Book Review: ‘Dragon Lightning,’ by J. S. Burke

5-stars for ‘Dragon Lightning,’ by J. S. Burke

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‘A nicely written Fantasy’

Something happens to me when I’m reading pure fantasy that doesn’t with other genres. I find myself transported into the mind of a younger me. It’s not immediate, and only happens when the book or film script is well written, but it’s a thoroughly gratifying experience when it does.

Dragon LightningEnvisioning questing dragons, vivid ice worlds, compassionate octopi and nefarious squid. Images so easily drawn in a child’s mind that we, as adults, tend to struggle with. There’s something, though I hate sounding cliché, truly magical about the experience.

J. S. Burke’s book, Dragon Lightning, sent me on a voyage into that younger me and provided me with a fun escape from my adult reality. The characters are well-designed with a nice assortment of human characteristics making them real, and her world-building is exemplary.

Burke has a firm grasp of story structure; how and when to introduce conflict; when to begin and end a scene, and she adds a generous helping of sentimentality guaranteeing you’ll empathise with her characters when she decides you should.

The story:

When three dragons and a pair of octopi set out on a quest to find the legendary Ice Dragons and find one, they learn of a coming catastrophe that will threaten both their worlds. From there, they will face numerous obstacles and a great challenge – persuading their own community and the communities of others to leave their homes for safety. A new world for them to share peacefully.

What I liked Most:

Character development:

J. S. Burke’s characters are extremely well-developed. They possess weaknesses as well as strengths and change as the story progresses. Without change or growth, flaws and weaknesses, even in a fantasy, the characters can be two-dimensional and unreal.

We like flawed characters, and we rally for them as we watch them change and grow from the decisions they’re forced to make and their interactions with other characters.

Criticisms:

I have only one, and nothing that would change my 5-star rating and high recommendation.

Chapter length:

For younger readers, typically the target of most fantasy writers, I believe shorter chapters are more conducive. Though, in general, J. S. Burke’s chapters are not long, there are two or three which may have been split into two making the book read faster and be more palatable for early readers.

Summary and recommendation:

Dragon Lightning, by J. S. Burke, is a sparkling story filled with meaningful themes and likable characters. The writing is crisp, the goals are clear, and the author added just enough pure science (Geology and Biology) making it not only slightly educational but also more legitimate.

I give Dragon Lightning by J. S. Burke 5-stars and my highest recommendation for readers from eight to adult.

 

Review by: T. E. Mark – Writer / Screenwriter

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Book Review: ‘Wham – Timewalker Book 1,’ by Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps

5 -Stars for ‘Wham,’ by Carol-Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps

‘A unique and compelling tale’

Though I read more Science Fiction than I do Fantasy and have little experience with audiobooks, I recently listened to WHAM – Timewalker Book One by Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps – read by Sky Wildmist.

WhamListening to this audiobook was a true delight. The story is an interesting Fantasy built on a framework of familiar Science Fiction devices; A harsh oligarchic government – Income inequality – A surveillance state – Time travel, and the reading by Sky Wildmist was spectacular.

The pure fantasy elements; an ancient domain of elves, trolls and immortal fairies, are nicely woven into the story, and the characters are genuine, well-developed and artfully contemporised.

From a story standpoint, Wham reads well. There is a heroine with a clear goal; get her family back from the autocratic regime which took (relocated) them in the very beginning, a sadistic villain in the form of a governmental ruler (The Potentate), and several meaningful side stories that serve, never detract from, the main plot.

What I liked most:

Wham tells three important stories.

The story of a civilisation that, not through war or plague or a climatological catastrophe, but through some sort of societal decline, has fallen into a state of tyranny with constant state surveillance and control, and few, if any, human rights. The story of a young girl driven to win the freedom of her family regardless of the overwhelming obstacles and risks, and a story of the human spirit that will cause people to adapt to even the harshest of conditions.

Character development.

Augmented in this adaptation by the fine audiobook reading of Sky Wildmist, each character is well-developed with believable strengths and weaknesses, interesting and unique. It is a true indication of careful character design when you can remove the dialogue tags; (Tess said, Jasmine asked, Nia exclaimed) and still know who is speaking in a given conversation. Wham offers that uniqueness with the use of clever literary devices.

Criticisms:

I have none. Listening to this audiobook version of Wham was fun from the beginning to the very end. The characters are adequately described, the conflict is compelling and in nearly every scene, and there is a clear, recognizable through line.

Summary and Recommendation:

WHAM – Timewalker Book One by Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps, is a thought-provoking story with meaningful themes and well-crafted characters. Add to those a nice dose of sensitivity. One can’t help but empathize with Tess as she struggles to find her parents and the elusive Capitol where her sister is held captive by the self-serving Potentate.

I give Wham 5-Stars and my highest recommendation for readers 13 and older.

Review by T. E. Mark – Writer / Screenwriter

27/April/2019

Book Review: ‘Paradox,’ by Chris Morton

5-stars for ‘Paradox,’ by Chris Morton

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‘Clever and Compelling’

Clever writers write compelling stories. They flesh out ways of hooking you at the beginning, setting a strong pace and charming you with crafty questions and mysteries Paradox, Chris Mortonalong the journey to keep you engaged.

Chris Morton is a clever writer who, in his novel Paradox, delivers a thoughtful, engaging story that literally commands that you reach the ending credits once you’ve cracked open his book and read page one.

The Story: From the Author’s back cover blurb

There’s no record of any such occurrence ever taking place. Superstitions tell us it can’t. That it would mean the end of the universe. A rip in the space-time continuum. That it would be too much for reality itself to handle. But it must have happened somewhere, some time. Since travelling back became possible, there must have been instances … but as I stood there watching me and our eyes suddenly met, it was like a thunderous bolt had hit me for six.

Recognising, from Mr Morton’s shrewd, though vague, dust jacket blurb, his intention to avoid delivering spoilers, I will add my comments with similar intent.

The story, as the title suggests, has much to do with time travel, and more specifically, time travel paradoxes. The main character (The author cleverly withheld naming him through the first half of the book) is on a nefarious mission in time. But he’s hardly painted as an evil antagonist. In fact, the opposite is true. He’s simply doing his job. Or has he already done it?

The compelling conflict, vital in every well-told narrative story, manifests early when our hero/anti-hero encounters a woman with a very personal interest in his mission. A woman who claims to know who he is, what he is and what he’s about to do, or may already have done.

From there, the paradoxes continue to pile up leading to a finely tailored, thoroughly satisfying climax.

Paradox, is a slick tail with an intentionally dark, film noir-ish feel to it. When reading this book, one immediately draws the picture of a dark and dangerous, over-crowded city where everyone is wrapped in grey trench coats and the weather is never good.

What I liked most:

The fast pace and strong level of engagement.

Besides writing novels, I write and read screenplays for a living, which are largely about engaging the audience (reader) and maintaining a steady pace. Chris Morton wrote this book with both those interests in mind and made reading this book an enjoyable experience.

Criticisms:

I have none. This was a fun read from the beginning to the very end. The characters are adequately described for a novella length story, the conflict is compelling, and there is clear, recognizable through line.

 Summary and Recommendation:

Paradox, by Chris Morton, is a fast-paced Sci-Fi, film noir thriller written in novella form with realistic characters and sparkling dialogue. If you enjoy Science Fiction or suspense thrillers and like books that tease you with puzzles along the way, you’ll love this slick piece written by an author with a very distinctive style.

I give Paradox, by Chris Morton, 5-Stars and my highest recommendation.

 

Review by TE Mark – Writer / Screenwriter

Book Review: ‘Then – Timewalker Book 2,’ by Caroll Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps

5-stars for ‘Then,’ by Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps

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‘Fantastic Fantasy’

Combing genres in a story, though common today, is challenging with many writers failing at the very premise.

thenCarol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps, in their Timewalker series, have again delivered a fascinating and fun story that carefully mixes pure fantasy with futuristic dystopian science fiction – something few writers would even attempt.

If you enjoyed ‘Wham,’ the first book in this series, you’ll certainly find enjoyment in ‘Then,’ book two. With the same cast of characters and similar themes, the authors have sketched yet another enchanting tale that will take you on a delightful fantasy journey.

The concept of ‘Timewalking,’ is nicely handled with the progression of simultaneous stories, Tess, the main character from Wham in the Fairy past, and Nia, her sister, in the distant future, still the captive companion of the manipulative and divisive Potentate, Pandora.

The story moves quickly, which demonstrates, in my opinion, intentional respect for the reader, and there is enough character development to generate engagement and plenty of sentimentality to create empathy – the most important feature in all storytelling.

In addition, the goals of the main characters (No spoilers here) are established early, as are the obstacles. For me, someone who gauges a book on: Level of engagement, pace of the read, clearly established goals and obstacles for the hero or heroine, level of conflict and whether I felt empathy for the characters, I found Then by Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps to be a thoroughly satisfying read.

What I liked most:

The Hero’s journey:

Though cliché, I’m someone who needs a clear through-line, and a well-developed hero or heroine on a clearly defined journey to remain engaged.

Tess’ voyage is established early, as is Nia’s, and one can easily empathize with their plight when viewing the formidable obstacles they must face.

Story ensemble:

This is an ensemble piece with three, often four, different, intertwined storylines moving simultaneously. I like the complexity of this design and applaud authors who can pull it off without confusing the reader.

I had no difficulty following the varying paths laid out by the Phipps team.

World building:

For this type of story, world-building is an essential component. I’ve often felt the measure of the world-building to be as follows: Would the story be interesting if you subtracted the main characters?

e.g.

Would the JK Rowling books be intriguing without Harry Potter? Would George Lucas’ Star Wars be interesting without Luke Skywalker? And my answer would be a strong resounding yes to both.

Similarly, both the fantasy and futuristic worlds painted by the authors of Wham and Then have been done so with creativity and precision.

Take Nia and Tess out of this story and you would still have a wonderfully imaginative, captivating world.

Criticisms:

I have one, and nothing that would lessen my 5-Star rating or a high recommendation.

The authors included many characters in this piece. This can challenge the reader. I did, at times, find myself reading back to reacquaint myself with a specific character and their significance to the story.

Faster readers, and readers who aren’t typically reading two or three books and an assortment of screenplays simultaneously, while writing would probably not experience this difficulty.

Summary and Recommendation:

Then, Timewalker Book 2, is a creative Fantasy / Adventure with heart, realistic dialogue and a nice dose of sentimentality that is well-written and engaging.

I give Then, the second instalment in the Timewalker series by Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps, 5-Stars and my highest recommendation.

Review by TE Mark – Writer / Screenwriter

Book Review: ‘Jouth #2’ Anthology by Blaster Books

5-Stars for Jouth #2 an anthology by Blaster Books

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‘Stylistic and diverse’

Anthologies comprising stories by various authors are always a treat. One gets to sample different writers’ styles while drawing immediate comparisons between them.

jouth 2Jouth #2, a compilation of shorts by four seasoned writers, offers a tasteful diversity and a meaningful indulgence into the realm of the science fiction genre.

The stories are crisp, meaningful, deliver fresh ideas and never drag. The themes are clear, well explored and one story, in particular, employs a nifty ending twist that planted a big smile on my face.

(I just love that ‘aha’ moment carefully planted at the end of a well-written story.)

Meercat Manners by Julie Frost

The eclectic crew of an interstellar freight hauler gets even more eclectic when an AI is installed to monitor and assist running the ship.

With an illegal cargo of intransigent and constantly fighting meercats, a criminal offense, the owners and crew, first at odds with the new AI, come to terms and ultimately grant it acceptance into their family.

This story was a delightful read as the author plumbed the depth of her imagination with the creation of her characters; Intelligent bugs and meercats, to name a few, along with George the AI who takes the form of an anteater.

The author also makes a nice claim for the possibility of the peaceful coexistence between races, sexes, species, sentient machines? etc that is both creative and praiseworthy.

This is a fun story with a nice pace, just enough depth, and imagination.

Haunted by the Past by Eddie D Moore.

This is a clever short that explores the future and past with obvious corollaries to our own time. The future, where energy is free, is described as one, or possibly the ultimate, quest of current man along with memory viewing as the next and probable phase of privacy intrusion. (I sensed the author was registering a little warning here.)

Craftily written, this is a short that could easily lend itself to a full novel or screenplay. Well done!

Destiny Sails by Dimpra Kaleem

Destiny Sails is a time traveller on a mission being interrogated after her capture by undisclosed authorities. Undisclosed for a very specific reason.

Ms Kaleem’s 1st person narrative is intelligent, nicely organised, moves well and displays the writer’s deft understanding of how to use mystery to drive a story and make it engaging. The plot is smart and the twist, craftily concealed throughout, is brilliant. (For me, this story made the book)

The author also uses powerful, realistic dialogue allowing her to create imagery without cumbersome descriptions: facial expressions, intonation, posture, gesticulations etc. To me, this is indicative of a well-studied, veteran writer who understands the craft.

Around Mars and…Back Again? By John Taloni

The final story in this selection of shorts is a fast-moving adventure tale of a couple en route to Mars aboard a privately funded interplanetary ship.

The situation becomes perilous as they approach their destination and are forced to rely on their instincts and each other to survive.

Though my least favourite in this anthology, I like the way the author incorporated just enough pure science to make the adventure believable. I liken this story to AC Clarke’s 2001 or 2010.

I also enjoyed the interaction between the characters who, under life-threatening conditions, display a heightened level of determination and trust in one another. This seemed real and made me care for them and about their plight.

What I liked most:

Writing styles:

Each writer in this anthology fully grasps the essentials of good storytelling. I would wager each to be well-studied in creative writing and experienced.

Thematic writing:

A well-conceived theme is explored in each story, which is, to me, crucial. I love stories that posit thoughtful questions, dissect them, and offer partial answers allowing the reader to become involved in the further exploration.

 Criticisms:

I have none. The stories in Jouth #2 are logically organized, well-written and the editing is perfect.

Summary and Recommendation:

For the fiction reader who enjoys a quick, imaginative read, Jouth #2 is a sure bet. You’ll enjoy the different styles and the more imaginative concepts.

I give Jouth #2, an anthology published by Blaster Books, a 5-star review and my highest recommendation.

Review by T. E. Mark – Writer / Screenwriter.

Book Review: ‘The Girl Who Rode Dragons,’ by Arthur Butt

5-stars for ‘The Girl Who Rode Dragons,’ by Arthur Butt.

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‘Fun and inspiring’

When approaching the review of a fantasy novel, one must ask five fundamental questions. And perhaps a billion others. (Okay, maybe not a billion. But a lot.)

  • Is it engaging on a level suitable for the target audience?
  • Would it engage and satisfy readers outside that target range? Adult readers.
  • Does it bring in fresh ideas?
  • Did it transport me out of my real world and into the fantasy realm creation of the writer?
  • Does it make a statement? Some semblance of the writer’s social, moral, political or philosophical intent that drove him/her to pen this story?

There are other questions one uses when critiquing a novel. Of any genre. Does the The Girl Who Rode Dragons_Arthur Buttauthor understand story structure? Does the story touch the reader on an emotional level? Are the characters believable and well-developed? Is there a hero with a clearly defined goal? Does the author entice the reader to care that the hero/protagonist reaches that goal? Is the plot coherent? And perhaps 100 (Better?) others that deal more with the minutia of good storytelling.

I would argue, after having read, ‘The Girl Who Rode Dragons,’ that this story satisfies all these questions.

The book targets young readers but is certainly a satisfying read for those of us who’ve somehow managed to sustain our imaginations and know how to step away from reality for a fun adventure into a realm where magic and magical creatures exist and where one is freed from the constraints of our rational minds. Those disrespectful overlords of ours determined to make us scoff at whimsical creativity and have a bad time while reading something fun.

The book is certainly engaging – For young and mature readers. Standing somewhere between those benchmarks, I found it wonderful. The story follows a young girl who, because she’s a girl, is not allowed to do the one thing she desires most. Ride dragons. How can one not find something like that engaging?

Though one may claim using dragons, a fantasy device used since the Middle Ages, removes that freshness I mentioned, I would argue that Arthur Butt breathed a new approach into this story by making Jackie (The story’s protag) desirous of becoming the town’s first girl dragon rider in a realm where girls are excluded from this quest. (There are many other fresh ideas I’ve chosen to leave for you to explore once you receive your copy of this exceptionally cool book.)

I was certainly transported away and into Mr Butt’s fantasy world. It’s adequately described, and after a while, I was right there with Jackie when the dragon egg she finds hatches looking ahead to her eventually riding it.

There are several praiseworthy statements in this clever, imaginative story including: ‘Girls are as capable as boys and should be treated as equals,’ and ‘You can achieve your goals if you believe in yourself and persevere.’

As for the billion, well, one hundred, other questions I consider when critiquing a book, I will offer this brief summary:

Yes: Mr Butt is a fine storyteller who understands story structure, character development, the hero’s journey, and all other facets of good storytelling.

Yes: Jackie (The protag) has a clearly defined goal, and I was cheering her on as she…. (Just click the link in the book cover and get a copy, okay?)

Yes: The characters are believable. Strip away the fantasy, place them in a present-day context and they’d fit right in. The family interactions are real. As is Jackie’s rebellious personality. Transpose the quest to ride dragons into a quest to play football, or be on the maths club, and the story would still work. Well!

Yes: I wanted Jackie to reach her goal from the first scene when she stated her desire.

What I liked most:

Story:

This is a well-written story that follows a logical path with many rewards along the way. I love a story that entices you to care about the main character and fills a nicely mapped outline with fresh ideas, sentimental circumstances and meaningful statements.

Character development:

Jackie (Jaqueline) is driven, determined, rebellious, sweet and lovable. Arthur Butt is equally good with writing characters as he is with story. I played The Girl Who Rode Dragons in my mind as a film, and, as a writer and screenwriter, I was drawn into the idea of converting this to a film script and pitching it to those clever writer/directors over at Disney and Pixar.

Criticisms:

I have but one. Certainly, nothing that would preclude me from handing this a 5-star rating and my highest recommendation.

Short chapters, concentrating on one scene or scene sequence, work better with young readers. Their attention spans are held in a tighter grasp when a chapter begins on a beat and moves logically through to a closing point. Though the author’s chapters are not long, I believe this book would reach an even a younger audience with shorter, more concise chapters.

Summary and Recommendation:

‘The Girl Who Rode Dragons,’ by Arthur Butt, offers everything an avid fantasy reader looks for in a novel and more. It’s sentimental without being maudlin or gushy. It’s intelligent, inspirational, and above all, it’s fun.

I give the ‘The Girl Who Rode Dragons,’ by Arthur Butt a 5-star rating and my highest recommendation.

Review by T. E. Mark – Writer / Screenwriter.

Book Review: ‘For the Love of Politics,’ Anthology by Wild Dreams Publishing

4.5-Stars for ‘For the Love of Politics,’ Wild Dreams Publishing

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‘Stylistic and diverse’

Anthologies are a treat for avid readers as they allow them to consume a variety of complete stories – often in a single sitting while sampling different writing styles. Occasionally from different genres.

On the other hand, reviewing a book of short stories presents specific challenges:

  • Were the stories equally engaging?
  • Were they equally well-written?
  • How will I assess the collection if the answers to the above questions are no?

Fortunately, with one exception, due in part to the sheer diversity of styles and the literary prowess Forthe Love of Politics_2of each writer, I was not forced to confront that third question.

‘For the Love of Politics,’ is a rich selection of short stories compiled by Wild Dreams Publishing and presented as political romances. But I found them to be much more. They’re finely crafted character-driven dramas wrapped in political settings with romance and occasional sexual situations as significant, though never dominating, sub-plots.

This made reading this anthology pleasurable as I embrace the art of story, and more specifically, the art and craft of character-driven story. I’m also a fan of stylistic writing, and each author in this compilation displays exceptional stylistic talent.

I was struck while reading this, how unique each story was. The diversity made the adventure fun.

A man running for the US Senate who, though in a torrid love affair with one woman, finds himself pulled to the apparition of another drawn from his subconscious. The fantasy and mystery element here made this my favourite of the nine stories. A Whisper of Wings, by M. E. Giguere

An American diplomat falling for a Nigerian politician/businessman in the US to gain support for a farming initiative. Well written and interesting but moved a bit too quickly. Not Just Politics, by Tanya DeLoatch

A woman hired as a lobbyist to persuade a Senator’s vote on an education issue who must choose between her mission and her integrity when the married politician attempts to seduce her. Nice, sophisticated style – admirable attention to detail as the author explores the lobbyist’s inner conflict. The Lobbyist’s Dilemma, by S. L. Heinz

A 48-year-old driven woman – destined for a life in politics, accompanies a senator’s wife to Nepal following an earthquake where she finds love and a better understanding of herself. Clean writing. Nice structure and character development. The story is well told, and the love affair and explicit sex, though there, simply work to support the main plot. The Gift of Foresight, by Kris Lomonaco

A wonderful tale in the form of a Historical Fiction / Adventure with Dante, a young ambassador despatched from ancient Babylon to India where he is to present himself to the Queen – The Spinster of India. This story is nearly free verse poetry and was an absolute joy to read. The Spinster of India, by Hunter James Luck.

A clever first-person account of a female Secret Service agent asked by the American president and first lady to take charge of their 17-year-old son while the first lady undergoes cancer treatment. This story has a gritty realism about it as the author allows her protagonist to expound on her inner feelings throughout. Impasse, by Tina Maurine.

Volition, by Tina Maurine  An abbreviated version of a longer story, this one offers little more than a setup to a romantic situation. I sensed no real story here.

A Promise Kept, by Mary Darlene Messina – A young woman accepts a live-in caregiving position after her husband dies and finds a remedy for her loss, a new accepting family and a new direction. Nice, stylised, inspirational writing with a strong theme.

River, by Jude Ouvrard – A clever, witty piece of a 30-year-old young man, the son of the US President working in some capacity at the White House, who decides politics just isn’t his thing. He gets up, makes his formal announcement and literally bolts with a smile. I chuckled from the beginning to the end of this one. Smart writing. The rebelliousness of Dawson, the story’s protagonist, seemed very real. The writer also writes fluid dialogue.

Electing Ellie by Michelle Rene – In a small-town mayoral election, a young teacher receives the support of the student body and of her family. This is a nice piece. The author writes from the heart and literally commands you to like her protagonist. I also enjoyed the narrative. Nice style.

 What I liked most:

Variety:

Reading different authors is always fun and often instructive. One gains an appreciation of different styles, phrasings, vocabulary and approach to storytelling.

As a writer and screenwriter, I find reading different writers’ work invaluable. Quoting Stephen King: ‘If you are to be a good, versatile writer, you need to read broadly – covering all genres. Not just the ones in which you write.’ I love that quote and follow it.

I find reading a learning experience. Whether it’s a good Sci-Fi piece, my favourite genre, a Fantasy, Historical Fiction or Romance, there is something to be learned in every piece of literature. And I thoroughly enjoyed this nicely written collection

 Criticisms:

With an anthology of nine individual stories, I certainly found areas deserving criticism. Nothing spectacular – worth mentioning here, and nothing that would lessen my 4.5-Star rating and High Recommendation

Summary and Recommendation:

For the Love of Politics is a clever anthology of dramatic short stories. They’re unique, diverse and display a broad range of literary talent.

Without hesitation, I give For the Love of Politics a 4.5-Star rating and a High Recommendation.

Review by T. E. Mark – Writer / Screenwriter

Book Review: ‘The Girl Who Rode Dragons,’ by Arthur Butt

5-stars for ‘The Girl Who Rode Dragons,’ by Arthur Butt.

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‘Fun and inspiring’

When approaching the review of a fantasy novel, one must ask five fundamental questions. And perhaps a billion others. (Okay, maybe not a billion. But a lot.)

  • Is it engaging on a level suitable for the target audience?
  • Would it engage and satisfy readers outside that target range? Adult readers.
  • Does it bring in fresh ideas?
  • Did it transport me out of my real world and into the fantasy realm creation of the writer?
  • Does it make a statement? Some semblance of the writer’s social, moral, political or philosophical intent that drove him/her to pen this story?

There are other questions one uses when critiquing a novel. Of any genre. Does the The Girl Who Rode Dragons_Arthur Buttauthor understand story structure? Does the story touch the reader on an emotional level? Are the characters believable and well-developed? Is there a hero with a clearly defined goal? Does the author entice the reader to care that the hero/protagonist reaches that goal? Is the plot coherent? And perhaps 100 (Better?) others that deal more with the minutia of good storytelling.

I would argue, after having read, ‘The Girl Who Rode Dragons,’ that this story satisfies all these questions.

The book targets young readers but is certainly a satisfying read for those of us who’ve somehow managed to sustain our imaginations and know how to step away from reality for a fun adventure into a realm where magic and magical creatures exist and where one is freed from the constraints of our rational minds. Those disrespectful overlords of ours determined to make us scoff at whimsical creativity and have a bad time while reading something fun.

The book is certainly engaging – For young and mature readers. Standing somewhere between those benchmarks, I found it wonderful. The story follows a young girl who, because she’s a girl, is not allowed to do the one thing she desires most. Ride dragons. How can one not find something like that engaging?

Though one may claim using dragons, a fantasy device used since the Middle Ages, removes that freshness I mentioned, I would argue that Arthur Butt breathed a new approach into this story by making Jackie (The story’s protag) desirous of becoming the town’s first girl dragon rider in a realm where girls are excluded from this quest. (There are many other fresh ideas I’ve chosen to leave for you to explore once you receive your copy of this exceptionally cool book.)

I was certainly transported away and into Mr Butt’s fantasy world. It’s adequately described, and after a while, I was right there with Jackie when the dragon egg she finds hatches looking ahead to her eventually riding it.

There are several praiseworthy statements in this clever, imaginative story including: ‘Girls are as capable as boys and should be treated as equals,’ and ‘You can achieve your goals if you believe in yourself and persevere.’

As for the billion, well, one hundred, other questions I consider when critiquing a book, I will offer this brief summary:

Yes: Mr Butt is a fine storyteller who understands story structure, character development, the hero’s journey, and all other facets of good storytelling.

Yes: Jackie (The protag) has a clearly defined goal, and I was cheering her on as she…. (Just click the link in the book cover and get a copy, okay?)

Yes: The characters are believable. Strip away the fantasy, place them in a present-day context and they’d fit right in. The family interactions are real. As is Jackie’s rebellious personality. Transpose the quest to ride dragons into a quest to play football, or be on the maths club, and the story would still work. Well!

Yes: I wanted Jackie to reach her goal from the first scene when she stated her desire.

What I liked most:

Story:

This is a well-written story that follows a logical path with many rewards along the way. I love a story that entices you to care about the main character and fills a nicely mapped outline with fresh ideas, sentimental circumstances and meaningful statements.

Character development:

Jackie (Jaqueline) is driven, determined, rebellious, sweet and lovable. Arthur Butt is equally good with writing characters as he is with story. I played The Girl Who Rode Dragons in my mind as a film, and, as a writer and screenwriter, I was drawn into the idea of converting this to a film script and pitching it to those clever writer / directors over at Disney and Pixar.

Criticisms:

I have but one. Certainly, nothing that would preclude me from handing this a 5-star rating and my highest recommendation.

Short chapters, concentrating on one scene or scene sequence, work better with young readers. Their attention spans are held in a tighter grasp when a chapter begins on a beat and moves logically through to a closing point. Though the author’s chapters are not long, I believe this book would reach an even a younger audience with shorter, more concise chapters.

Summary and Recommendation:

‘The Girl Who Rode Dragons,’ by Arthur Butt, offers everything an avid fantasy reader looks for in a novel and more. It’s sentimental without being maudlin or gushy. It’s intelligent, inspirational, and above all, it’s fun.

I give the ‘The Girl Who Rode Dragons,’ by Arthur Butt a 5-star rating and my highest recommendation.

Review by T. E. Mark – Writer / Screenwriter.

Book Review: ‘The Girl in 411,’ by Amber Skye

5-stars for ‘The Girl in 411,’ by Amber Skye

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‘Sophisticated, steamy and smart.’

Approaching the review of ‘The Girl in 411,’ an extremely well-written piece of erotica by Amber Skye, I found myself confronted with two challenges.

The Girl in 411_Amber SkyeOne was how to critique it based on the essentials of good storytelling: Story structure, character development, plot, pace, etc. And the other was how to critique it on its secondary intent. Was it sexually stimulating?

There was actually a third. This is a genre I rarely read. Not that I’m burdened with any cumbersome morality issues. I just struggle to keep up with the genres I like most: Science Fiction, Fantasy / Adventure, Historical Fiction, Romantic Comedies, and a few others, while writing my own books and screenplays.

So, facing those challenges, I decided to critique this piece differently than I would any other genre. Focusing mainly on the writer’s style and the book’s secondary intent.

Please feel free to let me know if I’m on the right track.

Amber Skye is a stylistic writer who understands the craft, and, I will assume, has studied creative writing extensively. She’s clear, focused, has a worthy vocabulary and knows the basics of story and scene.

The story is logical and believable, the characters seem real enough, and Ms Skye ventured more deeply into her characters’ identities and motivations than one might expect from an erotica piece.

The story revolves around Jennifer, a private nurse, who moves into an apartment following the death of an elderly woman she was tasked with caring for.

Shortly after moving into her apartment, Jennifer encounters Zoey, a feisty neighbour who decides to claim Jennifer as her submissive lover.

Though the sex scenes are explicit, targeting Lesbian, Bi-sexual, or Bi-sexually curious women, the writer took time to explore her character’s innermost feelings about the affair. Her conflict as she sought to rationalise her desires while awarding herself the justification for exploring this alternative sexual relationship.

This is a clever approach. And real.

The author certainly deserves praise for delivering something more than a simple-minded piece that wanders haplessly from one sex scene to another forgoing the interest in making the reader think, feel for and perhaps identify with her characters, while they’re sweating away in sexual bliss turning the pages.

As for whether the scenes are explicit and well-written enough to be stimulating, I will only say this. I cannot imagine a woman anywhere with even a minor girl fetish, or curiosity NOT finding this a satisfying, stimulating read. This is steamy writing at its best that also explores character.

What I liked most:

Character:

As I stated above, the author used her sophisticated writing style and literary prowess to provide insight into her main character’s thought processes regarding a burgeoning sexual affair with a female neighbour.

As a screenwriter, I’m called upon to write for all types of characters. Reading this gave me insight into how a woman would perceive this type of relationship and the inner conflict she might face. One day I may write and thank Ms Skye for granting me the insight on how to write one of my characters better than I would have had I not read and analysed this work.

Writing style:

Amber Skye is a clever writer who uses her literary devices well. She does something I believe only good writers do. She tells her story as if she were sitting on the sofa next to you reciting it aloud. This is a smart, typically successful technique all writers should practise.

 Criticisms:

Only one, and nothing that would lessen my 5-Star rating or high recommendation.

Periodically the dialogue seemed unnatural. At other times it was very natural. This is a common problem even with veteran writers. It very well may be the most challenging part of the storytelling process.

Summary and Recommendation:

‘The Girl in 411,’ by Amber Skye is a skilfully written piece of erotica fiction. The story is solvent and well told, and the characters are well described physically and intellectually.

NOTE: Because of the content and explicit sexual situations, this is certainly not reading material for everyone. One should adhere to Ms Skye’s age appropriate recommendations before venturing into this piece.

Without hesitation, I give ‘The Girl in 411,’ by Amber Skye 5-stars and my highest recommendation.

Review by T. E. Mark – Writer / Screenwriter.

Book Review: ‘Circuits of the Wind,’ by Michael Stutz

5-stars for ‘Circuits of the Wind’ by Michael Stutz

5_Star_Rating_System_5_stars_T

‘Brilliant’

Couple a well-told story with rich poetic writing and the result is the ultimate in literary indulgence.

A quote from Ch 9:

‘For that is time: a low, long whisper in the wind. Reaching out like the flailing arms of long-dead spectres comes this call of time, and here the heavy doleful rain will weep and fall, and there begins the washings of another year.’

Brilliant

Circuits of the Wind, by Michael Stutz, has everything I look for in a story, and more.

Circuits of the WindProfound and poetic writing: Memorable lines brighten the pages in this lush, meaningful novel revealing an author with almost unrivalled ability.

A rich narrative: The author’s storytelling is artistic and sophisticated. At times you can almost hear him reading this work to you making it dynamic, aesthetic and effortless.

Realistic dialogue: Sparkling! I would be surprised to find that this author has not, at some point in his career, written for TV or the cinema where one truly develops the craft of writing realistic dialogue.

Solid story structure: The progression is logical and smart. Never does Mr Stutz lose focus or sight of the finish line. I have no doubt he outlined each chapter and worked from a scene sequence. Mandatory for screenwriters, these invaluable tools are often neglected by novelists.

I’ve read books or film scripts with exceptional storylines, and I’ve read books or scripts where the story was rendered less important simply by the literary prowess of the author. Seldom have I found both in the same book as I did with this gem.

Circuits of the Wind is one of those rare works that would be a compelling read based solely on the story but was made exceptionally compelling by an author with unparalleled literary talents.

Here are a few more of the memorable lines which caught my attention. The book is literally filled with outstanding quotes:

‘Somewhere, adults were working hard to make the whole world magic.’

                                                                                                                              Simple but brilliant.

‘He believed in this distant world, longed to be a part of it, and came to love the big electric box that provided him the windowed view.’

                                               Outstanding. This is nearly Ray Bradbury or E. E. Cummings.

‘He knew that there was somewhere to go with them, somewhere far beyond us here — that there was something real and living to be had among the brilliant magic. He had to find it.’

                                                                                                                                                Masterful.

What I liked Most:

The Writing

I love poetry and poetic prose. I knew from page one I was going to enjoy this book. It reminded of the first time, as a young boy, I cracked open The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury and said – this is how I’ll write one day.

It’s hard to imagine my saying this, but I enjoyed reading Circuits of the Wind as much, if not more than many of my favourite writers. Including Bradbury, Cummings and Marquez.

The Story

This is a nicely organized story of a boy, Raymond Valentine, growing up during the evolution of computers, and more specifically, the internet.

The story follows Raymond’s personal growth which is inextricably intertwined with the development of the internet and online chat rooms and electronic communications with strangers from abroad – something we take for granted now but didn’t three decades ago. The historical review is enlightening for those of us who’ve grown up with computers and the net, and, I would imagine, refreshing for those whose life may have mirrored Mr Stutz’s enthusiastic main character.

Raymond relishes in the purchase of his first computer. Reaches Nirvana with the acquisition of his first modem and achieves a heightened awareness when he chooses his first online alias and begins his career as a hacker.

Criticisms

I have none. I enjoyed this book from the opening page to the very end.

Recommendation

This is an extremely well-written book. If you like a meaningful story and enjoy powerful, poetic writing, pick up a copy. I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

I give Circuits of the Wind by Michael Stutz a 5-star rating and my highest recommendation.

 

Review by T. E. Mark – Writer / Screenwriter