Saturday, October 1, 2022

Pharoni by Colin Dodds

book cover for PharoniWhen the body of Harry Injurides - playwright, provocateur and bodybuilder - washes up on a beach, his friends are shocked, but not altogether surprised. But when they meet to mourn Harry, he shows up and says he's been resurrected.

Pharoni is the story of those friends. Tommy Pharoni tries to overcome his shock by writing about his friend's resurrection, and accidentally starts a religion. Roy Sudden starts a tech empire based on digital empathy and digital pain, drawing in billionaire investors, femme-fatale programmers, and tsunamis of capital. And, Roy's on-again, off-again girlfriend Maud works in secret to bring radical justice to the most neglected and abused corners of society.

As Tommy's religion grows, Roy and his backers try to take control of it. The battle, about more than doctrine, engulfs Tommy's marriage and threatens his life, leading to a conflict with strangely humane results that no one could predict.


Told in the first person, Pharoni has the feel of a memoir or a really long confession. Tommy Pharoni is a struggling screenplay writer who pays his bills and alimony by working a soulless marketing job. His closest friends were aspiring artists of different sorts in college. Now in their mid-thirties, they've set aside those aspirations to "adult" properly. All except for Harry, whose death opens the story. Harry struggled to fit into contemporary society, instead preferring to help the homeless while penning "words of wisdom" in his many notebooks. After his death and subsequent re-birth, those notebooks wound up in Tommy's possession. Ultimately, Tommy would collect them into a coherent manuscript and seek out a way to get them published.

As Tommy is a screenwriter, the format of the story periodically shifts into screenplay mode. This works particularly well for conversations as it affords opportunity to get to know the other characters through their dialogue rather than relying on Tommy's narrative. I wouldn't say Tommy is an unreliable narrator, but he does limit what we can learn about what's going on elsewhere with other characters. References to things that have been written elsewhere and NDAs force the reader to fill in the gaps.

After Harry's resurrection, the lives of Tommy and his friends change as described in the blurb, but there's so much more. The group of friends find themselves splattered by the seven deadly sins, fitting for a story where a religion is founded upon the philosophical musings of a character that has died and miraculously resurrected days later. At least Christianity didn't get partnered with a health and wellness brand. The corrupting influence of millions and billions of dollars seeps its way into their lives and rots them from within. What is friendship worth? Can you put a dollar amount on it?

If there's one overarching theme that I can take away from this tale, it's that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Keeping this spoiler free, I'll say that Tommy started out as a character that I could connect with to someone I didn't want anything to do with. But I stuck with him because act two opens with:
This is where I get unrelatable, maybe even unlikable. As the writer of failed screenplays, I know what a mortal sin unlikability can be.
That gave me hope for him in act three. But Tommy is far from the only person to be corrupted by power. It's everyone up to the very end of the story. And the only characters whose souls are left intact are those who never possess it.

Colin Dodds has crafted an excellent morality play with vivid characters. Pharoni offers modern day parallels to the founding of Christianity, right down to the Christmas star, but in an age of unbridled capitalism. If you're old enough, with all of the life experience that implies, it forces you to take a look at this fellowship of friends and how they sacrificed art and friendship for wealth and power and check to make sure that this isn't a mirror of your own life.

4 stars

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Sunday, June 12, 2022

The Theatre of Shadows by Christian Ellingsen

book cover for The Theatre of ShadowsSix months have passed since the events of The Silver Mask. Over the winter months, Vasini was plagued by Gareth Miller, the Winter Fayre Killer, who murdered 17 people before he was captured by Lieutenant David Locke. The city now waits for Miller to be hanged. But when Miller escapes gaol, ready to terrorise Vasini's streets once more, Locke must hunt the murderer again to stop him from claiming more lives.

As Miller flees into Vasini's streets, Joseph Bastin, ambassador to Vasini for the city-state of Laège, is assassinated in a brothel. With the threat of political repercussions for the death, it is up to Dr. Marcus Fox, newly appointed Commandant of Police, to find the ambassador's killer.

Fox's investigation soon leads to a suspect, someone who has been investigating links between the Laège embassy and the worship of the dead deities - his ally, Dr. Elizabeth Reid.

Now, Elizabeth and her friend, Catherine, must act quickly to clear her name before she is found by someone who doesn't believe her claims of innocence and she's forced to dance the hangman's jig.


This is the sequel to The Silver Mask, a terrific "flintlock and alchemy" novel. Unfortunately, The Theatre of Shadows wasn't as enjoyable for me due to the plot style and pacing. The story read more like a police procedural set in the 1700s, which isn't the sort of thing—regardless of time period—that I read. Investigating the ambassador's murder provided enough intrigue, but the serial killer plotline kept getting in the way, hogging the spotlight. Maybe the serial killer was fully developed in The Winter Fayre, a novella contained in The Divided River that preceded this novel, but here he's rather one-dimensional. He's always two steps ahead of the Inspectorate and the watchmen (police), rendering them seemingly incompetent as he murders people with impunity. It went on for far too long for me. It took roughly three-fifths of the novel before any sort of clue was given as to why the serial killer plotline even existed, and it wasn't resolved until much later.

The main characters from The Silver Mask—Fox, Locke, Elizabeth, and Catherine—are here. While fully developed before, they weren't neglected here. Fox and Locke are in pursuit of the ambassador's assassin and the serial killer. Elizabeth and Catherine spend their time searching for clues to clear Elizabeth's name of killing the ambassador. Ellingsen gives us each main character's POV—as well as those of a few key minor characters—as they investigate, thus enriching the depth of each one.

Ellingsen doesn't spend as much time world-building here as he did in The Silver Mask, but what he provides is top-notch. The city of Vasini feels authentic with Ellingsen's descriptions of the sights and scents of everyday life.

Ultimately, the protagonists' relentless pursuit of clues paid off. Ellingsen corraled the plot into a climax that resolved the current crises of random murder and calculated assassination. It was an effective ending, and so I feel better about the book as a whole. But for me, it was probably a hundred pages too long. However, I remain optimistic that the next installment in this series will have more intrigue and less procedure.

3 stars
Just to be clear: This book was not submitted to us. I went out and bought it on my own.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

The Pros and Cons of the Publishing Industry

a fork in the roadOver at the Independent Publishing Magazine, guest blogger Andrew Deen outlines the pros and cons of traditional and self-publishing. Thorough yet succinct, it's a must read for every writer about to embark on the road to publishing their work.

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Thursday, March 3, 2022

Characters Are Like Onions

onionsMike Reeves-McMillan, an author and editor, has posted an analysis of the different types of characters one finds in a story. Beginner and intermediate writers should check out his essay, "Characters Are Like Onions," to learn more.

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Tuesday, December 21, 2021

A Review of Pubby

Pubby is a paid book review service that offers indie authors a chance to get book reviews on Amazon. No sock puppets or fill-in-the-blank five-star reviews. Authors pay a monthly fee for access to their network where authors review the books of their fellow authors. Books can be purchased to satisfy Amazon's verified purchase rules (Kindle Unlimited counts) or given away for free.

No one here has used Pubby's service, so we can't offer a proper review, but prolific indie author, Scott Rhine, has. He offers a balanced review of their service, listing pros and cons, and breaks down the financials. If you're interested in trying Pubby, read Scott's review first.

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Sunday, November 7, 2021

Tethered Worlds: Bankrupt Star by Gregory Faccone

book cover for Star in BankruptcyJordahk isn't sure who or what he is anymore, and just trying to be “normal” is becoming increasingly challenging. As adulthood looms he'll face his greatest challenges yet both personally and in space.

For Janus hasn't been idle. His schemes within schemes will launch the First Cruiser into the most audacious stratagem since the Sojourners' Crusade. Perhaps only the mystic technology from that era has a chance to stop the Prime Orator's designs.

But neither Jordahk nor his grandfather can currently operate on that level. When the most eclectic space battle in centuries begins, only desperation will bring one side to victory.


This is book three in the Tethered Worlds series. With over a thousand pages published so far, this isn't a series you can pick up in the middle. You really have to start from the beginning. Here are links to spoiler-free reviews for books one and two.

If you've made it this far into the series, you're familiar with the universe that Faccone has built and the factions contending with one another for power in this space opera. You need to be, of course, as Faccone doesn't offer a refresher in what's already been published besides the occasional character reminiscing about past incidents.

Right off the bat we're back with Jordahk's family in the midst of a training exercise. But before you get disgruntled with a "not another one", Faccone throws a cyborg assassin at them. The encounter gives the reader some idea as to how far Jordahk has come in developing his fledgling sojourner skills.

After this confrontation has played out, we learn that trade negotiations are planned at Aventicia, one of the worlds in the Banking Confederation. Janus has plans in place to affect the outcome favorably for the Perigeum and himself, but the Trade Union sends a fleet of their own to provide security. And then a pirate fleet shows up to toss a match on the powderkeg.
"Sadly, war is but politics stripped of every civilized façade
While this is the longest book in the series, 569 pages, I found that it had less filler than in the two previous books. However, the inevitable confrontation that ensues when plans are set in motion takes up about half the book. While one major story arc comes to an end, it's clear that the author has more stories planned for this series.

Characterization, plotting, and world-building all remain strong. Faccone proved that in the first two books. The personalities of the various characters are well-developed and distinct. The setting is rich with detail. Unfortunately, typos remain an issue: My notes highlight misused or missing apostrophes and spelling errors.

Bankrupt Star is a fine addition to the Tethered Worlds series. While there isn't as much exploration or side quest action as the two previous works, the plot is more focused and the stakes are just as high. It's still big and bold space opera with a protagonist you can root for as he grows to fill some very big, heroic shoes.

Series website

4 stars

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Thursday, October 28, 2021

Amazon Now Offering Hardcover for Indie Publishers

In case you haven't heard, Amazon is now offering hardcovers for indie-published books. Now Amazon isn't the first to market (Lightning Source and IngramSpark have offered it for several years), but since Amazon is the biggest printer of indie work, it's a big deal.

You can read the FAQ for yourself here. But if you don't have time, here's the tl;dr version:

Indie publishers will not be getting a dust jacket like traditionally published hardcover books. Amazon is offering a "case laminate" cover. That means the artwork will be printed directly on the bookcover. If you're unfamiliar with what that looks like, check out IngramSpark's video on their jacketed case laminate offering, something Amazon isn't offering.

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Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Goodreads Has a Problem With Trolls and Extortion

I just learned about this today. In a nutshell, indie authors with a high visibility on social media—particularly those with progressive politics—are being targetted by extortionists. Typical message:
"EITHER YOU TAKE CARE OF OUR NEEDS AND REQUIREMENTS WITH YOUR WALLET OR WE'LL RUIN YOUR AUTHOR CAREER. PAY US OR DISAPPEAR FROM GOODREADS FOR YOUR OWN GOOD."
Failure to comply with these demands results in authors getting slammed with hundreds of one-star reviews on Goodreads. The company is typically slow in its corrective actions.

All indie authors know how difficult it is to get readers to check out their work. It means putting yourself out there on social media (the introvert's equivalent of smelling sweaty socks) to get the public's attention. Many authors choose to discuss topics of personal interest to them. And if there's anything we've learned over the last few years, doing so puts a target on your back. As their audience grows, the trolls take notice.

Amazon used to have a sock puppet problem, but then it found ways to restrict reviews to verified accounts by simply making use of data it already had (verified contact info, purchasing history, etc.). Since Amazon owns Goodreads and offers potential readers easy to access links to buy said book, you would think that they would make every effort to ensure that the number one social media site for books was free of crippling attacks on their revenue stream.

Thanks to Monica for bringing this to my attention.

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Sunday, July 4, 2021

Lost Kin by Steve Anderson

Book cover for Lost KinAfter the events in Liberated Harry Kaspar has been relocated to Munich. As he enters the final weeks of service as an administrator for the military government, his life is good. He resides in a nice house with cushy amenities, has a former WAC girlfriend, and the locals appreciate his efforts to restore some semblance of pre-war normalcy. And then a cop shows up on his doorstep one night informing him that there's been an incident and his brother may be involved. Having not seen nor heard from his brother for several years, Harry's interest is piqued, though for a German-American, he knows this could be a scam, or worse. What follows is an investigation into a murder, black market sales of the spoils of war, and old scores that demand to be settled in blood.

There are elements of noir in this story. Harry's girlfriend has a bit of femme fatale to her which both excites and worries him. Meetings with informants take place in dark alleys and secluded rooms, forcing Harry to always be alert for the double cross. The atmosphere of downtrodden Munich is leaden with cold autumnal rain and early snow. And the American military government is seen through a lens of world weary cynicism.
She knew so many majors, colonels, and generals, all rearguard types who'd never seen combat but rode desks like gladiator chariots except their shields were their puffed-up chests done up with medals of every color, the swords their sharp tongues and stern memos, the feints and thrust their back-room whispers and leaks applied with extreme prejudice. Opponents cowered, colleagues awed, and mistresses swooned.
As with Liberated, Anderson has done the research. The deal that FDR and Churchhill made with Stalin in Yalta would soon turn out to be a Faustian bargain. I don't want to spoil it, but Anderson explores an aspect of that here as a way for the two brothers' paths to cross again.

Lost Kin is a strong finish to the Kaspar Brothers trilogy. The noir elements spice up the intriguing plot, and Anderson's characters are well-developed. I got caught up in their predicament as Anderson entwined their fates with historical events. I'd recommend the series as a whole for WW2 historical fiction fans looking for something different from that time period.

4 stars.

Lost Kin was published by Skyhorse/Yucca Publishing.
Just to be clear. This book was not submitted to us. I went out and bought it on my own.

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