Tuesday, 28 April 2015

The Infinite Expanse, by BC Powell - Review

The Infinite Expanse: by BC Powell
Published by:  BC Powell
Genre:  Science Fiction, Fantasy, Paranormal
Pages: PDF 387, Paperback 374
Source: Xpresso Book Tours
Evil lurks in the desolate Barrens of Krymzyn. For millions of Eras, predators with insatiable cravings have prowled the wasteland. When a traitor of the Delta enters their realm, the solitary beasts may finally have a leader to unite them.

As the new order emerges in the Barrens, Chase and Sash begin their lives together. While Chase fights to prove he belongs in Krymzyn, the power inside Sash flourishes in ways no one could have imagined. But vengeance from the wasteland is soon unleased upon them.

After Chase is trapped deep in the Barrens, his only escape is into the Infinite Expanse. Unaware of the deathly perils that take shape there, he may be lost forever. For Sash to return him from the endless wilderness, she'll have to harness a mystical energy not seen since the beginning of time.

The Infinite Expanse is book two in The Journals of Krymzyn series. This novel is not like anything I’ve ever read before!

Our hero, Chase, apparently dies in his own world of a brain tumour/aneurysm and becomes a permanent resident in the land of Krymzyn. We learn about the strange land of Krymzyn beyond the Delta and the Barrens, out to the Infinite Expanse, and how Chase and Sash, his Krymzyn partner, manage together as an ‘interdimensional’ couple.

There is a very elemental quality to this book. I feel like I’m reading about archetypes. The inhabitants are at baseline an array of colours when seen correctly (vibrations?) though they look much like humans. All the elements of Krymzyn have such strong, vivid colours (the grass is a brilliant red!) that James Cameron’s movie Avatar also comes to mind.

Krymzyn seems to be a place of balance for all of being. They have visitors (Tellers) from all worlds, including the earth, though Chase is the first permanent one. There is a very loving, caring attitude by the inhabitants of the Delta for each other and for all life, and especially between Sash and Chase. I could really feel the special, supportive love they come to have for each other. And we begin to see the inherent and particular power in Sash that promises to grow into something beyond all expectations.

Everyone in Krymzyn has a purpose. For example, ‘travellers’ learn to blend their light, a sort of mental control over one’s physical particles by separating them enough to latch onto streams of light, in order to travel much faster along the light streams to accomplish certain tasks. This is the skill Chase learns, and is such an interesting technique that I’d like to learn it too!

Chase himself begins to affect his new world and those he interacts with. He is eager to be of service and help, a great quality, which gains him acceptance. The inhabitants come to ‘honour’ Chase and respect his earthly ways, thereby learning and acquiring some of them.

We also find that evil lurks in Krymzyn, and is determined to overtake the Delta. This plotline runs parallel to the main story, intersecting at crucial moments, and definitely to continue in book 3.

This book is quite concisely written, and thoroughly explores all its themes and characters. There are many unique beings for the reader to get to know, some themed on our own mythology (I love the serquatines!). The world building is very good and I really feel like I'm there. 

Author B.C. Powell
I found the land of Krymzyn and its inhabitants interesting, though the overall execution a little bit distant, neutral, polite? This may be partly on account of the semi-formal speech that the inhabitants use in communicating with each other.

If you want to break out of a reading rut, reading The Infinite Expanse will do that!  Some sexuality.

Infinite Expanse Available at Amazon

Friday, 24 April 2015

Daughter of Glass, by Vicki Keire - Review

Daughter of Glass, by Vicki Keire
Published: March 16, 2015
Imprint: Curiosity Quills
Pages: 198
Source: Curiosity Quills/NetGalley
Abbreviated Synopsis:
Sasha Alexander has a powerful ability.
Either that, or she's dangerously mad. She isn't always sure which.

Her father shrouds her in isolation,convinced he's protecting her from the same madness that took her mother. But the seven impossible guardians only she can see insist she's gifted. They protect her from hurt, pain, and fear. They also keep her from feeling love.

A strange young man, Noah, explodes through her defences. She wants more, but unless she can learn to control her emotions, the biggest danger to everyone may be Sasha herself.
4 Stars
Anger, Fear, Desire, Guilt, Sadness, Oblivion, and Joy are seven Guardians Sasha is gifted with upon her mother’s apparent suicide when she’s a little girl. Seven Guardians only she can see, and that she grows up with.

Sasha is the mayor’s daughter (town of Whitfield), and her mother was a painter. The opening scene is at the newest Andreas Academy (art) fundraiser and we are introduced to some of the mysterious Guardians that invisibly surround her much of the time and their unusual role of controlling Sasha’s emotions. As her emotions are terrifying powerful and for the protection of herself and others, the Guardians siphon these away from her, unfortunately leaving her in a complete emotional vacuum.

At first, this premise seemed pretty creepy to me. I felt like these so called “Guardians” aren’t guarding her at all but are using her in some way. By the end of the book, my understanding of this changed.

Enter Noah, also a painter, who Sasha immediately has a powerful attraction to because he actually makes her feel something the guardians can't siphon away, and he’s been hurt too. This makes for strong bonding pretty fast, though I thought this was understandable under the circumstances.  But for Sasha to be with him, she has to escape the tight control her father, and her bodyguard, have over her life. Still, budding love will find a way…

They story is well written, with a nice, emotional flavour. I did find that the nearly always present Guardians and Sasha’s continuous internal dialogue with them overwhelmed the story. Noah serves to break some of this up, and move the story forward with respect to opening up what the strange little southern town of Whitfield is actually about. I really wanted to learn more about the hidden things about Whitfield and some of the other residents as these are kept in the background somewhat.

There is a very interesting emotions-attack showdown between Sasha and the evil Mr. Bain (and his guards) from the city council who has ties to her past.  It’s a curious idea that our emotions can be used as weapons that influence and overwhelm others when uncontrolled, as if they have some physical force. I liked this unique take, and it was well hashed out.

This book has some illustrations, usually at the end of chapters. I’m not sure if I enjoyed these or not, perhaps found them distracting? The end also has some excerpts from Angel’s Edge, Gifts of the Blood, also by Vicki Keire.

I did find the rendered book cover to be off-putting and thought about whether I would buy the book even though I was interested in the story line. For me, this would have been a no. Though I own up to being a terrible cover snob and being very influenced by covers. So, a huge thank you to Curiosity Quills Press/NetGalley/Vicki Keire for providing me a reading copy for the purposes of a review.

Vicki is the author of The Angel's Edge series, The Chronicles of Nowhere, and works in two anthologies. You can find Vicki on the web here:
Vicki Keire's Website
Vicki Keire on Twitter
Vicki at Goodreads
Purchase Daughter of Glass at Amazon

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Book Covers DIY Tips

Example One
Book Covers figure largely for representing your written work, be it fiction, cookbooks, memoirs, business, or other non-fiction so finding the right images to portray your book correctly and attract buyers is an important task.

In working on a cover for my indie novella, the Iron Web, I’ve found some very useful 100% FREE online resources that I wanted to share in this blog post.

First, we need a tool to help us manipulate the images we want to be put into our book cover, and to be able to add the title of the book, and author name.

There are many 100% free online photo editors. Some are downloads onto your computer. At least one is just use online. Here is a short list:

Gimpshop, PicMonkey, Pixlr, BeFunky, PhotoFlexer

I’m currently using iPiccy iPiccy Website because there is nothing to download onto your computer, you simply work online within their framework. The learning curve here I think is faster too. Here’s a quick overview of their functions and effects. Using an online photo editor does take some time to learn all the tricks but is well worth the effort. To retain the resolution quality, when you save your image, you can chose the resolution (ie. 1.0 Mb, etc.).

iPiccy Features:
BASIC  resize (basic Kindle size is 1280 x 1940 px), crop, rotate, flip, exposure, hue, erase background, liquefy, etc.
PHOTO EFFECTS sepia, matte, pixelate, rainbow, gritty, infrared, posterize, etc.
RETOUCH effects for fixing people pictures like airbrush, tan, eyecolour, etc.
BLENDER combine and blend the layers of images with different effects, vectoring
PAINTER painting tools
FRAMES various effects framing your images like mirror, rounded corners, snowflakes, etc.
TEXTURES grunge, paper, nature, light leaks, etc.

Example Two
Next, and no less importantly, we need a great online source for free, quality, high-resolution images.  There are many free image sites but they all have specific attribution conditions, or the images available are very low resolution (Wikimedia Commons was one site I used to like).

I’ve recently discovered Pixabay, a seriously awesome 100% Free, 100% attribution free (yes!), source for all kinds of high quality images, including images of people. Sign up for an account to download the high-res images as otherwise you will only get the small size. Image contributors do ask for a ‘coffee’ donation but this voluntary.  Pixabay Website

Now for some simple examples (I’ve used small-res images for my blog post). The only limit is your imagination!
Example One Above: I’ve used one of my own pictures of a flower for this one. I faded it out a bit, then added light effects, and text on top.

Example Two: I’ve used one of my own photos at a local park for the background. I put it into Frames, using ‘snowflakes’ for the frame trim. I used Basic (hue) to colour the grass. Then added text on top.
Example Three

Example Three: The third example is simply using an image from Pixabay and putting a title and author name over it.

I will say that iPiccy's fonts are not that great, but you can find something suitable.

So, if you're not already using an online photo editor for your own family projects, business projects, or for your blog, consider checking some out.

While photo editors like iPiccy may not give you the incredible effects you can get with Photoshop, they also don't come with the price tag, or the learning curve while delivering a decent image.

So, get editing! Do you use an online photo editor? What's your favourite, and why? I'd love to hear about your experiences.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Gathering Frost by Kaitlyn Davis - Review

Gathering Frost, by Kaitlyn Davis
Published:  February 17, 2015 on CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Genre:  YA Dystopian Romance
Pages:  306 Print, 203 on Adobe Digital Edition reader
Source:  Xpresso Book Tours, NetGalley

Jade was only a little girl when the earthquake struck. Before her eyes, half of New York City disappeared, replaced by a village that seemed torn out of a storybook. And, above all, a queen with the magical ability to strip emotions away.

Ten years later and Jade has forgotten what it is to feel, to care... even to love. Working as a member of the queen's guard, she spends most of her time on the city wall staring at the crumbling skyscrapers of old New York. But everything changes when the queen's runaway son, Prince Asher, returns. In return for betraying the Prince's secrets to the crown, she'll earn her freedom, but whose side is she really on?
I love the unusual premise of Gathering Frost, a dystopian fairy tale retelling. This is kind of a crazy world, where the magic realm of Kardenia (and the queen’s castle) is practically side-by-side with the ruin of earthquake-destroyed New York. We see medieval Kardenia versus decrepit ruins of modern New York, crossbow versus guns and bullet-proof vests, and medieval military quarters that house relic museum paintings on the order of Monet. Very interesting combination.

Jade is a young NY earthquake survivor who matures to become a guard at the queen’s castle, and falls under Queen Deirdre’s magical, life-sucking thrall like everyone in her realm. The queen sends Jade on a mission away from Kardenia, and we see Jade gradually coming out from under her evil spell the further away she gets.

It’s great to see Jade thaw out from her stiff military self as she travels further away with the long-missing Asher to the rebel camp. She starts to realize what emotions are.  Jade and Asher's first kiss is so cute - giddy, fun, sweet, spell-breaking.

There are lots of great plot twists in this book that I didn’t see coming, and plenty of action on Jade's journey. Many nice touches like the wall of photos of missing people, and the giants scene.

So, there are many elements to this story that I like, but overall I didn’t really connect to Jade, and was left feeling like something was missing. Lots of action, but I wanted to see more introspection, more description. I like that the book is 203 pages on Adobe Digital Editions, but maybe a slightly shorter length leaves out some time for more character development and relationship building.

This would play out better as a film I think; enjoyable if you're looking for a very light-hearted read. Credit to the author for designing her lovely cover.
My favourite quote:
He meets my gaze. “Then what do they need?”
"They need a killer." I take a deep breath. "They need me."

Kaitlyn Davis on the Web:
Kaitlyn Davis' Website
Kaitlyn on Twitter
Kaitlyn at Goodreads
Gathering Frost Available at Amazon

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Playing With Matches by Lee Strauss - Review

Playing with Matches, by Lee Strauss
Published: CreateSpace Independent,
November 16, 2012
Genre: Young Adult, Historical
Pages: 286 Paperback, and PDF
Source: Xpresso Book Tours, Author

A dedicated member of Hitler Youth, Emil was loyal to the Fuehrer before family, a champion for the cause and a fan of the famous Luftwaffe Air Force.

Then one day the soldiers rounded up the Jews. Outlawed their music, burned their books. Still…it must be for the betterment of the Fatherland, right?

Emil’s friends, Moritz and Johann, discover a shortwave radio and everything changes. Now they listen to the forbidden BBC broadcast of news reports that tell both sides. Now they know the truth. The boys along with Johann’s sister, Katharina, band together to write out the reports and covertly distribute flyers through their city. It’s an act of high treason that could have them arrested—or worse.

As the war progresses, so does Emil's affection for Katharina. He'd do anything to have a normal life and to stay in Passau by her side. But when Germany's losses become immense, even their greatest resistance can't prevent the boys from being sent to the Eastern Front.
When I started reading this book, I just had to briefly research the Hitler Youth movement to understand something of the power it had in Germany at the time.

By 1934, Hitler Youth was the only legal youth organization in Germany. By 1940 it had 8 million members through apparent social coercion or enforced conscription. Hitler’s war machine gradually turned this organization into an arm of the military, culling millions of the nation’s teens, and young boys into the war effort.

Young Emil, like other German boys, is eager to belong to a group that instills pride in his country and to bring his own contribution. From the very beginning of the book however we see that Emil inwardly questions the actions and teachings of the organization.

I thought it extremely brave, maybe even foolhardy, that Emil and his friends, Moritz, Johann, and then Katharina, spread the word locally secretly spreading pamphlets about how Germans were not being told the whole truth about how the war was progressing when they start to hear the BBC radio broadcasts. Others are being killed for such activities.

As the war continues, it’s heartrending to see the changes brought upon Emil and his family, but I like that the book is written from the point of view of a regular German family. I can’t remember ever reading about how horribly the war affected the lives of the Germans themselves, and yet it seems impossible for them to stop it.

Friendships, families, and lives are torn apart, and living conditions become deplorable as the war takes everything. Young Emil eventually is enlisted into battle, stoically finding ways to keep himself going. It’s terrible that a teenager should have to deal with life and death like this. The author mentions that some of these events are written from true experiences of people who were children during the war, making elements of the story very real.

I was mesmerized with this story and how far down the wrong road man can go. Playing With Matches makes me contemplate the social groups that I'm currently involved in.

I think this book would be a great addition to the high school curriculum as a teaching aid, and is a great read for those interested in the social history of the early 1940s.

My thanks to the author for a reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Lee Strauss is the author of contemporary romance and speculative fiction and can be found here on the web:
Author's Links
Lee Strauss' Blog
Lee Strauss on Twitter
Lee Strauss on Facebook
Lee Strauss on Goodreads
On Pinterest as Elle Suttman

Playing with Matches Available on Amazon

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Vampire's Bane by Suzannah Daniels

Vampire’s Bane
By Suzannah Daniels
Publication Date: April 14, 2015
Genres:  Fantasy, Paranormal, Young Adult, Romance, Action-Adventure Post-Apocalyptic
Source: Xpresso Book Tours

A lethal sword.

A dangerous mission.

A seventeen-year-old girl finding her way in a world that is nothing like she remembered.

When Maylin Kavanagh’s parents surrendered her to The Program, they swore it was for her protection. After being confined in a small underground cell for nearly two years, she is finally released.

But the world has changed.

Most of the populace has been wiped out by a deadly disease, and the rules of society have regressed. But that’s not the worst of it. When her group is kidnapped by a band of rogue vampires, Maylin realizes the decline of the human population has brought other races to the forefront –races she never knew existed. And now they’re all battling for survival and power.

In his father’s absence, Thane Warwick must lead his people. He has two priorities: find his father and find humans who can supply blood to his tribe. Immediately intrigued by his latest captive, he becomes interested in Maylin for more than just her blood, but he soon discovers that he must  make a choice between his father and her.

Despite their attraction, Maylin and Thane each have an agenda, and only one can be the victor.

VAMPIRE'S BANE is the first book in the VAMPIRE'S BANE series. While it does end at a natural turning point in the heroine's journey, it is an ongoing story and not all questions will be answered. You will need to read this series in order.

Suzannah is the author of several romance novels in historical, contemporary, and paranormal genres. You can find her on the web here:

Suzannah on Twitter
Suzannah on Pinterest
Suzannah at Goodreads
Suzannah's Facebook Page
To Purchase Vampire's Bane at Amazon:
Vampire's Bane at Amazon USA

Friday, 10 April 2015

The Never Hero - Review

The Never Hero, by T. Ellery Hodges
Published by: Foggy Night Publishing,
September 12, 2014
Genre:  Science Fiction Fantasy
Pages: 429 print
Source:  Janeal & Sarah Author Services

Reclusive college student Jonathan Tibbs wakes in a pool of blood, not a scratch on him.  His life is about to undergo a massive shift. A violent and merciless otherworldly enemy unleashes slaughter in the streets, calling out in a language only he understands. And it is seeking its challenger.

In order to defeat the threat, Jonathan must become a temporal weapon… while remaining completely anonymous.  Unfortunately, harnessing off-world powers has its own special challenges.

The Never Hero is the first installment in the Chronicles of Jonathan Tibbs – a mind-bending, genre crossing, action-adventure trilogy.
The Never Hero is something of a departure for me, but I wanted to read and review a book out of my usual genres. My thanks to Janeal & Sarah Author Services, and the author, for providing me a reading copy for an honest review.

Jonathan Tibbs, is just a regular college student until one evening he has an unexpected encounter with a strange, blonde man that is going to change his life forever, seemingly against his own will. The following events are how Jonathan processes and copes with biological changes forced on him by an alien in order to enable him to combat imminent attack by other aliens.

The author blends these inexplicable experiences forced upon Jonathan and changes Jonathan chooses to bring about in himself on the normal background of living with three college roommates, and the usual stuff of college, having a part-time job, and beginning a new relationship.

I really like how intelligently this book is written, simply and directly, with forays into forever human questions on the order of, can we ever truly be free to make our own decisions?

T. Ellery Hodges is very good at making you feel like you’re lost in Jonathan’s mind, especially in some of the opening scenes when he is hallucinating at the hospital about his father. I felt like I was right there with young Tibbs and his dad.

The theme of comic book heroes runs through this book, but it is not written in a comic-y way at all. The author tackles the psychological rationale of a hero’s mind and why and how anyone would want to even become a hero, and elementally how this is connected to being a man. One of Hodges’ curious comparisons is that of how the biblical Jesus and Superman are thematically alike. Makes you think.

I felt that the author took a little too much time writing about some of the processes that Jonathan goes through; for example, when he decides to begin training, he goes into this in more depth than I found strictly interesting (probably because I’m not a fitness buff!),

As the story progresses, I begin to wonder if Jonathan is fighting against something real, or a physical embodiment of some of his own repressed emotions against unfair realities that can’t be changed, though other elements in the story say otherwise.

The ending is clever and easily sets up the next installment. If you are a hero comic book fan and want to read something more substantial about how your hero got that way, you will want to read The Never Hero. If you’re looking for an interesting urban, sci-fi read, you’ll really enjoy this book.
Author Links:
The Never Hero Official Website
The Never Hero on Facebook

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Hounds of Autumn - Review

Hounds of Autumn, by Heather Blackwood
Published by: Triple Hare Press, December 15, 2013
Genre: Steampunk, Mystery
Pages: 318 Kindle edition

It is 1890, and the windswept moors hold dark secrets. Chloe Sullivan is an amateur inventor whose holiday takes a dark turn when her friend and colleague, one of the few female mechanical experts in the British Empire, is murdered.

A black mechanical hound roams the moors, but could it have killed a woman? And what secrets are concealed within the dark family manor? Accompanied by her naturalist husband and clockwork cat, Chloe is determined to see her friend's killer found.

But some secrets have a terrible cost.
Since watching the classic 1939 version of The Hound of the Baskervilles (Sherlock Holmes), I’ve been a big fan of Dartmoor, and the mysterious Grimpen Mire. What a great atmosphere for mystery novels.

Hounds of Autumn takes place near the town of Farnbridge (near Dartmoor), and was listed as a steampunk, so I wanted to read it right away. Chloe and Ambrose, wife and husband, travel by airship to Farnbridge for a month to visit Ambrose’s family. Chloe is a devoted amateur inventor.

Chloe’s fellow inventor, Camille Granger, who she is planning to now meet, is found dead in the moor the day Chloe and Ambrose arrive. The local police put the blame on her mechanical (a mechanical hound that Camille created). I thought that was an interesting twist on the original Arthur Conan Doyle story.

We follow Chloe in her search for Camille’s killer, with Ambrose at her side. He is quite a bit older but they get along comfortably as Ambrose has his own research interests as a botanist. They respect and take care of each other’s sensibilities.

Blackwood writes in fairly basic steam punk elements. The mystery plot of the novel is equal in weight to this. We see the airship, then ‘mechanicals’ as they are called (servant type machines, and the hound as well as a few other small animals), and a steamcycle, but these elements do not overwhelm the story.

I like that Chloe is not a traditional female of her time and is much more interested in developing mechanicals than in traditional feminine pursuits. Nor does she hesitate to sneak into Camille’s rooms to root around and take some of her papers, or creep about the town at night when she wants to find out something. It’s also encouraging that Chloe’s relationship with her husband, Ambrose, is a comfortable one that suits both of them, and she is no less than him in their relationship dynamics.

We learn there are many secrets hidden among Ambrose’s well-off family members, and with ingenuity and bravery, Chloe gets to the bottom of them.

The plot moves well and though not as steam-punky as others in the genre, I really enjoyed this book as a more relaxing read. If you are looking for a mystery-style steam punk novel with a British country flavour, don’t hesitate to read this. I’m wondering if perhaps Chloe will solve another steam punk mystery?

Thank you to the author for a free Kindle download.