Series: Jordan Sandor (Book 4)
Hardcover: 496 pages
Publisher: Post Hill Press (April 26, 2016)
Purchase at Amazon
Bronx native Jeffrey Stephen's Rogue Mission is a crisply written and plotted novel in the tradition of Tom Clancy, Clive Cussler, James Patterson and other luminaries in the thriller genre. This is the fourth book in the Sandor's series, perennial Amazon best sellers, the others being Targets of Deception, Opportunity, and Revenge. The series has become increasingly popular amongst aficionados of that legion of hard men who mince few words, don't apologize for America, battle world-wide evil (particularly the Islamist variety), and rarely miss when discharging lead in the direction of our country's enemies. Think of Sandor as James Bond as he'd act and behave if he grew up in The Bronx. In a conflict between the two, Bond wouldn't have a chance.
Now, in the modern-day suspense thriller, certain things are expected and Rogue Mission serves up the goods. These include:
All these elements are in place as the action of Rogue Mission kicks off. The problem with writing a review of a suspense novel is if you say too much, you immediately run the risk of spoilers. I'll simply say the action of the book kicks off when our hero nearly dies during a terrorist attack in Hartford, CT. (Yes, Hartford. Why not Hartford? Isn't it time we all gave New York a rest?)
As he recovers from his wounds (Sandor, while tough, is no cartoon-style superman who can undergo crashes and rapid deceleration events that would macerate his every internal organ), he begins to dig into the circumstance surrounding the bombing, which also kills one his best friends, a federal judge. Despite being ordered off the mission, he continues to dig into the case, hence the "Rogue" in the title of the book. What he finds launches him on a mission to thwart a conspiracy stretching from City Island to Syria. Evil is definitely afoot and it will take all of Jordan's skill and macho to foil the plot and ensure the bad guys get what they deserve. (Boy, do they ever.)
A nice bonus of Rogue Mission is a plot that didn't make my eyeballs roll back in my head. Over the years, I've stopped watching Bond movies because the stories have become increasingly ridiculous. I finally snapped after watching Die Another Day, which featured a North Korean baddie transformed into an English Twit via plastic surgery! Everyone thinks the movie was very avant garde because the opening scenes show Bond being tortured, but since Madonna was also in the film, I thought that was simple justice.
(OK, I admit it, I watched Skyfall on Netflix. Prometheus made more sense.)
One of the fun sub-plots of the book revolves around two lightly disguised celebrities (you'll figure out their identities almost instantly) who are kidnapped and held hostage in a Middle East refugee camp by the bad guys. I particularly enjoyed this part of the tale because I actually rooted for the imperiled famous personalities and worried about their fate. If I were to attempt to write a high-tech thriller with people from People magazine, I'd pick Justin Bieber and Kim Kardashian and spend the rest of the novel torturing them to death. (OK, I'd go easy on Kim; after all, she is a mother of two. Bieber, no mercy.) It's why I'm probably not the right choice to author this class of book.
When I read a suspense thriller, I apply a simple test. Once I start reading the book, do I have a hard time putting it down until I reach the end?
Rogue Mission easily met that test.
Read my interview with author Jeffrey S. Stephens on Jordan Sandor, Rogue Mission, and The Bronx by clicking on this link.
Hell is Empty and All the Devils Are Here by Mark S. Rounds
Paperback: 516 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (August 31, 2015)
Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
One of my most intense cinematic experiences was watching George Romero's original Night of the Living Dead one evening late at night on channel seven (ABC) when I lived at home in The Bronx. I almost turned the knob on the film, turned off by the seemingly lame dialogue and cheesy photography and then the first zombie, the guy stumbling around in the background shot of the graveyard, moves (well, shuffles) into action and BOOM! the movie takes off and doesn't let down for a single second.
To this day I remember that as the film progressed, an eerie feeling came over me that I wasn't watching a film so much as a documentary. I now sort of understand the feelings of all those thousands of people who were terrified by Orson Well's 1938 radio broadcast of War of the Worlds, even those who knew they were listening to a dramatization. It's a rare atmosphere that only a handful of films I've watched have been able to create. I never watched the original Night again, wanting to keep the memory of that unique experience fresh in my mind.
From that peak experience, my relationship with zombies and the genre has deteriorated. The problem is me. I just have a hard time taking all these zombie movies seriously, particularly the classic "return from the dead" variety. (Though anyone who has watched Bill and Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Donald Trump stalk the land recently understands that the Walking Dead still remain beside us.)
It's my inner scientist that's the problem. You see, being dead is accompanied by a series of handicaps and issues that challenge the whole perambulation and dining activities that seem to motivate the newly expired zombie. Looked at holistically, they're hard to ignore.
Take walking, for instance. Now, when you die, you begin to putrefy quickly. The Walking Dead takes place in Georgia and I've been in Georgia in the summer. It's pretty darn hot and I give any strolling corpse a week, tops, before they transform into a revolting glop of goo and stop going anywhere. (And I'm not sure how you chow down on a screaming, wriggling victim once all your jaw muscles have melted. And ligaments really do count for something.) The name of the most popular zombie show of all time should be The Disgusting Dead and it should have gone off the air years ago.
Also, zombies aren't the smartest folk around. Their strategic and tactical capabilities seem limited to shuffling slowly in giant hordes, when they're not being lured in just about any direction you want by one of several methods, including turning on your chain saw, accidentally firing a found from your shot gun, or whispering in a loud sotto voce voice to your survivalist band that they need to keep it down because, dash nabbit, there are zombies everywhere. I mean, really. The NRA has ensured that when the Zombie Apocalypse comes, a group of well organized Boy Scouts armed with 30-06 hunting riles will have enough ammo to get the situation under control in a couple of weeks.
I understand that today's zombie literati wish to expand the emotional and artistic reach of zombiedom, but I'm skeptical of these efforts. I did my best to express my feelings on the subject in this excerpt from Selling Steve Jobs' Liver: A Story of Startups, Innovation, and Connectivity in the Clouds:
“Landon, I can understand your viewpoint, but I can’t endorse it.” Ignacio’s tone was stern. “The zombie movie must evolve. Many of these films have taken the zombie to places none of us expected. ‘Warm Bodies,’ for example. Read the comments on the board. About how the movie explores the zombie’s emotional world in fresh new ways. Another referred to it as the best love story since ‘Love Story.’”
“Love story?” Michael said. “Don’t zombies want to eat their dates? I just don’t see that as romantic. In ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ when Romeo dies, Juliet doesn’t treat him as a snack. Besides, if zombies are so wonderful, why haven’t they done one with your local hero, Elvis?”
“They have,” Ignacio said.
“‘Bubba Ho Tep.’ A classic,” said Landon.
“Excuse me,” I said. “Just to give my friend here some support, I don’t understand how zombie movies can ‘evolve.’ I mean, zombies are dead, right? Their whole goal is to not evolve.”
Ignacio shook his head sadly. “Nate, you need to expand your horizons. America has embraced the zombie. ‘The Walking Dead’ proved the point. How many zombie movies have you seen? Other than ‘Dead Snow?’ How can you criticize something you haven’t truly experienced?”
“Ignacio, I haven’t experienced going to International Falls in the middle of winter and licking an aluminum lamp post with my tongue, either. Something a zombie could do with absolutely no discomfort, even if they left their tongue stuck to the pole.”
OK, enough kvetching about zombies. Let's get to the review of Hell is Empty.
Mike Rounds' opus (the first of three parts, I believe), is not technically a "zombie" book, but is written in the spirit of 28 Days Later, a zombie sub genre I'll refer to as an "infected." Many zombie purists sneer at infected movies and some harsh words were directed at the the ending of 28, in which the rage-ridden "undead" of the film starve to death. This fate seemed to make sense, and, if you were willing to indulge in a leap of the imagination and accept the proposition that most of the Italian, Indian, Chinese and other ethnic eateries were destroyed by the raging apocalypse sweeping the British isles, logical. Having been to the U.K., I myself would rather starve than eat native British cuisine. Much of it tastes like it was made from leftover parts of the undead.
Hell is Empty takes place in Washington state and chronicles the outbreak of a new blood borne-virus that is causing its victims to manifest some very ominous symptoms, including super strength, a high level of resistance to being shot, stabbed, tased, etc., and that classic zombie desire to chomp on any victim it can get its hands on. The origin of the disease is initially a mystery, and one that remains unrevealed by the end of this first book, but luckily for my inner scientist, the victims of the disease are not "undead," follow the rules of physics and biology (mostly), are at least at some level aware of their dilemma and, as would make sense when dealing with any biological agent, curable in some cases.
I can't tell you what a relief the above is. As I progressed through the story, which goes at a very rapid pace, I was able to completely suppress the usual eye rolling and internal snorting that interrupts my attempt to read a zombie story. Instead, I focused on the story, the characters, and the mysteries embedded in the plot.
Author Round's bio states he's been an Air Force officer who worked on B-52 radar systems and his descriptions of military procedures and the use of weapons systems adds that bit of verisimilitude that I found so compelling in Night of the Living Dead. In fact, one very minor criticism of the book is that I believe some of hardware profiles can be dialed back a bit in favor of more character and plot development. But you firearms aficionados out there will enjoy the author's command of modern day weaponry.
The plot of Hell follows a fairly familiar arc. As the infection begins to vector out of from its point of origin, initial order and discipline is replaced by increasing chaos and social breakdown. In keeping with the book's realistic feel, the processes, mistakes, and inevitable snafus follow logical paths and outcomes. While the book doesn't break any new territory, the pacing and descriptions keep you engrossed and turning the pages. And because the "zombies" in the story are real, suffering people, their fates and plight keep you emotionally engrossed and connected. In Hell, some people will be saved, and you invest your emotions in trying to figure out who will be spared and who's headed for that Big Zombie Graveyard in the Sky.
For you fans who want to sink your teeth into a zombie epic that makes a whole lot more sense than the raft of almost all the undead chronicles currently entering the market, even the ones that have a lightly applied and unconvincing patina of "science" attached to them (yeah, I'm looking at you, World War Z), Hell is Empty and All the Devils Are Here is a treat.
In 1978, I met my wife in The Bronx at a fraternity party. If you lived in the Northeast at that time, 1978 is a year you'll never forget, the year of the great snows. During the winter, New York was hit with three major blizzards in a period of about two weeks, beginning with the infamous Blizzard of 1978 (they're still traumatized north up in Beantown). For the first time in most New Yorker's experience, the snow removal system broke down citywide. As the streets filled with ice and drifts, the side streets, then main roads, became impassible. Cars were locked in place in some areas for several weeks and channels had to be cut in the sidewalks.
Both Mrs. Chapman and myself were young and stupid and insisted on continuing to go out on dates, waiting for buses that only occasionally appeared out of the blowing maelstroms to take us up Fordham Road to the RKO, Valentine, and Loews Paradise movie theaters. Penguins would have had more sense than to wait out in that mess, but such is the power of love.
Of course, no one at the time was terribly surprised by the bad weather. You see, during the 60s and 70s, numerous scientists had assured us that the world was on the verge of another ice age. Only ten thousand years ago, a period when mankind was building the first cities in the Middle East, New York had been locked under five thousand feet of ice. (The Connecticut town I currently live in was estimated to have been entombed under ten thousand feet.) Visits to the Hayden Planetarium and Museum of Natural History periodically had exhibits on previous ice ages and what we might expect when the next one arrived. I remember reading at the time a fun Sci-Fi novel set in the near future, where the entire world has been snowed in and modern day Inuits pursue genetically modified land whales for food and sustenance. The protagonist of the story is heartbroken when the ice starts to melt and his way of life disappears.
Science was on the case, though. I recently saw a brief clip of a climate scientist of the period who'd developed a brilliant program to save civilization. His plan was to increase the amount of carbon we burnt, thus creating a global-wide greenhouse effect that would warm the planet and forestall the glaciers. (I'm too busy to track down the clip, but it's out there and you can Google it.)
I think we should track that fellow down and give him a special Nobel Prize for saving the planet.
Cycle 26, Winter is Here is a taut, exciting thriller set in the near future when the ice returns. The title refers to a theory proposed by British astrophysicists that cyclical sun spot activity means in about 15 years, the earth will enter a new mini-ice age, similar to the ones that impacted the earth during the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. I'm not going to get in a argument with the global warming (oops, "change") crowd about the scientific validity of this theory. It's actually impossible to successfully engage with this group intelligently as they have raised the process of cherry picking data, rewriting their theory in real time to account for all possible outcomes, and launching personal attacks on people who disagree with them to a fervored pitch that would do Torquemada proud. Besides, I want to focus on finding that genius who figured out that CO2 is your friend and get him his Nobel.
Cycle 26 is initially set in Chicago and documents the slow collapse of the Windy City as the snow pile in and refuses to leave. This section is perhaps my favorite of the book, as it reminds me of that brutal winter I experienced all those years ago and the glimpse I caught of how a modern urban infrastructure could crumble and die.
Of course, as would happen in real life, society begins to breakdown as food and energy shortages take their toll. The book follows the experiences of climatologist John Snowden (a not too subtle pun) and Amy Callahan as they join the slow, agonizing retreat of civilization from Chicago in the face of the advancing ice line to a last stand in Dallas.
Along the way, as you'd expect from a dystopian novel (and as would happen in real life), a group of desperate refugees known as "Ravagers" emerge out of the collapse to make life miserable for the survivors. The scenes in which Noah and Amy fight them off are well written, exciting, and realistic, not surprising given Dacy's reputation for a stickler's attention to detail in his prose.
To sum up, Cycle 26 is one of those books that once you pick up, you don't put down. And I have to confess I'm thoroughly bored with global warming gloom and doom and found this novel a refreshing icy blast in the face.
I grew up in an apocalyptic faith (I no longer adhere to this religion or belief system), but the experience has left its mark on me. It's one thing to see the end of the world portrayed on movie theaters, TV, or read about it in books, but it's quite another to have felt it in your bones for the first eighteen years of your life. I therefore judge this genre of book by one simple criteria: does the book re-awake the same feelings of dread and awe I felt as a child contemplating the utter destruction of the world around me?
The Getrude Threshold takes place in the near future. The Sun's main sequence has gone awry, and what was once predicted would take place a billion years in the future, the expansion of our star as its nuclear fuel begins to run out, is taking place now. The planet is slowly cooking as the heat rises and there is no solution to the problem and no hope. Fantasies such as a time travel exit out of Hell on Earth have been exposed as opiate for the masses and planned migrations to Mars and similar locales beyond our practical grasp.
Threshold (the book's name is derived from the last name of a scientist who has calculated the exact tipping point when the heat will overwhelm the final barriers mankind has built to survive the inferno) takes place on Last Day and follows the actions and thoughts of four main characters, John, his wife Ellen, Ky, their five-year-old son, and Brandon, Ky's elderly grandfather. Earth's remaining population has retreated to a claustrophobic underground warren of tunnels and living complexes that become increasingly disordered and dangerous as society collapses. In this maze of despair, our four characters will interact with other survivors and seek out what grace they can as fate deals with each of them in turn.
The book's most heart-rending character is Ky, whose birth was probably a mistake but who has provided his parents with joy and some hope for the future until the point that all hope runs out. Like all five year olds (and, at heart, like all of us), Ky understands his life is coming to an end but does not truly believe it. At the end of the story, Ky leaves the small apartment in which he has lived for most of his brief life to meet his destiny and comes upon an abandoned little girl also seeking peace in the dark. The narrative at this point becomes heartbreaking, but never bathetic:
Daisy glanced away. She spoke into the well to pass along a secret, confident it wouldn’t echo back. “Truth is I lied,” she admitted. “I don’t live here. I have no home. It’s just me.”
“No mommy? No daddy?”
“Not for a while.”
Ky hugged her. She hugged him. “Neither do I . . .”
Ky dared to say. “. . . at least, I don’t think so.” Time halted in the presence of their embrace. “What happened?”
“One day, my parents went out. They never came back.” Daisy released him. She wavered listlessly, avoiding Ky’s stare.
“The enforcers tossed me into the tubes to make room for a real family.” Time flooded the void their confessions left.
“Why pretend?” he asked.
This scene and what follows enables author Brooks to end his novella on a note of grace and love.
It's a fair question to ask why anyone would read a work as downbeat and grim as The Gertrude Threshold and I'm not going to pretend to have any definitive answers. Some people find catharsis in this type of book. For me, the answer is that at 61, I've become increasingly aware that my own Gertrude Threshold looms not so far away in the future as I once thought, and I find the topic of how I'll deal with my Last Day of increasing interest. (Or maybe I just woke up in a gloomy mood this morning.)
Certainly, the book awoke in me those memories of the end of times I experienced once so regularly.
The Gertrude Threshold is a powerful tale very well told. You will not forget it once you put it down.
File Size: 627 KB
Print Length: 341 pages
Publisher: F.W. Fife (Zharmae); First edition (August 20, 2015)
Publication Date: August 20, 2015
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Timberwolf had me with its cover image of its eponymous hero puffing on a stogie. I have to tell you, watching environmentalists and "Moms against Smoke" and every other social nag and bureaucratic Bossy Boots faint, whine, and pass stupid intrusive laws when someone puffs on a bit of tobacco while simultaneously hacking huge clouds of unfiltered pot smoke into their lungs while beginning the inevitable cycle of stupid giggles and jokes that are only funny to the temporarily mentally impaired is painful. Timberwolf would throw the whole lot out the airlock of a spaceship first thing and wouldn't that be grand!
Here's a bit more macho musing for you. One of the great things about Heinlein's Star Ship Troopers series was that wussy little girly boys weren't welcome. Johnny Rico was there to kick Bug and Skinny ass and he enjoyed doing it. If someone from Code Pink had shown up before a drop, they'd have been fed to the aliens alive as a diversionary tactic. That's MY kind of fighting force!
Another thing I love about Timberwolf is attitude. In Sci-Fi, Earth has recently become a dumping ground for every second-rate group of interstellar under-achievers and delinquents. Ok, Ok, I admit that Earth as Pantywaist started with H.G. Wells and War of the Worlds and that evil meanies from outer space conquering all Peoplekind (I bet Timberwolf would say "Mankind" cuz that's how he roles) remains a very durable plot line, but I think the zeitgeist has moved too far recently in the direction of political mush and PC. It's time for a corrective.
Timberwolf Velez is the corrective. He's what you'd get if Dirty Harry and Ripley married and had a son. In his future, EARTH is the dystopia, and we've become very good at dishing out pain and punishment to misbehaving aliens. It's not only the military that's in on the action. The Church (the denomination is not made clear in the novel, but it feels like what you'd get if the Catholic Church started going to the gym, bulked up with 'roids, and started using those chalices not to drink wine but instead dent the heads of vicious off-world scum and teach them who's boss. I have a feeling if the current Pope reads Timberwolf, he'll faint) is also in on the fun and a key player in the tale.
The plot of the novel takes place in an expansive and action filled universe in which humanity has moved out to the stars and fought with great success a series of wars with alien species. Driven by religion and xenophobia, it appears we've solidified our role as Galactic Apex Predator until we confront the Arnock, a species of giant intelligent spiders who are also telepathic and no pushovers. During the conflict, Timberwolf has the misfortune to meet the enemy up close and personal, and ends up with an evil-alien-giant-spider persona permanently implanted in his psyche. Ah, but is everything what it seems? Just how evil are those spiders, really? And as the action unfolds between Church, Arachnid, and Highland, an entire world constructed for an AI, the lines between good and evil become increasingly blurred.
At least till Timberwolf Velez begins handing down some hard justice. Even if he has to do it with that damn spider still stuck in his head.
There's plenty of slam-bang action writing in the novel that will keep the pages turning. Some of the best scenes involve "Wrath," a bio-mechanoid warrior who's almost as dangerous as Timberwolf. Wrath is what you'd get if you crossed "Alien" with "Predator" and the resultant hybrid joined the Catholic Church down at the gym for its own killer workout.
Here's one early scene of Wrath doing what he does best:
The guard emptied his weapon on Wrath, but the plasma bursts deflected harmlessly away. The beast approached closely, scanning the door, the guard struggling to reload. Wrath absently slashed the guard down as he examined the lock. Then with his shoulders flexing, he turned the wheel on the door until its gears snapped and spun free. Bayonets extruded from over his forearms and he dug into the lock mechanism. He peeled the door outward, tearing it off its hinges. He tossed it away as two guards on the other side unloaded their weapons on him.
Wrath lashed out with his razor-tipped tongue, taking one guard’s head clean off. His plasma clip empty, the other man just stood there, terrified and unable to make a sound. Wrath backed up, dropped his head and drove his iron-crowned skull into the man’s chest, smashing him against the wall. The guard crumpled like a rag-doll.
Wrath and author Tom Julian are just warming up at this point.
OK, I've said enough. Now, you maggot, go pour yourself a long pull of a good bourbon, light up a smooth maduro, and sit down to enjoy a classic Earth-Kicks-Alien-Butt tale with just enough humanist subtlety and angst to allow you to escape accusations of Terran Nativism.
In sum, Timberwolf is fast paced, dynamic, and a blast to read.
Tom Julian works days at an insurance company and nights and weekends as an author. He enjoys traveling, long-distance cycling and waking up early to brew the perfect cup of coffee. He's an unabashed beer snob and native of Trenton New Jersey.
Timberwolf is Tom's first novel. His lifelong love of writing was cemented after pitching story ideas to Star Trek DS9 and Star Trek Voyager in the 90's. Tom is the father of Izzy and Liam and husband to the lovely Brenda-Lea. He writes while warming his feet under Maggie May, his Bernese Mountain dog. Favorite movie/book/food = O Brother, Where Art Thou?/Sirens of Titan/Trenton Style Tomato Pie.
File Size: 1311 KB
Print Length: 189 pages
Publisher: Solstice Shadows (August 28, 2015)
Publication Date: August 28, 2015
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Sold by: Bookgoodies
Bears are perhaps literature's most widely employed animals in myth and story telling. Members of the species who've enjoyed major literary attention include Goldilock's nonplussed three bears, the New York-themed Yogi, the pantless Winnie the Pooh (I always found Winnie a bit disturbing), Baloo from Jungle Book and many others. In Sci-Fi, the most recent major ursine sightings were the grim polar bears of The Golden Compass. The roles assigned to bears encompass many different emotional states, from childlike to fierce. But I have never seen a bear portrayed as "ridiculous." They are far too powerful and imposing.
Camille and the Bears of Beisa-Drafnel is composed of four pirmary narratives interwoven throughout the story.The core story takes place in the here and now and focuses on Camille Matahari. We first meet her as she's moving into her new Manhattan apartment with several friends. The writing in this section is very contemporary and accurately reflects the self confidence of young urban women who feel they're on the cusp of great things and fully in control of their personal destinies. (I've met this class of female in the person of my daughter and her friends. As a father, part of me admired their unrelenting sassiness and optimism while another gritted my teeth at their naivete. It's all part of your Fatherhood training.)
Soon, however, it becomes apparent that there's something more inhabiting their cozy apartment space (and I'm not referring to the pervasive cockroach community that is a permanent fixture of the New York tenement scene). Unseen forces are attempting to communicate with Camille and at this point the book's narrative shifts to our second heroine, Camille's "Gram," Catherine.
The scene's describing Catherine's sojourn in Jamaica are the strongest section of the book. This narrative begins when the young girl, along with her brother and sister, is sent from India to live with her "aunt" in Jamaica, an evil character cast in the same mold as Mrs. Reed of Jayne Eyre and on a lighter scale, Aunt Petunia of Harry Potter.
The aunt is secretly renamed "Ugly Red" by the young Catherine and over the years imposes a regime of deliberate cruelty and suffering on Catherine and her two siblings. I found this description of Ugly Red's murder of Catherine's only friend, a small pet chicken, particularly heartbreaking and horrifying:
One day, Ugly Red trapped Taw under an old dirty bucket after discovering our playtime and friendship. Ugly Red wrung Taw’s fragile neck with a brittle crack. On her final breath, Taw’s head sagged to the side.
Ugly Red sniffed Taw’s dead body and then tied her feet to the clothing line so that she hung upside down. I watched, horrified, as all of the blood drained from Taw’s tiny body. She then proceeded to boil Taw and pluck all of her beautiful feathers. Afterward, Ugly Red laughed, licking her lips, as I cooked and fed her my only friend.
That's a bit of writing that stays with you a long time.
As the story progresses, Camille's hidden powers begin to manifest themselves and the four different worlds and times the book tracks begin to intertwine across the aeons. We discover the bears of the story's title are a cadre of protective guardians sent to protect Catherine and her ancestors from the forces of darkness represented by Ugly Red and her minions.
As I noted earlier, the other two narratives of the book revolve around a "present" and "future" Narvina, where much of the mystery surrounding Camille and Catherine is explained. However, since Bears is the first in a trilogy, I expect to see these other aspects of her universe expanded and fleshed out with the rich prose she is capable of writing. The story deserves it.
A word about the book cover art. I found it lovely and moving, a bright visual blend of pathos and primitivism, and very reflective of author Simone Salmon's Jamaican heritage.
Simone Salmon, a Jamaican born New Yorker, is the mother of two sons and a Jack Russell terrier.
Simone is still working on her exit strategy from Corporate America, but in the meantime she writes novels, poetry and expands her multisensory perceptions. She is also a spiritual truth seeker who appreciates psychic phenomena and timelessness.
Music of all kinds, warm weather, lounging on the beach, and experiencing the unknown are just a few of her most favorite things.
Folks can look for upcoming events such as giveaways and book signings on my website: www.ssalmonauthor.com.
The Cerulean's Secret by Dennis Meredith
Paperback: 285 pages
Publisher: Glyphus LLC (February 2, 2015)
Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
Purchase on Amazon
OK, first things first. I have found rather late in life that I am a cat person. I've always liked cats, but didn't have strong feelings about the species until my daughter "gifted" me Hunter, a black cat who was being kept in a foster home until my daughter adopted him to be her college companion. I'm not quite sure how it happened, but somewhere along the way, Hunter came to visit my house and ended up staying.
A few years later, Hunter was joined by Daphne, a muted-calico dumpster kitty my daughter, who was then currently at law school, removed from the front of a bodega where the animal had set up a regular begging station. Judging by the kitty's weight at time of pickup, this strategy was not working well, so Daphne was whisked home to my budding law student's studio apartment, which was apparently too cramped to accommodate six pounds of cat. Daphne soon joined Hunter at my house, where the relationship between the two can be best be described as "polite." Hunter like to rough house and Daphne does not, leading to occasional fits of loud hissing and cat screams when Daphne feels her dignity being impinged upon. She likes to take revenge by sneaking up on Hunter and whacking him on the back of his head with her paw when he's not watching. Both of them feel it is their inalienable right to walk all over me when I'm laying in bed, then snuggle up to my side (Hunter left, Daphne right), and take a nap.
Thus, when I was asked to review The Cerulean's Secret, a story of a cat genetically altered to possess bright cerulean blue fur, I said yes. Also, the color plays a role in my new novel Selling Steve Jobs' Liver, so that was another inducement (the blue cloud on the cover is cerulean). Finally, much of the book's action takes place in a Bronx milieu set 50 years in the future and having grown up and lived the majority of my life in the burrough, I wanted to see what it would look like in a few decades.
This book was not presented to me as a YA title, but after reading it, that's how I'm classifying it. As I say in the submission guidelines, I'm not the best fit to this type of book, but I went ahead and read the novel and it's a fun, though flawed, experience.
Cerulean is about the adventures of Timothy Boatright, who works as a NYC cabbie and dreams of becoming a writer. He becomes embroiled in the "catnapping" of the Cerulean, a genetically altered cat who because of its color (and other characteristics I won't discuss in the review), is worth a fortune. Powerful forces in this future society have created this cat and powerful forces want it back and are prepared to leave no pile of kitty litter unturned until the Cerulean is returned to their control.
From a Sci-Fi standpoint, I enjoyed author Meredith's speculations about how genetic engineering will enable us to one day create exotic animal chimera's and how their presence will impact society and future markets. We're at the dawn of the age of direct genomic manipulation of pets and other animals, but we can all see that some very different creatures are going to be barking, woofing, and chirping at us in the future.
Much of Cerulean's writing is also crisp and interesting. Here's a sample of what I mean:
It all started on a day I drove my cab like always, and New York stunk the way I liked New York to stink, with the sharp tangy aroma of electrics, the fumes from the gas cars, the aromas of sidewalk food, and the general rich, organic funk of people and the city. As it got hotter, all the great smells just sort of cooked themselves together like a steamy bubbling stew. Everybody immersed in the stew busied themselves acting the way only New Yorkers do. The drivers inched along in bumper-to-bumper Manhattan traffic, cabbies cussing and big traffic -scarred trucks double-parked, with everybody trying to squeeze in on everybody else.
That's pretty good stuff and reminds me very much of Manhattan in August. Of course, being a native New Yorker and speaking of pets, when I was a kid I remember another sort of odor that was baked into the city streets and it wasn't very fragrant. But then the pooper scooper came along and things are better these days.
However, in certain respects, The Cerulean's Secret suffers from the curse of YA plotting. The Bad Guy of the book is a dastardly English ne'er do well who takes control of the company that has engineered the Cerulean from its benign creator, Rozoff. It's a bit hard to take this part of the book seriously when Timothy is able to look up this bit of information about the story's resident Snidely Whiplash with almost no trouble:
I called up Talbot’s bio, and it wasn’t flattering. Boy, it sure wasn’t! His history showed him to be the black sheep of an upper-crust British family, which was ironic considering the animal-making business he’d gotten into. He’d squandered most of his inheritance on drugs, gambling, and expensive yachts. Then he tried to get it back by drug-dealing. Not just nickies, but the really bad stuff.
I mean, just how did the job interview for Talbot go?
Interviewer: So, Mr. Talbot, it says here on your resume that you're a drug dealing Limey mobster. What makes you think you're a fit to the culture here at Rozoff, Inc?
Talbot: Uh, I drowned a kitten when I was twelve?
Interviewer: You're hired!
You can get away with that kind of clunky exposition in YA, but that doesn't cut it for adults. At least not this one.
If I were giving this book stars (which I do not do), I'd give The Cerulean's Secret 3.0 stars as an adult read, 4.0 as a YA title. For the teen in your life, a fun, enjoyable afternoon's read.
Nighthawks at the Mission by Forbes West
File Size: 558 KB
Print Length: 302 pages
Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
Publisher: Brontide West; Third Edition edition (July 23, 2015)
Publication Date: July 23, 2015
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
There are four main perspectives used in writing novels. The first person, the second, and the third (the most popular). Third can be sub catgorized into single, POV, and the omniscient, but I'll save my schoolmarm shtick for another day.
In the first person, you share the protagonist's thoughts and feelings, becoming in a sense their best friend for the length of the story. In the third person, you view the story and become part of an intimate audience. In the second person, you become the protagonist. Writing in the second voice is the trickiest task in writing, because your story must be compelling enough for your reader to be comfortable in the skin of the character they're going to be inhabiting. Think of the second person as "The Thing" of novel writing.
Both of my novels (Rule-Set and Selling Steve Jobs' Liver are written in the first person and my future literary itinerary calls for me to write one in the third. I'm not sure I'll ever write one in the second. There are a few examples of recent successful books written in the second voice, including Bright Lights, Big City and A Prayer for the Dying. In Sci-Fi, Ray Bradbury liked to experiment with the second person, but I don't think any of his novels use it.
This brings us to Forbes West's Nighthawks at the Mission, which is decidedly written in the second person. So, the first question we must ask is: Does he pull it off?
The answer is yes. West creates a compelling, cracked world that's fits the peculiar power of the second voice beautifully. The novel reads like what would happen if Jack Kerouac's On the Road took a left turn into Mordor at some point and ended up employed at a meth lab run by the Dark Lord. Visually, the world the author creates "feels" (and I use that word because Forbes West's prose has a very visceral quality) as if someone had poured a Dali landscape into a de Chirico street scene.
The plot of the story revolves around Sarah, who departs Earth via a refurbished Queen Mary, for The Oberon, an "off world" destination that is reached not via space ship but by passing through a dimensional portal located in the Pacific Ocean. The book does not explain the origins of The Oberon nor why thousands of people are emigrating to a place whose senior executive is called "The Witch-Lord," but never mind. You're on your way and will just have to puzzle it all out while you learn how to survive. The drugs, alcohol, and side trips to ancient structures that are described as "temples" but feel like long abandoned shopping malls, now infested with ancient insane human vampires, shoppers who stayed picking over the Blue Light Specials a bit too long while all the stores were being shuttered, will help keep boredom away. If by chance you're chased by one of the vampires, you can pray to survive, but don't recite from the Bible while doing it; those are illegal in The Oberon.
The following passage gives you a sense for the book's style and ever evolving weirdness:
You and Guy come upon a massive hallway with statues of two-headed men and of otherwise normal-looking women with fangs for teeth. The ceiling stretches upward, the vaulted roof and
tiled floor separated by a hundred feet of air. You feel like you are in one of those documentaries about the Vatican due to the Urncalles’ ancient and positively Greco-Roman look. Farther along is a corridor where purple water travels quickly upward on a slant with nothing supporting its trajectory, just open air.
A few young men and women in bathing suits and equipped with those ring-shaped life preservers are jumping into the pool and shooting upwards, disappearing into some area beyond in a rush of ever continuing water. A Ni-Perchta man, tall and imposing, guards the entrance to the water arc with a whistle tied around his neck.
I imagine this is the type of water park attraction Milton's fallen angels might have created while laying down the foundations of Hell.
Looking for something different? Want to kick your mind onto a very different plane? Tired of the same old, same old?
Nighthawks at the Mission and The Oberon await you.
Giant Mega Kaiju Smackdown Retrospective! ZonGhidorah vs.Frogzilla a Year Later: Who Won, Who Lost the (and Who REALLY Lost)! With Special Guest Appearances by Joe Konrath as the Smog Monster and in His World Debut, Hugh Howey as Flackra
A year ago today, the world watched agog as two rampaging giant monsters fought a deadly battle for publishing supremacy in the streets of New York (The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms tried to horn in, but was told absolutely no stop action).
The first monster was ZonGhidorah, King of Online Channels, a fearsome fire spitting dragon from Redmond with three fear striking heads, the first one named "Distribution," the second "Kindle," and the third "Imprints."
The second kaiju was Frogzilla, a giant amphibian from France, less fearsome than ZonGhidorah, but, under the right circumstances, tastier.
The battle began when ZonGhidorah landed in Manhattan right on top of the Publisher's Pricing Model Edifice and began to dismantle it from top to bottom. Unfortunately for Frogzilla, the other publishing kaiju were all having lunch together that day at The Russian Tea Room where they talked about nothing very much at all except on the topic of do Americans make tastier snacks than the Japanese. Frogzilla would have to fight alone.
The battle began with tremendous bellows and much chest pounding, though, oddly enough, not much damage was done. This all changed when King Ghidorah's Channel head spit flaming nuclear radioactive acid onto Frogzilla's Amazon availability and site rankings and toasted them to a crisp. Innocent Hachette authors could be seen fleeing the streets of New York City screaming and crying madly as their book sales plummeted.The horror was indescribable.
At one point in the battle, the Smog Monster, a creature made of toxic gases and slime, rose from the swamps of Secaucus, New Jersey (where else would he live?) to join forces with ZonGhidorah against Frogzilla. His chief weapons were noxious and interminable blog posts that threatened the consciousness of any who came within their range.
The battle reached its crescendo when Flackra rose from the cockroach-infested swamps of Florida and joined the fray. He was guided to conflict by two tiny shobijin wearing mumus. The one on the left is Hoffelder-san, the one on the right, Gauhgran-san. In addition to the mumu, Gauhgran-san always wears a "No Author Solutions" T-shirt.
Flackra is a Giant Moth with a huge woolly body supported by massive wings. When Flackra is on the move, it emits a constant keening cry of KKKDDDPPP FFFOOORRREEEVVVVEEERRR. Such is the buffeting power of its flight that it was able to drive thousands of indie authors who had absolutely no reason to be there towards the great conflagration being generated by the ongoing rampage. New York Times reporter David Streitfeld reportedly wet himself when Flackra's giant bulk filled the New York sky. That's the power of a kaiju!
Once at the battle's epicenter, Flackra flew around Frogzilla spitting out poisonous petitions proclaiming that Amazon was paying authors riches in such quantity that rents in Manhattan might actually start to look affordable.
At this point, everyone was sure that Frogzilla was about to cry "Mon Dieu!" and fold up into a nicely seasoned dish of CUISSES DE GRENOUILLE À LA PROVENÇALE. But, to everyone's amazement, this didn't happen! Instead, channeling his pre-Waterloo inner Napoleon, Frogzilla bellowed "Merde,!" rolled up a bunch of Authors United petitions, and beat the King of Online Channels around its two outer heads with it while simultaneously dropping water balloons filled with the tears of Hachette authors on the middle.
Finally, ZonGhidorah had enough of this and told Frogzilla to just hand over a big extra wad of euros and he'd go away. The deal was struck and the King of Online Channels flew back to Redmond. Once safely home, he proceeded to unleashed his fearsome henchman, FirePhone, on the mobile market where it proceeded to get its ass totally kicked by iPhoneZilla, with help from Samsungasaurus.
The other monsters watched ZonGhidorah's abrupt departure from the scene in dismay and didn't quite know what to make of it. Finally, the Smog Monster oozed away and wrote a long, boring blog post about the entire affair every other sentence of which began with "Smog Monster sez."
Flackra fled back south, his departure hastened by an alert New York Sanitation Police squad that attempted to ticket him for spreading garbage on city streets. The New York Consumer Affairs apartment also tried to sue Flackra for deceptively claiming that charging an operating expense is a royalty, but it's hard to serve a giant bug.
The shobijin have reportedly found work in a gentlemen's club in New York. The precise nature of their duties is unknown at this time.
Wow, that was exciting. Now, let's see a year later how the respective parties are all doing.
How Did ZonGhidorah Do?
He lost. Amazon did succeed in extracting more margin from the book publishers, though how much is unknown. The larger publishers were able to give up the least, the smaller the most. All of the contracts that were signed are private and you'd have to do a lot of digging (and some bribing) to obtain precise details. In terms of a typical channel fight, Amazon did well.
However, as I've noted before, after the publisher's collusion trial, Amazon's goal was to gain control of the E-book pricing model. This attempt was driven by the belief that "He who owns the price of a thing controls the thing." (With apologies to George Herbert and Dune.) Amazon not only failed in this attempt, it failed so significantly that its grip on the market, and its ability to project fear, were weakened in so far as the larger publishers were concerned. (The smaller ones are still terrified.) As proof, look at how HarperCollins kicked sand in Jeff Bezo's face when it was time to go to contract.
But, like King Ghidorah, Amazon is a patient beast. It will be back. It's continuing to put pressure on the publishers by adding a silly line on its listings saying the price on agency books is set by the publisher. Here's a brief note to Amazon. I want my listing to say my price was set by me and I'll take the consequences if I make a mistake. I don't need you price rigging the world to your benefit.
On the other hand, Amazon has innovated and shaken up an industry that badly needed it. For that, they deserve credit. I'll give them more the day they get out of my marketing and pricing shorts.
How Did the Publishers Do?
They won. The primary goal of the publishers during the fight was hold on to agency pricing at all cost. Many people still do not understand why publishers fight so hard for agency.The publishers do not agency all their titles, only the newest and hottest. They do this for the same reason Apple can charge full retail when a new gizmo goes on sale. Amazon buys its Apple products from 1 Infinity Way under high tech's version of agency, MAP. Perhaps Hugh Howey wants to write a petition telling us how Amazon is paying Samsung a living wage?
This takes us to another nonsense claim that AAAG repeated during the battle, that $9.99 is an "optimal" price point for E-books. It was a claim that failed high school statistics. And now the publishers are proving it. Why do publishers charge more for certain E-books?
Because they can. If they were overpricing, they’d be punished at once. It’s an open market and there are plenty of alternative titles But if you have an established rep or brand, you can charge more and people will pay it. That includes indies. And yes, if you're formally published and your house MAPs your book, you make more money.
But I don't think the publishers fully understand the disruption still building and bubbling under them. They been issued a stay of sentence, not a reprieve.
How did AAAG (Aggregated Amazon Ankle Grabbers) Do?
Ugh. Who cares. Collectively, through the entire fight, they were a disgrace. Bad info, unrelenting propaganda. However, I see some signs of embarrassment and remorse (though not from Howey, AAAG's biggest player). Let's hope they'll make up for it in the future.
Who REALLY Lost?
Indies, of course! In respect to Amazon, we look like Tokyo after Godzilla has left after a relaxing day tearing the place apart. We are still:
Let's not even get into the issue of the Kindle subscription program and what you make.
It's a pity. Had AAAG not flacked so relentlessly for Amazon, they were in a position to do the indie community some real good. They could have pointed out the problems with the publishers and asked Amazon to change its policies in respects to indies when media attention was focused on the fight. It might have moved the needle. That chance has passed. It will take another big dust up before it arises again.
Review Submission Guidellines
Want me to review your book? You must join the Rule-Set mailing list and contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Do NOT use the contact form for a review request; for press and publishers only. Your book can be a proof but ready for sale within 60 days.
Scifi/-fantasy only at this time. Make sure it's been professionally copyedited. If it's not, I'll know in about five pages and will reject the book. I don't mean to be a hump about it, but approximately 40% to 50% of the books I've received have had far too many typos, comma splices, misuse of dependent clauses, etc. (No, it doesn't have to be perfect. Most books have a few typos, including ones coming out of "traditional" publishing.) Your book cannot succeed in the market with such flaws and it's not fair to ask reviewers to read it in such a state.
I'll take a look at YA, but I'm not the best fit to that audience. PDF, Mobi, print all fine. If you have an author website you wish me to link to, please provide the URL. I don't charge and I also don't guarantee a good review!
Please note comments on blog posts are limited to 5K characters. System limitation.
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