Book Review: ‘The Avatar Syndrome,’ by Stan I. S. Law

5-stars for ‘The Avatar Syndrome,’ by Stan I. S. Law

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‘Profound and inspiring!’

The Avatar Syndrome, by Stan I. S. Law, is a profound, inspiring and thoroughly engaging read. It was crafted with a masterful touch one seldom finds in a world so inundated with amateur literary installments.

Avatar Syndrome_Stan I. S. LawIt shines with authority without reading as intentionally authoritative. Its modestly pedantic narrative is delivered with care and authenticity making it easily consumable – the pedantry rendered unobtrusive and often unnoticeable. It explores neuroscience and advanced medical procedures without reading like a textbook or academic thesis.

And, it intrigues and entertains.

But, why did I find it so thought-provoking and demanding that I not skim through chapters with the interest of delivering a quick review? Because, the author wrote one of those rare stories that is as challenging intellectually as it is engaging. One in which the drama is demanding of your focus and the inferences are abundant commanding you to think; “What is the writer saying here – besides what he’s saying?”

I love books that challenge my intellect in this way – make me think on a deeper level – force me to read between the lines and extract the writer’s philosophy, possible guidance and warnings.

The Avatar Syndrome did this for me and more. It kept me thinking of specific passages long after I’d put it down and went about my day. It inspired questions that were potentially unanswerable but prompting a determinative debate. And it offered me a glimpse into the writer’s nearly virtuous imagination and industrious literary talents.

Few books I’ve read in recent days have had such a profound effect on me. I can honestly say, without hesitation; this is a book I WILL read again.

The Story:

The Avatar Syndrome reads, in many ways, like a mystery with each chapter delivering additional pieces to an incipient puzzle.

For this reason, I have chosen to avoid synopsizing the story with any detail but will offer a broad, imprecise overview of the story premise.

A girl has a neurological disorder that deprives her of what we would call normalcy but ultimately awards her with something akin to “superior normalcy.” (The clever distinction here between an abnormal insinuation and superior normalcy was, I am certain, intended – and worthy of yet another debate.) Analysing her, diagnosing her and helping her become the easily recognizable story conflict which places hardship on her and parents and grants frustration but also enlightenment to the medical professionals involved.

The progression is laudable in many ways, and the science, specifically neuroscience, is used with competent frugality. It’s also colloquialized and casualised with care. No one, regardless of their reading level, should experience difficulty reading Mr Law’s indomitable investigation into the potential resources and capabilities of the human mind.

What I liked most:

Mysteries:

I love a good mystery and have often said, casually or in a class setting, that mystery drives story. Possibly as much as, if not more so, than conflict. Stan I. S. Law presents compounding mysteries in this book that compel you to continue turning pages even when responsibilities call.

Character development:

Law’s characters are diligently well-developed. They possess germane weaknesses as well as strengths and change as the story progresses. Without change or growth, flaws and weaknesses, the characters can be two-dimensional and unreal.

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

The science:

If this story were not as powerfully written or had neglected the inclusion of believable characters and a captivating plot, I would proclaim the author’s success based solely on the insertion of carefully articulated science meant to buttress the story’s authenticity.

I find neuroscience fascinating and have used it as a device in my own novels and screenplays. I believe this to be a fascination Mr Law and I share.

A clear through-line:

I read many books and often question why an author has forgotten one fundamental requirement of good storytelling. The presenting of a clear through-line; a hero or heroine who wants something and must conquer obstacles to get it.

It can be a romantic interest, avenging a murder, solving a crime, defeating a powerful adversarial agent or simply a quest to learn the truth about something elusive.

The author of The Avatar Syndrome handled this beautifully; never taking us away from the main story; the hero’s journey. There was never a moment in this book when I had to stop and ask myself: ‘Why am I in this scene?’ or ‘What does this have to do with the main character’s plight or the plight of those on a mission to solve the riddle of her anomalous behaviours – and progressing phenomenal abilities?’

For this reason alone, Stan I. S. Law has earned my praise as a writer and storyteller.

Criticisms:

I have none. This is a beautiful, well-written story I would recommend to anyone with a desire to read something which is as entertaining as it is compelling. I honestly, from the very first chapter, could not put this book down.

Summary and recommendation:

The Avatar Syndrome, by Stan I. S. Law, is a meaningful story filled with strong themes and likable characters. The writing is crisp, the goals are clear, and the author is gifted with immeasurable literary talents which he uses efficiently and effectively.

I give The Avatar Syndrome 5-stars and my highest recommendation for readers at a high school reading level or above.

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

Book Review: ‘Elf Killers,’ by Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps

5-Stars for ‘Elf Killers’ by Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps

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‘When pure imagination and reality collide’

Elf Killers, by Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps, is a clever fantasy stitched together with a neat amount of realism. There’s constant menace, the conflict that drives the story, for our Elf clan as they seek refuge from the Trolls who hunt them for slaughter.

Elf KillersThere’s sensitivity as we’re brought into the world of the Elves – choose our favourites – embrace them for their human qualities – identify with them for their failings and rally with and for them during their successes.

The creative landscape, the worldbuilding, brims with danger and a vast assortment of mythical creatures. Elves, Trolls, Sprites and Unicorns along with a few ingenious creations I imagined finding in a book of Greek myths. I loved and hated the Strike Falcons. And appreciate any writer who can make me love and hate an antagonist or antagonistic device.

But Elf Killers is hardly just another Mythical Creature fantasy. It’s deeper. It’s about us and our struggle to survive in a world we often question but accept, because… we must. We, like the Phipps team’s Elf clan, have been granted few if any alternatives. (No one has handed us the ‘right’ to survive this journey. Often, we must fight for that survival.)

Run, face the menace… cry. These are human, often reflexive, decisions we make every day, and I applaud these writers who have craftily woven this very real, very human condition into their fantasy story.

What I liked most:

Character development.

The authors were diligent with their creation of believable characters who reveal a broad assortment of human qualities: Courage – compassion – fear – aggression – weakness – honour – loyalty and strength.

As with all good fantasy writing, while listening to Elf Killers, I was able to release that logical, conceptual part of me that knew these were fictional creatures and began seeing them as real. I attached myself to their plight and empathised with them for their fears and losses.

This is an ability that we, as adults, lose that children have and use instinctively. A nod here to the authors for their ability to pull their readers into their magical realm by making it just real enough to feel organic.

Story construction:

The outline is logical, fits a neat three-act structure and builds and releases tension with precision. Early on, I began imagining this as the treatment for a screenplay for a fine animated film. “The genius writers at PIXAR would do wonders with this story.”

Audiobook Reader:

Sky Wildmist is a super audiobook reader. Her clear narrative and ability to change her tone for each character is almost supernatural. When I make the move to audiobooks with my personal collection, I will, without reservation, be calling Ms Wildmist for a quote.

Criticisms:

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

There were many characters. This made the story confusing at times. I listened to the wonderfully read audiobook twice – mainly to gauge the story structure and character consistency for my review, but also to reacquaint myself with certain characters who’d been introduced earlier wishing to place them into context.

I believe, had I listened to this book in one sitting, or when NOT reading three other books, I would not have suffered this confusion.

Summary and Recommendation:

Elf Killers is a fast-moving, Fantasy / Adventure with heart and boundless imagination. If called upon to classify it, I would place it on the same shelf as the first two Harry Potter books and the Percy Jackson books. Essentially a Young Adult, myth-based fantasy that will also satisfy an adult who enjoys letting go and consuming middle-grade fiction.

I give The Elf Killers 5-Stars and my highest recommendation.

Review by TE Mark – Writer / Screenwriter

Book Review: ‘Jai’s Vision,’ by Piaras O’ Cionnaoith.

5-stars for ‘Jai’s Vision,’ by Piaras O’ Cionnaoith

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‘A rich and delightful fantasy’

Jai’s Vision, by Piaras O’ Cionnaoith, is a rich fantasy filled with heart, passion and sensitivity. The romance between Jai, a squire, and Amelie, a princess, of course, is sweet. The fantasy devices are carefully employed and fresh, and the mysteries are continuous making this an engaging page-turner.

As a fan of Arthurian Legend, Le Morte D’Arthur by Thomas Malory a book I’ve read yearly since childhood, there was little chance I would find this story anything but enjoyable.

And Piaras O’ Cionnaoith deserves tremendous credit for his effort; crafting a myth-based fantasy that will appeal to both young and not-so-young readers. I loved it.

The Story:

Jai is a squire – one day to be a knight. He’s clever, resourceful and genuine; all the Jai's Visionqualities one would expect of the hero in a fantasy tale. Princess Amelie is cultured and proper but admirably precocious; the perfect young lady to one day rule a kingdom.

But their world changes when Jai begins having visions of a door set in the middle of the forest where he and the princess ride.

From there, the author takes us on a fanciful journey to uncover what lies beyond the door which, I feel, also stands as a metaphor for the budding relationship between our two, wonderfully described and lovable protagonists.

What I liked most:

Mysteries:

I love a good mystery and have often said, casually or in a class setting, that mystery drives story. Possibly as much, if not more, than conflict. Piaras O’ Cionnaoith presents compounding mysteries in this book that compels you to continue turning pages even when responsibilities call.

This was a book I had to read in one sitting.

Character development:

O’ Cionnaoith’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 tale, the characters can be two-dimensional and unreal.

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

A clear through-line:

I read many books and often question why an author has forgotten a fundamental requirement of good storytelling. The presenting of a clear through-line; a hero or heroine who wants something and must conquer obstacles to get it.

It can be a magic sword, a romantic interest, or a quest to learn the truth about something elusive.

The author of Jai’s Vision handled this beautifully; never taking us away from the main story; the hero’s journey. There was never a moment in this book that I had to stop and ask myself: ‘Why am I in this scene?’ or ‘Why is this relevant to Jai’s quest?’

For this reason alone, Piaras O’ Cionnaoith has earned my praise as a writer and storyteller.

Criticisms:

Rare, for me, I have none. This is a beautiful, well-written story I would recommend to anyone.

Summary and recommendation:

Jai’s Vision, by Piaras O’ Cionnaoith, is a sparkling story filled with meaningful themes and likable characters. The writing is crisp, the goals are clear, and the author is gifted with innumerable literary talents which he uses efficiently and effectively.

I give Jai’s Vision 5-stars and my highest recommendation for readers from seven to adult.

 

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

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

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