Thursday, December 29, 2011

Not Only The Dark

Not Only the Dark: 160 Poems on the Theme of SurvivalNot Only the Dark: 160 Poems on the Theme of Survival by Jo Field

I'm going to go out on a limb just a bit here and recommend this collection of poetry without having read it. Two factors are contributing to my decision:
(1) WordAid says, "Not Only The Dark is our latest anthology of poetry, 160 poems on the theme of survival in aid of Shelterbox...This new and vibrant anthology explores the theme of survival, with poems about war, weather, growing ill and growing old as well as about cities and landscapes, art and music, trees and turtles and the many things that add richness to our lives."
(2) Not Only The Dark includes a poem written by Herscher Project co-owner, Jamie A. Hughes.

I'm looking forward to finding a spot for Not Only The Dark on my shelf of most treasured books.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Profit and Loss

Some disturbing madness was reported in Amazon’s Profits are Small Publishers’ Losses, a blogpost by the U.K.'s Linen Press. I'm a few month's behind with this, but rather doubt matters have improved any in today's economy. Apparently, economic sanity is no better in the publishing industry than in any other.

[Thanks go to author Chris A Jackson for bringing this one to my attention.]

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Blue Angels - Live Cockpit Footage

Blue Angels cockpit footage taken over the Severn River, U.S. Naval Academy, and Andrews Air Force Base (Maryland). In case some don't know this, the Blue Angels always include a U.S. Marine pilot in their precision flight team.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A few things not to do...

In a December 14th blogpost, "A few things not to do", Patricia C Wrede offers some very helpful advice regarding the business end of being an author, including sage thoughts on how to approach the author/reviewer relationship.

I'm amazed at the wealth of information she offers -- all good, sensible, experience-proven wisdom -- and all available free of cost in her blog.

Thanks, Patricia!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Mr. Miyagi still needs a loving home...

Mr. Miyagi, a miniature dachshund (male, Black & Tan with Silver Dapple, born on September 18th) is still hoping to adopt a human before Christmas. $500 USD includes health guarantee and Limited AKC Registration (for pets). Full AKC registration (for breeding/showing) available for additional fee. Mr. Miyagi is wormed and up to date on his puppy shots. If interested, contact for additional details.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Life Cycle of a Book

Publishing Trendsetter shares the Life Cycle of a Book.

Most of you who visit this blog already know this, but in case anyone is wondering, it really ISN'T as simple as: "You write a novel, send it to a publisher, and then it shows up on the shelves of Barnes & Noble".

Rabbletown: Life in these United Christian States of Holy America

Fellow Herscher Project member Matthew Williams shares his thoughts about Randy Attwood's near-future dystopian novel Rabbletown: Life in these United Christian States of Holy America. Read what Matthew has to say HERE.

Rabbletown: Life in these United Christian States of Holy America"The year is 2084. The place is Topeka, Kansas. The Church of the Evangels run the country through the Pastor President, pastor governors and pastor legislators. They rule with a Bible in each fist. This future history presents a view of what life would be like under the control of right wing evangelical Christians. Work on the new state cathedral in Topeka provides the economic stimulus for that region. When religion rules, society enters a new dark ages, but still operating are the computer-based social networking systems the Church of the Evangels use to spy on its members. Abortion is just outlawed, pregnancy is mandated. And if you don't fit into the society of the Church of the Evangels, you try to make a life in Rabbletown. And then the son of a mason reminds everyone what redemption is all about." --
Rabbletown: Life in these United Christian States of Holy America by Randy Attwood

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Few. The Proud. The Unforgettable.

The Greatest U.S. Marine Corps Stories Ever Told: Unforgettable Stories of Courage, Honor, and SacrificeThe Greatest U.S. Marine Corps Stories Ever Told: Unforgettable Stories of Courage, Honor, and Sacrifice by Iain C. Martin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Let me first say that I am proud to have served our nation as a U.S. Marine, and that upon finding the familiar lyrics of The Marines' Hymn following the title page, I thought this could be a great book. Then I began having concerns that it actually would be a great book; I began wondering how I'd be able to avoid sounding hopelessly biased while providing an honest review of The Greatest U.S. Marine Corps Stories Ever Told. After reading and savoring it, and with the “birthday” of the Corps (Nov 10) fast approaching, I decided I should share my thoughts—because it is a great book.

This anthology's subtitle claims it contains “unforgettable stories of courage, honor, and sacrifice,” and Martin has certainly delivered. Marine Corps history is filled with countless moments that have defined the USMC as an elite fighting force, and the endurance, resiliency, valor, honor, and courage of the Corps bursts forth from this book's pages. The editor guides his readers on a tour of major and minor conflicts. We are made witnesses of unyielding Marine heroism from the Barbary Coast, to the Mexican War, and the American Civil War. We are offered a ringside seat as Marines battle through two World Wars. We are invited to accompany them to the frozen mountains of Korea, to the jungles of Vietnam, and to the sands of Iraq.

In this collection spanning some 230 years of USMC history, editor Iain C. Martin shares twenty-three accounts of the Corps as seen through the eyes of Marines, war correspondents, and historians. The book includes an introduction by retired USMC Colonel Joseph H. Alexander (senior historian on the exhibit design team for the National Museum of the Marine Corps) and features selections written by such notables as Stephen Crane, Ernie Pyle, and Medal of Honor recipient, Joe Foss.

This compilation is an ambitious attempt to capture Marine esprit de corps between the covers of a book. As one might imagine, Martin is no better suited to the task of defining that elusive Marine spirit than anyone prior, though not for a lack of effort. On page 174 of Martin's book, we learn that beloved WW2 correspondent, Ernie Pyle, once wrote, “Before I came into the field, several Marine officers asked me to try to sense just what the Marine spirit is, what is its source, and what keeps it alive.” Yet, after spending time with the 7th Marines on Okinawa, even Pyle was forced to admit, “I never did find out what perpetuated it.”

In his firsthand account, With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa, Eugene B. Sledge offered these thoughts on what it means to be a Marine: “War is brutish, inglorious, and a terrible waste... The only redeeming factors were my comrades' incredible bravery and their devotion to each other. Marine Corps training taught us to kill efficiently and to try to survive. But it also taught us loyalty to each other — and love. That espirit de corps sustained us.” The ephemeral but ever-present essence of Marineness defies classification, categorization, and even reason. Any Marine will agree that esprit de corps cannot be precisely defined, but by gathering and presenting these brief glimpses of USMC history, Martin has nearly done so.

Much of the Marine Corps' colorful history is steeped in heroics, time-honored tradition, and unswerving devotion to duty—-so much so that, at times, the stories of the Corps take on legendary proportions and the Marines in them seem larger than life. In the selections that comprise The Greatest U.S. Marine Corps Stories Ever Told, editor Iain C. Martin has gathered battlefield epics and personal insights from all periods of the USMC's history, presenting them with care, skill, and, I believe, pride. These are “unforgettable stories of courage, honor, and sacrifice,” true stories that bridge the gap that so often separates history and legend.

Happy birthday, Marines, and Semper Fidelis!

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Friday, October 21, 2011

The ORIGINAL Dungeons & Dragons

Dungeons & Dragons: Rules for Fantastic Medieval Wargames Campaigns Playable with Paper and Pencil and Miniature FiguresDungeons & Dragons: Rules for Fantastic Medieval Wargames Campaigns Playable with Paper and Pencil and Miniature Figures by Gary Gygax

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Well, this is simply the "granddaddy of all fantasy role-playing games" -- accept no substitutes. I remember my fascination and the wonder of discovery back in the mid-1970s when I was first introduced to Dungeons & Dragons (a name not preceded by "Basic" or "Advanced", or followed by an edition number). I can easily admit that my early fascination with this game system has not been matched by any game since. Our group met for adventuring sessions (some of those lasting for hours and hours), and that there were only three character classes and no magic-user spells above 5th level didn't concern us at all. Then the D&D Supplements showed up. More monsters, more weapons, more treasure, more character classes, more, more, more (...and we all demanded "more, more, more" until TSR was short of breath just trying to keep up with our appetite).

Despite all the "bad press" D&D got from the uninformed and misinformed (mostly concerned Christians), the game survived -- and thrived. What was most often misunderstood was that D&D was only a game, not a religion that was proposing to open a gateway to Hell. What the uninformed and misinformed failed to understand was that it wasn't the game itself that was evil -- no more evil than any other stack of paper with printed words. No, the dangers were in how each individual dungeon master (aka "DM") chose to conduct his gaming campaigns and scenarios. What were the lessons taught by these DMs? What were the values and morals that players were learning from the game?

As with so many things in our world, condemnation often comes from those who do not comprehend, those who refuse to do an unbiased study before declaring a game or a movie or a book unfit.

For myself and each member of our small gaming group from long ago, I'm sure the original Dungeons & Dragons game system remains a fond and unequaled memory...

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Saturday, October 8, 2011

Writer Beware! & The Agenda of "The Write Agenda"

A war is being waged, but you won't see it on the six o'clock news.

If you've never heard of Writer Beware!, the SFWA site offers a great introduction.

"Some of you may be aware that for the past few months, a group calling itself The Write Agenda has been attempting to wage a disinformation campaign against Writer Beware! and other anti-scam activists..." [source: Robin Hobbs' blogpost, The Agenda of "The Write Agenda".]

Read a little more about Writer Beware! here in a blogpost by Jessica Faust of Bookends.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Zombie Church: Breathing Life Back into the Body of Christ

Zombie Church: Breathing Life Back into the Body of ChristZombie Church: Breathing Life Back into the Body of Christ by Tyler Edwards

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Don't be a zombie, church! We've all seen them—those churches filled with mindless, murmuring zombies. But wait! Not only have we seen them, but chances are most of us are or have been apathetic, uninspired, uninvolved, uncommitted churchgoers... the living dead. In Zombie Church: Breathing Life Back into the Body of Christ, Tyler Edwards shows how those countless B-grade zombie flicks mirror the symptoms of the silent, creeping spiritual sickness that infects churches throughout America.

I'm not a fan of vampires, werewolves, or zombies. I admit that this book falls well outside the boundaries of what I normally read. But, I' m fairly confident the author's zombie parallel falls well outside the boundaries of what pastors and church leaders normally write. This fresh perspective and Edwards' spot-on analysis of what ails the church provides for a reading experience that is enjoyable, inspiring, and thought-provoking. With arguments based in logic, observation, and scripture, the author offers his comparisons, and it is inevitable that we, as readers, find ourselves identifying with the examples set forth. As the author leads us through his book, pointing out these zombie-like behaviors and challenging us to open our eyes, it is only natural for our personal thoughts to surface—thoughts which begin in the early chapters with, “Oh, I've seen that guy,” or “Yeah, they never do anything at the church,”—and, as we read on, thoughts which become, “Oh, that's me,” or “I need to make a commitment.”

I've read many books that were better written, but I've seen precious few that contain such a profoundly important message. While many Christian writings become structured, academic diatribes with the aim of "guilting us" into being good Christians, the author's style here remains casual, contemporary, and accessible—it offers us hope that we can be good Christians—a stylistic choice that serves well in this case. That said, if you are only interested in style, grammar, punctuation, and the like, then Zombie Church is probably not the book for you. However, for myself and the rest of humanity, Zombie Church is a fascinating and eye-opening study of the spiritual disease afflicting our church today. Thankfully, the author is not content with diagnosis, though, as he offers the cure.

In Zombie Church, Tyler Edwards outlines what our church is and reminds us what it should be. He explains that many of us have become spiritual zombies, and he gives us the tools needed to recognize and correct our zombie behaviors. He also helps us onto the path toward enriching our hearts, minds, and souls through a relationship with Jesus Christ—which, in turn, is the antidote that can and will restore life and health to our church.

If, after reading Zombie Church, you don't wonder if you're a zombie yourself then perhaps you're no longer one of the living dead, but are truly dead. Read Zombie Church and don't be a zombie, church!

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[Note: I received my copy of Zombie Church from Litfuse in exchange for being part of their blog tour. The tour schedule, purchase link, author bio, and giveaway info below are from Litfuse, as well.]

Blog Tour Schedule:

To purchase the book on Amazon: Zombie Church

About the author of Zombie Church: Tyler Edwards is the lead pastor at Cornerstone Christian Church in Joplin, Missouri, where he works to help people learn how to live like Jesus, love like Jesus, and look like Jesus—so they carry out the mission of Jesus to the world. He graduated from Ozark Christian College with bachelor’s degrees in both Biblical Literature and Christian Ministry. He has written articles for Lookout Magazine, spoken at various campus ministry events in Missouri, and served overseas in Mbale, Uganda. Tyler loves cheesy horror films. He is particularly fond of movies like Dawn of the Dead, The Signal, and 28 Days Later, where zombies run wild and threaten to infect an entire town.

Giveaway: The publisher is giving away a $50 gift card for Amazon to one person through this blog tour.

To enter all you have to do is send a tweet (using @litfuse) about Zombie Church or share about it on Facebook! If you tweet we'll capture your entry when you use @litfuse. If you share it on Facebook or your blog, just email us and let us know ( Easy.

Not sure what to tweet/post? Here's an idea:

TWEET THIS: Zombie Church by Tyler Edwards - a fair-minded & tenderhearted critique of the church @litfuse RT for $50 to @amazon

FACEBOOK THIS: Don’t miss Edwards - a fair-minded and tenderhearted critique of the church. Written for the discouraged, disenfranchised, and anyone unsatisfied with their same-old church routine, Zombie Church challenges readers to turn away from hollow religious practices, which characterize “zombie Christianity,” and turn toward a radical relationship with Jesus. Share this for a chance at $50 to

Sunday, October 2, 2011

To Be True

 Be sure to give a listen to Jess Hyslop's To Be True (Part 1) over at Cast of Wonders:

(And, if you're able, donate to Cast of Wonders, a site made possible entirely through kind contributions.)

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Project 60 announced at tHP (only a little bit late)

The Herscher Project – Edition 60
So this elf walks into a bar...
An exercise in humor, satire, and parody

Deadline: August 31st, 2011

No, your eyes are not deceiving you. That is the correct deadline for Project #60.
However, since I'm waaaaaay off schedule, treat this as your own private invitation to ignore a deadline!

So.... this elf walks into a bar with his two brothers and they all order wine, much to the amusement of the assorted mead and beer swilling ruffians that fill the tavern from front door to hearth fire. Not to be outdone by the rowdy dwarfs at the next table, they begin telling bawdy tales, posing riddles, and belting out lively elven drinking ballads. When finished with the first round of wine, the eldest elf loudly exclaims, “Barkeep! I'll have one of those new Dead Dwarf Floats everyone is raving about!” The puzzled dwarfs trade blank stares amongst themselves, scratch their heads, tug at their beards, shrug, and finally urge one of their group to ask, “Well, now, Mr. High-pockets, just how do you make a Dead Dwarf Float?”

Without skipping a beat, the elf replies, “It's quite simple really... you just lift your boot off his head and let him bob to the surface.”

So, get to it, Herscher Project! Tickle our funny bones!
Here is your opportunity to get serious about not being serious! A chance to explore this phenomenon through your artwork or writing. In Project #60 we ask you to test your creativity in any genre with humor, satire, parody, and other sorts of mirth and silliness. Share with us some original hilarity in the form of poems, short stories, photographs, drawings, or other artwork. If you can’t write, then draw. If you can’t draw, then write. If you are uninspired, then please take time to offer your comments and constructive criticisms of the work of others (when you're finished laughing uncontrollably).

Remember to have FUN with Project #60
(because that's what it's about)!

As always, the theme and spirit of this edition must be apparent in your story, poem, or artwork, regardless of your chosen genre or medium. Remember to assign an original title to your zaniest work and email it to

Jim, Sabrina, & Jamie

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Dwarfs (9th book in Time-Life's Enchanted World series)

Dwarfs (The Enchanted World Series)Dwarfs by Time-Life Books

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is similar in appearance, style, and presentation to other volumes in the Time-Life Enchanted World series, but contains content focusing on yet another creature of myth and fantasy: the dwarf. As with other Enchanted World volumes, "Dwarfs" contains numerous color illustrations that make it an aesthetically pleasing book. While the text is likely not detailed enough for use as source material for academia, it is an informative, introductory read for those unfamiliar with the fantasy genre, and even those well-versed in myth or fantasy are likely to find some interesting information between the covers of this book.

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Scimitar Sun

Scimitar SunScimitar Sun by Chris A. Jackson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Scimitar Sun, Chris A. Jackson, 2010, Dragon Moon Press, paperback, 332 p. ISBN 1-897492-17-0 ; more info at and

Following in the wake of his award-winning Scimitar Moon, (2009 ForeWord Sci-Fi/Fantasy Book of the Year), author Chris A. Jackson offers up a new Scimitar Seas tale in the rousing Scimitar Sun. This latest novel continues the adventures of Cynthia Flaxal, the Seamage of the Shattered Isles, and makes one wonder if Scimitar Sun is a sequel, or if Scimitar Moon is more accurately a prequel to the real adventures Mr. Jackson has in store for his readers. In Scimitar Sun, Mr. Jackson takes that timeworn catchphrase "just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water," breathes new life into it, and proves quite handily that it's not only big sharks one has to watch out for.

Life in the Shattered Isles is good for Cynthia Flaxal. She has found love and purpose, and holds great hope for that same peaceful life for her unborn child. The shipyard and docks are flourishing, and the seas are at last safe from the predations of Captain Bloodwind, legendary pirate and scourge of the Scimitar Seas. But the unfounded fears of the empire, the vengeful ire of merfolk, and the boundless greed of pirates set into motion events that threaten to plunge the Shattered Isles into chaos and shatter the tranquility in Cynthia's life. As much as she might wish otherwise, Cynthia finds herself drawn into the unrest as surely as a riptide can pull even the strongest swimmer to a watery grave. Even more factors complicate Cynthia's situation--that matter of a volcano and an untried pyromage, for instance. But, dear readers, perhaps I should keep some secrets and allow you to set sail on your own voyage of discovery.

The unique world Mr. Jackson presents for our reading pleasure may bear some slight resemblance to a mature and carefully blended mixture of "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "Harry Potter", with a dash of old Errol Flynn movies tossed in for good measure. But make no mistake; the story, setting, and characters are as fresh and dynamic as any fantasy creations on the market today, and the author's judicious balance of drama and humor lends variety. If there is one bit of caution I might forward, it might be "Landlubbers beware!" for Mr. Jackson is no stranger to sailing, and this clearly shows in the vocabulary of his work. If one is uncomfortable with nautical terminology, be sure to keep a dictionary handy. That being said, one shouldn't consider this a flaw in the writing, but rather part of its charm. The language throughout doesn't detract from the novel's appeal; instead, it adds layers of accuracy, credibility, and realism.

If Scimitar Sun is your first exposure to Mr. Jackson's writing, he will not disappoint. Likewise, returning fans will also find good reason to applaud. Over several years, I have come to trust this author's sense of pace and to expect vivid descriptions and delightful characters, while often wondering when these talents would fail him. After all the pirates, magic, merfolk, swashbuckling, sprites, warships, and intrigue of Scimitar Sun, Mr. Jackson leaves me to happily consider the possibility he will never fail to deliver. Though this voyage has ended, I find myself looking forward to joining him yet again on whatever further adventures he decides to share with us.

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Monday, August 22, 2011

Anansi Boys

Anansi BoysAnansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A Delightfully Entertaining Modern Mythology

Nearly forgotten in today’s modern world, the old gods live on. They exist in those shadowy and obscure places far from the limelight, and their power has waned, but they live on. In Anansi Boys, Fat Charlie Nancy discovers this fact much to his surprise and discomfort. The circumstances of Fat Charlie’s ordered life shift drastically and humorously as author Neil Gaiman leads us through a wild and wacky tale that teeters on the brink of what is real and what is not of this world.

Fat Charlie is not at all fat, yet he cannot rid himself of the unflattering nickname his father bestowed on him. He has done all he can humanly do to distance himself from his father, an eccentric and embarrassing old man, including a move to England to put an ocean between them. Fat Charlie hasn’t spoken to his father in years, but Rosie, his fiancée, pressures Fat Charlie into inviting the much senior Nancy to their fast-approaching wedding. In his conversation with an old neighbor, Mrs. Higgler, Fat Charlie learns his father has died suddenly and unexpectedly—not to mention embarrassingly—on a karaoke stage. Fat Charlie returns to Florida to pay his last respects and bury his father, although he hadn’t planned on doing quite that much shoveling. While in Florida, Fat Charlie learns the utterly unbelievable truth about his father. And the truth is that old Mr. Nancy was none other than Anansi the Trickster, a god from the beginnings of time itself. As if that news were not enough, Fat Charlie also learns that he is not, as he had always believed, his father’s only son.

It is only after he returns to England that Fat Charlie meets this brother, Spider, and the pleasantly drab life Fat Charlie had so carefully woven begins to unravel in an series of bizarre events that defy explanation using any known natural laws of the universe. At the forefront of all of Fat Charlie’s difficulties is his carefree brother, who appears to be a magnet for mischief and mayhem. The author points to two critical forces that drive the events in Fat Charlie’s life. First, "Human beings do not like being pushed about by gods. They may seem to, on the surface, but somewhere on the inside, underneath it all, they sense it, and they resent it." And, second, there is an ancient rivalry between Anansi and Tiger—-a bitter enmity between elder gods that now centers on Fat Charlie.

Anansi Boys, Gaiman’s side-splitting sequel to American Gods, is a tale to be treasured for the author’s keen wit, stinging irony, and inimitable blend of dark and whimsical humor. But be very cautious; once you’ve read Anansi Boys, you’ll be tempted to read it again…just to be sure Anansi, the trickster god, hasn’t changed the story since you closed the cover.

Neil Gaiman's website may be found at

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Monday, August 15, 2011

Engaging the Enemy (Vatta's War, #3)

Engaging the Enemy (Vatta's War, #3)Engaging the Enemy by Elizabeth Moon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
[Note: This review was originally written in 2006.]

Nebula Award-winning author Elizabeth Moon continues her interstellar “Vatta’s War” saga with Engaging the Enemy, the third book in the series. Those who have read the previous books in the series will welcome the return of Captain Kylara Vatta, the young, self-doubting, yet determined heroine who seems prone to difficulties and disaster even when she makes the right decisions. It is precisely this quirk in Ky’s luck that endears her to science fiction fans everywhere. During her earlier exploits, we learned a little about Ky, her family, and her family business, Vatta Transport. We watched as she faced the dangers wrought by the destruction of ISC communications assets, dealings with pirates and mercenaries, assassination attempts, hand-to-hand combat, and the vengeful spite of the family’s black sheep, Osman Vatta. Put your helmets on and buckle up, because that was only the beginning.

In Engaging the Enemy, Moon treats her fans with a much closer look at Ky’s Aunt Grace, a remarkable woman with a great deal more about her than her outward appearance would suggest. Aunt Grace struggles to preserve the lives and livelihood of the Vatta family on Slotter Key, Vatta Transport’s corporate home world. The cunning Vatta matriarch finds she has both enemies and allies as she battles on cut off from communications with all off-world assets and working with tremendously reduced Vatta resources. Meanwhile, Kylara, now captaining the Fair Kaleen — a well-armed pirate vessel she captured from Osman — as her privateer flagship, begins her earnest quest to avenge the near-total annihilation of the Vatta family and to restore the family business. Trailing behind her in the Gary Tobai is Stella, Ky’s cousin and ally in the undeclared Vatta’s War. While catching up to Kylara as she hops from one star system to another, Stella finds reason to doubt Kylara’s motivations and intent, but nothing can prepare either of them for the shocking truth they discover during the trial of Captain Furman, one of Vatta’s most senior merchant captains.

Moon continues to chronicle the events of Kylara Vatta’s life as a young, star-faring merchant-captain-turned-privateer in Engaging the Enemy. For veteran readers of the “Vatta’s War” series there are answers to be found in Moon’s latest space opera aria. Unfortunately, since this is but a single volume of the series, readers who are new to this continuing story will finish with far more questions than answers. The author’s writing style and skillfully placed redundancies allow this book to be enjoyed without reference to her earlier works, Trading in Danger and Marque and Reprisal. However, readers who have not read these earlier works are depriving themselves of valuable insights and background information, not to mention the pleasure of more of Elizabeth Moon’s entertaining writing. Whenever the physical action slows, the internal struggles and interaction of the various characters ensure there is no lull in the book’s overall pace. The author has placed great emphasis on character development — personality traits and motivations — and it is this particular aspect of Moon’s writing that ultimately keeps her audience enthralled.

Moon’s ability to pen a sweeping tale of science fiction has never been in doubt, but if ever it were, her “Vatta’s War” series would surely lay those doubts to rest. If you haven’t had your share of interstellar adventure this week, Engaging the Enemy is only a bookstore away.

Elizabeth Moon maintains a website at

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Marque and Reprisal (Vatta's War, #2)

Marque and Reprisal (Vatta's War, #2)Marque and Reprisal by Elizabeth Moon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
[Note: This review was originally written in 2005.]

Welcome aboard the Gary Tobai, cargo specialist! Prepare yourself for a crash course in murder, mercenaries, mutiny, and letters of marque. Writing a sequel to Trading in Danger might be considered a tall order, but Elizabeth Moon proves she’s up to the task with Marque and Reprisal. The daring, young heroine, Kylara Vatta, newest captain in the Vatta Transport fleet, returns in this sweeping adventure filled with action, suspense, intrigue, combat... and a puppy.

After the near disastrous events in the Sabine system, Kylara finds herself, her crew, and her ship facing some very tough odds. Ky has no choice but to plunge onward relying on her seasoned crew, her training and intuition, and sometimes just a little luck. Attacks against Vatta Transport, the communications assets of ISC, and the Vatta family itself leave Captain Kylara Vatta of the Gary Tobai isolated from direct aid and consul from corporate headquarters. She is left with little choice but to improvise after learning of the widespread attacks upon Vatta headquarters, ships, and personnel. Ky formulates a three step plan that encompasses their best hope for survival: locate and protect surviving Vatta family members, identify the source of the attacks against the Vatta family and assets, and conduct a counterattack against those enemies.

Along the way, Ky gathers allies to help her in her mission. Stella, a cousin whose past mistakes have marked her as a black sheep; Rafe, a shady character from Stella’s less than laudable early years; fourteen-year-old Toby Vatta, lone survivor of the destruction of the Ellis Fabery; and the mercenaries of the Mackensee Military Assistance Corporation. Attempts on her life by unknown assassins, run-ins with the police while her ship is docked, problems caused by failure of the ISC communications system, the attempted destruction of her ship, and the sense that disaster is always lurking just out of view all combine to keep one turning pages. My pang of disappointment at the end of the book, when I realized there were no more pages to read, was tempered by the knowledge that Engaging the Enemy will be available next spring. I know I’ll be waiting in line for my copy.

Marque and Reprisal stands on its own but, since it was intended as the second in a series of novels, it may suffer a loss of impact and continuity if one has not read Trading in Danger, the first book of the series. Enough background information is doled out to cobble together a vague awareness of earlier exploits, but reading the books of the “Vatta’s War” series in order will lend a much greater understanding of the action in Marque and Reprisal, particularly the action detailed in the first few chapters.

Moon’s accessible style of writing lends itself well to development of well-defined characters within a believable star-faring society. The end result is this briskly paced and thoroughly enjoyable interstellar escapade. So, if science fiction adventure is your cup of tea, take a big sip.

Elizabeth Moon maintains a website at

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Saturday, August 13, 2011

Sorcerer's Legacy

Sorcerer's LegacySorcerer's Legacy by Janny Wurts

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
[Note: This review was originally written in July 2009.]

A very quick read and worth even more time than it takes to get to the final page. "Sorcerer's Legacy" stands as an impressive first foray as an author. Janny Wurts possesses a beautifully broad vocabulary that lends itself well to the telling of this (or any other) tale. The duel between two sorcerers in chapter nine is particularly impressive as an example of immersing your audience in the moment -- I was almost afraid to take my eyes from the page for fear of seeing a magical battle raging in the room with me.

Janny - I know you're out there, so here's what I really think: "Sorcerer's Legacy" is a GREAT book of wizardry, court intrigue, love, and tragedy (in spite of the "ho-hum" artwork on this particular edition). I was disappointed in the fact that I didn't discover you as an author until quite recently, and now I will have to make an effort to catch up. Thank you for this thoroughly enjoyable experience, and I look forward to reading more of your work in the future... as soon as real life allows...

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door

Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the DoorTalk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door by Lynne Truss

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My day began with an innocent browsing of the shelves at a local bookstore and ended with an impulse buy. To my horror, I had purchased a book in which I might have no interest. I chided myself for that moment of weakness until I began to read. The misgivings I had over my purchase faded as I read the words of author Lynne Truss. Satisfaction washed over me as I realized I was “hooked” even before I had finished reading her brief three-pages of acknowledgments.

In Talk to the Hand, Truss attacks the failings of our society with the same humor and aplomb she employed in her earlier best seller, Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. With her focus on the rudeness of today’s society, she combines her powers of observation with a liberal amount of scathing wit to lambaste the people of the world for their errant behavioral flaws. Although her writing is laced with humor and sarcasm, her underlying message is never far from sight or thought. Talk to the Hand is a scolding that is as harsh as it is well deserved. The author systematically presents her case, and one cannot help but admit individual and collective guilt. As the prosecutor in the high court of manners, etiquette, and decorum, Truss makes it impossible to mount a credible defense for our inexcusably rude behavior.

Are courtesy and kindness dead? Things of the past? Perhaps, but one can hope they are only napping. Truss has given her readers much to contemplate and ample reason for repentance. There are few faults to find in Talk to the Hand unless one is inclined to complain that the author has provided far more than the promised SIX good reasons to stay home and bolt the door. And wouldn’t complaining of that just be… rude?

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Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess

Bobby Fischer Teaches ChessBobby Fischer Teaches Chess by Bobby Fischer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Note to readers looking for a little light reading enjoyment on a sunny afternoon: "Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess" is not the book you're looking for. It has two woefully undeveloped main characters, with poor distinction between protagonist and antagonist. These mysterious main characters, known only as "White" and "Black", have the sole purpose of meddling constantly in the affairs of thirty-two minor characters, also lacking more than cursory description or much development. With "mating" being the rather single-minded goal of these opposing forces, there isn't much that can be identified as a main plot. There is a fair amount of action, and there are hints that other books have been written featuring these characters, so perhaps there is hope for some story arc. Though lacking a focused, cohesive central plot, it is fraught with flashbacks and countless tedious sub-plots, often leaping from one action scene to the next without so much as a "by your leave" en passant. Worse still, the setting is terribly unimaginative in its scope, as if the medieval landscape had been designed by one whose vision was limited to black & white. I hope Hollywood decides NOT to make this into a movie...

This book gives a beginning player plenty of interesting examples, and focuses on two important aspects of the game: thinking ahead and recognizing opportunity (although there also seems to be huge emphasis on achieving mate while the opponent's king is trapped in the back row, presumably by his own errant play). The complexity of the presented game situations increases as one progresses through the book. Despite its failings in some areas, I believe this book to be a very handy learning tool for any beginning player.

Did it help me as a beginner? Sure, but just like most of us will never be NFL quarterbacks or Olympic gold medalists, I also will never be a master at chess. That said, the fact that I still continue to have my @$$ handed to me almost every time I engage in a friendly game of chess in no way detracts from the enjoyment of exercising the brain... nor from my opinion of this book when viewed in light of its intended purpose. So, yes, I believe my game improved some from having read it, and I'm equally certain that no one shall ever bestow upon me the title of chess master.

Beginning chess player? Yes? Then read this book.

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The Summoner: Volume One in the Chronicles of the Necromancer

The Summoner (Chronicles of the Necromancer, #1)The Summoner by Gail Z. Martin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
[Note: This review was originally written in 2007.]

I opened to the title page of The Summoner, where the author had written in my copy, "Thank you for believing." I gave her comment only cursory thought at the time, but it only took the reading of a few pages before I began to believe in Martin’s well-developed fantasy world and in her ability to lead her readers through it with an enchanting grace that obscures the fact that this is her first published novel.

This epic fantasy quest begins with a bloody and violent coup d'état on "Haunts", an evening of festivities when the line that separates the living from the dead blurs and ghosts walk freely among the living. The King of Margolan and his family are slain by order of the heir to the throne, Prince Jared, and the cruel and avaricious prince seizes power. After routing those loyal to the old king, King Jared is left with one small matter remaining: Jared’s younger half-brother, Prince Martris Drayke, has survived the coup and has escaped along with a handful of trusted friends.

"Tris" and his tiny band of followers prove to be elusive and, as the young prince begins discovering the true strength of his heritage, he learns that some of his greatest allies do not dwell in the lands of the living. Tris slowly gains the knowledge and control he will need in order to master the powers of a summoner -— a necromancer. He also learns difficult lessons in the laws, limits, and responsibilities that come with such potent magical power. Meanwhile, as he continues his mission to find a means to remove his half-brother from Margolan’s throne, Tris learns that Jared may not be his most dangerous foe. Another sorcerer of great power, one of the immortal vayash moru, is allied with the Margolan usurper and is setting in motion his plan to awaken and unleash the Obsidian King, thereby plunging the world into a reign of darkness. Tris finds that he must prepare for battles of both physical and magical nature. We learn, as do the young necromancer’s allies, that their fates are deeply intertwined and all will share together in triumph or defeat.

Although one might be tempted to describe a great deal of The Summoner as standard fantasy fare, such a generalization would be a misstatement and an injustice. Martin’s work easily rises above the standard due to the care she has taken in presenting the interaction between the living, the dead, and the undead. The background and detail evident in several of these encounters suggest that they could be easily expanded into novels or novellas and, perhaps, a prequel will appear someday. For now, however, we can be thankful for this breath of new life Martin has summoned into the fantasy genre. After the first few pages, I thought the author’s greatest strengths were a knack for character development and the creation of splendid settings. I was wrong. As I progressed through the tale, I soon found myself adding to my initial list of the author’s skills, admitting gladly that Martin’s command of foreshadowing, suspense, and intricate plot development are also noteworthy. The world, the characters that populate it, the social structures, and the laws of magic are all well conceived and skillfully presented by the author. The Summoner is the first volume of what Martin calls "The Chronicles of the Necromancer" and will be continued in The Blood King, due for release in January 2008. If The Summoner is indicative of what adventures lie ahead in this series, Gail Z. Martin is certain to keep her readers entranced from page one to the finale.

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The Cattle

The CattleThe Cattle by Greg M. Sarwa

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The author gets five stars for his fast-paced story.
I'll only give three stars for the proofing/editing.

Greg Sarwa’s The Cattle is a chilling and incisive glimpse at one possible future facing America. Following a wave of fear and uncertainty brought about by continued terrorist attacks on US interests both at home and abroad, the American government reacts in a decisive, far-reaching effort to curtail acts of violence and end terrorist anonymity. However, in its haste to protect its citizens, the federal government unknowingly squanders the hard-won freedoms purchased with the blood of our forefathers. With international terrorism growing at an alarming rate, ample justification exists for the creation of a National Identification System (NIDS), an electronic guardian of unprecedented scope. The legislation enacted to protect Americans now threatens to irrevocably alter the American way of life, and only a select few are even aware of the dark agenda that takes shape under the guise of protecting our citizenry.

Does this sound like fiction? Perhaps, but it isn’t as improbable as one might think. Disturbingly enough, the technologies needed to make this system a reality are either available or under development today.

But questions remain.

Exactly where are the boundaries of such a system? By accident, Brian Warburton discovers the answer to this question and copies startling evidence of the system’s capabilities on a computer disk. When his dead body is searched, the disk is nowhere to be found.

What secrets have been uncovered? Clues to the disk’s disappearance are contained on a security camera videotape that has also vanished. A trail of death follows both the tape and the disk in a fast-paced and deadly game of cat and mouse.

Can America be warned in time? Chicago TV news reporter, Jacob Reed, through an unusual sequence of events, finds himself thrust into the role of would-be-savior. He must unravel the mystery quickly, all the while staying one step ahead of his coldly efficient pursuers. As Jacob tries to ferret out the truth, others become caught up in a lethal race against time: Jacob’s friend, Eric Lester, whose computer expertise proves indispensable; a Polish immigrant named Anna Tabor who finds herself entangled in a sinister intrigue; Jacob’s “boss”, Richard Leyland, also unwittingly drawn into the fray as the fate of America hangs in the balance.

All in all, The Cattle is a cold splash in the face -- a stark, sobering view of what might yet come to pass. It is a tale many will find as entertaining as it is thought-provoking. Chicagoans will delight in the familiar settings, Americans will be enthralled by Jacob’s common man heroics, and readers everywhere will pause to wonder, “Is this fiction or is this a prophecy?”

Visit Greg M Sarwa's website at

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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Arms of Deliverance

Arms of Deliverance: A Story of PromiseArms of Deliverance: A Story of Promise by Tricia Goyer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Arms of Deliverance is author Tricia Goyer’s fourth novel to feature Christian values in a World War II setting. Surprisingly, the main focus of her story is not the men who fought the battles in this bloody, war-torn era. It is, instead, a tale of three women: competitive New York Tribune reporters Mary Kelley and Lee O’Donnelley, and Czech-born Katrine. These women find their lives intertwined despite their vast differences. Mary, a tag-along reporter on a bombing run, finds herself behind enemy lines when Destiny’s Child, the B-17 she is aboard, is shot down while returning from its mission over Berlin. Lee, hailing from the glitz and glamour of high society, learns several lessons of the heart as Mary’s occasional roommate, as a war correspondent on the front lines following the Normandy invasion, and in her effort to rescue her friend. Katrine is an Aryan-appearing Jew hiding in plain sight in Nazi-occupied Belgium. Her deception is so effective and complete that she becomes pregnant with the child of a Nazi Schutzstaffel officer. She lives in terror that her secret will be discovered, thus threatening her life and the life of her unborn child. Heinrich, the SS officer, has devout belief in the righteousness of the Nazi cause. He is a complex character who possesses great national pride and a single-minded drive that is stereotypical of Nazi inflexibility and madness. Though he seems human at times, his humanity is often swallowed up by the part of him that is has become a brutally evil monstrosity. His actions are governed by his misguided belief in the Nazi philosophy of Aryan supremacy, his rationalization of the Nazi breeding program, and a deep desire to produce a son to perpetuate the Thousand Year Reich.

The Historical Notes and Acknowledgments pages, thoughtfully included by the author, speak of the care she has taken to bring her readers realism through research and historical accuracy. Although her book is a work of fiction, she has skillfully interwoven fact into this tale, effectively breathing life and honest emotion into the characters that populate it.

Arms of Deliverance is touted as "A Story of Promise" and, in this, Tricia Goyer does not disappoint. The diverse obstacles each of the three women face and the tough choices they make in moments of great adversity contribute to their increased faith in God and a resulting bond of trust in each other. Although some may be tempted to categorize her work as historical romance, it goes beyond such mundane attempts to pigeonhole it. Goyer’s book is a war story, a tale of faith in God, and a romance. Even so, her book is not written for the hardened student of military history, nor is it strictly for the Christian fiction crowd, nor those who devour romance novels by the dozen. In Arms of Deliverance, the author has created a sweeping meld of genres, and has provided a story that will be satisfying to a wide range of readers. It is an unexpectedly heartwarming story of promise—Tricia Goyer offers us the promise that there is hope for humanity through kindness, love, sacrifice, and individual acts of faith.

For more information about Tricia Goyer and the books she has written, visit

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Fragile Things

Fragile ThingsFragile Things by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Neil Gaiman Feast... As if he had written it expressly for those who think they have no reason to read an anthology, author Neil Gaiman presents a smorgasbord of thirty-one very good reasons in Fragile Things. While this collection of short fiction cannot provide the same experience as feasting on one of his novels, it does allow a reader the time to savor and digest each delicate morsel before moving on to the next bite. What a delightful literary meal!

In Fragile Things, Gaiman serves up an erratically varied stew of short fiction, which, for some readers, may be somewhat unsettling. Perhaps foreseeing this possibility, the author has included an informative and entertaining introduction that is useful in appreciating the pieces presented thereafter. These tidbits, introductory background notes regarding each tale or bit of poetry, are helpful in the reader’s full understanding of the author’s work. It is within the introduction, also, that one discovers which pieces have been awarded critical recognition, such as Locus Award-winning “October in the Chair”, or Hugo Award-winning “A Study in Emerald”, the latter an unusual blending of H.P. Lovecraft and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In predictably unpredictable Gaiman fashion, a thirty-second short piece, “The Mapmaker”, is found tucked neatly into the introduction.

The range of subject matter is wide, yet the voice throughout is unmistakably Gaiman: his stories contain an irrational plausibility that seems to stem from the ease with which he appears to write. To entertain his fans and to entice new readers, the author offers his readers appetizers such as a trip to hell in “Other People” and a brief foray into the world of filmdom’s “The Matrix” in the short story “Goliath”. Those who are familiar with Gaiman’s earlier work will revel in Gaiman’s tales and in the poems scattered between them. As an added incentive for his followers to remain faithful, the author closes the anthology with “The Monarch of the Glen”, a novella that revisits the world and main character made popular in his earlier, widely acclaimed novel, American Gods.

The poems and short stories nestled between the covers of Fragile Things afford glimpses of the author’s creativity; each view comes from a slightly different perspective, under varied shades of light and dark, and yet all are seen through the same prism—that fragile thing that is Neil Gaiman’s boundless imagination. This collection will become a welcome addition on the shelf of any Gaiman fan, and is an open invitation to the uninitiated. Welcome to the banquet. There’s a place at the head of the table just for you, dear reader.

Neil Gaiman's website may be found at

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Friday, August 5, 2011

The Coming of the Walrus

The Coming of the WalrusThe Coming of the Walrus by James Riordan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I probably should have given The Coming of the Walrus only four stars. However, I'm allowing my personal tastes to override my critical sensibilities and awarding it that fifth star. Why? Just because I enjoyed it so much... After all, isn't that what reading is all about?

The Coming of the Walrus is the definitive novel for those who were born too late to experience the 60’s, or for those who fondly recall the 60’s, or even those who lived it but were too stoned then to remember any of it now. Here is author James Riordan’s hilarious tale of Dave Chalmers and his harrowing search for the greatest truth of all.

Dave Chalmers is a burned-out former reporter for Rolling Stone magazine. A fateful meeting with over-aged roadie Tom-Tom Brubaker at a concert in The Who’s “last” tour sets in motion a chain of improbable events and meetings. When Tom-Tom’s body turns up at the morgue following the concert, Dave Chalmers begins piecing together clues to a greater mystery and sets out on a personal quest to discover the identity of the legendary Walrus of Beatles song fame.

Chalmers, a reluctant, ill-prepared, and delightfully unlikely hero, soon finds himself whisked along on a wild, globe-hopping carnival ride of discovery—a roller coaster with angels and demons wrestling for the controls. Why are they interested in a nobody like Dave, you might ask? The answer is deceptively simple. Chalmers is determined to uncover the secret of the Walrus, to rediscover the source of all the “goodness” that existed in the 60’s and, perhaps, to satisfy his foot fetish or a few other fantasies. To make matters worse, Dave’s motivation for embarking on this quest is an enigma that even he cannot fathom. The author, skillfully stretching and manipulating even the most outrageous fables and conspiracy theories of the 60’s, soon has his readers hoping—and occasionally believing—that there actually may be something to the Walrus Myth.

In the broadest terms, The Coming of the Walrus is a tale well worth reading. If not for some adult language, situations, and themes, I would have recommended this novel to anyone who can lay hands on a copy. One should be aware at the outset, however, that it is meant for mature readers who are comfortable in knowing that their humor gyroscopes may be more than a couple degrees out of calibration. My initial impression of the book, based on its appearance and rather limited information about it, was very enthusiastic. As a reader, I was not disappointed by this fast-paced, madcap tale that reminds me of a quirky melding of The Da Vinci Code and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. A great deal of the book’s charm rests in the raw feel of the work. Surprisingly, the over-sized, trade paperback format and a few scattered typos within add to its immediacy and appeal. The often-humorous revelations about human nature, presented through Dave Chalmers’ experiences, also have impact of a serious nature. After reading The Coming of the Walrus, it is easy to find oneself contemplating the big picture and marveling at the monumental battles between good and evil that raged in the 1960’s.

Even with the abundant humor straining to burst from between the covers of this book, readers can still believe that, perhaps, not everything about the Walrus is mere legend. Perhaps even peace, love, and understanding… So, dear readers, dive in for a swim with this Walrus, but watch out for the Roly-Poly Man!

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Weapon of Flesh

Weapon of FleshWeapon of Flesh by Chris A. Jackson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In the city of Twailin a power struggle has been heating up for years. The fate of the city hangs in the balance as the Duke, others of the noble families, and factions of the Guilds ruthlessly vie for supremacy. The chessboard is cluttered with numerous pawns, but one very special pawn might sway the battle. But who will control this pawn?

Per the exacting instructions of the mysterious Grandfather, a weapon is fashioned. Through the painstaking labor of the wizard, Corillian, a perfect killing machine is created. Over the span of years, an innocent babe is transformed into a flawless, nameless assassin. He is simply “the weapon.” As a result of the wizard’s magic, the weapon has no emotion, feels no pain, moves silently, leaves no traces of his passing, and enjoys enhanced senses, agility, and strength. Grievous wounds knit and heal in moments. The weapon is trained by masters of the various martial arts in all forms of combat, armed and unarmed. His training does not include the clutter of social skills or human emotions. He has but one purpose: to kill.

This weapon is readied for delivery to a new master who will wield it to his advantage. But Corillian fails to deliver the weapon to this new owner, and a nameless young man, who knows nothing of the world and thousands of ways to end a human life, finds he must find his destiny on his own.

Based on his first brief encounters with society, the weapon makes the assumption that his name must be Lad. He thrills in his newfound autonomy, but Lad is unaware that the Grandfather’s hunters track him, intent on locating and capturing him alive—at any cost—by any means. After nearly two decades of waiting, the Grandfather is impatient to try out his new weapon. The Grandfather’s agenda remains a secret, even to his closest underlings, but there is no doubt that Lad, the weapon of flesh, is integral to the plan’s success.

Lad, through the controlled process of his creation, is like no other young man this, or any other, world has known. This fact was not lost on the author, who offers his readers the stark realities of a world rife with magic, intrigue, assassins, and death. This is not a tale for children, nor is it for those of meek demeanor. It is an often-dark exploration of man’s emotions, desires, hopes and downfalls. It is a clash of a wizard’s arcane spells and the magic of love, a battle of innocence against soul-consuming evil. The author’s treatment of the book’s characters is both consistent and insightful, allowing one to easily empathize with the heroes and loathe the villains. Some of Jackson’s characters fit neatly into one of those categories. Others, however, occupy that grey area between, adding spice to this tale as we struggle to sort them out. Weapon of Flesh is a fabulous tale of medieval fantasy that will leave readers begging for more from author Chris A Jackson.

To discover more about this talented author, visit

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Collected Poems by Chinua Achebe

Collected PoemsCollected Poems by Chinua Achebe

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Within the bright yet unremarkable cover of this small book is the world as seen through the eyes of Mr. Chinua Achebe. The world witnessed by this talented Nigerian-born author and poet contains death, hope, strife, hunger, joy, love, wisdom, and wonder—and Achebe ushers his audience on an emotional journey through them all. As I read Collected Poems, I became more interested in the poet himself and was driven to learn more about the man behind the words. What continues to impress me the most about Achebe is the half-century span of his creative effort and quiet achievement in literature. As I thought more on this, I found that beside his sometimes brutally heart-wrenching imagery, what disturbs me about this man’s literary work is that America is mostly unaware of its existence.

As undeniable proof that big things come in small packages, Achebe’s mastery of the English vocabulary shines in this thin but powerful collection of poetry. He begins with a short preface then presents his poetry in five categorized chapters. At the back of the book are a few pages of notes, which I found to be a welcome and indispensable reference.

Steeped in the tragedies of a Biafra too soon forgotten, the chapter titled “Poems About War” is perhaps the most compelling. Achebe brings to light aspects of war sometimes overlooked. For example, in “A Mother In A Refugee Camp”, a mother’s love for her child converges with her hopeless acceptance of that child’s imminent death from starvation. Passing on into the chapter of “Poems Not About War,” the reader will discover such gems as “Public Execution In Pictures” and marvel at Achebe’s ability to capture the emotion of such an event. The poem expresses gratitude that children who see atrocities in newspaper photographs have not themselves witnessed them firsthand. At the same time, there is an unspoken regret that they may never fully understand injustice and or human suffering.

Much of this book has seen prior publication in 1973’s Christmas in Biafra and Other Poems. For those of us whose memory of the Biafran War has grown dim and for those unfortunate enough not to have read his earlier book, the reintroduction of Achebe’s vision in Collected Poems is nothing short of a gift. So mired are we in our own day-to-day minutia that we rarely notice what has happened or what is happening elsewhere in human terms. Mr. Achebe has, with his elegant words in Collected Poems, given both a reason and a means to see beyond our own doorstep.

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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Selected Shorts and Other Methods of Time Travel

Selected Shorts and Other Methods of Time TravelSelected Shorts and Other Methods of Time Travel by David Goodberg

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For our reading enjoyment--and contemplation--author David Goodberg presents three dozen short tales from the age following the Worlds War of 2267. Time travel has become commercially available and, as with most technologies, mankind has found various methods of exploitation, misuse, and ....... well, if there's a loophole in the rules, you can just bet that someone will find it and stretch it to the breaking point. With temporal paradox as that loophole, be ready for some serious reality evasion.

Some of the stories in this collection seem to be intended as lessons in future history that we should study so that we of our own era might use this knowledge to avoid falling into the pitfalls before us. Other selections from this time travel grab bag take serious jabs at the failings and flaws of society, highlighting those individual imperfections that make us human.

"Selected Shorts and Other Methods of Time Travel" stands as an entertaining diversion with subtle streams of deeper thought, and the illustrations throughout by Antonio Deleo spark just the right amount of curiosity about each new story by David Goodberg.

[Note: I received this book at no cost through Goodreads First Reads.]

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The Quotable American Civil War

The Quotable American Civil WarThe Quotable American Civil War by Iain C. Martin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Iain C. Martin's The Quotable American Civil War is an excellent overview of the American Civil War, passed down to us through the words of those who lived it. The variety of attributed sources serves as both a "Who's Who" of the era and a remembrance of those whose names are no longer part of our collective memory. This book of quotations is a treasure trove of emotionally charged utterances -- from battle weary Union and Confederate infantrymen, storied generals, statesmen and scholars, and the Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis -- all grouped into chapters to enhance the reader's understanding of the war of brother vs. brother that tested the resiliency and resolve of all Americans.

The Civil War proved to be America's crucible, forging the nation's character. This compilation of compelling thoughts, deep wisdom, and occasional humorous quips does honor to those men and women whose actions and beliefs were the catalysts for great social and political change.

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Lyn Perry Reintroduces a Truly EPIC Warrior Hero

Some food for thought.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Fall of Moondust

A Fall of MoondustA Fall of Moondust by Arthur C. Clarke

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If I had read this even twenty years ago instead of in 2011, I'd have easily given it a top rating. Clarke's stories are always interesting and the style is impeccable even though A Fall of Moondust suffers slightly from the constant march of technological innovation.

It is only when one realizes that this novel was written in 1961 that Clarke's genius becomes evident. In chapter 7, Clarke envisions not only the development of programs to check spelling and grammar, but asserts that, "Many were the hilarious disasters that had overtaken those who had left it all to electronics." In chapter 9, Clarke's vision of the future includes a marked decline in use of eyeglasses, a prophecy now in progress thanks to LASIK eye surgery. Later, in chapter 17, Clarke raises carbon dioxide poisoning as one of the dangers facing the crew and passengers of the Selene, almost a decade before the crew of Apollo 13 were faced with this same threat.

Though the behavior of the characters is solidly "from the early sixties", the science is plausible, the plot is well-conceived and executed with skill, and the setting? Well, how can one of the greatest science fiction authors possibly go wrong using our own hostile moon for the setting? As dated as A Fall of Moondust might be, it has withstood the test of time and is an engaging and enjoyable read even though a half century has passed since Clarke committed it to paper and mailed it to a publisher. Not many novels -- science fiction or not -- are able to pass that test.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011


We haven't settled on a title for the anthology we are developing here at the Herscher Project, but Premonitions will certainly do for a working title. The anthology will feature stories and poems of mankind's future: dark dystopia... environmental bankruptcy... impending apocalypse... doom, gloom, and disaster... with a few scattered candles of flickering hope.

We've selected some "classics" from the Herscher Project's vault, sprinkled in some new material, and have opened the doors and given a shout out to our members for more new material. To reach our target for the anthology's length, though, we will be inviting some carefully-chosen non-tHP-members to join us!

A few selections that have been decided on are:

"Remnant" by Chris Heisserer,
"A Morning with Toireasa Cass" by Miriam Plachta,
"The Sacred World" by Louise Hughes,
"LifeCycle" by Jess Hyslop,
"Cloud of Witnesses" by Peter Blair,
"I Walk..." by Matthew Summers,
"Prometheus Rebound" by Steve Doyle,
"Fields of Blood" by Deb Smith,
"Domicile 4.5" by Matthew Williams,
"Up From Below" by Jamie A Hughes,
"In The Light" by Neil Foster,
"Aftermath" by Jim Bowers,
"Wave Goodbye" by Chris A Jackson, and
"One Day We Shall Be Gone" by Saana Tykkä

For authors interested in joining in on this adventure, a January 1, 2012 deadline for submissions has been set. Questions may be addressed to herscherproject[at]gmail[dot]com.

How To Make Jambalaya

(Source: How To Make Jambalaya)

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Uncanny Valley of Faerie

I am still tantrumming.

I recently finished a couple of Tam Lin-inspired books sent to me by a friend, one of which was very good, technically speaking, the other probably self-published or put before a very apathetic editor. Both, however, drove me up the wall due to mixing 1) Scottish balladry 2) English scenery and 3) North American wildlife.

The first two an are insulting combination to the British reader, yet tolerable since the ballad did indeed make it down to England, with Janet tamed and renamed Margaret and the fairies' teeth drawn to make it more palettable to the Sassenach. The third kept throwing me out of the story like a kid from a car crash. Which set me wondering - at what point does fantastic ecology become jarring?

My thought was that an 'uncanny valley' exists for fantasy settings as much as in more acute/visual media. A completely alien ecology that still has human(oid)s wandering around is easy to swallow, likewise a clearly well-researched, fact-based alternate history setting...yet somewhere nearer the latter there's a deep well of wrongness, where bears and hummingbirds roam mediaeval Scotengireland and the desert folk are mysteriously white...where's the line? What would make you go "gah, no wizard could do that," and set the book aside, unsettled? Are there other corners of setting, character or culture that are subject to this effect?

Thoughts, anyone?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Writing and the Internet

Patricia C Wrede's observations regarding Internet pros and cons are words of wisdom worth reading, contemplating, and putting into practice. She touches on some advantageous aspects of the Internet as well as a few treacherous pitfalls.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

News from Chris A Jackson

On Thu, Mar 31, 2011 at 10:56 AM, Chris A Jackson wrote:

Hey all,

Well, the computer is recovered from the crash, and I'm up and running!

Jundag, Book 3 of The Cornerstones Trilogy, is up on Amazon, so you can finally fulfill your fix and get the final book in the series. Here's the link:

Also, Scimitar's Heir, book 3 in the series of Scimitar Seas novels is in the final edit stages, way ahead of schedule. We will be back in the states for Gen Con in August, for the release of the "Hero Comes Home" anthology, edited by Gabriel Harbowy, my DMP editor, and Ed Greenwood, creator of The Forgotten Realms! We will, of course, also be doing Dragon Con again, where Scimitar's Heir will be released.

Also, Scimitar Sun is a finalist for the ForeWord Book of the Year award this year. WOOT! Wish me luck!

Big year! Here it comes!

Thank you all!


Fibonacci numbers

Friday, March 18, 2011

Blogs (and other such nonsense)

The world has transformed into a morass of blogs, tweets, and social networking.

I'm not certain that this phenomenon is a bad thing, but I do harbor some concern that it indicates a growing cultural inability to sustain coherent thought for more than a couple hundred words at a time... Is this the onset of LADD (Literary Attention Deficit Disorder)?

So, risking the possibility I may fall victim to LADD, I sit down to compose a blog post in the tried and true hunt-and-peck style. I pause to ponder, and come to the conclusion that whatever I write certainly will be lost among these billions upon billions of words that don't really exist, but appear as if by magic through the technology of the Internet. Perhaps I should be grateful of that, for I also realize I have little talent at stringing together these short streams of wit. Each time I've made an earnest effort at writing a few words of merit to post in a blog, the attempt seems to end as either a failure or a dismal failure.

Ah well, c'est la vie...

Monday, February 28, 2011

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Comfort Zone

As writers, what role does having a comfort zone play in our productivity?

For that matter, which aspect of comfort affects our work the most?

Does comfort zone mean having a comfortable (or creatively stimulating) environment? Is it a place -- not simply a place, but the place? Does it mean getting into the writing mood by wearing that favorite "writing sweater" (is it of the old and threadbare variety or is it a newer, warm and snugly one)? Does comfort zone hinge on delving into yet another piece of writing safely within the confines of our usual genre?

But, perhaps more importantly, can comfort zone be accurately defined as the literary opposite of writer's block?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

When the Hero Comes Home

Chris A Jackson has a short story scheduled for publication in a 2011 anthology release from DragonMoon Press!

ISBN-13: 978-1-897492-25-3
Release Date: August, 2011
Publisher: Dragon Moon Press
Format: Trade Paperback, E-book
Distributor: Ingram

The anthology features new fiction by Jay Lake, Todd McCaffrey, Julie Kagawa, and an all-new Jig the Goblin story by Jim C. Hines.

Release at GenCon!

Info at

Consulting the map and compass

Worthy of a little discussion!

In a very recent comment here, Angela pondered: "...what's the goal of tHP? What ties us together and makes others want to join us? I have my opinion, but I'm curious how other people view the group."

To answer briefly, tHP was created to support the idea that, first and foremost, creativity is (and should be) FUN. However, the mechanics of the "creative fun theory" is rather more complicated, and becomes increasingly more complex with the arrival and acceptance of each new member into tHP.

As it continues to evolve, the face of tHP becomes something just a little different from each of its previous countenances. Stripping away all the various costumes and masks, what I feel remains is the bare, innate need of its members to create...

As tHP's founder, I, too, am intensely curious about the views of others, so please do try to answer Angela's question. Knowing the needs and wants of tHP's members is 90% of sculpting tHP into an environment that reflects those needs and wants.

-- Jim

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Embedded Music

Thought I'd embed a few music videos here. I'm not certain if they'll become a permanent fixture here, but for now... enjoy the music! (Click on the "Music" tab above.)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

tHP Anthology -- Random Thoughts

Some random thoughts regarding the theme/title of a tHP anthology:

"Paying the Boatman" -- On the surface, this topic of "death and dying" appears rather depressing and negative. However, one might consider that this general theme can (and probably should) include such things as:
(1) brushes with death, where the inevitable is - at least temporarily - avoided,
(2) the celebration of life following an individual's passing - the recognition of their life and contributions,
(3) the afterlife and the nearly universal concept of an eternal, undying spirit

"The Soulmate Syndrome" -- "Love, romance, and devotion" may not strike everyone as a theme powerful enough to bind together an anthology, but for those who may doubt it, I challenge you to name a human emotion that has had or can have a more profound impact on literature. The search for a perfect love is a driving force not only in stories, but in everyday life.

"Scorched Earth" -- From wooden clubs and stone axes to plasma rifles and anti-matter cannons, mankind's near-constant involvement in "conflict and combat" is almost as much a part of man's nature as his search for perfect love. I have both abhorrence and resolute faith in man's continued inventiveness and cruelty when the object is to find more expedient methods of eliminating his enemy. I see no likelihood that war will "go away" in the future - as our world "shrinks", the potential for conflicting cultures to come to blows seems only more of a certainty.

"Premonitions" - This theme is rather wide-open, allowing a limitless exploration of the imagination through "tales of future utopias, dystopias, & apocalypse" (okay, so the word "future" is a bit redundant when speaking of premonitions, but I can't edit the poll once a vote has been cast). Although best suited for tales of science fiction or speculative fiction, this theme might also be stretched to include a few looks "backward or sideways" into the steampunk or alternate history genres.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The road up ahead...

Since Project#1 (that "one-time only" lark ten years ago that eventually grew into the Herscher Project), and in spite of a membership that waxes and wanes, I have been amazed at the enthusiasm, ingenuity, and creative drive of the group's members. I am fascinated by the quality and range of talent in tHP, and by the refreshing perspectives that our members have shown in their artistic and written works.

However, the questions, now, may be: "Where do we go from here?" or "Is it time for the group to evolve into something more?" or even "Is the Herscher Project an endangered species?"

I sometimes ponder these things, and I find myself wondering if the group, as it currently exists, is still catering to the needs of a younger, less-skilled demographic or if our members are clinging to tHP for the sake of nostalgia alone.

Should we expand our vision, or should we narrow our focus?

Do we need to pull together and commit to creating a marketable anthology, or do we splinter and go our separate ways with our writing and artwork?

Certainly, the talent exists to travel either of those roads... but it isn't only talent that will determine the destiny of the Herscher Project or its members. There exists within our group an intangible, yet easily discerned bond that has grown over these years, and I believe that essence will help guide us in the future. As always, I remain not as a leader, but as the one out in front being pushed in whatever directions that the Herscher Project members desire and demand -- and I'm enjoying the ride!

James K Bowers
Founder of the Herscher Project

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