Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Contemporary Fantasy Review: Where Have All the Elves Gone? by Christian Warren Freed

Where Have All the Elves Gone?
by Christian Warren Freed

Light Elves. Dark elves. Dwarves. Trolls. A dragon living under the city who spends his time watching reruns of 80s shows and a Grateful Dead loving Giant wearing tie dye and forging weapons?

Fantasy author Daniel Thomas never imagined the mythical creatures he wrote about actually existed and wishes they weren't. Daniel is about to embark on the longest and worst night of his life as he is drawn into an elf civil war happening in Raleigh, North Carolina. The only thing keeping him alive are two dwarf brothers who smoke too many cigars and have more guns than the US Army.

Making matters worse is a secret government organization determined to keep it all a secret.

Where Have All the Elves Gone? is part James Bond, part Eddie Drood, and all chaos as Daniel sets out to save two worlds before they collide.

My Review:
The story is set in and around Raleigh, NC, an area with which I am very familiar. As such, much of my enjoyment was in recognizing the locations and in picturing the epic fantasy-meets-reality clashes between humans, dwarves, elves, and gnomes. In particular, the zoo scenes, my adopted hometown, and the fairgrounds. It's obvious the author has done his research or is a local.

As for the fantasy, it's interesting. I always enjoy a new take on "what if" elves, dwarves, etc. are real, and in this story, that is paired with "what if" an author's stories reflect reality. Besides that, I found a few of the features of the fantasy creatures a bit too convenient, and I was getting hung up on how they were going to cover up the destruction.

Overall, worth a read. I enjoyed it because I like fantasy/reality mash ups, reluctant heroes, and action.

I received the review copy of this book from NetGalley.

About the Author:
Christian W. Freed was born in Buffalo, N.Y. more years ago than he would like to remember. After spending more than 20 years in the active duty US Army he has turned his talents to writing. Since retiring, he has gone on to publish over 20 military fantasy and science fiction novels, as well as his memoirs from his time in Iraq and Afghanistan, a children's book, and a pair of how to books focused on indie authors and the decision making process for writing a book and what happens after it is published.

His first published book (Hammers in the Wind) has been the #1 free book on Kindle 4 times and he holds a fancy certificate from the L Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest. Ok, so it was for 4th place in one quarter, but it's still recognition from the largest fiction writing contest in the world. And no, he's not a scientologist.

Passionate about history, he combines his knowledge of the past with modern military tactics to create an engaging, quasi-realistic world for the readers. He graduated from Campbell University with a degree in history and is pursuing a Masters of Arts degree in Digital Communications from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

He currently lives outside of Raleigh, N.C. and devotes his time to writing, his family, and their two Bernese Mountain Dogs. If you drive by you might just find him on the porch with a cigar in one hand and a pen in the other. You can find out more about his work by following him @ https://www.facebook.com/ChristianFreed or on Twitter @christianwfreed.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

I think up weird stuff; sometimes I write it down

by Patricia Hamill

I think up weird stuff; sometimes I write it down.

I think that's standard fare for fiction writers, and I can attest it's true for myself, even though I haven't actively written a story for a couple of years now.

The lack of writing these odd thoughts, random musings and ridiculous scenarios hasn't stopped them from invading my thoughts in my day to day life. Sometimes I blurt them out to a mix of chuckles, confusion, or awkward silence. I'd like to think the chuckles win out.

Still, I think this flair for thinking up the impossible and improbable or imagining "what if" scenarios with only a tenuous link to reality are what make fiction possible.

But it's the writing it down that I struggle with.

I see a lot of writers who carry around a little notebook, not letting a single one of these gems go by, but the habit has never stuck with me. Instead, only a few make it onto a post it or stick around long enough for me to take a harder look at them.

I tried my hand at a diary once, and I imagine the notebook would be similar. The first week or two, solid notes every day. Then it skips a week, or two, or a month. Pretty soon, it's three years later and I've found the thing under the side table in the living room housing a family of spiders who, in all honesty, are welcome to stay there because it's not worth the cringe factor to evict them.

So, writing it down is a challenge. I wrote this statement down (the one at the very top), and that's why I'm expounding on it now. So yeah, maybe I should do that more.

And that brings me to the last point. 

Thinking it up and writing it down are critical, but you have to go back and look at it again, do something with it.

Even if I did write every idea in a notebook, how likely would it be that I would open the thing, flip through, and look at what I wrote? And if I didn't do that, how likely would it be that I would turn one or more of those random thoughts into a story or article?

To both questions: not very.

So, what do I do? 

I only write a few of them down, usually the ones I can't get out of my mind or that seem to resonate with myself or others. And then I make a point of going back and doing something with them, whether that be an article, a story, a meme, or a random post on social media.

When inspiration strikes, the key is to go back to it, to use it, to share it with the world.

If you don't, it's lost to all but you and the spiders, and the spiders don't care.

P.S. If you're not a fan of spiders, my apologies. If you are a fan, no worries. No actual spiders were harmed or displaced in the writing of this article.


I read too much! is going on break for the next few months.  Subscribe to the blog or follow me on Twitter so you'll know when it's back. Happy reading!

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Middle-Grade Review: My Best Friend Runs Venus by Katrina S. Forest

My Best Friend Runs Venus
By Katrina S. Forest
Genre: Science Fiction
Age category: Middle Grade
Release Date: June 1, 2019

At 12.9 years old, number-obsessed Kade Walker has never heard of death. Literally. But neither has anyone else he knows. Kade is one of hundreds of kids "living" across the solar system through robotic avatars while their real bodies sleep in pods on Earth. Unfortunately, robot bodies can be hacked.

One day during an (innocent!) experiment, Kade unwittingly breaks a major security wall and releases an infamous hacker. The madwoman targets all the royal avatars, including Kade’s best friend, Princess Tamika of Venus.

If Kade and Tamika don’t want to become the hacker’s puppets, they’ve got to stop her fast--even if it means waking up on Earth to fight with bodies they never realized could be hurt.

My Review:
In My Best Friend Runs Venus, there’s a lovely blend of sci-fi, adventure and whimsy. The main characters are a couple of pre-teens who have been paired up as companions and sent to Venus via robotic avatars to run the planet. Their curiosity gets the better of them, and they activate a teleporter that releases a dangerous criminal who is intent on taking over their sims and destroying the status quo.

Had I read this as a kid, I think I would have loved it. As it is, I just really liked it, which isn’t all that different, really. I very much enjoyed the planet hopping, the banter between Kade and Tamika, the illustrations, and the imaginative technology that made everything possible: the flavor sticks, the teleporters, the avatars, the environmental overlays. And I thought the story was well executed and well organized. Just overall good!

Still, the idea of sending children to rule the planets of the solar system was interesting, but I couldn’t help but sense the unfairness of it all. The kids are essentially locked into sleep pods and expected to live out their lives as their avatars. The companions are basically the appointed best friend of each of the royals, and they aren’t even allowed to look human, that that seemed to bother Kade too much.

Through it all, I had questions. Did the parents go about their lives on the home world when not overseeing their children? Who else is on each of the planets? How are these children going to have families of their own and keep humanity going if they are living virtual lives? As an adult reader trying to understand the world, these kept me wondering. Would a young reader ask the same? I don’t know.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I would recommend it to younger readers who enjoy science fiction and adventures, particularly those who like imagining the possibilities of space colonization. Adults looking for a lighter read may also enjoy this, particularly if they enjoy middle-grade fiction.

I received the review copy of this book from the author via Lola’s Blog Tours.

About the Author:

Katrina S. Forest is a teacher by day, author by any-other-time-she-can-get. Her work has sold to a variety of magazines, ranging from Flash Fiction Online to Highlights to Children. She loves nerdy conventions and believes video games can be a force of creative good instead of evil.

You can find and contact Katrina S. Forest here:
- Website
- Facebook
- Twitter
- Goodreads
- Amazon

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Fiction is a thought experiment

by Patricia Hamill

Fiction is a thought experiment.

This came to my mind during a recent Toastmasters meeting, and I had to write it down, though it's not likely a new or unique epiphany in the grand scheme of things.

But think about it. We use fiction to explore the world (both as writer and reader). We experience things we would never have experienced, both good and bad. We imagine new technology, or superpowers, or a new love. We solve murder mysteries or save the day from a mad scientist. We're young again, or we're old.

And back to the idea of a thought experiment, fiction has an influence on the real world. Look at Star Trek and cell phones. The little flip communicators look a lot like our original flip phones. And fiction, particularly science fiction, continues to lead and guide emerging technology, inspiring current and future scientists and inventors to challenge the very scope of what is real and what is possible.

And then, back to fantasy fiction, sure, we may not have elves, dwarves, wizards, and hobbits running around, but there's meat to these stories. Often, you'll find battles and fight scenes. The writer experiments with different strategies and imagines how they would play out. Some of them are plausible. For a fight scene, the same thing. It's essentially the application of a martial art in a fictional situation.

When I practiced karate regularly, we would do something very similar when practicing our forms, not just going through the movements, but through imagination, building purpose behind each action. An opponent strikes, and we block. Our head turns as another approaches, and we shift our feet and adopt a defensive stance. The first opponent comes in for another strike and we execute a side kick to send him back so we can focus on the new one. All in the mind, but enhancing the learning of the martial art.

And in fantasy, particularly the epic kind, are political machinations. There are a finite number of existing and past countries to study, some well documented and some not, but fiction is limitless and can be experienced from any perspective, not just that of an observer. Through fantasy, one can be a king and explore the benefits and drawbacks of such. One can imagine a coup in the works or fight one off, depending on the perspective. One can fight adversity or be the cause of it. Dictatorships, democracy, autocracy, monarchy, all are fair game in fiction.

That being said, dystopia is one of the more prevalent political experiments I've noticed in this day and time, reflecting the observations and worries of our young people and adults alike. Most of it presents the dystopia as a thing of the present, and then the protagonists, who are often young adults born into the mess, fight to correct the course of their world, usually succeeding, but not always.

All of it is a thought experiment. A way of learning about and understanding our world through storytelling. Both inspired by and inspiring our reality.

And the best part is? Anyone can join in. Just pick up your pen and imagine...

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

New Release Feature and Blog Tour Stop: The Phoenix Grail (The Phoenix Succession #1) by Helen Savore

Today is my stop for The Phoenix Grail Blog Tour, running July 1st through 12th. For my stop, I'm sharing a bit about the book and my read-in-progress review. I'm sitting at right around 40% into the book. Hope you enjoy!

The Phoenix Grail (The Phoenix Succession #1)
by Helen Savore
Released June 16, 2019

The stories Alexandrea tells don’t come to life, they already are!

Alexandrea’s family descends from King Arthur’s knights, the sole humans who can see the Fae. They’ve worked with Merlin’s forgotten apprentice for generations to stop Fae from leeching life.

Now she is the last and must follow in the footsteps of the grail knights, seeking the Phoenix grail. Worse, the fae are visiting Earth more, including Alexandrea’s friend Jamie, who sees visions predicting his patients’ deaths.

Can Alexandrea summon the Phoenix in time to regain what her ancestors lost and stop the deaths that plague our world?

My Short and Sweet (read-in-progress) Review:
So far, this is a decent read, and I'm enjoying the gradual revelaton of Moralynn's past and how it affects Alexandrea's future. Jamie's part intrigues me, though I'm wondering how he will fit into the bigger picture. As for the Fae, not sure yet. They're varied and unpredictable, and many seem to be up to no good, or worse, particularly those Jamie sees, but some seem alright. I'm looking forward to seeing how this one wraps.

I received the review copy of this book from Netgalley, and I'm still reading it. Look for a final review to post to Goodreads and Amazon when I'm finished with it.

About the Author:
Helen Savore writes fantastical worlds filled with a mixture of modern and medieval settings. She explores stories loosely based on Arthurian legends, secretly wishing that King Arthur would return to pull the world from the brink of darkness. An engineer by day, and a gamer when time allows, this paper ninja writes, reads, plays with pen-and-paper RPGs and folds origami. It’s not surprising that her stories are filled with unexpected folds and twists that blend seamlessly with reality.

You can follow her on Twitter @ImaPaperNinja or her website.