[ Best and Worst ] That Book You Love–and Hate

This week on our Best and Worst series, we have Margaret Yang and Harry R. Campion, co-authors of a science fiction suspense novel, Fate’s Mirror. But they’re not here to talk about their book, no. Yang and Campion are here to share a couple of the best and worst reading experiences that shaped them as readers and writers.

There’s an eerie similarity between the two books.

See if you can spot it…

Yang’s Best:

Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

In high school, my favorite class was church history, which I took for all of 11th grade at my Catholic high school. The subject was basically European history where it intersected with the Catholic Church, which it did every five minutes or so. I loved that class. The dirty politics! The wacky people! The really weird shit that happened! It was awesome.

I’m telling you this to explain that the history and scholarly theories in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code were not new to me. I’d heard it all before. But that’s okay. For most of the reading public, the stuff in The Da Vinci Code was not only new, it was so new it changed their world view. They thought about church history and even about their religious beliefs in a new way, all because of a work of pure fiction. I think that’s pretty cool.

I loved that Dan Brown crammed so much history and art history into a thriller package. I always thought the “thrill” in thrillers had to be based on spying or politics or war. I never knew that it could be based on history and art and religion. Sure, the entire novel is one big chase scene, but the heroes are racing to solve puzzles, not to shoot things.

I also appreciated that The Da Vinci Code was a fast read. I read the entire book in two or three days. The cliffhangers at the end of every chapter made me want to read just a few more pages (which of course ended in cliffhangers themselves) until I’d raced through the book. I didn’t mind the flat dialog or the shallow characterization or the silly coincidences, because man, that book moved.

The biggest problem most people had with the book was the way that Dan Brown took liberties with the facts, blending them with theory and speculation and stuff that he plain made up. Entire tomes were published soon after The Da Vinci Code trying to rebut it point by point. These people just didn’t get it. Blending fact and fiction is what thrillers are supposed to do. For example, nobody criticizes Tom Clancy’s books for being unrealistic. Readers know that a Russian naval officer can’t steal a nuclear submarine and defect with it. They go along for the ride, knowing it could never happen, but loving how the story made it seem possible. I knew perfectly well that Dan Brown was telling me a story, but every single page perched right on the edge of probable. And isn’t that what we read novels for?

—-Margaret Yang

Campion’s Worst:

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

The Da Vinci Code did not get my back up because it provided glib talking points for pseudo-history buffs who don’t actually read history. It did not rub me the wrong way when it proclaimed in pompous, matter-of-fact tones only the most sensationalized tidbits gleaned from Biblical apocrypha. It did not even grate my ass like a hard cheese when its characters bumbled from one serendipitous focal point to the next with the grace of a child drawing a line from one numbered dot to another using a ruler and an unsharpened crayon.

No, I have to say Dan Brown lost me early on when he decided to manhandle his exposition with a gratuitously-placed flashback. Professor Landon clumsily recollects a few moments spent with one of his Harvard classes. In that scene, the professor engages in witty repartee with his students about the Fibonacci sequence while they gasp and goggle at him with rapt sycophancy. Landon’s efforts (and Brown’s) are rewarded with the info-dump chanted back at him like verses from a well-trained Greek chorus.

Jesus…Brown got paid for that.

It’s probably because I’m a teacher, but the scene bore about as much resemblance to an actual teaching environment as Sookie Stackhouse bears to Mina Harker.

Also, I’m convinced that the commercial success of The Da Vinci Code somehow made National Treasure a marketable franchise—some things I cannot forgive, even of Nicholas Cage.

—-Harry R. Campion

Where do you land, canaries?

[ Book Review ] Indie Series: The Gamble of the Godless

The Gamble of the Godless by David Maine

Normally, you can’t throw a stone in the fantasy aisle without hitting elves, dwarves, and orcs. But David Maine, an author who had made his debut in literary fiction, steers The Gamble of the Godless clear of fantasy staples. Here is a world where animals talk and your head can explode if someone looks at you funny. Avin de Bors dreams of an ambush of wolves-on-men and, when he wakes, finds that an entire army has been demolished on the Free Plains by his house.

Avin does not set out to become a hero–he’s merely looking to keep his brother from being killed in a misguided war. In the process, he becomes the center of a ragtag group of creatures on a quest. What begins as a day trip with a suspiciously eloquent footsoldier named Ax becomes an epic journey to discover more about the mysterious force that is drawing on weak-willed discontents all across the land.

While The Gamble of the Godlessby David Maine follows our friendly Avin (who performs his role as budding hero well, without the excessive angst that drapes many coming-of-age novels), he is not the reason to read the book. His animal companions are.

The characters that join Avin’s quest are impressive in their variety: a horse with a past, an explosives-wielding raccoon, and a tiny owl. Though not taking center stage, the female characters do their best to steal the show. I took an immediate liking to the feisty, one-armed sorceress, and the most charming creature award has to go to Summon-the-Wind, a drug-addled cheetah. Continue reading

[ Book Review ] Indie Series: Fate’s Mirror

Fate’s Mirror by M.H. Mead

“Cut off from home and friends, Morris Payne faces a hacker’s worst nightmare—an artificial intelligence with access to every computer on the planet. The AI wants freedom and power, but mostly she wants Morris Payne dead.”

When the co-authors of Fate’s Mirror told me that after looking through my reviews, they thought I’d like their novel, I was skeptical. Was this going to be another political time travel satire? Or like the time when an author asked the Jedi Canary to read his psychological thriller?

I flexed my canary claws, read the sample…and then realized I’d downloaded the book and was already racing through chapter five, loving every minute of it.

Turns out, Fate’s Mirror is science fiction fun on a stick. It’s a Robert Ludlum meets Neuromancer in a future near enough to be recognizable, but far enough that the writing team that is M.H. Mead has its hands full creating a high tech world in all its 3D glory.

But let’s back up. So there’s this hacker virtuoso whose panic attacks make it impossible for him to leave his house. That’s all fine and dandy as far as he’s concerned…right up ’til someone goes and blows up his home.  Morris discovers that someone really is out to get him as he tries to figure out what happened, who’s behind it, and whether it has anything to do with his ex’s job in the government–and her sudden and brutal death.

Once I got past the first few pages (slightly rough, ignore them), it was a fast-paced ride. The authors aren’t afraid to change setting and direction by taking out characters and keeping me guessing.  Written in third person limited, we gain glimpses into the minds of most of the actors, seeing the characters from a delightful range of perspectives.

The narrative is one part cyberpunk fun, one (small) part romance, and one part myths-meet-virtual-naval-battles. To that effect, the story uses the possibilities of virtual reality to open the doorway to more fantastical world-building (think Tad Williams and his Otherland series).

Indeed, I pronounce Fate’s Mirror to be Cyber Opera (a la space opera, my favorite genre).

It takes a lot to get me to rave.

And, defying my expectations, this book had it.

“Morris Payne just might save the world. If only he can gather the courage to leave his house.”

Try the free sample on Smashwords and see what you think:

Book Links: Goodreads || Amazon || Smashwords || Authors’ Website ||

Check out our other reviews in our Independent Authors Series here.

[ Book Review ] Indie Series: Falling–A Flirty Fantasy of Fallen Idols

Falling: A Flirty Fantasy of Fallen Idols by Cecilia Gray

(Book #1 of the Fallen Idols)

(4 romantic canaries, right here.)

This was a wonderful weekend read–fun, light, with one of the strongest first-person narrators I’ve read in the romance genre in a long, long time.

Our main character, Alexis, isn’t afraid to climb mountains to get what she wants–literally. Labeled The World’s Bravest Woman, she rappels down buildings and rafts rapids. But when her fiancé dumps her for a busty Italian model, she’d rather hide under a blanket on her sister’s couch. Her sister has other ideas, and Alexis finds herself being dragged into the latest all-exclusive club for some post-break-up therapy.

Enter one plotting goddess, a coven of witches, and one immortal Greek warrior with an 184-year-old curse hanging over his head. It’s a night on the town in downtown San Francisco.

So where does this chick flick treat water in the enormous pool of paranormal romance? The story is told from Alexis point of view, and she is an engaging, intelligent narrator who has no problem realizing that instant attraction isn’t exactly real love, and that erratic behavior on the guy’s part calls for the psychiatric ward, not an elopement. I do love me a sane heroine.

At this point, I didn’t even mind Alexis’ hang-ups over her own appearance or the turbo-charged attraction–unavoidable when the plot demands true luv in ten thousand words or less. It was a solid five-canary romance right until the main action hit the metaphysical fan. Continue reading

[ Book Review ] Indie Series: 10 Bits of My Brain

10 Bits of My Brain by Stuart Jaffe

(3.5 canaries, but I couldn’t bring myself to pop a poor canary in half)

Jaffe is a versatile writer whose stories span genres and settings, without ever making the editor and reader in me cringe or groan. The offhand manner of narration edge stories like Henry’s Son with their very own menace, while With The Three Fingers Case, Jaffe takes the reader on a romp into a quick homicide mystery–the catch? The dragon detective thinks a human did it, and his human partner is sure a dragon’s to blame. Over the course of the stories I saw witchery, voodoo, curses, and pirates (see book cover over to the right for a more complete list!).

The collection begins at the height of the holocaust in Nazi Germany, then moves to a tattoo parlor at the edge of the universe, then to a small park bench where a homeless man idles his days away. Though the pieces differ wildly in plot and genre, I sensed a few common threads I thought could have been emphasized to unify the tales.

For example, life is something to be endured by the characters, and death is often a release. I don’t want to call these stories nihilistic, but there is a certain acceptance and even longing for the inevitable closure to the arc of life. Immortality, as it comes to at least two of the characters, is no gift, and betrayal usually comes in the form or a relative or friend.

All in all, I saw good writing, solid story structure, and a lively wit. So why only a three?  Continue reading

[ Book Review ] Indie Series: The River Within

Earlier this month, a friend of mine introduced me to the world of independent publishing. I knew it existed, of course, but in that vague way the Queen of England or my brother’s Lego collection exist. I recalled it when reading Regnancy romances or shopping for an I’m-sorry-okay bribe, but that was about the breadth of my interest. But here was an enormous world of books, and authors, and potential reviews. I will start my independent eBooks review series with…

The River Within By Baxter Clare Trautman

(3.5 canaries, but I couldn’t bring myself to pop a poor canary in half)

The story:

Greer Madison, Foreign Correspondent, has breathed war for the last thirty years.  She’s the best there is. But when a colleague dies trying to reach her, something inside her breaks. Greer finds herself back in the States, nursing her injuries at the house of her long-time friend, Darlene.

Darlene too is a casualty of war. After the death of her son, Chris, the last thing she needs is her perceptive friend rattling her carefully-crafted mask of normalcy and the lies she’s built to protect her family from the truth of Chris’ death.

Kate, Darlene’s daughter, is a young woman with the perfect fiancé, the perfect wedding, and the perfect job.   But somewhere in the year or so after Chris’ death, she’s misplaced her life and she doesn’t know where to look for it–or even if she should. It’s a life she glimpses when she meets Greer, drawn to the battered reporter as if to flame.

Each woman lives in her own pain-numbed world, and each knows her balancing act cannot last. When the truths come out, will there be anything left of them? Continue reading