Book Review – R.A. McCandless’s Company Of The Damned

Back in 2014 the first of RobRoy McCandless’s angelpunk stories dropped and changed the world’s view of angels. That book was Tears of Heaven (check out my review here). In case you’re wondering, every time I use Tears of Heaven as a drink in one of my books, that’s what I’m referring to. Tears of Heaven kicked off the Flames of Perdition series about the Nephilim Del and her ongoing task to rid the world of rogue demons escaped from Hell and tearing up the world.

Since then, two more books in the series have dropped and this time Del the rogue-demon slayer has come a long way from the absinthe-swilling anti-heroine we saw in the first book. She’s been beaten down, seen friends killed, and found herself in a shaky alliance with a hidden group of elves. Hell Becomes Her set up the longer-running story line and Company Of The Damned knocks it out of the park.

This is McCandless at his finest, digging into the action and bringing the character’s to life on the page. Like all good writing, it started with “what if?” question. In this case, what if some of the Biblical elements were right? Maybe not all of them, and Del is certainly not given to quoting Bible verse. But what if demons were a real and constant threat? What if angels were the nigh-undefeatable soldiers of the Throne? What if, stuck in the middle of that, were the Nephilim, struggling to find a safe way for themselves in a world that would be perfectly content to see them dead?

That’s the world McCandless built in the first two books. In Company of the Damned, he takes full advantage of that world and doesn’t hesitate to tear the hell out of it. This is like reading a Hollywood blockbuster – it has battles, and magic, and Norse goddesses, and golems, and even Lucifer himself. With all that, it would seem like a complicated mess of a story. And perhaps it would be in the hands of a less story-teller, but McCandless weaves this stunning menagerie with a deft hand and gives us a rare gem in the world: A Hollywood blockbuster that has a heart. It’s not all style and no substance.

If you like your characters tough, your dialogue sharp as a tack, and your action scenes plotted out as well as any John Woo movie, this is a good series to get into. With a bit of luck, we’ll see Del on the silver screen someday.

Del’s life was supposed to be easier. She had safety, support, and a small army of immortals to help her banish rogue demons. She should have known better. When the Archangel Michael himself orders her to account for her actions and face judgement, Del finds herself at a crossroads. Trapped on an island in the Mediterranean, Del is outgunned, outnumbered, and outmaneuvered. While her shaky alliances are falling apart, old enemies and new traitors appear around every corner. It may take everything Del has to save all she’s worked for—including her own life. \

Get your copy on Amazon

Check out Rob’s blog

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Blurbing. Again.

Ask any author and they’ll tell you the most hated part of writing is the damned blurb. Something about condensing down 100k words into a few sentences is breathtakingly terrifying. Spend a year or so writing and editing and then cut that sucker down to something slightly longer than the TV Guide entry for Star Trek V. And don’t forget to make it exciting.

In the latest installment of the epic space series, the crew sets out to find God.

I usually don’t agonize over words in the book, but writing a blurb is a different kind of writing. It has to tell enough of the story that the reader knows what they’re getting, but it has obscure enough of the details that people want to read it to find out what happens. And it had better be coherent.

I’m not usually one to back away from a challenge, though. In order to get a little better at it, I’ve been writing imaginary blurbs in my head, trying to make the most mundane subjects sound dynamic and exciting. My old drama teacher used to say we don’t write plays about people brushing their teeth, but that’s not to say we can’t write a blurb about it.

In the harsh white light of the bathroom, Jake Hughes found a version of himself staring bleary-eyed from the mirror. He didn’t know how he got there or where he was going, but he had a brush in one hand and a tube of something in the other. Would he be able to solve the riddle in time or was his washed-out reflection right when it told him the woman he woke up with was about to burst in and shoo him out?

Jake Hughes was a legend in the cutthroat world of competitive solitaire until a string of harsh losses dimmed his star and left him deep in debt to the mob. He was about to play his last card when a hand with red fingernails stopped him. Now, to get back in the game, he has to learn how handle the cards and the woman who saved his life before the mafia shuffles his deck forever. In the process, he might just learn that even though it’s called solitaire, it doesn’t have to be played alone.

Jessica Hayha has felt the universe’s whiplash smile more than once. Down on her luck and running late for an interview, she feels the cruel hand of fate slapping her again. Of all the socks in her drawer, there’s not a single matching pair. Now, with time running out and the smoky voices of half-caf double-decaf lattes taunting her, she’s got one last shot at redemption before she resigns herself to being a barista forever. Find a matching pair or whither away like so many of her friends.

Anyway. Not perfect, but one of those things I like to do when I need to take a break from programming. And you know what they say, if you want to get better at something, do it a lot.

Book Review – Warriors of Understone by B.K. Bass

Medieval fantasy was never really my bag. I’ve only read a few books set in the classical fantasy world that caught my attention and those have been few and far between. Terry Brooks’s Shannara series, Anne McCaffery’s Dragonriders of Pern series (although that almost tips into sci-fi. At the very least, it’s debatable), maybe handful of others. This isn’t necessarily a flaw in the genre itself, it’s just harder for me to wrap my imagination around swords and sorcery than it is to wrap it around some epic battle between giant bugs and dudes in power armor. Even though, when you get right down to it, the differences are mostly cosmetic.

Anyway, I haven’t read much fantasy lately, which is really a pity. Maybe my tastes are changing and I hadn’t realized it, but I really enjoyed Warriors of Understone. Not necessarily because it’s fantasy, but because the genre becomes just the setting instead of becoming a character unto itself. Sure, there are elements of world building – you have to have those when you’re dealing with dwarves – but the world fades nicely into the background and allows you all the free time you need to focus on the characters and the action of the story. That, in my mind, is a hallmark of a great writer. It’s all too easy to spend page after page detailing the intricacies of a fictional world but, let’s face it, that can get tedious after a while.

What B.K. Bass gives us in Warriors of Understone is character-driven fiction that uses the fictional world and all its nuances as a jumping-off point for the actual meat of the story. And the story, for all its fantastical elements, is a very human story about very human things. That’s what makes it special and, arguably, what makes any fantasy story magical: Less time spent describing a feast from a thousand years ago and more time focusing on motivation.

Even if fantasy isn’t your bag, give Warriors of Understone a read. It’s a novella, so it’s not like you’ll have to dedicate the next several years of your life to one story like some other authors I could mention *cough Tolkien cough*, but it’s still a very filling story. You’ve got action, adventure, intrigue, and folk getting swatted in the face with battle axes. Plus, hey, it’s got dwarfs as the main characters and those folk are pretty damned cool.

Durgan must struggle to overcome not only his common birth, but also the prejudices of a stagnant and isolated society to become one of the warriors of Understone. The sprawling dwarven city lies deep beneath the mountains, at the heart of a kingdom that has not changed its ways in centuries. Plagued by threats both within and without, life is a constant struggle to survive and furious battle is around every corner. Durgan may overcome opponents with axe and shield, but can he change the very values of his society with the same tools?

Get your copy on Amazon

Check out B.K. on Twitter, Kyanite Publishing‘s Author Page, his website

Book Review – The Magician’s Sin by Alexander Thomas

The strange and wonderful world of superheroes and villains has always been a fertile field for new ideas to take root. From the original mortals that stood up to the gods to the Shadows and Doc Savages to modern mega-blockbusters, the idea of better than regular people fighting evil has been around since we first said, “Man, those gods are jerks. I’d love to kick that Apollo guy right in the balls.” Through those superheroes and villains, though they be better, stronger, smarter, more powerful than us, we get the chance to explore our own humanity.

The idea of flawed heroes is nothing entirely new, though modern mainstream movies are only just beginning to explore it. The Shadow was hardly a nice guy. Doc Savage may not have killed anyone outright, but he had no qualms about letting a temple fall on a bad guy.

It is kind of wonderful to see someone take a powerful character and expose their weaknesses. Not necessarily kryptonite, but those little things inside their heads that slowly break them down. The failures they can’t quite get over, no matter how much they drink.

They say the Golden Age of Superheroes was the 1930s. This was the era that brought us Superman and Batman, albeit slightly different than their current incarnations. This was also the stomping ground of The Shadow, Doc Savage, and The Phantom. It was a vibrant time and the panoply of colorful characters represented that time. But once you strip away the veneer, the world was a mess.

It’s into that world that Alexander Thomas drops us. Organized crime, honest cops, random violence, and very real magic. Our guide is Anson Walker, a stage magician with actual magical powers who got dragged into the role of a hero and found more than he bargained for.

Part superhero story, part love story, part mystery, The Magician’s Sin is a caterwauling romp through the weird and wonderful world of the Golden Age of Superheroes. A time when the ethics of one hero are being supplanted by the twisted ethics of another and right around the corner a magical anomaly is waiting.

This is a well-crafted story that deserves attention. It may be easy to throw a bunch of genres at a book and see what resonates, but it takes a gifted master to weave elements of heroism, failure, magic, detective noir, and romance into a single, cohesive story. And that’s what Alexander Thomas has given us in The Magician’s Sin.

Simply brilliant. Go buy a copy. Now.

Titan City: 1933

Anson Walker is a retired wizard who has spent the last two decades trying to put his past to rest. His cynical retirement is thrown into chaos when the daughter of his ex-wife hires him to rescue her mother from the dark forces who’ve taken her. The kidnapping is only days before the Aberration, a time every century when the rules of magic don’t apply. Anson’s investigation reveals an ancient conspiracy, the return of a decades-old nemesis, and feelings he thought long gone.

Will he rescue his old flame, or succumb to the forces against him?

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Check out Alexander on Twitter, his website, Facebook, and on Kyanite Publishing‘s Author Page

WATWB – Your Monthly Shot of News That Doesn’t Suck

Here’s an interesting tidbit of historical knowledge for you: America’s first “Drug Czar” was a guy named Harry J. Anslinger. He was the first commissioner of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics and held that post for an incredible 32 years. Prior to that post, he was deeply involved with the Department of Prohibition, those fun-loving guys responsible for smashing every bottle of bourbon in the country. During America’s brief flirtation with alcohol prohibition, Anslinger dismissed marijuana as a harmless weed, not a problem, harmless, and felt it was absolutely absurd that it caused violence in people. After the U.S. came to its senses and repealed prohibition in favor of getting drunk on the weekends, Anslinger saw his role in the Federal Government might be creeping to a close and did a quick 180 on the chronic. At the time, marijuana was largely the purvue of poorer classes and immigrants, so it was a relatively easy sell to say, “Marijuana users are getting high and raping white women.” Banning it largely impacted people who no one in charge cared about. It was the perfect bogey man. If you wonder why you can’t do a little wake and bake without the Feds busting down your door, you can thank Mr. Anslinger for his tireless devotion to keeping himself relevant and his career afloat by going after weed like it was slashing tires and knocking up little girls.

Another fun fact: In 2017, 1,394,514 people were arrested on various posession charges. Meaning they weren’t trafficking the stuff, just carrying. Not all were incarcerated for posession, but plenty were. All of them now have a record for violating federal narcotics laws, which means jobs can be trickier to come by. This, of course, means people have to settle for lower-paying jobs or no jobs at all. As a result poverty goes up, bringing its good buddy crime along with it. Now, you can conflate Mary Jane with poverty and crime and you’ve got a nice spiral of destruction going on. We won’t even bring up the amount of money the private prison system brings in by incarcerating people for getting stoned and listening to Pink Floyd. Money talks, cages lock. And all because Harry J. Anslinger didn’t feel like getting another job.

Of course, the recent trend – started by Colorado, which is frankly making a killing in taxing weed – is for states to start effectively decriminalizing weed. Thirty three states have effectively said they don’t care: Toke up. The Federal Government has not followed that trend, but it’s probably only a matter of time. So what about the people who got popped before the changes in the laws went into effect? Well, some of them are still in prison and most of them still have a criminal record for carrying a few joints. But all isn’t lost, states and private companies are working together to start puring criminal records for low-level posession crimes. To the tune of possibly hundreds of thousands of convictions being overturned. Cook County in Illinois, for example, is looking at expunging tens of thousands of convictions automatically. And that’s one county.

Now, all this doesn’t necessarily mean I’m saying go get baked or even that I’m planning on getting baked, I’m just saying we tried the exact thing with prohibition and it was a miserable failure. In fact, it could be argued that prohibition alone gave rise to the power of the Italian Mafia just like the war on drugs is giving power to a bunch of Mexican cartels. Too many people have been caught up in Mr. Anslinger’s desperate need to keep his job. Fortunately, that’s looking like it could finally be corrected. Without wasting time on weed, it frees the country up to deal with bigger problems like meth, crack, and opioids.

Go check out the full story here

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And now your moment of Zen

Dream Big, Sucka

Fun fact: The number one fear in America isn’t death, it’s public speaking.
Back when I was in college I competed on the Speech and Debate circuit. Contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t a non-stop orgy. Rather, the circuit consisted of some fun and odd people who were just really good at speaking in public. My takeaway from the experience – other than a truckload of trophies – was a complete lack of fear about public speaking, an ability to analyze my audience on the fly, and the ability to think on my feet.
All that experience and a Master’s Degree in Speech Communication with an emphasis in rhetoric and persuasion led me neatly into my career as a programmer.
Anyway, part of competition was judging the state high school speech tournament that was alway held at my college because reasons. Some performances were great, some were abysmal, most were middle of road and fully expected for a bunch of kids that are trying to learn the art. No matter who it was or what they were talking about, I always had to give props to people who were not only willing to ignore their innate fear of public speaking, but to kick its ass and leave it bleeding in alley somewhere. Most performances blend into the background, there were a lot of speeches about banning nuclear weapons or how censorship is bad or the unreported number of people who are maimed or killed by farm equipment every year. I even saw a speech about how we need to change the metal used in keys because people chewing on their keys can get metal poisoning from them. It literally affects five or six people a year. Bad speech, good presentation.
But one of the speeches that stands out in my head was a young woman from some New Mexico high school who wrote a speech on why we should have easy-to-achieve dreams. Her general gist was it made life more interesting when you dream small because then you can achieve those dreams easily.

Interestingly enough, I see a lot of the same philosophy coming out of the indie writing community. We’ve all seen the person who says they’re happy if a handful of people read and enjoy their books and that’s enough of a dream for them.

I write about a book a year. I know it looks like I haven’t written anything in a few years, but that’s just because I’ve got one going through publication and another I’m editing. My average still hits right around a book a year, you’re just going to have to wait until next year to read the new one. A year doesn’t seem all that long, but it takes hundreds of hours to pull a book together, write it, edit it, leave it alone for a while, edit it again, get it read, edit it again, format it, edit it again, and get it out to publishers. After all that work, would you be happy with having a few people read and enjoy it? Of course not. I want the world to read it and enjoy. Preferably multiple worlds. That’s my dream. Having a handful of people read and enjoy something I wrote is great, don’t get me wrong, but having that as your dream is like setting a goal of getting the dishes into the sink every night.
So this is a little shout out to the indie writing community. Y’all are awesome. Don’t be afraid to dream big. Imagine the thrill of writing that best-selling novel instead of the thrill of just getting the dishes done. And don’t tell me it can’t be done or there’s too much competition or piracy or whatever. Quit looking for reasons why you can’t and start looking for reasons why you can.

Dreams are meant to be big. They’re meant to be grandiose and amazing. They’re the things we strive for and, if they’re important enough to us, the things we find a way to make happen. Don’t fret about chewing on keys and don’t waste your time with tiny dreams of getting to work on time or getting a raise or a better house. Dream of your work being you and your book. Dream of owning a drug-dealer-esque mansion filled with samurai armor and a pool with a swim-up bar in your living room. Go nuts. Then find a way to make it happen and instead of this:

You’ll have this:

Now go do it.

Book Review – Copper Pennies by Carrie D. Miller

There used to be a theory that a story should take place over fairly short amount of time – weeks, days if possible. I think most people gave it lip service and went on to do whatever they felt like doing anyway. Besides, there are some stories, especially those that don’t feature Bernie, that can be told over the space of a weekend. Some stories span generations and to condense that into a weekend of action and massive amounts of exposition is to take a dump all over the story. And no one like dump-covered stories.

So, enter Carrie Miller’s Copper Pennies, a story that takes place over around a hundred years, a few generations, and at least a couple of planes of existence. The amazing thing about it is even though it sounds mind-bendingly complicated, Miller does a fantastic job of keeping things simple and concise, so the reader doesn’t have to keep a notebook full of names and what they did so when they pop up a few decades later no one has to flip back through the book.

And, frankly, what a story. It’s easy to whip up a tale of black magick and betrayal; it’s much more difficult to add layered depth, interesting characters, and enough history to make it come to life. Copper Pennies breathes. Its breath isn’t always pleasant, but no good story comes to life when it’s been drenched in mouthwash.

So, if you want something gritty, a story that doesn’t hold back or paint its characters as perfect, try Copper Pennies. It’s one of those books that feels so real the characters and places stick with you after you put it down.

Magda stands in the moonlit cemetery waiting for the spell to work, for her lover to return. But what’s done can’t be undone, and Magda will learn she should have left him in the ground. 

When twins Avery and Chloe Parsons receive a cryptic letter and a sinister-looking book filled with illegible scrawls from their grandmother, the sisters set out for Prague to check on her. 

Drawn to a cracked crystal ball in a curiosity shop, Chloe discovers it harbors the spirit of their grandmother, who tells them a horrific tale of lust, naïveté, betrayal, and… demons.

Armed with a book of dark magick they can’t read and a cracked crystal ball, the twins must stop Magda’s resurrected lover before he releases an unstoppable force that will consume the human world.

Across continents and nearly a century, follow the adventures of three strong-willed women: one seduced by evil, one struggling to withstand the lure of power, and one trying to save her family—and the world.

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Check out her website