Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Scott Spotson's: The Four Kings 5/5 Stars


Scott Spotson blends fantasy and political drama in his novel "The Four Kings", creating a present time sci-fi/fantasy universe unlike anything I've read before.

Spotson shoves his readers into his world and binds them with cords wound of solid world building and characterization, and a unique magic system as epic in scope as his vision of our Earth forever transformed by magic.

After reading the first ten pages of "The Four Kings", I realized that I was reading a novel that was in a class of its own, not just a work of prose but a work of art. In a matter of hours wizards dismantle modern government as we know it all over the world, and leave everyone wondering what their intentions really are. This central idea and it's decisive execution is sure to flabbergast readers. As for myself, the first chapter propelled me into a reading frenzy. I nearly read the entirety of the novel in a single sitting.

I find it hard to comment on specific aspects without giving the plot away. I will say that his decision to make his main protagonist a human who chooses to apply for the job of "Supreme Liason", that is, the human population's direct ambassador to the wizards now overseeing every aspect of their lives, was brilliant. This human, Amanda, represents the human population physically and metaphorically. Readers will empathize with Earth's fears and hopes through her experiences with the wizards, sharing their triumphs and shortcomings that redefine what it means to be human.

I have always considered fantasy as the genre I can relate to the most, and thus I have read quite a bit in my lifetime. If you enjoy fantasy, read this novel. Skeptics of fantasy and sci-fi may find themselves wondering what they have been missing after the first chapter of "The Four Kings".

I highly recommend this novel for anyone yearning for a unique read to sweep them off their feet and of course, lovers of fantasy and sci-fi. Five stars.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Bringing Authors Into the Classroom by Benjamin Dancer

I teach writing to high school students. But I don’t see myself as a high school teacher. My job, as I see it, is to mentor young people as they come of age.

I’m an Advisor at Jefferson County Open School in Lakewood, Colorado. I’m the English teacher. But the kids in my classroom are looking for more than English. They’re looking for meaning. They’re looking for something real.

Right now I’m teaching The Omnivores Dilemma by Michael Pollan. I use the text to teach the kids to read. I use the ideas in the book to teach them to think. And the story Pollan tells about food...I use that as a guide for our own educational adventures in the food chain. Like Pollan does in the book, we visit farms. Food markets. I bought the kids McDonalds then drove them to a feedlot with a 100,000 head of cattle that filled our nostrils with the stench of feces and urine. The poop was piled twenty feet high by tractors. The cows were covered in it up to their spines. Our lungs were singed from the ammonia.

I had the kids eat the burgers and take it all in.

Later in the semester I had the students interview their oldest living relatives. Out of that interview, the students brought traditional recipes to class, and we prepared meals together.

This week we’re discussing the ethics of eating. I have them justify it: their choice to eat, which is to say their choice to kill. I do this because I want them to be on solid moral ground. I do this because I want their bodies to be well.

Why? Because I’m their English teacher. It’s my job.

I also facilitate a writers’ group. Because I believe kids need mentors (more than just me), I partner with Lighthouse Writers Workshop, a Denver based community, to bring local authors into my classroom.

We meet at lunch every Wednesday, the writers’ group. This is a very committed group of writers (some students have graduated and still participate in the group via email from college). They take their writing seriously and provide one another with thoughtful, constructive feedback.

Once a month, we have a guest author. The guest author actually reads the week’s submission and critiques it, along with the rest of us. Imagine being seventeen years old and having your story critiqued by a published author.

After the critique session, we invite any interested student in the school to a craft talk with the author. After which, the kids get an opportunity to interact more openly. They get to ask questions about the writing process. About inspiration. About how to get published.

What’s really happening is that relationships are being developed. This is the secret to education. They can pass any law they want at the state or at the federal level. They can mandate testing. Or they can sell our schools to corporate enterprises. None of that will fix the problem we have with education in America.

Because the answer is this: teaching is about relationships. Kids need mentors. It’s that simple. They learn from the people they trust.

What happens in this guest author program is magical. Kids begin to see themselves as writers. They develop authentic relationships with authors in the community. They have consultants.

At my school, every student completes a Career Exploration Passage. It’s one of six rites of passages each student undertakes to graduate from high school. In the Career Exploration Passage, as the title indicates, students explore a career. The project involves an internship, research, consultants, a series of interviews, a resume. And eventually the student maps out a path to his or her chosen field.

The beauty of the curriculum at the Open School is that the students I work with get to consult with actual professionals. They get to interview our guest authors and develop relationships that will last long after high school is over.

To make all this work I went to our school’s Parent Teacher Student Organization (PTSO) and asked for $50 a month to bring local authors into the classroom. The parents on PTSO generously supported the program, and they also asked me to consider ways to raise money to pay for it.

It was a reasonable request on their part, responsible even, but I had to think about it. What could I do to help support my own program?

Meanwhile, I went to Lighthouse Writers Workshop and told them what our PTSO was willing to do. Lighthouse generously matched my school’s contribution.

So we had $100 a month to bring local authors into the school. Not much. But money communicates value. By paying authors what we can, we let them know that we value their profession. Their work. Moreover, writers are hungry, and, so far, the guest authors have been grateful for the gig.

This week we’re hosting Caleb Seeling, the publisher at Conundrum Press. Caleb also writes graphic novels.

Then it finally came to me a few weeks ago: how to raise money for the program. I had a book release pending for my literary thriller Patriarch Run. It occurred to me that I could donate the April proceeds to PTSO and, in that way, raise money to support the guest author program at the Open School.

Which is what we’re doing. It’s a good book. It’s a good cause. And we’d welcome your support.

If you’d like to know more about our amazing school (there have been many books written about it), let me know. And if you’d like to learn more about me or my stories, you could drop me a line about that, too.

Thank you for finding me,

Benjamin Dancer


  Benjamin is an Advisor at Jefferson County Open School where he has made a career out of mentoring young people as they come of age. He wrote the novels PATRIARCH RUN, IN SIGHT OF THE SUN and FIDELITY. He also writes about parenting and education.

Patriarch Run is a thoughtful and character driven literary thriller. Think of it as Jason Bourne meets Good Will Hunting.
Billy discovers that his father might be a traitor, that he was deployed to safeguard the United States from a cyberattack on its military networks. After that mission, his father disappeared along with the Chinese technology he was ordered to steal–a weapon powerful enough to sabotage the digital infrastructure of the modern age and force the human population into collapse. 
Against a backdrop of suspense, the story explores the archetypal themes of fatherhood, coming of age and self-acceptance through a set of characters that will leave you changed.

Amazon Review:
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
By Emily Giles on March 20, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Amazon Verified Purchase
Patriarch Run opens on the gruesome scene of a recent bombing, with a man who doesn't know who he is. We learn his name, and the reader is swept along as Jack evades capture by a multitude of determined pursuers including American and Chinese agencies. What makes the situation even more tense is that Jack, because he remembers almost nothing of his past, does not know what he has done. Neither is he sure who--if anyone--is on his side. Because his instincts are those of a trained and hardened Special Forces operative, it becomes clear that his ability to remember his past actions is critical. We are as blind to his past as Jack himself is, and as we witness Jack's actions--at turns ruthless and unexpectedly kind--we struggle to determine if Jack is a good guy or a bad guy. During his fast-paced run from would-be captors, his life becomes entangled with those of the wife and son he deserted years ago. What makes the plotline thrilling is the action that keeps us on the edge of our seat. What makes the title transcendent of the genre of thriller is the book's wisdom, compassion and heart. Never have I read a book simultaneously as thrilling and as beautiful. The characters have complexity and guts. The storyline has depth, creativity, and social relevance. The prose is starkly beautiful. As I read the book, I found myself comparing Benjamin Dancer to writers of such popularity and stature as Tom Clancy, Cormac McCarthy and John Steinbeck.

Excerpt from Patriarch Run:

Rachel never rode over the summit of the mountain because of the treacherous nature of that trail. It was against all rational judgement that she found herself on it now. At tree line the horse climbed over the ridge, stepped out of the spruce forest and onto the packed scree that made up the trail from there to the tundra. The mountainside below them gave way completely to granite cliffs.
The trail snaked along the top.
At the highest point among the cliffs, with nearly a thousand feet of empty space beneath the hooves of Old Sam, Rachel spotted two figures several hundred yards in the distance. She talked to the horse. Said she couldn’t be sure, but it looked to be a man and a bristlecone pine.
 The horse walked on.
“Watch your step, Old Sam.”
As they closed the distance, Rachel recognized him and saw that he was untying a rope from the gnarled tree.
“You couldn’t have picked a better view.”
Regan had looked at her once when he first heard the hooves on the scree, then he went back to his rope. Now he looked up at her face. Looked the horse over. Then he studied her eyes. She had divined his purpose.
He looked away. “Yeah, it’ll do.”
The two knew each other, but had rarely had cause to speak.
“I don’t mean to meddle, but it seems to me that the rope is ill conceived.”
Regan finished retying the rope to the tree, tested the knot and asked, “How so?”
“Too much length, and the wind, along with your own momentum, will lacerate your flesh against the rock.”
He looked over the edge. “That occurred to me as you were coming up. I shortened the rope.”
“Not enough length, and it’ll be slow and painful.”
He studied the coil of parachute cord on the ground and said with very little inflection. “It looks about right to me.” Then he walked over to a granite boulder.
“Seems you’ve thought it through.”
He sat down and pulled off his right boot. “We’ll see.”
Rachel reached behind her and took out a water bottle. Drank. She offered the bottle to Regan with a gesture.
He put out his lower lip and shook his head almost imperceptibly.
She capped it and put it back.
“Mind if I ask you a question?”
“Go ahead.” He pulled off the other boot.
“Why the rope and the cliff?”
“I don’t follow.”
“When I was a kid, coyotes killed my dog. I heard the fight, but by the time I found her in the dark, they were already feeding on her guts.” He took off both socks and stood up. “They pulled her insides out through her anus.” He stepped over to the precipice and surveyed the valley.
“How old were you?”
Rachel nodded her head, which he didn’t see.
“With only the rope or only the cliff, I’d be left for the coyotes.”
“But this way it’s only insects and birds.”
He spun to face her, his widened eyes betraying surprise–or maybe alarm.
“Birds always eat the eyeballs first,” she continued. “Must be a delicacy to them. The insects just want a womb for their maggots. A nutrient-rich source to give their young a good start.”
Regan fidgeted with the socks in his hands.
“You could’ve picked a high branch.”
He looked distracted, as if he was still digesting the other image. “I thought of that.” He walked over to his boots, unbuttoning his silk shirt.
“A bear could cut the rope.”
“It seems you’ve thought it through.”
He took off his shirt, folded it and set it on a rock. “We’ll see.”
Rachel looked back over the trail. “Well, I best be goin’.”
She turned the horse, “Those are some fancy clothes.”
“Yeah.” He took off his belt. “The boots alone cost me eleven hundred dollars, and that was before tax.”
“I suppose it’s fitting.”
“It seemed that way to me, too, down at the house. But after being up here, I don’t think so.”
“How so?”
He wasn’t looking at her anymore. “I think I’ll be more comfortable without them.”
“What are you going to do with those eleven hundred dollar boots?”
He carried the clothes over to the bristlecone tree, put the boots on top of the folded shirt, the socks inside the boots and the belt around the boots. “Come back and get ’em if you like.”
“Well, I best be gettin’ along.”
“You know my place?”
“I know it.”
“We’ll be sittin’ down for supper around six. Sirloin and potatoes. If you have a mind to, you’re welcome to stop by.”
He picked up the loose end of the parachute cord and started tying a hangman’s noose. “I appreciate that.”

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

K.W. Benton's: Over Cast 3/5 stars


"Over Cast" by K.W Benton is a paranormal romance tale told from the point of view of G.J. Gardener. As a whole the story is very interesting. Benton draws from a number of well known paranormal phenomenon to create a fantastic setting for her characters to dwell in. 

My favorite aspect of this novel is how Benton veils the paranormal part of her universe and gradually introduces G.J. and her readers to it. Although, I do think the hints at the beginning of the novel are a bit subtle. "Over Cast" has great potential but lacks the definition required to fully attain that greatness.

There are multiple things that cause this clot in the overall delivery of the plot and narrative. Foremost, the plot is extremely non-linear. I feel like every chapter is episodic and does not add up to form a solid narrative. 

Benton does a good job progressing her characterization and makes it seem like every character deserves a place in her tale. 

Her protagonist has a little bit too much airtime when it comes to sharing her thoughts and feelings about her past life and the present. A lot of her dialogue and narration could be distilled to increase the overall drive of the narrative.

I decided to give this edition of "Over Cast" 3 stars. I urge lovers of young adult oriented paranormal romance to give this novel a try.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Scott Spotson and Sue Publicover's: Delusional 3/5 stars

Delusional by Scott Spotson and Sue Publicover is a romance blended with intrigue and a helping of the paranormal for good measure. The two lead female characters, Wendy and Patricia, propel the heated conflict of the novel.

 Wendy's characterization is the most alluring aspect of Delusional in my opinion, but of course discussing it would spoil the heart of the plot. I empathize with Wendy the most, and her potential as an antagonist kept me interested and reading. There are many aspects of Delusional that make the novel engrossing, but the flow is constantly bogged down by overwriting. In Delusional's case, there are instances where I can readily see why the authors would deem it necessary as a tool to express personality, but when it prevents narrative fluidity, other methods of character development should be explored.

 Spotson and Publicover show their potential with Delusional, and I recommend it for readers looking for a unique romance.

 While I enjoyed the novel, overwriting really clouded up the quality of the prose, therefore, I rated Delusional at 3/5 stars.

The Edmond Sun covers: From Heaven to Earth

Ideas flow onto a page for Sherrod Wall.
“From Heaven to Earth” is his first novel of “The Faith of the Fallen” series of a supernatural tale of God’s weakening and eventual death.
Paranormal entities in the universe want to take over his throne. Characters are thrown into a tailspin caused by a power vacuum, Wall said.
“I try to focus more on the emotional conflicts that go on with all the characters as well, not just all the action that usually comes from a war of that magnitude,” said Wall, who will turn 30 Sunday.
Interacting with humans are angels, demons and half-breeds. Readers will find they have existed at all times on earth, Wall said. Supernatural connections with mankind leave humans unknowing that some of them are from the bloodline of angels and demons.
“It mostly takes place in present day, but I have a lot of flashbacks that explain different mind-sets of the characters,” Wall said. “It just tries to get to the heart of who they are so readers can empathize with them throughout the whole book.”
“From Heaven to Earth” is the author’s first book to be published. Wall is in the editing process of a sequel to the novel titled “From Earth to Hel.l.” However, he traces his journey as a novelist to the time he was a 4-year-old in Houston, scribbling fantasy short stories about dragons, knights and wizards.
“Fantasy has always been one of my favorite genres,” he said.
Wall knew he was a writer in the fifth grade when a teacher encouraged him to share his writing. So Wall would sit down with this short stories and read to his class.
“I was really nervous about it,” he recalled. “I think that’s when I knew because everyone was always so interested in what I had to say. I didn’t think it was that interesting. I thought it was just having a good time.”
Wall now approaches his writing style with being as minimalist as possible with dialogue and descriptions to achieve balance, he said.
“That way, I’ll always have fluidity with the whole book,” said Wall, who in 2007 earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Creative Studies in from the University of Central Oklahoma.
He tries to be meticulous with his choice of words, in order to be as precise as possible. Wall’s writing surprises him at times as characters develop unforeseen story lines.
“That’s probably the most interesing aspect of writing for me and probably the thing that makes it most exciting,” Wall said. He lets the lives of his characters seemingly come to life by making their own judgement calls.
“What’s natural for them or what’s not breathes a lot of life into the book value that we wouldn’t expect to be there at certain points,” Wall said.
Wall wants to be successful for his family. He and his wife Brooke live in Edmond with their four children including Karoline, Colin, Alex, and David.
The 532-page book is a product of Ensenada Publishing and is available on Amazon Kindle Edition for $2.99. Physical copies of “From Heaven to Earth” will be available in two to three months at Barnes &Noble Booksellers.

For more information on the author and "From Heaven to Earth", search "From Heaven to Earth Sherrod Wall" on