The Good Guys, by Steven Brust

Donovan was shot by a cop. For jaywalking, supposedly. Actually, for arguing with a cop while black. Four of the nine shots were lethal—or would have been, if their target had been anybody else. The Foundation picked him up, brought him back, and trained him further. “Lethal” turns out to be a relative term when magic is involved. When Marci was fifteen, she levitated a paperweight and threw it at a guy she didn’t like. The Foundation scooped her up for training too. “Hippie chick” Susan got well into her Foundation training before they told her about the magic, but she’s as powerful as Donovan and Marci now. They can teleport themselves thousands of miles, conjure shields that will stop bullets, and read information from the remnants of spells cast by others days before. They all work for the secretive Foundation…for minimum wage. Which is okay, because the Foundation are the good guys. Aren’t they?

So I feel it necessary to emphasize that I got an early copy via NetGalley. I think that perhaps the publisher should’ve waited until after another edit before making ARCs available. I must assume that the edited version to come out in March 2018 will have fixed many of the issues I encountered. And issues there were many. Including editing notations within the body of the text. Indies are universally panned for the slightest faux pas, and there is this feeling by both readers and publishers that indie publishers are somehow not good enough to get a traditional publishing contract. There are a lot of people who see self-publishing as garbage. While I’ve read some really wonderful indie books over the years, I’ve run into some real clunkers. Stories full of clichéd storytelling, bad formatting, and an overall inferior product. Those books don’t usually end up on this blog. For every 100 books I do read and review, there are probable 25 or so that I don’t finish.

The Good Guys may have well been one of those poorly published indie works that so many people poo-poo. The story premise wasn’t bad: A team of secret underpaid people track down rogue magic practitioners in modern America (and Europe) and give the smack-down to those that don’t come quietly. Yep, read that story time and again – and by better authors. I’ve been told that the author of The Good Guys, Steven Brust, is quite popular. I’ve never read any of his other works before. But The Good Guys was terrible. Not terrible enough to DNF, but it was a grind to finish reading. Many of my complaints were likely the result of some very poor formatting and/or editing. The POV seemed all over the place. I’m not sure if there was just some missing scene break art or what, but I found myself having to re-read to figure out whose POV I was reading. On top of that, of the many character POVs, one was in first person, while the rest were in third-person perspective. The singular first-person perspective makes sense at the very end of the book, but while reading it, it’s just annoying. I’d rather read the exact same story from Clara Coulson. A much more polished manuscript, and frankly, a better story – one not full of dated clichés, and views better left in the 1950s.

My suggestion is to skip the overpriced TOR ebook (I just looked, $13? What the fucking fuck, TOR?), and get all four City of Crows books by Clara Coulson. Coulson’s stories are better, and for only a dollar more, you get a much longer and more satisfying read. I would probably check out another book by Brust, but if it’s a stinking turd like this one, I’m out. I’m not just disappointed by this book; I’m offended that anyone would put it out there. Two stars is my rating, and unless the rest of this review is unclear about how I feel, don’t waste your money on The Good Guys.

Steven Karl Zoltán Brust (born November 23, 1955) is an American fantasy and science fiction author of Hungarian descent. He was a member of the writers’ group The Scribblies, which included Emma Bull, Pamela Dean, Will Shetterly, Nate Bucklin, Kara Dalkey, and Patricia Wrede, and also belongs to the Pre-Joycean Fellowship.

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Goodbye Razor’s Reef

I’m a tad over at 1032, but the first draft was at 1500 words, so I’m done cutting. My friend, L. Fergus has written 22 books about an angelic anti-hero named Kita. Razor’s Pass is the name of one of the books in the series, and hopefully will be published soon. This rambling doesn’t have anything to do with the world of Kita, other than I stole the names of a few places in Birthright, and Razor’s Pass. This one is chock full of prompts: Terribleminds, #SoCS, The Writing Reader, and of course, Bree Salyer’s #FFC2018.

The rough-hewn wooden door creaked when she pushed it open. The creak was nothing new, and yet again, Nany wished she had paid the coin for a spell that would’ve silenced the annoying sound. But, as was all life in Razor’s Reef, her meager coin was reserved for the necessities.

A deluge of precipitation threatened to follow her into her humble dwelling. The rain seemed to have a mind of its own. Nany paused, and examined the ribbons of water pelting the pane of crystal set into the wooden door. The individual droplets coalesced into a cloud, and then formed the rough outline of a face. Damn those elementals, Nany cursed silently. The mass of droplets seemed to respond to her sour mood, and the torrent against her door intensified.

Nany closed her eyes, and drew breath in through her mouth. Holding it, she focused on a tiny rivulet that wandered down her cheek from her wet hair. The water started to vibrate, then subsume to steam. Her eyes snapped open, and the accompanying exhale focused her power. She was aware of each droplet, and its proximity to her body. Her eyes flared a subtle purple, and she willed the droplets back to the murky water.

The shriek of the elemental echoed in her head. She felt a twinge of guilt, but water elementals were notorious tricksters. This particular elemental was especially troublesome. Most would realize their place, and scurry back to the Razor’s Sea. This one decided to resist her magical command.

The elemental continued to solidify. The small eyes, and flowing hair almost looked real. A strong jaw, and feminine neck became obvious as the droplets coalesced from top to bottom. Nany centered herself, and reinforced her aura. She drew power from the wooden floor, and by extension the rocky land below. The elemental grew hazy for a moment, and the beautiful eyes showed a profound sadness.

Nany paused. The elemental’s lips curled upward, and the droplets continued their downward journey. An ample bosom formed, and Nany felt a flush rise on her cheeks. Elegant legs finally reached the ground, and the elemental stepped toward Nany’s door. The mist continued to gather, and the elemental became more and more dense. The scene behind her faded as the elemental forced light to refract through droplets, and form color. Her eyes were as blue as the sky on a clear summer day, but they reflected like an animal. Her skin was a pale brown, like the trunk of an Amara tree. A simple green tunic covered enough of her amazing body to keep her modest.
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Interruptions

Okay, so I went a little crazy with this one. How about the first chapter to the sequel to my debut murder mystery? This is 2150 words, more than double the going rate for flash fiction. If you dig what I wrote, be sure to check out Score of Silence. It should be published by Amber Cove Publishing in February or March of this year! I’ve worked in prompts from Terribleminds, Said Bree’s 2018 flash fiction challenge, and Julie from Write on Wednesday.

Caroline led the way up the steps to her room at Vivian’s, Tupper in tow. He grumbled as he wrestled a banker’s box full of files through the door behind her, tripping over the clothing strewn on the floor.

“Where…?”

“Dining room table,” she said, kicking aside dirty laundry to make a path before heading to the kitchen. The fridge was in as much disarray as the rest of the apartment, but she found two beers at the back. Kimberly’s favorite, she thought, shoving one back while rummaging for something her stodgy partner would prefer. She pulled the cork on the wine bottle and passed it under her nose. Better. Now, if she could just find a clean glass.

Tupper was already settled in a chair when she returned, the box lid tossed aside and stacks of files lining the antique table so out of place in the otherwise sparsely decorated room. He traded a stack of papers for the glass of wine and she pulled them across the table, cracking open her can of beer as she slid onto a chair.

They sorted in silence, exchanging files as they went, all the while scribbling notes that passed between them without comment. Caroline glanced at the dusty CD player on the sideboard, but thought better of it. For all she would have liked a bit of background music, the sound would have destroyed the groove they had long before established. Besides, Tupper hated The Dancing Pigs.

For almost an hour the only sound was that of shuffling papers and the scratching of pencils. When a tap came at the door, Caroline lifted her head, unsure if what she’d heard was simply the groans of the old building. Again, a knock, more insistent that the first. She left Tupper hunched over documents and went to investigate.

She stopped with her hand on the doorknob. After the events of the previous month, she was still skittish. She didn’t want to admit it, but how else was she supposed to react to having been drugged, abducted, and forced to clear her name against a pair of overzealous FBI agents—not to mention and the federal prosecutor that had wanted to pin everything on her. Doula Breech’s smile and casual wave still grated on her nerves. Still, the real killer had been caught, the mole in the FBI exposed, and the charges dropped. She even thought that one of the FBI agents, Steve Braxton, might prove to be a new contact in the FBI as Tupper’s former team took promotions and transfers. She did not have to be afraid. Why, then, was she?
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Deadly Sweet, by Lola Dodge

Anise Wise loves three things: baking, potion making, and reading her spellbooks in blissful silence. She might not be the most powerful witch, but enchantment is a rare skill, and her ability to bake with magic is even rarer. Too bad one wants witchcraft on their campus. Anise’s dream of attending pastry school crumbles with rejection letter after rejection letter. Desperate to escape her dead-end future, Anise contacts the long-lost relative she’s not supposed to know about. Great Aunt Agatha owns the only magic bakery in the US, and she suddenly needs a new apprentice. Anise is so excited she books it to New Mexico without thinking to ask what happened to the last girl. The Spellwork Syndicate rules the local witches in Taos, but as “accidents” turn into full-out attacks on Anise’s life, their promises to keep her safe are less and less reassuring. Her cranky bodyguard is doing his best, but it’s hard to fight back when she has no idea who’s the enemy. Or why she became their target. If Anise can’t find and stop whoever wants her dead, she’ll be more toasted than a crème brûlée. Who knew baking cakes could be so life or death?

I’ve been a fan of Lola Dodge’s Shadow Ravens series, so when I saw a book about a kitchen witch by Dodge on netgalley, I immediately requested it. I prefer my fantasy stories to be light on the witchiness, and like it when magic is used in a utilitarian fashion, rather than grand use in epic battles, etc. The premise that each magic user is tied to a specific discipline is nothing new, but the concept of a witch whose powers are all about the baking with a specialty in desserts just makes me smile.

Because witchcraft is presented as a female-dominated skill, this story is full of badass ladies. The portrayal of Anise is pretty standard fare for a young adult novel. What really intrigued me was the history of the prominent witches in the story. Their relationship with Anise’s mother and her expulsion from Taos was sadly not explored in this first book. The sexism and misandry is almost nonexistent in Deadly Sweet, and I was just a little disapointed in the opportunity missed to compare the world of Taos to modern society. Science fiction and fantasy have a rather unique ability to criticize society without offending, and while not every novel needs to be a treatse into the flaws of our society, I feel that it would’ve been easily accomplished, especially since Anise was raised in the “normal” world.

From a socio-anthropological view, the ways that the closed tribe of witches interacts with each other, and the normies is another theme that is well done in Deadly Sweet. The ‘townie’ trope is commonplace, and I rather enjoyed Wynn’s uncomfortable encounters with tourists. Which brings me to a part of the story that disappointed me: Wynn. Written as a stoic hero trope – almost a reverse-gender La Femme Nikita, I found his antics to be off-putting. Plus the constant references to his contract, and shields in general, weren’t explained enough in this book. I understand that it’ll be a prominent theme in the second book, but the lack of knowledge made his character unnecessarily uninteresting. I hope in a future story, Dodge explores the issue of power and wealth, and perhaps even same-gender relationships.

Overall, Deadly Sweet is a fun read. I look forward to the next book later this year, and my expectations are pretty high. A solid four-star read. Lola Dodge is one of the few writers that I usually end up “over-reading,” because the story is just so engrossing, that I say to heck with my responsibilities and just keep reading. The book is out today, so let’s help Ms. Dodge have a grand start to this new series.

Lola-Dodge

Lola Dodge is nomadic and has lived in New Zealand, France, the Czech Republic, and Taiwan. Her current base is Chiang Mai, Thailand, where she spends her days eating excessive amounts of coconut and trying to avoid heat stroke. She grew up in Upstate NY (Salt potatoes! Apple cider donuts!), got a degree in English Lit and German at Stonehill College, and an MFA in writing popular fiction at Seton Hill University. She doesn’t like bacon, coffee, beer, the sun, or fireworks. Instead, give her tea, vodka drinks, air-conditioning, and anything sweet. She’s a proud part of the writing roster at Ink Monster publishing, where she collaborates on the Shadow Ravens and Alpha Girls series. Her other fiction is represented by Rebecca Strauss at DiFiore and Company Literary Agency. Some days she hates writing and some days she loves it, but she can’t imagine doing anything else (even though she works at the pace of a sloth on sleeping pills.)

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Wrong Place Wrong Time (FFC2018)

I was inspired recently. Cindy and I are gearing up to write the third book in the Sixteen Sunsets Saga. Here’s a little short to whet your appetite. I’ve included prompts by Chuck Wendig & Bree Salyer.

They were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Joaquin and Quake picked their way through the debris left in the demolition of Globe Tower. They both wore backpacks stuffed with bottled water, air filtration masks, and first aid supplies. Joaquin wanted them both to be armed in the brave new world that they fought against, but their leader, Anne Henderson, insisted that although Major Globe was dead, his legacy of discrimination, bigotry, and hatred lived on. As a couple of college-age kids picking through the debris, they were at most, trespassing. Armed, they were insurgents. Terrorists. Criminals.

The two didn’t speak. It wasn’t that the masks they wore made it difficult; it was the devastation all around them. Their mood was somber. Neither of them knew what sights their little excursion would bring. Their destination was the unknown. They’d left the safety of their hideout in the dark hours. It was the only time that people with superpowers could travel. Their movements went unnoticed, the Seattle Police tried to enforce curfew, but they were spread thin due to daily rioting.

The riots were getting worse. Those with super powers tried to defend their right to exist. The Superhub was in shambles. Andy still hadn’t recovered from his experience at the base of Globe Tower. His ramblings of a phantom self only served to fuel the image of an unstable young man. No one at the hideout had stopped them. Anne seemed to ignore anything not directly involved with tracking down Kristof. It didn’t mean that she was unaware of their nightly romp through the disaster area. She likely had eyes everywhere. Joaquin was certain that having an immortal super in their midst was an asset, but there were those that remembered Anne’s previous affiliation, albeit a forced one, with Major Globe.

It felt good for Joaquin to do something. The losses were staggering. Frank Massey’s daughter did her best to keep their outfit running. Her eyes were always puffy. With their numbers dwindled, it was not hard to hear her crying in the wee hours. Inside the warehouse, sound carried with no concern to snores, the sounds of sex, of a grieving daughter over her hero father.

Hero.

Detective Frank Massey was a hero. Even before the disaster, the city had been in chaos. Their covert underground railway orchestrated by Massey’s partner, Betty Patterson, smuggled many supers out of Seattle. The police presence before Globe Tower fell was one thing – now, Seattle was a police state. The streets were crawling with armed soldiers, the Army National Guard called in to assist getting the populace under control. Something Joaquin knew that Frank Massey would’ve rallied against. For a hero cop, the old man wasn’t half bad.

The duo had been out every night searching for their family. Neither of them had a biological family. Quake was cast out by his parents fearing that his emerging superpowers would bring unwanted scrutiny to their family. This was before the “supers crisis,” initiated by a confused super-powered Miles Jensen, dubbed The Madison Park Butcher, and the machinations of an egomaniacal kingpin by the name of Jacob Globe. Now… Quake’s story played out again and again as worried people lashed out against those that were different. Co-workers “outed” supers living as if they had no powers.

Parents against children.

Husbands against wives.

Neighbors against neighbors.
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Books I’ve read in 2017

Another year, another hundred books. Well, 102 books for 2017. I was super busy as a writer this year, and I was concerned that I wouldn’t make it. I probably felt the same way at the end of 2016, but for some reason, I never blogged about it. The 2016 image is on the blog, but I never posted it. The 2015 list is here, and since I only started keeping track the summer of 2014, there wasn’t a complete list that year or before. I think 2017 resulted in about eleven or twelve DNFs, and at least one, is still on my reading list.

Highlights from 2017? I discovered Felix R. Savage in 2016, and read five of his books that year. I read four of his this year. Other stand-outs were Lola, by Melissa Scrivener; Paradox Bound, by Peter Clines; The Time Salvager Series, by Wesley Chu; The Factory, by Greg Dragon; Realm FM, by Tyrolin Puxty; More of Me, by Kathryn Evans; Mansions of Karma, by Ruth White; and The Shadow series, by Lila Bowen. There were a lot of five star reads in 2017, and to browse my list, check out my blog, or Goodreads.

About 20% of my reads featured LGBT themes or characters, 5% were superhero stories, 5% were not sci-fi, and less than 50% were written by straight white dudes. There were a handful that I wanted to read, but for some reason couldn’t. Most of those will be in my 2018 reading pile. So, here’s looking at another 100 books to read in the new year!
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Ice Kingdom, by Tiana Warner

The final adventure in the Mermaids of Eriana Kwai trilogy … Meela and Lysi have unleashed Sisiutl, legendary two-headed serpent of the Pacific Northwest. It was supposed to be an ally that would help them win the war. Instead, it has fallen under the control of King Adaro, ruler of the Pacific Ocean. If Meela and Lysi can’t stop him, Adaro will use the deadly serpent to rid the oceans of mankind. With the American military using catastrophic weapons of their own to retaliate, Meela and Lysi must make peace between humans and merpeople before one race destroys the other. The journey will risk their lives and put their relationship to the test—but the vengeance that has been consuming Meela’s thoughts, day and night, might prove even more dangerous.

I saw on Twitter that the third, and final Mermaids of Eriana Kwai book had released, so I asked the author for a copy to read and review. The quality of writing from the first two books continued in Ice Kingdom.

The Good: Meela really pushed the story. She made decisions, and she lived with the consequences. Ice Kingdom, like Ice Crypt, was so compelling, that I had to finish reading it in one sitting.

The Bad: When a totalitarian regime is portrayed in literature, we come to expect certain things. We want to know that those caught under the influence of the charismatic madman are still good people, they just go along out of fear. We want to easily identify those going along for personal gain. We want to cheer on the underground resistance, we want to despise those in it for personal gain. We have a resistance in Ice Kingdom, but they’re uninteresting. We don’t see minor acts of rebellion to let us know that the people want a better world.

The Beautiful: I mentioned in my review of Ice Crypt that I felt that book two was the best, and I continue to feel that way. Ice Kingdom is a fast-paced swim toward the inevitable conclusion that we want. Adaro’s motives finally make some sense, and he loses some of the clichéd snidely whiplash-ness. I still think he’s a sub-par villain, but at least there’s something.

The Final Word: Ice Kingdom returns to a four-star rating. The conclusion of the trilogy ends as you’d think it would. Overall, the series is a great read that should appeal to young readers. Other than the violence in Ice Massacre, there’s nothing in the series to be concerned with as far as young readers are concerned. The middle book is the shining jewel in the series, and overall, the series is a great read.

Tiana Warner

My grandma tells me I sold her my first story, The Sachmoe, for $2. I’m not sure if this makes me a born entrepreneur or just plain saucy, but my point is that I’ve been a writer for longer than I can remember. I wrote poems and short stories throughout elementary school (most of them about ponies), and wrote my first full-length novel in high school. I now spend my evenings writing about killer mermaids. I went to the University of British Columbia to study psychology and came out of it with a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science. I’m now a technical content creator for a software company, which means when I’m not writing about kick-ass mermaids I’m writing about kick-ass technology. I currently live in Langley, BC, and am an avid supporter of animal welfare. I have a quarter horse named Bailey, a pony sidekick named Strawberry, and an extremely naughty cat named Paisley.

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