Category Archives: The Friday Review

The Last Friday Review: Tarranau

Sad news, all. After this review, I’m not doing reviews every week. I’ve got to redirect all my time to The Kingdom: The Quest; it’s finally taking the shape I want, but there’s ways to go before it is worthy of you, my faithful readers. So from here my focus is there. However, if you’re an indie writer who would like me to read something, I’d be only too glad if I have time. I’ll take any genre except erotica.

I’ve been looking forward to this review. I first heard about James Tallett, like many other wonderful writers, on Twitter.  With a username like @thefourpartland I had to have a look at his stuff. His website is fascinating.

I had the chance at last to sit down with the first book set in his fantasy world. I’m happy to report that Tallett brings this fantasy world to life with a scope and detail that, put simply, blows me away.

The nations of this world all sound like places that could actually exist. Despite names like Bhreac Veryan and Tor Hauwcerton, their industries and governments and atmosphere are described so well, it makes me wonder if Tallett visited them himself, and didn’t just imagine them in his head.

There’s a delicious and ambitious conflict brewing between these nations. It echoes our own history so well that it’s scary. There’s strong element of sorcery involved there (and if I tell you any details I’ll spoil too much). I didn’t agree with the magic, personally. The rivalries of the countries are compelling enough. They didn’t need any dark hints of supernatural forces.

But this is the first part of the series. Let us see where Tallett takes that part of the story. Considering the ending of Tarranau, promising a wild quest, I’m excited to see that. In the meantime, let us look at some things that need work before that next part comes out.

Fascinating as Tallett’s world is, I had to be patient at times getting through the story. At times, very patient. Tallett throws so much detail on page that the pacing suffers greatly. He has a tendency to identify his character’s motivations or personalities, instead of showing them. He then proceeds to repeat them several times.

That political tension I was talking about doesn’t start until about halfway through the book. The first half is Tarranau fleeing his home and learning to be a good mage. There are several passages of him going through different days; eating, sleeping and waking up. They add nothing to the story.

Tallet’s writing style could also use some cleaning up. His dialogue is clumsy; he uses too many words, though you can tell he has a sense of rhythm. Instead of using a few well-chosen phrases to depict things, he will go on for a whole paragraph. The paragraphs are huge and intimidating; he should have made them shorter. His action scenes are told “play-by-play”. Maybe it’s just me, but that doesn’t depict an action scene.

This is all a pity, because the second half of this book has exicting things. Tarranau gets mistaken for a spy, and goes on the run with a man who saved his life. There’s bandits. There’s magic. There’s deserts. It’s a thrill, despite the clunky writing.

I don’t see how it ties with the first half. Tarranau is looking for work, but this doesn’t seem to be adequate for some reason. I can’t put my finger on it. There’s not enough urgency there. Maybe it’s a personal thing. I didn’t have much time to read this, so I may have missed something. I apologize deeply if I have.

What I am sure on, however, is that I will be keeping an eye on the Four Part Land Series. Tallett doesn’t get everything right, but I see potential in him. Tarranau is a diamond in the rough. See for yourself at Amazon, Kindle StoreSmashwords, or Tallett’s official site.

The Friday Review: “No Rest For The Wicked” by Rebecca Knight

I will never read Snow White the same way ever again.

Wednesday night, I was traveling the Realms of Twitter, and stumbled upon the account of one Rebecca Knight. She writes fantasy. I write fantasy. Of course I looked at her blog. She had two free short stories about a fairy tale assassin. Ten minutes I downloaded them from Amazon and got blown away. They’re fast-paced, entertaining, and definitely NOT for everyone.

Victoria Grim is the last person I’d want to cross. Even before she faces an armed man, and kicks his throat with her steel-tipped boots, you know she’s not to be messed with. Ripley from Alien has nothing on this bad girl.

She works cases for an unnamed agency. “Blood Don’t Lie” watches her assassinate a very modern and very nasty Bluebeard. “Heartless” covers her attempt to bring Snow White (a runway and a porn star) back to her stepmother.

You did not misread that. This fairy tale casts Snow White as a porn star.

Knight pulls it off- and with style. I wish she had added a little bit more detail with settings, just a few words here and there. No such problems with the dialogue. It is harsh, it is snappy, and it is alive. Victoria is a hard-edged heroine, and one who is convincingly brought to life.

The plot is swift and exciting. With her modernized, seedy new fairy tale world, Knight lends intensity and urgency to fairy tales. “Heartless” in particular has a passage that left me breathless with terror.

Speaking of which, these stories are R-rated. If you’re queasy, keep a wide berth. Victoria lays some vicious punishment on her enemies. Her enemies lay some vicious punishment on her. There’s swearing, booze, naked people and groping.

Knight does a good job at handling all that. She doesn’t pound you over the head with it. Her most gripping scenes don’t tell much, but what they do tell made me cringe. I did find the climax of “Heartless” to be too drawn-out. There’s a fight that goes on for a while. It’s well-told, but it’s too long.

Which is ironic, because my biggest complaint is that the stories aren’t long enough. I wanted to see Victoria do some more detective work, and some more dialogue. “Heartless”, in particular, could be a great novella. The plot goes by like a whirlwind. There’s enough of that plot to allow more time for it to unfold, and have some breathing room. It’s a pity Knight didn’t let that happen.

I won’t complain too much, though. Clearly, this is meant to be an introduction to Victoria Grim. And what an introduction it is. It is no masterpiece; don’t read it for deep thoughts. Read it for a dark, bone-crunching action caper. And join me in demanding a full-length novel. Nay, a series of novels. I want more Victoria Grim!

Read Rebecca Knight’s blog here. Get “No Rest For The Wicked” at Amazon for free. Or at Smashwords for free.

The Saturday Review: “If You Go Into The Woods”

I know. Usually this is the Friday Review. However, I am typing this on a Saturday. I ran around at the Montana State Fair, spent more money than was good for me, and returned at midnight to collapse on my bed.

Back to business.

“If You Go Into The Woods” is a duo of short stories written by David Gaughran. He blogs about indie publishing when he’s not writing stories like these. The first story is “If You Go Into The Woods”. There’s also “The Reset Button”, but let’s start in chronological order.

“If You Go Into the Woods” is short and packed with suspense. David Gaughran proved with his sci-fi short “Transfection” that he is a master of character and pacing, and he proves it again here. From the moment we meet Jiri Beranek, we want very badly to know more about him.

When he decides to explore the dark forest that has terrified him for the longest time, my heart rate went up. As he explores more and more, he finds something that kept me glued to my iPhone. It’s almost haunting. I can see it in my head as I type this. Gaughran kept amazing suspense.

And when he comes to his climax, he unleashes a surprise that completely blind-sided me. I guarantee you will not be able to predict it. It didn’t resolve the problems that Gaughran revealed at the start of the story, which makes me wonder why he put them at all, but it was surprisingly thought-provoking. I was shocked to realize that “If You Go Into The Woods” could be well-interpreted as a metaphor for the allure of advertising in the modern world.

That may or not be true, but what I know for sure is that at the end of that story, I uncontrollably started to read the next one: “The Reset Button”.

Once again, I got sucked into the protaginist from page one. Linus Ericksson is a sullen middle-aged man who cheated on his wife, and lost his happy suburban home in the divorce settlement. By the time he curses his coffee for over-boiling, you know you have a vibrant character on your hands. Linus demands your disgust and your sympathy.

The ending is another shocker, if a little easier to see coming. But that won’t spoil anything. Gaughran brings his settings to life with glee. Linus’ apartments, the bars, his ex’s house… he goes place, and we go along with him and see everything vibrantly. There’s an element of magic here that grow stronger and stronger, but it is never quite as memorable as watching Linus stroll and scowl at his world.

Are they too short? Yes… well… maybe not. It is their brevity that lends power to the narrative, though I wish I could have more time with Jiri and Linus. Will they captivate you? Absolutely. Are they worth the dollar you’ll be paying for their stories? No question about it.

Get them on Smashwords or Amazon if you believe me.

The Friday Review: Telephone 6

When I told Marc Barnes on Facebook that I had read and enjoyed his first short story, he told me that he hated it. In fact, he promised a better one in the future.

If he hates this, I can’t wait to see what he calls a better one.

Telephone 6 creates an unforgettable character in the first few paragraphs. She’s a 911 operator, the voice that answers the nightly cries for help. Which is funny, because she’s something of a cry for help in herself. She’s pale, frail and stares at her red fingernails. She keeps a device to play sounds of the ocean while she answers her calls. We never learn her name, but we don’t have to. I can picture her far more clearly than dozens of named, boring characters I’ve read in my life.

Even before she gets one call in particular, she’s a nervous wreck. When she receives that one call, she makes a sudden and bold decision that flips her night upside-down.

I won’t tell you what it is. Suspense is better when you’re not told the details beforehand. It would have been cliche, if our operator didn’t do what she does.

What I will tell you is that watching her doing is worth all 100 pennies that you pay for this short story.

That’s not to say it’s perfect. It ends like a Hallmark movie, and the writing can be a little too artsy. Marc has a bunch of sentences that cry out for shortening, and several paragraphs that I longed to split in two.

But through the sheer force of that 911 operator, I can forgive that. You should too. Telephone 6 is far from from perfect, but it deserves your dollar. It’s suspenseful, it leaves a mark, and it heralds a storytelling talent that I want to keep an eye on.

What are you waiting for? Go get it at Smashwords!

The Friday Review: Perloo The Bold

Until about five minutes before I started reading this, I had no idea what it was.

I walked idly into my sister’s room, looking for some mischief to play, and there it was. A small paperback, with the painting of a rabbit brandishing a pike. Of course I picked it up! Being the seasoned veteran I am, I knew exactly where to look for a description, and I looked to the back cover, where I read these words…

“A scholarly, shy member of the rabbit-like Montmers, Perloo is content sipping myrtle tea and reading his history book in his warms burrow. Until the day Perloo’s quiet life is interrupted by a mysterious summons from the Montmer leader. Drawing his smock string tightly around him, Perloo ventures out (through the worst blizzard since the Frog Year) to the Central Tribe Burrow to find out what their leader could possibly want with him.”

I say! That’s not just any ordinary bland Luke Skywalker! That’s a real character! I was still on the fence when I realized that this Perloo sounded not a little like my own dear protagonist Arman. With that, I cracked it open and read the thing then and there.

Ladies and gentlemen, you need to raid your local bookstore. Perloo the Bold by Avi is a delight and well worth your time.

I won’t give away too much about what happens to Perloo when he answers the mysterious summons. Suffice it to say that he and Lucabara, the female warrior who delivered the summons, get tangled in some sinister political intrigue that spans both the Montmer tribe, and the ferret-like Felbarts, their sworn enemies.

Perloo stumbles through every step of it. He’s out-of-shape, timid, and absolutely opposed to getting involved in politics. Lucabara alternately berates, cajoles, and deceives Perloo into continuing his adventures. We see just enough signs that there’s more to Perloo that this never becomes annoying. In fact, it keeps you reading. We know there’s another side to this rabbit. When’s it going to come out?

The undisputed delight, though, is the intrigue itself. Surprise is of the essence here, too, so my details will be minimal. Berwig the Big is one of the most surprising characters I’ve ever read in my life. Senyous the Sly is a cliche old fake counselor, but the way he interacts with Berwig, I couldn’t care less. The best of all the villains, though, is Gumpel.

Gumpel is the most unique villain I’ve ever met. She’s obese, sluggish and completely repulsive. When she enters the game, some gleefully wicked double-crossing happens.

Unfortunately, there are some downers. Avi can get preachy at times. He creates a vibrant picture of Perloo struggling against his destiny, and then adds commentary. “He was not very bold, powerful, or even romantic,” Avi writes in the midst of some musings by Lucabara that go on for too long.

But don’t let that drive you away. If you need a fast-paced, light-weight adventure with some unforgettable characters (and a surprise ending), give Avi a chance. Amazon still sells Perloo the Bold. Their edition doesn’t have the rabbit with the pike. I know. What sacrilege!

I was right, by the way. Perloo did have some strong similarities to my main character.

The Friday Review: A Hand At Cards

I think I might be the first person on earth to do a chapter review.

I might be wrong there. If I am, please don’t burst my bubble. I’m feeling good about this. Tonight, I am going to take you through the greatest chapter in the history of great chapters, and great books.

The book is A Tale of Two Cities, by the almighty Charles Dickens. The chapter is “A Hand At Cards”. If you haven’t read it yet, be warned. Spoilers abound.

Let’s lay down the context first. There’s a bunch of British people in Paris, during the Reign of Terror. They just saved their aristocratic friend Darnay from bloodthirsty peasants. “A Hand At Cards” opens just after Darnay has been arrested again.

“Happily unconscious of the new calamity at home, Miss Pross threaded her way through the narrow streets…”

Dickens is giving us a breath of air. We’ve just been knocked off our seats by the arrest of Darnay, and suddenly we’re somewhere else with a minor character. She’s shopping for wine in the “raw evening, and the misty river”.

Why is this important? Darnay’s in trouble! But we trust Dickens by now; this is 3/4 into the book, and he hasn’t disappointed us yet. We keep reading.

“As their wine was measuring out, a man parted from another man in a corner, and rose to depart. In going, he had to face Miss Pross. No sooner did he face her, than Miss Pross uttered a scream, and clapped her hands.”

Who is this man? We devour the imagery: Pross laughing, and calling the man her long-lost brother. It’s exciting enough, but the man’s responses begin to make us wonder…

“‘Don’t call me Solomon. Do you want to be the death of me?'”

He’s evading her. He tells her mysterious, menacing things; every sentence bursts with intrigue. What’s he got to hide? Jerry Cruncher, another character, steps in at this point and announces that Solomon had another name “over the water”. As Jerry interrogates him, someone else comes out of the shadows. Someone who shocks Jerry, Miss Pross, and most certainly Solomon.

“‘Barsad’, said another voice, striking in.

‘That’s the name for a thousand pound!’ cried Jerry.

The speaker who had struck in was Sydney Carton. He had his hands behind him under the skirts of his riding-coat, and he stood at Mr. Cruncher’s elbow as negliently as he might have stood at the Old Bailey itself.”

Even if we hadn’t met Sydney before, that’s an unforgettable establishment of character. Carton was a drunk lawyer’s assistant in England. He knows Darnay and his friends, and it is clear now that he has followed them to France. Without blinking, he calls Solomon (or Barsad, as we now must call him) a “Sheep of the Prisons”. Back then, that was a spy.

In short order, Barsad agrees to talk with Sydney at the office of Tellson’s Bank. Jerry and his employer Mr. Lorry witness the conversation. Now we see Sydney shine.

“‘In short,’ said Sydney, ‘this is a desperate time, when desperate games are played for desperate stakes. Let the Doctor play the winning game; I will play the losing one. No man’s life here is worth purchase…. Now the stake I have resolved to play for, in case of the worst, is a friend in the Conciergerie. And the friend I propose myself to win, is Mr. Barsad.’

‘You need have good cards, sir,’ said the spy.

‘I’ll run them over. I’ll see what I hold- Mr. Lorry, you know what a brute I am; I wish you’d give me a little brandy.'”

I read this passage years ago, and I still grin with glee every time I read it. Carton is a master. Not only that; he’s a master with style. He’s bullying Barsad into a corner. In the next several pages, he forces Barsad to admit all of the double-crossing he’s done in the last several years. There’s a whole lot of details, and Dickens unveils each one like a magician waving his wand.

You can’t help being hooked. Especially when Jerry Cruncher casts a “goblin shadow” and exposes another one of Barsad’s lies. And that in turn sets off something else in the next chapter, but we won’t get into that here.

There’s a lot I won’t get into here. It’s not that I’m being lazy. It’s because there’s seriously that much detail. I could write a small book about all of the different elements running through this chapter, and the way that Dickens makes them flow like a river. It makes want to laugh with joy.

Until I reach the end of the chapter, where Sydney says some ambiguous, scary things to Barsad…

“(Barsad) ‘… Now what do you want with me?’

‘Not very much. You are a turnkey at the Conciergerie?’

‘I tell you once for all, there is no such thing as an escape possible,’ said the spy, firmly.

‘Why need you tell me what I have not asked? You are a turnkey at the Concerigerie?’

‘I am sometimes.’

‘You can be when you choose?’

‘I can pass in and out when I choose.’

Sydney Carton filled another glass with brandy, poured it slowly out upon the hearth, and watched it as it dropped. it being all spent, he said, rising:

‘So far, we have spoken before these two, because it was as well that the merits of the cards should not rest solely between you and me. Come into the dark room here, and let us have one final word alone.'”

Don’t you want to know what happens next? Ladies and gentlemen, you have just caught a glimpse of the greatest chapter written in any novel, anywhere. I defy you to top this.

Did I mention that you can get this book on Amazon for free?

The Friday Review: The Night-Walk Men

I realized something the other day. How in the world could I have been so selfish? All I’ve been doing is braying about my own writing, and for the most part ignoring everyone else’s writing. In that spirit, I proudly present… The Friday Review!

You’re supposed to clap now.

No? That’s okay. Anyway, The Friday Review is a review that I post every Friday. It might be a Hollywood movie. It might be a video game. It might be a giant Russian historical epic. Tonight, it’s The Night-Walk Men, an ambitious and enthralling “novelette” by Jason McIntyre.

This is the kind of story that demands a review. The Night Walk Men is a supernatural tale about beings that kill people. They’re never entirely sure why. There is a hierarchy of power, and when something higher on this hierarchy decides that something has to die, the Night Walk Men make sure that happens. I want to call them phantom hitmen, but that would fall short of what the story is trying to convey.

When one Night Walk Man befriends a human, he gets in terrible trouble.

That’s all the details I’m going to tell you. I’m not trying to be mysterious. That’s truly everything I can tell you about this story without spoiling it. This is the kind of story you have read for yourself to get.

Why? Part of it is the way it is told. The narrator is another Night Walk Man, and he tells his story haphazardly. One moment, he will utter an odd, grandiose speech about the meaning of death, life and duty. In the next sentence he might say something else entirely. Let me show you.

“Be aware. When it’s mild, when it’s temperate, we’re there. We’re always there and that’s a promise. But when it’s raining, we’re there in droves. We’re there for keeps.

That’s a guarantee.

You want to chat about the weather first?

Fine. We can definitely chat about the weather first. “

(McIntyre, Jason (2011). The Night Walk Men (Kindle Locations 44-47). Unknown. Kindle Edition.)

He’s having a conversation with you, and it takes some getting used to. Jason doesn’t pull it off perfectly. He lets the rambling part go on for too long, and fascinating as it is, I wish he had stayed more focused on the story itself.

Luckily, in the end, The Night Walk Men isn’t something you read for the story. Don’t get me wrong. The writing, characters, and plotline are all well-done. There is one scene in particular that is one of the most unique, poignant, and downright terrifying things I’ve ever read. I will never forget that old blind saxophone player.

But when I finished the book, I wasn’t thinking about that. I was thinking about those odd, grandiose speeches about life and death and duty. They are the true core of The Night Walk Men. Jason is trying to convey an abstract, universal authority. He throws a lot of different phrases at you, as he tries to convey this authority. He gets about as close as any human can. And that’s how I’m going to praise him. The world of Cruithne, the valley past the clouds, will haunt my thoughts for some time to come.

Whether it would haunt you, too, I cannot say. You’ll have to find out for yourself. What I promise you for sure is an original, brilliant tale from a man who writes with the best of them. Take a chance. It’s worth your time.