands of years. But when everything is going smoothly for Seth and his conspirators, he falls for the troubled yoga instructor that he’s been hired to watch. And when she is destroyed by the man being groomed to lead the new country out west, Seth makes a difficult decision.

Notecard Review:

This is a book with one good idea that it all but forgets about for most of the plot. The characters are distinctive but bland, and the attempt to focus on them in a character-study-esque fashion leads to a bloated verbosity that overwhelms any chance this has of succeeding as a thriller. All in all, it could be worse, it has some moments of entertainment, but there’s just not much to recommend it.

Full Review:

There was a period in literature where boredom, slowness, or slog was tolerated or even encouraged when it illuminated the human condition, gave us an insight into a man, let us see what a stoner might call “life, man.” Even in that time, distant and difficult to conceptualize as it may be, this book would be considered too slow for comfort. Not just because it illuminates little to nothing, but because the dull, plodding pace is beyond the pale.

There are entire sections that could be removed altogether without the plot or character development noticing in any way. Entire sections devoted to drivel, to meaningless nothing moments. The amount of time we see the character sitting in airports, getting on planes, riding in taxis, and checking into hotels feels like it has to make up solidly 10% of the book by volume. Solidly. 

What seems to have happened, and I apologize if there’s an answer that’s too stupid for me to have noticed it, but what seems to have happened is that the book was written as a character-study thriller. I applaud the creativity there, but the problem is that a character study is typically written in a fairly verbose, fairly detailed manner, whereas a thriller is all about getting as much into as taut a framework as can be. There is absolutely room to experiment with the two genres, but this is the sort of experiment that comes out with no head but 13 limbs, with the limbs playing the part of needless, endless verbosity.

The tone was very much the intensely neutral thing that thrillers shoot for, but it overshot neutral and ended up at David Attenborough by way of Ben Stein; aggressively, malevolently dry with a manner that draws the immediacy out of everything it touches and leaves even the most interesting plot devices and setting items desiccated husks good only for propping open doors with their hulking inanimacy.

Technically speaking, it was competently bland. The word use wasn’t spectacular, the phrasing was strictly standard, but the editing was pretty solid and there was nothing actively wrong with it. In the same way that you can spot a cop by his stiff back and intense, overwrought unnoticeability, this stands out by virtue of its not standing out. Still, with indie fiction being what it is, competent and proofread at least gives it one red dot on the empty pointillist canvas that is the medium.

The ending really didn’t happen. It cut directly from the center of a pinch to dénouement and The End without a stop at Closure Point or the Plot Completion Gift Shop and Pleasure Emporium. I’d say I had whiplash if it hadn’t been moving so painfully slow the whole way along; picture a tortoise that is moving along towards a visible goal, but stops for no reason and refuses to explain why. It isn’t that you’re startled as much as frustrated and confused.

The length wasn’t overly long as it stood, but I suspect the sensation of length given by the swamp-like slog left the author with the firm idea that things needed to be wrapped up, his boredom the laboring image our own like a living mirror at a waltzing school or one of those guys that picks up golf balls at driving ranges. Wrapped up they were not, but we were at very least spared more of it, for which my gratitude stands eternal, a single pillar visible even among the ruins of what might have been a complete plot.

There’s a fantasy element hiding in there that I don’t want to get too far into, if only because I’ve come so far without plot spoilers and it would be a shame to break now, but suffice it to say that the device is a great one and the fact that this author got to it first is a disappointment the world will endure for all time.

All in all, this one has one really good idea that it fails to execute on and drags through the mud so badly that no one can use it again. Its politics are interesting, and would form the basis of an interesting book if they weren’t hand-waved as unimportant to a book entirely about politics. Its characters are the nameless, faceless plot-drivers on which the thriller industry relies, only stretched out to character-study length to an anthem of droning tedium. Last but not least, its use of language is competent and very much within The Rules, coloring well, well within the lines and hoping, perhaps, to slip by unnoticed.

Give it a pass unless you’re running low on blood pressure medication or need an idea to steal.

Reviewer Bio:
Michael is the court jester in the kingdom of truth. He combines a biting sense of humor with a lifetime of editing knowledge to craft reviews that are equal parts literary critique and insult comedy. Cruelty and veracity are his image of self.
Do you want Michael to edit or review your book? Email him here!

The Transmigration Of Cora Riley – Ellie Di Julio.

The Transmigration Of Cora Riley – Ellie Di Julio.

The Transmigration Of Cora RileyTitle: The Transmigration Of Cora Riley

Author: Ellie Di Julio

Amazon Link: The Transmigration Of Cora Riley

Length: Roughly 316 pages

Reviewer: Shen Hart

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Blurb:

Average family. Average job. Average existential crisis.

After thirty boring years, nothing about Cora Riley’s life has measured up to her childhood dreams of being truly extraordinary. It’s too bad that the night she decides to seek out her specialness she crashes on a rural highway.

Cora wakes in the clutches of the Mistress of the underworld who sets her a seemingly impossible quest. If she wants a second chance at life, Cora must find her way through the dozen heavens and return to the castle in three days.

With the help of an unusual guardian angel named Jack and a little boy named Xavier, Cora navigates the afterlife doorfield and quickly learns that gods and monsters are very real indeed. Terrifying and tempting obstacles litter her path; only the power of belief – in the Otherworld, in her companions, and in herself – will return her to the land of the living.

The Transmigration of Cora Riley brings together our heroes, Cora and Jack, and lays out the system of gods, monsters, humans, and belief that shapes the Forgotten Relics world. Themes of trust, doubt, and redemption are interwoven with mythology both new and old to create a story that reminds the reader there’s always more to what we think we know.

 

Notecard Review:

This is a book for people who enjoy quirky, character-driven urban fantasy. The mythology is carefully woven into an engaging and action-packed story with interesting characters and familiar problems. The plot slips into the background in favour of the main character, who’s easy to understand and will no doubt strike a chord with a lot of readers. This is a book with a lot to say and more layers than initially expected. Altogether, it’s a well-crafted urban fantasy with a huge deal of potential. I look forward to more from this author.

Full Review:

This is a quirky urban fantasy that comfortably steps away from the usual tropes and makes its own way. It’s clearly a character-driven piece with the focus firmly remaining on them and their journey, but the plot still shines.

The plot is interesting, engaging, and quick-paced in most places, yet it remains character driven. It is very much Cora’s story, and her emotions, drives, and understanding of the world(s) around her shine through the tightly written prose. Cora’s attitude makes this book fun and gives lots of opportunity for growth and exploration of ideas, mythology, and the characters around her. She is, herself, a familiar idea, someone who stayed in the small town and wakes up one day wondering what happened to her life. That gives a lot of scope for people to slip into her shoes and really live the story, as it’s something many readers have experienced themselves. It gives them a hook, something to ground them in Cora’s shoes. The author makes the most of that with strong descriptions of both the surroundings and the reactions of the characters to them. At no point does it become trite or unbelievable. Each character has a strong voice and personality.

The world-building is fascinating and leaves a lot of room open for later exploration and expansion. The use of mythology, both popular and less so, creates a bright and vivid landscape for the plot. The author makes good use of references to myths and legends without allowing them to detract from the actual plot and action of that moment. It’s a carefully constructed patchwork of familiar concepts and interesting new ideas and takes on older concepts. The approach to the Underworld and one of the more popular visions of the afterlife, for example, is fresh and light. At no point does the plot become heavy handed or dark, which it could so easily have done with the topics at hand. That reflects the protagonist’s attitude to the world and moves the plot forwards in a fun way with a quick pace that doesn’t leave anything behind.

There is no superfluous information given. That doesn’t mean that the author leaves the bare bones, though. Rather, there’s a lot of room for the reader to pose questions and wonder about what else there is to see and experience. This is very good for the first in a series, because there’s a lot left to say and do in the rest of the series. The ending is quite typical for the type of story, but it fits the characters and the established dynamics very well. It’s fulfilling and satisfying, while still open ended enough to move forward into a large series.

On a more technical level, the writing is very tight. I didn’t see any grammatical errors, and I found it engaging at all times. There were no glaring plot holes, no inconsistencies, and the entire thing flowed like soft silk. The pacing worked very well, and there were pauses at opportune moments where the focus shifted back to character development. Those breaks also give the reader small breathers and a chance to evaluate all they’ve learned without feeling rushed.

 

This is a well-written, engaging, light, and layered urban fantasy that will appeal to a wide range of people. There’s a lot to see and read into this book, and it’s worth re-reading a number of times. The world is an elegant patchwork of old myths and legends and fresh takes on familiar tropes and ideas. The descriptions are vivid, the romantic subplot was handled with grace and decorum, and Cora’s attitude pushes the plot forwards while keeping things light and amusing. Each step fit into the established behaviour of the characters without detracting from the plot or becoming trite. All in all, this is an excellent example of urban fantasy, and I very much look forward to more from this author.

Author Bio:
Ellie Di Julio is a nomadic writer currently living in Hamilton, Ontario with her Robert Downey, Jr. lookalike husband and their two cats. Between nerd activities like playing Final Fantasy or watching Top Gear, she enthusiastically destroys the kitchen and tries to figure out what it’s all about, when you really get down to it. She also writes urban fantasy novels riddled with pop culture references and sexy secret agents.

Author Website:  Ellie Di Julio.

Reviewer Bio:
Shen stalks innocent stories down dark alleys where she dissects them, revealing the bare bones and silky threads. She is driven by the need to sate her readers’ lust, their addiction for new books to ravage. She is, the Review Hart.

End Of Year Awards.

End Of Year Awards.

As we’re now in December and things are getting incredibly hectic here, we’re making this our last post of the year. Rather than doing a review, we’re celebrating all of the good moments we’ve had here over the last year. I’m starting first, because the blog has my name and I do the most reviews!

 First up is my favourite review from Michael:

Peace Warrior

It has to be Peace Warrior, his first review on The Review Hart. There are some fantastic lines in there; it’s both funny and informative. I love it. I think I pulled out amusing quotes from this review for some three or four days!

My favourite line: “Along the way we are called upon to grip the edge of our seats as we fear for the safety of Justice as he nimbly leaps from plot hole to plot hole as if he’s playing ‘The Coherent Plot Line is Lava.’”

 

 

I will not be doing my favourite book or review for my own reviews, it’s difficult to decide and I don’t want that sort of pressure or lynching!

Michael’s book that I wish I could have stolen:

Spartanica Indie Book ReviewSpartanica. It just sounds hilariously bad! I know that sounds awful, but from the review it sounds like one of those movies that is so bad, it’s good. Sometimes it’s nice to read that sort of thing.

 

Saying that, The Holy Mark sounds like an incredible piece of literature that I will be reading as soon as I have the time to do so. That is at the complete opposite end of the spectrum. Rather than being hilariously bad, it’s beautifully written.

Moving away from the part we focus on and are good at, I’ll look at my favourite cover art from the year. I’m not a cover artist, but I do look at a lot of cover art, so here are my favourites!

First, I’ve chosen one from Michael’s reviews:

VVV Front Cover (513x800)Vegan Vampire Vaginas. Now, the book isn’t something I’d read, but the cover is very fitting for what I perceive to be within the book. It’s a clean yet striking cover, there’s a good use of colours, and the typography pulls it all together very nicely.

Now we get my favourite covers from my reviews!

I’ve done quite a few reviews this year, so I’ve picked out quite a few covers that I like. I recommend all of these books to people quite regularly; I would make a comment about taking the time to get good cover art… but I’ll keep it to myself ;-)

 

 

The Scriptlings

The Scriptlings by Sorin Suciu. It’s interesting, and the little nutrition guide that gets added in is a stroke of genius. It makes me giggle, and it gives the reader some idea about what to expect.

 

The Plague Cover

 

The Plague by David Kraine. This one is simple but eye-catching, and it hints at some of the contents of the book without being too overt.

 

Murder Out Of The Blue Book Cover

 

Murder Out of The Blue by Steve Turnbull is classic. The colours are muted and careful, and it fits the book perfectly. I like the clean lines and the way the eye is drawn in.

 

Assassins_Cover_2

 

 

 

Assassins by R.K MacPherson is clean, striking, and grabs attention with its bold red tones. This is a very different style to the others, but in a good way.

 

Pay me, Bug! Cover review

 

Pay Me, Bug! by Christopher Wright is a nice piece of art, but in a very different style to Lisa Cohen’s and R.J Blain’s, both of which deserve an honourable mention. It clearly shows the main characters and gives some idea of the relationships between them.

 

 

So there we have it! We’re ending this year on a high, with some great reviews and some beautiful cover art. It’s been a fantastic year, and I look forward to reviewing more indie fiction in the New Year! Let us know your high moments, and favourites from the year.

 

 

 Michael’s Awards:

Best Shen Review

HopeAndTheCleverMan_rev_58Dear Shen’s best work was hard to pin down. With a distinctly matter-of-fact style and precision analysis, the subjective good/bad fades away to be replaced with uniform certainty. Still, she’s had her moments of particularly compelling insight and particularly incisive scrutiny, and the one that stands out is probably Hope and the Clever Man by Mike Reeves MacMillan.

Having read some of MacMillan’s other work, his prose lends itself to critical analysis, a sort of plan-perfect regularity that I can’t help but imagine made her job here easier, but we nonetheless see to the heart of things in her thoughts on the conflict in the book, the relationship between the driving force of a piece and the world in which it exists, and that glitter of notable insight sets this piece apart.

 

 

Best CoverNightfallGardenscover

This one was a pretty easy choice, because the mixture of solid art and subtly fitting typography make the cover for Allan Houston’s Nightfall Gardens a clear winner. The clear use of convergent near-parallels leading up to the title take us from the human that first draws the eye up to the most crucial aspect, leaving us with an artistically competent, appropriately self-effacing cover that hits all the right notes.

I’d like to give honorable mention to the really pretty cover on Lisa Cohen’s Future Tense. If it weren’t for the on-the-nose unsubtlety of its character presence and some truly terrible typography, it just might have beaten out Houston’s offering, which is saying something.

This is just a really good effort on both sides, and even with that there are others that were very much in the running.

 

Book I’d Most Like to Steal

Pay me, Bug! Cover reviewFor the most part, the books she picks up don’t call to me. Whether that’s the books themselves or my personal tastes is up for grabs, but the point of the story is that even her most beloved books fall into the Good For What It Is file of my Useless Memories brain-subsection, and they never receive the honor of my attention.

The exception to this that sticks out is the very recent Pay Me, Bug! by Christopher Wright. With a wit and humor that comes across in her review, this book just seems to sparkle with great choices and tight workmanship. If only I had the time…

 

 

This has been a great year, and being able to stretch my muscles the way I have here and start to build something feels good. Editing is great fun, but reviewing uses those same skills in a unique way that’s less like work and more like play. I hope everyone’s enjoyed our work through the course of the year, and I look forward to giving you more of my patented blend of razor-sharp criticism and incisive prose in the year to come.

Shen stalks innocent stories down dark alleys where she dissects them, revealing the bare bones and silky threads. She is driven by the need to sate her readers’ lust, their addiction for new books to ravage. She is, the Review Hart.

Michael is the court jester in the kingdom of truth. He combines a biting sense of humor with a lifetime of editing knowledge to craft reviews that are equal parts literary critique and insult comedy. Cruelty and veracity are his image of self.

Do you want Michael to edit or review your book? Email him here!

The Gray Horizon – M. Kircher

The Gray Horizon – M. Kircher

Gray HorizonTitle: The Gray Horizon

Author: M. Kircher

Amazon Link: The Gray Horizon

Length: Roughly 386 pages

Reviewer: Shen Hart

Rating: ♥♥

Blurb:

What does it mean to be brave? This is the question Caden must answer as he accompanies Thea, Ben, Rain, and Naomi back out under the dark clouds of the canopy, to rescue Viv from the deadly shadows and save a shattered Earth from the brink of destruction. Caden’s lazy, arrogant nature is tested as the group draws closer to finding Viv, forcing him to confront his inner demons and admit his feelings for Thea—even as their relationship is threatened by her ever-growing connection to Ben.

Will Caden discover his true potential? Or, when the group uncovers a devastating secret and faces a betrayal that has the power to turn the tide in the war with the shadows, will he abandon his friends and go back to a life of never-ending darkness?

Find out in The Gray Horizon, the exciting, action-packed sequel to The War Inside.

Notecard Review:

This is a book for people who enjoy predictable, flat Christian stories. There was nothing engaging about this book. The characters were a small collection of traits, and the plot was primarily travelling and a running commentary about what awful creatures people are for ruining the Earth. The clear ‘be good and spread the light around the world’ commentary overrode any chance of character development or a plot. All in all, this was paper-thin, trite, and tedious.

Full Review:

This book was sent to me as a YA Dystopian; unfortunately, it’s very clearly a Christian book, and there’s not much else to it. The constant reminders that people are evil, lazy, and why would they poison this wonderful Earth and be so stupid? are grating and the closest to substance and development that this book gets. The entire purpose of the book seems to be to show the reader that they should be good and kind, spread the light, and look after the Earth.

The characters, and it’s difficult to call them such things, were paper-thin collections of traits. The women were beautiful (and the author kept reminding us of such), slim, elegant, and in need of the men to look after them. The men were wise, hot-headed at times, but strong and protective. That was it. They had no personality. The dialogue was stilted and lacked distinction between the characters. That was made worse by the refusal to stray from the core theme of the book and pairing off with each other. They offered absolutely nothing for the reader to grip onto and enjoy; there was no chance for escapism or immersion, because there really wasn’t much there at all.

The prose was tedious at best. The vast majority of the book was journeying, which was as dull and grey as the surroundings that they were journeying through. There were some moments of conflict or concern, but given the characters were unlikeable, there was no reason for the reader to be emotionally invested. The conflict was also trite and predictable. There was the contrived misunderstanding between two lovers, the converting of the savages, and the moment where the saviour showed everyone how amazing she was. There was never any doubt that everyone would survive and the light would save them.

The actual plot arc was flimsy, and given this is the second in a trilogy, I’d have to assume that the entire thing could be hacked back and made into one, single, much better book. There is nowhere near enough content or development to stretch over three books. The majority of the plot was filler and padding there to kill time and fill space before the next lecture or silly conflict. There were some points that didn’t even quite make sense, and the author made no attempt to explain. I was left to assume they were yet more references back to the Christian themes.

On a technical level, the writing appears to be very clean, most likely due to its simplicity. I didn’t see more than a couple of typos or any grammatical issues. The flow worked quite well, but given it was like a mudslide, that’s hard to screw up, and the pacing didn’t drag its heels too badly given the overall lack of substance. There were some unexplained moments, but no big plot-holes. If you completely ignore the characters and the plot, and you don’t mind a very simple writing style, then it’s not a bad book. The fact that it could be read and understood as a stand-alone book isn’t a bad thing, but the ending is typical of a series. There’s a lot left to be said, but the plot arc for this individual book was completed as satisfactorily as can be expected.

All in all, this is a very flimsy book with overt Christian themes that has no issues bashing the reader over the head about spreading the light or being good to the Earth. The characters are little collections of stereotypical traits that come together to form a stereotypical band of people who fulfil the needs of this particular plot type. The prose is simple but clean, and if you don’t mind being swept along by a mudslide, the pacing and flow are bearable.

Author Biography:
I believe that stories can change the world. I also believe that teens and young adults have eyes that are open and ears that are awake to the thrumming life hidden deep within great books. I write YA fiction because I’m in love with stories and because I want generations of young people to hold tight to the vastness of their potential–the potential that lies waiting in all of us. The world is ours for the making.

No matter who you are, you have the power to do great things

Reviewer Bio:
Shen stalks innocent stories down dark alleys where she dissects them, revealing the bare bones and silky threads. She is driven by the need to sate her readers’ lust, their addiction for new books to ravage. She is, the Review Hart.

Pay me, Bug! – Christopher Wright

Pay me, Bug! – Christopher Wright

Title: Pay me, Bug!

Author: Christopher Wright

Amazon Link: Pay me, Bug!

Length: Roughly 352 pages

Reviewer: Shen Hart

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Blurb:

Grif Vindh, Captain of the Fool’s Errand, just pulled off the job of a lifetime: against all odds, he and his crew smuggled a rare anti-aging drug out of Ur Voys, one of the most secretive and secure facilities in the Empire of the Radiant Throne. It was every smuggler’s dream, the “Big Score,” and they find themselves filthy rich as a result.

But their good fortune attracts exactly the wrong kind of attention: the Alliance of Free Worlds has been trying to infiltrate Ur Voys without success, so they conscript the only man who has: Grif Vindh. The Radiant Throne, desperate to know how their security was so easily thwarted, send one of their best to track him down and learn the truth… by any means necessary. Grif and his crew must perform the impossible a second time: break into Ur Voys, steal something so secretive their employers don’t really know what it is, and get away clean.

Along the way they’ll have to deal with deadly spies, psychotic telepaths, vicious cyborgs, inconvenient family ties… and a hyperintelligent bug who always bets against its captain.

Notecard review:

This is a book for people who enjoy light-hearted sci-fi where classic characters are given a fresh twist. The range of characters is familiar, yet the author brought them to life and made them entirely his own. The races that were represented within the finely woven world were clearly given a lot of thought and are different to the stock that has come to be expected. The plot is well-paced, and the author makes the most of the world and characters to bring about interesting twists and multiple facets that lead to a very enjoyable read. All in all, this is a book that many sci-fi fans will love.

Full review:

This is distinctly a light-hearted sci-fi. There are lots of moments that made me giggle. The author managed to pair that with an intricate and complex world, interesting characters that had realistic relationships, and a tightly written plot. The humour isn’t really the focus. It acts more to lighten the entire mood, and that works very well. It adds layers to the characters’ personalities, while also expanding on their relationships and then using that to bring life to the plot.

The characters themselves fill familiar roles, but they’re entirely the author’s own creations. They shine through the plot. The author’s use of tight dialogue gives insight into the backstories while also maintaining very crisp and distinct lines between each character, allowing them to stand as their own being. The majority of the cast is reasonably close to human, which allows the focus to remain more on the plot and the development thereof rather than the etiquette and history of the alternate species. That being said, the non-human species were outside of what I usually see, and they were all thoroughly thought out.

The relationships between the characters are a clear strong point within this book. The interactions between the protagonist and the antagonists are amusing and still worked to further the plot. Each interaction between various characters had a purpose and revealed some information, but at no point were there any info-dumps or pauses in the pacing to show some backstory. Instead, everything was very carefully shown in small bits and pieces, which kept the pacing tight and the flow very smooth. It also means that the reader is left pondering on snippets while the plot continues moving forwards. The snippets and hints at larger things all come together to create multiple layers and a wide and varied world with a huge scope. There is no doubt that there is a lot left to say and explore, but everything that needed to be said was.

On a technical level, this book is very good. I didn’t see any grammatical or typographical errors, the character voices were spot on the entire way through, and the pacing was tight. The author’s ability to alter the pace so that it had the greatest impact was very good. When the pacing needed to be quick and intense, it was, but there were also well-timed moments of calm and contemplation. That allowed the author to build the surrounding backstory, world, and relationships so the reader could have a vivid and vibrant experience.

Altogether, this is a light-hearted sci-fi that explains the science where it’s needed and has clearly done its research. Every detail given is essential to the plot without being dry or extraneous. The plot and pacing is quick with no boring moments; everything moves as it needs to in order to keep the reader gripped and looking for the next twist. The world is intricate, vast, and has a lot of room left for many further books. The cast is interesting and enables the plot to do what it must while adding in the humour to stop things from getting too intense and give the reader a respite where needed. This is an excellent read that many sci-fi readers will thoroughly enjoy.

Author Bio:

Writer, former musician, occasional cartoonist, and noted authority on his own opinions, Christopher B. Wright’s weakness for tilting at windmills has influenced every facet of his adult life. He enjoys reading and writing fiction. He also enjoys writing about himself in the third person. He refuses to comment on whether writing about himself in the third person also qualifies as fiction. He currently lives in Alabama with his wife, daughter, dog, and his overpoweringly large ego.

Author Website: Christopher Wright.

Reviewer Bio:
Shen stalks innocent stories down dark alleys where she dissects them, revealing the bare bones and silky threads. She is driven by the need to sate her readers’ lust, their addiction for new books to ravage. She is, the Review Hart.

The Holy Mark – Gregory Alexander

The Holy Mark – Gregory Alexander

Featured image

Title: The Holy Mark: The Tragedy of a Fallen Priest

Author: Gregory Alexander

Amazon Link: The Holy Mark: The Tragedy of a Fallen Priest

Length: Roughly 247 pages

Reviewer: Michael Keenan

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Blurb:

Father Tony probably should have never been a priest.  With his family’s money, courtesy of ties to the New Orleans mob, he could have pursued his interest in literature or even worked with young boys—only free of all those silly Church strictures. But there was no priest in the Miggliore family, much to the shame of his immigrant Italian grandmother.  So at his birth, when the old woman beheld a peculiar mark on his head and declared it to be a sign from God—a “segno sacro” in the only language she knew—this grandson’s destiny was set.

Those marked by God, though, are often marked by men as well:  Father Tony’s jealous uncle will never forgive him for finding favor with the Miggliore matriarch.  And with his ties to the city’s Catholic hierarchy, he’ll plot to destroy his nephew if it takes the rest of his life.  Meanwhile Father Tony is determined to outwit his uncle and the Church, even if he has to conceal his identity and prowl the streets of New Orleans by night to do it.

Notecard Review

The Holy Mark is my read of the year. It’s also painfully, achingly moving. It’s meticulously edited and groomed, effortlessly (albeit slowly) paced, skillfully worded, deeply developed, and above all else infused with a degree of emotional weight and meaning far, far beyond my expectations.

Full Review

As psychological character studies go, this piece is unimpeachable. It brings across the person of its protagonist beautifully, slipping us inside his mind with effortless grace, the author’s quietly cadenced and empathic prose complementing a peacefully academic holy man destined for a regrettably well-intentioned fall. It fits in well with a shelf of literary classics, both in terms of the writing style and in terms of the content.

The look at the Catholic Church through the eyes of the clergy is a topic many literary writers attempt, but nothing I’ve read from this century has captured a sense of it. Nowhere are there thrown-in references that seem to indicate an author with something to prove, nothing sticks out as damningly ignorant or over-researched, the whole picture just sits with a beatific smile awaiting a reader capable of seeing what lies at its heart.

Moreover, the tone, the manner of speaking which characterizes the Catholic clergy and the interest set that so frequently accompanies it, places the work firmly in the mind of a priest, which sets us up for a great fall when we see where the whole thing is leading. Many readers may see the twist coming early, but that doesn’t diminish the experience, and the heavy weight of foreshadowing that closes the noose around our sense of the character is as oppressive and painful as watching a loved-one spiral into abuse and self-destruction.

Indeed, the priest himself is hard not to love, as horribly flawed as he is. Blaming him for his nature, for the state of mind which leads him to his actions, to his way of dealing with the trials of his life and the challenges of faith which necessarily await, is difficult but not impossible, and standing at that chasm’s edge for the entirety of the book is precisely in service of the author’s purpose.

The entire book, really, is best described as well-tailored, every sentence and turn of phrase in place, nothing to give pause at any point, just a silk-smooth slide along the increasingly dark path the tale must take, nothing along the way to snag or hurl the reader to one side or another. This is one of those rare books that really manages to justify the concept of literary fiction as an entity unto itself. It is, in a word, effortless.

Author Bio:
Gregory Alexander was born and raised in New Orleans.  After completing degrees in Psychology and American Literature, both of which disciplines factor prominently in his novel, he taught at several Catholic schools in the city.  His short stories, including the genesis of The Holy Mark, have appeared in independent and academically connected literary magazines across the country.  He currently works as a Human Resource professional outside of New Orleans.
Author Website:
Gregory Alexander.
Reviewer Bio:
Michael is the court jester in the kingdom of truth. He combines a biting sense of humor with a lifetime of editing knowledge to craft reviews that are equal parts literary critique and insult comedy. Cruelty and veracity are his image of self.
Do you want Michael to edit or review your book? Email him here!

Guerilla Internet – Matt Sayer

Guerilla Internet – Matt Sayer

Guerilla InternetTitle: Guerilla Internet

Author: Matt Sayer

Amazon Link: Guerilla Internet

Length: Roughly 321 pages

Reviewer: Shen Hart

Rating: ♥♥

Blurb:

‘How careful are you with what you say in a phone call? In a text message? Are you strict enough to never reveal personal information in an email, or on Facebook? Most people aren’t.’

Charlie, a soon-to-be unemployed software tester struggling through remission from depression and anxiety, is about to discover just how lethal a weapon information can be in the wrong hands. When one of his colleagues is murdered for the sake of stealing his company’s innocuous in-development phone app, his life is upended and shaken like one of James Bond’s martinis. With the aid of Mel, a technologically illiterate but worldly-wise security guard, Charlie must conquer his inhibitions and venture outside his cloistered comfort zone in order to prevent a cyberterrorist conspiracy so devastating it threatens the very future of the internet itself…

A technological thriller set in modern times, Guerrilla Internet tackles the themes of privacy, security, and freedom of expression in the age of a constantly connected society. A tale of subterfuge and doublespeak, of plots within plots, where laws and morals clash to decide the meaning of freedom in an always-online world.

Notecard Review:

This is a book for people who enjoy character studies with a focus on the internal workings of an introvert. The plot very firmly slips into the background in favour of the internal monologue and thought processes of the main character. Unfortunately, a lot of said monologue was made up of clunky, overwrought descriptions that were very abstract and completely removed the focus from the point or thought at hand. The character development was primarily a collection of large blocks of heavy-handed info-dumps and glimpses into the characters’ pasts. All in all, this book is a very slow read that would work best as a character study rather than a thriller.

Full Review:

The vast majority of this book is description and internal monologue from the main character. That has the potential to be interesting, but unfortunately the descriptions are over the top, included a lot of things cantering, and were so abstract that they detract entirely from the moment and thwart all attempts at pacing and flow. In the beginning of the book, the descriptions held some potential to be interesting; they offered insight into an extreme introvert. Unfortunately, they quickly became too much, and all sense of interest vanished. They then began to add in long computer-related descriptions that were above the level (or, I would argue, the interest) of a layperson. The author attempted to solve that by then describing the same things in simpler terms to another character, but unfortunately it came across as incredibly condescending.

The internal monologue only made the character less likeable over the course of the book as the character grew more confident and focused more on his superiority to those around him. The number of digs and comments about other people’s views on gaming and their use of punctuation was unnecessary and added nothing. It was hard to view such comments and detours as anything other than author insertion. On the topic of author insertion, the plot was particularly strained and acted as a paper-thin cover for the author’s main point: their view of the state of the internet attitudes towards privacy. The plot itself was barely thought out and balanced precariously on a small collection of clichés with a heavy focus on the actual point, that being that the internet and the world are losing all guises of privacy, and the thought processes of the main character.

It will come as no surprise that the ending was contrived and acted as nothing more than a pretty ribbon to give the reader what they were supposed to want. The loose ends were all wrapped up, but given how few threads there were to begin with, that was hardly difficult.

On a technical level, there were only a couple of typos, but given the author’s clear disdain for anyone who dared use the language in a way he didn’t approve of, that’s as expected. The pacing was utterly abysmal. It wandered along and fell into its own hole of misery before it remembered that it was supposed to be saving the world, which caused it to wobble along at best and make some forward progress. The flow was stilted, particularly in light of the fact that it trudged through the main character’s heads, and the author felt the need to hinder the flow just that little bit more and include more points of view later in the book, often getting lost in quagmires of depression and abstract images. The character voice was as is to be expected, given the protagonist was an author insertion and the rest were puppets there to act out their given roles within the scenario. That is to say, it was flat and filled in the necessary gaps without giving any fleeting feeling that they might have had some potential to be real people.

This book might have worked as an interesting character study had the author gotten side-tracked and attempted to cover their purpose by wrapping it up as a thriller. It could have given an insightful and interesting view into the world of an extreme introvert and the impact that personality has on his life and interactions with the world. Instead, it became bogged down in the love of itself and the overwrought, verging on agonising descriptions that were more collections of words than anything with purpose or gravitas. The plot was merely an afterthought and a tight-rope for the characters to precariously walk when they grew bored of their own internal monologues and leaps into their history. As it stands, it’s a difficult read that could interest those with a love of computers and a good understanding of introverts, if they had the time and energy to deal with the images and pages of computer-related info-dumps.

Reviewer Bio:
Shen stalks innocent stories down dark alleys where she dissects them, revealing the bare bones and silky threads. She is driven by the need to sate her readers’ lust, their addiction for new books to ravage. She is, the Review Hart.

Unworthy – Joanne Armstrong

Unworthy – Joanne Armstrong

Unworthy Joanne ArmstrongTitle: Unworthy: Marked to Die, Raised to Survive (Book 1).

Author: Joanne Armstrong

Amazon Link: Unworthy

Length: Roughly 315 pages

Reviewer: Shen Hart

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Blurb:

Nearly two hundred years after a killer disease swept the planet, an island nation continues its isolated survival due to the ruthless dedication of the military. The laws and culture of the country are based on the survival of the fittest, distrust of disease, and control of the general population.

Marked at birth as “Unworthy” to be raised, a young woman questions the necessity for the cruel practice, so many years after the Isolation was declared. She embarks on a journey that will uncover truths about her past and about her society which she could never have imagined.

 

Postcard Review:

This is a book for people who enjoy good character development with palpable emotions. The plot itself is interesting, and while I’m back and forth on the ending, the overall premise and world-building is well-done. The characters shine in this book, their motives are carefully thought through, the personalities are strong and clear-cut, and the emotions are realistic and palpable. This is clearly the first book in a series, but it’s a quick read (in a good way) and shows promise for the rest of the series.

Full Review:

The characters are the big selling point to this book. They are very much the focus of the story, and while the plot is still present, it’s clearly the first book in a series. The overarching question is resolved and the journey completed in the loosest sense, which does give some resolution. There are a lot of questions and threads left open at the end, meaning that the plot arc as a whole isn’t completed, but it’s resolved enough to give a feeling of satisfaction. That being said, the plot arc is a particularly simple one, although the twist at the end leaves a lot of potential for further development of the characters and the world. That, however, doesn’t mean that this book reads like idle filler or a book of pure exposition. Unlike so many first books in a series, there is some character development and forwards progress through the plot. The world-building gives some insight into the setting and lays a solid foundation for further plot in later books. The real focus is on the character development and the insight given into the character’s history and personalities.

The protagonist, Arcadia, in particular shines as a very real teenager who has grown up in less than ideal circumstances. Her personality was forged by her upbringing and surroundings, yet she’s still a strong, interesting woman. That then gives room to explore the secondary characters around her as they react to her, and all of them prove to be thoroughly developed and interesting. Each of the characters has a well-thought-out backstory that fits in with the world as it’s established and explained.

The broad strokes of the world are very familiar, in that there is an oppressive regime that the majority of people are happy to accept. The regime came about after a disaster that destroyed most of humanity, and that same disaster is used to support the choices they make and keep people in their place. How the author chooses to construct that world makes it stand out. The world is described with vivid and emotive imagery that, with geography, has understandable effects on the politics and evolution of the society.

There’s an interesting mix of traditional superstition and speculation over a broken future and what would happen should the disaster strike. It’s familiar while being quirky and fitted to this particular plot and set-up. The focus of the world is on health and strength, in face of the great plague that wiped out most of humanity. That leads to those who are deemed to be weak and unfit being pariahs, almost like the Untouchables in Hindu life. There are a number of plot points and moments of character development for Arcadia and a number of secondary characters where the author uses that set-up and caste system within the society to move the plot forward. It ties together to form an interesting narrative and is used well.

The actual plot is a little thin, but that’s barely noticeable, with the focus being on the characters, how they adapt to their new understanding of the world, and the development of the world itself. On a technical level it’s very clean. There were a couple of typos, but I could count them on one hand. The choice of tense and voice may throw some people, as it’s first person present, but I found it enjoyable and a lot of other readers will no doubt agree with that.

Altogether, this is a well-written book with thoroughly developed characters. The writing style means that the emotion shines through and the vivid imagery brings the interesting world to life. Unworthy is very much a character-driven book, which means that the plot is a little thin, but it remains in the background and allows the characters to develop and be the focus. That being said, the final twist was interesting and gives potential for something much more in the next book. Technically it’s very sound; some readers may find themselves a little put off by the tense, but that’s a personal choice and I feel it works well. There’s a lot of potential here and I hope the author fulfils it.

Author Bio:
Previously a full-time primary teacher, I have fifteen years of teaching experience with students of various ages from 7 – 15. I currently teach one day a week and spend the rest of the time either with my two children or writing.
My parents tell me they always knew I’d write a book one day, which surprises and delights me, since I certainly didn’t know it myself.
A New Zealander by birth, my formative years were spent in some interesting places, and I completed my B.Ed in Art and Education at Cambridge in the UK. I now live in the South Island of New Zealand, which, after close scrutiny of a few other places as a child, I have decided is simply where my soul resides. I get to wake up to the sound of bellbirds every day.
Unworthy is my first novel and I intend it to be closely followed by my second.
Reviewer Bio:
Shen stalks innocent stories down dark alleys where she dissects them, revealing the bare bones and silky threads. She is driven by the need to sate her readers’ lust, their addiction for new books to ravage. She is, the Review Hart.