Author Archive

BOOK REVIEW: The Echo by James Smythe

REVIEW SUMMARY: Goes deeper into the mystery and emotions of this dark space epic.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The sequel to The Explorer charts the second expedition to understand the deadly anomaly in the far reaches of outer space.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Complex mystery adds depth to what was established in The Explorer; relationship between main character and his twin; empathetic struggle between ambition and failure; the ending.
CONS: Lacks immediate hook into the story; secondary characters only engaging at key moments; confusion during significant events.
BOTTOM LINE: A deep-space mystery to save Earth in a story for anyone who fears failing in their life’s work.

Following in the footsteps of the phenomenal first book, The Explorer, The Echo rewards fans with answers to the anomaly located deep in outer space, but then adds more danger as the anomaly’s strengths and mystery increase. More than that, though, the story of its main character, Mira, is touching, succinct and a perfect fit for a reader toe-to-toe in the battle between ambition and failure.
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BOOK REVIEW: Below Zero by Ben Tripp

REVIEW SUMMARY: Wraps up an innovative zombie-apocalypse duology.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The zombie apocalypse has turned into a wild west where children are used for bait and happy outcomes are few and far between.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: moments of excellent prose and horror; one-of-a-kind zombie mythos; interesting heroine; solid ending.
CONS: weaker middle; weak empathy for secondary characters; disappointed after really enjoying first book.
BOTTOM LINE: The action from an interesting concept of Happy Town’s dark secret, along with the heroine’s emotional journey made this a good read, but the lack of supporting characters you really care about made most of the events only marginally exciting.
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Ben Tripp is the author of Rise Again and Rise Again: Below Zero, a two-part apocalyptic zombie saga for Gallery. The sequel comes out on December 17, 2013.

He has an upcoming trilogy of rollicking young adult novels in the historical fantasy genre for Tor, the first of which is The Accidental Highwayman. In addition, Gallery has secured rights to his first foray into the vampire genre, The Fifth House of the Heart.

Tripp is an artist, writer, and designer who has worked with major entertainment companies and motion picture studios for more than two decades. He was for many years one of the world’s leading conceptualists of public experiences, with a global portfolio of projects ranging from urban masterplanning to theme parks. Now he writes novels full-time.

He lives with his wife (Academy Award-winning writer/ producer Corinne Marrinan) in Los Angeles.


Tim Ward: RISE AGAIN: BELOW ZERO is a highly anticipated sequel to RISE AGAIN. For those who haven’t read RISE AGAIN, please share the enthusiasm you had for that story and its characters and how you sought to have it make its mark on the zombie genre.
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Nate Kenyon writes thrillers, suspense and horror for Thomas Dunne Books. He also writes video game novelizations for Blizzard Entertainment in the worlds of StarCraft and Diablo. His novel, Bloodstone, was a Bram Stoker Award finalist and winner of the P&E Horror Novel of the Year. His novel, The Reach, was a Bram Stoker Award Finalist. His latest novel is the techno-thriller Day One (Thomas Dunne/St. Martins Press). Booklist gave it a starred review, calling it “exciting and inventive.” Library Journal called it a “must” and Kenyon’s “scariest to date.” Day One was also recently optioned for a film. Visit him at NateKenyon.com.


Tim Ward: DAY ONE is almost like 24‘s Jack Bauer fights Skynet, except Hawke is a reporter instead of a trained killer. Why is this story better for having Hawke not be as skilled in tactical fighting?
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An Audio Interview with Michael A. Stackpole

Today, Timothy C. Ward interviews Michael A. Stackpole about his new online course, Introduction to Writing: Science Fiction and Fantasy, which is still open to enrollment. The course costs $65 to enroll, then also you’ll purchase 21 Days to a Novel ($20) and his book Rogue Squadron (Star Wars X-Wing Series, Book 1) (~$6).

Michael and Tim also discuss how one learns to outline, examining studies in neuroplasticity and how outlines come from a strong understanding of characters. Michael discusses higher education options for aspiring authors of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Check out the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing.

If you’d like to find Michael on Second Life for his office hours, search for Noble Charron, his avatar, send an IM and he’ll give you the link. You can also go to The Quillians writer’s headquarters, a great place for encouragement for NaNoWriMo. They concluded with what he’s working on: a Pathfinder book, the next book in his Crown Colonies series, and then Talion: Nemesis.

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BOOK REVIEW: Still Life by Michael Montoure

REVIEW SUMMARY: Strong debut novel from a top-tier indie author.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Former rock guitarist flees death to become a vampire and finds something much worse.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Empathetic female protagonist; escalating emotional conflict; fresh twist on vampire genre; tight wrap-up.
CONS: Slavery and its theme drags a little; setting is claustrophobic; antagonist is a little weak.
BOTTOM LINE: Consistent to Montoure’s strengths in his best short stories, Still Life is beautifully written with strong characters and a surprising plot, and only lacked a larger playground in which to experience its story elements.
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BOOK REVIEW: Fiend by Peter Stenson

REVIEW SUMMARY: The zombie apocalypse has never been more engrossing, heart-wrenching, or personal. I rooted for this hero with held breath.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A pair of drug addicts open their window to a zombie apocalypse, run for their lives and fight for what they’ll love more: sober life or death.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Front-to-back engaging; phenomenal ending; emotionally powerful characters; scary zombies; survivalist setting.
CONS: The sexual descriptions, while consistent with the gory details throughout, were more than this reader preferred.
BOTTOM LINE: Best read of the year. Best zombie book, ever. Masterful illustration about how painful and overwhelming addiction can be – over love, over family, and over being a good human being, even in the face of losing one’s life to a zombie horde.
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BOOK REVIEW: vN by Madeline Ashby

REVIEW SUMMARY: vN is the book you would hope for in a story about an A.I. robot who overcomes her failsafe and struggles not to kill humans.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: vN is the story of five-year old Amy, an A.I. robot whose parents — father human, mother A.I. — are starving her in order to let her grow up as slowly as humans. A bloody incident with her grandmother reveals Amy as having a faulty failsafe and forces her to grow up fast or die.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Unrelenting and surprising conflict drives a fast-paced read; genuine, human-robot dystopia; powerful character arcs; evokes series addiction.
CONS: A few small sections were a bit slower to read.
BOTTOM LINE: A great time to start The Machine Dynasty series because after you finish vN, you are going to want to jump right into the sequel, iD, which releases at the end of June.

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REVIEW SUMMARY: Stories exploring fascinating experiences and characters in worlds stranger than I’ve imagined and yet close enough to home to feel I belonged there.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Like Water for Quarks contains stories with suffocating darkness, inter-dimensional portals, life-altering mailmen, ghosts in the ether, and many more mind blowing elements which champion magical realism as a genre for the imagination.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Bends reality without losing true connection to characters.
CONS:  At times too weird; disagreed with a couple stories’ message or direction.
BOTTOM LINE: Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys stories that insert magic into everyday life.

Individual story reviews follow…
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BOOK REVIEW: 14 by Peter Clines

REVIEW SUMMARY: A mystery that starts out interesting enough to compare to Lost, but loses interest in the middle and falls too far outside of reality in the end. (Not that Lost didn’t also.)

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A young guy without direction in life moves into an old apartment and gathers other tenants to investigate oddities where they live.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Strong setup for interest in characters and mystery.
CONS: Characters and mystery become less interesting by 40% mark; the ending.
BOTTOM LINE: The beginning established an interesting cast of characters and doubly so for their discoveries of this ancient building and its secrets, but the piecing together of the puzzle lost my interest and the climax was not as surprising or engaging as I hoped after liking the beginning.
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BOOK REVIEW: The Eighth Court by Mike Shevdon

REVIEW SUMMARY: A suitable ending to a well-loved series about the secret deal between human and feyre and an average Joe who risks everything to save his home and loved ones.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Powerful feyre are upset about the conclusion of Strangeness and Charm: Courts of the Feyre #3, and seek to kill everyone involved in support of a court made up of human-feyre crossbreeds. If they succeed, Earth will become a land consumed by darkness and the monsters who wield the void for evil.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Fascinating magic; powerful and scheming villains; engaging and surprising mystery; epic conflict; dramatic and sympathetic conclusion to character arcs.
CONS: A little slow to build interest; the final battle is frightening and surprising, but not the best ending of the series.
BOTTOM LINE: The Eighth Court takes a little time to build speed, but once it does the thrill ride to the finish is the puzzle solving, magical war that fans of this London Fantasy have come to love. You will get off this memorable ride more endeared to the heroes than ever before, and sad to see them go.

(This review contains spoilers if you have not read the first three books. This series is highly recommended. Start with Book 1, Sixty-One Nails: Courts of the Feyre. It made me a fan of Urban Fantasy.)
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BOOK REVIEW: The Shambing Guide to New York City by Mur Lafferty

REVIEW SUMMARY: A fun story of New York City’s monsters trying to destroy a likable writer who just wants to get over her past, meet a good guy, and finish her tour guide of the city’s secret culture.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A down-and-out writer is hired by a monster-run publishing company to write a tour guide to the monster underbelly of New York City. Her research leads to attacks by incubuses, zombies, golems and a secret villain who wants to turn the city on its head and unleash the brewing war between human and monster.

MY REVIEW
PROS: Likable heroine; fun supporting cast; creative world building that almost makes you want this kind of New York City to exist; establishes setting for many exciting stories.
CONS: The safeguards that allowed the heroine to intermingle with the monster culture also guarded the reader from feeling truly afraid for her life; humor fell flat too often; the ending jeopardizes future interest in this series.
BOTTOM LINE: The Shambling Guide to New York City starts out well enough to keep you reading, gets even better in the middle, and may or may not satisfy in the end. Unfortunately, for this reader the ending watered down the experience.
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BOOK REVIEW: Extinction Point by Paul Antony Jones

REVIEW SUMMARY: A terrifying apocalypse for monster fans and survivalists that loses reader interest through plot holes and a weak main character.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Red Rain creates a post-apocalyptic world for a bike-riding journalist to explore alone.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Offers a fresh take on post-apocalyptic fiction; appeals to survivalist fans; scary; quick read.
CONS: The implausibility of scenario and heroine’s survival tactics; passive conflict resolution.
BOTTOM LINE: The story has promise, but the poor execution and attention to detail may kill the series for some readers.
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BOOK REVIEW: Shift Omnibus by Hugh Howey

REVIEW SUMMARY: The sequel trilogy to the best seller, Wool Omnibus, which takes a leap back in time to show how the chaos started.

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A silo architect finds out too late what he’s been building, loses track of his wife and memories, and must uncover the secret behind the silo in order to make everything right.

MY RATING:

MY REVIEW
PROS: Strong beginning; empathy for major characters; challenging philosophical themes about war and sacrifice to survive as a human race.
CONS: Third Shift (Book Three) slowed the story way down with minor revelations and sparse action.
BOTTOM LINE: While the first half gave hope that this sequel could surpass Wool Omnibus, the story went downhill from there. Shift is still recommended for Wool fans, and it will not kill interest in reading the concluding volume although but it did not meet expectations.

(Spoiler Warning: This review will have spoilers for people who have not read Wool, and only general spoilers for those who have yet to read Shift. Reviews for First Shift: Legacy and Second Shift: Order can be seen at the reviewer’s home page.)
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REVIEW SUMMARY: A character-focused zombie story whose characters you’d rather ignore.

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A flu outbreak in Northern Ireland overcomes quarantine efforts as the dead rise and survival efforts bring out the worst in most people.

MY RATING:

MY REVIEW
PROS: A few memorable scenes; Irish accent in narration added to immersive experience.
CONS: Characters mostly unlikable; rambling plot; obtrusive prose.
BOTTOM LINE: The story is dominated by people being jerks, mixed in with some zombies, and ends up with more head-scratching than nail-biting moments, leaving this reader uninterested in any sequels.
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REVIEW SUMMARY: Space Opera for fans of Kevin J. Anderson and Brian Herbert’s Dune prequels, introducing a new universe with creatively inventive worlds, aliens, intergalactic travel, and an epic war to come.

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A failed revolution against the tyrannical Constellation government places exiled leader, General Adolphus on a planet at the outer reaches of a new frontier, where geological instability has earned it the name, Hellhole.  General Adolphus proves more resilient than the Constellation’s Diadem presupposed, and with the help of a new alien species, prepares to free the galaxy from its tyrannical government.

MY RATING:

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Symbiotic nature of alien life creates interesting relationship with humans; sympathetic characters invest readers in epic war to come.
CONS: Telegraphed plot lacks surprises needed to exhilarate reader, including cliffhanger ending.
BOTTOM LINE: Nostalgic readers of Dune prequels will enjoy similar story telling style in Hellhole, but will be disappointed by a cliffhanger ending predicted hundreds of pages before.

Hellhole begins with an emotional conclusion to the revolution against the tyrannical Constellation government, which serves to create strong empathy for the main character, General Adolphus, and a starting point for the moral dilemma of sacrificing innocents as a means to an end.  What follows sets General Adolphus up as a leader on an outcast planet, Hellhole, and his discovery of ways to free a cast of sympathetic characters from various forms of oppression. The chaotic environment on Hellhole entertains while developing characters like his love interest, her daughter, and a heroic love interest for her.

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REVIEW SUMMARY: A technically well-written story about vampires and the quest to stop AIDS, but over-description and a disappointing plot twist stole interest.

BRIEF SYNOPSIS:  A doctor adopts a Romanian orphan baby and discovers a secret that makes her enemy number one for a Mafioso band of vampires.

MY RATING:

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Well-researched in science, location, and vampire lore; visceral action
CONS: Technical jargon slowed the story; weak characters; the turn halfway through removed almost all interest in finishing the story
BOTTOM LINE: Probably looked good as an outline, but the execution failed to keep interest, especially after a midpoint twist threw most of it out the window.

Children of the Night begins with a preface of the author’s first hand research visiting Romania and historical locations important to Dracula’s life, and the tragedy of that country’s orphan problem. The story begins with a team of Americans visiting Romania to investigate the orphanage system in order to report back with recommendations for aid. The characterization is interesting enough to keep you reading, and when this section ends, the reader is left with a haunting revelation about the vampires’ plans.

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Interview with Author James Smythe

James Smythe was born in London and now lives in West Sussex. Since receiving a PhD from Cardiff University, he has worked as both a Creative Writing teacher and as a writer/narrative designer of video games.

His debut novel, Hereditation, was published as part of Parthian’s Bright Young Things series in 2009. His next book, The Testimony, a novel about the voice of God, terrorism and the apocalypse, was published in April 2012 by HarperCollins (Blue Door). In December 2012, HarperCollins (Voyager) published The Explorer, a science fiction novel in the vein of 2001 and Solaris.

In April 2013, HarperCollins (Blue Door) will publish The Machine.

He currently writes a continuing series of articles for The Guardian called Rereading Stephen King. He can be found on twitter @jpsmythe and Facebook.

He is represented by Sam Copeland at Rogers, Coleridge & White.


Tim Ward: First off, I have to ask, at any point from the conception of The Explorer to its release did you ever laugh out loud at how hard it might be for reviewers or interviewers to talk to you about the story without spoiling anything? If not, feel free to do so now.

James Smythe: Ha! I didn’t, I must admit. It never really occurred to me until I was finished about the difficulty talking about certain… developments in the novel. But the pacing was quite careful: even if you have the first reveal ruined, as it were – the narrative-driving one – hopefully the second, more emotionally-resonant reveal will still come as a shock. A few people have mentioned what happens at a certain point in the book, and that’s fine. It’s tough; and maybe they don’t see it as spoilers? Having said that, some people have said that the reveal that Cormac’s crew are all dead is a spoiler, but that happens in the first line of the book, so I think that one is fine.

And you’re right: it is really hard to talk about the book without spoiling anything.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Explorer by James Smythe

REVIEW SUMMARY: This book keeps you engaged and interested from page one.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A journalist joins a team of astronauts on an expedition to the farthest point in space humans have ever traveled. The mystery that awaits is more dangerous than trying to reach it alone.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Fascinating story; empathetic and beautiful struggle of an explorer separated from his family; epic, outer space anomaly leaves the reader burning for more
CONS: The mystery is not completely resolved.
BOTTOM LINE: The Explorer earns a “can’t miss” recommendation for its mind-bending, heart-wrenching, avalanche of a reading experience.

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BOOK REVIEW: A Once Crowded Sky by Tom King

REVIEW SUMMARY: Comic book in prose sends us inside the heads of heroes and villains fighting for the world and those they love.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A mysterious threat to Arcadia forces the last superhero to choose between being a husband and saving the world.

MY REVIEW
PROS: Superhero adventure with heart, mystery, and immersive action that makes reading about these characters a moving experience.
CONS: The prose may take too many liberties in what the reader understands to be happening, and the mystery of The Blue may be too slow of a burn to hold some reader’s attention.
BOTTOM LINE: May require more concentration and patience than some readers will give, but if they do, they’ll be rewarded with a philosophical gem on heroes, sacrifice, and the meaning of life in a corrupt world.

I don’t read comic books and I’m not really a fan of superheroes. That said, I can appreciate a tremendous cover, and was intrigued by the premise of a world where all but one of the superheroes gave up their powers to save the world.

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