Book Review – Mudmen by Shitij Sharma

Mudmen: The Quest for Humanity is one of the more unique books I’ve read. It starts with a question I think everyone has asked themselves at some point or another point in their lives: could I do a better job than God?

Don’t worry, the jury is still out on that one.

I think at some point in their development, every writer goes through a deeply philosophical phase. Most books don’t go too deep into philosophical territory for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is takes a steady hand to make such huge things small enough for most people to wrap their heads around.

Mudmen follows the events that take place after the world comes to an end and the whole of humanity is reduced to ashes. One person winds up with the ability to rewrite reality and sets out to do exactly that. Unfortunately for him, reality isn’t as easy to recode as, say, editing the text on the back of a box of cereal or pirating music. Reality, it turns out, is complicated stuff. Lot of ins, lot of outs, lot of interested parties, as the saying goes.

Out of the miasma this little guy creates comes something altogether unexpected: The resurgence of humanity. Of course, the humans do what we’re best at: steal the power of the gods for ourselves, even though we’re completely incapable of figuring out what to do with it.

This is book one of a three book set. Truthfully, it weighs in at 88 pages or so, so novella may be more technically accurate. Not that such triviality is all that important. The important thing to realize is this is just the first third of a longer piece. Truthfully, I would have like to see the whole work released as a single installment, but that’s just me. This first third gives us an introduction to the characters and rules of the Mudmen. Presumably, the remainder of the series will fill out the world more. Sharma asks some big questions in book one; let’s hope he provides some big answers as the story continues.

Rich in metaphor and deeply layered meaning, Mudmen isn’t a story to be undertaken expecting a few gun fights, a car chase, and some steamy sex. This is musings on the nature of being, the nature of the universe, and the nature of humanity.

What if you thought you could play a better god than God?

Mudmen is a story unlike anything you have ever seen before. It all starts with a half-crazed dwarf scribbling furiously on a piece of paper while the world outside his little cottage is ravaged by a great storm. There is an artifact in his possession which gives him power over all else, but that artifact is stolen by the very creatures that he gave birth to in his frustration – these creatures are what we come to know as the Mudmen.

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Book Review – Walk-In by Val Tobin

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Val Tobin has a thing for the occult. She handles it well and makes the worlds of magic and UFO abduction feel real and tangible. Having tried to do this myself, I can tell you it’s no mean feat to integrate the paranormal with the mundanity of day-to-day life. This is actually the second of Val’s books that I’ve stumbled across. The first – The Experiencers – was cracking good read with aliens. Walk-In takes the reader in a different, but no less intriguing, direction.

Now, whether or not you believe in the paranormal aspects of Tobin’s work, you have to admit she’s done her homework. Magic’s an easy thing to completely screw up in a book. It can go from an interesting plot adornment to deus-ex-machina in the blink of an eye if it isn’t handled well. Tobin’s magic is still based on rules and – at least from my own research – seems to be based on real-world practices.

Into this world of magic and spirits, Tobin drops a psychic reader, a powerful (and evil) psychic, a witch, and a journalist who’s out of his element, but ready to understand. She manages to weave a mystery about a missing woman with a story of a budding romance and wrap it all up in a paranormal bow.

I can’t really comment too much on the romance aspects; that’s never been my genre, but I can say Val Tobin has crafted a believable world of unbelievable things and filled it with interesting characters. Hints of horror skulk around at the edges and there’s enough intrigue and action to satisfy almost anyone.

All in all, a highly entertaining read. Plus, it looks like there might be a sequel.

Questions plague psychic reader Viktoria Kovacs when her twin sister, missing for five years, appears at her door. Why did her sister leave? What happened to her memory? And how did she end up living with the mysterious millionaire who claims to be her protector?

When journalist Aedan McCarthy visits the occult shop where Viktoria works, he’s researching a novel, not looking for love. Unprepared for the jolt of electricity that sparks between them, Aedan wants to explore the possibilities.

But evil lurks, and not everyone is who they appear to be. Getting entangled with Viktoria might cost Aedan his soul.

A fast-paced romantic thriller with paranormal elements, Walk-In provides edge-of-the-seat entertainment.

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Book Review – The Kenpo Karate Compendium by Lee Wedlake

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Most martial arts books aim to teach you martial arts by showing you pictures of people doing things. Some do it really well, others do it exceedingly poorly. Some of the books out there that purport to teach a martial art through pictures are trying to teach a shitty martial art poorly. In those cases, you’ve got the double whammy of suck.

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Don’t try this at home.

I have a huge library of martial arts books ranging from obscure treatises on Savate to modern explanations of Krav Maga and everything in between. Some are good, some not so good, but most of them can be counted on to have a gem or two ferreted away between the covers.

Whether or not you can learn a martial art from a book is debatable. I would argue that it’s really not possible to understand motion from static images, but once you’ve got a solid grasp of a martial art, you can start to pick things up from books and videos. The caveat, of course, is what you learn will be tainted by your understanding of whatever art you’ve been studying. In other words, you’d be doing Jeet Kun Do as a Kenpo practitioner, not as a Jeet Kun Do practitioner.

Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I’m not sure. I’m of the opinion that if you can make it work, it’s all good. Others would likely disagree.

But, I digress. Lee Wedlake’s The Kenpo Karate Compendium: The Forms and Sets of American Kenpo isn’t one of those books that aims to teach you a martial art. It’s written for people who are already proficient at Kenpo and shows some extra details and notes that may or may not have been picked up during live training.

Kenpo’s a fractured system. It started out in Hawaii, moved to Utah, and exploded after that. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), that explosion has lead to a lot of different schools doing a lot of different things. My school broke from Ed Parker’s school at some point in the distant past, but we still use a lot of his techniques and forms. In fact, the bulk of the first forms from Parker Kenpo are still extant in AKKA Kenpo. There’s more divergence as the belts go higher, but especially the early ones are almost exactly the same as what Lee Wedlake wrote his book about.

That kind of fracturing isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s nice sometimes to go back to the source and see that it hasn’t changed as much as we sometimes like to think it. It’s also nice to get some insight from someone else. Not knocking my own Kenpo instructors here, but it can be a great thing to break out of the norm and see what someone else has to say.

The bottom line for a book like this is it isn’t a great book for beginners. This is for people who want to dig into the original forms and pick up what’s changed here and there over the years or catch those little details that get lost from time to time. It’s also nice to have a different take on something.

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Book Review – Darkly Wood II by Max Power

Max Power is back and in full force with his very first sequel. Over the years, he’s written five books (including this one), but this is the first time he’s written a sequel to any of them.

That’s a good thing. Darkly Wood (check my review here) was a great horror story with other horror stories interwoven with it. It was a very unique story that handled the exposition of the titular wood through a series of old tales about the horrible thing that had happened there over the years, even as it was dragging us – and the protagonist, Daisy May – through the muck and claws of the woods.

Darkly Wood ended like any good horror story should – leaving you wanting more. The main story was finished, but it added more questions and begged for a sequel. Now, three years later, we get a sequel that answers some of the questions and introduces more. Darkly Wood II: The woman who never wore shoes picks up the story of Daisy May when her granddaughter wanders into the woods and history repeats itself.

This time, though, the stakes are higher and there’s a twist.

Power himself has claimed this isn’t a horror story. He sees it as a romance with horror elements and there’s certainly a bit of romance lurking in the dark corners of the story, ready to snatch you up and lovingly shred you. Certainly, Darkly Wood II uses the romance elements to both humanize and demonize his primary antagonist and give us tantalizing hints as to why he is the way he is, but the magic of the story lies in how we learn more about why the woods are the way they are.

As before, Power weaves stories of the woods into the narrative of the story, but this time the stories become important parts of the whole. Rather than simply provide exposition and allow us to see Darkly Wood as a long-time menace, the old stories become important elements in the final narrative.

Max Power is a masterful story-teller, so masterful you don’t always realize just how well-woven the tale is until the whole of the story hits you full in the face. If you haven’t read Darkly Wood, it’s not strictly necessary to start there, but it would definitely help.

If you like your horror stories with a bit of soul instead of a lot of blood, check out Darkly Wood II. It has some intense scenes, but it’s not meant as a scream-fest. This is the creeping, gnawing horror that sneaks up you in the middle of the night. Well written and entertaining, Darkly Wood II is a great read.

This chilling sequel to Darkly Wood brings us back to the mysterious wood perched above the sleepy village of Cranby. The mystery returns with love and terror walking hand and hand through the seemingly innocent paths of the place that has generated many fearful tales. This time however, there is an even more sinister presence. Much time has passed since Daisy escaped the terror of the wood and on the surface little has changed. But behind the tree line, a new danger lurks. Fans of the original will be taken to darker depths and first time readers will discover the true art of storytelling from the mind of the award winning author Max Power. Heart stopping, fast paced, unrelenting danger lies waiting for you between the pages. Sometimes love is all you have. Sometimes, love is not enough. Darkness is coming…

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Book Review – Losing Nuka by Kayla Howarth

If there’s one thing we can safely assume about humanity, it’s that fear of the other is deeply ingrained into our consciousnesses. Much as we hate to admit it, we’re a clique-y group of primates who will put up with a lot from those are like us and tolerate absolutely nothing from everyone else. We all love to give lip-service to the notion of diversity, but when faced with “the other” a lot of that bravado disappears.

At least until we get to know “the other” and the nervousness disappears because we realize that most people really aren’t all that different.

There you go, the unspoken fact for the day: people aren’t that different from one another.

Back in around 2013 or so, Kayla Howarth set out to write a series detailing the after-effects of a devastating war and the impact it had on society. Consider it post-dystopian, if you will. Dyspostian, I guess. By the way, I just came up with that word, you owe me a nickle every time you use it.

Anyway, Howarth’s first books (The Institute Series) showed humanity’s enduring love affair with the other. After the devastation, a new group of people rose up from the ashes to live side by side with the rest of the survivors. They looked like humans and acted like humans – heck, they were even born to human parents – but they were far from human. This new group had manifested powers. Some of the powers were amazing – people could fly, they were powerful psychics, and all manner of strange and powerful people started popping up.

Naturally, the pure humans flipped their wigs and set about finding new and exciting way of jailing and exploiting these strange new humans. True to form, we set about punishing people for being different.

The Institute series gave way to the Litmus series, a collection of books about the aftermath of the aftermath. The first book, Losing Nuka, follows the misadventures of a young woman with purple eyes as she tries to – and does – find her birth mother. The problem is, her mother is somewhat less than motherly.

Long story short, Nuka winds up in an underground fighting ring where she uses her powers of heating things up rapidly against other enhanced fighters. It’s a brutal, terrifying world, but one Nuka sticks to even as it becomes more and more obvious how twisted that world is.

That’s another thing you can safely assume about people: If we ever did have mutants, we’d make them fight each other for our entertainment. That doesn’t say much for us a species.

The fighting Nuka engages in is brutal and detailed and Howarth handles it with an eye for accuracy. It’s not gory or excessively violent, but this is basically MMA for people with limited superpowers, so be forewarned. I’ve personally written the same kinds of things, so it didn’t bug me, but I understand there are people who prefer to avoid the nastiness. For those people, read the book anyway. You can always skip to the end of the fight.

Whereas the predominant theme of The Institute was one of tolerance in the face of “the other”, the Litmus series is more attuned to the gritty realization that there are some seriously messed up people out there and even as Nuka’s world had been healing itself, it is still very much in turmoil.

For all the gritty backdrop, this is a coming of age story. It just happens to be a coming of age story with underground superhuman fighting in a damaged, but healing world. Nuka leaves her past behind to find out more about her true self. What she finds is shocking even to her.

Losing Nuka is book one of a three book series and, not gonna lie here, it ends on a bit of a cliffhanger. Fortunately, the remaining books in the series are available now (Howarth must type like the wind), so you won’t get stuck waiting for the next book to read.

As an added bonus, Losing Nuka appears to be on sale right now. If my math is right (and it sometimes is), you should be able to pick up Losing Nuka for only 99 cents until Feb 11, 2017.

Act now, supplies are limited.

*** WINNER OF THE 2016 KINDLE BOOK AWARDS YA CATEGORY ***

Raised by adoptive parents since the age of six, Nuka James starts questioning her past. Unable to get the answers she seeks, she goes in search of the one person who can tell her the truth– her birth mother.When searching lands her in the belly of Litmus, Nuka wants to prove she’s worthy. Litmus is an underground club where Defectives use their supernatural abilities to fight it out for money, fame, and glory. Litmus is where you find out what you’re made of.Winning her mother’s approval without losing herself won’t be easy, though.***Litmus is a spin-off of The Institute Series. While it is set in the same world, and characters from The Institute make appearances, it can be read as a separate, stand-alone series.Losing Nuka is a YA/NA crossover, suitable for people fifteen years and older.

In case you’re interested, my review of The Institute can be found here.

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Note: purple eyes.

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Book Review – Smoke and Mirrors by Tom Benson

I like short stories. Honestly, I always have. I guess it stems from reading shorts in various sci-fi magazines when I was growing up. Or perhaps it’s just because I’m not the most patient person in the world. At any rate, while I enjoy a novel I can sink my teeth into, a collection of short stories can be a blast to read.

I’m not sure if it’s a British convention or what, but the shorts I’ve read from British authors tend to be shorter than their American counterparts. Personally, I follow the US convention of fairly lengthy short stories when I write, but Benson follows the British convention which means some of these short stories are really short.

And yet, even given the paucity of words in a given story, Benson manages to convey a complete tale in a tiny amount of time. There are some in here that could be longer, but he manages to get his point across – oftentimes violently – in a concise manner.

Benson doesn’t shy away from action or violence. Being a former member of British military not only means he’s quite capable of dealing with the seamier side of life, but gives him an insight into detail most of us aren’t privy of. The stories in Smoke and Mirrors don’t always portray the best in people, but they portray what they find accurately and unflinchingly. From the mother who executes her son’s kidnappers to the imprisoned man who kills his captors without even realizing what they are, Benson delves deep into a dangerous psyche and wallows in the blood and madness.

Seriously, how can you not appreciate that?

These stories aren’t for the faint of heart. If you get the vapors thinking about bad things happening, this isn’t the collection for you. But if you like quick peeks into the dark underbelly of the world, Tom Benson has you covered in Smoke and Mirrors.

And for only $1.99, you really can’t go wrong.

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Book Review – Anthem For What’s To Come by Kimberly Coleman

They say war is a confusing time for everyone. Not only is the world exploding all around, but allegiances can constantly shift and it’s all too easy to point fingers at people on the same side.

Most books about war focus on the people fighting the war, but that’s really only a tiny percentage of the population that’s impacted by war’s far-reaching grasp. Regular people, the ones who just want to live out their lives and have little interest in the politics of war, wind up being the worst casualties. Look to any war-torn area of the world today – Syria pops to mind – and you’ll find the bulk of the damage is done not to the fighters of war, but to the people caught in the middle. Politicians start wars. The military winds up fighting them. Everyone else gets chewed up and spat out.

It’s rare to find a story about war that not only isn’t directly about the fighters of the war, but also has a hint of the paranormal woven through it. In April of 2016, I stumbled across Kimberly Coleman’s The Blind Girl’s Sword and found it a fascinating look at a place that could be anywhere on Earth, filled with people who mechanically went about the business of living even as things exploded around them. That was Volume 0 of the ongoing saga of war and witches. Anthem For What’s To Come is Volume 1. It’s an intimate look at a world stuck in perpetual war and what impact that has on people. In a way, it’s a treatise on how to make a monster. Take any normal person, put them in extraordinary circumstances, and watch what brews.

Coleman has a way with prose. The narrative is tight and concise. She doesn’t waste words, but still manages to build a richly-detailed world as seen through the eyes of a Blood Witch. Through those eyes, and the stories she tells to a dying girl, we get a sense of how devastation makes monsters.

Anthem For What’s To Come contains two stories: The Blind Girl’s Sword and Before the Sun Goes Down. Both take place in the same constantly-at-war world and look at the effects of that war through the eyes of normal people. Personally, I hope to see more about this war-torn world and its all-too-human monsters and witches.

“Anthem For What’s Come” combines the first two volumes in The Blind Girl’s War Series:
“Before The Sun Goes Down” tells the story of a young girl poisoned in a terrorist chemical lab…
“The Blind Girl’s Sword” focuses on that terrorist’s ill-fated relationship with a seamstress and how that led him onto his malefic path.

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