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Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Abyss and Apex, April 1st, 2018 - Many hits and a couple of misses, but overall excellent!

Today, I am reviewing the April 1st edition of the short story periodical Abyss and Apex! Published quarterly, this issue contains seven short stories, listed below as presented to me by the publisher. I will be reviewing each separately, then the periodical as a whole. Because these are short stories by different authors, I will be dispensing with my customary rating system, instead focusing on the content of the stories themselves.
The stories are:
 "Penmanship" is about a magical archivist of the dead, and it being easier to get forgiveness than permission. 

 From Nigeria involving a modern man, magic, and Boko Haram: "Middle of Nowhere."

 "All and Nothing" is a tale of a Viking woman, her relatives, and outsmarting her way to their god of the dead.

 "Roadmaster" is about a sort of time-traveling antique car, and heroism. "The Long Way" is the story of a child who runs away to see his daddy on Mars, and his mother's and his searches.

 "What Does a Time Machine Cost?" (flash) is the poignant tale of a woman who devotes her life to unraveling her mother's death.

 The lyrical "Barleycorn" tells of a modern fertility goddess trying to keep a man from sacrificing himself for her.

 All and Nothing, by Chadwick Ginther, is an expertly-told fantasy tale rooted in some Norse mythology that isn’t as well-known as Thor and Odin. The protagonist, a woman named Aught, faces prejudice and discrimination as she seeks to prove herself worthy to the god of the dead and take her place as His emissary. Although this god chooses any who are worthy, some feel the position is worth ensuring there are no other supplicants. Ginther uses evocative language very effectively in this story, and I feel like the characters really came to life over the 16 pages. A worthy inclusion, and a fine read for anyone interested in the interplay of magics and traditions rather than combat.

 Barleycorn, by Cae Hawksmoor, is rich with detail and curious in its story. While not confusing, Hawksmoor describes things that I am familiar with through new eyes, which gives them an interesting tint and forces me to see them afresh. The tragedy of life given so that more life can proceed from death is intensely well done, and I was enraptured by the whole story.

 Middle of Nowhere, by Walter Dinjos, plays off the stereotypically Western desire for self-determination by pitting the protagonist’s will against that of a god. He struggles against his dictated destiny, but once he accedes to it (for reasons of his own), he finds that fulfilling his role completes him and makes him whole. Dinjos has created a fascinating magical system and populated his world with interesting people - I would have liked to see this expanded into a full novella or novel - and the interplay between the protagonist and the “savages” is fascinating.

 The Consequential Effects of Practiced Penmanship by Marc A. Criley describes an urchivar, someone who transcribes the events of the past and puts them in book form that can be read and accessed; apparently, it is also possible to change events through these books, called uhrbuchs, provided one hasn’t done too much meddling before. In honesty, I did not like this story; there were glimmerings of things I thought were very interesting and cool concepts, but the construction and the flow defeated me. I didn’t understand most of the premise, and the interactions made little sense at times. I think this story could have been served well by being book-length, to allow for scene-setting and world-building, so that the reader could understand the rules the characters are playing by. 

Roadmaster by Randall Andrews is a touching story wherein an old man uses his car to revisit his memories - and more - while his young grandson learns a little about his family’s history and about magic he didn’t know existed. While the story itself is emotional, touching, and interesting, it was too brief and events happened too fast for me to really enjoy it. My pdf review version clocked in a 7 pages, and I just don’t feel Andrews gave his work enough space. There were also a few typos in this version, but I don’t know if they made it to the final work.

 The Long Way by William Campbell Powell is also short, at seven pages, but much more intensely interesting. Written almost in epistolary style, wherein the information is provided in the forms of letters or testaments by the primary actors, The Long Way brought tears to my eyes throughout as I imagined my own children in that situation. Powell’s portrayal of a young boy trying to reach his daddy on Mars by walking struck home to me and rang true, and the resolution of the story brought everything together succinctly and satisfyingly. Truly an excellent story.

 What does a Time Machine Cost is a work of flash fiction by Elliotte Rusty Harold. Clocking in at only two pages, Harold manages to make Time Machine sing. Chronicling the efforts of a young girl working towards saving her mother by building a time machine, the work feels realistic, powerful, and the ending lines echo a truth that all would be well-served to understand: that life is worth every moment of itself.

 Overall, this edition of Abyss and Apex has many excellent stories, and a few that could use some lengthening. I would recommend the periodical to anyone who enjoys these types of works, and look forward to reviewing more in the future! You can find Abyss and Apex at the link here.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Last Voyage is one worth taking!

Today, I am reviewing the collection of short stories titled The Last Voyage and Other Stories by Fernando Sacchetto! Holding six or seven tales (depending on how you reckon them) of fantasy, magic, technology, and subterfuge, this collection alternately confused, enthralled, saddened, and thrilled as I moved through the stories.

This review reflects the work as a whole; I’m not going to drill down into each individual story, as all were approximately of the same quality and interest.

 I give this book a 4.5/5. Here is my breakdown.

 Characters: 4/5. In short stories, much less time is spent developing characters than in novels. Regardless, I enjoyed each and every characterization in Sacchetto’s stories; they were unique, easy to tell apart, and, mostly, with clear motivations.

Plot/Storyline: 5/5. There were some real page-turners here, some storylines that surprised and invigorated me simultaneously. The first story in the roster, as well as the last, were especially to my taste, but each and every one had something to offer. Fantastic work!

 Flow: 4.5/5. I felt each story ran for as long as it needed, without cutting things short or padding them out. The words kept coming and bringing with them tidbits of imagery and development. Only once or twice did I find myself rereading, just to be sure I understood what was happening; this was more of a testament to Sacchetto’s intricate storylines than anything else!

Spelling/Grammar: 4.5/5. High standards achieved. I counted one minor spelling error across all stories, and that’s saying something. Keep up the good fight!

 Overall: 4.5/5. A short story collection worthy of inclusion in any discussion of intricate, well-designed plot threads and characters, The Last Voyage and Other Stories captured my attention and held it until I was finished. I hope that Sacchetto keeps writing, and wish him luck! You may visit his website at

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Province of a Thief by Scott Borgman - a fantasy with magic, mystery, and characters you'd want to know!

Today, I am reviewing the Fantasy story Province of a Thief (Tal’Avern Chronicles Book 1) by Scott Borgman. An innovative and unique take on the Hero’s Journey, we follow our protagonist, a master thief named Jaelyth, as she discovers that what she believed to be true - her history, her world, and those around her - was but artifice and lies, a web of deceit with dark magic at its core.

I give this book a 4.5/5. Here is my breakdown.

Characters: 5/5. Jaelyth was a fully three-dimensional woman with a rich internal life that Borgman brought out with her every word and gesture. The supporting cast echoed this richness without seeming like mirrors or copies; Captain Dalen Moore’s disdain for magic (and the reasons behind that), the King’s Mage calmness in the face of near-certain disaster, and the Princess Selia’s concern for her sister all felt real and honest. Toward the end of the novel, a few side characters rotate to enjoy more of the spotlight, and it feels earned and true. Well done, Scott!

 Plot/Storyline: 4/5. Well-crafted and enjoyable. Borgman develops his world through the actions of his characters, which is my favorite way to experience writing. While much of the story is the typical Journey, Jaelyth experiences enough twists and turns throughout the way to keep its outcome in doubt. Strange allies, enemies where friends once were, and a masterful twist toward the end that my brain had only the faintest idea was coming make this story a fantastic read.

Flow: 4.5/5. I finished this book quickly; the descriptions melded with the action, working to enhance the scenes without drawing me away from them. There were no info-dumps, no huge blocks of exposition or scenery that pulled me from the story. Thank you.

Spelling/Grammar: 4/5. A well-edited, competent work. I can count the typographical errors on one hand, and the grammar errors are even fewer. Excellent...but not perfect. :)

 Overall: 4.5/5. A great introduction to a fantasy series that I look forward to continuing soon. Borgman weaves his pen (or keyboard) like a master, delivering a tale that I would be proud to have written. Keep up the good work, and don’t let Jaelyth know where your valuables are; they might end up missing!

Friday, May 12, 2017

The Prince of Knocknafay - Truly a Noble Bastard of a Man!

Today, I am reviewing the mythological stew of a story Travers McCraken: The Prince of Knocknafay by Bret Bouriseau. A self-styled “grown-up bedtime story,” Travers reads more as a goulash of old-world faerie tales and Christian and Islamic myths, bundled up into a well-seasoned meal.

I give this book a 4/5. Here is my breakdown.

Characters: 4.5/5. Bouriseau has definitely spent a lot of time with his characters; they’re distinct, lively, and credible as beings. The good ones are good (though often roguish), and the bad ones are bad (to the tune of eating human flesh). Their banter is entertaining and definitely gives off the impression that these people have known each other a long time. That being said, some of the supporting characters - in particular Margay, the current object of Travers’s affections - fell a little flat. On occasion, she felt like her main purpose was to stand in awe at the things Travers was doing or showing her, and I got very little in the way of development from her actions.

Plot/Storyline: 4/5. Simple but effective. The rakish Travers McCraken steals away a sultana from an angry lord, and the story splits in two as he prepares to bring his treasure and love interest to Cibonay while the aggrieved Sultan hatches his own plot to destroy Travers. The fun part comes in the interplay between the characters and in the flipping back-and-forth between the antagonist group and the protagonists. It made for a fun reading experience that I’m eager to return to.
Flow: 3.5/5. Bouriseau chose to use a heavy brogue to represent his characters’ speech patterns. While I was able to understand most of the speech, there were times when I had to backtrack or sound it out to myself in order to piece it together. As a fast reader, the brogue felt like a speedbump, tripping me up and ripping me out of my verisimilitude. That was the only negative quality about the flow, however; the story moved at just the right speed, and we spent a good amount of time with each character and scene without dragging it out.
Spelling/Grammar: 4/5. Bouriseau’s editor and proofreader did a solid job. There were a few issues - mostly missing quotes at the end of a paragraph or line - but nothing that disturbed me or presented an issue.

Overall: 4/5. Solid and entertaining. The world of Knocknafay is engaging, intriguing, and a load of fun. While the book isn’t perfect, its flaws do nothing to detract from the ingenuity and creativity of the author. I look forward to the next installment, which drops around Christmas!
For those interested, you can find Travers McCracken: The Prince of Knocknafay at Bret Bouriseau’s website:

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Tatyanna (Light and Darkness Book 1): A fun adventure into a deeply-described fantasy world!

Today, I am reviewing the Fantasy story Tatyanna (Light and Darkness Book 1) by Lindsay Johnston. A solid and enjoyable “portal” fantasy which pulls elements from both Eastern and Western mythologies, we follow the titular Tatyanna as she grapples with feelings of alienation and being pushed to the fringe...only to find out that those feelings are justified. She is different. She’s destined to save a world.

I give this book a 4/5. Here is my breakdown.

Characters: 4/5. I enjoyed these characters very much. Tatyanna was interesting and fun to follow as she went through her journey, although I did feel that some of her reactions to the strangeness were a little subdued; she seemed to accept things much more easily than I would have at 21. Her companions, especially Emmett and Dimitri, were also well-fleshed out and real. My favorite, though, was Malek, the Phoenix Lord (I don’t know if that was an official title or not). He felt extremely realistic and deep, and I look forward to learning more about him!

Plot/Storyline: 4/5. Nice and solid. While I wouldn’t point to any elements of this storyline that really wowed me or made me stop in amazement or shock, I did enjoy the entirety of the book. I didn’t notice any holes or unrelated elements that would have pulled me out of my reading. The story is classic, a standard “hero’s journey,” but that doesn’t make it any less fun to read.
Flow: 4/5. The book moved forward at a good clip, taking just enough time to set the scene before dropping the next bomb. The only reason this didn’t receive a higher score is due to the author’s tendency to ignore contractions in dialogue. The dialogue itself was solid, even enjoyable, but the constant use of “I will” rather than “I’ll” or “He is” instead of “He’s” makes the speech seem stilted and artificial. Contractions are your friend!.
Spelling/Grammar: 3.5/5. There were several minor typographical errors and a few moderate problems that I noticed. A couple of times, there seemed to be paragraphs that duplicated content immediately previous to them, almost as if Johnston had gone through and changed it up during an edit but forgot to delete the previous version of that paragraph.

Overall: 4/5. A solid, fun, enjoyable work that I’ll recommend to anyone who likes this kind of story. While a few elements were classic and a little derivative, I really liked the way Lindsay put them together and fleshed out her world. The universe she’s created is, itself, unique and interesting, and I look forward to the sequel.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

The Order of the Four Sons: Book I - Action-packed, deep, and thrilling; a highly-recommended read!

Today, I am reviewing the Urban Fantasy story The Order of the Four Sons: Book 1 by Coyote Kishpaugh and Lauren Scharhag. A Mission Impossible-esque thriller with a team drawn from the dregs of the mystical Order of the Four Sons, this book boasts amazing action and character interaction alongside a mythology that stands favorably next to any that I’ve read.

I give this book a 4.75/5. Here is my breakdown.

Characters: 5/5. Absolutely outstanding. Each and every one of their characters drew my interest and stood apart from the others. I loved the dynamics between them, from the gruff leadership of the Colonel to the growing teacher-student relationship between Doug and Kate and the firm grasp on real reality that Murphy tries to hold onto. Each feels like a real person to me, a real personality. Each of their actions is in line with their established traits, and they do a fantastic job in setting them up quickly.

Plot/Storyline: 5/5. Enthralling. I lost a good couple hours today of my own writing on this book because the story hooked me so strongly. The plot elements follow one another in completely believable sequence, with no instances of the deus ex, with no coincidences or elements coming out of left field, but yet trickled with twists that made my eyes widen as I realized what was going on. This is an excellent, excellent story.
Flow: 5/5. As I do with my own writing, Kishpaugh and Scharhag did not delay their characters’ actions just because they wanted to talk about them or describe them. The story moved with the speed of plot, with the sense of urgency strongly felt in each delay, in each question the characters had to ask themselves, and I loved the tension and drama this created..
Spelling/Grammar: 4/5. I counted 3 or 4 typographical errors in this book - a missing quotation, a few misspelled words - and that was it. It’s better than most other published works that I’ve read, and the smoothness definitely added to my enjoyment of the book.

Overall: 4.75/5. Wow. What a thrill ride. Ending on a fantastic cliffhanger, I became an instant fan of Kishpaugh and Scharhag's writing and this series. I will be picking up the next book soon. I can’t recommend it enough.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Inevitable Ascension by V.K. McAllister - a fun, fast-paced time-travel fantasy! 3.75/5 stars!

Today I’m reviewing the YA Fantasy/Time Travel novel Inevitable Ascension by V.K. McAllister. This book follows Violina and Lux, two young ladies who have a very Robin-hood style approach to life: hunting down extinct critters and selling them to a museum, they get involved in a heist from that same museum when they get stiffed for their fee. A chance encounter with a mysterious and addled woman involves them in adventures that lead them back and forth through time to save their world. Or destroy it.
Oh, and whatever they do, they’ll have a blast. Lux insists.
I give this book a 3.75/5. Here is my breakdown.
Characters: 3/5. This is the weakest part of the book. I enjoyed the adventures that Violina and Lux put themselves through (or found themselves put through,’ll see), and I enjoyed the background of characters that they interacted with. There just...wasn’t much about them that made me understand or empathize with them. Their banter was funny, but occasionally the circumstances made funny banter seem strange. I just couldn’t connect well with them.
Plot/Storyline: 4.5/5. The storyline here was reminiscent of Chrono Trigger, a very well-loved RPG from the Super Nintendo era. Time hops back and forth to make things right, action and adventure and was a lot of fun, a lot of fun. The author wraps up the story well and elegantly, and the plot is consistent with little to no “gotcha” factor. Well done!
Flow: 3.5/5. This goes hand-in-hand with the character development issue. The two protagonists were go-go-go! from the beginning, and that left little to no time to get to know them. Even gravely wounded, they never took a break, never performed at any less than their best. A little more pacing might have improved the book.
Grammar/Spelling: 4/5. Mostly clean and consistent. I didn’t note any misspellings, but did see a few places where a comma was needed or extraneous. High quality, but not perfect.
Overall: 3.75/5. This book deserves the positive attention it will get. For many people, the fast pace and hurried development will detract little, and they’ll be pulled into the great and engaging storyline. For others, they’ll be left wanting more in a few areas, as I was. Regardless, this was a solid first outing in a projected series, and I’m very, very curious as to where Violina and Lux will end up next!