Thursday, August 25, 2011

Book Review: The Chosen - Rogue Angel #4 by Alex Archer

I hate to admit it, but I was a little disappointed with this book.  There are plenty of interesting characters, especially the mysterious and deadly Father Godin, but I think this book was begun without a really strong grasp of how it was going to end.

Essentially, this book takes place in the American Southwest, but Annja winds up traveling all over the world in the quest for her answers.  She is attacked in Mexico City, in the Philippines...really everywhere she turns, someone's trying to kill her.  While this makes for a lot of cool battle sequences (Annja's body count in this book is insanely high, easily the highest so far), it makes for a very disjointed novel that seems like it is just that - a series of battle sequences.

The overall "monster" of the book is also very weird.  A series of black, ominous creatures with red eyes and a strange screaming cry are popping up all over - are they demonic, extra-terrestrial, or what?  There is an explanation at the end, but it is something of a non-explanation.  I really do think the author wrote himself into a bit of a corner and wasn't sure how to end the book.

As mentioned in the beginning, the saving grace of this novel is Annja's rival / partner in crime, Father Godin.  A real Inquisitor for the Vatican, he hunts down all things demonic, evil, or just plain in need of an old fashioned killing.  He comes off as one of those older, veteran warriors who are so cool if done right in an action novel, and his interplay with Annja makes for a great story.

In summary, if you want to read this book for the sake of completion, it's not awful, it just isn't as good as the others in the series.  If you don't really care about being consistent in which volumes you read, I would skip The Chosen and read the next volume in the series, which I found to be a lot better.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Rivalry Reaps Rave Reviews!

So my short ghost story "Rivalry" has been out for a couple of weeks now, and it is getting some very solid reviews over at Amazon.  I'll copy over a few of them here for your perusal:

Aman S. Anand writes:
In the first paragraph of this gripping read, the narrator and author make clear their literary influences as our protagonist reveals the authors whose ghost stories he has enjoyed. It is a clever way to open a ghost story, but it is the influence of Spielberg that haunts the majority of the text. I couldn't help being reminded of one of Spielberg's doe-eyed teenage protagonists of the eighties - and that is no bad thing.

The story's greatest strength is its pacing. On completing the story, I enjoyed it so much I went back and re-read it and the careful structure of the story became apparent. I do not wish to give away too much, but the author never resorts to cheap tricks or deliberately shocking moments. Every paragraph is carefully measured and furthers this suspenseful story.

If you like ghost stories this book is highly recommended. 

Ben Goshko says:
"Rivalry - A Ghost Story" was an excellent read. It's extremely well written and flows naturally. I particularly appreciated how the author was able to build up so much suspense in a short story. Amazing technique.

The characters were strong as well, for the precious few pages they had to develop. Very realistic too. It's hard for me to comment on any of the content without giving away spoilers, so I'll just say that ghosts are NOT cool. Not anymore, anyway.

I highly recommend this short story to anyone. 

 And Ian McRay states:
The front page draws you into the just know that something strange is going to happen inside that house! A good 20-30 minute short story at only .99 is also a great value. Can't wait for more from this author!! I.M.

There are a few more reviews posted, all of them quite positive.  I was a little nervous at first putting out a purely fictional writing piece (as opposed to the Hatchet Force Journal), but the responses I've gotten have been nothing but glowing.  Many thanks to all of you for your support!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

On Sale Now: Rivalry - A Ghost Story

A couple of months ago, I had a dream about hunting ghosts in an old hotel.  I occasionally have weird dreams like that, but this one was unusually creepy, and inspired me to come up with a short ghost story.

However, "Rivalry" isn't that story.  Instead, what began as the main character's introduction and origin anecdote turned into a six-thousand word short story in and of itself.  The story of "Rivalry" is based around, in part, a weird experience I had at a friend's house when I was in grade school. We kept thinking his house was haunted; it wasn't of course, but a couple of odd occurrences did spook our overactive imaginations.

It's rather amazing how little things that happen to you as a kid can have a strong impact on you decades later.  And the bigger that trigger event is, the bigger the wallop can be later on in life.  I'm no developmental psychologist, but I don't really buy into that whole "kids bounce back better" theory.  Personally, I just think trauma at a young age buries the scars deeper and affects your life in the same way an underwater mountain can affect ocean currents, waves, and tides without anything being obvious on the surface of the water.

So with that in mind, I wrote "Rivalry".  It is not a horror story, per se.  Many classic "ghost stories" are not necessarily horrific.  Most are creepy, unsettling, and by the end you give a shiver and find yourself a little less comfortable sitting alone at home late at night.  That was the objective I set out to meet with this story, and from all the feedback I've received, "Rivalry" comes pretty darn close to achieving that goal.

So if you enjoy a classic ghost story a la M.R. James or Sheridan Le Fanu, I invite you to give "Rivalry - A Ghost Story" a try.  $0.99 at Amazon, approximately six thousand words.  Perfect for a ten-minute read just before going to bed tonight!

Here's the description copy from the Amazon product page:

Owen is a kid fascinated by ghost stories, but he's never seen a ghost, or met anyone who has - until Doug moves into town. Owen soon learns that Doug's family is haunted by a ghost that follows them from town to town, an entity that can slam doors and throw coffee mugs, an entity that finds Doug's family no matter where they move.

Fascinated by his friend's haunting, Owen begs Doug to let him spend the night, hoping to have a ghostly encounter of his own. Doug reluctantly agrees to ask his parents' permission, but when Mike and Sharon say no, it's the ghost that throws the temper tantrum, forcing Doug's parents to agree to the sleepover.

Owen packs a "ghost hunting kit" and prepares for a weekend of thrilling supernatural encounters, but what he experiences will change his life forever...

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Book Review: The Spider Stone - Rogue Angel #3 by Alex Archer

In this third Rogue Angel book, I think the series finally hits its stride.  Don't get me wrong - the first two books were good and I really enjoyed them.  But this installment of the series feels very solid.  I think Mel Odom (this book's ghost writer) has Annja's personality and how she would react in various situations firmly zeroed in, and the story weaves together a good blend of history, mythology, action, and mystery to give us a very interesting read.

In brief, the bodies of a number of escaped Civil War-era slaves are found in the basement of a long-abandoned warehouse.  Annja Creed, our heroine, is asked to come and investigate the scene from an archaeological perspective along with a local professor and a handful of eager college students.  But what gets the ball rolling on the whole mystery is that one of the slaves was in possession of The Spider Stone, an African artifact of the Hausa people, a tribe favored (supposedly) by Anansi, the Spider God.  The Stone supposedly represents a promise from Anansi to the Hausa people that as long as their tribe is in possession of the stone, they will never die out.

Even more interesting, and what really kicks things off, the Stone is supposedly a map to a fabulous treasure hidden somewhere in the Hausa people's ancient tribal lands.  A number of factions - some good, some definitely not good - begin moving to find the Stone and therefore find the treasure.  An African warlord, a Homeland Security investigator, Annja, her archaeological entourage, and a number of other people get sucked into the mix, eventually traveling to Africa in search for this treasure.  Some of Annja's old acquaintances make an appearance, and some new ones come along - this book definitely has a full and flavorful cast of characters.

Of the three Rogue Angel titles so far, The Spider Stone feels the most like an Indiana Jones movie.  If you blended together elements from Raiders of the Lost Ark and Last Crusade, you'd get a very good feel for the sort of treasure hunting vibe this book radiates, and it makes it a lot of fun.  Thrown into the mix is a lot of interesting history and folklore, some no doubt manufactured for the novel, some based on actual mythology.  But it is the interweaving of fact and fiction, story and myth, that makes this book work.  This is the sort of thing that The X-Files would get "just right" in its best episodes, and I hope that this trend continues in future Rogue Angel installments.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Book Review: Solomon's Jar - Rogue Angel #2 by Alex Archer

I read this second installment of Gold Eagle's Rogue Angel series literally as soon as I finished the first (go Kindle!).  Written by Victor Milan (who wrote the post-apocalyptic series The Guardians as well as a bunch of FASA's Battletech media tie-in novels and a number of other works), Solomon's Jar has a somewhat different, grittier feel than Destiny

For one thing, the body count is substantially higher for Annja Creed.  In the opening couple of chapters - which don't really connect to the overall plot of the book - our heroine kicks some major butt and winds up killing quite a few bad guys with her sword, rather than just using it to knock aside guns so she can punch and kick people a la Xena: Warrior Princess.  While there are times in this novel where she will use her magical blade in a non-lethal manner, Milan definitely upped her kill quotient this time around.  This isn't to say Annja has abandoned guns, either; she still gets in a few gun kills, continuing to show that her character can shoot, punch, kick, stab, and slash with the best of them.

In addition, unlike the first novel, which took place largely in one geographical area, Solomon's Jar jet-sets us around to a number of different exotic locales.  I think this is going to be one of the series' biggest strengths, taking the reader around the world where we can dip our toes into a lot of different cultures, the same way the James Bond books and the classic Gold Eagle books would spotlight one country after another during our hero's adventures.

Another thing I liked about this book is that we can see how Annja uses her semi-celebrity status, and how it can sometimes backfire against her.  I enjoy how her character is being portrayed living this double life of television starlet / wandering hero, and how it seems to pull in a large rogues gallery of secondary characters.  And while Garin doesn't make an appearance in this book, Roux does have a cameo; as I have read the third book, I can say that it appears one or the other character seems to pop in every novel, either to drop off a tidbit of information or to lend a helping hand.

According to the Wikipedia entry for the Rogue Angel series, Odom and Milan trade off for the first eight books, at which time a number of other authors step in.  It's going to be cool to see how each author takes a crack at the series in true Gold Eagle fashion.  The more I read of the Rogue Angel series, the more highly I recommend it as a solid action / adventure line, definitely something new and different compared to yet another "elite cadre of anti-terror specialists".

Friday, August 5, 2011

BookReview: Destiny - Rogue Angel #1 by Alex Archer

I've been interested in this series since I saw it debut in 2005, but as I am mostly buried under paperbacks already, and I was worried about what exactly the series was going for and how well it would last, I let it pass by me.

Fast forward a good six years.  There are now over 30 Rogue Angel titles out, and they're all available as Kindle books for less that five bucks apiece.  So hey, why not give it a shot?

Overall, I found the book rather entertaining.  One part Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (Annja Creed, the heroine, even makes an oblique jab at the video game character in this book) and one part Witchblade, with some vibes from Alias thrown in (at least, in my mind), Rogue Angel - Destiny was a pretty solid action novel.

Annja Creed is an investigative archaeologist who works for a cable television "history" series that's about as serious as anything you'd find on the History Channel at 3 o'clock in the morning.  But it gives her the freedom to roam the world and stick her nose into various little-visited areas of the globe.  On one such trip in France she gets mixed up in the hunt for an ancient amulet, the Beast of Gevaudan, and the search for Joan of Arc's sword.

A mysterious old man named Roux who is definitely more than he appears, adds a great deal of mystery to the mix.  As well as the son of a deceased burglar, a maniacal criminal mastermind, and a cabal of unsavory monks hiding a centuries old secret.  Combine all this with a five-hundred year old broadsword that lives in a pocket dimension of its own, and you've got quite the modern fantasy / mystery novel.

Mel Odom (the ghost writer for this book) did yeoman's work in setting the stage for future installments.  I'm already reading the next book, Solomon's Jar, and it doesn't disappoint either.

Most importantly, neither does our heroine.  Annja Creed is smart, she's tough, she's skilled, and while she is lithe and beautiful, these assets are used sparingly, if at all.  In my mind, she's a good combination of Sydney Bristow and Sara Pezini, both tough and capable heroines who use brains, brawn, and beauty in deadly combination.

If you're a history buff, you might squirm a little now and then while things are bent for the purposes of entertainment.  I was a little annoyed reading this story when they kept referring to "knights in armor" in the time period of The Beast, which was the mid 1700s (around the time of the French and Indian War).  While there were certainly knighted individuals going to war and having adventures during that time, any mention of armor just seems silly - if such is used, perhaps a cavalryman's cuirass or a "lobster tail" helm, or a pair of armored gauntlets, it should be specifically labeled as such to keep it from seeming silly, otherwise the idea of an armored knight riding about a decade before the American Revolution puts a fork in the historical crediblity of the story.

But ultimately, this is an action novel, and I'm willing to forgive a bit of mis-handled research.  The book was a fun, fasts read, and I hope to enjoy many more.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Book Review: How to Write Action Adventure Novels by Mike Newton

The Action Adventure genre, or "Men's Adventure" as it is sometimes erroneously labeled, has been the focus of this blog since its inception.  My amateur writing career, such as it is (or - hah! - isn't), has always focused on this genre.  But one thing I have found lacking is advice for writers who cater to the shoot-em-up, punch-em-out variety of fiction.  You can find writing guides for mystery, thrillers, espionage, and other niche genres, but they all tend to try and carry themselves with a little more finesse than your average action yarn, and forget about the generic "advice for aspiring novelists).

Back in the late 80's veteran action writer Mike Newton, who has written a number of Gold Eagle Executioner novels and a pile of other action adventure reads, sat down and wrote a guide for poor schmucks like me who wanted to write about guys running around with Uzis and grenade launchers.  This reference book, How to Write Action Adventure Novels, has no doubt been buried largely unread in the back room piles of used bookstores for decades now.  But Mike is a smart guy and knows that his work can live on once again in an eBook format.  I picked this up for my Kindle late Wednesday night, and finished it Saturday evening.

Overall, this is a very solid book.  Mike covers a lot of the basics that most writers should understand (but its always good to be reminded), like having a strong hook, how to develop good characters, and so forth, but he always looks at things from an action and adventure standpoint.  This is coupled with a lot of excerpts from books and some of them are of what NOT to do, which I always think is a good idea.  He also reminds writers that research is vital for such a niche genre because so many of the readers have military or law enforcement backgrounds, and can sniff out a fake very quickly.  Although very dated now, a large number of reference works are provided for authors who didn't know where to begin in the pre-Google days.

Lastly, there is a whole chapter on breaking into the genre publishing gig.  This is actually the saddest part about this book, because it makes it so obvious how much of a stranglehold traditional publishers have over the authors.  Advice like how you never want to call unsolicited  - which in and of itself is not a bad thing to say - is badly colored when it's followed up with how you never want to annoy anyone, ever, because somehow, some day, they might be in a position to open or close the gates for your career.  Reading this section of the book, is it any wonder Kindle Direct Publishing and other indie pub outlets are being flooded?

For five dollars, I think this book is still a good investment.  I found most "so you want to be a writer" books make me want to throw up, and this one is refreshingly honest, well-written, and possesses just the right amount of cheek and sarcasm.  Highly recommended.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Summer Action Adventure Movie: Cowboys and Aliens (2011)

I saw this movie Saturday at a matinee, after a proper cowboy meal of steak and baked potatoes.  I went in to escape the noonday heat and the burning sun, and found cool shade and cold refreshment.  This is what summer action movies are all about; escaping the heat and putting a smile on your face for a few hours.

If that's the objective of a "summer action movie", then Cowboys & Aliens succeeded on every level.  Walking out of the movie theater I heard one lady complain, "It was so full of stereotypes!"  Well, yeah?  The classic Western is built around iconic images, strong archetypes, and well-worn themes.  It is the most perfect generic setting for a pure "adventure", and because of that, you can mix "Western" with just about anything - horror, comedy, drama, pulp, fantasy, sci-fi - and it will work.

This is certainly not the first "drop an advanced evil alien species into a historical setting and watch shiz blow up" movie.  Outlander did this with Vikings just a couple of years ago, and Karl Edward Wagner wrote a nasty little novel called Killer about an alien loose in ancient Rome.  And of course you have more contemporary settings with the whole Predator franchise.  The key to all of these movies, what makes them work or fail, is how the characters accept what they are dealing with and cowboy up (in this case, literally) to take on the bad guys. I think in C&A, this is handled well enough that any disbelief I had washed away as soon as Harrison Ford started growling about slitting throats and killin' sumbitches.

I think this movie did yeoman's work in giving us a fun, riotous, classic cowboy movie, with a twist.  Maybe genre purists will roll their eyes and walk away, but I enjoyed every minute of it, and you might, too.