Soul Breaker, by Clara Coulson

Two years ago, Cal Kinsey was an up-and-coming cop in the Aurora Police Department. But during a fateful nighttime stakeout in search of a prolific killer, Cal witnessed the darkest corner of his dreams come to life. A rogue vampire slaughtered his partner — to put it nicely — and introduced Cal to the supernatural world he never knew existed in the shadows. Now, Cal is a newly minted detective at the often mocked Department of Supernatural Investigations. By day, the agents of DSI are called “Kooks” by local law enforcement. By night, they’re known as “Crows,” reviled by the supernatural underworld. Mere weeks out of the academy, Cal catches his first real case, a vicious murder at a local college. An unknown sorcerer has summoned a powerful creature from the Eververse, a realm of magic and mayhem that borders Earth, and set it on a dangerous warpath through the city. Between butting heads with his grumpy team captain, stirring up ill will with the local wizards and witches, and repeatedly getting the crap beaten out of himself, Cal must find a way to stop the Eververse monster and send it back to the hell it came from … preferably before Aurora, Michigan runs out of coffins for the dead.

***This review was from November 2015, and for some reason it never got posted!*** To me, Soul Breaker was heavier on the magical mysticism, over paranormal. And this works for me, because I like to keep my vampires and werewolves confined to the TV show Supernatural. The main character was written quite well, and I believed that the world could actually exist, instead of cardboard cutouts and clichés. We don’t learn as much about the supporting characters, but that’s cool, we learn just enough to flesh them out. I’m looking forward to more character development in Shade Chaser, and I’ll be sure to pick it up when it comes out in February. 4.5 stars!

Clara Coulson was born and raised in backwoods Virginia, USA. Currently in her mid-twenties, Clara holds a degree in English and Finance from the College of William & Mary and recently retired from the hustle and bustle of Washington, DC to return to the homeland and pick up the quiet writing life. Clara spends most of her time (when she’s not writing) dreaming up new story ideas, studying Japanese, and slowly reading through the several-hundred-book backlog on her budding home library. If she’s not occupied with any of those things, then you can probably find her playing with her two cats or lurking in the shadows of various social media websites. In the publishing sphere, Clara is currently occupied with the City of Crows urban fantasy series, and its companion series, Lark Nation.

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Dalí, by E.M. Hamill

Dalí Tamareia has everything—a young family and a promising career as an Ambassador in the Sol Fed Diplomatic Corps. Dalí’s path as a peacemaker seems clear, but when their loved ones are killed in a terrorist attack, grief sends the genderfluid changeling into a spiral of self-destruction. Fragile Sol Fed balances on the brink of war with a plundering alien race. Their skills with galactic relations are desperately needed to broker a protective alliance, but in mourning, Dalí no longer cares, seeking oblivion at the bottom of a bottle, in the arms of a faceless lover, or at the end of a knife. The New Puritan Movement is rising to power within the government, preaching strict genetic counseling and galactic isolation to ensure survival of the endangered human race. Third gender citizens like Dalí don’t fit the mold of this perfect plan, and the NPM will stop at nothing to make their vision become reality. When Dalí stumbles into a plot threatening changelings like them, a shadow organization called the Penumbra recruits them for a rescue mission full of danger, sex, and intrigue, giving Dalí purpose again. Risky liaisons with a sexy, charismatic pirate lord could be Dalí’s undoing—and the only way to prevent another deadly act of domestic terrorism.

When I saw Dalí on Netgalley, I knew I had to give it a try. Netgalley has yielded me great sci-fi with fluid sexuality (Zen DiPietro’s Dragonfire Station series), and some great trans sci-fi (Dreadnought, by April Daniels), so I had no qualms checking out a fluid gender story.

Dalí, the titular character is well written, as is the story. I’ve come to expect this of LGBT sci-fi. LGBT and indie writers have always had to up their game when it comes to prose. It’s not fair, but these authors are under extra scrutiny due to methodologies and/or content. While traditionally-published works can kick along with weak story because the fans will buy anything that the author and publisher put out, this is not the case in the indie world, and especially so for those that write LGBT themes.

Sci-fi, along with fantasy has the ability for us to tackle issues with humanity under the guise of other-worldness. Racism, hatred, and bigotry are topics easily broached when the characters are aliens or elves. Star Trek was a pioneer in the late 1960s, and indies continue the noble tradition today.

Dalí tackles themes of rape, depression, sex trafficking, bigotry, hatred, eugenics, polygamy, and much more. The story is rife with action. The LGBT rights topics are there, as is a commentary on modern society, but it’s not “in your face,” or preachy. No one involved in Dalí is trying to convert us. The themes are almost an undercurrent. The sci-fi, other than setting, is pretty laid back too. The author took the popcorn sci-fi methodology, and just said that this or that is, without bogging down in the details that some sci-fi authors tend to do.

Over all, Dalí is a great sci-fi read. Those that may be skittish with LGBT-themed stories should be able to get into Dalí. Fans of LGBT works will appreciate an engrossing LGBT story that’s not focused on LGBT encounters. In a world that so often incorrectly associates LGBT with erotica, Dalí is a great read because of the story, and would fall apart if Dalí weren’t gender fluid.

I enjoyed Dalí, and at a risk of over-hyping the book, highly recommend reading this 4-star sci-fi novel.

E.M. (Elisabeth) Hamill writes adult science fiction and fantasy somewhere in the wilds of eastern suburban Kansas. A nurse by day, wordsmith by night, she is happy to give her geeky imagination free reign and has sworn never to grow up and get boring. Frequently under the influence of caffeinated beverages, she also writes as Elisabeth Hamill for young adult readers in fantasy with the award-winning Songmaker series. She lives in eastern Kansas with her family, where they fend off flying monkey attacks and prep for the zombie apocalypse.

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A Second Chance at Love, by Kassandra Lynn

True love doesn’t exist. Forever belongs in a storybook. Empress Ursila Ufran ran away with Royal Healer Draven for love. What she found was regret and heartbreak. Draven had approached her with an agenda, her father had committed treason, and everyone in House of Ufran had been beheaded. When a magical amulet gives her a second chance at life, she has to avoid her mistakes and prevent her family’s downfall before it’s too late.
 

I enjoyed A Second Chance at Life, so it was a no-brainer to read A Second Chance at Love. I wondered how the author would keep the story fresh, without it just being a rehash of the first book. I’m happy to say that this was accomplished by great storytelling, and as the description on Amazon says, you can read either book first.

An unlikable protagonist is often a cause for alarm in a story, but Ms. Lynn pulls it off nicely. A spoiled Empress is betrayed by who she thinks is the love of her life only to wake before the events of her death. She has a chance to correct everything. And she’s a spoiled brat, just like Elaina from the previous story. But it seems to work. By the end I was rooting for Ursila, and was glad to have read the book.

Like the previous book, the time period is not specified, but this one feels like ancient Asia. The writing flowed smoothly – more so than the last book. The characters are interesting, and none of them feel like clichés.

In the end, A Second Chance at Love is a fun love story, and like its predecessor, is a four-star read. Kindle Unlimited subscribers can read this one for free.

Kassandra Lynn is the author of Book of Immortals series and Demon Kingdom Fairy Tales series. Her favorite genres are fantasy and romance. She especially enjoys reading and writing about unique concepts, unpredictable plots, and protagonists who aren’t the typical protagonists.

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Artemis, by Andy Weir

Jazz Bashara is a criminal. Well, sort of. Life on Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, is tough if you’re not a rich tourist or an eccentric billionaire. So smuggling in the occasional harmless bit of contraband barely counts, right? Not when you’ve got debts to pay and your job as a porter barely covers the rent. Everything changes when Jazz sees the chance to commit the perfect crime, with a reward too lucrative to turn down. But pulling off the impossible is just the start of her problems, as she learns that she’s stepped square into a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself—and that now, her only chance at survival lies in a gambit even riskier than the first.

There’s a lot of grief out there for Weir’s sophomore novel. The problem is that The Martian was such a great book; it’s just not possible for another book to live up to expectations. Especially a book that had so many issues while being written. Had Artemis not been over hyped, then it would’ve just been a quirky sci-fi novel about a moon heist.

Artemis is a fun read, and like Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum, I cringed when Jazz did her thing. I found it difficult to suspend my disbelief that someone who was supposed to be so street-smart ended up being such an idiot. I can grok that perceptions can color our lives, but Jazz seemed to be doing dumb things just to advance the story. Jazz reacted to the story instead of weaving it. She had no agency.

I found it interesting that in this near-future tale some social groups have achieved equity in society, others have not. We have gender and sexual equality. We have religious equality. We have cookie-cutter Mafioso. Yeah, I understand that we need a protagonist to counter the antagonist. The problem is that such strides to be inclusive were soured by yet more stereotypical caricatures of other peoples and groups. Many of the characters were generalizations of cultural norms, and even some main characters lacked depth.

I’d have to say that the best thing about Artemis is rich back-story and world building. I was more fascinated by the history of humans and their quest for the moon, and some of the tidbits of lunar lore, than if Jazz and her misfit gaggle could pull it off. The tribalism described in Artemis reminded me of the Silo Saga, by Hugh Howey. In Weir’s vision of humanity’s future, we trade nationalism for a caste system. People are divided up by their jobs in an almost Randian meritocracy.

Which brings me to the issue of how to rate Artemis. Despite my list of things that made me groan or cringe, it’s still a great popcorn scifi novel. I could easily see Artemis turned into a limited-run series on Amazon or Netflix. The book isn’t five-star go out and get it right away, but it’s undeserving of some of the ire early reviewers are putting out there. I have no doubt that Artemis will average 4+ stars based solely on the hype and the fact that so many people just adored Mark Watney and The Martian. And I think that that may be a major issue with Artemis – Weir tried writing the combination that made The Martian so great, but missed the mark. When comparing Artemis to The Martian, the new book falls flat. Considering Artemis on its own, it’s a pretty good popcorn scifi with some issues. In the end, I’d give Artemis three and a half stars, and for the purposes of non-fractional star ratings, I’d bump that up to four, but I sure as shit wouldn’t spend $14 on an ebook.

Andy-Weir

Andy Weir was first hired as a programmer for a national laboratory at age fifteen and has been working as a software engineer ever since. He is also a lifelong space nerd and a devoted hobbyist of subjects like relativistic physics, orbital mechanics, and the history of manned spaceflight. The Martian is his first novel.

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Asian Spec Fiction Sale

Hey, everyone! I’m participating in an Asian speculative fiction promotion this weekend. There are over thirty asian books available for only 99 cents, including my own wuxia novel, Champion Standing. JC Kang put the promotion together, and you can check out the other 99 cent stories here: http://jckang.info/index.php/promo/ Be sure to support all these wonderful authors. There are Asian fiction works for all tastes, so make with the clickity click.


Paradox Bound, by Peter Clines

Eli’s willing to admit it: he’s a little obsessed with the mysterious woman he met years ago. Okay, maybe a lot obsessed. But come on, how often do you meet someone who’s driving a hundred-year-old car, clad in Revolutionary-War era clothes, wielding an oddly modified flintlock rifle—someone who pauses just long enough to reveal strange things about you and your world before disappearing in a cloud of gunfire and a squeal of tires? So when the traveler finally reappears in his life, Eli is determined that this time he’s not going to let her go without getting some answers. But his determination soon leads him into a strange, dangerous world and a chase not just across the country but through a hundred years of history—with nothing less than America’s past, present, and future at stake.

I read Paradox Bound in its entirety on a lazy Sunday. I expected to enjoy it since I enjoyed The Fold. Crown was kind enough to send me a hardcover, and it now lives on my shelf next to the aforementioned The Fold. Whereas The Fold seemed to derail from about 50% – 75%, Paradox Bound is brilliantly executed all the way through. I’m not just saying that to be nice. As a writer who also has time travel fiction under my belt, I was pleasantly surprised by a few twists that I did not see coming. If an author can trick me, then they definitely know their writing chops. And the teasers! Oh my, they are wonderful. Just when the antagonists started to become tiresome, Clines switched gears and made me care again. The ending is well thought out, and the fictionalization of real-world people is something I thoroughly enjoy in fiction with a historical slant. Paradox Bound is a five-star read, and I’m glad I had a Sunday to dedicate to reading it.

Peter-Clines

Peter Clines grew up in the Stephen King fallout zone of Maine and–inspired by comic books, Star Wars, and Saturday morning cartoons–started writing at the age of eight with his first epic novel, Lizard Men From The Center of The Earth(unreleased). He is the writer of countless film articles, several short stories, The Junkie Quatrain, the rarely-read The Eerie Adventures of the Lycanthrope Robinson Crusoe, the poorly-named website Writer on Writing , and an as-yet-undiscovered Dead Sea Scroll. He currently lives and writes somewhere in southern California.

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War of the Worlds Updates

One of you wonderful internet denizens emailed to ask for permission to use the cover art designed for the non-English editions of Retaliation in a wikipedia article. I’m cool with that for wikipedia, reviews, interviews, etc. As long as you don’t try to pass off my covers as your own, I’m cool with any of my released covers to be on Wikipedia, etc. In fact, here are some unreleased Retaliation covers for y’all to drool over:

The Afrikaans project (above) was cancelled, and this may or may not be the final cover for the chinese version (below):

I’m hoping to sign the contract soon for a French version, but time will tell.

After talking to some industry professionals, I’ve decided to only actively pursue language contracts for Chinese, Spanish, Portuguese, French, & Italian. Don’t worry if you read in a language not on that list, if someone comes along and offers a contract on another language, I’ll definitely consider it. (I mean, is “no” even in my vocabulary?)

(You wikipedia guys and gals can use this draft version of Firestorm for your article.)

Those of you who are close to John and I know that the biggest delaying factor for War of the Worlds: Firestorm is me. People tell me that I’m a prolific writer, but John can outwrite me 4-to-1. (Autocorrect kept changing that to “outwit.” Maybe my computer knows more than I do…) I emailed the latest vomit draft of my last chapter to John over the weekend, and I’m like 90% certain he’ll respond with three of his own chapters, sticking me with the onus to move the project forward. We’re more than 2/3 finished with the rough draft. It’s gonna be tight to get that done before the end of October, but it’s totally possible. Nonetheless, we’re golden for a presentable draft in November.

Personally, I’d like to see Firestorm release at the same time John and I get a nomination for a Hugo or Nebula, but I think I recall an adage with wishes and horses and beggars and stuff. I ran into Alan Dean Foster at Prescott Comic Con, and he basically dashed my hopes of a Nebula nomination. (He was the president of the Nebula selection committee for a thousand years or something.) Mike Stackpole went poo-poo on my dreams of a Hugo while we were at Phoenix Comicon together. They weren’t being dicks or anything, they just wanted to make sure I had my head on straight and could manage my expectations. I’m still gonna hold on tight to my dream, and maybe something will pop out if I squeeze hard enough.

It’s getting late here in the Copper State, so I’ll head to bed, and post a book review in the morning.