Book Review: “Dry Land” by Jennifer Anne Seidler

Book Title: Dry Land

Author: Jennifer Anne Seidler

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: ***

 

I really enjoyed this book. It was clever and well executed, and the length was just right. I generally don’t read a lot of SciFi so this was a bit of a gamble for me, and one I’m glad to report has paid off. I’ve read some Asimov, and of course the Star Wars books, but otherwise I prefer to watch SciFi, simply because I’m not scientifically minded and some authors of this genre can get pretty heavy with jargon which makes it awkward to read for the laymen amongst us. Thankfully Jennifer Anne Seidler isn’t one of them, and everything was explained in a concise and easy to follow style that didn’t have me stopping every few paragraphs to look something up. This left me blissfully to enjoy the story and characters as they should be, so that alone deserves a big kudos in my humble opinion.

The story revolves around astronaut Ted “Shakespeare” Hardison, who is part of a team going up to the moon indefinitely for a terraforming project. It’s hinted at pretty early on that the Earth is in bad shape, almost post-apocalyptic, particularly in America. We find out that Ted has played a very large role in the project, specifically designing the technology needed, and that his work is one of the two great loves of his life.

His other great paramour is his wife, Colby. She’s an intriguing character, and from the get-go you realise there’s something different about her, which is soon revealed to be that she isn’t entirely human – she’s an android. Because Ted doesn’t know when or even if he will be returning to Earth, the opening scene is the two of them saying goodbye and signing their divorce papers. Even with the relatively short appearance Colby makes at the beginning of the book, their relationship is a powerful one. As a reader I felt an immediate sense of how hard it was for them to part from one another, which in turn gave me an instantaneous connection to Ted, and an insight to his character and motivations.

I always enjoy a story where I feel sympathy for the protagonist, and more so when I don’t have to wait around for that. I was invested in Ted by the end of the prologue, and despite her brief appearance, Colby too. Despite that Dry Land isn’t exactly a romance, I found myself hoping they would be reunited again soon, a wish that was granted in a squiffy sort of way by the end of chapter one.

The writing was clean and easy to follow, the characters were deep, and the plot was unique and interesting. It’s definitely worth taking a chance over.

You can find out more about Jennifer Anne Seidler at her facebook page, here: https://www.facebook.com/drylandnovella

“Digression To Innocence”

“Wait for me!” I shout, laughter lilting my voice as I stoop to remove my heels so I can keep better pace with the others. They all run ahead, singing and joking as we make our way through the deserted high street towards the main square. After a brief struggle, my feet are finally free, and heedless of the rough, cold pavement, I begin to run too.

The street lights burn bright orange, and the shop windows are a cool white, making the town look surreal, a mixture of shadow and light. Soon I catch up, re-joining the noise and revelry of the others, and linking arms, we briefly attempt to can-can. We stumble and supporting each other we manage to remain upright, all laughing from the very pits of our souls at the sheer fun of it.

“Ah!” someone to my left gasps, grabbing my arm and shaking me in her excitement, “I can see the square!”

We all race the rest of the way down the hill, whooping like gleeful children, and some small part of my mind registers that I’m no longer holding my shoes…

The entrance to the club flashes enticingly, the heavy base from the music within vibrates through our bones even from here, luring us ever closer. The florescent coat of the Bouncer hurts my eyes for a moment, and so I look away, my blurry vision fixing quickly on the large ornamental fountain in the town square.

I hear my friends calling me to hurry up, but something about the fountain looks wrong, and I can’t seem to put my finger on quite what. As my vision sharpens and becomes accustomed to the darkness, I am suddenly jolted by the realisation of what I’m seeing, and a slow, mischievous grin spreads across my face.

I look sideways at my waiting friends, and gesture to the large stone structure before me, my smile growing ever larger, laughter once more bubbling up within me. “Look! Someone’s put bubble bath in the fountain!”

I turn back to face the white, frothy mound, a childlike glee pulling my bare feet slowly towards its sparkling purity. The faint summer breeze rushes across the open square, pulling at the glittering foam until a few small pieces separate and float towards me. I hold out my hands and catch some, looking down at the soft, weightless treasure, before blowing it from my hold as I might have done with a seeding dandelion when I was small.

Before I know it, I am standing on the edge of the fountain, the snowy mountain wobbling like jelly with every faint puff of wind. My friends are soon stood with me, and we all clutch each other’s hands, smiling and giggling like six-year-olds, eyes glowing with joy and simple pleasure as we count, “One! Two! …THREE!”

We jump.

Book Review: “Hard Luck” by M.A. Ray

Book title: Hard Luck (Volume 1, Saga of Menyoral)

Author: M.A. Ray

Genre: High Fantasy

Rating: ****

 

It’s been a while since I last sat down to read a high fantasy book, and Hard Luck doesn’t disappoint. It has everything I look for in this genre: Magic, colourful characters, first rate world-building, and a nice gritty undertone that adds a sense of realness despite, well… the elves, if you see what I mean.

The story is set in Rothganar, a place that you are pulled into immediately as the opening scene unfolds in mysticism and a spell gone horribly wrong. The consequences of this short prelude mean very little at first, but you still feel a sense of loss despite that, something I think points to some very skilled writing. Four pages into the book, and I was already emotionally invested.

It stands to reason that in eliciting this sort of response in a new reader, the protagonist is also someone you find yourself immediately attached to. My sympathy for Dingus began from the moment I read his rather unfortunate name, and only swelled further as the full horror of his life became clear. The way the author deals with the prejudice Dingus faces is unapologetic and with such integrity that it brought a lump to my throat, and immediately had me firmly backing her protagonist to the hilt. In a show of yet more skilful writing, the fact that the situation makes you want to jump into the pages of the book and beat the living daylights out of Dingus’ antagonists also makes you immediately cheer for the first appearance of Vandis, a travelling knight who does just that.

Their relationship is one the best I’ve read in a long time, and as Vandis takes Dingus under his proverbial wing, the progression of both characters as the story moves along is masterful. When they are later joined by Kessa, yet another stray with a horrific backstory, the three of them bounce so well against one another that they all come to life in a way I haven’t been privileged to read in quite some time. Their dialogue is spot on, each with a very clear voice and tone, and not ever forced throughout.

On that note, I wanted to address something I’ve seen criticised quite seriously in other reviews, and that is the swearing. Yes, there is a fair amount of cussing throughout, and mostly from Vandis. Vandis is a crusty old knight who quite happily drops the f-bomb, and personally I think it adds to his character that he does so. It would be bizarre for someone of his background and disposition to say “good heavens” or “whoopsie daisy” or whatever, and I don’t really understand why in this day and age, with writers like George Martin sprinkling the dreaded “C U Next Tuesday” like glitter, (So disgust. Much rude. Wow.) that anyone would be offended by such a thing. No one seems bothered by any of the quite vivid violence in the book, or the allusions the paedophilia for that matter, which is surely far more disturbing? These things mentioned, I also don’t understand why anyone would think the swearing is the only reason this book isn’t suitable for children, but apparently that’s just me.

This is not a children’s book. That much is evident before you even finish the prologue to be honest, but as to the parents looking down their noses at this excellent book because of the swearing, I’m afraid I have bad news: If you think your teenager doesn’t swear, you’re living in a fantasy world even more expansive than Rathganar, and that’s truly a grand feat of imagination.

That said, what I do think is important to point out is aside from Vandis’ characterisation, the swearing is there for another quite excellent reason. At the beginning of the book, Dingus is seriously downtrodden, and quite literally at that. He is understandably afraid and nervous, and very meek around others. By the end of the book, however, he is cussing right along with Vandis, and actually at him at one point, laughing and speaking his mind with an ease and comfort that shows the outward signs of his mental healing. If cussing offends you, that’s just fine. We’re all different – personally I’m very offended by beetroot, and I’ve yet to find anyone else who shares my deep revulsion for it – and that’s just fine. What isn’t fine is trash talking an excellent author for your own quirks, and implying that their differing use of language to yours shows some kind of want of skill or talent.

The book is far and away one of my favourite reads in the genre for quite some time now, and I can’t wait to jump back into the story for more of these fantastically written and intricate characters. The Saga of Menyoral has another three books currently available for consumption, and I would very strongly encourage anyone who enjoys bold, brassy fantasy to go and check them out, as well as the author herself, who can be located on facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/marayauthor

Cover Reveal! “Silver Shackles” by Fiona Skye

Silver Shackles

Revelations Trilogy: Book Two

by Fiona Skye

silver shackles cover

Cover image by Rachel Bostwick

Available on Amazon and in print June 15, 2015!

When you steal from faerie queens, the consequences are painful and sometimes deadly.

Were-jaguar and TV personality, Riley O’Rourke, has been looking over her shoulder ever since she stole from the Dark Queen of the Unseelie faeries. When Riley is contacted by an informant with knowledge that can blow the lid off the story of the year, she can’t pass up the opportunity to investigate. What she finds instead is something that puts her at the mercy of the Dark Queen, a creature not known for her compassion.

When Riley’s boyfriend, David, realizes she’s missing, he’ll do whatever it takes to get her back, including starting a war with the Unseelie. The balance of power among the Fae courts is shifting, and if David makes one wrong move, Riley could end up crushed in the struggle. But after being the subject of the Queens’s legendary cruelty, will there even be anything left of Riley to save?

Get Taming Shadows, Revelations Trilogy: Book One on Amazon now!


fiona skye - author photoFiona Skye is a fantasy and historical romance author, currently living in the deserts of Southern Arizona. She shares a home with her husband, two kids, three cats, and a Border Collie.

Fiona’s passion for story telling began early in life. She loved playing make-believe and inventing elaborate fantasy worlds for her friends and her to play in. At age twelve, she wrote her first short story, based on a song by a 1980s hair band. After giving it to her English teacher for editing and rewrites, she learned to love the entire writing process, and has dedicated her life since then to writing, only to be occasionally distracted by her insatiable love of yarn and crochet, and the dogged pursuit of the perfect plate of cheese enchiladas.

She counts Diana Gabaldon and Jim Butcher as her favorite authors and biggest influences. Joining these two on the list of people she would wait in queue for a week to have a coffee with are Neil Peart, Kevin Hearne, and Brandon Sanderson.

Find her at the following links:

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/fionaskyewriter
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/fionaskyewriter
Website: http://fiona-skye.com/

“Cruel To Be Kind”

‘But Mama!’

Midori looked at her daughter, green eyes big and pleading in her round little face, and tried to stay strict. It was difficult because she wanted to give Naomi everything she wanted, but there were just some things that weren’t practical at all. Not even safe, in this instance!

‘Naomi, I mean it,’ she said firmly, focusing on the deep scratches up the seven-year-old’s arms. ‘You cannot keep it, and that’s final.’

It was hard not to flinch at the utter betrayal on the child’s face at her words, and Midori didn’t miss the way she moved to stand protectively between her mother and the monstrosity she had apparently been keeping in her room for the past three moons. When Gerrard had come to tell her about the mysterious injuries Naomi had been collecting recently, her mind had automatically turned to darker places, to people harming her child, people who wanted her out of the way. She most certainly hadn’t expected to find Naomi had been keeping a Griffin in her chambers as a secret pet!

‘It doesn’t belong here, my darling,’ Midori tried to reason. ‘It belongs out in the forest, where it can grow big and be free.’

…Where it couldn’t further hurt the little girl who so adamantly defended it, she added in the privacy of her own mind. Where had she even found the creature? How had she managed to sneak it into the Keep without a single person noticing, even? It was about the size of a very large dog already, and for all Gerrard had told her Griffin weren’t given to killing people, Midori could see it had already attacked her daughter, and would likely do so again. Naomi, however, remained unmoved.

‘Mama, please!’ she begged, and Midori felt her resolve waver. ‘Please, please! I won’t ask for anything ever again!’

‘It ain’t yours to ask for, lass,’ Master Gerrard spoke up from where he was standing in front of the closed door, making certain no one could get in. She hated having to involve him in this, knowing full well that if they were caught he would be in a great deal more trouble than any of them, but she had no one else to trust here. Gerrard cared for Naomi, and he wasn’t afraid to be firm with her where Midori disliked it intensely, but she knew he stood to lose a great deal more than she did if he was found out by her husband, covering for her daughter.

Glancing across at him, Midori shook her head minimally, indicating to leave this to her, and he stood down. She turned back to her daughter and the snoozing creature behind her with a sigh.

‘If you want a pet, we could find you a puppy or a kitten, perhaps?’ she asked, wondering if the child was just lonely. Naomi didn’t have any friends her own age here in Ffion, and Midori was sure it must be difficult to only have Master Gerrard and Midori herself for company.

‘I don’t want a pet, that’s not why I want to keep it,’ the little girl shook her head vigorously, little brows furrowed and jaw clenched. ‘It was father’s fault! I saw him! He killed her mama out on a hunt, and he didn’t even care that she had a baby who would die! He just laughed!’

Well, that explained where she’d found it, at least. Her father had been taking her out on occasion to make a warrior out of her, which by all accounts had usually involved some kind of humiliation or cruelty for the child. Naomi was doing her best, and Gerrard said he was already so pleased with her progress in archery and fencing, but her father seemed less intent on helping her grow and far more interested in teaching her that he was in charge.

‘I nursed her,’ the little girl pressed. ‘I brought her back here to keep her safe and feed her, but she’s still not big enough to go back into the forest yet. She can’t fly, and she has to learn to hunt, but I don’t know how to get her back outside again…’

Midori looked back at Gerrard again and saw her own indecision mirrored in his expression. Of course Naomi had wanted to help the baby, of course she’d taken it under her own proverbial wing to raise it, and of course Midori couldn’t be angry with her for that, but it didn’t make the situation any easier.

‘Mama,’ her daughter pulled her attention back again, and she was surprised to see the hard determination in her little one’s emerald eyes. ‘Mama, if you and Master want me to send her back into the forest now, then I should just kill her. If she goes back outside by herself she’s going to die, so it would be more kind to do it quickly.’

Midori was so shocked by this, she was glad when Gerrard spoke once again. ‘Do you mean that, lassie?’

‘Yes,’ Naomi nodded. ‘I don’t want to be cruel like father. I don’t want to leave her to suffer.’

Gerrard seemed to consider this. ‘You’d do it yourself?’

‘Gerrard!’ Midori gasped, appalled that he was even considering this as a viable option. Her daughter was growing up so fast, growing up into a pillar of strength that she knew she would be proud of forever, but she was still just a child. Everyone seemed to forget that she was only seven!

‘No mama, I don’t want to be like him!’ Naomi cried out. ‘All father cares about is what other people think of him, but I won’t be like that! I won’t care what anyone thinks of me! I only care about doing what’s right, and letting her starve isn’t right! It isn’t!’

Unable to stand it anymore, Midori knelt down and opened her arms to her daughter. Naomi immediately ran to her, cuddling up as a child her age should be able, and allowed her mother to whisper placations and promises that everything would be alright. She expected Gerrard to be disapproving, but when she glanced across at him he simply shrugged one shoulder and sighed.

‘I can get a few of the lads in here tonight,’ he said. ‘Try and sneak the thing to the stables for now until I can ask for a bit of leave and take it out to learn how to hunt.’

‘Really?’ Naomi gasped, looking up at her teacher with wide eyes. ‘You’re going to do that? You really are?’

Gerrard wagged his index finger at her. ‘So are you, lass. This is your mess, and I ain’t cleaning it up alone, you hear? Now you go get what you need for the night so you can stay with your mama while your charge here is taken care of.’

Naomi whooped with glee and went running into the adjacent room where her clothes were kept. Watching her go, seeing the return of innocence in her behaviour, Midori smiled at the guardsman. It would be easy enough to get permission to take Naomi out into the forest for training purposes, and she knew he had friends in the garrison that would help him get the beast out of the Keep again. Still, he was taking a huge risk, and she wanted to thank him.

‘Don’t bother,’ he grumbled, cutting across before she could even finish drawing breath. ‘I think she’d have done it, killed it I mean, but as much as I want her tough, I don’t want her jaded any more than you do. There’ll be plenty of blood on her hands in years to come, and there ain’t no call to start early.’

Midori held her peace out of respect for him, but knew she might never be able to thank the grumpy swordsman for all he had done for her daughter already. It brought her a great deal of comfort to know that he would be there for Naomi if ever she couldn’t.

‘Look at the cussing thing, though,’ he tutted, indicating the sleeping Griffin, perfectly comfortable and at ease on Naomi’s bed. ‘It don’t give a single, solitary damn.’

Midori could only laugh quietly. ‘We should thank our lucky stars. Next time she might bring home a dragon!’

“A Champion Emerges”

Glancing down at the uncharacteristically silent child beside him, Gerrard chewed over just how best to handle the current situation. Naomi was watching the sword match being played out with a thoughtful expression, her brow furrowed deeply and mouth drawn together in a tight line. She wasn’t usually given to tantrums, despite her tender age, but it didn’t take much to see that she wasn’t happy in the slightest.
Her father had summoned her that morning, along with her lady mother and Gerrard himself, and declared that she was to begin training as a knight effective immediately. Both he and Lady Midori had known it was coming, but at only six years of age now, the little girl hadn’t truly understood what she was being told to do. When she had tried to ask in that inquisitive way of hers, her father had lost his temper in a manner Gerrard thought was ill-befitting a man of his station, for all it wasn’t the guardsman’s place to say so. Her mother had tried to defend her, which hadn’t ended well, and Gerrard hadn’t had a great deal of choice but to hold the distraught child back from her angry parents.
Lady Midori was a gentle woman, not raised to the sort of violence and turmoil her life had become, but she still braved the anger of her husband in defence of her daughter. She was from Tsumetai, where the balance of power between men and women was very different to here in Ffion, and she held herself with a great deal of dignity because of it.
Unfortunately she had very little power here, and eventually her husband delt her a vicious blow that knocked her to the ground whilst bellowing about her dishonourable conduct. She wasn’t able to do much more than watch with Gerrard as Naomi was dragged forward and given a swift lashing for questioning the will of her father. It had been hard to watch, the child not understanding what she had done to deserve it as she cried and screamed in pain, but Gerrard knew that to interfere would help no one in the end. It was hard, but to lead the life now laid out before her he knew the little girl was going to have to learn sooner or later. It was better now, he tried to convince himself, when she was chastised with nothing more than a birch switch a couple of times, and not in any real danger of injury.
When her punishment was done, her father had handed her over to Gerrard and told him to see to her education until she was old enough to enlist properly in six years. He tried not to show how relieved he was to be given charge of the girl, and wasted no time in taking her out of the Keep, still sobbing, and towards the garrison. Lady Midori, however, he had no choice but to leave to her still furious husband, and prayed to the Gods that the poor woman had the sense to hold her tongue and spare herself any further torment.
Gerrard frowned darkly, watching the sword match with only the barest interest. They would spectate for a while, give the lass a chance to calm down, and then he planned to take her to be fitted for clothes that would serve her better than the pretty dresses she was used to. She had stopped crying a while ago at least, but he could see a storm brewing in those eyes, and knew she was going to have it out sooner or later. When she did speak, it was far more quietly than he’d expected.
‘Will mama be alright?’
Gerrard looked back down at her again, but she hadn’t moved a muscle. She just continued to watch the swordplay with that deep little frown, and so Gerrard turned back to do the same.
‘She’ll be alright, lassie,’ he nodded. ‘She might not look it, but your mama is as strong as Tsumetese steel.’
The little girl nodded once, quite solemnly, then hesitated a moment before asking another question in that same quiet voice. ‘Does he hate us?’
It was a damn complicated question, that was the problem. Gerrard didn’t think much of her father, but he owed him allegiance, and it felt wrong to speak ill of him no matter how justified it was. Aside from that even, Naomi was only six. Was there any way to explain the situation to a six year old that she would understand? In a way that wouldn’t damage her forever? Not likely. He had to find a middle ground.
‘He’s your father,’ Gerrard answered simply. ‘What he thinks and feels isn’t your concern, nor mine. All you need to know is that when he tells you to do something, you just get along and do it, as well and as quick as you can.’
She looked at him now, her brow knit together tightly and her eyes alight with an anger not suited to someone her age. ‘Why?’
‘You’re a soldier now, lass,’ he said. ‘At least until you’re old enough to take up your father’s mantel, but until then you do as he tells you. That’s your lot, just as it’s mine. We do as we’re ordered and that’s all there is to it.’
‘I don’t think that’s right.’
Gerrard didn’t really know what to say to her, and instead kept his silence. She turned back to watch the fighting, less slumped than she had been previously, her little hands clenched into fists over her knees. The silence stretched on a while longer, but as the matched ended, the victor standing over his opponent decisively, she spoke again.
‘Mama says only cowards hurt people weaker than them.’
Trying not to look skywards for patience, Gerrard wished her mother would be more careful, but still some part of the guardsman felt a pride for both females. Lady Midori wasn’t going to be cowed by her husband, and she was already instilling the same sense of right and wrong into her child. It was going to be trouble, but if Naomi was going to learn how to command others then it would serve her well to have a strong backbone in the face of adversity. Gods knew she was going to have a lot of that before her time was done.
Taking a deep breath, Gerrard turned to the girl and touched her shoulder with his large, rough hand. She looked up at him again, her bottom lip trembling slightly as she tried not to cry.
‘That’s why you’ve got to be strong, lassie. You work hard and learn all you can, and you get strong,’ he nodded encouragingly. ‘Because there are bad people in this world, people who don’t think like your mama, and people who need to be protected from them. You get strong, lass, and you can make sure that the weak have a champion.’
‘A champion?’ she asked, green eyes wide.
Gerrard nodded again, giving her shoulder a squeeze. ‘That’s right. It’s your job to look after those that can’t look after themselves. Your duty. In this life that’s all that counts.’

Book Review: “Extraordinary” by K.M. Herkes

Book title: Extraordinary (Rough Passages Volume 1)

Author: KM Herkes

Genre: Dark/Urban Fantasy

Rating: ****

 

At the risk of making a cheesy cliché, Extraordinary by KM Herkes really was an extraordinary book. (I’m not sorry!)

It’s quite dark, but beautifully so, the style of prose like a curling mist with the occasional sharp edge concealed and cutting the reader unexpectedly. I felt an air of “nightmare” through the whole thing, and while it isn’t a horror, it gave me a huge sympathy for the protagonist throughout.

Valerie Wade has come out of an abusive marriage, trying to raise two children, look after her disabled and bigoted mother, while holding down multiple jobs. As though this wasn’t enough, she also has a genetic disorder which threatens all she holds dear with the possibility of an untimely death. Despite all these tribulations, Valerie remains an optimistic protagonist, one who seems very much like she wants to believe the world is much better than she’s seen so far, and always looking for the positives of her life. She is forgiving and wants to please, and I think it’s these crucial characteristics that keep the story from descending into horror.

I felt a great sense of connection to Valerie throughout, and kept hoping right along with her that things would get better. She was believable, and as it becomes increasingly apparent through the story that her disorder could mean more than just death, the first-rate world building has dragged you into the story before you even realise what’s happened.

There’s a little subtle social commentary throughout, which I loved, regarding prejudice and, of course, abuse and the many forms it takes in people’s lives. I was sorry when I reached the end, and far too quickly, but as this is the first in a series and there are another two currently in print, I’m looking forward to experiencing more from this talented author.

Along with the “Rough Passages” series, KM Herkes has also written “Stories of the Restoration” of which I have the first book currently waiting on my e-reader, and along with a bubbling facebook page, a fantastic website which I recommend you go check out: http://storysculpting.blogspot.co.uk/