Penny Palabras – Episode 05: A Gun in Act One

Penny Palabras 005The charactarisation deepens, the plot twists, and your mind will blow.

James B. Willard and Patrick K. Beavers do not disappoint.

We’ve yet another instalment of Penny Palabras, and this one gives us a deeper glimpse of Penny, a better understanding of her family and past, and then we get a classic comic book plot twist to blow the mind and make this already delightfully surreal read even more so.

We meet Penny’s father, we learn just who the librarian is/was.  And Penny’s already completely bizarre life gets just a bit weirder.

Now, I will say, Penny is given a bit of a dysfunctional family and the tone of this episode is possibly, due to that, a bit darker than most of the books before.  It fits wonderfully with the overall dark tone and look of the series.

So far the story continues to be something recommendable even to those who don’t normally like the dark, paranormal, psych-thriller sort of story.

Penny Palabras – Episode 04: Disappearing Acts

Penny Palabras coverThree words:  Shit gets real.

Not the most clever assessment, nor the most original, but it really fits this.

James B. Willard and Patrick K. Beavers continue to impress and amaze.

The plot thickens, someone we’ve come to appreciate over the series so far will leave us, and the 24-page format continues to be milked for all it’s worth.

As ever, the issue ends on a cliffhanger that leaves you — even if only for a moment — contemplating just how much you need that immortal soul thing you have laying around and if the authors would accept it in exchange for the rest of the story, or at least as a down payment on what comes next.

The story continues to be a bit dark, spooky, and heavily dosed with WTF (a good WTF, but WTF nonetheless).  It’s not for everyone.  If you’re an Archie’s fan, borrow a copy from a friend first or something to be sure you want to drop your $3, but otherwise I feel it’s very much worth the read.

Half-Off Ragnarok

46150_originalSeanan McGuire has another InCrypted novel out as of a few days ago.

Half-Off Rangarok leaves off of Verity’s adventures for a spell and visits her brother, Alex, in Ohio.

Frankly this book was great and not so great, but it still gets an Awesome! for one fact:  it is well written, the characters are good, etc.  It just was as fun for me as the ones about Verity have been.  Alex, frankly, isn’t as interesting a person, he doesn’t interact with the Aeslin Mice enough, and I miss Istas.

That said, I found the writing superb, and Shelby was a pretty interesting person.  We learn about a few more interesting cryptids, etc.

Honestly, if you’re like me, and characters have a lot to do with your enjoyment of a story you may want to snag the sample off Amazon, iBooks, or whichever before you lay your $7.99 on the table; just to be sure this one will be enjoyable enough, or if you’ll want to look out for a chance to grab it on sale, second-hand, etc.  Frankly, it’s worth getting and with 5 books contracted and 10 planned it’ll probably be worthwhile to read it.

If you just like a well told story, characters be damned, grab it.

If you like characters who are well done, but nothing particular about any given character strikes your fancy except that they’re well done, grab it.

Penny Palabras Episodes 2 & 3

Penny Palabras Episode 02 - The Devil's Weight - James B. Willard

James B Willard continues to wow with his Penny Palabras story.  And Patrick K Beavers’ artwork is still phenomenal.

In these two episodes the plot continues to unfold.  The Straw man is getting more agressive, more dangerous; Penny’s nightmares are getting worse.

Truly these stories are without a doubt wonderfully suspenseful and end in beautiful cliffhangers that leave you feeling like a crack addict wanting next month’s episode to arrive so you can get your next fix.

Penny Palabras 003

 

To be perfectly honest, I’ve yet to get my head wrapped around just what in Hell is going on, but I believe this to be a very good thing — in a suspense/thriller/horror themed story you want to be feeling like “WTF?!  My brain is leaking out of my ears!  What’s going on!?”  I mean, isn’t that the major appeal of H P Lovecraft’s works?

Worth a read, worth a buy.  Even if you’re not a big fan of horror/thriller type stories, you might give this one a go.  If you don’t like them because of nightmares issues, you might give it a miss, though; the writer does too good a job for the easily sleepless.

Penny Palabras – Episode 1

Penny Palabras 001James B Willard has given me the opportunity to take a look at the first issue of his Penny Palabras story — available through Amazon (just click the cover, as usual) — and I must say, it’s very interesting.

Now, I will admit, it’s hard to decide what to say about a single issue of a larger story.  I don’t have the whole plot, after all.  But each issue does have a job:  it has to establish some stage of the larger plot; in this case, it needs to introduce everything.

This does very well.

Let’s start with the fun stuff in graphic media:  the art!  Patrick K Beavers does a wonderful job.  The comic is in greyscale, and this was a great stroke, I think, in maintaining the somewhat … let’s use creepy, creepy’s a good word, tone of the overall story.  The lines are crisp — despite the monochromatic scenery, you can distinguish features; this puts this lightyears ahead of some of the offerings I’ve seen from DC or Marvel at times.

The story itself, an introduction to, well, as the blurb says:

Penny Palabras, 17, has experienced the paranormal for years. She knows that things aren’t always what they seem. Now, she’s tormented by a malevolent entity called the Straw Man. As she searches for ways to banish him from her life, she’s haunted by more than ghosts. Her nightmares won’t let her sleep, her friends and family can’t understand, and the Straw Man is getting more powerful every day.

The setting, the characters, the story, all leave you wanting more — leave you needing that second issue.  In this it does its job well.  I’m not personally a fan of the issue-by-issue story arc format usually called “writing for the trades” and will lean more quickly toward the old-school episodic issues with occassional multi-issue stories, or just a good ol’ graphic novel.  But, that’s me, and the comic universe right now is this.  So who am I to judge?

If you’re looking for something light-hearted and silly, I’d say stay clear of this.  But if you want a good bit of paranormal thriller, with some suspence thrown in … or maybe that’s the other way around … whichever, you should certainly give this a read.  Hell, it’s worth the $2.99 sticker price just for the artwork!

Neverworld

neverworldE. Racine did a fabulous job in this novel.

I’ll start with the bad, just to get it out of the way.  The book could, as all book could (I swear there are typo gremlins that will make sure that no matter how many times you edit, there will STILL be mistakes) use another proofread pass.  That’s it.  There’re as few as 2 or 3, as many as 5 typo grade mistakes or small missing or extra words per chapter.  Big deal, no?

The story.  You start with a mysterious, otherworldly stranger dropping a baby off on the doorstep of Child Services in modern America.  The little babe grows up to be an outcast teen girl.  Then the fun starts.

I love the very creative Neverworld, a world where fairy tales live … in a manner of speaking.  Truly an imaginative twist on an old standard.

The characters are wonderful.  Sam and Charlie are endearing enough to make you want them to succeed and to be all right.  Captain Jones is the quintessential good-hearted and good-natured buccaneer,  Tom is the great swordsman you’re promised he is …

Is it light hearted?  Yes.  Is it a “serious work of fiction”, I shouldn’t think so.  Is it perfect for a younger reader — maybe 8-10 years old?  Absolutely.  Is it perfect for the young at heart of any age?  You bet.  This story reads well, and is not so terrifying it couldn’t be read to a small child for a bedtime story, or by an older child to themselves, or by an adult looking for a good bit of damned good fun; but it’s exciting.  You’ll devour it before you know as the narrative, the characters, and their misadventures suck you in and don’t let go.

My greatest disappointment?  The sequels haven’t been published yet.  I’ll be standing in line to get them when they are.

This book appears to be available only through Amazon.

Twilight

The_twilight_saga_hardbackYes, that one.  I’m still reading my next submitted book and got bored, so here’s an easy one.

First off, no, this is not a “let’s bash on Meyers” post — not intentionally, but as you can see this one warranted a Bad, so any Meyers fans who wish to might want to go sharpen their pitchforks and light the torches.

There, now on to the review.

Frankly, the sparkling vampires?  Kudos points, really.  It’s new, and different.  I can’t think of anyone else who decided to tinker with the vampire mythos in quite that fashion before.  It could have been pretty good — in fact, after reading what is available of Midnight Sun, the first book of the Twilight saga rewritten from Edward’s point of view is … mediocre.  Could even be awesome, but for the fact that I really must say that Ms Meyers could stand to think a little harder about characterisation.

Back to the actually officially published work, though.  It’s bad.  Normally I won’t review a book I couldn’t finish, but in this case I will because I couldn’t finish it, not because it wasn’t my cup of tea, but rather because it was so badly written that I could not bring myself to complete it.  Watching the movie was … an improvement as it avoided the narration.

You are given a young lady, Ms Bella Swan, who … how should I put this?  By page two you just want to slap the stupid out of her.  The first pages are, I believe, trying to establish her as the sympathetic protagonist — the character you’re really rooting for and all that.  I’ve never wanted a POV character to shut the hell up more in my life.

Frankly the trouble is this:  she’s upset because she’s moved to Washington, a part of it that apparently rains more than the Noah story in The Bible out near Seattle.  And she thinks it’s cold.  Also, she apparently has some form of albinism that doesn’t impact her hair and eyes — plausible, I’ve heard of it in other mammals, just not humans.  She’s upset because she doesn’t want to be there, yet she is there voluntarily.  The reasoning might be more believable if it weren’t for the constant griping about having done this which seems to go “oh look at what a tragic self-sacrificing person I am … woe and angst”.  It’s artificial in the extreme.

I will be the first to defend nearly any character in the world, in original fiction, as not a Mary Sue.  Why?  Because Mary Sue syndrome is supposed to only infect fanfiction characters.  I’m often inclined to make an exception for Ms Swan.  Why?  The narrative says she’s plain, boring, ordinary, and exceedingly clumsy.  The narrative shows remarkably beautiful and drawing the attention of all of those around her, remarkable in being rather unique in her reactions to the vampires, and the clumsiness seems to amount to “oh, now might be a good time for her to fall down” rather than actually presenting a klutz (believe me, I live with one, she laughed at Bella’s “clumsiness” not identified and empathised with it).  As I understand it, even at the end of it all, when she becomes a vampire … forgive the pun, but she takes on every mark of a sparkly Sue except for being in original fiction.

Enough about the poor characterisation — Bella’s the best example, but the vamps get a little hard to swallow, too, just not as bad.

Plot.  Oh, so Romantic, yes?  No.  Romance is not, necessarily, roses and candy.  It doesn’t have to be starlit walks on the beach.  No.  Borderline abusiveness, stalking, a deep rooted possessiveness, and a powerful urge to murder someone … it’s not terribly romantic by most standards.  Gothic, sure.  Romantic, no.  Midnight Sun presents an interesting basis for a great Horror novel.  Twilight is just a sad attempt at wangst and dwama.

Oh, but bad writing can sometimes be overlooked if the story is good enough.  As I just said, nope, didn’t happen.  Repeatedly you want to scream to Ms Meyers that there’s these little things call reference libraries, and Wikipedia.  Prime example?  The baseball scene.  Many people hate this because “Vampires don’t play baseball!”  — bah, get over it, I think it’s cute.  Original idea, but oh no, no no no, Stephanie, love — if they’re so strong and fast that they have to wait for thunderstorms to play it … well, you might want to remember that ordinary human athletes are wont to breaking the ball with a good homer off a fast ball.  These vamps would need to have made bats out of good solid metal, probably not aluminium, but steel or titanium, or similar and they’d need to be using something on the order of an old cannonball.  And I’m pretty sure a baseball game, regardless of the tools in question, doesn’t much sound like thunder.  To say nothing of the fact that, as I recall, that corner of Seattle isn’t prone to thunderstroms, a mix of the sea and the mountains.  I know Hawai’i rarely does for those very reasons.

There’re some fascinating other signs that Ms Meyers didn’t get a lot out of her Biology, Physics, and other classes as a youth.  I wouldn’t comment on this, I’m a SF writer who loves things where starships are making banking turns and going “whoosh”, but the difference comes in the fact that physics ignored and discarded is a whole other universe from physics misunderstood.  The former … well, how few people ever watch Star Wars and think “that ain’t right” about the fighter-craft scenes over the death star?  In this case, science was set aside for the sake of excitement and you enjoy it.  In the latter case … there’s explanation, both in the novel and in later interviews by the author.  It’s painful.   It really is.

Really, many many points for originality with vampires enjoying baseball, and the myths about dying in the sun being wrong — oooh shiny!  Supernatural/paranormal/horroresque romance with a bit of Destiny Born in the Stars … what the Hell, it worked for ol’ Bill Shakespeare, I won’t knock it.  Sadly, though, Stephanie Meyer runs amok with these ideas in a way that would be right at home on fanfiction.net, and would very likely have been invaded by the Protectors of the Plot Continuum.

If you can stomach bad narrative and poor characterisation in favour of unique and interesting ideas, and can put aside all you ever learnt about physics and biology, then pick this up.  Otherwise, I’d say give it a pass.

The Mine

TheMine1John A Heldt has done a fantastic job with this story.

Great characters, amazingly interesting plot, excellent mix of emotions, terrific sense of humour. It’s all here.

Frankly I had exactly three complaints about this novel:

  1. There is no TOC for the eReader to work with.  I suggest remembering to use your reader’s bookmark function whenever you have to walk away, I’ve yet to find a reader or app that doesn’t sometimes forget your place on the next load.  Better safe than sorry with a book this long.
  2. The chapter layout was very strange.  Mostly it was a lot of very short chapters, but now and then there’d be longer ones with scene breaks.  I’d chalk this up to a stylistic thing, but I couldn’t quite fathom a rhyme or reason to when it’d be a three page chapter, or a chapter with three three page scenes.  Too, I find lots of little chapters a distraction because when I hit chapter 35, I don’t like discovering I’m only something like a third of the way through the book.
  3. The story mostly takes place in 1941, and the history is very well researched.  Usually, when I thought that an anachronism had cropped up, it turned out it was truth if rather obscure and unexpected.  There is one blatant exception and one nitpicking one.  The former:  he has one character driving a shiny new Plymouth of a model that was not first produced until the year after WW2 ended, yet this story takes place in the half-year leading up to America‘s involvement in that particular chapter of history.  The nitpicking?  It’s 1941 and he referred to “saddle-shoes” – according to my fashion expert it’s an incorrect usage so common as to beg the question of just how much longer it’ll be incorrect; it’s peeking around the corners of linguistic drift.  All-in-all, big deal.

I especially loved the end, it left tears in my eyes.  This story, most assuredly, deserves an Awesome!  

Don’t believe me?  It’s us$2.99 on Amazon.  Go.  Take a look.  You’ve nothing to lose except the cost of a … is that even the cost of a laté anymore or have those hit $5?

UPDATE: It turns out that, despite my very desperately looking for a 1941 Plymouth Deluxe Special, because I’m a HUGE fan of 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s era cars I could not find anything anywhere that said the line existed prior to 1946, but the author has kindly send me information on that very year model of Plymouth.  A perfectly stunning car:  http://auto.howstuffworks.com/1941-plymouth-special-deluxe-convertible.htm

The saddle shoes comment – I will apologise if I give the impression John was not diligent in his historical research.  I mean, even the car thing could easily have been a mistake (glad to know it wasn’t, such a pretty thing!) and the saddleshoes is really not a profound difference either.  From what I can gather the shoes in question for the characters in question are often, and this is considered incorrect to Fashion People but is common usage for The Rest of Us, called saddleshoes.  There’s debate if they were called that in the 1940s or if, indeed, anything was called that back then.  My fashion sources do say that the shoes existed before the 50s, though when exactly isn’t given, but Good Girls didn’t wear them till the 50s/60s and that it refers specifically to the types of shoes you’ll see on the Bobby Socksers in a good movie set in the 1950s.  John kindly provided the source for his side of things “saddle shoes”, but even trying to confirm it with people who were teens in the era got mixed answers.  Lending to a belief that, possibly, it is a regional thing to some extent.  History is a slippery subject because truth is such a tricky and confusing thing.  Facts, even facts within living memory, are not always perfect.  I know someone who bought toys in middle Tennessee in the 1980s from a common department store that all accounts of say was never sold in America.  So … please, do not misunderstand me.  one fashion reference and one year make of a car should never condemn a historical novel – we all make mistakes, and in Mr Heldt’s case, he didn’t even do that, Goggle merely failed me.

Cheers.

Aversion by Kenechi Udogu

This review may contain spoilers.

Today I read Aversion, which is the first book of the Mentalist Series by Kenechi Udogu. It’s about a girl named Gemma who has the ability to see an occasional glimpse into a person’s future, and the power to insert a thought into their mind in an effort to avert the disasters she sees in her vision, allowing the person to continue on through the life they are meant to have. She is part of a secret society that uses this power for the good of mankind. Imagine if your guardian angel was one of the Men in Black, and he protected you from your own mistakes instead of aliens.

Aversion is a novella, so it’s naturally a short read. It’s got a pretty nice cover that is actually related to the story. There are a couple of typos, but nothing serious. I felt as if the writing was a bit clinical- I could see the emotions, but they mostly seemed to have been expressed in a passive manner. Despite the tone, the unique angle to the story drew me in anyway, and eventually I ceased to notice it.

There’s plenty of things going on. Gemma’s in high school, but also finishing the training her father has spent her entire life preparing her for, and now it’s come to the final test. Mistakes are turning into forbidden romance, until the villain’s come to town and it’s time to pack up and leave. That part was a little abrupt. I was trying to read carefully but I missed the part where they actually moved and had to flip back a couple of pages.

The pacing up to this point has been pretty good, but now things are happening faster as the secrets are being revealed.

Here’s where the world starts to tilt: Forbidden is turning into fate as she unexpectedly runs into her love interest, and I find this to be the most emotional scene in the book. He wasn’t aware he was even searching for her, but the villains knew and the cast is finally forced into a confrontation.

Which is great. You can’t run forever and expect that to be a satisfying story.

The exposition here got a little thick, throwing definitions and teasing you with a partial infodump, but it was still more information than we’ve been able to pry out of anyone else. The villains don’t get a lot of time to develop a characters, but they have believable motivations, and the new information ties everyone together in a way that makes sense. It isn’t just a conflict between good and evil- the villains have a good reason for their actions, but you can’t just let someone hurt your family.

I appreciate that nobody’s perfect here. Real people aren’t perfect, either.

It looks like the villains are going to win the day, but Gemma is a quick study and observes a familiar relationship between the villains, and uses that knowledge to her advantage. She overcomes her ignorance with ingenuity, and displays a remarkable maturity when she leaves well enough alone after her family is safely free.

I like to think she was able to see both sides of that situation.

In the end, it’s back to square one, except now Gemma’s all grown up and ready to face the world on her own. But the villains aren’t done with her yet, and the secret society is watching. Her love interest returns as well. I am only left with questions: Is her relationship doomed, or only just beginning? Are the Averters and Sentients two different secret societies, or factions within the same one? Is the association between the villains sanctioned?

I want to know. Please write the next book.

Despite its flaws, which turned out to be trivial for the most part, I give this book a rating of awesome! It’s wonderful for the first installment of a young adult series.  You can purchase Aversion on Smashwords.

‘Till the Last Petal Falls

be4056_5c2cdfb6bcf6c44c18738eb5aadf267d.jpg_srz_221_316_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_jpg_srzThe first thing about this novel by Ms Elizabeth Rose is — it’s very pretty.  The cover is quite eye catching, the picture gives you some hit at that, but if you’re holding the book in your hand … well, it’s visually gorgeous.

But I’m not here to review the cover.

This story is a twist on the very old tale, Beauty and the Beast, which is in turn a retelling of an even older tale.

Before I get started, a warning:  the editing could have been better.  Some mistakes that not only wouldn’t have happened with just one more good proofread by someone, but also some sentences that could have stood better attention from the editor.  There’re also some layout and punctuation issues (like I’m one to criticise orthography, given how I type — but these are off the cuff blog posts, not a book that’s gone through editorial review).  Mostly, though, it’s not very detracting and is quite ignorable, but for the pedants out there, beware.  Inconsistent use of either a double dash or an em-dash, a missing paragraph break here or there, and so forth.

Now, on to the main course here.

This story was not my personal cup of tea.  I’m a fan of fairytales.  I love a fractured fairytale as much as the next guy, in the old Sherman & Mr Peabody cartoons from Rocky & Bullwinkle or in the form of things such as The Unhandsome Prince.  This wasn’t a broken fairytale — it didn’t say there was no happily ever after, or anything of the sort, more like a twisted, dark fairytale and the ending leaves you to decide if it was happy or not.  But, and this is important, I read it; I finished it, and I genuinely looked forward to turning the page — the author did a fine job.

Honestly, if you’re a fan of the new trend to twist fairytales, buy this book.  If not, you might want to pass this one up.

As an author it’s often difficult to read anything and not go:  “oh, she should have done thus”; or to say, “I would have had …”.  It is, really.  Still, all told, the narrative worked, the voice and tone of it carried through.  The character that act out of character are called on it within the context of the story.  My only real beef was I felt the ending wasn’t a very firm one — it left open a lot of why and what if and what next and so on.  Now, it’s not a weak ending, nor a “oh, I should stop the story now” ending like some authors (especially those writing to contract are guilty of due to word count limits), no.  It’s a fine ending, just — once again, not my cuppa.  I’m more a “wrap it all up; if you don’t, make sure you plan to come back to the world and characters sometime” sort of person.

I’m giving this one an awesome.  The writing is good.  I looked into Mockingbird Lane Press and they provide an editor, so layout and editing glitches aren’t the author’s fault, and besides that — only two or three made a sentence incomprehensible, the rest the right or missing word was obvious.  The story was both recognisable — even some cute hints at Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, which I thought was cute — and unique; all too often these attempts are retelling the story are a copy and paste of the original work with a few things edited, or the setting updated.  This, on the other hand, pure original story with the old tale as a template, very nice.

Speaking with the author, the ebook version isn’t out yet but is coming.  She’s aware of the layout and typos issues (was before I commented on them, many kudos points for that — no book makes it to the shelf perfect, but as small press or self-pub authors we can do far more about it!) and is trying to straighten them out before releasing the ebook.

For those fond of dead trees, you can get a link to various places to buy from this page here. (or, as always, by clicking the book cover)