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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DED

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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DED

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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DED

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Liberated by Steve Anderson

book cover for LiberatedIn the early days of post-war Germany, Captain Harry Kaspar has been assigned by the US military government to oversee recovery efforts in the town of Heimgau. Unfortunately, the post is already occupied by Major Membre. It seems that the office that assigned Membre supersedes the one that picked Kaspar, and obviously the major outranks the captain.

Kaspar and Membre butt heads from the start. Besides smarting from missing out on the position that Kaspar feels should've been his—he trained for it after all—Membre comes across as a self-serving opportunist, more interested in personal gain than helping this Bavarian town start over. Kaspar heads off in a huff to survey the town when he discovers three German men lying in the road, evidentially tortured and murdered. He now has a mystery to solve.

With the aid of Katarina, a former German actress, Kaspar navigates black markets, systemic corruption, the aftermath of the Holocaust, and a disgruntled conquered populace in an effort to solve the murders and right some wrongs, all while trying to avoid getting killed.

Anderson's story was born out of research he did in Munich to get his master's in history. Besides touching on prejudice towards German-Americans stateside, the book calls attention to Allied looting in post-war Europe. While it might be dismissed as stealing from Nazis, it should be noted that the Nazis stole it from innocents. Be sure to check out the afterword to get an idea as to the extent of the theft.

While the story was intriguing and rooting for Harry was easy, Liberated didn't resonate with me quite as much as the previous work—The Losing Role, a story about Harry's brother Max who fought for the Germans—did. I feel that certain characters weren't as developed as I think they could've been. Still, I liked it and plan on reading the next book in the series.

3.5 stars

Liberated 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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DED

Friday, September 25, 2020

Die Empty by Kirk Jones

book cover for Die EmptyLance is a middle-aged man stuck in a loveless marriage and a life with no meaning. His sedentary existence has packed on the weight, both physical and mental, and he envies his successful and fit neighbor who may be banging his alcoholic wife on the sly. The Grim Reaper shows up to recruit Lance into brainstorming new ways for people to die.

Kirk Jones tells the story in second person, thus forcing you to take on the role of Lance. In chapter one, Jones dumps you into Lance's life. Jones systematically tears down Lance's pitiful attempts to find meaning in a world of soulless consumerism. Lance knows that his life is pathetic, but he lacks the self-esteem—or even friends—to find a way out of it, so he trudges on, looking for something, anything, to jolt some life back into him.

Fortunately for the reader, the Grim Reaper shows up in chapter two to give Lance a way to escape what author Danger Slater perfectly describes as "suburban ennui." Seeing this as an opportunity to escape his misery, Lance accepts.

The pace picked up, and it seemed like the story was headed in a direction I was hoping it would go, but then it veered off into a different direction. While Jones does a fine job with second person storytelling, I could never connect with Lance. Jones would write that you (Lance) would do something and my reaction was always, "I wouldn't do that." All I could do was shake my head and hope that Jones would have the Grim Reaper show up because those were the best parts.

3 stars

Die Empty was published by Atlatl Press.
Just to be clear. This book was not submitted to us. I went out and bought it on my own. Now, back to hibernation!

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DED

Friday, June 12, 2020

The Liminal Zone by Richard Abbott

book cover for the Liminal ZoneNina Buraca, investigator of possible signs of alien life, has heard tales of mysterious events on Pluto's moon Charon, where a science outpost studies extrasolar planets. Facing opposition from her colleagues, she nevertheless travels from Earth to uncover the truth. Once there, she finds herself working with a team of people who have many secrets. To make progress, she has to take sides in an old dispute that she knows nothing about. Can she determine who – or what – is really behind the name "selkies" that the station's staff have given to this uncanny phenomenon?

The Liminal Zone is the third book in Abbott's Far From the Spaceports series, and like the others, it's a standalone. While the first two books (Far From the Spaceports and Timing) featured the same characters, this one introduces us to a whole new cast with a completely unrelated plot. It isn't necessary to read those first two to read this one, but if you like The Liminal Zone, you should check out the others.

For those unfamiliar with this series, humanity has colonized the solar system, and artificial intelligence (AI) has come to fruition. Space travel has improved, it still takes weeks, sometimes months, to travel from one celestial body to another. As such, there's a bit of self-governance each place enjoys, and adults are very much in charge. No dystopia here.

AI entities work alongside humans and have personalities that are barely distinguishable from them. Just as the gods of Mount Olympus suffered from the same emotional shortcomings as humans, so too do Abbott's AIs. As such, people and "personas" work together, live together, and form friendships. They're each other's besties. When Nina announces to her persona, Aquilegia, that she's headed to Charon to investigate the Selkie mystery, the latter balks at going. A fight ensues, and the two of them break-up. As theirs had been a six-year relationship, Nina is devastated and feels very much alone.

All the while that Nina investigates the mystery, her encounters with other people and personas and exploration of the Charon settlement and surface, she can't help but reflect on her feelings. She's the outsider trying to fit in among a group of people. Some are paired up; some work alone. Some are friendly; some stymie her every move to make progress on either the mystery or fitting in. The story is very much an introspective journey as well as an investigative one.

Having a character journey over 30 AUs to find herself may seem unusual, but is it really any different than someone traveling halfway round the world? You go where the path leads you. I confess that I was more interested in the secrets Nina strove to uncover than her personal journey, but I chalk that up to being in a healthy relationship for 26 years. One last thing I'd like to point out is that I haven't read this much about characters drinking tea since Ancillary Justice. I kid. All of this makes for a charming read. Having taken us to the asteroid belt, Mars's moons, and now distant Charon, I'm wondering where Abbott will travel to next.

4 stars
Just to be clear. This book was not submitted to us. I went out and bought it on my own. Now, back to hibernation!

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DED

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Cover Story - David Drazul

I started a discussion on the topic of book covers on this blog eight years ago. I was disappointed that many indie authors were put in the position to sell their stories with sub-par book covers. Budgets tend to be tight unless the author's household income makes covering living expenses a breeze. Finding an affordable cover of decent quality can be tough. I asked several indie authors what route they took to get their covers and presented their stories here. I dug up affordable book cover designers and shared them with readers of this blog.

Today, I'm sharing my story. I'll try to keep it short.

When I finally gave up on traditional publishing as an avenue for my first novel, I searched for affordable graphic designers but couldn't find any. I was looking at $2,000—a non-starter. The pre-made covers available at the time didn't convey anything relatable to the story. I posted to an RPG messageboard I was active on at the time and found a guy who was eager to jumpstart his illustrator career. I got what I wanted for one-tenth the price.

original book cover for Armistice Day
I loved it when it was made, but I'll admit that, a decade later, it looks dated. Image design and editing software has improved so much. Textures and lighting are more realistic. You name it: It's improved.

As I've struggled to finish writing the sequel, I hoped that redoing the cover for Armistice Day might light a fire under my ass. Spoiler alert: It hasn't. Even beyond the pandemic, the rioting, and toxic politics, I've had my share of personal tragedy which has weighed heavily upon me. I decided to find a new cover anyway.

I've seen a ton of wonderful art on Pinterest and DeviantArt. I didn't want to commission a new piece, but rather wanted to pay someone for their existing art. Again, working with a somewhat limited budget. I approached one artist but was ignored. I looked through Shutterstock to see if I could find some images to purchase for a graphic designer to synthesize into something greater than the sum of its parts. No dice there. But one day while perusing through the pre-designed images over at goonwrite.com, I found it.

new book cover for Armistice Day
The original artwork is by Tithi Luadthong and was posted to Shutterstock. And the full image has been utilized as a wraparound design on the print version. It was great working with James again (He did the cover for my short story collection). I've got that old feeling of cover love again! I mean, what's not to love about a fully licensed piece of fabulous original artwork as the cover for my book?

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DED

Friday, April 3, 2020

Book Cover Sale

Goonwrite.com logoThe sale is over, but I'm leaving the post up to: 1) remind indie authors that there are good/great and affordable book covers out there and 2) that this blog has a little more life to it than a Norwegian Blue Parrot. ;)

Hi all! I hope everyone is safe and sound during this pandemic. The folks over at goonwrite.com were hit with varying degrees of Covid-19, but fortunately they all seem to have recovered. One of them, David, runs a t-shirt business that had to close down as various sectors of the economy worldwide have taken a hit. To raise some quick cash, they're having a 50% off sale on his pre-designed book covers. If you're an indie author who thinks that she might be buying a cover this year (or next), have a stroll through the listings (all genres represented on the page) and see if any work for you. You can buy now and have the final work done at a later date. I have no idea how long the sale will last, so have a look this weekend!

For the record, no one here on the podlerstaff gets any sort of commission for sales nor are we compensated for posting this sale info here. I (David Drazul) just like the work they do. I've bought two covers from them: one several years ago and one just this week.

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Monday, July 8, 2019

Advice From a Prolific Author

Hi all. Yeah, I know that it's been two years. Can't say that I've been reading any indie, hence no new reviews here. From time to time though, I grow curious about some of the authors that I've reviewed here and wonder what they're up to. Most get waylaid by life and their writing endeavors are stuck in the proverbial muck. I can't recall why, but I was curious about Scott Rhine today.

Scott was one of our most prolific submitters—I think he's up to two dozen books. While I didn't review anywhere near the number of submissions we got from him, I did read and review four of them. I wanted to know if he ever finished the series that I'd been reading here, so I took a spin over to his blog to find out. It took a while to find, but sure enough, he did.

I snooped around some more and stumbled across a post from two years ago entitled "5 Years in the Writing Business—Revised Advice." It really is a must read for all indie authors. Scott shares his experiences with book sales, ads, tags, series vs. standalone books, giveaways, and much more. No matter what you write, it's worth checking out just to see if he's already tried out your marketing ideas. See what's worked for him and what hasn't, then see where it fits into your plans.

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DED