Barb Caffrey's Blog

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What Makes a Good Story?

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Recently, I wrote about Milwaukee Brewers relief pitcher John Axford, and I said that the way his story ended was not the way his story was supposed to go.

This begs the question: What makes for a good story, anyway?

By contemporary standards, what would’ve made Axford’s story much better would’ve been him coming into the game, striking out the side (or at least getting three outs), getting the save, and having the stadium rain cheers upon his head. (The crowd did cheer him when he came in — I think he may have even received a standing ovation — and cheered him on the way out, too, which is not usual when a pitcher is unable to get out of the inning. This last happened because we Brewers fans knew Axford well from his previous service with us, and knew he was deserving of such approbation due to how well he’d done before.)

In previous eras, though, they had stories such as MADAME BOVARY that sold a ton. Those stories would have characters put through the wringer and they’d never be able to come up for air; instead, even their children would be put through the wringer for no purpose, and would never be able to get ahead.

Why audiences appreciated such stories is beyond me, but that was the fashion at that time. The would-be heroine (or hero) had a tragic flaw (or two, or five), and because of that flaw would taint herself and everyone around her beyond any hope of redemption.

The fashion now tends more to happy endings, but well-deserved happy endings. Characters still get put through the wringer (see Lois McMaster Bujold’s MIRROR DANCE, or Katharine Eliska Kimbriel’s NIGHT CALLS, or any of Robert Jordan’s novels in the Wheel of Time series, among others), but they live to fight another day. They learn from their mistakes, too. And they continue on, having learned much more about themselves in the process.

Of course, the Harry Potter novels also exemplify this sort of story. Harry grows up to be a powerful magician, but he’s put through the wringer and must fight the big, bad, nasty, evil, and disgusting Lord Voldemort (and yes, I meant all those descriptions, as Voldemort is just that bad) in order to become the magician he needs to be. He and his friends Hermione and Ron are put through all sorts of awful things, but they eventually prevail.

My friend Chris Nuttall’s novels about Emily, starting with SCHOOLED IN MAGIC and continuing through to FACE OF THE ENEMY (with CHILD OF DESTINY coming soon), also have a plot that shows Emily being thrown into awful situation after awful situation, but she finds a way to prevail every time through hard work, effort, and a talent to get along with people even if they’ve crossed her (or she’s crossed them). Emily scans as a real person, and we care about her because she faces things most of us face even though we’re not magicians.

What are those things, you ask? Well, she has to learn from her own mistakes. She has to realize that she can’t fix everything and everyone. She has to find out that her snap judgments are not always correct. And she has to reevaluate people and situations, even when she doesn’t want to.

Of course, my own stories about Bruno and Sarah (AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE and A LITTLE ELFY IN BIG TROUBLE) have many of the same lessons. There are things Bruno can do, and does, once he realizes he’s been lied to about nearly everything. Sarah is in much the same boat, except she has different talents — complementary ones, in most cases — and the two of them have to find that they’re stronger together than they could ever be alone. But there are still things they can’t do, and they must make their peace with that (as every adult does), while continuing to work on the things they can.

In other words, they can control what is in their power to control. But they can’t control other people. (It would be wrong to do so, anyway. They have to make their own lives meaningful in whatever way they can, too. And make their own mistakes, as we all do…but I digress.)

Anyway, the stories I love best are those with happy endings. People sometimes start out with situations they don’t deserve (such as my friend Kayelle Allen’s character Izzorah, who went through a childhood illness that damaged his heart and nearly blinded him), but they get into better positions and find the people who can help them — maybe even love them the way they deserve. (Izzorah, for example, finds a treatment for his heart — it’s not a standard one, by any means, but it works in the context of the story — and finds love along the way in SURRENDER LOVE.)

So, to go back to the beginning of this blog, as we love happy endings and we want to see deserving people find good luck and happiness, the true ending we wanted for John Axford was to get the outs, get the cheers, bask in the glow of achieving his dreams once again at the baseball-advanced age of thirty-eight, and stay with the Brewers the rest of the season as they continue to make their run at postseason play.

That Axford was unable to achieve this happy ending was distressing. But all the hard work and effort he put into his return to the big leagues should still be celebrated. And my hope, overall, is that he will still be with the Brewers in one way or another after this season ends.

What makes for a good story? Do you agree or disagree with me, and if so, why? Tell me about it in the comments!

Introducing STAND AGAINST THE LIGHT, a Great YA Novel by George Phillies

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Folks, I’m happy to introduce you to George Phillies’ newest novel, STAND AGAINST THE LIGHT. It’s a book about young superheroes, in a world where they know about such things; more specifically, it’s a book about twelve-year-old Eclipse, one of the baddest twelve-year-old girls you’re ever likely to meet (in the best of senses.) It’s an excellent book, the third in the “Eclipse: The Girl Who Saved the World” series, and I enjoyed editing it immensely.

(Note that I didn’t edit books one and two, but they are also excellent. You can get book one, ECLIPSE: THE GIRL WHO SAVED THE WORLD here for only ninety-nine cents, and book two, AIRY CASTLES ALL ABLAZE, here.)

Take a look at this gorgeous cover art by Brad Fraunfelter:

But you are probably wondering by this point, “Who is Eclipse, anyway?” Well, as I can’t do any better than George’s own blurb, take a gander at that:

Eclipse:
World’s greatest tween superhero.
World’s most terrifying tween supervillain.
Opinions differ.

She’s twelve. She’s hardworking, bright, self-reliant, good with tools,
vigorously physically fit, tough as nails, still young enough to
disguise herself as a boy. Since arriving she’s only blown up one
mountain range.  And she knows that when she faces the final doom, win
or lose, she will die trying.

I just loved working on this book, loved Eclipse, thought she was such a great character, and enjoyed everything about the milieu with the superheroes (called “personae” in their own universe). The best part of the book, though, were the friendships between Eclipse and the other young superheroes, most particularly with a girl named Trisha (persona name: Comet). And because I enjoyed the book so very, very much, I asked George for an excerpt, so you’d have some idea of just what you’re getting into — only in the best of senses! — and he obligingly sent the following:

Cloud stared at the wall clock.  Eclipse was supposed to appear in their
base in a few minutes.  Where was she?

“We’ll be ready in a moment, Cloud,” Comet said. “Just so soon as all
five of us are here.” Her wait was interrupted by the hitherto-unseen
Eclipse, who materialized in the room’s center. Her garb was freshly
washed and ironed.  Silver curls were precisely combed.  Her face was
the image of tranquility.

Star almost made a comment about girls needing to do their hair before a
fight, then bit his tongue.  When Eclipse walked, she left a trail of
power that rippled the space behind her. She moved her hands.  The air
through which her fingers passed curdled, warped by eddies and whorls
from half-called gifts. Looking near her was like staring at hot
pavement on a sunbright day. The slightest hint of screens flickered
above her garb, violet spiderwebs tracing the pattern of her motif.

“Sorry if I needed a little longer.” Eclipse’s voice was remote, as
though she no longer lived only in the here and now. “Calling the deeper
levels is more safely done through slowness and tranquility. Is all else
prepared?  Aurora?  Comet?”

The younger girl posed, arms outstretched, fading behind the pyramid and
eye that marked her powers’ manifestation. *Eclipse?  They’re a mile
down, spread along that mountain range, except that city. Their
tunnels…that mountain range is hollowed out, with barely enough rock
left to keep it from collapsing.  There! That’s all of them in Tibet,
`cept relay stations.  [Images of rock tunnels, a tracery penetrating to
the roots of the Himalayas.]  Rock’s laced with screens!*

Eclipse’s screens appeared, bright as a magnesium flare as they enfolded
her and Comet, burning the violet usually reserved for morning glories.

“We’re invisible…Now!” Comet shouted.  The two girls vanished.

“You’re invisible,” Star confirmed.

Eclipse’s teleport transported the two of them.  They hovered in the
upper air over the Tibetan High Plateau.

“How can you do this?” Comet asked. “Those mountains are huge.”

Eclipse smiled grimly. *I cheat.* This is Pickering’s world, she told
herself, not even understanding what they’re facing.  Saving them all
depends on me.  She shuddered at the name of the levels she would need.
*Lucky for us, I find breaking things real easy.* She reached into the
core of her being, deeper than the Fall of Crystal, deeper than the
Tomb, deeper than the Hall of the Lidless Eye. Deeper.  Deeper.  Beyond
the Straight Circle.  Beyond the warm touch of the Solid Rainbow.  All
the way to the bottom of the Well of Infinity.

A column of pure energy stabbed downwards from her right hand, piercing
thousands of feet of stone and tens of intertwined defense screens like
a surgeon’s needle lancing a troublesome boil.  Hidden chambers carved
from living rock were brilliantly lit, their contents transformed in
microseconds into incandescent gas.

Tibetan Empire defenses engaged. Colossal explosions shredded the air
around Eclipse and Comet.  Shock waves rolled out in all directions. 
Superheated fireballs, blindingly bright, rose through the stratosphere,
punching a hole in the sky above as they rose far into the ionosphere. 
Comet, frightened, leaned into Eclipse’s shoulder.

*Trisha,* Eclipse thought, *Don’t be afraid of these clowns. We’re
good.  Give me a little more space, please?*

Comet drifted back.

Eclipse summoned the full depth of her gifts.  For tens of seconds her
plasma torch probed through granite, a torrent of power momentarily
absorbed by the enormous mass of the mountains.

The Himalayan massif exploded.  A column of superheated gas burst
skywards, carrying with it an entire line of mountains transformed to
incandescent ash.  Steep cliff sides, crushed to white-hot sand, blew
out in all directions.  Shock waves tore through the bedrock, the ground
of the surrounding valleys rolling in great waves as majestic as the
swells of the distant Indian Ocean.

Eclipse focused her thoughts on holding her own screens against the
geological catastrophe she had created.  Her own attack lanced down,
deeper and deeper, striking to the ultimate core of the fortress beneath
her.

Comet managed a last glimpse of the doomed City of the Sun, a city whose
rigidly mathematical lines blurred under the impact of impact of earth
shocks, then disappeared behind falling rocks and clouds of glowing
ash.  She squeezed her eyes shut, knowing that her last images of the
City, architecture crumbling like a matchwood ship hurled against the
coast by gale-driven waves, would be with her until her life’s end.

From Chapter Forty-Four, Waging Peace Through Unlimited Firepower, STAND AGAINST THE LIGHT by George Phillies

At any rate, I hope you’ve enjoyed the excerpt, the cover art, and my blog…now, go to Amazon and get the e-books! (Again, book one, ECLIPSE: The Girl Who Saved the World, is only ninety-nine cents today.)

Chris Nuttall’s Newest Book, STUCK IN MAGIC, Is Out…

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Folks, Chris Nuttall is a good friend of mine, and also an editorial client. I lead with that, because I recently edited his newest novel, STUCK IN MAGIC, for the reinvigorated Henchman Press.

This book is a spinoff of Chris’s popular Schooled in Magic universe (which so far has spawned 23 full novels, at least five novellas, and a few other short stories). Instead of starring Emily, a girl from Kansas in our world who finds out she has magic (and thus can change her new world), it stars Elliot, also an American from our time and place. He is a military man, describes himself as “big, black, and beefy,” and one day he’s driving along the Interstate, very angry at his cheating wife. Before he knows it, his car is wrecked, he’s in the middle of a primeval forest, and a young woman — not Emily — has worked a spell so he can understand the local language.

Mind you, Elliot quickly figures out there has to have been someone from our world who’s shown up there, as books use English letters and numbers use Arabic numerals. There also are “new” inventions — new to the Nameless World, anyway — of muskets, flintlocks, and steam engine-driven trains. (All of these are thanks to Emily, but of course Elliot cannot know that.)

Elliot has no magic at all. What he has are his quick mind, his military knowledge (including knowing a great deal of military history), and how to fight insurgents bent only on his destruction. (No, he’s not faced actual magicians before. But he has faced insurgents galore in “the Sandbox,” i.e., Afghanistan, Iraq, and quite possibly Pakistan as well.)

So, what would you do, if you ended up stuck in magic? How would you deal with the wrenching sense of loss, of losing everything including that of the world of your birth, when you don’t have a major talent (as Emily does)? Would you be able to adapt?

At any rate, the ebook came out at lightspeed, and is out now. (Here’s a link from Amazon, in case you’re interested.) And the cover art is spectacular. You have to see this. (Thank artist Lydia Kurnia for coming up with this great cover.)

So, go forth, and read this! (You’ll be glad you did.)

Introducing “A Stolen Heart” by Kayelle Allen

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Folks, I’m always glad to talk about my friend and fellow author Kayelle Allen. I’ve edited at least six of her books (maybe more; I’ve lost count), and I’m always happy to work on them because they’re well-detailed, well-organized, and a lot of fun.

But A STOLEN HEART, which is all of the above, is even more than that. It’s about optimism, in the face of great loss. It’s about the blessings of family, even when you don’t think you deserve it. It’s about personal growth, and self-sacrifice, and finding your own way in the world…most of all, it’s about figuring out how to love yourself, warts and all, even when you’ve done something so horrible you have nightmares about it many years after the fact.

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Kayelle’s hero in A STOLEN HEART is the enigmatic Luc Saint-Cyr, a nearly immortal man from a race of genetically engineered humans called Ultras. Luc, thousands of years ago and under another name, was sent while he’d been a soldier to kill, and he’d done just that. But when he found out that the people he’d killed this time were children, he was so appalled he confronted his superiors. They told him to basically “stop being a wussy” (not in so many words), and that he’d been engineered to kill, thank you, so why was he complaining about killing children? What’s the big deal?

Luc wasn’t having any of it, and for many years — and lives — he’s tried to atone for that. (It’s not that he won’t kill if he has to; it’s that he will not kill innocents ever again.) He’s believed that he is unworthy of love. And he’s become almost ossified in his beliefs to the point that even when he takes lovers, he gets physical relief from it but no more — and expects nothing more, either, because who could love him, pariah though he is?

And because Luc’s past comes with a very attractive ex-boyfriend who’s also immortal, well…let’s just say that adds some complexity to the mix. (Remember what I said about Luc not feeling lovable? That definitely hasn’t killed off his sex drive. Though there really isn’t any sex in this book, just attraction…ahem.)

ab-ash-bnr-pietas-pi-chart

Anyway, Luc’s now a financier and merchant. He’s also one of the heads of the Thieves Guild, which is a quasi-legal enterprise in the galactic empire he lives in. But he still thinks of himself as a pariah, and while others (including his ex) see him as calm, cool, and collected, he knows his life is empty.

Because he is more or less immortal (Ultras can be killed, but it takes a Hell of a lot of doing), he has borne this shame for many years. But into his life comes a young half-human boy, Senthys Antonello (called Senth by everyone but Luc; Luc insists that “nicknames lack dignity”). Senth is only three when Luc runs across him running from a nasty teacher in the Thieves Guild; unbeknownst to Luc, the rules have recently changed and now young children (providing they are not fully human) can be sold as slaves. This disgusts Luc, and so he determines to do something about it…but first, he takes Senth home with him as a foster child.

And this changes his life for the better in so many ways, it’s almost incalculable.

Because I don’t want to spoil the read, I’ll stop there with the plot summary. But I do hope you’ll read what Kayelle has written, as I found it both enlightening and pertinent. Yes, Luc’s very long-lived, yes, he has an immortal ex, but inside he’s just like the rest of us. And until he meets Senth, he has no idea what the love of family actually is. Much less the type of love known as agape,  which is selfless by nature.

In previous books (including one about Senth as an adult), Luc was shown to be almost sinister at times. But A STOLEN HEART shows Luc to be like anyone else: he wants to be loved for who he is, doesn’t necessarily he believes he deserves it (in fact, he often doesn’t think he deserves it at all), and is trying to find his way despite many life challenges he didn’t make. And while he may have been created to kill, initially, that isn’t what he is now — or at least, that isn’t all he is.

That’s why I was so pleased to work with Kayelle as her editor for A STOLEN HEART, and it’s why I wholeheartedly recommend this book to you now.

——

BTW, here’s the blurb Kayelle wrote for Amazon, in case you need any more:

When he rescues a half-human orphan, a glorified space pirate turned entrepreneur sets in motion a chain of events that threatens to topple the powerful Thieves’ Guild he once led.

Multiple layers of conspiracy unfold, reaching all the way to Luc’s immortal ex–the king. Behind each solved mystery looms an unseen foe, undoing the good Luc accomplishes. For the sake of this child, Luc must postpone his own freedom and master his desire for revenge or he will violate an ancient vow. Worse, he’ll put the toddler at risk.

At war with his compassion for the vulnerable child, loyalty to the king, duty to the Guild, and the bright lure of freedom he’s coveted for centuries, Luc seeks the right path. Will he choose liberty and unparalleled success, or restore the Thieves’ Guild to its former glory while overseeing the child’s training?

A hard choice for any man.

For an immortal whose inner monster can destroy on sight? Impossible.

A pirate with a monstrous past can never be trusted with an innocent child. Luc must ensure the child is protected, safe, nowhere near danger. Nowhere near him. Even if this little boy has already stolen his heart…

Written by Barb Caffrey

May 18, 2020 at 2:18 pm

Read More, or, How to Stay Sane in a Global Pandemic

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Folks, I wrote a week ago or so about the mass hysteria over the corona virus. Since then, more information has come out, and it appears the only thing that can mitigate the damage from this previously unknown virus is “social distancing” — in other words, trying to stay away from people who aren’t members of your nuclear family (or are exceptionally good friends you’ve seen in the past week or two).

Social distancing doesn’t necessarily mean isolation, mind. You can still talk with your friends, even those who you haven’t seen in the past week or two, by phone or by using an internet app like FaceTime or Skype. And if you do go out with someone you’ve seen recently, you can probably walk next to them as per usual; still, to be safe, we’re told to keep six feet apart in public if at all possible.

The hope by doing this is that it’ll give the virus a chance to die out. But no one knows if it’ll work.

But this post is about how to stay sane during this difficult time. And I intend to tell you what helps me the most: Reading books.

In fact, I splurged and bought Sharon Lee and Steve Miller’s newest Liaden Universe book, ACCEPTING THE LANCE. And I enjoyed it immensely. There’s a lot in that book that seems to apply right now — people who’ve been upended by life, having to re-establish themselves, having to learn how to go on in drastically altered circumstances. And the new consensus that comes out of the chaos is a much better one than the previous; it allows for people of great diversity to find ways to talk to one another, and to find ways to help everyone become their best selves.

Yes, it’s only a book. A bit of entertainment, if you will. But there’s a lot of truth in it.

That said, here are some other books I absolutely adore, and believe may help you if you are a SF&F reader (or just want to broaden your horizons).

NIGHT CALLS, KINDRED RITES, SPIRAL PATH — Katharine Eliska Kimbriel

This is the Night Calls trilogy, and it is exceptionally good. Alfreda “Allie” Sorensson is a smart young lady in a frontier version of America that includes magic. And she has a good deal of it. But she’s a practical soul, is Allie, and she knows being strong in anything can scare people. How she finds her own balance and equilibrium during a number of harrowing tests is well worth reading, again and again.

The stories of Stavin Kel’Aniston, starting with ALL THAT GLITTERS — Loren K. Jones

Stavin is my favorite of Loren’s many characters (thus far). He is quite short, feels he’s not attractive or smart or worth anything…then he takes up a dare, meets a dragon, and the dragon is impressed. (Note that Stavin was far too smart to try to kill the dragon.) He’s much more intelligent than he thinks he is, but Stavin is also a young man with a young man’s faults. Who he meets, the challenges he faces, who he loves, and what happens to him are well worth reading about. And you’ll love his wife, Sharindis (or Shari); she knows just what to say to bring him down a peg or two, whenever needed.

Mind, if you want to read something else by Loren, I’m all for it; I’d just start with Stavin, as he’s so much fun.

Finally, I also recommend the stories by Chris Nuttall. He has several great universes going on, but my favorites are his Schooled in Magic universe (featuring Emily, a young lady from Kansas who must learn her magic quickly or she won’t survive) and his Zero universe (where most people have magic, some have a ton — but the people who may have the most power of all are, paradoxically, the Zeros who have none as they’re the only ones who can forge truly awesome weaponry).

So, to find these stories, go to Amazon and look first at Katharine’s page. Then at Loren’s. And finally, at Chris’s…you can’t go wrong, and it may help you deal with this crisis to be reminded that resilience and pluck come in all shapes and sizes.

Read an E-Book Week Continues. More Freebies for You Await!

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Folks, as I said yesterday, it’s Read an E-Book Week. And my publisher, Twilight Times Books, is giving away multiple books — but only at its website

Schooled in Magic; Read an eBook Week 2020

As stated above, my publisher, Twilight Times Books, is offering quite a few free e-books during 2020’s Read an E-Book Week — including two of mine (in the first two days of the promotion, no less), plus a few from my friends Chris Nuttall and Loren Jones. Not to mention other TTB authors I’ve worked with, like Ken Lizzi and Christine Amsden…really, you can’t go wrong with any of these e-books.

And best of all, they’re free.

All you have to do is go to this website, and pick what type of file you want. (That’s it!)

Note that they are only available at the Twilight Times Books website’s freebies page, not at Amazon, not at Barnes and Noble; you must go to this link to get your free books. (Now back to our regularly scheduled post, already in progress…)

By the time you read this, AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE probably won’t be available. But CHANGING FACES, my third and most recent novel, will be…and I hope you will go there, download the book, and give it a try.

All I ask, folks, is that you download books you like and want. (I hope mine are among them, of course. But there are so many other good ones there, as I’ve said before.) Then, go review them at Amazon, or at Barnes and Noble, or anywhere you see them listed; say you received a complimentary copy if you like, even.

But do go there, and do download the stuff. And then do read, read, read!

Anyway, the site, again, is at Twilight Times Books. It’s their “freebies” page. And it’s right here, in case you need the link (again).

Enjoy!

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 2, 2020 at 5:18 am

It’s Read an E-Book Week, and I Have Giveaways…

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Folks, as promised, I am returning today to let you know about Read an E-Book Week (2020 version).

Schooled in Magic; Read an eBook Week 2020

My publisher, Twilight Times Books, is offering a good number of free e-books — two of mine (in the first two days of the promotion, no less), plus a few from my friends Chris Nuttall and Loren Jones. Not to mention other TTB authors I’ve worked with, like Ken Lizzi and Christine Amsden…really, you can’t go wrong with any of these e-books.

And best of all, they’re free.

All you have to do is go to this website, and pick what type of file you want. (That’s it!)

Note that they are only available at the Twilight Times Books website’s freebies page, not at Amazon, not at Barnes and Noble; you must go to this link to get your free books. (Now back to our regularly scheduled post, already in progress…)

So, today’s offerings include my own AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE. You can get it as a Kindle/mobi file, as a PDF, or as an e-Pub version. And to get it, all you have to do is go here, scroll down the page, and find my book’s name (and the versions you can get for free).

Do check this out, will you? Because there are so many good offerings there, all for free…and I’d hate for you to miss it.

Until tomorrow…(insert evil chuckle here).

 

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 1, 2020 at 5:45 am

Book Recommendations, Plus My Review of Jason Cordova’s “A Christmas Surprise”

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Folks, I’ve wanted to write a blog for weeks now about several books I’ve enjoyed, either reading or editing. But as I read a book last night I truly wasn’t expecting whatsoever — Jason Cordova’s A CHRISTMAS SURPRISE, I want to lead with that review first. (I’ll cut and paste from my Amazon review, as I never know exactly when that will go up. Or even if.)

Here goes:

I didn’t know Jason Cordova had something like A CHRISTMAS SURPRISE in him. Lately he’s been writing dark, depressing, and despairing military SF, where most of the characters die and the few who remain never seem to remark on what’s gone missing.

Thank goodness he took a detour and wrote a smart, sweet, and timely Christmas story for a change instead.

Bluntly, I loved A CHRISTMAS SURPRISE. It was a fast read, and probably is intended for kids aged about eight and up; it’s also a clean read, with no profanity whatsoever. (Another surprise, as sometimes in Cordova’s work I can count how many people are going to die by the amount of f-bombs used in process.) It has a great message for Christmas, too: we have to work together with people who don’t look like us, and maybe people (or in this case, a baby kaiju, one of the most adorable kaiju I’ve ever seen in print — another thing that looks like a misnomer, but isn’t) will surprise you if you give them a chance.

I was also pleasantly surprised with the resonance here — how the story sounds, in addition to how well it reads — as it has a style that was reminiscent, at least to me, of C.S. Lewis’s work in the Narnia series. (While Cordova doesn’t bring in a brand new mythology, he does talk briefly of all the different ways Christmas is celebrated around the world, and a Hawai’ian moon goddess is a significant player.)

Overall, this is a can’t-miss Christmas SFnal tale of hope, faith, optimism, and the true meaning of Christmas (giving, rather than receiving, in addition to gifts not being what you may want, but instead what you need). And I loved the little baby kaiju, Georgie, something fierce.

Five stars-plus, with the highest recommendation possible.

And please, write more in this vein, Jason. You have a gift for it.

Barb Caffrey

OK, now that I’ve gotten your attention, here are a few more books I want you to check out.

First, take a look at Ken Lizzi’s KARL THORSON AND THE JADE DAGGER. I edited this book, and I know it’s wonderful. Karl is a military vet and a type of “muscle-for-hire” at the site of an important archaeological excavation, and many things happen to Karl that he never could’ve expected. There is true magic here, as well as the ever-present fight between good and evil; there is a good deal of character-based humor; there are many, many excellently rendered fight scenes; there’s a swift-moving story; there’s a wonderfully compelling and spare, yet still luxuriant, writing style.

And — best of all — it’s only ninety-nine cents as an e-book. (How sweet is that?)

Next, take a gander at Loren K. Jones’s latest, THE LEGEND OF MARY DEATH. I also edited this book, and I know it’s a terrific read. Loren’s main character, Marydyth “Mary Death” Zel’Karyn, is a renowned swordswoman. She’s also a trailblazer, a Captain of Cavalry, then a Knight of Justice…eventually also a wife, mother, and teacher. If you’ve read any of Loren’s previous work, most especially the books in the Stavin Kel’Aniston series, you may recognize Mary a bit. (But only a bit, because in those books, she was legend. They knew she’d lived, and existed, but what she found important in her life and what the legends found important may not have been one and the same.)

What I found the most fun about this book was how Mary, herself, hated her nickname of “Mary Death.” She never wanted to be “Mary Death,” and the only reason the nickname took off was because one of her officers burped in the middle of her name during a bit of drunken revelry after a decisive battle. (Hee hee!)

But there’s so much here for people to like, if they just pick up the book. It’s not selling as well as Loren’s previous books, perhaps because people are out Xmas shopping and it may not seem as timely as some books. But if you enjoy fun, fast adventure with a bit of romance along with the power of trailblazing women, you’ll enjoy THE LEGEND OF MARY DEATH.

Finally, there are two books of Chris Nuttall’s I want to point out. (No, he doesn’t need the help, but I enjoyed the books so I may as well mention them. Humph.) The first of these is his latest in the Schooled in Magic series, MIRROR IMAGE. His heroine, Emily, is trying to get a magical university off the ground in the Nameless World (the world she was transported to, way back in book 1, by a necromancer she later killed). And it’s not going well…plus she has to deal with tensions both mundane and magical, as well as an alternate-universe versions of several people…perhaps including Emily herself.

Mind, as this is book eighteen in the SIM series, it’s probably not the best place to start it. But I do think you would understand most of it if you haven’t read any…still, the first few books in the series are on sale for ninety-nine cents, so if you haven’t read any of this compelling magical series yet, you should.

And as I am one of two editors for this series (and yes, we both work on every single book in the series, one way or another), I know how wonderful they are. (So do get to getting, will you?)

And the second of Chris’s books — the last of my recommendations for this Saturday before Xmas — is the sixth book in his Learning Experience series, THEIR LAST FULL MEASURE. This is military SF at its most deadly, with an alien race in the Tokomak that wants to wipe all humans off the map as they feel threatened. Chris’s twist is that the Tokomak could’ve once been humanity’s ally, if only the Tokomak hadn’t looked inward and stagnated. (And then started to hate everyone who was able to continue to adapt, of course.)

Of course, that’s not stated full-out, but it’s there. (I know this, again, ’cause I edited it.)

Not to mention, there are space battles galore, some expeditions behind enemy lines, some new and dangerous tech, a bit of romance between long-term couples…you name it, THEIR LAST FULL MEASURE probably has it.

So, there you have it! Some book recommendations you probably weren’t expecting, and one I definitely, myself, wasn’t expecting…but that’s the fun of the Christmas season, isn’t it?

Enjoy!

——

P.S. You may have noticed I didn’t have any cover photos. I’m sorry about that. But if the authors in question will get them to me, I will be happy to incorporate them into this post at a later date. (You have been warned.)

 

Written by Barb Caffrey

December 21, 2019 at 9:20 am

Book Review: “The Night of Blind Ambition”

with 3 comments

As I said in my previous review, I never know how long Amazon will take to put up a new book review. And it’s too important these reviews don’t get lost. I don’t want Mr. Wardlaw to suffer the same fate I have, of being way too little-known, putting out books that are damned good but no one reads.

So I’ve done my best here to let people know Mr. Wardlaw’s books exist. And I do hope that’ll make some sense.

Now, onto my review of Mr. Wardlaw’s second book, THE NIGHT OF BLIND AMBITION, cut and pasted from my Amazon review:

As I said in my review of A BLOODY ARROGANT POWER, it astonishes me to find a work of such superior quality as THE NIGHT OF BLIND AMBITION, Malcolm J. Wardlaw’s second book in his “Sovreigns of the Collapse” series.

Indeed, this is the story of Lawrence, the younger brother of Donald’s (from the first book in the series). Lawrence is a former military officer who did unspeakable things, but that’s not what got him exiled to the “Night and Fog” (slave labor camps, roughly). Nope, ’cause in Wardlaw’s dystopia, unspeakable things are just part of the game for competent military officers. Instead, what got Lawrence exiled was noticing a scheme of graft and corruption, wanting no part of it, reporting it…and instead being tagged with the crime himself and exiled, because the higher-ups in Lawrence’s chain of command didn’t want to deal with Lawrence’s allegations (probably profiting from the graft themselves).

Worse even than the Night and Fog is when Lawrence is sent to something called “The Value System.” This is an all-male penal colony that does things so disgusting, I hesitate to say. (Let’s put it this way: the man who came up with this system, Prentice Nightminster, is a piece of work and a half.) They are forced to labor for long hours, almost as if they lived in a Siberian gulag. But now and again they get days off, can listen to music, think about their plight, and remember their real names and their real lives.

Most of them get dead drunk during these times. And who can blame them?

Anyway, Lawrence is made of stern stuff. He was indeed competent, as a military officer, and he learned how to survive, strike, and evade. He has a gift of knowing when, exactly, to fight, but also when, exactly, to bide his time.

And when Prentice Nightminster, also known as The Captain (and yes, that’s how Nightminster wants it styled), gives Lawrence an opportunity to get out of the Value System penal colony, Lawrence realizes it’s a poisoned chalice and escapes. (The friend he escapes with was a very learned man, high up in one of the enclaves of high society before his fall. That this learned man helped Lawrence realize this is important; that Lawrence again seizes the gift of knowing when to escape, on a night of raucous merriment for the slaves at the penal colony, is highlighted.)

It’s hard to know when to stop giving a plot summary, especially when much of this book concerns Lawrence’s escape. (We know he does escape from the first book, mind you, so me telling you that is not exactly a spoiler.) So I will stop there, except to say that Lawrence’s exploits are harrowing. And his realizations of who he used to be, coupled with who he now is, are well worth the price of admission.

Honestly, you need to read this book, as well as A BLOODY ARROGANT POWER. This is a very thorough society Mr. Wardlaw is depicting (that is, when he’s not skewering it to a fare-thee-well), and the full immersion within it is total.

All I knew was, after I finished A BLOODY ARROGANT POWER, I had to read this book, THE NIGHT OF BLIND AMBITION. And I’m glad I read both.

Five stars, highly recommended to all SF fans, but most particularly those who enjoy military SF and escape stories.

Barb Caffrey

P.S. Write faster, Mr. Wardlaw! I can’t wait to see what happens to Donald, Lawrence, and Sarah-Kelly next.

Written by Barb Caffrey

November 9, 2019 at 1:39 am

Book Review: “A Bloody Arrogant Power”

with 23 comments

This is cut and pasted from my recent book review at Amazon. I don’t know how long it’ll take them to get this book review up, and a few times I’ve had it completely go astray in their system.

That would be a shame, in this case. Which is why I’m going ahead and posting it here, at my private blog, in the hopes it will not get swallowed up.

Short version of the following: You need to read A BLOODY ARROGANT POWER by Malcolm J. Wardlaw. It’s just ninety-nine cents as an e-book. And it’s a worthy read, one that’s hard to put down…and even harder to understand, once it’s over, how a book this good has been thus far overlooked.

Then again, as my own history as a writer has shown, sometimes good work does not get noticed (immediately, anyway; I refuse to believe otherwise). One can hope Mr. Wardlaw’s conception will escape the fate of my own two books in the Elfyverse.

Now, here’s to the cut-and-paste:

I had never heard of Malcolm J. Wardlaw before picking up his book, A BLOODY ARROGANT POWER. As an author myself (and as a little-known one at that), I am sympathetic to other authors struggling to break through the noise of independent publishing to get their vision out.

And what a vision: A BLOODY ARROGANT POWER is astonishingly thorough, and shows what the world could be a century or so hence after the current society collapses. Wardlaw’s dystopian vision is completely realized, down to the lexicon (“drains” are roads, or at least public thoroughfares, which “surplus” — people who don’t make enough money to protect themselves from being turfed out on a moment’s notice — are “discharged”); the people all feel real, with some being quite venal, some being quite opportunistic, some being idealists, some being realists…and the worst of all blending those four things into something abhorrent. (Prentice Nightminster, I’m looking squarely at you.)

A book as good as this should not be languishing in obscurity.

In fact, I read this book in three hours. And I came over here, to Amazon, to make absolutely sure it finally got someone rating it and commenting on it, all the while wondering what in the Hell has caused people to overlook A BLOODY ARROGANT POWER in the first place.

Honestly, if you enjoy SF, dystopian SF, future visions of a harrowing nature, or just plain good writing, you need to read this. Donald, the protagonist, is well-realized, and goes from company man to revolutionary without missing a beat. (Trust me: If you had an ounce of sense if you lived in this world, you’d do the same thing.) His love-interest, Sarah-Kelly, is also well-realized; she’s a smart, educated woman with a vision of a better society, and refuses to live in the world she finds herself in. (Good for her, I say.) And finally, Donald’s younger brother Lawrence, an ex-military officer with a conscience, emerges just at the end to give a glimpse of what the next book in the series is likely to be…he’s brash, but well-intentioned, and he’s lived through some harrowing stuff.

Very solid work, all the way around.

In fact, if this book had been picked up by a major publisher, I think it would’ve won several awards. It is that well-realized, that well-considered, and that thoroughly satisfying of a read.

I do not say these things lightly.

In short, if I could give this book more than five stars, I would. But since I can’t, this book is given five-stars and a highly recommended tag.

I hope more people read this book. And I hope Mr. Wardlaw finds his audience, because he — and his book, A BLOODY ARROGANT POWER — deserves it.

Barb Caffrey

Written by Barb Caffrey

November 8, 2019 at 1:18 am