Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Review: The Order of the Four Sons by Lauren Scharhag and Coyote Kishpaugh

The Order of the Four Sons Book IThe Order of the Four Sons Book I by Lauren Scharhag
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A paranormal mission impossible...

The Order of the Four Sons, or O4S as the modern organization call itself, is under attack. Teams are disappearing on missions, yet events that demand their attention are on the rise in frequency and intensity. After sending out every spare group of people, even the main office's administrative staff, they bring in a misfit crew to investigate a mysterious phone call received just that day from an agent who disappeared 20 years ago from a small town called Excelsior Springs.

Set in the modern day, this story is not focused on Egyptian mythology, despite the description and the intro chapter. I found this to be action-packed and interesting. The banter between the teammates is natural and often humorous. The setting in Excelsior Springs, including the history involved, is also impressive. I was surprised and pleased with the historical fiction aspects of the story, many of which involved this little town. It was clever to link a famous historical figure with O4S, though I don't want to say who the figure is due to spoilers. The old hotel and the alternate old hotel are both extremely creepy, especially due to the creatures and ghosts that inhabit them.

Murphy, Bill and Kate are my favorites from the team. Murphy, the detective, is a sceptic; even after he finds himself transported to another dimension, he still refuses to believe, though he deals with what he's experiencing. Bill monitors, records and coordinates the efforts of the team as they investigate. He pops in with humorous remarks and seems to be their tether to the real world. Finally, Kate, the apprentice mage who thought she was simply coming for her first training mission, instead finds herself on a desperate mission, facing terrifying enemies.

And those terrifying enemies are numerous and varied. Counted among them are ghosts, demons, immortal serial killers, and the particularly nasty spirit that spawned The Order of the Four Sons in the first place.

Overall, I really enjoyed this story, particularly the historical fiction and the ongoing battle between good and evil. This is the first in a series, so the book ends off with a set up for the next one. I'd recommend this book for those who like books with interesting characters, historical tie ins, and cameos by famous (and infamous) historical figures. Others may enjoy the paranormal spin on a story set in the modern world.

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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Psychological Thriller Review: Casting Shadows Everywhere by L.T. Vargus

Casting Shadows EverywhereCasting Shadows Everywhere by L.T. Vargus
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Great story! Both surprising and clever.

Casting Shadows Everywhere is a story that takes the form of a journal. The narrator is a 15 year old boy called Jake. The opening scene captures an early memory Jake has of his Cousin Nick rescuing him from a bully by nearly choking his attacker to death, a frightening start to a story I entered into without having read the description or any reviews or ratings.

Yes, I went into this one blindly, didn't even know what genre the book was. I do remember jumping over to Smashwords to pick up a copy when the author posted a free coupon on a message board, months ago. I'm always up for a freebee, after all. Anyway, I blindly got my copy, forgot about getting it for a few months and then, coming off a slew of YA fiction, vampires, and romance, came across this one again. The catchy red and black cover, featuring a long shadow, stood out, though the title gave me few clues to what I was in for. So, all that being said, my verdict is this: wow!

I love this story. It combines psychology, thrills, coming of age, and humor into a package that just works. Random asides, musings, wonderings, and sometimes even nonsense pepper the work, as someone would do in a personal journal. I loved every one. The parting entry, in particular, left me in tears from laughing so hard, but humor is only one element of the package.

Jake, the perpetual victim, wants to stand up for himself, but always finds himself backing down. He likes a girl called Beth, but lacks the confidence to connect with her. Overall, he's a pushover, and he knows it. He hates it. Then one day his Cousin Nick offers to give him lessons in confidence. Dangerous lessons. Despite misgivings, Jake keeps coming back, enraptured by the thrill of life and confidence they inspire. He finally stands up for himself, becomes friends with Beth, and learns to believe in himself.

Watching Jake gain confidence, I found myself both cheering him on and worrying about the direction he was taking. His cousin, despite being his rescuer and role model, is amoral, violent and downright scary. Jake's outlook continues to darken and draws you in deeper and deeper into the shadows with him, all building up to one of the most memorable climactic moments I've ever read. I was utterly in shock, mouth hanging open, literally (as in the correct usage of that word). I couldn't believe what I was reading, and I couldn't stop. I had to know what happened, even though I dreaded what seemed the inevitable conclusion.

Overall, I'd say this is a must read for anyone who loves a good psychological thriller with an edge of humor, all delivered in a realistic package. It's not the type of book I normally read, but I loved it. It's been several days since I finished it, and I still find myself musing over it.

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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Self Publishing: New KDP Reports!

If you self-publish on KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing), but haven't checked your numbers lately, you might be in for a pleasant surprise. I'd like to share two new Reports that I've noticed that should make things much easier.

The first one I noticed when KDP changed their payment frequency to monthly, no matter the amount. That in itself was a fantastic change. Even if you aren't making much, getting the little deposits is still pretty exciting.  Well, anyways, there's a new Payments report on there that breaks everything down. Not only does it clearly list the date and source of the payment, but also the exchange rate and ultimate amount of the actual amount dropped in your account.

Sounds good, right? What makes it better is that you don't have to select one Amazon site at a time and you don't have to dig through your bank statement to figure out what you're actually getting (exchange rates, you know). That will definitely help with the taxes.

My Sales Dashboard
Another neat thing is the new Sales Dashboard. Mine isn't all that impressive, since I haven't run any promotions or marketed much this month, but it's easy to see that the filters you apply can range from anything from a single title and market all the way up to everything, and you can add various date ranges, too. Add to that, the data is displayed as a graph, great for trending your sales and comparing the different types. And, sure, you can still look at the Month to Date Unit Sales report, which displays one month's numbers for a single market place, but why would you want to?  

Let's just say I like the new reports.  Now, I've got to drum up some sales so I have something to look at.  

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Epic Fantasy Review: The Shadow Rising (Wheel of Time #4) by Robert Jordan

The Shadow Rising (Wheel of Time, #4)The Shadow Rising by Robert Jordan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Love this book. Mat is awesome. Perrin is great in this one, but later gets kind of lame. Same with Faile. Nynaeve is quite the firecracker.

The Rising Shadow is a crossroads in the Wheel of Time series. All the heroes of the story start in Tear, just after Rand's epic taking of the Stone of Tear and Callandor, but they don't stay there long. Having three Ta'vern in one place attracts a new horror into their midst, bubbles of evil. I've got to say, they are pretty scary and well done as a way to kick the main characters into action.

Rand plays a big part in this book. His growing fatalism and obsession with the Prophecies of the Dragon make him difficult to be around, and even his closest friends begin to suspect that the madness that inevitably destroys all men who can channel has already taken hold of him. Still, those who follow him, particularly the Aiel, take this in stride and hope that at least they might be spared the worst of it. Moiraine hopes to keep him alive long enough for him to survive the last battle. Matt hopes to keep him same long enough to get himself away from the epicenter of whatever Rand's insanity might spawn.

Nynaeve and Elayne continue in their efforts to track down the Black Ajah, this time traveling to Tanchico. I really enjoyed their storyline in this one. We spend a lot more time in Nynaeve's head, and I find her to be quite fascinating. She plays at being tough, and she is, but she's got some hurdles to jump. She's worth following as she grows. This is the first book where I'd use the word 'awesome' to describe Nynaeve.

Elayne's a bit flaky in this one, but I still enjoy her in this one. She's more of a supporting character, though. Her story isn't exactly central to any of the plots, though she plays a role in them along Nynaeve's side.

Perrin and Faile, along with Loial, go off to protect the Two Rivers from Fain and the Whitecloaks. Their relationship is quite entertaining and I love the way Faile keeps nudging Perrin into leadership roles against his will. The way all his old friends and even those older than him begin to take direction from him, along with how he rises to the occassion, is great. I love the reluctant hero, and Perrin makes a great one in this story. Of course, in later books, I get a little sick of him and Faile, but for now, they're great.

Matt really starts to get interesting in this book. He's a rogue, but a likeable one. His sole desire is to get away from Rand and all the madness that surrounds him. He doesn't seem to realize that he too has a huge target on his back. The Forsaken are just as interested in destroying Matt as they are Rand, but unlike with Rand, they have no reason to try to keep him alive or turn him to the shadow. I think Matt's better off near Rand and all the Aiel. Anyway, Matt's one of my favorite characters in this series. I never get tired of him or his antics.

Egwene is also just starting to become more interesting in her own right, but there's more to her in future books in the series. I recommend keeping a close eye on her when you read these stories. She's much more than just Rand's ex-love interest.

Overall, I enjoyed this book just as much as the first several times I've read it. I recommend The Wheel of Time series who love detailed world building, epic fantasy, really long reads, and a story that can keep you busy for over a year (if you read them all). As someone who reads very quickly, the length of the Wheel of Time books is a draw for me. However, if you like your stories to be quick and to the point, you may not be up for this series. It takes its time in everything.

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Saturday, April 12, 2014

Dystopian Review: Wool by Hugh Howey

Wool (Wool, #1)Wool by Hugh Howey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Lot's of story in just a few pages. Worth picking up. Leaves you thinking.

Wool starts off with the main character making a long climb to his death, the sound of children playing an odd counterpart to his solemn goal. Right away it got me wondering whether he was truly going to do it. How could you think of death when children are laughing? And that is what hooked me.

From there, I devoured this book. Learning each new tidbit about the main character's world. Guessing with him. Mourning with him. Hoping with him. The images seem real to me, even several days later. I can say this story, short as it is, deeply moved me.

I loved this story for the way it left me thinking and for the way it drew me in emotionally. It's also quite chilling. I highly recommend Wool to people who enjoy dystopians.

I picked this book up while it was on a free promotion on Amazon. I'd heard good things about this story and the author before then, so I felt pretty lucky to come across it for free.

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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Poetry Review: Tennessee Haiku by Charles Hooper

Tennessee Haiku by Charles Hooper
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Beautiful poetry.

I read these over the course of a month.

Each one brings an image to mind and many bring with them an emotion. I love the natural focus, the lonely images, and the relatability of these compact poems.

I never imagined haiku could be so powerful. I want more people to read these, and I want to read them again.

They don't seem to be organized by theme, though some themes come up again and again. I suspect they are simply presented in the order they were written.

I highly recommend this for those who enjoy haiku, particularly with a focus on nature. These are a mix of humorous, thought provoking, and poignant.

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Saturday, April 5, 2014

Science Fiction/Modern Historical Fiction Review: Time Shifters by Shanna Lauffey

Time ShiftersTime Shifters by Shanna Lauffey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A cool story, interesting science fiction mixed with modern day historical fiction.

Time Shifters opens on a restaurant in Southern California. Akalya is having dinner with a couple of friends when a commotion in the back heralds what she thinks is a raid on undocumented workers in the kitchen. That is it does until the action spills out into the dining room and people she recognizes as fellow time shifters are captured and taken away. Akalya abandons caution and protocol and shifts away, narrowly escaping a similar fate. After trying to warn one of her close friends, a little too late to make much difference, Akalya shifts back to The Strand in 1965 California, a time and place cherished in her fondest childhood memories, to collect herself and figure out what to do about the abductions. From this base of operations, Akalya steps outside of her comfort zone and begins a one woman cloak and dagger operation that spans decades.

One thing I enjoyed about this story was the experience of traveling to 60s and 70s Southern California. The feel of the time and place, in my opinion, are spot on and it's easy to imagine yourself there with Akalya, both as an adult visiting and as a child growing up there. The author gives just the right amount of nostalgia to draw you in without going into history lesson mode. I also loved the little pictures sprinkled throughout the book. They're just pictures of houses, beaches, skyscrapers, etc., but they are well placed and help draw you into the locations and the times in the story.

The thoroughness and consistency applied to the shifting science is noteworthy, particularly since this story is billed as science fiction. The science isn't overwhelming, but the explanations are logical and work well in the scope of the story, and the characters stick to the established conventions. I also liked how the most scientific of the explanations are kept in the forewords of each chapter so they don't get in the way of the narration, while the more organic comparisons are presented in the narration, such as when the main character renames grandfather theory as Bill and Ted Theory, after Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. I particularly enjoyed the nod to Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern. Though the main character doesn't outright say those are the time shifting dragonriders she's taking about when she calls it her favorite series, readers who are familiar with McCaffrey's Dragonriders will have no trouble making that connection.

I didn't particularly care for the quirky names for normal people and Akalya's people, kind of too much for such a small story, but as part of a ten book story, it will probably be ok. I also think calling normal people some kind of name as if they are outside your circle is, well, not endearing. Not picking on this story, I didn't like it in Harry Potter either. Of course, it's not farfetched that they would have names for themselves versus others. There are historical and modern day precedents for this.

Another thing I noticed was that the main character lacks a sense of urgency, most likely due to her ability to move herself through time. While it works for the story, it kind of interrupts the action and excitement when Akalya takes off on some leisurely activities in the past, such as renting an apartment, collecting furniture for it and considering taking on a job in the past to earn currency with the proper dates on it.

On a more humorous note, when Akalya tracks her people to a 'portacabin' on the beach, I, for some reason, thought it was some kind of weird word I'd never heard of, possibly in a foreign language. Imagine my chagrin several chapters later when I realized I should have been pronouncing it as port-a-cabin. Made sense after that.

Overall, I really liked this story. It is the first in what the end matter of the book describes as a 10 part series, but the story does have a complete plot and resolution, leaving enough in the realm of the unknown to lead into the next story without being too much of a cliffhanger. I think people who enjoy science fiction, especially the kind that includes time and distance shifting and the kind that includes realistic scientific explanations for the fictional science, will likely enjoy this book. Those who like books with extraordinary powers or science fiction that are set in mundane times and places may also find this in their realm of interest. Finally, I think anyone who grew up in California and experienced the beaches or jaunting out on the rocks and dodging the crabs and sea life there might enjoy the memories this story evokes.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest, non-reciprocal review.

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