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Thursday, March 28, 2013

River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay (ARC REVIEW)

A sequel in terms of setting and history, if not character or plot, River of Stars sees Guy Gavriel Kay return to the Chinese-inspired world of Under Heaven. It's a book that can be enjoyed by new readers as a standalone volume, but one which holds added significance for readers already familiar with the first.

As a fan of Kay's work, and someone who thoroughly enjoyed Shen Tai's journey through the dying days of the Tang Dynasty, I was quite curious to discover how Ren Daiyan's adventures in the Song Dynasty might compare. Aside from a shared history, the two stories couldn't be more different. While the first was a story of an empire at its height, full of luxury, decadence, and self-indulgence, as told through the eyes of a noble young man nearly overcome by his fortune, River of Stars is the story of an empire suffering through its own decline, as told through the eyes of a young outlaw struggling to find his place in the world.

Even if you aren't familiar enough with what has come before to recognize the little tidbits and snippets of news regarding characters and events from Under Heaven, there's a feeling of melancholy here - a sense of remorse for the lost days of glory - that is inescapable. Along with that comes a significant amount of foreshadowing, almost to the point of implying a kind of inescapable destiny on the part of the narrator. Whereas we never really knew what to expect should Shen Tai ever reach the Emperor, we can see all to clearly where Ren Daiyan's choices are destined to lead him. With this second tale, it's less a matter of trying to seize one's own destiny, and more a matter of trying to escape it.

The language here is, once again, beautiful in its poetic flow. It's a heavy story, and not one to be breezed through in a few sittings, but also one that's very easy to become lost in, constantly seducing you into reading just one more chapter. The style is appropriately evocative of the culture, but still retains that literary flair for which Kay is known so well. In terms of narrative, however, River of Stars is subtly different from Under Heaven. There's less immediacy to the tale, and more of an omniscient narrative voice this time around. We still get shifting POVs, often putting us in the heads of characters to whom we become attached only to never see again, but those are interspersed with an omniscient, third-person POV. Fortunately, Kay doesn't rely too heavily on that voice, keeping the story intimate and personal.

As far as the characters go, Kay actually surpasses himself here. Ren Daiyan, as unlikable as he often may be, is a fantastic protagonist. He's a flawed young man who grows and develops significantly throughout the course of the novel. He surprised me on several occasions, committing himself to courses of action that initially seemed the wildest of whims, but which justify themselves later on. Lin Shan, a young woman described at one point as "the clever one, too tall and thin, overly educated for a woman - a discredit, it is widely said, to her sex" is a sort of co-protagonist, one with her own distinct story arc that nicely intersects that of Ren Daiyan. She was one of those characters I expected to drift away from early on, and was pleasantly surprised by how much of a role she had to play in events later on.

Kai Zhen is another of those sympathetic antagonists that Kay crafts so well, a character who is selfish and cruel, but also quite vulnerable and too easily swayed by the women around him. He's an entirely distasteful gentleman that you want to hate, but that hatred is tempered with a significant amount of pity . . . and, at times, even a bit of admiration. Speaking of the women around him, Tan Ming, the concubine who so cleverly escalates herself to becoming his wife, is a richly painted woman of opportunity whose role in the story ends far too soon. Tuan Lungis is another character whom we part ways too soon, but it's interesting the ways in which he touches Ren Daiyan's life at key moments. Sun Shiwei, the assassin who makes such a brief, yet pivotal appearance, is one character I felt was used perfectly - as much as I would have liked to see more of him, the brevity of his role is entirely appropriate to his profession.

I wrote in my review of Under Heaven that I was actually reluctant to read River of Stars, since it was all but unimaginable that an author could manage to capture such lyrical magic twice in a row, but Kay has done just that. It's another long story, better paced than its predecessor, and driven by a slightly stronger protagonist. If it lacks some of the subtlety of the first, it certainly eclipses it in terms of demonstrating how seemingly insignificant, very personal choices can conspired to change the course of history.


Published April 2nd 2013 by Viking Canada
Hardcover, 656 pages

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Quintessence by David Walton (ARC REVIEW)

It's been a long time since a novel frustrated me as much as Quintessence. Here is a book built around a great concept, with some really interesting philosophical questions attached. It's a story that's just packed with potential, but one where I found the execution to be lacking. Make no mistake, David Walton clearly knows how to tell a story, just as he clearly knows how to construct an argument, but it felt as if he spent too much time trying to decide which would be his focus.

Let's talk structure for a moment. The novel itself is separated into three very distinct story arcs. The opening story arc was great, and did a fine job of introducing the setting, the characters, and the concept of quintessence. I devoured it in the course of two sittings, and was anxious to see what came next. The second arc, however, completely failed to sustain any of the wonder, excitement, or energy of the first. It's a slow, meandering stretch of conversation, discussion, and debate, in which very little of consequence happens. Intellectually, it's interesting, but it feels like the story paused for an extended sermon or lecture. The final arc is infinitely better, and may even have served as a fitting climax had it come directly on the heels of the first, but I was so disconnected by that point, I was only reading out of curiosity to see how it all would end.

As for characters, the protagonists are fantastic. Parris and Sinclair are established very well, right from the start, with a great rivalry of ideas and morals between them. Either one could have quite capably carried a story on his own, but together they really add something unique. Unfortunately, few of the supporting characters are able to carry their own weight. Parris' daughter, Catherine, certainly has the potential to steal the show, but she's never developed beyond the conceit of the "girl who is clever enough to have been a boy." She's too good, too perfect, and is never really challenged in terms of gender or role. For a book of such grand ideas, she could have been used exceptionally well to illustrate the 16th century plight of women, but she escapes almost every taunt, torture, or abuse you'd expect for one of the only women on a boat full of sailors, desperately longing for the comforts of home.

Furthermore, I really expected more from Maasha and Blanche, servants with typical B-grade, riches-to-rags backgrounds. Again, for a book of ideas, I really feel like Walton missed a chance to interject some commentary on racial discrimination, slavery, and even theories of evolution. In fact, I kept waiting for them to break out of their stereotypical molds, to rise to the occasion,  and to play a role in setting the world right. Blanche does get a bit of a moment towards the end, albeit one that's glossed over without commentary or context, but I felt Maasha was completely wasted.

As for Diego de Tavera, the villain of the piece, he may as well be wearing a black cape, twirling a moustache, and cackling in evil glee  He's your stock, stereotypical villain, a man with neither redeeming qualities nor depth. A villain worthy of Parris and Sinclair could have potentially turned the final act of the story into a climax strong enough to excuse the middle arc, but Tavera is not the man to do so. For a much-feared, much-maligned member of the Spanish Inquisition, he's neither fearsome nor interesting.

Now, let's talk about world-building. This is one area where, based on the first story arc, I really thought Walton was going to blow me away. Unfortunately, it's all rather subtle and quietly done, interwoven into the story as facts that the characters take for granted, rather than anything of note to the reader. For the longest time, I really wasn't sure whether the world was indeed flat, whether the heavens were indeed a bowl, and whether the ocean did indeed end in a cataclysmic waterfall. I just took it for granted that we were sharing in the superstitions and beliefs of characters from the 16th century, and that this bold voyage of discovery would set them right. I hate to keep harping on the big ideas but, again, this is one aspect where the book could have taken a big idea and really run with it.

Lastly, it would be doing the novel a serious disservice not to talk about those big ideas. This is a book that's as much about the nature of reality as it is about the conflict between science and religion. There's a lot of talk about what makes a man, what makes a monster, and what magic might make of each. The search for quintessence is not just the MacGuffin behind the adventure, it's the core theme of the entire story. Paired with the religious rebellion back at home, the warring religious factions on the ship, and the cultural war on the island, Walton uses quintessence to explore a lot of ideas. In terms of intellectual debate, it makes for an interesting read, but far too often at the expense of entertainment.

For the right reader - one with lower expectations, perhaps, and certainly a bit more patience - Quintessence might make for a novel read. For me, however, it just failed in too many areas. As much as I wanted to like it, and as hard as I worked to persevere to the end, it just didn't come together.


Published March 19th 2013 by Tor Books
Hardcover, 320 pages

Waiting On Wednesday - Aliens: Recent Encounters by Alex Macfarlane

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

Aliens: Recent Encounters by Alex Macfarlane
June 25, 2013 (Prime Books)

Under the countless billions of stars in the universe, what forms will alien life take? How will they live? And what will happen when we meet them? Aliens: Recent Encounters collects answers to these questions from some of today's best science fiction writers. From first encounters to life alongside aliens - and stories of the aliens' own lives - here are many futures: violent and peaceful, star-spanning and personal. Only one thing is certain: alien life will defy our expectations.


I've been looking to work a little more sci-fi into my reading lately, and I am always a sucker for a good alien encounter or first contact story. Looking forward to this one, for sure.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

What Makes You Die by Tom Piccirilli (REVIEW)

Wow. What a wild and crazy ride. If, like myself, you've never read Tom Piccirilli before, then strap yourself in and make yourself comfortable, because What Makes You Die is going to make you supremely uncomfortable . . . while entertaining, of course.

On the surface, this is the story of a writer who has long since lost his grip on reality, and is only somewhat interested in regaining it. Tommy was once something of a success, selling a few novels and screenplays, and even shepherding their transition to the screen. Before long, however, life caught up with him, the money disappeared, and the work . . . well, it changed. By the end of his short-lived career, Zypho, his tentacled alien, had become fodder for a series of cheap porn movies, and he was spending more time in mental wards than in mansions.

This time, when he comes home from the ward, it's to find that his agent is excited about the first act of his latest screenplay - a screenplay Tommy has absolutely no memory of having written. Success is once against at his fingertips, just waiting for him to seize it, but he has no idea where the phantom story came from or where it is headed. The act of seeking out the story, however, forces him to confront the tragedy that has haunted his entire life. If he's ever going to get a grip on the story, first he as to get a grip on his lost memories of the night his childhood love was kidnapped, never to be seen again.

It's a powerful story, almost as chilling as it is fascinating. Tommy is an interesting guy, eccentric, passionate, and deeply troubled. He doesn't always make the best choices, but those choices do lead him down some interesting avenues (or rabbit holes, as the case may be). Falling in love with an honest-to-gosh witch is not the strangest thing that happens during his journey, and the angry komodo dragon living inside his soul is not the oddest thing he finds. His is a tragic, troubled, depressing tale, but there's a thin thread of hope that winds itself about him, even if we cannot see it until near the very end.

Even if you're not quite sure where the story is headed, or what the point of it all is, you can't help but want to keep reading, to ride along with Tommy, and see it through to the end. As character-driven stories go, this is an exceptionally strong one, full of darkness and danger, but intricately drawn and well-grounded in the magic and mystery of the creative process. As awkward and aloof as it seems as times, it never wavers in sustaining the suspense, and manages to provide a payoff that's as unique as the story itself, and as tidy as we could possibly hope for, given the circumstances.


Published March 26th 2013 by Apex Book Company
Paperback, 162 pages

Monday, March 25, 2013

Blood Moon by Holly Hunt (GUEST POST & GIVEAWAY)

So, what's next? Blood Moon is a roaring success (he he) and my other books are out there keeping their own. What's next on the cards for the wonderful Holly Hunt?

Well, I'm a mistress of all genres, as people who have investigated my books would have found out. In my current library, I have a dark fantasy, a historical romance, a m/m romance, a fairy tale, an apocalyptic, and a time travel book. What could possibly be left, I hear you ask.

Well, I haven't touched on cri-fi yet (crime-fiction, for the uninitiated), so I'm working on one of them (10,000 words, yay!), where a killer, who only strikes on a holiday, is hunted down by the mother of one of his victims (who happens to be a cop. Let's be clear on that. Also, she shoots him (spoilers!!)).

What about sci-fi? Well, I'm stalling on completing Mercury's Fodder, a story about the last six humans in existence, and their adventures when Earth is turned into a lovely ball of lava after a massive moon-strike incident. It's fun, there's bounty hunters, salt, and icy planets.

And, I have decided that once I work out what steampunk actually is, I'm going to destroy that genre too. Yay!

What's this? You want to read snippets of the stories I'm working on? No! … Well, okay, if you keep them a secret. Follow these links to read a tour-only exclusive insight into the first pages of the stories – tour-exclusive! What fun! (Hover over the links to see which is which [language warning for both]).

Good evening, and happy reading!

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Blood Moon
Holly Hunt

Genre: Horror/Paranormal
Publisher: Damnation Books

ISBN: 9781615726783
ASIN:  B0087QFMA2

Number of pages: 136
Word Count: 41,500

Cover Artist: Dawne Dominique

Amazon

Book Description:  

Upon a dark and blood-filled hour, humanity's doom will rise to power.

Werewolves are real. They haunt the woods of North America, feeding on the bodies of humans stupid enough to blunder across their paths. Once rogue and uncoordinated, the rise of their goddess Alsvinth has brought them all together, with one goal: destroy as much of the species as necessary to enslave them within meat farms, to feed the werewolf army taking over the world.

Olivia, a werewolf from western Canada, and her brother Charlie set out to kill the goddess and save humanity. But can the werewolf and human destroy the goddess’s power, or will she prevail and turn the planet into a wasteland?

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About the Author:   

An author living in Canberra, Australia, Holly Hunt writes a collection of works including Sci-fi, Fantasy, Horror and Romance. Currently undergoing an apprenticeship in Butchery, Holly spends her days off writing and watching superhero cartoons.

Holly lives with her partner, Matthew, in a two-bedroom unit crammed with comics and movie memorabilia. She dreams of one day owning a big garden, three dogs and a cat, and can’t wait until that day gets here.





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Giveaway

As part of her tour, Holly has graciously offered the change for one lucky reader to win a e-book copy of Blood Moon. Simply leave a comment for Holly below, and we'll randomly pick one lucky winner at the end of the week!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Stacking The Shelves & What I'm Reading

Stacking The Shelves is a weekly meme being hosted by Tynga's Reviews, while Mailbox Monday is being hosted by chaotic compendiums this month (see Mailbox Monday for each month's host). Both memes are all about sharing the books you've added to your shelves - physical and virtual, borrowed and bought. It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a weekly meme hosted by Book Journey, and it's focused on what's in your hands, as opposed to what's on your shelf.


Just one new delivery this week, arriving in the mail on a snowy March morning:


The Forever Knight by John Marco

A few new review titles as well:

   

As for what I'm reading, I have reviews coming up over the next 2 weeks for:

          

What's topping your shelves this week?
Ian Whates Brian Braden Justyna Plichta-Jendzio Justine Saracen David Walton Lee Battersby

Friday, March 22, 2013

Harbinger Cover Reveal




Harbinger 
Philippa (Pip) Ballantine

Release date July 30th

Book Description:
The Deacons of the Order are all that stand between the wicked spirits of the Otherside and the innocent citizens of the Empire. They are sworn to protect humanity, even when they cannot protect themselves…

After the Razing of the Order, Sorcha Faris, one of the most powerful Deacons, is struggling to regain control of the runes she once wielded. The Deacons are needed more desperately than ever. The barrier between the world of the living and the world of the dead is weakening, and the Emperor has abandoned his throne, seeking to destroy those he feels have betrayed him.

Though she is haunted by the terrible truth of her past, Sorcha must lead the charge against the gathering hordes of geists seeking to cross into the Empire. But to do so, she will need to manipulate powers beyond her understanding—powers that may prove to be her undoing…


About the Author:
Born in Wellington, New Zealand, Philippa has always had her head in a book. For this she blames her father who thought Lord of the Rings was suitable bedtime reading for an eight year old. At the age of thirteen she began writing fantasy stories for herself.

She first earned a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and Political Science and then a Bachelor of Applied Science in Library and Information Science. So soon enough she found herself working in the magical world of libraries where she stayed for over a decade.

Her first professional sale was in 1997, and since then she has gone on to produce mostly novel length fiction. In 2006 she became New Zealand’s first podcast novelist, and she has voiced and produced Weaver’s Web, Chasing the Bard, Weather Child and Digital Magic as podiobooks. Her podcasts have won both a Parsec Award and a Sir Julius Vogel award.

Philippa is the author of the Books of the Order series with Ace- Geist, Spectyr, Wrayth and Harbinger coming in July 2013.

She is also the co-author of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series with Tee Morris. Phoenix Rising debuted in May 2011 and The Janus Affair came out in May 2012. Phoenix Rising won the Airship Award for best written steampunk, and was the number eight best Science Fiction book of 2011 according to Goodreads.com. The Janus Affair was the seventh most popular science fiction book of 2012 on Goodreads.com. The series continues with Dawn’s Early Light in December 2013.

In addition she is also the author of the Shifted World series with Pyr Books, with the first book Hunter and Fox released in June 2012, and the second Kindred and Wings scheduled for August 2013.

When not writing or podcasting, Philippa loves reading, gardening, and whenever possible travelling  With her husband Tee and her daughter, she is looked after by a mighty clowder of five cats in Manassas, Virginia.

Website: www.pjballantine.com

Twitter: philippajane

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/groups/pjballantine/

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Tirza by Arnon Grunberg (REVIEW)

Tirza by Arnon Grunberg
Published February 19th 2013 by Open Letter 
Paperback, 452 pages


Synopsis:

Jorgen Hofmeester once had it all: a beautiful wife, a nice house with a garden in an upperclass neighborhood in Amsterdam, a respectable job as an editor, two lovely daughters named Ibi and Tirza, and a large amount of money in a Swiss bank account. But during the preparations for Tirza's graduation party, we come to know what he has lost. His wife has left him; Ibi is starting a bed and breakfast in France, an idea which he opposed; the director of the publishing house has fired him; and his savings accounts have vanished in the wake of 9/11.

But Hoffmeester still has Tirza, until she introduces him to her new boyfriend, Choukri - who bears a disturbing resemblance to Mohammed Atta - and they announce their plans to spend several months in Africa. A heartrending and masterful story of a man seeking redemption, Tirza marks a high point in Grunberg's still-developing oeuvre.


Review:

I received a copy of Tirza by Arnon Grunberg from Open Letter Press in exchange for review.

Jorgen Hofmeester is a father of two daughters and lives the life as a publisher and a landlord. Renting out the upstairs of his house to locals or travelers. After losing his first daughter to growing up and moving out. He has his last daughter left "Tirza"

Throwing a going away party for his daughter takes a few unexpected turns, including his wife returning after 3 years of not being around. She tries to come back into Tirza and Hofmeester's life and gets a cold shoulder.

After a Tirza leaves to travel to Africa with her boy friend. Who her father thinks looks like Mohammed Atta (the man behind the plane crash of the world trade center) Hofmeester goes to Africa for a surprise visit.

The surprise is what he confesses to a nine year old girl he meets in Africa. A huge twist I was not expected, well worth the 400+ page read.


(as posted on Goodreads)

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

GIVEAWAY: Bloodline by James Rollins

To celebrate the mass-market release of BLOODLINE by James Rollins on March 26th, I am very pleased to be taking part in a week-long giveaway. Just complete the entry form below, and the winners will be announced on March 25th.

But first, a little bit about the book . . .

In a thrilling masterwork that will make you rethink your perceptions of life and death, New York Times bestselling author James Rollins takes you to the edge of medicine, genetics, and technology, revealing the next evolutionary leap forward: immortality.

Galilee, 1025. Infiltrating an ancient citadel, a Templar knight uncovers a holy treasure long hidden within the fortress's labyrinth: the Bachal Isu — the staff of Jesus Christ — a priceless icon that holds a mysterious and terrifying power that promises to change humankind forever.

A millennium later, Somali pirates hijack a yacht off the coast of the Horn of Africa, kidnapping a young pregnant American woman. Commander Gray Pierce is enlisted for a covert rescue mission into the African jungle. The woman is no rich tourist: she's Amanda Gant-Bennett, daughter of the U.S. president.

Suspicious that the kidnapping masks a far more nefarious plot, Gray must confront a shadowy cabal which has been manipulating events throughout history...and now challenges the current presidency.

For this unique mission, SIGMA is aided by a pair of special operatives with unique talents: former Army Ranger Captain Tucker Wayne and his military war dog, Kane. But what should be a straightforward rescue turns into a fiery ambush and a deadly act of betrayal, as Gray and his team discover that the hostage is a pawn in a shattering act of terrorism with dark repercussions. And the danger is only beginning...

Halfway around the world, a firebombing at a fertility clinic in South Carolina exposes a conspiracy that goes back centuries…a scheme that lies within our genetic code. With time against them, SIGMA must race to save an innocent unborn baby whose very existence raises questions about the nature of humanity, asking:

Could you live forever?

Would you live forever?


Fill out the form below to enter to win a copy of BLOODLINE by James Rollins. Please note that providing your email address will also subscribe you to the James Rollins mailing list.

Waiting On Wednesday - Abaddon's Gate by James S.A. Corey

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

Abaddon's Gate by James S.A. Corey
June 4, 2013 (Orbit)

For generations, the solar system -- Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt -- was humanity's great frontier. Until now. The alien artifact working through its program under the clouds of Venus has appeared in Uranus's orbit, where it has built a massive gate that leads to a starless dark.

Jim Holden and the crew of the Rocinante are part of a vast flotilla of scientific and military ships going out to examine the artifact. But behind the scenes, a complex plot is unfolding, with the destruction of Holden at its core. As the emissaries of the human race try to find whether the gate is an opportunity or a threat, the greatest danger is the one they brought with them.


This is another of those series reads that I plan to catch up on this year, which means I've got a lot of Daniel Abraham waiting on the shelf. It's just a matter of whether I dive into this series or the The Dagger and The Coin, although I'm leaning towards this first, since I'm anxious to get a little sci-fi into my reading pile.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Oddities & Entities by Roland Allnach (TOUR REVIEW)

Short story collections are generally hit-or-miss. When you get right down to it, they're only as good as their strongest entry, or as bad as their weakest. Oddly, with one or two notable exceptions, Oddities & Entities is one collection that was largely even all the way through - not exactly stellar, but still solid enough to keep me reading.

The stories themselves were somewhat oddly structured, coming cross as more through and fully developed than most. What Roland Allnach offers us here is a series of mini novels, each with a detailed introduction and resolution to bookend them. When reading short stories I tend to prefer a little more immediacy, a little less effort wrapping things up, but the approach here works. It's unusual, and requires a bit of patience on the part of the reader, but there's something to be said for consistency of style and execution.

In terms of content, there's a little dark humour here to balance out the creepiness, a healthy dose of psychology to balance out the supernatural, and some rather inventive gore to balance out the human sentiment. The characters are deep, and particularly well-developed for a short story, owing to the amount of backstory worked into each. It's also a very literate collection, with some high profile language and exceptionally strong turns of phrase.

"Shift/Change" was a favourite of mine, a darkly inventive story that's full of very human horrors. "Me Other Me" had a bit of a Stephen King feel to it, both in terms of tone and concept. "Elmer Phelps" was another favourite, taking a well-known horror trope, turning it on its head, and surprising me with something altogether new. On the surface, "Appendage" seemed like it should have been a winner, reminding me in many ways of an early Dean Koontz tale, but it lost me somewhere along the way. I'd have to give that one a second read, just to see where we parted ways, and to see if I can find my way back into the heart of it.

Despite the pacing, this is a still a strong collection with enough imagination and style to carry even the most jaded reader through to the end.

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About the Author
Roland Allnach has been writing since his early teens, first as a hobby, but as the years passed, more as a serious creative pursuit. He is an avid reader, with his main interests residing in history, mythology, and literary classics, along with some fantasy and science fiction in his earlier years. Although his college years were focused on a technical education, he always fostered his interest in literature, and has sought to fill every gap on his bookshelves.

By nature a do-it-yourself type of personality, his creative inclinations started with art and evolved to the written word. The process of creativity is a source of fascination for him, and the notion of bringing something to being that would not exist without personal effort and commitment serves not only as inspiration but as fulfillment as well. So whether it is writing, woodwork, or landscaping, his hands and mind are not often at rest.

Over the years he accumulated a dust laden catalog of his written works, with his reading audience limited to family and friends. After deciding to approach his writing as a profession, and not a hobby, the first glimmers of success came along. Since making the decision to move forward, he has secured publication for a number of short stories, has received a nomination for inclusion in the Pushcart Anthology, built his own website, and in November 2010 realized publication for an anthology of three novellas, titled Remnant, from All Things That Matter Press. Remnant has gone on to favorable critical review and placed as Finalist/Sci-fi, 2011 National Indie Excellence Awards; Bronze Medalist, Sci-Fi, 2012 Readers Favorite Book of the Year Awards; and Award Winner-Finalist, Sci-Fi, 2012 USA Book News Best Book Awards. Roland’s second publication, Oddities & Entities, also from All Things That Matter Press, followed in March 2012. It, too, has received favorable critical review, and is the recipient of four awards: Bronze Medalist, Horror, and Finalist, Paranormal, 2012 Readers Favorite Book of the Year Awards; Award Winner-Finalist, Fiction/Horror and Fiction/Anthologies, 2012 USA Book News Best Book Awards.

His writing can best be described as depicting strange people involved in perhaps stranger situations. He is not devoted to any one genre of writing. Instead, he prefers to let his stories follow their own path. Classification can follow after the fact, but if one is looking for labels, one would find his stories in several categories. Sometimes speculative, other times supernatural, at times horror, with journeys into mainstream fiction, and even some humor- or perhaps the bizarre. Despite the category, he aims to depict characters as real on the page as they are in his head, with prose of literary quality. His literary inspirations are as eclectic as his written works- from Poe to Kate Chopin, from Homer to Tolkien, from Flaubert to William Gibson, from Shakespeare to Tolstoy, as long as a piece is true to itself, he is willing to go along for the ride. He hopes to bring the same to his own fiction.

WEBSITE | GOODREADS | FACEBOOK

A Murder of Crows by David Rotenberg (ARC REVIEW)

There's just something quintessentially Canadian about authors from the Great White North. Call it a sense of subtlety or a flair for understatement, but I find that even when dealing with fantastic subjects, their tales are often more grounded and - dare I say it? - literate than their peers from around the world. That's not a complaint or a knock against other authors, just an observation, and one that occurred to me again while reading David Rotenberg's A Murder of Crows.

Here we have a hero who is able to 'see' whether a person is lying or telling the truth. It's a fantastic ability, but one that is portrayed through the simplicity of a haze of squares (truth) or squiggles (lies). Other than that, he's an entirely normal guy, more embarrassed by his talent than motivated to use it for personal, professional, or altruistic gain. His awkward relationship with the CIA agent tracking his movements is your standard adversarial relationship, with quirks that are grounded, everyday, and banal.

The plot here is a strange one, multi-layered, with what feels like a climax coming at the halfway point. Each chapter is titled as a countdown to the real climax (T minus this and that), but there's no sense of rushing towards a big event. Instead, the story is told quite leisurely, putting human emotions and motivations at the forefront. Whereas many authors would make a spectacle out of the graduation ceremony explosion that kills hundreds, playing it to the hilt, and glorifying every grotesque detail, Rotenberg jumps directly from planning to aftermath - and even then omits anything more than the most minimal detail regarding the carnage.

More than anything, this is a solid mystery tale, one that just happens to have a few speculative elements. The language is sparse and economical, with very little written or said that doesn't advance the story. There are no grandiose descriptions of places or events, and no minutiae of detail regarding facial features or clothing. Internal dialogue is kept to a minimum, and the POV only strays from Decker when we need to understand something integral to the plot. The character relationships are exceptionally strong, filled with pain, sorrow, and an (at times) almost crippling sense of loss.

There was a point where I really wasn't sure what the point of the novel was, or just what the central plot entailed, but that's just fine. I was more than willing to play along, to see where Decker was leading me, and to find out precisely what was happening, and how all the myriad layers meshed. A thoroughly enjoyable tale, and one that I would recommend to sci-fi / urban fantasy looking for a little realism, or to mystery fans eager for a taste (just a taste, mind you) of the fantastic.


Published March 19th 2013 by Simon & Schuster Canada 
Paperback, 336 pages

Monday, March 18, 2013

Top Ten Movie Blogfest!


It's time for Ninja Captain Alex's Top Ten Movie Countdown Blogfest! Hop around, check out the lists, and leave comments where you agree, or disagree, or are just completely bewildered. For my top 10 list, I didn't spend too much time ranking the entries or trying to figure out which are the BEST movies of all time - instead, I went with those old stand-bys that I know I will watch again and again and again everytime they hit TV. So, in no particular order . . . okay, so alphabetical order . . . I give you:

Army of Darkness - All of the Evil Dead movies are classics but, for me, this one was the best of the bunch. I will go see the Evil Dead remake when it comes out, but there is no replacing Bruce Campbell.

Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure - Hands down, the absolute best (and funniest) time travel movie ever made. I still laugh at every single gag whenever I watch it, and not even the disappointment of their Bogus Journey can dampen my enthusiasm.

The Empire Strikes Back - The entire original trilogy is a classic, and even the oft-maligned Return of the Jedi could deserve a place in the top 10, but it's Empire that always defines the franchise for me.

      

Fletch - There was a time when Chevy Chase was one of the funniest men on screen. Although many might argue the Vacation movies marked his high-point, Fletch was his best all-around movie. It was funny, it had great music, and it had a good, solid story.

Jurassic Park - Anybody who denies that eyes went wide, their jaw dropped, and their inner child peeked out from the depths of their soul the first time they saw a dinosaur walk onto the screen is a liar! An absolutely stellar adaptation of one of my favourite books.

A Knight's Tale - When it first came out, I thought it was the stupidest idea ever for a movie. When I first sat down to watch it, I wondered what the hell I was doing. Somehow, all these years later, I will still stop whatever it is I am doing to sit down, tap my feet, and cheer every time it comes on TV.

      

Lethal Weapon - The first and the best of the bunch. As much fun as the other movies in the series were, and as great as Joe Pesci was in the second, the dark, sombre, manic tone of the first still sets the standard. Plus, if you stick around for the credits, you get a killer title track from my hometown boys, Honeymoon Suite.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail - It was a toss-up between this and Life of Brian, but in terms of sheer quotability, the Holy Grail wins out.

   

Poltergeist - One of the first horror movies I ever watched, and still one that manages to creep me out every time. That damn clown beside the bed? Yeah, I still jump every time poor Robbie comes up from looking under the bed to find it waiting behind him.

Raiders of the Lost Ark - I could have gone with The Last Crusade, which was an absolutely stellar movie, but Raiders was the first, and the one that I watched nearly every time I visited my Aunt's house. With all due respect to Han Solo, this was Harrison Ford's finest role.