Sunday, October 4, 2015

Reprise Review: The Man Who Crossed Worlds / Chris Strange

Reviewed by: Pete Barber

Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy/Thriller

Approximate word count: 70,000-75,000 words

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Chris Strange lives in New Zealand and writes urban fantasy--hardboiled stories with a noir influence. The Man Who Crossed Worlds was his first novel. For more about Chris visit his web site.


When tunnels opened up between Earth and another dimension, a connection was made with a new race of people, the Vei. Trade was established and governments quickly moved to regulate traffic between the two worlds. Miles Franco is one of a small group of humans born with the gift of tunneling between the worlds. He operates on the fringes, smuggling Vei (human-like creatures) and Vei products to Earth from the other world, colloquially know as Heaven. The story follows Miles as he’s reluctantly coopted by the police on Earth to prevent a gang war.  


Part detective and part science fiction, I had a lot of fun reading The Man Who Crossed Worlds. I’m a long way from being a fan of noir. The breathless rush from one danger to the next strains my sense of disbelief. With that caveat in mind, I thought this story was well done and compelling.

Miles Franco delivers bucket-loads of smart-assed asides. He’s imbued with an endearingly old-fashioned moral compass, and hampered by his inability to deal with beautiful women. Miles’ innate desire to run toward trouble dogs him on every page.

Miles tunnels between the dimensions using circular artifacts, which he smears with a chemical manufactured on Earth by a dubious underground pharmacist. Large tunnels used to transport Vei or Humans take considerable mental energy. He spends the whole book exhausted. Smaller tunnels—pin-holes—allow him to pull on the chaotic nature of Heaven to change physical laws in Bluegate—a concept I enjoyed.

Heaven doesn’t featured much, disappointing, because on the one occasion I visited, it was delightfully Dali-esque and the kind of place you’d want to go for your stag night, or maybe Spring Break.

Bluegate, the Earth city where Miles, the police (mostly crooked), and a number of rival bands of gangsters hang out and fight for control, forms a deliciously sleazy and gritty backdrop for the action. And action is the by-word in this novel. There’s not much time spent looking at the scenery, or contemplating the inner motivations of the various factions.

Miles is blackmailed into helping the police prevent a dangerous new drug entering Bluegate from Heaven. Frankly, with the lawless nature of the city, I didn’t really see the issue. This bothered me a little (not understanding the story motivation), but not too much--it’s that kind of story. You’re in it for the ride, not to examine the interior d├ęcor.

Apparently, this novel sprang from a ‘short’ the author wrote and published. I’d say the concept of tunneling, and the character Miles Franco have enough depth to carry a sequel.

Format/Typo Issues:

Not enough to mention.

Rating: ***** Five stars

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Five Things I Learned About Writing a Novella, A Guest Post from Kate Moretti, author While You Were Gone

Writing is always a learning experience. I doubt I’ll ever stop wondering if I know what I’m doing. Sometimes, I feel like I should be better at this, all novels feel like my first one! But when I sat to write a novella, I was expecting EASIER. I mean, it’s half the words! I was wrong. In so many ways, it’s so much harder. Readers expect the same level of depth as a novel. They want the same “full” reader experience, but you have half the words to fulfill it. Here’s a few things I learned:
  1. You can’t skimp on character
People want the same level of character development, which means you have to become incredibly efficient about getting those traits, quirks, and flaws out there. It’s a much more delicate process than with a novel, where you have some wiggle room to meander, bring in some childhood memories, show the reader a scene just to display the character’s reaction, etc. A novella needs more finesse, it’s deceptively complicated. Which means that if you’re trying to show your character is both cautious and can sometimes be impulsive when pushed (I like conflicting traits…a lot), you might have to do it in one exposition scene rather than two. I’m a big fan of exposing a childhood memory or parental interaction to show some psychological depth. In a novella, there’s much less space to do that, you have to work “in the moment” a lot more.
  1. Time has to pass
There are a lot of techniques to show the passage of time, the most obvious being simply dating your story as you go. (“Two weeks have passed”, etc). But too much of that and the story will read like a bullet list of time points. In a novella, it can be assumed that your actual story time frame isn’t necessarily shorter, after all there are novels that take place in a single day (A Christmas Carol comes to mind). So, you have to be a lot slicker about passing time. I referenced seasons, months of the year, and specific time points (“A month passed”). I was lucky that the novella counts down to her returning to the symphony in September, so with that looming, I had the established framework.
  1. The plot must move. Now.
In a novel, you could spend a half a page on Aunt Agnes’ knitting techniques, if it’s interesting and relevant, of course. If you’re digging the words (as a writer AND a reader) and the detail fits the story, sure why not? Plenty of page space for it, at 85,000 words. That’s off the table for a novella. It really makes you think about every single thing you include. I questioned everything, does this move the plot forward. There was no fat. And even when you think there’s no fat, you go back, trim some more. Every wasted word is a missed opportunity to show character. And while this is always true, with a novella, there’s literally no room for error.
  1. Side characters have to come alive quick.
More of the same: get it out there, fast. In a novel, you can meet Jack three times before you know what he’s about. Is he a good guy? A bad guy? A quirky character or a menace? Sometimes these expositions are purposefully drawn out for the sake of suspense in a good novel. In a novella, all characters and motivations have to be exposed almost immediately. There’s only time for the main plot and character development. Which means you sometimes have to introduce a character right in the action, so their motivations are clear from the get go. It was a different way of thinking for me.
  1. Telling vs. Showing
We writers know the adage “show not tell” and probably chant it in our sleep. However, in a novella, a graceful “tell” is your best friend. You still need the show, you still have to have all the characters react in real time to the current situations, but I felt like I was cheating when I had Karen, the main character, talking about the kind of person her ex was. It’s nothing more than a sneaky tell. I never showed him to the reader to be that person; she just described him to Greg. I did a few little tricks like this to get the side characters in front of the reader without using internal monologue. In a novel, I would have worked to get the ex in front of the reader himself, even if it was in flashback. No such luxury in a novella.

I love that I’m still learning. I feel like this process was a nice wake up call: in writing the things you often expect to be simple are not.

Get your copy of Kate's latest book While You Were Gone (a novella, obviously), from Amazon US (paper or ebook), Amazon UK (paper or ebook), or Barnes & Noble.

Friday, October 2, 2015

What Happens in Reno / Mike Monson

Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Noir/Crime Fiction

Approximate word count: 20-25,000 words

Kindle US: YES UK: YES Nook: NO  Smashwords: NO  Paper: YES
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Along with Chris Rhatigan, Mike Monson is the editor of the crime e-zine, All Due Respect. He and Rhatigan also jointly run the small publisher All Due Respect Books.


Matt Hodges is not a good husband. He’s unemployed, a drunk, and a compulsive gambler. His wife Lydia has basically written him off. However, with a small inheritance coming, Matt promised Lydia he’d not only pay for the cosmetic surgery she craves, but that he’d also get them out of debt. Unfortunately for Lydia, as soon as the check is cashed, Matt heads for Reno to try his hand at high-stakes poker, and to stay as drunk as possible for as long as possible. Meanwhile, back home in Modesto, Lydia plots with a local violent criminal (who happens to be her new lover) to find Matt and get the cash for themselves before it’s all gone. What happens when they all finally meet in Reno will be our little secret, okay?”


When I asked Google for a definition of the word noir, it came up with this:

A genre of crime film or fiction characterized by cynicism, fatalism, and moral ambiguity.

That definition nails it, at least when considering What Happens in Reno. I normally feel that a reader needs to like at least one of the main characters in a book and none of the people who inhabit this fast-paced tale are very likeable. Yet, I still enjoyed the read, wondering where the story was going, only sensing that it wasn't going to be a pretty ending. And boy, what an incredible ending it was. What Happens in Reno should hit the mark for noir and crime fiction fans.


Adult language and situations.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Welcome Back Jack / Liam Sweeny

Reviewed by: Keith Nixon

Genre: Crime/Thriller

Approximate word count: 70 - 75,000

Kindle US: YES UK: YES Nook: NO Smashwords: NO Paper: NO
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Liam Sweeny was born in Albany and raised in the Capital District, an area steeped in centuries of history in the scenic Hudson Valley. Sweeny has been active in political and humanitarian activities his whole life. In 2005, he began writing after three weeks spent in post-Katrina Louisiana.

His first three books, Anno Luce, Anna’s Book and The Serpent and the Sun were in the sci-fi/fantasy genre. Sweeny subsequently turned to crime and noir. His work has appeared in a variety of crime publications.

You can learn more about the author at his website.


When Jack was six years old, his parents were brutally slain by a serial killer. The police later found drifter Clyde Colsen driving a stolen car, his clothes soaked in blood. He was tried, convicted and executed. Jack grew up knowing the police got their man.

Now a decorated homicide detective in New Rhodes, Jack arrives at the third crime scene of the “South End Killer” murders and finds his name. He will soon find out something else: thirty years ago, they got the wrong guy. And now the right guy’s come back to pay Jack and New Rhodes his bloody respects.

As Jack struggles to stay on the case, his cat-and-mouse game with the killer makes him wonder if he’s the cat or the mouse. His family and everyone in his life is fair game. As the killer escalates and threatens the entire city, Jack has a question he must answer in his desperation: can he stop the monster without becoming one?


Well, this is a nugget of a novel. Even at the outset Welcome Back Jack feels a little more than a standard crime thriller. There’s a host of strong characters, each is flawed and with enough history to make them interesting. Jack in particular, with his parents murdered, case closed. But is it?

There’s quite a powerful psychological element to the writing too. Sweeny (and therefore the killer) throws clues out like breadcrumbs. Leading Jack and the reader along an increasingly taut narrative.

The deaths are sufficiently gruesome to make the reader realise we’re dealing with a sick person (which is, I suppose, the definition of a serial killer) but without ever drifting into the realms of gruesome or meaningless gore.

The dialogue has an excellent depth to it. There’s plenty of conflict between the characters and beyond Jack (for example his father in law, also a cop, begins to question whether they caught the right man, the actual killer of Jack’s parents).

In addition the procedural element is believable and clearly well researched, the cops really feel like cops who know what they’re doing.

Sweeny’s admirers include heavyweights in the genre such as Ken Bruen, Les Edgerton and Joe Clifford. On the strength of this novel, it’s easy to see why.


Nothing of note beyond what is typical for crime thrillers.

Format/Typo Issues:

Nothing major.

Rating: **** Four Stars

#Free for your #Kindle, 10/1/2015

The author of each of these books has indicated their intent to schedule these books for a free day for the Kindle versions today on Amazon. Sometimes plans change or mistakes happen, so be sure to verify the price before hitting that "buy me" button.

Three Sisters by Helen Smith

Two Birds by Vicki Tyley

Author's interested in having their free book featured either here on a Thursday or a sister site on a Monday, visit this page for details.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Devil's Daughter: Lucinda's Pawnshop / Hope Schenk-de Michele and Paul Marquez with Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Genre: Speculative Fiction/Fantasy/Occult/Supernatural/Urban Fantasy

Approximate word count: 100-105,000 words

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Hope Schenk-de Michele and Paul Marquez:

Hope Schenk-de Michele and Paul Marquez have been best friends for more than four decades. They both grew up in Los Angeles, California, and share a passion for mystery and science fiction. This passion led them to create the forever young and beautiful daughter of darkness, Lucinda… To assist in bringing Lucinda's story into the literary world, Hope and Paul enlisted the help of Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff as a collaborator… All three authors reside in California: Marquez in West Hollywood, Schenk-de Michele in Toluca Lake with her husband of twenty-two years, and Bohnhoff with her family in San Jose.”

To learn more about Hope Schenk-de Michele and Paul Marquez check out Lucinda’s Pawnshop website.

Or, if you dare, check-out Lucinda’s Pawn Shop on Facebook. *Mwahahahaha*

Collaborating Author:
Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff:

Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff: “Maya became addicted to science fiction when her dad let her stay up late to watch The Day the Earth Stood Still. Mom was horrified. Dad was unrepentant. Maya slept with a night-light in her room until she was 15… Maya lives in San Jose where she writes, performs, and records original and parody ) music with her husband and awesome musician and music producer, Chef Jeff Vader, All-Powerful God of Biscuits… To top it off, they've also produced three musical children: Alex, Avery, and Amanda.”

To learn more about Ms. Bohnoff and her many works be sure to check outher website.


Lucinda is as old as humanity itself, yet perpetually young, beautiful, and endowed with supernatural powers. She lives a double life—human and immortal. In her human guise, she manages Lucinda’s Pawnshop & Antiquary, the doors of which can open to any street anywhere in the world at any time. Mortals who have arrived at a moral or spiritual crossroads are drawn into the mysterious shop. If they acquire one of its cursed artifacts, they may find themselves drafted into Lucifer’s service.

Born out of a betrayal of trust between the first woman, Eve, and father Lucifer, Lucinda has worked covertly and subtly for millennia to be true to her mother’s love by subverting her father’s schemes. She wins freedom for some; Lucifer keeps those who fail for eternity. She has to be careful, for Lucifer has placed her under the watchful eye of the fallen angel Nathaniel, whose real intentions are a mystery to her.”


You can get the jest of the story from the blurb. That is the tip of the iceberg. There are at least six story arcs going on in this book. I want to count Nathaniel as a story arc also though, he intrigues me the most of the fallen angels, and adding his would make seven. So, we have the basic good versus evil plot with the twist of Lucinda (Lucifer and Eve’s daughter) thrown in the middle. Lucifer kidnapped Mariel when she was five-years-old and brought her into his realm of the Between, renamed her Lucinda, raised her with his influences and watched her grow into her powers. The struggle within her is real and she must be careful subverting Lucifer’s goal to start the end of times, Armageddon.

Lucinda must also try to piece together how all the story elements fit together. Lucifer does not reveal his game, and it is a game to him. We have lawyers dealing with insider trading and funding terrorist groups in the Middle East. Covert military missions manipulating religious factions, precious antiquities that affect their owners thinking processes. A handsome and devout journalist who is handed the story of a lifetime. Witches, demons, fallen angels, religious cult fanatics, and a love story. All of these components are expertly woven into Lucifer’s grand scheme.

With all of this going on around her, Lucinda experiences a human emotion she has never felt in all the millennia she has been alive. The awakening passions concern the human journalist, Dominic Amado. She knows she should walk away for his own souls safety, peace, sanity... She just can’t. I couldn’t help but love Lucinda. She has a strong spirit, and she’s level-headed, intelligent, and can be as devious as her father. It’s going to be interesting to see how she tries to make this relationship work with Dominic, who also has a strong character and a bit of darkness in his own soul. However, he is working hard to redeem himself.

The plot has a nice pace considering all the elements incorporated into the story. It also takes place all over the globe. Distance is not a problem for Lucifer and his ilk, they just pass through the between to be anywhere or anytime they wish to be in the blink of an eye. However, not all demons have this ability. This turned out to be a unique read and I hope to continue the series. I have great hopes for Lucinda and Dominic if she can keep him alive. Lucifer is not a threat to him, but there are a couple other factors that may be. Also, as I said at the beginning, I look forward to learning more about Nathaniel, I think his role will become more involved as the story develops.


There were no F-bombs dropped, and sex was behind closed doors, which really disappointed me but didn’t warrant dropping a star for.

Devil's Daughter: Lucinda's Pawnshop is book 1 of a series. This first book does not end in a cliff-hanger but some story arcs are unfinished, in a not too suspenseful way, to hopefully continue in the next book.

Format/Typo Issues:

Practically perfect.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Eaten: The Complete First Season / Michael La Ronn

Reviewed by: Michael Thal

Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy/Satire

Approximate word count: 40-45,000 words
Kindle US: YES UK: YES Nook: NO  Smashwords: YES Paper: YES
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When he recovered from a deadly sickness in 2012, Michael La Ronn realized the shortness of life. So he decided to pursue his passion—writing. Today he writes quirky science fiction and fantasy novels about vegetables and androids, short stories, and poetry. The author lives with his wife in Des Moines, Iowa.


Kendall Barnes is one of the human citizens of the Middle Rind of New Eaton. His city is unique for it is comprised of cereal boxes and soda bottle skyscrapers. On its streets are other people as well as “candy bars, boxed dinners, doughnuts, and other processed foods each with bright packaging and droopy eyes, adding artificial color to the area.”

In Kendall’s world most of humanity is obese and the underclass are the vegetables. The Gourmans, the ruling class, keep the humans happy with plenty of junk food and inactivity.

Kendall intends on entering the Festival of the Harvest to be held in Nonpareil Square. All he has to do is slash and gash the most free-running vegetables with his knife and fork weapons. He could win Nutrizeen injections that would shed his unwanted pounds leaving him fit with a god-like body.

Fry Guards bring in the prisoners—a fresh group of veggies harvested from the battlefield. (New Eaton is at war with the vegetable kingdom.) The vegetables are led off of a jail ship connected by chains. When set free to be attacked by the likes of Kendall Barnes, a few prisoners fight back. They are led by Brocco (a brave broccoli) Celerity (a stick of celery you wouldn’t want to mess with), and Frank, (an odious onion).


Thus Michael La Ronn begins his satirical novel, Eaten: The Complete First Season. The author does an amazing job of showing the depth of hatred between the Gourmans and the vegetables. The Gourman leader, Sodius, is a cloud of salt making Adolph Hitler look like a pacifist.

Sodius is contrasted by Carrodias, a carrot, who is the vegetable king. He’s a courageous vegetable willing to risk his life for peace between the two kingdoms.

La Ronn provides his readers with a non-stop joyride in a plot filled with unexpected twists and turns as the vegetable “terrorists” stop at nothing to end Sodius’ reign of genocidal terror against the vegetables. In so doing, La Ronn explores the folly of racial hatreds and the stupidity of war.


Readers beware: Eaten: The Complete First Season leads into other volumes so the plot is not resolved.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars