Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Should Book Reviewers be Paid for Promoting Your Book?

Image from Boyd LoganOver on the Tenka International blog, Michael Norton wrote a post entitled "Book Reviewers Don’t Charge Enough, And Why You Under-Appreciate Them". In it, he explains the importance of book reviews in promoting one's work. While on the surface that seems like a no-brainer, he emphasizes the importance of book review blogs and how they help to spread the message about your book.
Book reviewers are the people who take the time to set up a website and cultivate a dedicated audience. They are under-appreciated by most independent authors, because most writers have no idea how to effectively market their work, and thus fail to see book reviewers as what they are: hubs, trusted by pre-established audiences, that directly influence awareness and conventional opinion of a writer’s work.
Norton then attacks the idea that book reviewers should be giving it away for free.
Many reviewers read and write for free, under the insecure belief that admitting that they’re professional critics detracts from their credibility—but I think this is the wrong mentality. As written: time and energy are resources that reviewers deserve to be paid for, especially if that reviewer is going to be a critical factor in determining whether or not a writer’s work sinks or swims in the market.
He acknowledges that there will be charlatans, but we all know that they already exist. But he emphasizes that if a reviewer is completely honest and transparent, then there's no reason why one shouldn't proceed in this direction.

Paid reviews are still controversial. The members of the Podler Staff debated it via email a few years ago, ultimately deciding not to do it. And a few years before that, Podler wrestled with the idea of doing it. He later rescinded that decision, but the dissenters on his staff had already quit.

Besides the complications brought up by money versus integrity, there's the problem with indie author budgets. Indie authors typically don't have a lot of money to spend on their book—although some don't spend anything. The smart author will hire an editor to proofread her work and a designer to handle her cover. Even if she finds affordable options, she's likely to spend a few hundred dollars (typically more) on those two. Coming up with money for marketing, whether it be for banner ads or book reviews, may be asking too much. As most indie authors sell less than a hundred copies of their book, getting that return on their investment may be a tall order.

From a reviewer's perspective, I appreciate Norton's acknowledgement for what we do. In just a few years, I've seen many a "labor of love" run its course. The blogosphere is littered with dead book review blogs. People burn out. The demands of family and work and other real world matters take priority. Free books are wonderful, but you can't redeem them for diapers or use them to pay the electric bill. Of course, only a select few might be able to review enough books to make any sort of living from it. I'm not one of those people. Still, I wonder if some kind of hybrid system could be achieved.

I think that the Self-Publishing Review has a good system in place. They offer a variety of packages based on one's budget. From my perspective it looks like a lot of work, but it seems to be working for them.

What if this blog offered "fast track" book reviews? I admit that we're slow; we're down to one book per month. It might go a little faster if I didn't take on 500+ page behemoths. But if I were to be paid to review books, then I'd have justification to spend my whole day reading. I do that now with proofreading and editing. The turnaround time would be vastly improved: 4-8 hours/day reading instead of 1. We'd churn out a lot more book reviews. For those not willing to pay, I'd leave the free option open, but they'd have to wait the usual month or so for their review.

But what about integrity? No one complains about The New York Times reviewers. Is it because they're paid by the newspaper and not by the publisher? Probably. In general, we don't like to give out bad reviews. We pre-screen books, hence the first three chapters request. Books that have major grammatical and structural issues automatically get rejected. That wouldn't change. We only read books in genres we like; I wouldn't start reading paranormal romance novels even if you paid me. We point out the flaws, and we'd have to still do that. Ultimately, you would have to decide if we retained our integrity.

We have no immediate plans to adopt a paid reviews program. This is just me thinking out loud. After 5+ years, I'm burning out on reviewing indie books (my traditionally published TBR pile is now too big and I've missed out on a lot of good books), and I know others here have as well (Note the shrinking "current contributor" list). We can't seem to attract new reviewers despite our flexible rules. Why join someone else's blog when you can start your own? We've had people do both, which I see as a value add. Maybe a cash incentive is in order. Or is it a slippery slope? I don't know. I do know that there's a good chance that we're going to go on long term hiatus, and based on other blogs that have done that...well, they tend to make that hiatus permanent.


Image Credit: boydlogan.wordpress.com

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Ethnic Albanians Need Not Apply by Nathan Shumate

Book cover for Ethnic Albanians Need Not ApplyPlumbing the depths of forgotten illustrations as grist for the mill, the cult webcomic CheapCaffeine.net is here presented in its first print collection. These first 300 cartoons introduce running gags and recurring characters—the Martian, the Egyptian embalmers, and of course the irrepressible Grievance Gorilla—in a daily dose of surreal, postmodern wit. And now, in semi-permanent dead tree format, accompanied by behind-the-scenes factoids and a smattering of bonus content!!1!, these moments of ephemeral non-sequitur humor can be gifted to luddite relatives, ensconced on the back of the toilet, or placed in studied casualness on a coffee table to impress attractive houseguests!

CheapCaffeine is a webcomic written by Nathan Shumate, a very busy man. Besides providing a new comic every weekday, he publishes Lousy Book Covers.com (a showcase of how not to make book covers), hosts CoverCritics.com (crowdsourced constructive criticism for book covers), designs book covers through Thrifty Book Covers, and is the captain of small press, ColdFusionMedia, where he publishes his work and anthologies featuring other authors. With such a full plate, how does he find the time to draw a comic? Well, he doesn't. He's turned the artwork duties over to the public domain. CheapCaffeine is built upon old illustrations from newspapers and other sources which have been digitally scanned and thrown on the Web.

As XKCD and Tree Lobsters have shown, one does not need complex drawings or even original images to have a successful comic. It's all about content and context. Could Shumate have drawn the strip from scratch? Sure. But instead, he's hit upon a great idea: Use old images from yesteryear and juxtapose historical settings with modern problems to bring the funny. For example, an illustration of a Victorian era couple in the study becomes the visual basis for a wife complaining to her husband about his credit card charges to "hoochieworld.com".

I think it will appeal to those who appreciate Monty Python. A lot of the humor makes use of absurd situations and a knowledge of contemporary culture and government without being partisan or political. Some examples: Senator Bear makes the suggestion that the country should adopt the honey standard, a Martian rates Earth's best food (hint: Dr. Oz would not approve), and the Brotherhood of Mad Scientists gets harassed by a government inspector for health and safety violations.

I'm going to stop here. Writing about humor can be so unfunny that it can ruin what it seeks to praise. And that's the last thing I want to do, besides hang out with Grievance Gorilla. So, to learn more about Ethnic Albanians Need Not Apply, visit the publisher's book page or check out the comic online.

NOTE: The reviewer purchased this book.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Book Excerpt: Citizen Magus by Rob Steiner

A few weeks ago, we revealed the cover for Citizen Magus, the first book in a new series by Rob Steiner. Today, Steiner has granted us permission to reveal the first chapter of the story. Enjoy!

Book cover for Citizen MagusCITIZEN MAGUS
by Rob Steiner


My name is Remington Blakes, but people in 6 B.C. Rome call me Natta Magus.


For starters, I am a fully trained, licensed, and insured magus from twenty-first century Detroit in the American Union. Second, I needed to feed myself somehow after I got stranded in ancient Rome, so I set up my own magus shop on the Aventine Hill. What Roman would hire Remington when they could hire (cue epic echo) Natta Magus. It means something like "artisanal wizard" in Latin, so I guess you could call it a marketing decision. But there were times like now, running through Rome's crowded streets on my way to stop a magical murder, that I wondered if there were safer ways to earn money. Like joining the legions.

Gaius Aurelius Vitulus, my Praetorian friend—perhaps my only friend in Rome—stopped ahead and gave me an impatient frown. I once saw him make a corrupt quaestor spill his guts with just that frown. He was a few inches shorter than my six-foot two-inch frame, but he had the intimidating build of a twenty-something man who spent the last ten years in the legions. When I caught up to him, he said, "The sun is setting, and we're still a mile from the temple."

"I'm going as fast as I can," I growled. "These damned sandals are killing me." Eighteen months in Rome and I still longed for the rubber-soled sneakers I wore back home.

"Your dawdling will kill Celsus Maximus," Vitulus grunted, and began weaving his way again through the crowds and labyrinthine Roman alleys.

Vitulus was dressed like any other citizen of the equestrian social rank—a white woolen tunica with two narrow, vertical red stripes down the sides—but his bearing and the well-used, pearl-handled gladius on his belt made the crowds part for him. The gladius was a gift from his father upon his ascension to manhood on his fourteenth birthday. I once asked Vitulus why he didn't brush the stains off the pearl handle, and he said that the stains remind him the gladius was a tool and not a bauble. I tried not to think of how many men he'd killed with it during his days in the legions.

I'd known Vitulus for about a year, and all I can tell you is that by contemporary Roman standards, he's a huge Boy Scout. He values honor above all other virtues, always keeps his promises, will fight to protect the innocent, but won't hesitate to kill his enemies. A year ago I had helped Vitulus and his boss, Praetorian Prefect Salvius Aper, with a "delicate matter" involving supernatural forces. They'd come to me ever since with more "delicate matters" that gods-fearing Romans didn't want to believe in.

Take the case of Celsus Maximus, the famous gladiator whose murder we were racing to prevent. Now I abhor slavery like anyone from my time, so when Vitulus came to me for help in finding Celsus, I turned him down. I had hoped that Celsus had escaped the bloody gladiatorial games that Romans loved. But then Vitulus told me that a clay tablet had been left in Celsus's empty quarters. It said that Celsus would be killed unless "Remington Blakes, the one you call Natta Magus," shows up alone at the Temple of Sterquilinus outside the Porta Ostiensis by sundown. It warned of dire consequences if I brought anybody with me.

Well that piqued my interest. Only two people in ancient Rome knew my real name. Vitulus was one. The other was the all around bastard who abandoned me in ancient Rome in the first place, my former friend and mentor from the twenty-first century, William Pingree Ford. He'd been using his magus powers in Rome over the last eighteen months to try and change history, and I'd done my best to clean up his messes. But he always stayed a few moves ahead of me. I had to catch him, so I could not only stop him but make him send me home.

Was it a trap? Maybe. He'd passive aggressively tried to kill me last year by sicking daemons on me, though I think that was more to distract me from his real plot to kill Caesar Augustus. I stopped him, but that's another story.

No, this was the best lead I'd had on him in months, and I couldn't ignore it.

Which is what worried me.

"I don't understand how Celsus could be captured," Vitulus said as I came even with him again. "He's a cunning warrior."

I dodged a flock of sheep heading to the Forum and blinked the sweat out of my eyes. My Detroit Wolverines baseball cap, which helped me focus my magic, was soaked in sweat from my jog through Rome's stifling and close streets.

"Magic beats might every time, my friend," I said. "If William is behind this, then Celsus may not have had a chance. We need to—"

I stubbed my open toe on a stray rock and unleashed a string of modern curses. Vitulus eyed me with amusement.

"Is that how you curse in 'Anglish'?" he asked.

"English," I said, limping next to him. "Latin curses don't feel as good." And I hope I'm not here long enough for them to do so. "As I was saying, we need to figure out why William would kidnap Celsus of all people and use him to lure me to this temple."

"If your former mentor wants to kill someone famous," Vitulus said, barely breathing hard, "he couldn't have found anyone more famous than Princeps Augustus himself. Celsus has over a hundred kills in the arena in just the last year alone. He rarely ever gets wounded, and he's refused the wooden sword of freedom four times. He's the most remarkable gladiator in over a generation."

Listening to Vitulus rattle off Celsus's kills reminded me how I'd rattle off the stats of my favorite Wolverine ball players. It was kind of disgusting and once again illustrated the huge cultural gulf between my friend and I.

"Yeah, well, a good sword arm is no match against a well-formed sleeper spell," I said.

We rounded the corner and almost ran into a wedding party. The bride's father, dressed in a brilliant white toga, led the procession. Female slaves marched behind him and in front of the bride, throwing multi-colored flower petals at her feet. A deep-yellow veil covered her head, and she wore a white robe bound at the waist with a woolen belt. Her attendants and family marched behind her, likely on their way to the groom's house and the next stage of their ceremony.

These processions were common in Roman streets, and my heart cracked a little each time I saw one. I had missed my own wedding in the twenty-first century two months ago. I'm trying, Brianna, I thought. All my will and focus is bent on getting home to you. I missed her so much that I saw her reflection in every pool of water I passed. Her long brown hair always pulled back in a ponytail; her circular, wire-framed spectacles perched on the end of her nose; sparkling green eyes; mischievous grin; the goose flesh on her soft skin when I touched—

Focus, I had to focus. Daydreaming about Brianna had almost killed me during my recent jobs with Vitulus.

We passed the procession and stepped onto the brick-layered Via Ostiensis, where I felt like I could breathe again. For an empire renowned for its efficient roads and imperial administration, the Mother City was a maze of meandering, claustrophobic alleys and haphazardly built wood and brick tenements. Even native Romans got lost if they tried navigating the unlit streets at night.

"Have you given more thought to my invitation?" Vitulus asked as we continued jogging.

I winced, expecting this after passing the wedding. "Still thinking about it."

"What's there to think about? It's my wedding. I'm meeting Claudia's family tomorrow to negotiate guests, so I want to add your name to that list. I don't know about your Detroit, but here in Rome it's considered an insult to refuse a wedding invitation, especially from a friend."

Oh, it's insulting in my time, too, I thought. But how could I explain to him that passing a stranger's wedding procession made me want to sit in my shop all day writing sad poetry and sighing. Watching a friend get married would be a figurative gladius shoved into my heart.

"I know, and you deserve an answer," I said. I licked my lips. "I have to decline. You know I can't make any oaths that would tie me to this century or it'll be all the more difficult for me to get back home. Accepting a wedding invitation is an implied oath that I will be at a certain place at a certain time. What happens if I discover a way to get home tomorrow?"

Vitulus gave an exasperated laugh. "Then I'll release you from your 'oath'!"

"Yes, but what if you're not around to do that? I can't take that chance. I'm sorry."

Vitulus continued jogging in silence, his teeth clenched.

Accepting a wedding invitation wasn't considered an Oath with a capital "O" in any magus class I'd ever passed. Only strong Oaths, like marriage vows might keep me here longer than I wanted. I'd even turned down Salvius Aper's clientela offer, essentially giving me a full-time job in the Praetorian Guard, because I'd have to swear oaths to serve him that might conflict with my Oaths. Swearing an Oath is like putting a tattoo on your soul. It's there for life. Sure there are ways to remove it without fulfilling it, but they hurt like hell. So if you even think you might not follow through with an Oath, it was best not to swear it in the first place. If I went back to the twenty-first century without fulfilling it, my aura would be forever tarnished, and then good luck finding a job or making another friend again.

So even I knew my excuse was lame.

We exited the Porta Ostiensis on the south side of Rome and jogged another half-mile before stopping. Vitulus pointed to a hilltop with a small circular building on top. It was a few hundred yards away and surrounded by plowed grain fields. The building had a red-tiled roof and square windows that ran along the entire circumference. It looked more like a tool shed than a temple.

"The Temple of Sterquilinus," he said, "the god of fertilization. Most people go to the Temple of Ceres these days, so it's fallen into disrepair."

"So he's the god of manure?"

Vitulus shrugged, and then said, "I still think it's foolish for you to go alone."

"Probably," I said. I mentally checked the enchantments that held my ball cap to my head and my components belt around my waist were set. The familiar tingle in my hairline and my hips said they were. "But the letter said he'd kill Celsus if I didn't come alone. And William couldn't have chosen a better spot to ensure my loneliness."

Vitulus's hand tightened on the pearl hilt of his sheathed gladius as he studied the temple. "If you think this is a trap, then why are you going? Why risk your life for a gladiator you've never met?"

"Because this is the best lead I've had on William in months." I put a hand on his shoulder, and he turned his eyes back to me. "And I want to go home."

He nodded reluctantly.

"Besides," I said, "William has had plenty of chances to kill me over the last year and a half. If he wanted me dead, I'd be dead. He wants something else from me."

"Then may Fortuna walk with you," Vitulus said.

I nodded to him, turned my black Wolverines ball cap around so the bill was pointed backwards, and started toward the temple. This prepared my body to cast a spell at a moment's notice.

The Temple of Sterquilinus may have been forgotten, but the manure he represented sure wasn't. It was planting season, so the stench and crunch of desiccated dung beneath my sandaled feet made my nervous walk toward the temple all the more unpleasant. When I arrived at the base of the temple hill, I noticed the walking path that I could've taken from the Via Ostiensis to the temple door.

"Son of a..." I muttered, and then kicked the manure and dirt off my sandals and bare feet. Only a bath later would get them clean. William would just have to deal with my smells.

I walked to the top of the hill, glancing to the west as I did so. A sliver of orange sun still shone above the hilly horizon. I had made it here before sundown. I hoped I wasn't too late for Celsus.

The entry into the temple had no door and was dark. Nothing like an abandoned, spooky temple to raise the hairs on your neck. My Wolverines baseball cap would block my presence from any lurking spirits that might try to feed on my magic, so I wasn't worried about them. It was the living that concerned me, and William in particular. What I said earlier about my belief that he didn't bring me here to kill me was well reasoned...until my lizard brain threw spark grenades at that logic.

Maybe he's tired of you stopping his plots and wants to kill you now in the middle of a manure-sown field. Maybe he's finally lost what's left of his mind. He admitted in our last meeting months ago that he wanted to erase the knowledge of magic from twenty-first century humanity. In my future, magic was ubiquitous and powered the world; erasing it would plunge the world into a dark age that I couldn't imagine. For someone who wanted to do that, murdering a former student wasn't too far-fetched.

Well I wouldn't get any answers by standing outside soaking up manure reek. I marched through the open entry and into the dark temple.

The meager light from the windows and a second open entry across from me helped me see a dozen wood benches surrounding a stone altar in the middle. A large man with a shaved head wearing a brown tunica stood before the altar with his back to me. That was not William, unless he'd grown three inches and put on fifty pounds since I last saw him.

"Celsus Maximus?" I asked, my eyes scanning the rest of the empty room.

A throaty chuckle came from the large man. I shifted my eyes to him and every cell in my body seemed to ice over. There was something terribly wrong with him.

"That is not my name," the man said in a Germanic accent. "The Romans gave me that name when they enslaved me."

He turned around. I first noticed the small body he held in his massive arms. It was a dark-haired girl, no more than thirteen. Her face looked serene, but the left side of her neck was a jagged mess of dark red flesh, muscle, and exposed white bone. A second girl lay near the man's feet. She was younger than the first and her eyes were closed, but I saw no wounds and she was still breathing.

My eyes fled from the two girls to the man's face. His entire mouth and chin were bright red, and his teeth were impossibly large, gray, and jagged. "My name is Octric," he said, "and I no longer kill for the pleasure of a Roman mob." Blood oozed from between his teeth when he grinned. "Now I kill for my own pleasure."

©2015 Rob Steiner

To learn more, check it out on Amazon.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Book Excerpt: Shattered by M. Terry Green

Book cover for ShatteredLast Monday, we revealed the cover for Shattered, the third book in the Chronicles of White World series from M. Terry Green. This week, Green has granted us permission to reveal a sample of the story. Enjoy!

Shattered by M. Terry Green

“What's wrong with your father?” Thirteen asked.

As usual, Miyu stood tucked against her side. Although the eight-year-old was small, there was barely room at the bow for one person. She wore a parka, three layers of thermals, and goggles to stay warm, but still preferred the wind to the comfort of the cockpit. Turning the opening of her hood to face aft, she looked at her father.

As he had since they’d taken the slaver sloop, Cord piloted the ship. Thirteen hadn’t questioned it. Her eyesight was needed forward. Though the trimaran was iceworthy, it had no sounding buoy. Without the sound and flag warning system, any vasses that lay ahead would have to be sighted. While Thirteen waited for Miyu’s answer, she continued to scan. Although the freezing air was crisp and clear, visibility was limited. This close to the volcano, the fractured plateau allowed views of several clicks, not hundreds. Cord steered the sloop around jagged, tilted, and towering blocks of ice. Even the surface they sailed on was veined with cracks. Like most ships on the Pacifica Sheet, the trimaran’s heavy steel blades were made for speed, not the sharp inclines and drops of a direct course.

Although slavers, not Skulls, would be their worry now, Thirteen scanned for them out of habit. Her eyes lingered on the volcano.

“I think Papa is mad,” Miyu said.

Thirteen frowned and considered Miyu’s face. Where Cord’s was long and angular, hers was heart-shaped and full, chin and nose small beneath her big dark eyes. But with the amber lenses hiding them, it was hard to read her.

“Why would he be mad?”

Miyu’s only answer was a little grimace and a shrug.

Thirteen returned her gaze to the ice, but her thoughts stayed with Cord. This was quiet even for him. The closer they got to Helado, the more he stopped talking. But why mad?

The lopsided slopes of the volcano were so close that Thirteen had to look up. If Cord could add another few knots, even with the tight steering, they might make port this evening. But without asking, Thirteen knew he wouldn’t try. He was far too cautious.

Through the two light layers of thermals over her chest, she touched her sister’s silver pendant. Tomorrow would be the day—tomorrow morning by the look of it. Thirteen couldn’t help but smile. Sierra was in Helado.

Where in the city, Cord seemed to know, though he had yet to say. But even if he’d named a certain district, a street, or even a location, none of it would have meant much. All Thirteen knew of Helado was slave processing and the coliseum. Once upon a time, they had been her whole world.

As the volcano loomed, the mounting dread of it did too. Though time in the hold of a slaver ship had been daunting, the volcano was where the true nightmare had begun: her separation from Sierra, branding, and sale. It was different now, but she would have to be on guard. It was swarming with sailors. She would have to wear a cap and goggles at all times, and never look anyone in the eye.

But at the same time, the weight of years was about to lift. She would rescue her sister, take her from the life of slavery Thirteen had escaped long ago. How many volcanoes, miles, and slavers had come between them, she couldn’t remember. But it was all ending here, where it had begun.

The scar between her shoulder blades tightened, but she shook it off. She tilted her head left and cracked her neck, then right.

The mainsail and headsail alternately billowed and flapped as Cord maneuvered the sloop. They zigged and zagged between frosty, sculpted columns, precariously perched boulders, and aqua-tinged pyramids. But at times they sailed due east. In the late afternoon, the trimaran threw its long silhouette out in front, the mast’s thin shadow pointing like a needle. The blotchy sails had held up. Their mottled, ghost shades undulated over the fractured ice. They just needed to last another day.

“Half a day,” Thirteen muttered.

“What?” Miyu asked.

Thirteen smiled down at her upturned face. “Nothing.”

Miyu’s faint eyebrows gathered together for an instant, but only for an instant. Her ready smile spread—until she shivered.

“You’d be warmer in the cockpit,” Thirteen said, her white hair buffeted by the gale that drove them. She knew better than to suggest Miyu go below. Neither of them wanted to be there.

In response, Miyu hugged her around the middle. No longer caught off guard, Thirteen smiled and patted her back the way she’d seen Cord do. She glanced at him, manning the helm.

Back at the Skull depot, he’d been right to pick this ship. Though the sloop hadn’t been able to fly, it’d been sturdy. With any luck it would blend into slaver traffic as they neared the volcano. It had all worked out. Thirteen scowled as she returned to scanning.

What did he have to be mad about?

• • • • •

Cord judged the sky’s dimming light. There was another hour of sailing at most. Off the bow, a few points north of east, the damned volcano soared. It dominated the landscape, demanding to be looked at. The jagged spires of its wrecked rim jutted skyward, a mix of jet-black basalt and gleaming ice. Though he couldn’t see it, the city of Helado waited on its irregular and sheltered slope. They had yet to sight it and also yet to be detected. He could still turn around, veer off north or south, away from what waited there.

Thirteen took that moment to glance back at him. He went stock-still. But it wasn’t her silvery irises or their reflection of the setting sun that gave him pause. It was her smile. As Miyu hugged her and Thirteen turned away, Cord went cold inside, with a chill that bordered on numb.

Again he glared at the volcano. He had to do this—and not just for her.

Though it was the last place in all of White World he’d wanted to see again, it would have to be. He owed Thirteen his daughter’s life. This was his end of the bargain, and it was time that it was delivered. It was almost past time. Only by the slimmest of margins had they escaped the slaver fleets. Though Cord couldn’t deny Thirteen’s knack for survival, someone would inevitably catch up. He glanced aft.

Though the enormous vasse and devastated plateau lay far behind, a pursuer might yet appear. While Thirteen looked ahead, Cord couldn’t stop glancing behind. He had to assume the slavers had survived.

Another hour of sailing wouldn’t amount to much distance, but he would take every advantage he could. Thirteen’s luck wouldn’t hold forever. His had already come to an end.

©2015 M. Terry Green

To learn more, visit Terry's website.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Cover Reveal: Shattered by M. Terry Green

M. Terry Green has revealed the third cover in her Chronicles of White World series, Shattered. The series takes place in the distant future whereupon an ice age has buried our civilization. Humanity has survived, but it's as cold as the environment that it lives in.

Book cover for Shattered

As with the other covers in this series, it was created by Tom Edwards.

To learn more about this book and the rest of the series, please visit Green's website.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Boys by Scott Semegran

book cover for BoysThese are the stories of three boys living in Texas: one growing up, one dreaming, and one fighting to stay alive in the face of destitution and adversity. There's second-grader William, a shy yet imaginative boy who schemes about how to get back at his school-yard bully, Randy. Then there's Sam, a 15-year-old boy who dreams of getting a 1980 Mazda RX-7 for his sixteenth birthday but has to work at a Greek restaurant to fund his dream. Finally, there's Seff, a 21-year-old on the brink of manhood, trying to survive along with his roommate, working as waiters and barely making ends meet. These three stories are told with heart, humor, and an uncompromising look at what it meant to grow up in Texas during the 1980s and 1990s.

The collection opens with Wiliam's story, "The Great and Powerful, Brave Raideen". It's a short story with a predictable plot element, but it's nicely done. The characters are honestly portrayed; the dialogue genuine. It demonstrates the dual fickle-forgiving nature of children and the power of play.

Sam's story, "Good Night, Jerk Face", comes next. It's a novelette that ends rather abruptly. Semegran builds up the tension between Sam and his parents over Sam's desire to buy the car of his dreams, but it just fizzles out. There's also the potential for conflict between Sam and his boss over the restaurant's delivery van, but that too gets shrugged off. The title of this story implies some kind of confrontation. While Semegran explains who says it, we never find out why. To his credit, Semegran does a good job at capturing adolescent anxiety—learning how to drive, talking to girls, working menial jobs.

The remainder and bulk of the book is "The Discarded Feast". Seff and his roommate, Alfonso, work at a chain restaurant barely getting by on their meager earnings. The story covers their adventures at work and outside of it. A good deal of their free time is spent smoking cigarettes, drinking cheap beer, and wondering if they'll be able to come up with the money for next month's rent. If it were a movie, it could serve in a double feature with Waiting, but the characters are far more realistic.

This isn't so much a story you get wrapped up in for plot; the events pertaining to the story's title make up a fraction of the content. Rather, you tune in for the characters. Everyone has a story, and the people that Seff meets tell him their stories. Some are more interesting than others. I get the feeling that these are people that Semegran met when he was Seff's age, and he felt compelled to honor them by relating their stories here.

Boys is a collection of stories that reads more like a fictionalized memoir. It would've benefited from a run through by an editor to draw a bit more focus in content and to clean up the grammatical mistakes (mostly comma usage). Semegran gets points for realistic characters even if the book falls short on the storytelling.

Scott Semegran is also the author of The Meteoric Rise of Simon Burchwood and The Spectacular Simon Burchwood. For more information about these works, check out the author's website.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Cover Reveal and Kindle Scout Campaign for Citizen Magus

Rob Steiner has started a new series: the Journals of Natta Magus.

Book cover for Citizen Magus

Here to tell us more about the book and its Kindle Scout campaign is Rob Steiner.

I’m really excited to announce a Kindle Scout campaign for my new novel, Citizen Magus.

Remington Blakes, a magus from a 21st century where magic powers the world, has a big problem. His former mentor, William Ford, stranded him in ancient Rome without a memory as to how or why. Well a guy has to eat, so he’s forced to eke out a living as a magus-for-hire among Rome’s plebeians. But when Ford conjures daemons to kidnap a senator’s young daughter, Remi tracks him to the Germanic frontier to not only rescue the child, but learn the terrible secret behind why he left Remi in Rome.

The campaign works like this: Readers can nominate my book for a publishing deal with Kindle Press. If Kindle Press picks up my book, your nomination will earn you a free copy once it’s published. The more nominations I get, the better my chances for a deal and a free ebook for you.

Nominating is easy, quick, and a great way to support new authors (check out the other campaigns on the Scout site, too). Please see my campaign page for more details.

Thanks in advance for your support!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

I Truly Lament: Working Through the Holocaust by Mathias Freese

Book cover for I Truly LamentIn this anthology, Mathias Freese has composed twenty-seven short stories about the Holocaust. They're an attempt to gain some form of understanding about it. In the Preface, Freese states: "All literary depictions of the Holocaust end as failures..." and "Every artist who struggles with the Holocaust must begin with an acceptance of failure, and that must be worked through before art begins." If I'm interpreting him correctly, the reason why all attempts end as failures is because no mere words on a page can ever truly convey what it was like to have been there. But nothing short of a fully immersive virtual reality program (and none has been created yet) ever could, so why set the bar so high?

I'm not sure why Mr. Freese wrote this book. A tribute to the dead? The survivors? He states that: "No piece of art...can ever expunge the Holocaust." To which I rather flippantly say, "Well, duh." If this was ever his intent, it's a fool's errand. But no, this is an attempt to "work through it" despite his insistence that: "We will never work it through."

So it was after reading this conflicted preface, written by a man who so desperately wants answers to the questions he poses, that I read this book.

Obviously, this was no beach read. Rather than compose these stories as entertainment (Can the Holocaust, or any genocide for that matter, ever be formed into entertainment?), they're more like twenty-seven fictional biographies. Alas, they're repetitive. There were three stories involving golems. There were several stories each about Jews fleeing Nazi pursuers, life in the camps, and survivors trying to eke out some kind of life afterwards. While each was slightly different, too many elements were the same. For instance, all but one survivor story took place in Tuscon, Arizona.

But there were stories that broke out of the mold. "Max Weber, Holocaust Revisionist" was more of an essay. Freese explains that when he was writing a story he was derailed by a historian's contention that the Nazis did not make soap out of Jews. Freese researched the historian and learned that the man was a historical revisionist. Freese submitted his The i Tertralogy to him for a book review and published it herein as "Sincerely, Max Weber". I'm assuming both are true. Freese skewers the man in a story entitled "Soap", one of the best stories in the collection.

There are two fictional interviews: "Herr Doktor" and "Der Fuhrer Likes Plain". Both of these were among the better stories. The first one is an interview between an American doctor and a camp doctor. The interviewer is trying to determine at what point the camp doctor lost his ability to follow his Hippocratic Oath. The latter story is a fictional interview with Eva Braun just a few days before her death in Hitler's bunker. While it got off to a good start, it veered off into details about Hitler's sex life that have been gossiped about but never substantiated.

"The Disenchanted Golem" starts out with a golem discussing a few events over the course of his incarnations and what it's like to be a golem. But midway through his conversation with the reader, he tells us about the one he has with a rabbi. It has a bit of a Pinocchio quality to it, but without the Disney effect.

My favorite story was "Cantor Matyas Balogh". The titular character meets a woman in a sweets shop, and the two strike up a conversation. The conversation leads to tea and then to romance. It's a story about finding love when the world is going to hell. Both are aware of the dangers around them, but continue on because love has a power all its own.

In summary, I Truly Lament is a collection of stories centered on the Holocaust. While there are many repetitive story elements, individually, they offer poetic glimpses into the brutality endured. There are standout stories that rise from the miasma of the subject matter. It is a difficult read at times, for the subject matter and the associated suffering can be a bit much. If you can separate the entertaining tales from the pseudo-biographical cathartic soliloquies, then this book could be for you.

For more information about I Truly Lament and Mathias Freese, please visit his website.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Void Contract by Scott Rhine

book cover for Void ContractA veteran of the Gigaparsec War, Dr. Max Culp catches alien war criminals with his skills as a !Kung tribal hunter. Suddenly, his only surviving teammate is kidnapped. To free his friend, Max is forced to take a mob contract on a Saurian fugitive hiding at the borders of Human space. But Max is tired of wet work and alien conspiracies. Can he find a path back to civilian life without losing what’s left of his soul or those closest to him?

This is the first book in a new series, but it takes place in the same universe as Jezebel's Ladder, just 400 years later. While several books followed Jezebel's Ladder, they are not required reading for this book. However, if you enjoy this book and want to know how Earth got to this point, then you should consider picking them up.

The book starts off with a fair amount of action. Rhine does a good job introducing us to Max and the universe he lives in without drowning us in background. Once Max is forced to accept the job from the alien mobster, the action is replaced by intrigue as Max rides a starship to find the fugitive. While there's FTL travel, it's slow enough (weeks instead of years) that Max has time to work on a way to manipulate the situation to accomplish his goals. The action returns in time for an early climax. The last 20% of the story, while still interesting, serves more to set up the next book in the series.

The blurb made it sound to me like Max was an old world bushman living in the Star Wars universe, but that's definitely not the case. Max may have grown up among the !Kung, but he has a modern education and has been culturally assimilated. He was given a new name to fit in. "Max Culp" is actually derived from mea maxima culpa—through my most grievous fault. The story is told from Max's POV, and Rhine is adept at revealing his character and why that name suits him. His past haunts him and affects how he conducts himself. When it comes to planning operations or assessing a rapidly changing situation, Max is sharp as a tack. But when it comes to relationships with women, not being around humans for several years has left him weak. He grovels at the feet of the first one and is hopelessly naive with the second. He's a bit too much the perfect gentleman with the third, but there's still hope he'll get it right.

Rhine makes good use of dialogue to advance the story, and the pacing is solid. His characters have depth, even the aliens. While Rhine tries to keep the story accessible to most adult readers, he's smart about how he does it (i.e. alien foul language gets mistranslated by translator tech). And while there's plenty of the usual sci-fi stuff like spaceships and cool tech, it never steals the show. With Rhine, the plot and the characters keep us engaged.

Rhine has kept busy since Jezebel's Ladder, writing over a dozen books since then. While he's been prolific, I can see that his writing has matured as well. It's nice to see an indie writer work to improve his craft instead of just churning out product.

For more information, please visit the author's website.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Author News - July

July 14th - Mike Reeves-McMillan released The Well-Presented Manuscript, a guide for authors looking to improve their chances of getting published by avoiding the most common issues.

July 20th - Horror maven Michaelbrent Collings released The Deep.

July 24th - Cold Fusion Media, the folks who published the Shared Nightmares anthology, offers Christmas in July. Sort of. The Last Christmas Gift: A Heartwarming Holiday Tale of the Living Dead written by Nathan Shumate is released today. Special book launch party on Facebook!

August 3rd - John Vorhaus will release How to Live Life, his philosophy on—you guessed it—how to live life.