books

Book Review: The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

516lvwmprbl-_sx303_bo1204203200_It’s no secret that Brandon Sanderson is a master of his craft, and The Stormlight Archive is his magnum opus. At first glance, the books are intimidating — with each one a 1000+ page brick. But don’t let that stop you. You’d be missing out on a fantasy series that rivals, and in many ways surpasses, A Song of Ice and Fire (aka Game of Thrones).

When I started to read the first book in the series, The Way of Kings, I was immediately turned off. The book begins with a prologue that in all honesty has no business being there. Half the words are made up, you have no idea what’s going on, and it doesn’t give you any information you don’t learn later on. I think including it was a huge misstep. Luckily, the book really picks up after that. The book focuses on several different characters, though it mostly spends time on three: Kaladin, a lowly former soldier, Dalinar, the king’s uncle, and Shallan, a girl from a lower, unimportant house. There’s politics, action, magic (with clearly defined rules),  deception, everything a fan of fantasy could want. Not everyone’s story is as interesting as you’d like, but there’s something there for everyone. (And Shallan’s story, which is arguably the most boring, really picks up toward the end of the book, and she’s given the most interesting story in the next one.)

What makes this book stand out compared to the other fantasy books out there is the world. Sanderson builds a world unlike anything I’ve ever read. This isn’t a world inspired by Tolkin (and that in and of itself is a rarity in the fantasy genre). The inhabitants, the societal norms, religions, money, animals, even plants and physics, all of it seems utterly alien and original. And yet (with the exception of the prologue) it is never unfolded too slow or too fast. You can’t help but become enamored with the world he created.

In short, The Way of Kings is not only an immensely entertaining book, but one of the most creative fantasy books I’ve ever read. If you like fantasy, check it out. Just be prepared to carve out a ridicules amount of time to finish each book, and then wait years for the next one. (Maybe the Song of Ice and Fire comparison is more accurate than I realized.)

A Spark Ignites – Now on Sale!

A Spark Ignites is now on sale in Kindle and Paperback! Please help support my writing by buying my first book. Not sure if you want to buy it, or just don’t have any money at the moment? No problem! There’s a short story set within the same universe that’s now available on Amazon absolutely free!

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Description:  Matt was just a regular teenager, dealing with homework, hormones, high school drama, and an obnoxious older brother. He found his life complicated, but it was nothing he couldn’t handle. Then, when Spark, the city’s greatest superhero unexpectedly dies, Matt finds himself in possession of the hero’s costume and gadgets, with a note asking him to carry on the legacy. Finding himself unable to refuse, he reluctantly begins his superhero career, hoping he can live up to the name of his predecessor. Not knowing the first thing about being a superhero, Matt soon finds himself overwhelmed. Will he find himself in an early grave, just like his hero?

Meanwhile, an aging supervillain, the Inventor, creates a powerful device capable of killing thousands. An elaborate plan is put in motion that could lead to the destruction of everything Matt holds dear. Will he be able to figure out the how to stop him in time? And when evidence arises which indicates that Spark’s death may not be the accident everyone believes it is, Matt finds himself consumed with trying to uncover the truth. Will he be able to get to the bottom of this mystery? And if so, will he be able to handle the dark reality behind it?

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Endings and Non-Endings

cliffhangerHow do you end a story? Coming up with a good ending is probably the second hardest part of writing (the first is getting started). It’s important to end the story. It doesn’t have to tie up all loose ends, but it has to be satisfying if the reader stopped right there. Now, this is obvious when it comes to a stand alone novel. But what about a book series? A trend I’ve noticed in book series lately (and later series movies, where the last book is split into 2 parts) was to end on a cliffhanger. I understand the reasoning behind it- you want to force the reader to pick up the next one. Personally though, I usually end up feeling cheated. Now, it’s ok to have a slight cliffhanger tacked on at the end (like the reveal of Thanos and the end of the Avengers, or the reveal that Magneto still has his powers at the end of X-Men 3), because the reader still got a satisfying, full story. The lest few seconds can easily be ignored, and is more of a trailer or preview for the next movie/volume. Some cliffhangers though, make you feel as though you’re missing half the story. The second Hobbit movie, for example, has such a sudden and jarring ending,  I sat in the theater wondering if the projectionist messed up. I don’t want to be force to buy the next book. If you write a good story, with a good ending, then I’ll buy the follow up. You don’t have to try and trick people into doing.

Indie Review: The Secret Circle of Imaginary Friends

51f-rqiw0pl-_sx310_bo1204203200_Mike Jeavons’ The Secret Circle of Imaginary Friends is an interesting children’s book, which I found reminiscent of Goosebumps, with a slight twist of Roald Dahl.

It follows a young boy named Simon, who, after hearing his little sister talking to her imaginary friends, discovers that they aren’t imaginary at all. He joins the ‘secret circle,’ a group of children who know about the imaginary friends, but he soon comes to realize there’s more to the circle than he first thought. Bad things happen to people who try to leave the circle, and the imaginary friends may not be as friendly as they seem.

The book was suitably creepy, with great atmosphere. At the same time, it very much feels like a kids book. It gets dark, but never too dark. Some twists may be predictable, but it’s still done so well that you can’t help but enjoy the ride. The only thing that really bothered me story-wise, was the fact that then ending seemed a little sudden and rushed. I think the book could have used another dozen pages or so, for pacing’s sake.

The writing style, as well as the format and spelling was a little off putting at first, though that could be because it was written in British English. It didn’t take long to get used to though, so I’m not going to take off any points for that.

All in all, this is a fine book to give a pre-teen (or pre-teen at heart) who likes scary stories. It is genuinely creepy, the ending is fun, and it’s fully appropriate for children, without too much blood or realistic violence. If this sounds interesting to you, I highly recommend you check it out.

Religion in Books

Putting religion in a novel is always a tricky thing. Unless you’re specifically writing Christian fiction, it can be easy to turn some people off. That’s probably why most fiction tries to avoid the topic of religion, other than the odd mention of a holiday or whatever. More often then not, especially in fantasy, if religion is mentioned, it’s just a product of the author’s imagination.

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Numerous books use fake religions, such as a Song of Ice and Fire, Forgotten Realms, The Stormlight Archives, etc. Some of the religions are completely alien, while others are thinly veiled copies of actual religions, and are used to deliver commentary. I feel using a fake religion is often best if you want to avoid offending anyone.

Mentioning Christianity is something that should be avoided in most cases. Either you’ll get a lot of eye rolling or angry folks, depending on what your write and who’s reading it. Now, if it is essential to the story  or the character (like Matt Murdock, for instance), then by all means, go ahead, but remember to tread lightly. Most of the Western world is Christian, or at least familiar with Christianity. As such, it’s ok to be vague. It can be easy to say the wrong thing and offend your audience (unless that’s part of the point, like The DaVinci Code). I’m not saying you can’t or shouldn’t make a character religious, I’m just saying you should try to avoid going into detail about it if you can. (Just look at Harry Potter. They celebrate Christmas, but Jesus is never mentioned.)

When it comes to other, less popular religions, such a Islam, Hinduism, or Judaism, you can afford to go more into detail. Chances are, most of your audience isn’t so familiar with it, and will find it interesting without being offended or the like. After all, much like fantasy religions, they don’t have a horse in the race. Friday the Rabbi Slept Late or the new Ms. Marvel aren’t just interesting because they’re good stories that are well written, but also because you feel like you’re exploring a new religion. It gives you a bit more leeway.

Personally, other than the odd throwaway comment, I try to avoid mentioning religion in my writing for very much the same reason I avoid language. The less people you upset, the wider audience you have.

Indie Review: Catalyza – Book 1: Origins

51kcqoxbp1l-_sx331_bo1204203200_Oh, boy. Here we go, I guess.

Tom Wright’s Catalyza – Book 1: Origins is a deeply flawed novella. It just does so much wrong. I don’t even know why the book is called Catalyza. The word isn’t even mentioned once.

The author is obviously obsessed with race. Aisha, the main character, it black. If you forget this, don’t worry, because it’s mentioned or referenced on every page. Every person in the book is described by their skin color. And the character is obsessed with going to a black church (and won’t go to a white church), making black friends, joining black social clubs (and won’t join clubs that are ‘too white’), sitting next to black students in class, not going to white parties, and avoiding white policemen because they’re all racist. Oh, and this was written by a white guy (which actually makes sense. I can’t imagine a black person is that obsessed with race. I mean, I’m Jewish. Very Jewish. I stand out in a crowd. I wear a yarmulke in public, and have gotten my share antisemitic remarks as a result. Yet I don’t go around thinking ‘Jew,Jew,Jew, oh, are they Jewish? oh, a Christian group, I’ll avoid them. Jew,Jew,Jew.’ I’m a person, plain and simple. And I’m sure African Americans or Muslims feel the same way). This book seems obsessed with race in only the way that someone who isn’t part of that of that group can be.

But I could be forgiving of that little quirk if everything else was good. It’s not. There’s also so much minutia here. Conversations and scenes that go nowhere. Its frustrating. I don’t want to read four paragraphs of how many movies you watched before bed, or a page of exchanging pleasantries with people over the phone!

As for the plot, it follows a girl, Aisha, through her first few days in college. She goes to church, gets involved in a protest, gets superpowers, saves someone from an accident she caused, and goes to a party when she and her friend almost gets date raped (at which point she endangers their lives and plants false evidence to frame them when calling the police doesn’t work. Naturally the potential date rapists are white guys, who she was initially distrustful of because they were white). That’s the whole story, basically. It ends with a teaser that our hero still plans on taking down a corrupt police officer. <sarcasm>Because having the power to essentially control time means that such a task will be a huge challenge.</sarcasm> Also worth mentioning, during the story, she reveals her powers, which she just discovered hours before, to her professor whom she barely knows (she only met once, the day prior). Not the brightest of people, I suppose.

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A couple of panels from Milestone’s Icon

I’m not saying this story doesn’t deal with important issues. It just deals it poorly. There are much better ways to go about it, where you don’t cause your audience to eyeroll or feel like they’re being preached to. Look at one of my favorite comic books, Icon, for example. It deals with race, tensions between African Americans and cops, even abortion, and its all done in a non-hamfisted way. It makes the reader think about the issues without making them realize it, while feeling just like an average (or really good) superhero comic. This story feels like the reader is being hit over the head with a mallet of the author’s personal propaganda.

So yes, this was a bad book. The worst one I’ve reviewed thus far. In a way though, I’m morbidly curious about the next book in the series. Like watching a plane crash, it may be horrible, but I just can’t look away.

I’m obviously not going to be posting this review to Amazon or Goodreads, as I don’t believe there’s a reason to ever post any review two stars or less on an indie book (unless it’s purposefully offensive or meant to rip people off). But it crossed my mind.

Indie Review: Indomitable

51-wlfbaxkl-_sx384_bo1204203200_J.B. Garner’s Indomitable – The Push Chronicles: Book 1, is a superhero story unlike any superhero story I’ve ever read before. That’s because it just doesn’t feel like a superhero story. It feels closer to sci-fi if anything.

Indomitable follows Irene Roman, a scientist who witnesses the birth of a new reality: A world of superheroes. She takes it upon herself to try an return reality back to the way it was. Saying anything more would spoil the book, I think, but it seems heavily inspired by my favorite issue of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman (issue #18, I think), A Dream of a Thousand Cats.

The novel plays with a lot of classic comic book tropes, such as monologue, with the main character being the only one aware of whats going on. It was very cleverly done, especially having the POV character being aware of the reality and tropes, but because she’s not a huge comic book fan (she doesn’t even like the things), she avoids coming across as smug.

Something I found interesting was that there is no true villain, which is quite a rarity for a story like this. Oh, sure, there are characters who are jerks or mentally ill, but no one comes across as evil. Sure, there’s mention of an evil mastermind pulling strings from behind the scenes, but he has almost no presence in the story and seems like almost an afterthought, although I’m sure he shows up in the sequel. Speaking of the sequel, one thing that felt a little off putting about the book seemed to be the build up to a specific ending without the payoff. I have a feeling that was intentional though, given the last line. The ending subverted the expectations of a superhero origin story, which is something I really enjoyed.

I did find it annoying, however, that the author commonly employed words that, to me at least, came across a little too pretentious,  like he was trying to show off or enjoyed abusing the thesaurus, usually using ten dollar words when a fifty cent word would’ve done the job. He also often chose awkward sounding choices when it came to the phrasing of his sentences (although they were grammatically correct). I do know that the author just recently come out with a new edition of the novel wherein it was reedited, so its possible those issues are now fixed.

All in all, it certainly wasn’t what I expected, but I’m glad I read it. If you’re a fan of sci-fi or superheroes, give it a read. It’s a superhero book for folks that aren’t necessarily big on superhero stories. It isn’t what it appears at first glance, but that’s not a bad thing.

Indie Review – Action Figures – Issue One: Secret Origins

51cxfkvjcyl-_sx331_bo1204203200_ Michael C. Bailey’s Action Figures – Issue One: Secret Origins, is a ridiculously fun superhero novel. It follows Carrie Hauser, a teenage girl who recently gain superpowers, as she deals with her parents divorce, tries to start a superhero team with her friends, deals with veteran superheroes who don’t seem to like her very much, and of course fight supervillains and a shadowy evil organization. I know it sounds very paint-by-the-numbers, but it really isn’t.

This book fixes all the issues I had with Earthman Jack. This guy gets how teenagers talk. It feels real. More impressive to me was just how well he captured the voice of a teenage girl. I legitimately would not have been able to tell it was a man who wrote this. Throughout the story, nearly every character is fleshed out. You really get to know not just Carrie, but her friends, her parents, her friends parents, the other superheroes, etc. They all feel like people, and you can’t help but feel like you have to turn the next page just to get the chance to know them better, which is more than I can say for most books.

While the characterization is flawless, the plot is rather episodic. It mostly ties together in the end though, but rather than seem like a big story, it seems like a lot of smaller ones. Personally, I like this approach, especially to a superhero story which by its nature is episodic. And don’t worry about a cliffhanger ending or anything. There’s a little teaser at the end, but otherwise its basically a complete story.

Something this book does that I found pretty distracting was that it switched from first person to third person mid-chapter. It was confusing at first, but I eventually got used to it, and at least there was a break within the chapter to indicate a different point of view. I understand the decision behind this. The first person narrative makes the reader feel as though they’re in Carrie’s head, and the author didn’t want to lose that. At the same time, there are other things going on that the main character isn’t privy too that is necessary to move the story along. It is a strange, jarring choice, and it wouldn’t have been the one I would’ve made, but at the same time, I understand it. I’d have been much happier though, if it had been done by having a chapter break, with the new form of narration taking place in a new chapter entirely, or use a few different POVs to tell the other parts of the story. In the writer’s defense, however, while it was pretty jarring at first, eventually I got used to the switching between first and third person. I just wish it was handled better.

All in all, despite my issue with the switching between writing styles mid-chapter, this book is by far the best of the indie books I’ve reviewed thus far. The story was fun and engaging, the characters felt real, and the prose itself was very well done. I cannot recommend this book enough. If you like superheroes or even just a good teen drama, check this book out. You won’t regret it.

Using Brand Names and Pop Culture References

There are two different paths folks take in writing. Some folks use stand in brands, such as MyFace, while others will use the actual brand names, such as Facebook. I personally prefer when real names are used. There is a problem with this approach, however. Let’s look the the example I used earlier, but say that instead of Facebook, the writer used MySpace. If you’re reading it today, the book instantly feels dated.

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I was actually reading a book that came out fairly recently. The book specifically mentioned Radio Shack a few times. Radio Shack closed all its stores in 2015, and thus the book itself becomes something of an oddity. Despite the fact that it is supposed to take place in contemporary times, the book is stuck taking place during or before 2015.

When mentioning brands and technology/websites, it is important to keep it vague. For example, using MyFace may sound fake and stupid, while using Facebook may make it dated once Facebook dies, which it inevitably will (though it looks like it’ll be around for the time being). The compromise would be to call it simply a social media site. That type of site will always be around and will not be outdated. (Then again,  if you think your book has a shelf life of ten years or so with relative certainly that Facebook or Google will still be around then, by all means just go for it.)

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You’ve got to be careful using pop culture references. Never use a modern pop culture reference. You don’t know if it’ll stick in the public contentiousness, and it could make your book outdated within a year of its release (please don’t quote Borat). It’s best to stick with older ones that have stood the test of time, like Star Wars or Back to the Future (basically, the 80’s is pretty safe). In the book I mentioned above, with the Radio Shack reference, there’s actually a line that reads “[a]ll four Pirates of the Caribbean movies posters.” Which was accurate when it was written and accurate now. But with a fifth film coming out soon, its about to date the book. So when it comes to referencing a movie series, try to use something that’s been long finished.

Then again, who could’ve ever predicted there’d be more Star Wars? (Basically, unless you’re writing a period piece, you can follow all the rules and still get screwed.)

Indie Review – The First Ark

51rmnfzpodl-_sx311_bo1204203200_Ah, how to describe this one? Chris Fox’s The First Ark is an… interesting novella. It’s certainly creative. However, it makes a vital mistake. It isn’t a full story.

It takes place in a time before written history, during an ice age. The main character is Isis, a shaman of an ancient human tribe. It is implied that this is the same Isis as the Egyptian god, and the other characters from the story seem to share the same names as other Egyptian gods. It comes across essentially as an origin story for this pantheon, but with a sci-fi twist. It is, unfortunately, incomplete. I understand that it is a prequel novella, meant to lead into a series a books. But being a prequel novella is no excuse for being incomplete. If you’re offering something as a book, novella, or short story, it shouldn’t feel as though it stopped in the middle. Sure, Meta and Earthman Jack had small teases of what’s to come, but they felt like complete stories. This one did not.

It was well written and interesting. And at the end of the day, it was still good enough for me to ultimately decide to pick up the first book in the series, but only because it was free. If it hadn’t been, I wouldn’t have picked it up. Let this be a note for aspiring writers: writing a short story or novella is a great idea to give folks a taste of what you have to offer, but please leave them satisfied with an ending.