Thursday, January 31, 2019

Book Review of Valiant by Merrie Destefano

The Valiant was supposed to save us. Instead, it triggered the end of the world.

Earth is in shambles. Everyone, even the poorest among us, invested in the Valiant’s space mining mission in the hopes we’d be saved from ourselves. But the second the ship leaves Earth’s atmosphere, our fate is sealed. The alien invasion begins. They pour into cities around the world through time portals, possessing humans, forcing us to kill one another.

And for whatever reason, my brother is their number one target.

Now the fate of the world lies in the hands of me, a seventeen-year-old girl, but with the help of my best friend, Justin―who’s suddenly starting to feel like more―maybe if we save my brother, we can save us all…

*We were given a copy of this book in exchange for our honest review.*

As a huge sci-fi fan, I was so excited to read this book and it did not disappoint! This book starts off right into the action, and as a reader, the sense of urgency Sara feels bleeding into me. It did take me a bit to feel like I was caught up in understanding what was fully going on, but once I did I was able to dive deep and eagerly kept reading. 

While this book is fast paced, it has a lot going on, so if you're not careful you may find yourself scratching your head. It takes a bit for the characters to develop, which I wish could happen sooner in the story. I know Sara is in a lot of trouble, but it was hard to keep track of her friends and family and why I should care about them until later in the story. 

Overall I found this book to be very creative, from the invading aliens to the world the book was set in, to the sci-fi inventions the author creates. Anyone who is a fan of sci-fi, action, or thrillers would thoroughly enjoy this book. 

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Merrie Destefano left a 9-to-5 desk job as a magazine editor to become a full-time novelist and freelance editor. Her first novel, Afterlife: The Resurrection Chronicles, is an urban fantasy published by Harper Voyager, and her second novel, Feast: Harvest of Dreams releases June 28, 2011. With twenty years' experience in publishing, her background includes editor of Victorian Homes magazine and founding editor of Cottages & Bungalows magazine. Born in the Midwest, she currently lives in Southern California with her husband, two German shepherds, a Siamese cat, and the occasional wandering possum. Her favorite hobbies include reading speculative fiction and watching old Star Trek episodes, while her incurable addiction is writing. She loves to camp in the mountains, walk on the beach, watch old movies and listen to alternative music--although rarely all at the same time. For more information, visit her website at

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Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Book Spotlight on Big Red by Damien Larkin

We have always been here...

Suffering the side effects of Compression travel, soldier Darren Loughlin wakes up screaming from a gunshot wound that isn’t there. Despite a fractured memory, he is forced to recount his year-long tour of duty on Mars to uncover the mysterious fate of Earth’s off-world colonies and the whereabouts of his shattered battalion.
With time running out, Darren recalls his tour of duty with the Mars Occupation Force in New Berlin colony, their brutal MARSCORP masters, and the vicious war against the hostile alien natives.
But as he exposes the truth, Darren suspects he is at the centre of a plot spanning forty years. He has one last mission to carry out. And his alien enemy may be more human than he is…

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Damien Larkin is a full-time stay-at-home father of two loud (but happy) young children. When not tinkering with apps as a side project, you can find him reading everything and anything to do with psychology, history and science fiction. He enjoys turning terrifying nightmares into novels and currently resides in Dublin, Ireland.

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Friday, January 18, 2019

Book Review of 309 by Michael Shotter

Meet Lisa Hudson, a dedicated journalism student, on a beautiful, spring morning in Pittsburgh that proves to be the last ordinary day of her life.

As she struggles to survive in a new reality, forged from catastrophe, Lisa confronts its mysteries and dangers with the aid of intriguing and unlikely companions.

For her, the world will never be the same. For you, the journey is just beginning.

Michael Shotter is a lifelong resident of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. As a lover of science, fiction, and fantasy, his works aim to push beyond the boundaries of traditional genre fiction into new and exciting realms born from literary craftsmanship.

"309" represents his most ambitious effort to date and is sure to thrill fans of both science fiction and high adventure.

*We were given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*

309 was an intense sci-fi thriller with lots of great action scenes and excellent characters. I love how Michael Shotter spirals his reader further into the world he created, making this story a hard one to put down once you get started.

Lisa is the main character. Her life starts out interesting, but very normal day to day until one day, something very not normal happens to her and to the entire world. Lisa must face many challenges and even some near-death experiences to beat the odds and save humanity.

I’d recommend this story to anyone who enjoys sci-fi, superheroes, action, and adventure. I’m really looking forward to picking up another book written by Michael Shotter in the future.

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This review was done by Brandie. You can connect with Brandie on Twitter and her blog

Michael Shotter is a lifelong resident of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. As a lover of science, fiction, and fantasy, his works aim to push beyond the boundaries of traditional genre fiction into new and exciting realms born from literary craftsmanship.

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Monday, January 14, 2019

Choosing the Time of Death

When drafting a murder mystery, choosing the timing of the murder is critical to the pacing of your story. There are several methodologies for selecting the chapter where your victim will be found. Regardless of which chapter you choose, the murder should always happen somewhere in the first act; whether it’s in the beginning, middle, or end depends on your story. Each time has its advantages, so in this Mystery Monday post let’s take a closer look at why you would select one over the others.

Starting off with a bang.

This is the traditional mystery approach. You’ll find it in Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple series. You’ll see it in modern mysteries like Karin Slaughter’s Triptych. You must start your novel with the crime itself; which means you have about five thousand words to set it up, paint the scene and leave your victim in a bloody heap.

The advantage of this approach is that you can get to the mystery solving right away. The general rule of thumb is that the more complex your mystery is, the earlier the crime needs to be committed. Killing off your victim this early can be especially useful if you have a lot of potential suspects to wade through or as a literary device to introduce your detective. For example, it’s a crime so ghastly that a specialist must be called in and your detective is the specialist in question. I’m looking at you, Patricia Cornwell.

You might have noticed that I’ve name dropped three of the most important names in mystery writing. There’s a reason for that: it works, really well. It sets up your story immediately by adding a sense of urgency in solving the crime. It also makes the story all about the crime, which allows you to explore the violence of human nature and the nitty-gritty details of how a crime is solved.

In Until the Devil Weeps, I sucker punch the reader with the crime right at the end of a very short first chapter. This gave me an entire novel to explore the effects of the murder on the victim’s family as well as providing a long ramp to build up to a big ending with a shocking conclusion. This approach does lend itself to a certain kind of story, one that revolves around the crime itself and the aftermath, making it very effective if that’s the kind of story you’d like to tell.

The slow burn.

With this approach, your victim’s fate is sealed smack dab in the middle of the first act and it’s one of my favorites. It has almost the same advantage of killing off the victim right away - in that you still have plenty of time to build a complex case to solve - but it has the added benefit of giving you some time beforehand to build suspense and establish your story.

This is also a great way to use the false flag mystery. You put one mystery at the beginning of the first act and then put the real mystery a little further on when you get to the middle. Dennis Lehane does this masterfully in A Drink Before the War. The detective is sent to look for a missing woman in the very first chapter, but the real mystery happens after she’s found.

Not only does this build some suspense and throw some red herrings around, it also allows Lehane to establish Patrick Kenzie as a detective and introduce the reader to the supporting cast of associates. This is a classic detective novel maneuver. Think Dashiell Hammett with The Thin Man. Or James Ellroy with LA Confidential.

I’ve used it myself in Devil Take Me Down, Chasing Those Devil Bones, and The Devil’s Luck. Like I said, it’s my favorite. It’s a great device if you have a bigger story to tell; one in which the crime is the vehicle for the events, but not the focus of the story. It also works well for a thriller crossover mystery like Devil Take Me Down. The book opens with a serial killer watching our main character; then focuses on our main character’s life, establishing her story; then BLAMMO!: someone dies.

By moving the crime a little further into the first act, you give yourself time for character development and to build up the suspense. The natural tendency for the reader will be to think that one of these characters they’re growing to like is going to be the victim of a horrible crime. It builds tension and adds a little drama to finding the victim, which is what makes it work so well.

The Big Build Up

This, my friends, is the trickiest of the three approaches because you run the risk of the reader shouting, ‘get to the point, already.’ I’ve only used it once in That Old Devil Sin and I honestly think the only reason it works is because I set up a minor threat of a mystery in the second chapter. 

With this approach, your first act is your playground. You can tell a story that has very little to do with a mystery and everything to do with the mystery you know is coming. This gives you all the time you need to introduce your detective, your victim, and your murderer, if you like. 

The best example of this by far is Murder on the Orient Express. Poirot is sent on a wandering journey before we finally get to the point and I have to admit that the first time I read it, I did have a couple of ‘get to the point, already’ moments. But once the murder happens, wowza.

The thing that makes it work is that Christie introduces you to every single suspect before we ever meet the victim. 

Umberto Eco does this equally well in The Name of the Rose. By taking his time with the murder, he transports the reader back in time and has most of the first act to establish the historical context of his novel. 

With this approach, you must have either an enormous cast of characters, a secondary story that is equally important to the mystery itself, or a vast world that needs definition for the reader to understand the context of the mystery itself. 

Picking the timing of your murder is as vital to your story as the crime itself. But with a little careful planning and forethought, it can drive your story forward and provide you with the space you need to craft the perfect mystery.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Book Review of Addict by Matt Doyle

New Hopeland was built to be the centre of the technological age, but like everywhere else, it has its dark side. Assassins, drug dealers and crooked businessmen form a vital part of the city’s make-up, and sometimes, the police are in too deep themselves to be effective. But hey, there are always other options …

For P.I. Cassie Tam, business has been slow. So, when she’s hired to investigate the death of a local VR addict named Eddie Redwood, she thinks it’ll be easy money. All she has to do is prove to the deceased’s sister Lori that the local P.D. were right to call it an accidental overdose. The more she digs though, the more things don’t seem to sit right, and soon, Cassie finds herself knee deep in a murder investigation. But that’s just the start of her problems.

When the case forces Cassie to make contact with her drug dealing ex-girlfriend, Charlie Goldman, she’s left with a whole lot of long buried personal issues to deal with. Then there’s her client. Lori Redwood is a Tech Shifter, someone who uses a metal exoskeleton to roleplay as an animal. Cassie isn’t one to judge, but the Tech Shifting community has always left her a bit nervous. That wouldn’t be a problem if Lori wasn’t fast becoming the first person that she’s been genuinely attracted to since splitting with Charlie. Oh, and then there’s the small matter of the police wanting her to back off the case.

Easy money, huh? Yeah, right.

*We were given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*

I really loved this book. There is something about a dark tech-driven future that always intrigues me. Matt gets you hooked right away with a setup surrounding a mysterious death and a tough PI, Cassie Tam. He does a great job world building so the reader has a good idea where technology has progressed to and different ways that it is used in society. The characters are great - flawed, but likable - and make you want to root for them. Both Cassie and Lori are strong female characters, that are tough and smart, but not over the top caricatures. It's not a long book, but it does a good job of touching on the characters backstories and motivations

It's always great going into a book and just wanting to hear more about the world that the characters live in, in the case of Addict, learning more about the population of pros, addicts, tech-shifters, drug dealers, crazy religious zealots, and assassins and how they are all treated in society. There is also a good picture of what the world, aesthetically, looks like.

I definitely recommend this book to anyone that like a good cop drama mystery, but with an added sci-fi element. I definitely could not have predicted how the crime unfolded... and the main character is a kick-ass lesbian PI, so that's awesome. I look forward to reading the rest of the Cassie Tam Files book series!

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This review was done by MJ. You can follow MJ on Twitter and Instagram

Matt Doyle lives in the South East of England. His house is inhabited by a wide variety of people and animals including (at time of typing) his partner, his three kids, two dogs, a cat, a snake, and a rabbit. Oh and a lot of tea.

He has spent his life chasing dreams, a habit which has seen him gain varying degrees of success in a great number of fields. This has included spending ten years as a professional wrestler (both working shows under the ring name Tad, and working backstage booking and running several successful shows in his local area), completing a range of cosplay projects and scripting the webcomic ‘Tales of the Winterborn’.

His latest venture involves diving headlong into another world he has wanted to be a part of since childhood: that of an author.

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Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Realism in a fake world

Hey yall! Woo, it's been a while since you all have heard from me, and I'm so sorry for that, those holidays are a rough and busy one, but anywho I'm back now and I know you all missed me.

So for today, I wanna talk about realism in the fantasy worlds. Quite often my father and I discuss a lot of movies we watch and his big thing is always that things aren't realistic. I joke with him that the whole concept of the magic and flying dragons isn't realistic, but I get where it's going.

Every novel itself creates its own rules and it has to stick to them unless there is an exception that is thoroughly explained. Because if you just have a set of rules that get thrown out the window the entire novel can end just becoming a confusing unorganized mess.

Now sometimes there tends to be slip-ups that writers and editor don't catch,  and hey, mistakes happen, life goes on. I can't tell you how many times I've watched a movie and something doesn't add up and the story just keeps on going like everything is all hunky dory, completely drives me up a wall!

So for an example, some books or movies can access magic without using a spell or incantation. Other works of fantasy use potions and enchanted items. More often than not, a lot of things are jumbled together to heighten the experience.

But you're reading a book that goes the whole book saying the only way to access magic is to be asleep, and the next thing you know someone is wide awake and creating waterfall in desserts, obviously that doesn't stick very well with the realism of that magical world that we have come to understand, now does it ?

Friday, January 4, 2019

How to Introduce Future Tech in Your Sci-fi Novel

Sometimes I forget that everyone doesn't love to read and watch sci-fi the way I do. I'm often told it's confusing and hard to follow. I mean, I get it, most of the time it's set far in the future, with gadgets and words we don't recognize. 

So what's an author to do? What's the best way to introduce readers to the future tech in your story? 

The Info Dump

When I'm reading a novel and a new technology is introduced, often it's use is explained by the narrator. This can sometimes feel like an info dump and makes me just skip ahead to get back to the action. 

The best plan, avoid info dumps just like you would blocks of backstory. The last thing you want to do is make your reader bored with your awesome cool future tech. 

Show Don't Tell

I have an awesome new story idea in my head right now, but my main problem is figuring out how to explain everything. I need to write it out as an info dump at first so that I can make sense of what I'm trying to show. 

The info dump is for me, not the reader. My next challenge is to show this future tech being used, and let that be the explanation. Readers don't need to know everything right at the get-go, ease them into it and they will figure it out. Just have your character use the funky gadget and the reader will catch on. 

Be Smart

Who your narrator is and how the story is being told also plays a big part in how you will introduce future tech. Is your MC a time traveler to the future? Great, the reader can learn along with them. Is the story in the third person? Have your all-knowing narrator give brief explanations every so often, mixed with some show and not telling. 

Take Time Away

As with any writing, take some time away from your work, so it's not as fresh in your mind when you go back to it. Having someone else read your work, I would venture to say, someone who doesn't read sci-fi normally, take a peek at your work. Can the follow? Do they feel engaged and not confused? Use them as a sounding board to help you. 

There ya go! Now let your imagination soar and get creating! 

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Guest Post by Author Kristin Jacques: The Brain Box of Chatty Cathys

The Brain Box of Chatty Cathys

By Kristin Jacques

My characters talk to me.

I’m sure this is a situation many writers encounter; those characters who whisper their stories in your ear until your fingers itch. You want to tell their story, you need to, the drive to spill that story out of your head is overwhelming. That need to tell stories is what pushes writers to create worlds, dimensions, whole universes for these characters. They live and breathe through our words. 

Of course, my characters won’t shut up either.

They keep talking to me. They talk to me while I do the dishes. They chit chat while I’m in the shower. They tell me their life stories during long drives, or perhaps a short anecdote if I am merely driving to the store for a gallon of milk. They whisper their hopes and dreams as I get in bed for the night. 
Sure, it doesn’t sound like a terrible problem but these characters are taking over my life! 

The bartender from one sci-fi adventure tells me tales of his various patrons while I cook dinner for the family. Nothing attracts a varied crowd like an interdimensional pub. My favorite trickster is whispering inappropriate jokes to me while I try not to giggle in line at the grocery store. Laughing to yourself in public is usually not a good sign. Two female characters from an old work in progress argue the semantics of pragmatic fashion and style for foraging in an apocalypse while I try to pay attention to a movie or television show. Some villain is telling me her entire lonely childhood sob story while I toss and turn in the middle of the night. It’s become downright hard to think amid all this chatter. The constant clamor invades my dreams. 

I spend plenty of time with these chuckleheads during my waking hours, now they are gonna invade my subconscious too?

Only a purge of ink on paper, or furiously typing fingers will stem the flood of unwanted conversations. I hunker down on the family couch, while the boys play, and pour their words out of my head. I write until my fingers are sore at the tips from pounding the keys. I write until my hand cramps and the pen runs dry. I write pages and pages, whole novels, novellas, novelettes, short stories, and flash fiction. I write until the characters finally untangle from one another and the overwhelming chatter fades to a dull murmur, or, better yet, blessed silence. 

The high of a finished story is tempered by a well-deserved rest, but as I lay my head on the pillow, I realize I miss it. These characters have driven me to the brink with their insistence, each one demanding their own backstory, a side adventure, or, heaven forbid, a sequel. Everybody loves a series, they coaxed and sang a siren’s song of sequels that clogged my brain for months. I should be glad I’ve finally typed ‘The End’ and shut the door to their universe. I should be grateful for the silence.

“Talk to me,” I say.
They shuffle their feet, bashful at the invitation. 
“How do you feel about crossovers?” One of them shouts from the back before they are hushed by the others. 
Finally one steps forward, one I don’t recognize, shiny and new. “I have a story for you.”
I sigh as I roll over and reach for the notebook I keep beside the bed. “I’m listening.”

Kristin Jacques is science fiction, horror, and fantasy author based out of New England. She holds a B.A. in Creative Writing from Wells College and has been published in numerous anthologies including Outliers of Speculative Fiction, 13: Night Terrors, Vices & Virtues, and the Witching Hour: Urban Legends anthology. 

On the digital writing platform Wattpad, she was selected to be part of the Wattpad Stars program. She has written for Warner Bros, National Geographic, and has participated in several contests. Her flash fiction ‘Skirt’ was a winning entry in Hulu’s #myhandmaidstale, selected by Margaret Atwood. Her stories, Marrow Charm and Edgewise, won two consecutive Wattys in 2015 and 2016 for excellence in digital storytelling. 

In 2016, she published Zombies vs Aliens, a humorous science fiction horror romp, which was picked up by Chapters Interactive Stories in 2018 to be released as an Interactive Story Game. 

Her contemporary fantasy Ragnarök Unwound will be published with Sky Forest Press in January of 2019. Her award-winning dark fantasy Marrow Charm was picked up for publication by Parliament House Press for Fall 2019.

When not writing, she is juggling two rambunctious boys, spoiling her cats, and catching up on a massive TBR pile. She is currently working on projects full of magic, mystery, and delight.