Monday, January 19, 2015

Henry Martin's "Eluding Reality": (Book 3 of the Mad Days of Me Trilogy) 5/5 stars

This series displays Henry Martin’s versatility. Before I begin talking about anything, I have to say: if you’re thinking about reading this novel, stop thinking and get started. If for some reason you are reading this review and haven’t started this series, find the first novel “Escaping Barcelona” and read it.

Every novel reveals facets of his protagonist, Rudy. Thriller, suspense, romance, stream of consciousness, horror and realism, Martin dips his pen into all of these genres and more to tell Rudy’s story. Every one of these is represented well and coincides with how Rudy’s journey progresses. I will discuss all of this further in the series review. For now I will focus on the final novel ,“Eluding Reality”.

There are many things in this novel that are wonderfully subtle, including how the plot ties in with Rudy’s characterization and what everything leads up to in general. I believe Martin wrote the plot in this manner to mirror the existential battle within Rudy. Instead of being provided with the internal conflict directly, he opted to leave it open to thought. When you come to respect an author like I respect Martin, you know he has a purpose for everything. Rudy tries so hard to keep a grip on reality, taking what pleasure he can in the little things. Martin zeros in on these seemingly minute activities wherever Rudy goes, making sure that we are as focused on them as Rudy is: truly making us a part of Rudy’s journey. But, that is not why he did it. Rudy is eluding himself and the relationship that awaits him back in Ibiza. He can’t deal with the past. He knows he will have to face it down eventually, but until then, he tries to take control of the situation by being a nomad. This juxtaposes who he became in Barcelona, the difference being: he decides where he is going, and he decides when it is time for his meandering to end. While he is terrified of Barcelona and the quicksand of inner turmoil his homelessness created, he thrives in an environment of unlimited freedom. Ironically, it is the only thing that can help him suppress his past and carry on.

What follows is a portrayal of entropy that brought me to tears and caused me to inhale the novel until I came to the final image in the final paragraphs. I will not spoil a thing, but I had to take a few days before writing this review, letting the beautifully horrific end settle, so I could properly wrap my mind around it. It is beautiful because of Martin’s style and delivery, and horrific because of the image itself and the tragedy it depicts. Martin breathes life into Rudy’s darkest places with his imagery throughout the series, but “Eluding Reality” contains his most imaginative descriptions of Rudy’s demons.

I highly recommend this novel for anyone that enjoys unique, masterfully written literature. Every novel was fantastic, and the conclusion was stunning and evocative. I cannot wait to read Martin’s other work.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Accused (A Retaliation Novel) Behind the Novel by Yasmin Shiraz

Many readers wonder what goes on before a story becomes an actual book. With the Retaliation series, I've been surprised at how the story revealed itself to me. The book Retaliation came to me shortly after meeting with girls who had been victims of violence. I began to hear voices and have thoughts which essentially said to me, "Tell my story."
In the case of my latest book Accused, I dealt with both sexual assault and an innocent person being falsely accused. While I was sitting at my desk, I heard a male voice in my head say, "I didn't do it." Immediately, I wondered what the person had been accused of. Slowly, but surely, little fragments of the story began to form.
In researching sexual assaults and the use of date rape drugs, I scoured newspapers, magazines, and internet articles dealing with the subject. I was absolutely devastated when I discoveredvictims who do not go to the hospital immediately after being given a date rape drug will likely have no evidence in their system 8 hours laterMost victims, however, aren't going to the hospital within 8 hours because they don't know they have been drugged. In addition, most women won't know who gave them the drug and will not know who attacked them and therefore, won't be able to identify their attacker. This information really motivated me to write Accused. Young women attending college who accept drinks from people are putting themselves at risk and it's important for them to know that.
It was pretty easy to research incidents where people were falsely accused. The key for me was to present accusations in a present day electronic / social media time frame. Before Ahmed could get to the police station, people on campus already knew that he had been arrested and many assumed that he was guilty. The time that it takes to send a text message is how fast a rumor spreads through a school or university. It was important for me to show how electronic images, social media photos, and text messages can be cut and pasted together to make a person appear guilty when they were completely innocent of the crime.
To further make the book realistic, I read extensive case histories on sociopaths in creating Brandon Royal's character. I wanted Brandon to accurately portray a sociopath. In gathering the data on sociopaths, I was most surprised by the level of charm that sociopaths exude without much effort. It's almost as if a sociopath can reel you in without really trying. Because of my research on sexual assault, I wanted to write a book where young women could see that an attractive, charming guy could be the same guy who is using the date rape drug.
Every author's process is different, but I trust the voices in my head. It's important to note, however, that it's not easy for me to take on topics like sexual assault, the use of date rape drugs, and sociopaths. However, I believe if I do my homework and set the tone, the characters and the circumstances just right, the book will not only entertain someone, it might just save someone's life.

Yasmin Shiraz's: "Retaliation" (3.5 stars)


"Retaliation" by Yasmin Shiraz is a plot driven, action filled novel set in a microcosm created by gang violence in Washington DC.

For some reason, I felt the story told in this novel would be delivered more effectively as a screenplay. Shiraz does a fine job recreating the world of DC gang violence, demonstrating their honor codes, and how tedious living in the middle of such a territory can be. Without a doubt, Shiraz knows how to exemplify gang violence and the indelible trauma that follows.

However, much of the novel was very rushed, jumping from one scene to another, without introducing any visuals in order to establish setting. Minor characters were given too much airtime and sometimes caused spoilers, when the plot would have benefited from keeping certain characters intentions behind the scenes until the opportune time. Perhaps Shiraz was trying to give readers the full extent of how corrupted the community was, almost as if this corruption was what spawned the gang violence in the first place. However, there are many other concise ways to convey these facts without spoiling the plot.

"Retaliation" held my interest, and I would recommend it to teens. In fact, I will recommend it to my daughter when I get her home from school tomorrow. As I said, I believe this story is better suited for cinema, but would not think such a thing if Shiraz's novel did not contain powerful messages delivered by an entertaining plot and realistic cast of characters.

3.5 stars.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Sam Astbury's: "War Blanket" (5/5 stars)


Astbury slices a bit of life from a stunning, unique post apocalyptic world in "War Blanket". Readers are immersed through the narrative of the main character.

Because of the point of view and how much control Astbury has over the specific physical and emotional details given to us through his main characters eyes, I felt like I was a denizen of their world. I had to remind myself to be distant and analytical, so I would have some criticism to offer. This quality of writing is what I have come to expect from Astbury. I read this novel in only a few hours, and though I am exhausted, (from life not from reading) I was compelled to finish "War Blanket". His work contains some kind of innate mystic charge that stoked something deep inside me. Once I'm touched in such a fashion, I wonder how and why, and I read more trying desperately to hang on to the interconnectivity. Astbury does this through his language, literary devices (most notably evocative similes and rich imagery), strong, invasive narration and consequently unparalleled characterization.

I want to explain what I mean by invasive narration. Since this story is told from first person, everything is filtered through his main character. Sometimes the sheer amount of detail is so great, that I felt inescapably anxious when the main character did, or worried, or just plain dumbfounded. When I experience such empathy for a character it speaks volumes for an author's talent. Transferring emotive force like this from paper to reader is integral. In creative writing classes and workshops, this is the kind of writing you are told you need to do to succeed. Astbury accomplishes this effortlessly.

In terms of criticism, I really have none. I tried so hard to detach myself from: the narrative, the plot, all the little awesome details that make this part light sci-fi, part post apocalyptic setting unique, the constantly evolving characterization, the literary techniques... I could not. It was impossible. So, I literally cannot criticize "War Blanket". It demanded my attention. The reader in me was flabbergasted, and the writer in me was envious.

Astbury has achieved so much with "War Blanket".  So, much, that I'm going to just shut up and tell you that I'm recommending this book for anyone who loves: strong literary voices, uniquely rendered settings and characters and organic plots that just sweep you off your feet and leave you begging for more. If you want to experience the excellence of indie publishing, look no further. Read "War Blanket".

I'm giving "War Blanket" 5/5 stars, obviously. It told me to so, what else can I do?

Thursday, January 1, 2015

The first indie author to be featured on my 'Indie Must Reads' page!

Ken Christopher Ping

Author of "The Day the Tigers Broke Free" and "Once in a Blue Moon"

There are many indie authors that have wowed and surpassed even my expectations and some that are completely unaware that they have produced such excellence. That is why for my first entry, I am showcasing: Ken Christopher Ping.

One of the first works I reviewed was his short story collection "Once in a Blue Moon".

I requested that he write a feature himself for the collection, focusing on the third story in the trio, also titled "Once in a Blue Moon". He does not believe that writing such a feature will hold very much value and has given up on writing altogether after not receiving any success from his publication. Nor would he allow me to present even a short excerpt of the visually and emotionally thrilling tale, and so instead I offer a concise summary and my review.

"Once in a Blue Moon", for me, is a mythical tale about hope, faith and true love. When I say "true love" I mean two people from, two very different backgrounds have the capability not only to fall for each other, but to be a driving, conducive force in each others lives.

He illustrates this concept through the actions and reactions of Rainbow, a goddess not of love, but of color and vibrance. Though she has no direct power over love like Aphrodite, she believes, without a shadow of doubt, that she can bring two unlikely lovers together for the better, while many other gods jeer at her, calling her naïve.

"Once in a Blue Moon" is a stunning, beautiful story.

I have gifted the short story collection to you all, so you too can read it. As I said, it is the third and final story in the short collection.

How Rainbow uses her gifts of creativity and imagination to knock the gods themselves from their high horses reminds me of what we are all capable of if we only believe in ourselves.

 My mini review of "Once in a Blue Moon":

Once in a Blue Moon is enthralling and enchanting. Ping's characterization of the mythological made this installment my favorite of his three short stories instantly. Ping's prose spoke with sincerity, passion and confidence. His descriptions seem to explore themselves, delving into the subtle art of stream of consciousness. Ping is very gifted at expressing his settings, characters and ideas in this way. It gives his writing a certain signature. The quality of the writing is flawless in this installment. While the longest of the three tales, it moves with a deliberate fluidity. In short, it mesmerized and inspired me.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Kristen S. Walker's: "Small Town Witch" (Fae of Calaveras #1) (4/5 stars)


Walker's "Small Town Witch" is a very imaginative supernatural tale told through the perspective of the burgeoning teen witch: Rosamunde. Walker's prose entranced me very quickly.

Walker's world is one where humans, supernatural denizens and those blessed with magic mix and mingle on a daily basis. I really enjoyed this aspect of the book and knew"Small Town Witch" was much better than other teen paranormal books within the same vein.

 The novel reads like a slice of life/coming of age tale set in a supernatural world. The medley of characters reminded me a little of the anime "Soul Eater", and I think Walker's work would be phenomenal if it were adapted into an anime.

By the second chapter, I knew the world of the story and the characters within it are quirky, yet dangerous. I was on the edge of my seat: the impending conflict of the novel was going to rear its head at any moment, and I wanted to see Rosa rise to the challenge and grow as a character. Unfortunately, it took some time for the novel to get to that point.

My only criticism of "Small Town Witch" is that the first 50% of the novel is too focused on setting the foundation of the novel. Readers are overexposed to the world and the characters, with very little interjecting conflict. Once you read the whole novel, you are able to remember the subtle hints Walker gives to indicate there is something amiss in Rosa's life. I just think that its too understated. Much of the first 50% could be streamlined or adjusted to bring what is actually going on to the forefront. I know I'm being vague, but I don't want to spoil the plot because it is well written; it just needs a little reorganization to accentuate the main conflict.

I highly recommend this novel for teens that are seeking a unique, wonderfully told paranormal tale.
I'm about to read the second installment in Walker's Fae of Calavaras series: "Witch Hunt". I can't wait!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Hello Everyone!

Happy holidays! Am I back? I would like to be. I'm going to start playing catch up, one review at a time. Whenever I get out of the weeds I will start accepting new requests tentatively. I apologize for the drastic delay. Do not fret. I have not forgotten about any of you. I know what that feels like: I have at least fifty reviewers that promised to review my work, but never did. And, as bleak as it seems, when I say I'm going to review your novel, it will happen. And when it does, you will be emailed. I just wanted to post a brief update. I wish you all the best!