Indie Book Review: So many plots, so little time.

Children of Sun and Moon by Matt Larkin

 

(Book 1 of the Skyfall Trilogy)

For generations, the children of the moon have been at war with the children of the sun. So when the Lunar King sues for peace and offers his daughter, Ratna, to a marriage with the young Solar King, the two war-torn civilizations are faced with the prospect of peace–or imminent treachery.

Chandi, Ratna’s handmaiden and a powerful Moon warrior in her own right, is sent to protect her cousin and spy on the Solars. But the years go by and the Solars seem sincere in their peace efforts. But peace is a fragile thing, and when Chandi is asked to sacrifice everything–her new, reluctantly-accepted home, her blossoming romance with a Solar warrior, and her life–for her country, she finds herself forced to choose between her past and her future, her duty and her heart. Continue reading

[ Book Review ] Indie Series: Slippery Souls

Slippery Souls by Rachael H. Dixon

(Sunray Bay, #1)

This book was delightful, in the full, italicized sense of the word. It takes on a vivid, irreverent style (think Terry Pratchett) and melds it with some dark(ish) fantasy.

One moment, Libby is marching out of the grocery store, jug of milk in hand, set on breaking up with her slob of a boyfriend-soon-to-be-ex. The next, she is killed by a hit-and-run. When she wakes up, she’s in a beach house at Sunray Bay, a kind of afterlife, she assumes, since her also-dead-dog Rufus can now talk.

But not all is as it seems at the sunny beach town, and it certainly isn’t Heaven. Within an hour of her arrival, Libby is chased by the head of the local monster slayers, helps a (very hawt and rugged) rogue ex-operative, and finds herself at the top of the Mayor’s Most Wanted list. Continue reading

[ Small Chirp ] An Indie short story worth checking out

As a general rule, we at tCR do not review author requests for short stories. We are wing-deep in novels and rarely have time to spare to read even the shortest of one-shots. So it was pure serendipity that Tracy Marchini’s review request for The Engine Driver came through at the height of my work-place boredom. I clicked on the attached PDF before I’d even read the blurb. And I must say that I’m quite happy I did—partially because the blurb needs a little Pitch Slapped lovin’, but mostly because it was an absolutely delightful story.

The story follows Brig, a depressed teenager in a world where any negative emotions are attenuated by an internal playlist of music meant to adjust mood.  When her best friend is selected to be a Musician, someone who can actually craft music, Brig sees an opportunity to finally hear a song that she wants to listen to—rather than one that has been carefully selected to attenuate her constantly sad existence.

That explanation actually makes the plot sound about 800% more emo than the story actually was. The characters were engaging even while wading through the subplot of wanting to hear a love song played when standing near a boy. The fact that a 6,000 word story has a flipping subplot should be an indication that Marchini has a knack for story-telling. The Engine Driver had nice subtleties to it, enough to gloss over a couple of places where the narrative stumbled.

Since this is just a Small Chirp and not a review, there’s no official Canary rating, but an unofficial rating would put it solidly in a four happy canaries territory. I hope this is the first of many forays that Marchini takes into Brig’s life. I would happily read an entire novel set in the music-controlled world she lives in.

Read More Indie:

[ 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.