Tour Type Thing: A Review of Zombie Candy by Frederick Lee Brooke

We return this week, as the title so graciously states, with a review. This is one of those Novel Publicity Whirlwind Tour deals, so there are prizes for you at the end of this. Stay tuned! Yes, prizes are great. I’m entering, too, but prizes are not why I’m participating. No, no! Instead, this is part of my challenge to bring you more of the good, original indie stuff.

It’s a scattered approach, I must admit. One of the drawbacks of these things is that I have to sign up before I read the content, so while I can read story descriptions, I can’t know for certain whether a given story fits with what I’m trying to promote. The whole thing is a bit sticky, but in the event that I promote a story that doesn’t feel original to me, you’ll be able to tell. In the midst of telling me to get on with my review, you might also be asking if this really is a unique story. The answer:

That said, let’s get on with the review, shall we? Continue reading

That Old Familiar Feeling: Reviewing Valknut the Binding by Marie Loughin

Something about Valknut: The Binding felt very familiar. Not in the sense that I had read the story before; on the contrary, the premise and its plot are highly unique. You don’t often find Norse mythology, hobo culture, and a murder mystery tied together in one neat package. I felt more that the overall story had a familiar feel, as if it were informed by the same influences that have defined my own career. I also thought it could make a great episode of Supernatural or the X-files, so that could contribute to the feeling. In any case, it’s a good familiarity, like meeting an old friend after many years apart.

The characters of Valknut live their own lives. It’s a simple statement, but it’s one of praise. At no point did I feel the characters were anything other than themselves (with their own emotions), even as the plot dragged them to the conclusion. The protagonist, Lennie, is a young woman drawn into circumstances that she doesn’t understand by her quest to find her missing father. She meets “Junkyard” Doug, a hobo on a similar quest to find his brother’s murderer, the serial killer known as the Hobo Spider. They’re soon accompanied by “Jungle” Jim Tuttle. Jungle Jim was something of a difficult character for me. I liked him – a lot. He had a purity of spirit that rang true – when we see him lighting up everyone’s faces, it feels genuine. My only problem is that it kind of plays into the trope of “the Rainman”, wherein someone with a disability has another compensating benefit, typically one that is magical. I’ve seen it done so much that it needed a little something more. Unfortunately, I don’t think he quite overcame that, as much as I might have wished he would. While I think Jungle Jim is a great character, I had a bit of a pause at seeing this again that has stuck with me.  Continue reading

Let’s Do the Time Warp: Thomas Mullen’s The Revisionists and Other Talk

I wanted to like The Revisionists. Great premise: an agent from a dystopian future (known as the Perfect Present) is sent back in history to stop agitators from stopping events that change the course of history, such as 9-11 or the JFK assassination. In our story, the protagonist Z (pronounced as the English Zed) is sent  to protect a terrible war known as The Conflagration. This sets off my first bone with the story, so I’ll just get it out of the way: we’re told that Z has to make sure this war happens within a deadline, giving the story the urgency that a thriller needs. I mentally counted down the days as Z stayed in our present, waiting for the Conflagration to begin, or to at least start building…

And got nothing. It seems as if halfway through the book, Mullen decided that Z was really there to ensure a series of events that would sort of touch off the Conflagration. I won’t spoil it, but the steps that lead to the war in this book are flimsy. If I wanted to prevent the war, there would seem to be a dozen more likely targets in that distant somewhere future in which he set the war. This drains the story of its urgency right before the important third act. I think this decision doomed the story to a fizzle of an ending. I don’t know why he decided to do this, but it’s disappointing.

Pacing is this story’s greatest enemy, but other problems creep in, as well. Continue reading

Feeling Embattled: Interview with Author Darlene Jones

Today I have an interview with Darlene Jones, author of the fantasy/sci-fi novel “Embattled“. Darlene stumbled across my site a few weeks ago, and we exchanged some emails, leading me to check out Embattled. I think our books actually have a bit in common – they’re both about a woman in a normal life who discovers that she’s been watched by a mysterious force that will give her special powers to help save the world. I haven’t had a chance to read Embattled yet, but it’s up soon on my to-read list – expect a review in the near-future. For now, enjoy the interview! Continue reading

Getting Along: Reviewers and Writers

Happy Friday, everybody. I’m just bursting at the seams with ideas lately; this one came to me a few days ago. I’ve been cleaning out my Twitter account (which, by the way is, please, follow me, I’d love to interact with you there) and I was creating a “Writers” list and debating whether to create a “Reviewers” list. This got me thinking…I know, shocking, right?…about the difference between writers and reviewers (or critics, if you prefer).

Once upon a time I think there was a clear delineation between reviewer and writer, at least an artificially clear one. Lord knows that I read some book reviews in the New York Times that were just as good as a lot of things that I’d read in books. I wondered at the time what kept some of those people from pursuing a career in writing books. Some did, but a lot didn’t. I guess because of that, I bought into the myth that if someone couldn’t write, they would review for a long time. Of course now I realize that, aside from being elitist, it’s just flat-out ridiculous. If you want to be a better writer, you need to be good at reviewing works and critically analyzing them.

So really, what is the difference between a writer and a reviewer? Not sure I can define that, because I’m not sure it actually exists. Definitely not anymore, if it ever really did. I spend a lot of time – and enjoy – checking out book blogs and discovering new, exciting writers, whether they’re writing fiction, non-fiction, or reviewing other works, and you can definitely tell the difference between a good reviewer and a bad reviewer, in the same way that you can tell with a traditional writer. A good reviewer can make someone’s story seem like poetry, even if the story itself is not so great.

Honestly, I don’t care about whether a reviewer is overly critical or effusive about a book. I don’t think that defines the quality of a critic at all. It’s more a question of their mastery of the language. A lot of the better reviewers read so much and have such good taste, along with a command of the language, that it really shines through in their reviews. I know this sounds like ass-kissing, but I don’t know any other way to put it. This is why I don’t think there’s much of a difference, and it’s why a lot of reviewers have such large followings, dwarfing even some very good writers.

Some of that audience can be credited to clever marketing or being in the right place at the right time, sure, but I’ve pretty consistently found that those reviewers who’ve been around for awhile and have a lot of readers have those readers for a reason: consistent, quality content. I mean, yes, I’ve found some obscure reviewers who are fantastic and deserve a larger audience, but most of those are new to the scene, and I have faith that given enough time and word-of-mouth, they’ll find their audience.

So, as a fiction writer, while the purposes of what we’re writing may be different, in the end we’re both kind of trying to do the same thing: trying to tell a story. I’m trying to tell the story that comes out of my head and the reviewer is trying to tell the story of the book. Hell, sometimes the story of the book is more compelling than the book itself. Look at something like Steal This Book, which, while fun, has a far more interesting back story in terms of the culture and times that produced it.

We need people to tell the stories of books. We can only do so much ourselves. There is a definite need for reviewers to help build the narrative of our works and the industry as a whole. If you’re somebody just starting out, whether a writer or a reviewer, I think there’s a lot to be gained by following a quality reviewer who just hasn’t broken through yet, even if just to chart your progress against how they’re doing, and who knows, maybe your book can be the one that helps them break through.

In short, I reject the old concept of ghettoizing reviewers as compared to writers. I don’t think the divide is valid, and I don’t think reviewers deserve that. So a lot of respect to reviewers who are out there working as hard as any one of us.

Oh, and a complete side-note. I wrote a piece about one of my hobbies, “Thrifting for Fun and Profit“, for my buddy Rob (or Crash Preston) to post on his blog, Distorted Zen. The post in question didn’t fit with the theme of this site, and we’ve been wanting to do a guest post exchange for awhile, so I figured why not? I encourage you to go on over there and check it out. Maybe you could pick up some tips on how to make some money by thrifting. Well, as long as you’re not practicing it in my neck of the woods.

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