Review – The Ancients by Mike Wolff

Click on image to take you to the Mike Wolff – The Ancients Amazon page

FOUR STARS

A coming of age story, but not your typical one. Instead of a moody teenager caught in the angst of life, here we have a young aardvark — yes, and aardvark, and a wonderful one at that. He suffers loss at the hands of a nasty enemy, another animal, the Golden Wombat, the epitome of evil. He goes on a quest, then, to seek out those who can give him the knowledge he needs to get revenge. This quest brings him to many colorful fellow animal characters, all of whom gift him with knowledge, talents, and otherwise equip him mentally and physically – teaching him how to grow up and teaching him how to live. The Aardvark is a fun, likable hero, and believe it or not, him being an animal and all, he’s a character that teenagers and young adults can relate to, look up to, learn from. I liked that about this novel. As others have said, it reminds me and hearkens back to the fables of old, even with a moral of the story woven throughout. I really enjoyed this story. I passed it on to my teenage son, and he’s started reading it on a road trip this weekend. I fully expect him to have devoured it.

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Book Review – Controlled Descent by KM Herkes

Click for Amazon Controlled Descent page

Rating: FIVE STARS

Controlled Descent reminded me of… well, nothing. Why? Because it’s like nothing I’ve ever read before. It’s unique, different, and creates a world that’s based in reality but is unreal. It takes place in a future that is entirely possible… probable even. Humans behave the way we expect them to behave, yet they excel beyond. They survive and thrive even in their darkest moments. You find yourself riveted to the pages, watching as these rich, thick and colorful characters break and bend and bounce back. Each of the characters is intensely drawn, lovingly crafted and they, truly drive the story. It’s not the plot or what is going to happen generally that concerns the reader… the worry, the care lies in what is going to happen to the characters – to Justin, to Parker, Carl, and Allie and Tyler. These characters live in a world that is an uncertain, volatile place; a crumbling political society underlying a technologically and scientifically leaps and bounds advancing one, and it is the conflict between these two spirals that creates much of what the Restoration is all about. It’s a world that a reader can get their boots in and their mind around and live in for a good while.

On a macro/technical level with this book, there were times when I needed to go back a few paragraphs and re-read to understand what was going on, to catch things I missed when the story seemed to take a sharp turn or the dialogue changed lighting quick. The pace moves that quickly, and at times, the reader needs to slow down in order to catch every bit. The writing style is very fluid and very nuanced – the author doesn’t give you every detail, every tidbit of information. While that allows a reader’s own mind to complete the gestalt in a really adventurous, pleasurable way, the reader has to be willing to give it that effort, to become part of that world and observe with their own eyes and deduce with their own mind. If that makes any sense whatsoever. Tl;dr – you cannot be a lazy reader with this book. It forces you to interact, and really… that is a very good thing. This book is a thick, action-packed meaty thriller, not a romance (although there is some romance in it that had me cheering and crying). It’s a steak, not cereal, and it should be savored.

I recommend this highly. Now I’m ready to delve into the rest of the Restoration stories.

Audiobook Review – “Artemis Rising” by Cheri Lasota

Artemis Rising – click to buy

4 STARS

Utterly atmospheric. A story woven from the golden threads of myth and mastery.

I didn’t know what to expect when I first started listening to Artemis Rising. It’s not normally a book I would have chosen, it being a YA romance, but I’m glad I did. I loved the historical aspect of this. While the story itself was abstract, almost floating above reality in a sense, fantasy and fantastical, the setting did the plot justice. The Azores are exotic and new to most, full of lush landscapes and open seas, the Portuguese language foreign to most ears. The time was right, as well, the late 1800’s when the world blossomed out, as did the world’s women from the ties of oppression – just like Ava in this tale.

Keeping the story ethereal were the intricate threads of the myths – those of Arethusa and Alpheus and Tristan and Isolde. Now, I wondered, how in the hooey is Cheri going to wend these two unrelated and vastly different myths together, but dang it… she did. I wondered, in a way, while listening to this, why Ava/Arethusa allowed herself to be so tied down to the myths? Why, in turn did Tristao? To me, it was the parental influence trickling down into the children themselves… and then when the children came into their own minds and their own lives it made sense. Much of it was more figurative and symbolic than realistic, and that was just fine with me. It was almost as if Artemis Rising was a new myth, a new tale to be told by the firesides and hearths.

I’ve read other reviews that discuss Ava/Arethusa making her choice between Paganism and Christianity, but I honestly don’t think that’s what it was. Her choice is between allowing external forces to control her life and her destiny, and taking her course in her own hands. I loved the use of name choices in this story, and while an abstract thought, the name truly defined each character, and that was a masterful stroke.

I enjoyed listening to this book but I think I may have enjoyed reading it more, and I may just do that. The narrator’s voice, while lilting, fine, and beautiful, almost song-like, was sometimes heavy handed, too high-pitched or strange in intonation, inflection and diction. I had to go back to the text sometimes to figure out what she was saying with certain words such as Marques. Granted, much of that was my lack of familiarity with the Portuguese language, so I take that bit of blame. I think, however, that the narration was right for the story. It was at times like listening to a mother or a beloved teacher reading to me, and given the poetic, beautiful language of this book, I think that makes sense, and it is a good fit.

Bottom line, I was entranced by the story. I was heartbroken, frightened, on the edge of my seat, and I felt all of the anger, fear, irritation and love right along with Arethusa. And I may have fallen a little bit in love with Tristao. 🙂 I would recommend this to a friend, and in fact, I have. I received the audio book for free, but I intend to buy a Kindle copy so I can revisit it whenever I like.

Quick result listing of promo sites used for Free promotion today.

As of 2:52 pm Dry Land is at #6 free in Hard Sci Fi. Broke the top 2000 free books. 122 units downloaded. Other than posting like hell on Facebook on my own and using Slack Social and Postcron, and posting to Twitter, these are the sites to which I submitted listings for the free promotion of Dry Land.

ETA: When the free promo closed down, there were 309 units downloaded. Ranking was in the top 1000 free and #2 in hard sci fi-free. Shortly thereafter, three paid sales. 

I write this post with the thought that my results may or may not be typical and may be useful to others in deciding whether to list with a book site. 🙂 Hope this helps!

And the results:

***

http://manybooks.net – emailed me that they didn’t have room for me today. Boo.

http://www.indiebookoftheday.com – didn’t post my book even though I got confirmation that my submission went through. Oh well.

http://www.readingdeals.com – didn’t see book listed. C’est la vie.

http://www.bettybookfreak.com – said no as I had already had a promo with them in Feb. That’s fair.

http://www.ebookstage.com – promoted my book as its “Book of the Day.” Biggest bonus of the day for me RIGHT HERE. Bless them.

http://www.ebooklister.net – promoted my book

http://www.digitalbooktoday.com – listed my book

http://www.ebookstamp.com – site was down

http://www.ebookasaurus.com – promoted my book

http://www.book-circle.com – promoted my book

http://www.readcheaply.com – couldn’t list my book as I already had a promo with them in February. Again, that’s fair.

Review of Dry Land by KM Herkes – and FREE DOWNLOAD TODAY 4/7/15!

KM Herkes did me the honor of reading and reviewing Dry Land! Please go and check out her in-depth, honest and rich review for which I thank her deeply. You can find her review and her blog HERE.

Also, if you don’t already know, Dry Land is FREE today for Kindle downloads. Head on over, download it, read it, share it. Please and thank you. ❤ Last time I had this book on a free promotion through KDP it ranked #2 in Hard Sci Fi and #3 in Romance-Science Fiction for free books. Broke the top 600 overall in free book sales. Don’t think that’ll happen again, but it’s nice to know that folks are interested in it.

Book Review: Saga of Menyoral: Hard Luck – M.A. Ray

Five StarsAvailable at this link on Amazon.com

This was my first true, deep dive into the world created by M.A. Ray and I didn’t want to leave just yet. I’d read one of her shorts involving the wonderful knight by the name of Vandis Vail, but in this story I got to not only get to know Vandis better, but I also met Dingus. Yes, Dingus. I love the name, Dingus.

This story starts out with a prologue in the grand way prologues go. Very vivid detail and cinematic prose that brings the image of a ritual gone horribly wrong into the mind’s eye. After that, though, we see the impact of that ritual. A magical world stripped of its magic, with only vestiges of it remaining. The story involved a fantasy world but it had a strong base in reality, really. Reality for a made up world is a difficult thing to pull off but there you have it. I adored Dingus. He was a plucky character, very easily likable, honest, yet not without his foibles and things that make you just want to smack yourself in the head and go, “oh, Dingus!”

As for the writing, there were no places where I found myself dragged out of the narrative, but there were some instances where I had to go back and re-read a sentence once or twice to figure out what was being said. There were a few places of telling as opposed to showing, but in a story like this, sometimes that’s necessary. Or, a tidbit given by telling was or is going to be something that’s important down the road or in the moment. Such as us being told that Vandis had a sweet tooth, but couldn’t eat candies like he used to. Well, that told us that his sharing of a caramel later on was a rather important thing for him to do.

The book tackles difficult issues such as racism with aplomb and wonderful contrasting flowing ideas. Kessa’s predicament given her tender, tender age broke my heart and Dingus’ honor and Vandis’ generosity (well, the Lady’s generosity) with her made me love him even more.

Plot wise, I’m sure that what happened in this book sets up for much more down the road, but I did find the ending a little abrupt. I wanted more and that’s a good thing, especially after the culmination of one subplot involving a young boy and burgeoning magic, and the other with Dingus himself and his own heretofore “hidden” talent.

The action scenes at the end were well rendered and painted vivid pictures in my mind. The wander/quest plot did wander a bit, but I understood why and it didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the story at all. The plot was dark yet light hearted if that makes any sense.

Definitely not for little kids, though. I never criticize a book for swearing, ever, but as a review I gotta say it’s in there. It’s in there but it leant to the truthfulness of the story, the backwater kid and the cranky knight, of course they’re going to swear. 🙂 Some hints of sexual situations and violence, but nothing more violent than what’s seen in much YA fiction these days anyway.

I think Vandis and Dingus are going to stick with me for a long while. Also, after I finished reading Hard Luck I immediately and without question picked up the sequel. As a friend of mine says, she votes with her wallet when it comes to things she reads, and I do as well. My vote’s been cast.

Trigger Warning: Zombies

And no, I’m not talking the Walking Dead type of zombie, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

I once did some writing on another blogging site as a hobby. I loved putting my words and ideas and thoughts out there for free, my only payment being the feedback I got from various readers and other writers.

Now, some of the writing I did was a little, let me say, violent. Rough. Not in any sort of prurient manner for violence’s own sake, but to move the story. And sometimes in that feedback I would get, I would also get complaints about elements of the writing being “triggering.”

For those unfamiliar, the concept of “triggering” is that there is something in the story or the writing that would, as it says, “trigger” another’s illness or high emotions. And it is expected that if a writer presents a “triggering” situation in his or her writing, that said writer would include in the header of the story a single or often a long series of “trigger warnings.” Trigger warnings can be such as “TW: suicide,” or “TW: blood” or “TW: fight scenes” or “TW: gore.”  As I wrote more and more on that other site, I accepted the criticism. In bits of work after that I happily included such warnings, as many as I could, as they were appropriate (or not appropriate).

And so I was thinking of these triggers and trigger warnings in the car last night. I don’t think I have ever, once seen a trigger warning posted on the front of a novel or a book in the library or at the book store. I have never seen such warnings on Amazon. Yes, some warnings are included for films via the rating systems, but these are not specific. You don’t go to The Hunger Games and expect to see “TW: gore” or  “TW: children murdering each other” splashed up on the big screen before the credits begin to roll.

I don’t ever remember being warned of the issue of suicide before I read “The Bell Jar,” or “Romeo and Juliet.” I don’t ever remember being warned about the question of gang warfare or murder in “Lord of the Flies” or rape in Diana Gabaldon’s novels, or the issues of teenage death in “A Separate Peace.” I know there are better examples out there of things that can be triggering to a person in mainstream works, but those are the ones that I can think of at the moment.

But those are things that bring out high emotion in me. They give me the oogies, sometimes to the extreme that I need to set the book down and do something else for a while. I can say, then, that I have read many things that have “triggered” me (using the term very loosely) in one way or the other. Sometimes to the point of anger. Sometimes to the point of curling up in a little ball on my bed and crying my eyes out. Sometimes to the point of not feeling safe within my own skin for a while.

But…

Isn’t that the whole point of art?

Isn’t it the whole point of a piece of written work, or visual art, or music to make us FEEL?

My youngest son is autistic. He LOVES listening to what he calls “sad music.” Why? Because it makes him cry. It makes him feel SOMETHING. We don’t often let him do it, but sometimes he says “mom, I need some sad music.” Not because he’s sad, but because it triggers him. It brings about something inside of him that changes the humdrum, everyday, normative way he feels.

And that is a good thing.

So, now to the point of zombies.

I saw this film a while back, a Jim Jarmusch piece called Only Lovers Left Alive. It’s not heavy on plot, in fact, there’s really no plot at all. What it is heavy on is the commentary on this very issue.

In the film, Adam is a vampire. He’s old. Very old. He’s your typical or not-so-typical Byronic hero. Dark and brooding with a sense of self-entitlement. He is also, as one character puts it, a “suicidally romantic scoundrel.” Suicidal being the key word.

Why is he suicidal do you ask? Why does he ask his human friend to get him a bullet made out of the hardest wood he can find? Why does he load the bullet in the gun and consider shooting himself in the heart? What’s his explanation?

He’s tired of the zombies.

“Zombies” is Adam’s term for humans. And the problem Adam sees with the humans, the problem that drives him to no longer wish to live, is that the zombies are “afraid of their imaginations.” Zombies do eat brains, too, in a way. According to Adam, they consume and destroy imagination, creativity, scientific progress and beauty. They yell and scream and demand control over the art and imagination of others at the same time they decry the censorship of their own prized work. Adam laments how the zombies have ruined science and suppressed leaps forward in art, and how they have, in a figurative sense, eaten the brains of the men and women who dared to think and move science and art forward.

And is that, I wonder, the key here?

At the same time some are fighting the good fights for social justice online, are they, perhaps, also seeking to censor the work of others by demanding that every piece posted or offered carry warnings — warnings against simple things that make them feel (just feel, not necessarily react in a PTSD sense)? Warnings against bits of the writing that will throw them for an emotional loop for a time and carry them temporarily to a different headspace, a different place and a different time?

Some may ask, then: Why don’t we want to feel anymore? Why don’t we want to experience every aspect of life through the writing of others? Why do we complain when a work of art or a work of literature does for us exactly what it is designed to do? Why do we complain in a review on Amazon when an otherwise brilliant and craftily written piece has a few swear words, or a touch of graphic detail, or sex scenes, especially if those elements lend to the overall strong atmosphere or verisimilitude of the story?

Are we zombies? Do we not want to feel? Are we afraid of our own imaginations?

Others may ask, on the other hand: Are we over-preoccupied with our own feelings? Are we expecting others to constantly vet out our own emotions? Are we so paranoid and afraid of giving offense? Must we restrict and bubble wrap everything? Does our seeking to require the world to give notice to our frailties help us to overcome them?

Some may say: Are the trigger warnings themselves, perhaps, triggering? Do they truly deter someone from reading a piece, or do they present a prurient temptation to delve further into the dangerous territory?

I wonder.

I don’t criticize. I simply — wonder. I know the subject’s a touchy one.

With all this being said, I see both sides. I absolutely positively and completely understand and respect how a person, for example, who is struggling with illness such as PTSD or a violent past or a past event would not want it brought up again in what they read or see, and warnings may be vital for such things.

So don’t yell at me in the comments, okay?. 🙂 I’m here to neither bury Caesar nor to praise him. Just thinking, that’s all. Ruminating.

I understand, too, that if a piece has characters or dialogue or opinions that may be slurring to certain groups — that there should be some sort of warning against it. Warnings allow for mental preparation, and allow for a person to decide whether they want to continue reading a piece online, especially something new where there is no feedback or no discussion hinting at such things down the line.

But I was once criticized for not placing a trigger warning on a story where there was character death… a rather peaceful, non-violent death, actually, but a death nonetheless.

So. How does this work, then, really?

I know the need for these warnings in some communities, but where does the line get drawn? Is this practice restricted to online communities only, or are we going to start seeing authors include a list of potentially triggering things on the frontispiece of their books? What, exactly then, do we list as triggering? If someone in the story cuts their finger and sucks on the wound do we list “blood sucking” as a trigger? I know that’s a silly example, but really. I don’t know.

But again, I never see those warnings on published books or in film reviews, ever. I’m honestly not sure how to handle those situations and I am sure each individual person has a method to screen what they see and hear and read.

Again, I’m not critical. Warnings are a necessity. But to what extent? Is it enough to warn a person with PTSD against a violent plot? Or are we, as writers, going to be expected to warn against things that could be simply emotionally difficult for the average person, which again, is the whole point of our art?

I just don’t know.