Saturday, February 28, 2015

Indie Book Corner: Exurbia: A Novel About Caterpillars, by Alex McKechnie



www.amazon.com/Exurbia-Novel-Caterpillars-Infinite-Triptych-ebook/dp/B00T4EV660/
Prepare for lots of Caterpillar references.  Also this picture links to the books Amazon page.


Exurbia: A Novel About Caterpillars will not be what you think it is.  Well it wasn't for me because I didn't have the wonderful blurb that's out now since I had an ARC to read.  So I went into this quite blind and I must say that I was treated to one of the best books I've read so far this year.  I'll actually go a step further and say that this is—as of February 28, 2015— the best book I've read this year and I've read a few really good ones so far.

Now for the substance.  This book is filled with amazing ideas about spirituality, transhumanism, individuality, collectivism, and morality.  It made me ask myself, just what defines humanity?  Is it our physical bodies or is it our consciousness, is it all that and more, is it none of that?  What's more impressive is that my mind was addressing these questions only secondary as a monumental plot was taking shape in front of my eyes.  The fact that this book both entertained me and made me think very deeply about my very existence and other very broad and heavy subjects, for me, puts this at a level of great fiction.  My favorite games (Legacy of Kain), animes (Big O), and shows (The Wire) all manage to do this and enthralled me in the fiction.  Now it comes as a shock to me that this is a series.  I read this thinking it as a standalone book and the ending wraps it all up very nicely.  I imagine someone else's story will be told in the next one but hell, I'm definitely looking forward to it.

Okay now I'll do a sort of critique here, both good and bad.  For some reason I want to do the bad first, maybe because that's what I encountered first.

The beginning confused the hell out of me.  There was so much new and crazy terminology and names thrown at me that it was tough to wrap my head around it all.  I couldn't tell what were real terms and what was what the author might have made up for his fictional future.  My instinct was to stop and try to force myself to understand it all but being an indie author myself and a pretty slow reader with two (low paying) jobs I had no time for that.  So I just pressed on and didn't give a second thought to those confusing terms, only guessing what they meant to keep the story flowing.  Eventually I did figure out what it meant thanks to all the context clues that the author, Alex, provides and the terms are used repeatedly for good effect which forced me to learn them.  Somewhere near the middle it all makes sense even sooner if you don't have trouble focusing on the beginning of new books.

And to continue that thought it does take some time for some concepts to be fully explained but I don't know if that's good or bad.  By the end every question I had was suitably explained, two big things in particular.

That list of negatives is actually awfully short now that I look at it.

Okay now for the good.  This book is filled with amazing ideas of science and spirituality and gave me that feeling of being a part of some new frontier adventure.  It felt like what I imagine the late 1800's and early to middle 1900's felt like, like I was a part of something grand and new, and impossible.  I'm amazed at how it all meshed together so well and flawlessly.  Just about every part of this writing was strong including the characters which I don't expect from science fiction books because the few I've read have not had the strongest characters.  My favorite characters in order had to be Jura the aging physicist trapped between two worlds, Mrs. Butterworth *snigger snigger snigger* the mysterious woman from space with an even more mysterious agenda, 261 the moralising imp (awesome title) a genetically modified man made for the purpose of impartial judgment, Moxiana a girl with strange dreams and a penchant for heralding mass destruction, and the old crone who protects young Moxiana despite premonitions that she will die doing so.  Everything escalates very naturally plot wise and then goes super crazy near the end to where I could not put the damn book down even when I had other pressing things to do. And we're introduced to this future in a very natural way and it’s really a wonderfully beautiful world.  Hell even destruction comes in the form of a gorgeous LSD inspired wave of beauty.

Anyways I could go on and on about a lot of the stuff inside the book but this is already pretty long so I'll just leave you with the generic list of positives and negatives to summarize.

The Good
+Smart Read
+Beautiful prose and descriptions and not overly long.
+Complex terminology is used often enough that it becomes easier to understand
+Intellectually strong characters like my favorites Jura, the Moralising Imp 261, Moxiana, the old Crone, and Mrs. Butterworth.  There are many more besides my favorites.
+Great ideas
+The plot escalates nicely and the climax is fast paced and leaves you with some revelations that blow your mind
+Improves upon a second reading
+By the end everything is explained
+High minded ideas that creep into your mind and conscience, great philosophical fodder.
+Highly imaginative future

The Bad
-The very beginning confused me to no end with an overload of tough terminology
-It takes a while for some concepts to be fully explained

Links

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Indie Book Corner: Sky Ghosts: All For One by Alexandra Engellmann


http://www.amazon.com/Sky-Ghosts-All-Alexandra-Engellmann-ebook/dp/B00QQABR5U
The cover of the book perfectly sets the tone for what to expect in the book.  It's dark and gritty and bloody.



Plot


Sky Ghosts is a book about two sisters that work for a shadowy organization composed of beings called Sky Ghosts.  These are individuals who've separated from humans long ago and gained access to powers buried deep inside of them.  They stick under the radar to avoid human contact mostly but a few influential humans know about them and pay them lots of money to complete tasks like bodyguard services and the like.  One night the two sisters stumble across rogue Sky Ghosts, called Sky Beasts, about to kill or capture two helpless human boys.  The sisters intervene and save the boys and take them with them to their HQ.  From here they are tasked with protecting the boys and everyone involved wants to figure out just why the Sky Beasts wanted these two so badly.

That's the bigger mystery for most of the book.  And there are some nice twists and turns in it to keep you guessing for a while.  Along the way you'll find out some history behind the organization and the Sky Ghosts themselves and get some background on Pain and Jane and some of the other characters as well.

Quick Rating: The plot isn't the strongest aspect of the book but it is solid and gives a nice backdrop to some awesome character action and drama.  It takes three chapters for it all to build up but by chapter three I was immersed.

Ideas


All For One is filled with babes and blades, studs and swords, and beyond all that a lot of heart.  What I mainly liked about this book was its fusion of eastern ideas and western style.  That fusion can be seen most clearly in the way that the character's powers work and the way they fight.  The powers of the characters all come from inside.  There's some genetic factors at play but mainly the power functions essentially like Ki or Qi as it is understood in eastern philosophy.  Characters here are stronger, faster, and can fly!  And what's better than that is the fact that with practice a person can hone these powers to an even greater degree.  I dug the powers immensely and the way each character applied such abilities was distinct.  It reminded me of the anime Claymore where everyone has access to the same abilities but some specialize in certain aspects over others like speed or power or healing.

Claymore by Norihiro Yagi, Published by Shueisha and Viz Media, Animation by Madhouse, and Licensed by Funimation
Quick Rating: There's so many cool ideas and great execution here that it's clearly one of the books strengths.

Characters


The strongest aspect of this book was the way the characters interacted and played off of each other and the dialogue they had with one another.  There was an abundance of humor anytime this young cast did anything together.  Pain and Marco were hilarious early on.  Their banter, bullying of each other, and combined bloodlust made me laugh so hard and wince a little bit too (these two rarely pull their punches).  Beyond the humor there's a lot of sincerity and heart in the dialogue and emotions between everyone.  You end up feeling for all the characters even ones you might not like.  By the end one of the characters I disliked for most of the book became my favorite.

Quick Rating: The characterization, character interaction and banter between the characters is by far the strongest aspect behind this book and--more often than not--is what will keep you turning the pages.

Action


The fight scenes are particularly awesome and bloody!  There's a lot of blood.  Be warned!  The violence is stylistic and each character fights how you'd imagine him or her to do so in stunning aerial sequences of steel, blood, flesh, and bone.  Being the action junkie that I am I could picture every scene perfectly as if it were an action movie.
http://engellmann.tumblr.com/post/104668627661/book
Sky Ghost art from Engellmann's Tumblr page

Quick Rating: A great splattering of blood and clanging of steel is found in many pages of this book.  I found it to be very enjoyable.  I only wish there was a little more variety to be found here.  Regardless, all of these scenes were hugely entertaining.

Romance


Now as a guy--no that's a bit of a copout--I'll just say that I'm not that inclined to like drawn out romances.  All the back and forth kills me every time.  So romance isn't my genre.  There's a lot of romance here and there's a nice amount of back and forth to it.  It's not my cup of tea but fans of the genre will no doubt like it.  That said I still like how it played out, it was just a little over suspenseful for me.  I guess I didn't mind it so much because I did want these two characters to succeed with each other.

Quick Rating: My previous words don't give enough credit to the romance subplots in the book.  There is actually a lot of suspense here, not just in the main coupling but in several others as well and it's all portrayed very realistically.  So while not my genre I still enjoyed it.

Indie Plug (FREE STUFF)


I really liked the high manic energy of Sky Ghosts and all of its crazy characters so I HIGHLY RECOMMEND you check this one out.  Right now it's for FREE on Amazon.com until the 20th of this month.  So check it out and let me know what you think of it.

Updates


There has been a major update to the book since I last read it at the beginning of January.  The contents have been cleaned and tightened and the plot more focused.  If you have an older version of the book just contact Amazon Support (https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/contact-us) and ask them to update your copy.  They're really quick about it too.  For all new buyers you'll automatically have the new updates.

Author


https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/10801588.Alexandra_Engellmann
Alexandra Engellmann is a truly fascinating person.  Just take a look at her profile by clicking the picture to the left to get an understanding of what I mean.  In summary; she's Russian, she taught herself English by learning the lyrics of songs she liked and reading books that caught her attention, and she's crafted a book that wouldn't make you think any of that.  I've known her for over a month now.  We've been corresponding about the hardships of being newly released Indies in a broad sea of books.  She's given me some great tips about the 'biz' and I have done the same for her.  What I can add to her profile is that she works tirelessly, has a hugely creative mind, a great sense of humor, and is very supportive of other Indies.  And she's a digital artist to top all of that off.  She's quite the modern day renaissance woman.






Artwork

http://engellmann.tumblr.com/post/107221999106/read-the-first-two-chapters-of-the-book
Sky Ghost art from Engellmann's Tumblr page

The world of Sky Ghosts and its characters have a certain darkness about them.  This is evident in the descriptions.  The action takes place under the veil of night and the characters are all garbed in black.  It’s a very visual world and the author has taken this a step further and drawn some damn good digital art for the characters and some of the settings.  It can be found on her personal Tumblr page and a page made by a fan of hers.  Its extra content that keeps you immersed into the book while you're reading or after you're done.  I just find it cool to have art on characters that I've come to really like.

Awesomesauce
+Powers
+Fights Scenes
+Humor
+Dialogue
+Realism
+Cool and Badass Characters
+Sexiness
+Believable Romance

Not so Awesome
-Long Book
-Slow Start


Links



My Secret?

As I was reading this book, I faced the fact that I have a dark secret buried deep inside of me.  It's been there for a while but it's only now just surfacing.  I feel that it's finally time that I share it with you all.  You see.  I am....



















I am a Sky Ghost!!!
 Or a nerd with a little extra time on my hands on this particular day.  I'll let you be the judge of that.
As always, thanks for the browse!