The Review: Skin Games

19486421 Skin Game; Jim Butcher, 2014

Hi, my name is Shawn Spjut and it’s been 3 days, 6 hours and 45 seconds, since I read my last Harry Dresden novel.

There. I freely admit to being completely addicted to the White Wizard-Dark Knight-best-of-intentions, but-my-choices-just-keep-getting-me-further-and-further-into-trouble, Harry Dresden. A character who welds magic like a bull in a china shop, has so many vulnerabilities its like reading Swiss Cheese, and is completely lovable – smartass mouth and all.

My only question is, if wizards really do live long lives, how in heck will Harry make it to a hundred and fifty, without some series prosthetics, and a lot of pharmaceuticals? No man, wizard, or supernatural being (outside of were’s, vampires, and shape shifters), can get beaten up, thrown down, stomped on, broken or bruised as often as he does, and still keeping moving like a young buck for long.

If my calculations are right, this guys only in his thirties, maybe early forties, and he’s already in need of some serious mojo to keep from feeling the pain.

Just sayin . . .

Now before I rave any further, I have to admit, after reading Ghost Story, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to keep going (the only book in the series I didn’t care for). But then along came book #14, ‘Cold Days‘, and my faith in the world of Harry Dresden, Wizard at large, was restored. What better conundrum, than to put a well-intentioned wizard at the beck and call of an evil Mab, and then stick around to see if good really does prevail?

As for the plot? Lets just say, Butcher continues the fight for good and evil with old friends and enemies alike – as well as bringing in a few new twists to do what he does best; fight bad guys, create chaos and mayhem, tease us with romance, then leave us begging for more.

On my readers scale of 1-5 stars, I’m giving Skin Game 3.99999 stars for being a great read, and Jim Butcher 4, for knowing where to let the curtain fall.

The Review: Blood Rights

9571401BloodRights; Kristen Painter, 2011

Hand over heart – or maybe I should say, hand over jugular – when I first picked up Blood Rights, I wasn’t sure it was something I wanted to read. First, it’s by an unknown author (at least to me). Second, it was on a subject that has been written to death (forgive the pun). And third, I had just finished reading the latest book in Jeaniene Frost’s ‘Night Huntress’ series, and didn’t feel like reading some other authors rendition of the same genre – at least not for a week or so.

Face it, sometimes a reader can get so caught up in the characters in one series, to read about someone else in another, just feels like cheating. Maybe I’m the only one who feels this way, but I doubt it.

With that said, I finally bit the bullet, asked Cat and Bones to forgive me, and began reading Kristen Painter’s Blood Rights (House of Comarre). It only took a couple of pages and I was hooked. Whatever emotional attachment I had going for my previous fav’s, had to make room for the new kids on the block – Chrystabelle and Malkhom.

So much for fidelity.

Fast paced. Interesting characters. Plot twisting. Unique addition to an already well established genre. In other words, because of ‘Blood Rights’ there were several days I didn’t get a whole lot of writing done on my own novel.

As for spoiler alerts, I’d say it was like reading the modern-day version of Frankenstein meets Electra meets Cruella De Vil meets the Volturi, with Casper the Ghost and Kitty Kitty thrown in for good measure. An interesting crew of characters that hate to love and love to hate, with enough vampiric mystery and suspense to compel its readers to keeping turning the pages until their done.

On my readers scale of 1-5 stars, I’m giving Blood Rights 3.5 stars for a great read, and Kristen Painter 4, for proving to readers that there is always a new way to skin an old genre.

The Review: Highborn


“As the heat of Hell swirled inside and outside of her, she had to wonder – Could she be redeemed?” –  Brynna; Highborn

Highborn; Yvonne Navarro, 2010
So . . . I’d just finished speed reading the last of Jeaniene Frost’s ‘Cat & Bones’ series and was cruising my 3MCloud Library (love it), looking for new authors to test read, when I came across ‘Highborn’, by Yvonne Navarro. Now we all know there are two things I look for in a new book; art work (bad cover art – I won’t even open up the book unless I already know the author) and a story hook within the first two paragraphs. I might be able to get around the bad cover art, but if they haven’t set the story hook by the end of page one, I’m a gonner.

Anyway, I find this new author whose cover art is so-so and start to move on to the next book ad, when I see this blurb; ‘A twisted urban paranormal noir . . . ‘ just below her name.

Okay, they had me at ‘twisted’.

I can’t say I was hooked by the end of page one. Heck,I wasn’t even hooked by page ten. But I did find the character and story (bad angel seeking redemption) interesting enough, that it pulled me onto the next page and the next and . . . until finally I found myself turning them without effort.

So what is it about ‘Highborn’ that kept me going, even after admitting I won’t read something that hasn’t set its fictional claws in me by page two? The main heroine, Brynna. Despite the authors failure to grab my immediate attention with the story, she did manage to create an interesting enough character, quickly enough, to make me wiling to invest another twenty minutes of my time. Fortunately for both of us,it paid off, since I read the remainder of the book in one sitting.

More and more, as both a reader and fledgling author, I’m finding that the four most important ingredients for a great book are: fast hook, interesting characters, better than average plot and good beat/pace. Now, it might just be my short attention span, but if a book has at least three of those four things going for it, I don’t see how the story can go wrong. Heck, I’ve enjoyed poorly written books, simply because the ingredients for greatness was there. I just had to get over my need for perfection to see it.

And that in a nut shell is what I found with this book; a slow starter with all the ingredients needed for greatness. It just took Navarro a little while to get there.
On my reader’s scale of 1-5 stars, I’m giving ‘Highborn’ a 2.5 for taking a little too long for lift off and 3.5 for recovery. Looking forward to the second book in the Dark Redemption Series, ‘Concrete Savior’.

The Review: Allegiant

18710190 Allegiance: #Veronica Roth, 2013; @HarperCollins

In my review posts, ‘Divergent‘ and ‘Insurgent‘, my reader comments were focused on the flatland first person POV Ms. Roth chose to use in her novels, and what I believe is/was, the evolutionary metamorphosis of  her protagonist Beatrice Prior (Tris). I also devoted time pontificating on the unique experience I believe we, the reader, were given; to witness something which seldom, if ever, occurs in the world of Traditional Publishing – the development of an author.


“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”― Stephen KingOn Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Now something that not all readers might know (but certainly recognize instinctively), is that in order for a story to compel the reader to turn the next page, the characters not only have to be engaging, and the plotline interesting, but there has to be a reward at the end (for the reader, and hopefully, for the protagonist, as well) – be it good, bad or ugly. In other words, there has to be an upward  evolution, an arch, something that lifts the hero up and catapults them forward so that in the end, they or someone, is a better person for all that has taken place.

If it’s a stand alone, this arch has ‘X’ amount of pages to accomplish this evolution in. But if it’s a series, such as ‘Divergent’, or ‘Catching Fire’, the author has three (or more) books to do it in. What I found so very unique about Roth, was the way she created two arch’s; one that lifted our heroine, Tris, upward, and another, that took our hero, ‘Four’ downward. And the way she did it was to utilize the upward trajectory of the one, to emphasis the downward trajectory of the other.

What do I mean by upword and downward trajectories? As Tris begins to let go of more and more of the ideals of those around her,  including her boyfriend Four, she is then free  to develop her own values – embracing more and more of who she is, and who she is becoming. The opposite is true for Four – who comes out of his own evolutionary chrysalis dragging as many dead cats behind him as he had going in. In other words, unless he finds a way to break free of the nightmares from his past (family, friends, society) he will never have the power, or confidence, to embrace the man he is destined to be.

My only criticism of Roth’s ‘Allegiant’ is, unlike the first two novels, Roth decides to add the voice of Tobias, or ‘Four, to that of Beatrice, ‘Tris’, giving us, the reader, now two dimensions instead of the  one-dimensional- flatland-POV. I wish she would have done this from the beginning, as it adds a layer of depth to her story which, now that we’re in book 3, I realize I found lacking in the first (that might explain why I always felt like I was reading/watching the movie – Flatlanders.).

On my reader’s scale of 1-5 stars, I’m giving ‘Allegiant’ 3.99999 for story well done and Roth 4.599999 for making me a fan of first POV flatlanders.




The Review: Insurgent

13335037 Insurgent: #Veronica Roth, 2012; @HarperCollins

In my first post on the Divergent series I rated Ms. Roth’s dystopian novel, 3 for over all story, and 3.5 for pulling off such a unique POV.  Now that I’ve finished reading ‘Insurgent’, her second novel in the series, I stand by my original  assessment of ‘Divergent’. It was a good, not a great, start to an interesting story with a very different way of writing a first person POV. The same cannot be said about her second novel, “Insurgent”.

In a good way.

Let me explain.

The advise a new author will get from almost all editors, agents and publishers alike is; if you’re going to write a series (if they even let you write a series), you need to write the first 3 before actually publishing the first one (good advise no matter how you swing). I have no idea whether this is what happened in Roth’s case, but I’m assuming, since each of the novels came out roughly 12 months apart, it is.

So, Who who cares? you might ask. Well, actually, I do.

Why? Because in book two, not only does the main protagonist (Beatrice Prior) begin to develop some backbone, but so does her creator, Ms. Roth. (And for someone like mwah,  who prefers to read a series, rather than stand alone’s, this proved to be a very unique experience)


With every word, sentence, paragraph and story a writer creates (and revises), they are growing, morphing and honing their craft, and by process of evolution, becoming a better writer for it(we hope). In the world of Indie-Self Publishing, this is far more evident; especially if you’re following a particular author’s work from the beginning. But  in the world of Traditional Publishing, it’s not. Here, we the reader, are seldom, if ever, allowed to see an author’s work until they have honed their craft to a finely tuned writing machine (except maybe in the penny stories at the back of some obscure magazine no one, except maybe the Almighty, have ever heard of). Like hot-house orchids, these supposedly ‘new’ authors, who aren’t allowed  in public until their editors, agents, and publishers have cloned them into the lean-mean-selling machine that will make them, the publishing house, a lot of money.

“We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.”― Kurt Vonnegut

Now, maybe it’s because I read all three books (Divergent, Insurgent, Allegiant), one right after the other, within three weeks (thank the Almighty for eReaders and treadmills), that I noticed the evolution of both the character and the author so dramatically. Or, maybe its just I’m a real pain in the butt about good character development. Whatever ! The fact remains, despite or because of (I’ve not figured it out yet)  Roth’s use of first person, flatland, one-dimensional POV style of writing, I was able to experience the arch of development in both the main character as well as her creator. An interesting, and not, unpleasant experience.

Which leads me back to original statement: ‘Divergent’. It was a good, not a great, start to an interesting story with a very different way of writing a first person POV. The same cannot be said about her second novel, “Insurgent”. . . In a good way.

In my not so humble opinion, ‘Insurgent’ moved the ‘Divergent’ series from, a good, not a great, start to an interesting story, to somewhere between that and really good.

Like Suzanne Collins –  Katniss Everdeen,  Roth and her gal/pal ‘Tris’, have  invited us, the reader, to experience what it means to go into the chrysalis of society as a caterpillar, and come out the other side, a butterfly. And not just any butterfly; but rather one which is unique, and therefore, a danger to the society in which she/her has been bred and raised. A trouble maker. An ‘insurgent’ – someone who isn’t content to let sleeping dogs lie. For Tris (and author I suspect) it was, is, a journey of becoming; not who the world says or thinks she ought to be (and therefore has a pre-qualified social obligations to act according to the society in which she finds herself in) but rather, the Tris who is and has yet to become.

But like all born again experiences, Roth  uses her heroine to illustrate what all newly formed beings must learn; in order to live we must be willing to die – either to society, or family or friends or even, and more importantly, to the skewed imagination of our own making. Because as long as these nouns (people-places-and-or-things) hold the guy wires to our identity, we will never be free to fly.

On my readers scale of 1-5 stars, I’m promoting ‘Insurgent’ to 3.5, for a story better told, and Veronica Roth to a 4.00005, for an author who  is, learning how to fly.




The Review: Divergent

Divergent: #Veronica Roth, 2011; @HarperCollins  13335037

To be honest I didn’t really pay attention to all the hoopla over the #DivergentSeries when it hit the market in 2011. I thought the cover was nice, but with such a plethora of other YA (yes I admit, I’m an avid reader of YA despite the fact my YA has long since gone bye bye) books available, I just never got that far. Then I saw the trailer for the movie and thought, Why Not! I need something to read on the treadmill. So I downloaded the book onto my trusty eReader and started walking my way through Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago.

I’ll admit it took me a few pages to settle into the authors POV and her almost flatland way of telling the story. But once the heroine’s voice found a comfy spot in my psych from which to share her journey, I was hooked enough that I did one of those ‘Can’t put the book down until I’m finished’ things we reader’s so love to do. (My justification – research. I was studying POV from a flatlander’s voice.)

But here’s the rub; what Roth pulled off doesn’t work for everyone. Like I said, it took me a few pages before I was hooked – which can be death to an author. In this case it wasn’t. The technique worked because she created an opening scene that was interesting enough to pull me into the next, then the next and . . .  well you get the point. Which is probably why I gave Beatrice’s voice a chance and which is why I’m going to read the second book, Insurgent as well.

As for the story itself, I thought it was a regurgitation of Hunger Games, but not in a bad way. Like Suzanne Collins, this author has used the same dystopic story structure of crèches, socialism, only the fittest survive, can’t-help-myself-love-you romance-ology, that ends with more questions asked than answered. Which is what any good series should do, right?

On my reader’s scale of 1-5 stars, I’m giving Divergent 3 for over all story, and 3.5 for pulling off such a unique way of telling it.

Iscariot, A Novel of Judas: The Review

15770312 Iscariot A Novel of Judas; Tosca Lee, 2013; Howard Books

Let me start off with a disclaimer; as one who calls themselves a ‘Christian’, or follower of Christ, I seldom read fiction by those of my own tribe. Why? Because too often the characters, especially if they are taken from the Bible, are more saint than human. Which means that no matter how good or how bad the writing is, the reader, in my not so humble opinion, is left feeling as if they themselves are somehow ‘less than’. The result being, I prefer reading novels from other tribes where the characters, even if they are fictional, are far more human than not.

So we can all imagine my delight when I came across this little jewel. And I do mean jewel. A story about a very famous man – Judas Iscariot.

Famous not for any good deeds or heroic acts of courage or even for life transforming parables or quips he might have contributed to the world and society of his day. But rather, famous for being the man reported in the Gospels to have been responsible for betraying his best friend Jesus of Nazareth, to the Sanhedrin.

A betrayal that many claim to have led to Jesus death and crucifixion.

Now Lee is not the first to tackle this highly immortalized villain.  When you look for other interpretations on the subject of Judas Iscariot, you find such creative works as  Dante‘s InfernoThe Taking of Christ by Italian Baroque artist, Caravaggio,  Martin Scorsese‘s film The Last Temptation of Christ, and even  a vampire film called  Dracula 2000 (to name just a few).

But unlike these other flights of imagination, where Judas is portrayed as the ‘evil’ betrayer of Christ, Tosca Lee decides to follow in the footsteps of Taylor Caldwell‘s 1978 novel I, Judas.  and tell us another story. One that talks about the son of Simon Iscariot who loved God, loved the Torah, and loved another man named Jesus.  The very one whom many of that day, believed to be the promised messiah; a prophet of God whom Jewish tradition foretold would come and lead the nation of Israel to conquer the world.

And like a master bard of old, Lee weaves a story whose words reach deep into the heart and soul of her readers, where they then seduce us into seeing and hearing the story of Judas Iscariot – from the heart and soul of Judas Iscariot. A fatherless son, a desperate youth, a disillusioned man and in the end, a friend whose heart was broken when he realized the truth of who Jesus really was, and what he himself had done.

Again, in  my not so humble opinion, if you read no other book this year, than you owe it to yourself to read ‘Iscariot, A Novel of Judas’.  Why? Because not only is it a really well written book, with vibrant characters and rich narrative, but it will touch your soul, for good and bad, in ways you can’t even imagine.

On my readers scale of 1-5 stars, I’m giving Tosca Lee’s ‘Iscariot, A Novel of Judas’ 4.5 for story, and 5 for having the courage to tell the story of a man….rather than a sinner.

David and Goliath-The Underdogs, Misfits, And The Art OF Battling Giants: The Review

15751404David & Goliath: The Underdogs, Misfits, And The Art OF Battling Giants; Malcom Gladwell, 2013; Little Brown & Company, New York, NY

In the list of reviews I do, those in the non-fiction archive are far and few between. Not that I don’t enjoy reading books other than fiction. But after coming out of more than twenty years of self-imposed reading exile, I don’t often come across something I want to spend my time on. But a couple of weeks ago I came across an interview between Stephen Fry and Malcom Gladwell (which to my chagrin, I’d never heard of) talking about the premise for ‘David & Goliath’.

“The world we could have is so much richer than the world we have settled for.” ― Malcom Gladwell

In the interview Fry asks Gladwell what was the premise behind the book?Gladwell went on to say that despite of, or because of ,what society has coined, ‘handicaps’ or ‘sociologically disadvantaged’ individuals or communities, there are times when it is the very things that should have disqualified them from success, that actually became the impetus to overcome where others might have failed.

Two ideas from the book which had a significant impact on me were first:  the historical revelation surrounding the  story of David and Goliath; and the concept of Big Pond, Little Fish, versus Little Pond, Big Fish.

Now I’m not going to do a spoiler alert by telling what those two things mean. But I will say that if you’re planning to start your own business or trying to decide whether to take a leap of faith or even whether you’ve got what it takes to succeed, I highly recommend you read the book.

As thinker’s go, Gladwell takes brilliant quantitative  thoughts and then rearranges them in terms that are easy to understand, without becoming a condescending…. well you know what I’m talking about. And in the process, he teases his reader out of their narrow worldviews by convincing them to take a second look.

On my readers scale of 1-5 stars, I’m giving David & Goliath, The Underdogs, Misfits, And The Art OF Battling Giants,  4 stars.

Demonologist: The Review

15717850Demonologist; Andrew Pyper, 2013; Simon & Shuster, New York, NY

Once again the universe has surprised me with an author who not only takes on the subject of demons/possession and if there really are things that go bump in the night, but does so in a way that kept me holding the book with one hand and the edge of my seat with the other.

Not with gruesome  details like the spinning heads or spitting pea green soup of  William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist, or ‘Here’s Johnny’ of Stephen King’s , The Shinning,  nor Andrew Kevin Walker’s 1995 film ‘Seven’.

No Andrew Pyper’s Demonologist is more on the order of Peter Straub/Stephen King’s ‘The Talisman’ or Dean Koontz  ‘Watchers’ or Thomas Tyon’s  ‘The Other’. Books that demand the reader make room for thoughts other than their own.

I will say this though, the first couple of pages were a bit rocky for me. Generally an author has two, maybe three paragraphs to either grab or bore me. And it’s really more about author voice than plot…which is why I went ahead and pushed through Pyper’s first chapter. It was the voice…first person, singular universe, tunnel vision voice of David Ullman; professor of religion, mythology and a man who believes in neither (and I can’t lie, the whole demon/Catholic non-romantic thing didn’t hurt either).

Yet for such a one-dimensional story, this one is so full of texture and depth you can’t help but fall into every ditch, void and despair Ullman does.

Kind of like “Flatland”, only with pop-ups.

Unlike Jim Butcher’s ‘Harry Dresden’ who slams, smacks, punches and wizards his way through the story at such a pace I feel like I’ve just had my cardio work out for the entire bloody month, David Ullman speeds the reader along at a mild mannered Kent Clark kind of way that left me breathless without even realizing I’d left the building.

As my reader’s know I am all about character development. Well with Andrew Pyper’s ‘Demonologist’, the reader gets a three strand cord that is not easily broken; plot, character and author voice. Separate I’m not sure how far they would have gone, but together they will wrap themselves around your souls and refuse to let go.

The only reason I didn’t finish this novel in one setting is because the reality is,  I have to work on my own novel some time. Other wise I would have never left the arm-chair until I was done reading it.

Needless to say, Andrew Pyper is now on my “Must Read Author’ list.

On my reader’s scale of 1-5 stars, I’m giving ‘Demonologist’ 4.5 stars for story and 3 stars for making me remember how much I hate demonology.

The Exile of Sara Stevenson: The Review

Exile-of-Sara-StevensonThe Exile of Sara Stevenson; Darci Hannah, 2010; Ballantine Books

“The Exile of Sara Stevenson” was Hannah’s first novel, but I began my own introduction to her authorship via her second, “The Angel of Blythe Hall“.

As with the second,  the author picked two of my favorite things to write about; Scotland and fantasy (well the fantasy part was a little on the light side, but there none the less).  Now I’m not a huge fan of romance, but if done with the right blend of history and quality character development, I’m willing to make an exception. So based on my enjoyment of novel number two, I went back for novel number one.

I thought the overall story was good, but light on both history and character development. The first maybe not such a big deal (since the author only used history as a point of reference) but the second…well it might have been her use of first person that left everyone, except for the heroine and her counter-part, half done. I for one would have like to have seen more from the other characters.

There was good use of plot and intrigue (though both took rather a long time to develop), yet I think there were several aspects  of the story, had they been fleshed out more, would have added a lot to it (particularly the area of Scottish smuggler’s). As well as several she could have done without.

My favorite aspect of the entire book was its ending; which truth to tell almost made up for any other disappointments I may have had. Fact of the matter is if it were me, I might have begun with it, instead. But I’m not, and a book is like a child; you can stand around all day and tell its parent how you think it should be raised, but at the end of the day it’s still their child, not yours.

The upside… her second book was even better than the first, which tells me that in all likelihood we’ll be seeing even better stories coming from Darci Hannah in the future.

On my reader’s scale of 1-5 stars, I’m giving The Exile of Sara Stevenson 3.5 stars.