Category: Reviews

Blondes, Books and Bourbon – A WDB Anthology, by R. M. Ridley

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I had the great pleasure of being a co-author in the anthology in which Johnathan Alvey made his first public appearance. Now, the amazing Mr. R. M. Ridley has started us on the dark road that will follow Alvey through the White Dragon Black series of novels. Ridley’s latest work, Blondes, Books and Bourbon, brings us back to the short story format in a collection of stories from within the White Dragon Black universe and staring your favorite embittered, brooding detective, Johnathan Alvey.

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I’ll be honest, the level of dark paranormal and surprisingly detailed real-world mysticism in the WDB series is on the edge of what my sensitive self can handle. But then again, so are some of the things that I write myself… It is really Ridley’s talented writer that keeps me coming back for more. What I really love about Ridley’s writing, is that it’s not all about the magic and the occult. At it’s heart WDB is really about the life and struggle of Alvey, trying to make a difference, while struggling with the figurative inner demons that threaten to slowly strangle him (though there are also plenty of not-so figurative demons with the same goal).

Blondes, Books and Bourbon is an excellent example of this Ridley’s character driven writing. While Alvey is constantly faced with supernatural doings his most impressive solutions are those where he engages his Sherlock quality wit and Continue reading

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MMAA Blog Tour; Spotlight on J. R. Potter

James PotterToday I would like to spotlight one of my fellow authors in ‘Mechanized Masterpieces 2, an American Anthology’; J. R. Potter and his short story ‘Rise of the House of Usher’ based on Poe’s classic work ‘Fall of the House of Usher’. 

A lover of graphic novels and the occult fiction of the late great John Bellairs, James gravitated towards the paranormal world from an early age. Watching the first episode of The X-Files with his older brother was a transformative experience, as well as an education in great storytelling and myth-making.

Since “growing up,” James has devoted his time to finding his voice through writing, publishing short fiction in The Portland Review, and winning two international short story competitions for science fiction and horror. When he’s not writing, he tours with his incredible wife Amy as “The Crooked Angels,” an Americana duo specializing in rocking your socks off.

Potter is currently collaborating with artist Klaus “Plaid Klaus” Shmidheiser in the graphic novel series “Glimmer Society.”

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Be sure and enter the RAFFLECOPTER contest to win some  great prizes from Xchyler Publishing!

1. Please share how you came up with the concept for your story?
To be honest, I’ve really benefitted from Xchyler’s writing prompts and challenges. There. I said it! I’m naturally driven to Continue reading

MMAA Blog Tour; Spotlight on D. Lee Jortner

Today I would like to spotlight one of my fellow authors in ‘Mechanized Masterpieces 2, an American Anthology’; D. Lee Jortner and her short story ‘Payoff for Aire-Pirate Pete’. 

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D. Lee Jortner – “I grew up in the West and love and miss the mountains here in the midwest, so I was happy to place my story out where the sky is big and the mountains reach past the clouds.”

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Playing with imaginary friends and writing and directing plays in the neighbor’s garage filled D. Lee Jortner’s childhood. Today she lets her imagination flow onto her keyboard as she writes mystery, fantasy and steampunk stories and novels. “Payoff for Air-Pirate Pete” is her first short story for Xchyler Publishing. She also enjoys her marketing role with the company and teaching English composition at Ivy Tech Community College in Valparaiso, Indiana. When not writing or working, Jortner is usually busy with her husband, children or grandchildren.

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Be sure and enter the RAFFLECOPTER contest to win some  great prizes from Xchyler Publishing!

I caught up with Miss Jortner to talk about her writing:

Please share how you came up with the concept for your story? 

I always loved O.Henry.  I remember my Dad reading Continue reading

Review of ‘How to Train Your Dragon 2’; or ‘How to Make Your Preschooler Cry’.

Going into ‘How to Train your Dragon 2’ I was nervous. The bar had been set so high by the first film, and the first trailer that came out had such a massive spoiler that I refused to watch any more trailers until I saw the movie. It turned out to be rather difficult to avoid the barrage of marketing, but I did the best I could.

This Father’s day we finally went; my wife, six year old son, my four year old daughter and I. Now let me stop here and make sure everyone knows that this movie is rated PG, and for a good reason. I have many good things to say about this movie, but had I known how emotional and intense it was I would not have taken my four year old! More on that later. Seriously parents, if you have preschoolers, or even sensitive children, look into the movie (or read the rest of this review). You may want to wait to watch it, or at least prepare them somehow.

Despite being emotional enough to almost make me cry (not to mention my poor daughter), I really enjoyed the movie. As much as any sequel, it lived up to its predecessor in its meaningful plot centered on relationships, discovering who you are, and growing up. Near the end the action may have gotten in the way of those points a smidge, but then, I needed the emotional break by that point.

*Here be SPOILERS!*

My two favorite things about the first movie were Continue reading

Review: The City of Ember, by Jeanne Duprau

The City of Ember by Jeanne Duprau is a delightful young adult read. The main appeal of the Duprau’s tale is the sense of mystery that pervades everything about her cleverly constructed world. In the tale,  carefree and impetuous Lina Mayfleet, and her classmate, the more convicted and determined Doon Harrow, find themselves caught up in a centuries old mystery. In the process they become entangled in blackmarket dealings, political malfeasance, and the selfishness of humanity as their aged city begins to fail.

As a parent I really appreciated the value of truth and virtue presented by Duprau in the story. Throughout the book Duprau touches on the unbecoming responses of humans to an ominous future, covering the gambit from deluded activists, self-serving opportunists, and resigned gluttons. Interestingly, throughout all the plights and struggles against the baser human nature, there is a thread of hope and promise that is closely tied to virtue, and compassion. Traits that are clearly praised in the book are dedication, passion, thoughtfulness, and family ties.

If I were to over-analyze the book for its theological grounds I would say that it takes a rather hopeful agnostic approach to the existence of God and things of eternity. As a Christian, I was a little worried that the ‘believers’ presented in the world would be used to disparage the undeniably similar Christian faith as some other authors like to do. As it turned out, the believers, while mistaken and perhaps self deceived into apathy toward their plight, were not ridiculed nor were they presented as the worst of human nature in the face of slow impending doom. Despite seeming to quietly dismiss the self willed false-hope of the believers, Duprau consistently points to a hope beyond human invention, something tied to the creation, growth, and the progression of life.

I would heartily recommend this tale to any young reader as it is full of mystery, adventure, and virtue.

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But, as a writer, I cannot help but to also critique the story. Please note the difference between critique and criticism. There are flaws and missteps in every novel. I like this story and it is in most ways a better work than I could produce. When I look for flaws, I’m not trying to disparage the author, but trying to better my own writing and nothing more. The following is my critical analysis of what Duprau, perhaps, could have done better and where the flaws in the book lie. SPOILER ALERT!

My biggest concern with ‘The City of Ember’ is that Duprau seems to have written herself out of her intended trilogy. The entire appeal of her story is in the world which she so thoughtfully developed. Her characters are decent, but not the most vivid I have read, and her narrative voice, while clean and uncluttered, is not a strength that would bring me back to a sequel in and of itself. To me the appeal of Ember is the mystery of the world; how it works, why it was made, who made it, and how it will survive. But by the end of the tale Duprau packages all of that up (rather satisfyingly) and puts it away. Where is there to go from here? I’m not sure, but the hints I got from the end of the book, and the sneak peak of the sequel don’t give me much hope for another world that could possibly be as engaging as the City of Ember.

It’s hard to complain too much about plot in a book written for young adults, but I will note that the occasional dues ex machina is employed to circumvent problems or move the plot along. Some that come to mind are, convenient black-outs, learning how to strike a match, learning of the word ‘Egress’ (which I can’t imagine anyone ever actually using as was done by the Builders), and Doon’s discovery of the E on the rock. Oh, and I almost forgot finding the cliff in the cave above ember from which they could drop their note . . . I liked the happy ending, and the imagery to the scene, but it was ridiculously lucky of the characters.

Likewise, I like a little more symmetry and mirroring in my fiction and there were a few loose/dead ends that could have been better employed. I liked Lina’s bean sprout, and Doon’s moth, but the were ultimately very diffuse in their allegory and didn’t connect much with the plot. The whole red herring with the secret store room in the pipeworks would have been more satisfying if it had been later employed somehow as a mechanism for Doon and Lina’s escape once the truth was discovered. Another device not  terribly well used was the death of Lina’s grandmother. In the immediate sense it was used to help break Lina’s ties to Ember, and to both show Doon’s sensitive character and build the bond between him and Lina, but after that, it is nearly forgotten, which is odd for such a life changing event as the death of a caretaker and guardian.

There were a few places where the action picked up that I thought the author did some ‘head-hopping’, but overall the writing was very solid even if it lacked flare. While the characters were well developed the narrative voice felt reserved and the images of the characters in my mind were seldom as vivid as the feel of the city itself.

For a first novel ‘The City of Ember’ is very good. Like I said, I think Duprau’s strengths are in her world building and sense of mystery. Second to that comes plot, followed by character development, and finally narrative voice. If I were to advise Duprau on her next novel (for which it is already too late) I would suggest making the most of her strength in world building and working up a sense of mystery as the key hook to the story, and then to really focus on improving her narrative voice to give it more character and make it more engaging to the reader in and of itself. Overall the City of Ember is a great read, and an excellent first novel from Jeanne Duprau.

See more reviews and comments on goodreads_logo_140-5b3e47356388131c1699f0baca28a234.

Lavenza – Mechanized Masterpieces

This is a critique of the Eighth and final in the steampunk anthology ‘Mechanized Masterpieces’ edited by Penny Freeman. The purpose is not to show all the mistakes and short comings, or say that I am a better writer, because clearly I’m not. This is simply an exercise in critical reading with the goal of improving my own writing, and encouraging great writing from any reader that passes by.

There will be lots of SPOILERS here.  You have been warned.

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Our Man Fred – Mechanized Masterpieces

This is a critique of the seventhstory in the steampunk anthology ‘Mechanized Masterpieces’ edited by Penny Freeman. The purpose is not to show all the mistakes and short comings, or say that I am a better writer, because clearly I’m not. This is simply an exercise in critical reading with the goal of improving my own writing, and encouraging great writing from any reader that passes by.

There will be lots of SPOILERS here.  You have been warned.

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Continue reading