Tuesday, February 25, 2014

All about me!

Would you look at that. I haven’t posted anything to this blog in over a year. To think I used to post three or four times a week. And almost none of them were about myself. Madness!

Well, to keep with the theme, I guess I have to write about myself again. A lot of stuff has gone on since I announced the sale of The Breaking World to 47North, and I should really get all those who’re interested updated.

First off, all three books in the initial run of the fantasy series Dave and I wrote are now complete. Dawn of Swords was published in January, while Wrath of Lions is set to be released on April 22nd. Add to that the fact that Blood of Gods is perilously close to being sent to copyediting, and you can tell how busy of a year it’s been for me. That’s 620,000 words of fiction written in 15 months. Something I never thought would be accomplished, has been. And I couldn’t be happier.

In other news (and this should’ve been posted a long while back), over the course of two months, from August until October of this past year (and while writing the rough draft of Wrath of Lions), I went through and did a complete re-edit of the entire Rift series. That was something I’ve been pining to do for a very long time. There were just certain things about the series that wore on me, from typos to style to an ending that I (and a number of reader) felt was rushed. So I dove in and made over three thousand corrections, as well as added an extra 10,000 words, most of which come at the book’s climax. Hopefully, the added material will make the final battle feel much more real, and add some much-needed closure for characters that had been unfairly ignored by me. Personally, I think it enhances the story greatly.

As it stands, the revised version of The Rift is only available in the four-book omnibus. For now, the individual books remain the same as they were when they were originally published, though only available in e-book format. The print version of the series is now offered in two separate volumes. Also, unlike when I first put the omnibus together last year, the digital version contains all of Jesse’s awesome artwork. Yay for progress!

Oh, and now The Fall e-book is permanently available for free, so there's that as well.

So we have the Breaking World books and The Rift news. To add to that, there’s a short story I wrote coming down the pike any day now. The story’s called Silence, and it will be included in Shock Totem issue 8.5, which is a collection of love stories told with a horror slant. The story I submitted might be my favorite ever, so I can’t wait for the day that gets released. Oh, and there’s also another short I’m writing for an invite-only anthology called My Peculiar Family. The story’s not finished yet, but it will be in the next day or so, and it’ll be another good one when it is. Thanks, Kristi, for inviting me! That anthology should see the light of day sometime at the end of the summer of 2014.

All of which begs the question: where is Rob going from here? Well, Dave and I still have three more books to write together—Kings of Ruin, Prince of Beasts, and Queen of Lies—in order to finish off our tale of Dezrel’s beginnings. To be honest, after writing the first three books in that series so damn quickly, we’re both suffering from a bit of burnout, so we’re going to put off starting those for a little bit. In the meantime, I’m going to go ahead and write the rough draft of The Mirror of Souls, which was placed on the backburner when the opportunity to work with Dave came about. That story’s all I’ve been able to think about for a couple weeks now, and I can’t wait to dive in. Jacqueline Talbot is calling out to me, folks. Tell my story, she says, and rather creepily at that. I’m getting the shivers just thinking about it!

However, just because I’m writing that book doesn’t mean it’s going to be released anytime soon. I’m still not sure what I’m going to do with it. I haven’t decided if I want to self-publish or find a home with an actual publisher (if that’s even an option). Another thing to take into consideration is books 4-6 of The Breaking World. Should the pressure mount to dive into that world once more, that’s something I’ll have to do. If that happens, any public sighting of Jacqueline’s first solo effort would be delayed indefinitely. While I do plan on having the rough draft finished by the end of April, I couldn’t justify putting out a single tome of a four-book series, only to let the readers sway in the wind for a year or two. Nope, not gonna happen.

In other words, everything’s still up in the air. All I do know is that I have two short stories and two more books coming out in the next eight months. And that, in and of itself, is something to be excited about.

Thanks for stopping by and listening, and hopefully I can start keeping this blog a little more active than it’s been.

But no promises. :-)

Rob D

Friday, March 1, 2013

Announcing "The Breaking World"

First of all, I would like to take this moment to announce the big news of the day. My good friend David Dalglish and I have signed a publishing deal with 47North, an arm of Amazon Publishing. The deal is for three books, all co-written by Dave and myself. The series will be titled The Breaking World, and will chronicle the birth of humanity upon Dezrel, the world in which all of Dave’s many, many novels take place, and the war between the two brother gods around whom a great number of his plots center. To say we’re both quite excited about this would be an understatement. For information’s sake, the books will be as follows:
  
Dawn of Swords (sometime in January, 2014)
Wrath of Lions (TBA)
Blood of Gods (TBA)

It really is quite fitting that I post the announcement on this particular blog, which has gone criminally underused for the past year. Because it was in this very space that the groundwork for the friendship that would eventually result in a rewarding collaboration was laid.
  
Three years ago, after much frustration, I decided to take the plunge and begin self-publishing The Rift, a series of post-apocalyptic novels I’d been working on for years. I entered the Kindle publishing world, which had just begun to make headway and gain a name for itself. Reviews were difficult to come by, as I was one of thousands to take the plunge at about the same time. I saw many of my brethren having the same difficulties, and so I dusted off this blog, which had been languishing for some time, and decided that I would pitch my services as a reviewer to the countless self-pubbers who frequented a site called Kindleboards. A great many authors added their names to the list, and my side career as an amateur reviewer began.

This is where Dave Dalglish enters the picture...but first, a bit of background. As far as being a reader goes, I’m really not as well read in genre fiction as a lot of folks out there. I dabbled in the classics a lot when I was younger, but as I grew older, I ended up limiting my reading material to pretty much horror and horror only. In fact, as far as genres go, the one I pretty much ignored was fantasy. I hadn’t read a book featuring swords and sorcery since I picked up RA Salvatore’s The Crystal Shard back in high school. (Which, trust me, was a long time ago.) That was about to change.

So on this list of books to be read and reviewed appeared The Weight of Blood, a dark journey starring a couple disenfranchised half-orc brothers written by a lithe redhead named David Dalglish. I absolutely fell in love with the book. Was it perfect? No, of course not. However, there was so much there, deep stuff, philosophical stuff that I just couldn’t overlook, whether Dave intended them or not. It was the second work of fantasy I’d read since starting the reviews, and I was hooked. A new love affair had begun.

Every book Dave wrote, I devoured. (In fact, The Cost of Betrayal, the second Half-Orc book, I still consider to be one of my favorites ever, in any genre.) We began chatting online, and a friendship was struck. During his later books, he would call me to discuss plot ideas, and I’d like to think that I was able to be of some help. I became enraptured by his world, almost to a scholarly level. So immersed was I that I began to understand Dezrel and what happened within it as much as I understood what was happening in my own writing.
 
One thing that always intrigued me was the Gods’ War, which many of his books reference. I’d often ask him if he was ever going to write it, and he said he had no plans to. (In the interview linked at the bottom of this post, Dave himself describes his feelings on the subject.) I thought that was a shame, as the storyline had so much potential, but at the same time a writer’s gotta do what a writer’s gotta do. If he didn’t feel inspired by the material, best not to pen it or you’ll come out with a substandard product.
 
Fast forward to 2012, when I was putting the finishing touches on The Summer Son, the last of the Rift books. Dave asked me what project I planned on doing next, and I told him I was wavering between ideas at the moment. “Why don’t you write the prequel books with me,” he then said. “You know, the war between Ashhur and Karak.”

I just about fell out of my chair.
 
Full disclosure here: For a long while, I had actually hoped this offer would be made. During my many hours spent reading Dave’s novels, I’d developed a mental picture (and even quite a few written notes) of what life would be like in early Dezrel, hashed out a few storylines that needed telling, and stashed them away as maybe something to give my friend if he ever decided to start the project, or, gasp, maybe wanted me to help write them. And then there it was, falling right into my lap—the opportunity to not only write in a world I loved, but write with a man I admire and who has come to become one of my closest of friends, one with whom I share a great deal of values and beliefs, though we come from vastly different backgrounds. Not only that, but I knew we would work well together, since probably the best short story I ever wrote, The One that Matters, which appeared in his Land of Ash compilation, was a tale I had no confidence in until Dave cleaned it up, removed unnecessary filler, and helped make it what it became. That’s when I knew that the two of us working together could create something great.

I had an outline ready for him almost immediately (an easy task given my previous note-taking), and after his enthusiastic approval, it was off to the races. I worked on the rough draft, constantly calling Dave to keep the storyline consistent and fix quite a few aspects of the plot that I couldn’t find resolutions to. Then, when the hulking manuscript was finished, Dave took it and began a round of heavy edits. What ended up coming out when all was said and done is a book that is far and away the best piece of literature I’ve ever had my name attached to. See, that’s the thing with this collaboration; areas I struggle in Dave is expert at, and visa versa. Balance, people. Celestia would be quite proud. (Anyone who knows Dave’s work will appreciate that statement.)
 
And in the middle of all this, something wondrous happened. Dave got out of a bad representation deal and, all of a sudden, he had a deal with big-six publisher Orbit for his Shadowdance novels and our collaboration was going to have Amazon’s mighty sword behind it. A book that had been a labor of love, that had been slated to be self-published, was now going to find a home with a real, live publisher. Now, I will freely admit that just having Dave’s name on a project pretty much guarantees it success (and I lucked out greatly there), but this was beyond my wildest dreams. I even got hooked up with uber-agent Michael Carr because of this, one of the nicest and hardest-working men I’ve ever come across, who obviously deserves a great amount of credit for these deals being completed.
So there you have it. Really, though I put a ton of work into the project, it’s Dave who deserves the lion’s share of praise here. He was the one who believed in what I had to offer, his rewriting skills were on-point, and hell, he was the one who created this whole wonderful backdrop in the first place! Without Dave Dalglish, there’s no Dezrel, there’s no Half-Orcs, there’s no Shadowdance, and there sure as hell isn’t any Breaking World. I owe him so much, not the least of which is being a great friend when I needed one most.

So thanks, Dave! Not like you don’t know this already, but you’re the greatest, as a man as well as an author. And thanks to 47North as well, for taking a chance on these books. We’re going to do awesome things together, I guarantee it.

To read a fascinating interview with Dave on this subject and a whole lot more, visit the following link: http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/2013/02/28/from-pizza-hut-to-easy-street-the-david-dalglish-story/

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Review: Epitaphs: The Journal of the New England Horror Writers

Rating: 4.5 out of 5


I love short stories. I love to read them, I love to write them. But you know what’s better than a short story? A whole freaking collection of them! And someone recently shipped me over a copy of Epitaphs, a Stoker-nominated collection of tales and poetry from the New England Horror Writers, a group that is very close to my heart. Of course I had to dive right in.


Okay, enough banter. Let’s get down to the daunting task of looking at the stories themselves.


To Sleep, Perchance to Die by Jeffrey C. Pettengill: Well, let’s just say the collection didn’t start out so well for me. Here we have a tale of a CPAP machine gone horribly wrong. The tone just seemed to lag, and honestly the ending seemed a bit campy, though without the fun that camp implies.


The Christopher Chair by Paul McMahon: And here we go! One of the better stories in the collection, about an antique wheelchair blessed by St. Christopher that can supposedly heal the sick…for a price. Atmospheric and full of confliction, McMahon really packs a punch with this one.


A Case of the Quiets by Kurt Newton: The first poem in the collection, and a doozy. It brings to mind horror poetry of old, with a very Poe-esque flow, and comes very close to matching the former master’s penchant for nailing the dark side of human nature coming from within the mundane.


Build-A-Zombie by Scott T. Goudsward: This one was quirky and fun, telling of a boy assembling an unusual gift from a new sort of gift shop. It made me want to know more about the world in which it takes place, which is a good thing.


Not An Ulcer by John Goodrich: Wow. This story, to me, was far and away the best of the bunch. In it a man who hates everything about the world, including himself, literally separates himself from his emotions. It’s “Be careful what you wish for,” taken to the extreme. Tremendous, and the ending gave me chills.


The Possessor Worm by B. Adrian White: A quaint little tale told through emailed correspondences between characters, kind of an updated take of Lovecraft, if you will. In the end the payoff fell a little flat. Still pretty good, however.


Make a Choice by John M. McIlveen: Truly haunting, telling the story of a madman who torments a family for a night, forcing the parents into a decision that no parent would ever—or should ever—have to make. It’s a fantastic exploration of the human condition and how survival of the fittest might not be completely erased from our cellular memory. As an added bonus, the end is shocking because of what doesn’t happen, which surprisingly makes it all the more disturbing.


The Death Room by Michael Allen Todd: Another poem, this one not nearly as good as the first, but I still appreciated the creepy undertones.


Perfect Witness by Rick Hautala: Now this is a twist. A murdered man is brought back to a sort of pseudo-life for a short time in order to testify at the trial of his murderer. The interplay between his thoughts and what might actually be happening in the world outside his rotting brain was really well done. Also, the author hints that this experiment might have grave repercussions down the road. Do I smell a novel coming? Given the author’s enjoyable style, I hope so.


Stony’s Boneyard by Glenn Chadbourne and Holly Newstein: Atmosphere, sorrow, and forgiveness rule the day in this excellently (and traditionally) crafted short. It deals with a tattoo artist and the biker whose back represents the greatest achievement of her life. Unlike a lot of stories in the collection, this one actually ends on a bittersweet note, equal parts solemn and hopeful. Really well done.


Kali’s Promise by Trisha J. Wooldridge: The third poem, and another traditionally-inspired example of getting exactly what you ask for. It’s quite entertaining and told in a repetitive way that added to the tone of dread. I knew it was well written because I guessed the ending after the very first stanza and it still had me captivated.


Sequel by David Bernard: Not my favorite. I’ve seen this sort of plot—about a horror writer who takes his inspiration a bit too literally—many times before. It’s well written, but predictable.


Malfeasance by David North-Martino: This was perhaps the most maddening story in the bunch. Just as with the previous story, I knew how it would end very early on. And yet it was crafted so intricately, I kept thinking no, I’m wrong, there’s a twist here I’m not seeing. But then…it ended just how I thought it would. Disappointing in that regard, yes, but it was still very much worth the read.


Private Beach by Stacey Longo: A fun little romp that harkens back to the pulp horror era, about two beachgoers who of course ignore a No Trespassing sign and pay the price for it.


All Aboard by Christopher Golden: The second-best story in the collection. A disquieting tale of a mother and father’s struggle to come to grips with the death of their child, with a dash of the supernatural thrown in. It really is a heavy-hearted story that thankfully doesn’t come across as heavy-handed. By the end I was on the verge of tears—and I couldn’t tell if they were happy or sad, which is a first for me.


Holiday House by L.L. Soares: This was a decent offering, about a pair of old sisters who live in a ramshackle estate (think Grey Gardens) that might be haunted, or might conceal other, more frightening entities. I particularly liked the ambiguity at the end.


Lines at a Wake by Steven Withrow: A very short poem that brings about one hell of an eerie vibe using an economy of words.


A Deeper Kind of Cold by K. Allen Wood: This one was interesting. On a space station, a woman frets while the love of her life, who is in a rather odd state, struggles to survive a mysterious sickness. The tone was fantastic, and it asks the question of what it is we actually love about a person. Though the ending was fantastic in its grim earnestness, I couldn’t help but think the setting wasn’t used nearly enough. The metaphor of the emptiness of space as compared to the emotional distance between the woman and her mate just never materialized, which I thought was a missed opportunity. That being said, it’s still a wonderful tale. That ending alone is worth the time it takes to read it.


Alone by P. Gardner Goldsmith: A very creepy and very short story of a man wiling his hours away, isolated in his home, as the world may or may not be ending outside. It had a very Twilight Zone vibe to it, which was cool.


Pandora’s Box by Roxanne Dent: I wasn’t the biggest fan of this story, about a woman who suspects her husband is having an affair and gives into her impulse to follow him. The opening sequence completely gives away the twist at the end. If only that had been cut, it would’ve been a much more enjoyable experience.


Chuck the Magic Man Says I Can by Michael Arruda: This was a really fun and idiosyncratic little tale of two sisters staying at their parents’ friends house while they’re away on vacation, friends who just may hold a secret that only the precocious younger daughter can handle. I really enjoyed it.


Burial Board by T.T. Zuma: Very moody period piece about a man and a burial board that does some rather…strange things. Well written, but for some reason it didn’t feel complete to me.


Windblown Shutter by John Grover: A kid sees his mother murdered and is haunted by the memory and the fact he never saw the killer’s face. I found this to be a fabulous study of the cyclical and never-ending effects of grief and guilt, even if the murder mystery fell a little flat.


Cheryl Takes a Trip by Stephen Dorato: Even though it wasn’t my overall favorite, this story, to me, was perhaps the most inventive of any in this collection. When a woman’s spirit is cast from her body after her mysterious death, she decided to go and do the one thing she’d always wanted to do but had never done—take a trip to Bermuda. It’s really a self-exploration piece, focusing on the way fear can rule our lives, and maybe even our deaths. I thought it was great.


Legend of the Wormley Farms by Philip Roberts: A haunted farm draws a trio of brothers into its sticky, legendary web. It lagged a little in the middle, but in the end I was actually quite shocked. I also thoroughly enjoyed how the author delved into the ways familial pressures and support (or lack thereof) can damage young minds.


The Church of Thunder and Lightning by Peter N. Dudar: An interesting choice to end the anthology, about a reporter and her cameraman on a mission to document the odd rituals of a Jim Jones-type cult. The cost of ambition without regard for human decency was certainly on display, and the function of the cult itself was a truly original creation.


---


And that’s it! Maybe the longest review I’ve ever written, too.


Overall, I have to say I loved this collection. While every story didn’t ring true to me, the vast majority of them did, and most of those that didn’t were still expertly crafted. There are a variety of unique voices, and in a lot of them you can certainly sense the slightly Puritanical undertones that most people who grew up in New England are saddled with. It’s an anthology well worth your time and money, and the authors are worth keeping an eye on.


You can buy the paperback of Epitaphs here:










And the E-book:


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Review: The Old Ways (Paladins III) by David Dalglish

Rating: 5 out of 5


No one’s perfect, but sometimes everything comes together, especially in literature. It’s fascinating to watch an author grow and grow, slowly improving over time, fixing faults in their writing, finding new ways to explore tired old plot devices, coming to grips with their weaknesses and making them strengths. It’s not all that rare in the world of books, but it’s still special.


And this brings us to The Old Ways: Paladins Book III by David Dalglish.


I, for one, am a huge fan of the author’s work. (Surprised? Look through my archived reviews and you won’t be.) I’ve read every book Dalglish has come out with, and either loved or really liked every one. But this one is something special. Gone is his penchant for rushing, for occasionally taking the easy way out and brushing aside important internal conflict. Instead, what the author has given us in this book is a pace that moves slowly, fluidly, that gradually builds the tension and grows the characters until they explode off the page in the last act.


The Old Ways continues with the struggles of Jericho, paladin of Ashhur, and Darius, former paladin of Karak. The story picks up where we left off in Clash of Faiths, with Darius being converted to the side of light in his trial-by-fire (and unnecessarily rushed) clash with his old friend. He’s a man isolated even when he’s surrounded by people. He’s haunted by his past deeds, both inwardly and outwardly, and the fact that many of those past deeds hurt a great many people does nothing but make life much more difficult for our poor antihero.


But he’s learning, changing, determined to become a better man, even if it kills him.


On the other side of the coin we have Jericho, the sometimes too-good-to-be-true goodie-goodie. While I loved his character when he first appeared in Half-Orcs, truth be told he can be a bit one-note with how honorable and loyal he is. But then again, his purpose in this story is to act as foil for Darius, for Darius is the true star of the show, the character that grows and experiences pain and redemption and acts like a living, breathing human being. He is the backbone of this novel—the backbone of the series, really—and in this book he really shines.


Along with Darius’s redemption, Dalglish also pushes the envelope with his new cadre of villains. We have Valessa, the Grey Sister who died in Faiths, only to be reborn as something dark and complex, a being of shadow that cannot rest until her mission (killing Darius) is accomplished. The scenes involving her were brilliantly done, full of contradiction, self-loathing, and doubt. If there’s one character that I hope future books explore deeper, it’s her.


Then we have Luther and Cyric, priests of Karak who start up the journey toward changing the world to fit their god’s image. The complexity of each character is fantastic. They’re literary interpretations of different ways of obtaining political power—subterfuge cunning, and force and tradition. Both are effective in their own ways, and to watch their respective plans unfold on the page was awe-inspiring. Especially with Luther, who offers a surprise at the end that literally left me speechless.


So yes, I can say that David Dalglish has done it again. He’s written a book full of trepidation and turmoil, full of violence and self-discovery, a book that I fully ingested with aplomb. I may not be someone you really want to listen to in regards to my opinion on this book, since I’m a little more than biased toward him, but in my humble opinion he has created a work that goes far beyond simply being a third book in a series.


And that’s because The Old Ways, while not perfect, is just about as close as any writer can get to that unreachable ideal.


Purchase The Old Ways in Ebook format:









Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Review: Best Laid Plans (Shader Book II) by D.P. Prior

Rating: 5 out of 5


Sequels are a tricky business. I consider it a rarity when books actually get better after a fantastic opening volume. Off the top of my head, I can only think of three series that hold this distinction: King’s The Dark Tower, Dalglish’s Shadowdance Trilogy, and of course the Harry Potter books.


In other words, with Best Laid Plans: Shader Book II, D.P. Prior has joined some pretty select company.


Best Laid Plans picks up the story of the events on Sahul (and in other, more surreal locales) with the characters in dire straits. The undead army of the liche Dr. Cadman has overwhelmed Sarum, the Templum fleet is approaching Sahul, and Deacon Shader, our hero, is, well, dead…none of which will stay true for very long.


To say this book has a busy plot would be an understatement. At my count, there are at least nine storylines going on at once: Deacon’s experience in the afterlife, the struggles of the White Order, the survival of those trapped in Sarum, Cadman’s angst and rise to efforts to retain power, Maldark the dwarf’s guilt over his past, the dreamer Huntsman’s continuing education of Rhiannon’s brother Sammy, Sektis Gandaw’s quest to assemble the statue of Eingana and begin the unweaving, Shadrak’s growing importance to the whole (possibly) preordained events unfolding, Shader’s resurrection and subsequent quest, and Emperor Hagalle’s double-handed dealings. Throw into this mix vast battle sequences, and you have a piece of literature that could very well have become disjointed and confusing in a lesser author’s hands.


Yet Prior is up to the task in this opus, and the narrative he builds is a fascinating one. There is mythology and philosophy, questions as to the nature of reality and time, scathing observations on government and religion, and even a few references to modern-day events and objects that bring this beyond the realm of just a great epic fantasy adventure. All of these tropes and points meld together, creating a work that is exciting while at the same time thought-provoking.


This book questions everything. While there are certainly protagonists and antagonists, these characters are as far from being cardboard cutouts that you can get. Perhaps the greatest achievement is the way Prior allows us, through differing points of view, to see inside the minds of virtually every major character and allows us to develop at least an inkling of empathy for them. Even the despicable Cadman and the perhaps more-despicable Gaston (who performed a virtually unforgivable act in the first book) are given time to show they’re real, flesh-and-blood people with doubts and fears and even remorse. It allows them, the characters, the move the plot forward rather than the plot moving them, which for a work that deals a lot in fate and preordination is a feat in and of itself.


The battle sequences were well thought-out and exciting—much more so than in the first book—and particularly the scenes that take place at sea, while Deacon is attempting to find the albino who stole his pieces of Eingana, are captivating. They’re a mixture of new and old, a melding of science fiction and Tolkien-esque fantasy that is truly original and awe-inspiring in scope. There were very few times where I became confused, and even on those rare occasions all it took was a small step backward to realize that I’d simply missed a sentence or misunderstood the usage of a certain word or phrase.


In conclusion, I can say that Best Laid Plans not only matches Cadman’s Gambit, the first book in the series, but enhances it. This is a book chock full of imagery both beautiful and hideous, with a mixture of genuine comedy in places to break up the despair and tension. It was a beast of a story to read, one I didn’t want to put down. And by the time I reached the cliffhanger ending, I wished more than anything that I had the third book on hand so I could get right to it.


That’s right, folks, D.P. Prior has crafted a wonderful mythology that goes perfectly with his spot-on writing. This is a series that should be savored like a fine scotch, one whose sweetness lingers in your mouth long after you’ve swallowed.


Purchase Best Laid Plans in E-book format from:






Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Top 15 Books of 2011

Well, I'm a tad bit late to the game here, but better late then never, right?

Once again, I looked over a great deal of outstanding fiction over the past year, and here are my top 15 (well, sort of 16) in ascending order.

(Disclaimer: All of this is according to me, of course. Obviously there are many books I haven't read.)

#15 - Spirit Storm by E.J. Stevens (4.5) - Lighthearted but meaningful, the second book in Stevens's Spirit Guide series came this close to being much higher on the list.

#14 - The Stasis: Powerless book 3 by Jason Letts (4.6) - The best book of the Powerless series, full of despair and dark emotion.

#13 - The Miracle Inspector by Helen Smith (4.7) - A fantastic literary exploration of dystopian Britain. Darkly comedic and unsettling.

#12 - Draculas by Blake Crouch, Joe Konrath, Jeff Strand, and F. Paul Wilson (4.7) - Quite simply, this was hilariously gory fun.

#11 - Anomaly by Thea Atkinson (4.7) - Heartwarming and disturbing at the same time, a fascinating (not to mention revealing) look at addiction and the nature of sexuality.

#10 - Freeze by Daniel Pyle (4.8) - A short, powerful story that left me breathless.

#9 - The Gods of Dream by Daniel Arenson (4.8) - This hallucinatory look at the world of our sleep is meaningful and full of wonderful description.

#8 - The Ryel Saga by Carolyn Kephart (4.9) - A work of epic fantasy that is almost poetic in its prose and pace.

#7 - Jenny Pox by J.L. Bryan (4.9) - In the first book of his Paranormals series, author Bryan creates a work that very much stands up to the likes of Carrie and Weaveworld.

#6 - A Dance of Death and A Dance of Blades by David Dalglish (5.0) - Okay, so I'm cheating a little, but since these two books are the 3rd and 2nd in a trilogy, and are both now available in an omnibus, I figured I'd combine them here. Let's just say that Dalglish's Shadowdance books are so well-written and plotted that he'll have a hard time topping them in the future.

#5 - Dismember by Daniel Pyle (5.0) - A truly compelling journey of horror into the broken mind of a man who only wants his family back.

#4 - Cadman's Gambit (Shader Book I) by D.P. Prior (5.0) - With a compelling mix of science fiction and hard-boiled fantasy, this book captured me from the first sentence and wouldn't let me go.

#3 - The Infection by Craig DiLouie (5.0) - I'm a sucker for zombie fiction, and let's just say that DiLouie's opus is a new take on the end of the world and just about as good as it gets.

#2 - A Sliver of Redemption by David Dalglish (5.0) - Sure, his later series may be tighter and more refined, but as far as emotion goes—and I'm a sucker for emotional threads—Dalglish has never been better than in the final novel of his Half-Orcs series.

And finally...

drumroll

#1 - Burying Brian by Steven Pirie (5.0)

My favorite author over the last 20 years doesn't disappoint with his follow-up to Digging Up Donald. It's a hilarious and poignant journey of one inept man's attempt to save humankind, and heaven, from themselves.

And that's it, folks! Here's to a great 2012, to great books and great writers, so go out there and read!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Review: The Legend of Witchtrot Road (Spirit Guide #3) by E.J. Stevens

Rating: 4.7 out of 5


Man, do I love E.J. Stevens. She has such a pure innocence in her prose, as if she’s capturing just what it means to be young and in love and also, at the same time, have the weight of the world on your shoulders.


In The Legend of Witchtrot Road, the third installment in her Spirit Guide series, Stevens steps back a bit. The far-reaching story arch that encompassed the first two books is still present, but it is allowed to linger in the background, to heighten naturally. As a storyteller she reins herself in, focusing on the tale at hand rather than building her world outright.


In many ways, The Legend of Witchtrot Road is very similar to a midseason “event episode” of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Yuki, our main character who smells the dead, has her own Scooby gang, and together they must solve the mysterious death of a classmate, whose untimely end came on the Witchtrot Road of the title. The road itself is steeped in myth, superstition, and dark history, and if the always stalwart Yuki is going to have a semblance of peace from her classmate’s lingering ghost, the answers to the mystery need to come quickly.


This is a tale of social conscience and, just like the great television show I mentioned earlier, takes some of the more pressing concerns facing our nation’s youth (bullying, eating disorders, the proliferation of drugs in the community, etc.) and presents them in a fantastic manner. It’s a type of storytelling that’s pure in intention and beautiful in message, especially when presented in a professional manner, which E.J. Stevens does with every book she puts out.


Now, even though the specifics of Yuki and company’s world aren’t explored in-depth, as I already stated, they are still there. There are some interesting developments when it comes to Simon (perhaps the best character in the series), and also certain events that made me, the reader, question whether or not Yuki and werewolf boyfriend Cal will indeed have the happily ever after they’ve seemed, until now, destined to live.


Yes, The Legend of Witchtrot Road is a fantastically na├»ve, touching, and thoughtful novel. Stevens continues on her journey as a writer, and you can plainly tell when you read the words she puts on the page that she continues to grow. The author has a wonderful story to tell, one that I thoroughly enjoyed and will certainly be passing down to my own daughter. To me, this is a coup of the YA genre, one that shouldn’t be missed.


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