The Faerie of Central Park, by Bruce Graw: A Review

The Faerie of Central Park is a gentle, amusing story, a romance in the old meaning of the term.

Dave is a first year student at Columbia University in New York city, unsure and adrift –faerie-central-park until the day an injured faerie lands on the windshield of his car. Thinking it is a high-quality doll he can use to impress a girl, he takes it home – only to find that it is an honest-to-goodness live faerie.

Tilly, the faerie, is the genius loci of Central Park, keeping its natural rhythms in place, taking care of the Land. She desperately needs to return – but Men are the age-old enemies of the Fey, so how can she trust Dave?

The Faerie of Central Park is a gentle, amusing story, a romance in the old meaning of the term. The story begins light-heartedly, describing Tilly’s actions in Central Park and Dave’s at university. Even after they meet, the story continues in a fairly predictable ‘human meets non-human and get to know each other’ vein, but well written and enjoyable.

The story bogged down for me in the middle, with too much description and repetition of situations that did not differ enough from each other to warrant inclusion. But it picked up again in the last third of the book as the story approached its climax and then came to an almost-satisfying conclusion.

I can’t fault the writing: author Bruce Graw constructs sentences and paragraphs with skill. The characters are as developed as one would expect in a light urban fantasy, with the characters of Tilly and Dave the most developed, as is appropriate. The e-book was extremely well edited, without the common errors that spell-check misses. Only the actual story-telling wobbled, in the too-long and too-repetitious middle section, and an ending that left me with one fairly large niggle, which I won’t describe so as to avoid spoilers.

Overall, three-and-a-half stars for a enjoyable urban fantasy, suitable for both young adults and older.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The Tom Cat, by Amy Holden Jones: A Review

The Tom Cat is a delightful romp of a story, without a missed beat or loose end.

Tom Knightly is a rich man-about-town who can’t commit; he breaks the heart of his tom-catfiancee by running out on her only a few days before the wedding. Ashamed of himself, he ends up in a bar called The Black Cat, where he meets a graceful, beautiful older woman apparently on the prowl, a cougar. They drink together, and the next morning, Tom wakes up….as a cat.

As a cat, Tom survives a few escapades before making it back to the apartment of his fiancee, Kaylie. The fat old labrador, Henry, who serves as a guard dog, welcomes him, and begins to teach him a few life lessons. Tom will need to learn what true love and sacrifice is before he can become human again, and win his Kaylie back.

The Tom Cat is a delightful romp of a story, without a missed beat or loose end. Sure, the characters are a bit two-dimensional, and there’s no real doubt it’s going to end happily, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Author Amy Holden Jones has a number of screenwriting credits to her name, and the professionalism is apparent. In fact, The Tom Cat itself would make a good summer movie. (Twenty years ago, I would have cast Hugh Grant in the title role.)

This isn’t great literature, but I couldn’t fault it. Five stars to this light, offbeat romance.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

A Noble’s Quest, by Ryan Toxopeus: A Review

If it is adventure you are after, The Noble’s Quest has it in spades.

Elves and dwarves, men and halflings, gnomes and orcs…this is a high fantasy story in thea-nobles-quest tradition of Terry Brooks, with gaming influences also apparent. Fast paced, and with a unexpected twist towards the end, A Noble’s Quest suitably entertained me. The gaming influences, I think, are most apparent in the pace of the story, and the characters’ self-awareness, tending towards ‘kill now, think about it later’ rather than the more reflective nature of some fantasies.

But if it is adventure you are after, A Noble’s Quest has it in spades. Thomas and Sarentha, the two protagonists, are peasants working as lumberjacks until Thomas accidentally kills the boss’s son. Forced to flee, they are caught up in a quest that involves an ancient map, the branch of a magical tree, and silver dragons that breath frost, not fire. (I liked that dragon, a neat inversion of the usual.)

There’s a bit of a fan fiction feel to parts of the world Ryan Toxopeus has created, strengthened by his use of the terms orcs and mithril, but to some extent Middle-Earth belongs to the generations now, part of a shared consciousness and the foundation of much of high fantasy, whether the authors realize that or not. The characters are a bit predictable (well, most of them – no spoilers!), but that’s less important in a story shaped by the adventure, not by the personalities. Sometimes the solutions to problems seemed a bit ‘deux ex machina‘, especially towards the end, again reflecting (in my opinion) the influences of gaming.

A Noble’s Quest is followed by its sequel, A Wizard’s Gambit, which I will be reading as soon as I get through my backlist! Overall, 3.5 stars from me for The Noble’s Quest, which translates to 4 on Goodreads and Amazon.

I received a copy of this book from the author, in exchange for an honest review.

The Fall of The Gods (Elynx Saga Book 1) by Nicola Bagalà: A Review

I found parts of the story to be quite fun…

The Fall of The Gods (Elynx Saga Book 1) by Nicola Bagalà requires a major suspension of disbeliefFall of the Gods to enter fully into the world the author has created. Visualizing the action as a movie may help; when I could do that, I found parts of the story to be quite fun, although I could never really take it seriously.

The writing, as far as the adherence to the rules and conventions of grammar and spelling of the English language, is quite good, perhaps more so as English is not the author’s first language and he has translated the work from Italian. There were one or two mis-steps (snickers for sneakers, as one example) but overall the translation is competent and sentence flow is good; there are fewer mistakes than I usually see in any self-published work. It’s in the structure of story-telling that the problems arise. Mix together a sentient artificial intelligence that is the ‘soul’ of a building (and can appear as a solid hologram), a missing genius scientist, a Japanese grad student who is a mathematics and martial arts specialist, some equipment and action straight out of comic books and video games, dream sequences, and aliens crashed in the Sonora desert…well, can you mix all that together and write a coherent storyline? Not in one book, I’m afraid. There are too many plot lines and too many genres combined here for the story to hold together well. As it is the first book in a series, it is possible that once the other(s) are written that the whole series will coalesce into a solid and meaningful story. As it stands now, it’s too many flavours in one pot.

Standing out for me among the characters of the book was the sentient, holographic AI Hex. Perhaps an homage to Hal of 2001: A Space Odyssey, (although he also reminded me of the ‘soul of the Tardis’) as revealed in the Doctor Who episode The Doctor’s Wife), I found the character appealing and amusing, and oddly enough more fully realized than most of the other characters. (Which may, of course, say more about me as a reader than it does about the writer.)

Overall 2.5 stars, which translates to 3 on Goodreads and Amazon.

I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Oracle (Freya Snow Book 4) by L.C. Mawson: A Review

…a fast-paced magical adventure.

The fourth installment in L.C. Mawson’s Freya Snow series continues the story begun in oracleHunt. Freya, now more aware of her magical heritage and powers (although not completely) accepts a work experience placement in London, only to discover that her employer has chosen her for her magical abilities, and her assignment is to track down a missing Oracle. The problem is, does this Oracle want to be found?

Switching between the Shadow Realm and everyday life, the story provides more explanation of Freya’s background and foreshadows one possible future. It also acts as an exploration of some of Freya’s deepest fears and the choices she needs to make. But I also found parts of this book had, for me, a deeper resonance as a metaphor for the difficulties and choices people on the autism spectrum disorder face. I hesitate to write this, because I am allistic (non-autistic), but my husband is autistic (Asperger’s diagnosis), and after thirty-eight years of living with him, I may have a few valid insights. When Freya (or her Shadow Realm counterpart, to be precise) is told this about her possible bond with another magical creature: “The only way the two of you can bond is if you form a real and lasting attachment to the Human world. We always knew you were too closed off to others for that ever to be likely….” it struck me as the truth about relationships many autistic people live with. It can be easier to invest in other sorts of relationships – with computers, games, or, as Freya does, as a bounty-hunter of evil magical creatures – than it is with other humans…especially when the powers you hold – whether it is Freya’s magic or the ability to envision and analyse and discard dozens of answers to a word-game problem in a few milliseconds (don’t play Tribond® with my husband) – separate you from allistics.

Even with that possible interpretation aside, this is a fast-paced magical adventure. It should not be read without having read the previous books, and perhaps the related short stories too: I have read all the books, but not the stories, and there were occasionally times when I found myself confused about past events, which could be due either to my poor memory or to something happening or revealed in a story I haven’t read. But overall the four books have provided a coherent narrative and a developing story. I’m giving this installment four stars.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The Silver Portal, by David J. Normoyle: A Review

Magic gone wrong, and five disparate young people from across the land become the weapons-bearers…

Five weapons of power. Magic gone wrong, and instead of five trained warriors bonding to WeaponsofPower-Final-Smallthe weapons, five disparate young people from across the land become the weapons-bearers. Magically linked to the weapons, each must learn its powers and its responsibilities, evade those who want to use them for ill, and find each other across a wide and dangerous land. David J. Normoyle’s book The Silver Portal, the first book in a planned series, introduces us to the five protagonists: street urchin Twig; would-be-adventurer Lukin; noble Suma; Mortlebee, outcast from his religious community, and rebellious Simeon. Each character stands as individuals; each has their own difficulties with their unexpected weapons. Struggles with trust, ethics, personal convictions and the expectations of upbringing are central to each character’s growth and development through the story, but not in a heavy-handed or preachy way. Instead, these dilemmas are an integral part of the story, handled for the most part deftly and naturally.

The writing is competent and fluid, and at the right level of difficulty for the young-adult target audience. Readers are introduced to the history, politics and magic of the world in a gradual manner, often learning along with the characters. Although in a couple of places I found myself wishing for a deeper understanding of the history, enough is given to flesh out the story and the motivations of characters.

I found the plot a bit rushed towards the end, given the fairly slow development of during most of the book. But as part of a series, the pacing may be less uneven when the book is read as an introduction to the world and the characters rather than a stand-alone story. Overall, 4 stars, for a worthy addition to young-adult fantasy.

A Guest Post from John A. Autero, author of The Scorpion

John A. Autero is an indie author of speculative and techno-thriller adventure novels.

It’s common knowledge that humans have access to more digital media than ever before. Five hundred television channels, streaming movies, You Tube, ebooks, music in mp3 format or from streaming services… it’s everywhere. It’s wonderful that we have such a huge number of choices but I think something happened along the way. The huge volume of available digital media has caused it to lose its perceived value. Today, people fully expect this type of media to be free to the public.

Want to listen to the latest Lady GaGa album? Don’t worry, someone has tossed it onto You Tube for everyone to enjoy free of charge. At least until You Tube discovers it and takes it down, soon to be replaced by someone else in no time. If you don’t want to use You Tube, there are a number of sites to pass music and movies free of charge. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen people watching newly released movies on their laptops that they received for free. Love to read books but have a small budget? Sure, you can go to your local library, but why? Jump onto Amazon and grab a free copy of something interesting. I’ve seen people with tens if not hundreds of e-books on their Kindle that they downloaded for free. How did this happen? Where did this way of thinking start?

Here’s my guess.

Technology has allowed artists (musicians, writers) to make themselves visible to the public with as little as a click of a mouse button. In the old days, record companies ruled the music industry with an iron fist. They determined which bands made it and which ones didn’t. The few that did make it, sold millions of albums and filled huge arenas and those that didn’t were left to play at the local bar on Saturday night. But today, a band can set up a website and promote their music to the entire world without the help of a record company.

The publishing business has followed the exact same route. An independent author can write a book and easily toss it onto his/her own website, Amazon or Smashwords without the help of a publishing company. And this is great. As mentioned, this gives the public a huge variety to choose from and allows artists to be discovered. But as time has progressed a pattern has appeared. Four or five years ago, you would see indie e-books on Amazon for $4.99 or $3.99 [U.S. Dollars], with main stream published e-books coming in around $7.99 or $8.99. This makes sense to me since the quality of the indie books might not match that of the mainstream books. OK… I get it. But as time has passed, the price of the indie books has dropped and today most indie books are $0.99 or free. If an indie author sticks his e-book onto Amazon for $4.99, forget it… no one is going to look at it, because the public knows they can get another book that may be just as entertaining for free.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m an indie author. I run promotions where I give away ten or fifteen e-books over a weekend to try and increase readership and get reviews. But I believe that authors (and musicians) that provide their work to the public free of charge on a permanent basis, send the wrong message. I personally don’t write books with the sole purpose of generating income. I enjoy writing and I like to see people enjoy what I write. But I firmly believe that there should be a value attached to my work. Even a program like “Kindle Unlimited” that gives the perception of a free service, puts a value on a book through a subscription fee. (On a side note – I think KDP Select which gives an author access to Kindle Unlimited is a bit too restrictive over the long haul, but could be used for a period of time when a book is first released to draw attention and get reviews.)

My hope for the future is for artists to realize that the way to increase readership is not to lower the price of their goods but to make them better. Come up with a really good song or a really good book and people will notice. I don’t expect to become wealthy selling the few books I have written, but I feel they have a value and the public should provide me with the small amount I am asking for, to enjoy my book.

Let me know what you think?

John A. Autero is an indie author of speculative and techno-thriller adventure novels. An
engineer by education, John employs a technical style of writing that combines existing technologies with those that are yet to be developed. John enjoys anything sci-fi, automotive, heavy metal and ballistic. Always a fan of government conspiracies and black-ops, stories like The Terminator and The X-Files are always on his list of favorites. John was born in the United States and has spent his entire life there, where he happily lives with his wife and pets.  The Scorpion is his latest book.

 

 

 

 

 

Hollo: The Gatecaster’s Apprentice, by Devon Michael: A Review

…an artfully told, dark, and frightening coming-of-age tale with a twist.

“There was a pool of darkness in the midst of the light, where the wind had come in Hollo The Gatecaster's Apprentice fullaccompanied by a shadow, a shadow with shoulders and a head that stretched into the lighted space on the floor at the bottom of the stairs.”

Reminiscent of Neil Gaiman, of the darkest episodes of Doctor Who, of some of the madness of Tim Burton, Devon Michael’s Hollo: The Gatecaster’s Apprentice is an artfully told, dark, and frightening coming-of-age tale with a twist. Hollo, the title character and protagonist, is a puppet made of wood, but one that can think and feel and move autonomously, created by her ‘father’ Fredric. (This might remind you of Pinocchio, but it shouldn’t.)

When Hollo reaches her twelfth birthday, Fredric takes her out into the world, a place far more complex and menacing than her sheltered world of Fredric’s house and the metal-casters workshop next door. Here she first hears the name Bander-Clou, and the words ‘Zygotic Pneuma’. Just what is she? And who is her father, really?

Clock-work soldiers of metal and wood pursue her. Hollo befriends a human girl; statues come to life; elemental forces protect her. Hollo’s world is under siege, and she is caught in a larger story, one older than she but one to which she belongs, and one in which she has an integral part to play. Michaels writes fluidly and effectively, his words invoking horror, happiness, fear and joy, the pacing moving the plot along quickly, but not so quickly the world-building is overlooked. This is a well-realized and developed world, one that the author leads the reader into by hints and clues: the reader learns the world along with Hollo.

Characters are well-developed, especially Hollo, whose innocence at the beginning is lightly but effectively shown, but also the supporting cast, from the malapropistic statue ‘The Countess’ to the marvellously conceived Lightening Man. And they all have a role to play; none of these characters, some of whom would not be out of place in Alice Through the Looking-Glass, are superfluous to the story.

Hollo: The Gatecaster’s Apprentice earns a rare five stars from me. I didn’t want to put it down, and yet conversely I rationed myself as to how much I read on any day, so as to savour the book and anticipate where it was going: it was far too good to read in one gulp. One caveat: in the e-book version I read, there were a few production errors, and a few errors that slipped through editing. In several places ‘won’t’ was written as ‘wont’; the common error of ‘broach’ for ‘brooch’ appeared a few times, along with the newly-frequent (in my experience of 55 years of reading) confusion of ‘piqued’ with ‘peaked’. One’s interest is piqued (excited); one’s interest in something can ‘peak’ (reach a height). Both can be correct, but are often, these days, confused. BUT: sometimes, as I wrote here, the overall quality of a book or a movie outweighs a few production errors, and this is one of those few cases. Regardless of the (easily-corrected) errors, Hollo deserves five stars.

I received a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Throne of Lies, by Sara Secora: A Review

If you’re a fan of Disney’s princess films, you’ll like this book.

On long-haul flights, I occasionally watch animated films, usually from Disney/Pixar, enjoying their satisfying simplicity; they’re a pleasurable, escapist way to pass a couple of hours. Throne of Lies, from new author Sara Secora, falls squarely into this category. If you’re a fan of Disney’s princess films, you’ll like this book.

Princess Amethysta Serelle of Northwind is the heir to the throne….but she doesn’t want to be. Betrothed to a man she dislikes, bored and irritated by the restrictions on her life, and puzzled by the odd and frightening things that happen when strong emotion grips her, she attempts to escape the expectations of her parents. Her journey of self-discovery is both aided and frustrated by her newest personal guard, the disturbingly handsome commoner, Soren.

Throne of Lies is a charming fairy-tale incorporating many of the aspects of classic, Disneyfied fairy-tale, but with a modern twist. Fingers are pricked on thorns, apples are eaten, shoes are tried on…but these are all peripheral to the story, background reminders of the genre. Nor is it the cautionary fairy-tale of the Brothers Grimm: there is nothing terribly dark here, although one scene does not flinch from the realities of what can happen to a young girl alone. But not all apparent monsters are what they seem, either.

The ARC I read had the usual number of production errors, which is to be expected from a pre-publication version. There were also a few grammatical errors, odd changes of tense within sentences, and non-traditional uses of words that affected flow and comprehension. The story, I felt, was a bit slow to get going; there are some early scenes that are too detailed or drawn out without substantially adding to either the world-building or the plot; this might discourage some readers.

I would have recommended this book for readers eleven and up, but two scenes in the book suggest that thirteen and up is a better age recommendation. My personal rating is 3 1/2 stars; this will be 4 stars on Goodreads and Amazon.