Maria Violante

Biography

Maria Violante currently resides in Kalamazoo with a series of off-color roommates. She's not sure if she's a hippie, a hipster, or just a redneck that happens to read a little too often. Sources report she may also be the priestess from Diablo II, but those are largely unverified.

Where to find Maria Violante online


Books

Ice Floes are Not Covered
By
Price: $1.49 USD. Words: 9,530. Language: English. Published: January 8, 2013. Category: Fiction » Science fiction » Short stories
When a private security force comes knocking on the door of his retirement home, Charles Mallory does the only logical thing. He grabs his antique hand-gun and jumps off of his fourth-story balcony. He may not know why the elderly have been disappearing as of late, but he has a sneaking suspicion it has something to do with the armed officers at his door, and he won't meet the same fate.

Smashwords book reviews by Maria Violante

  • Semper Audacia on Oct. 31, 2011

    Note: This review was originally written for my author blog at www.mariaviolante.com Semper Audacia, by M. Pax, is a "space-opera" novelette of roughly 13,000 words. I received a copy for free from the author for the review - and then I went out and bought it. No really, it was that good. Let me start out this review by saying that I'm generally not a fan of shorter fiction. If it's under twenty-thousand words, most authors barely find time to squeeze in some exposition and introduce the main hook. As such, shorter works usually feel forced and one-dimensional. Now, don't get me wrong; I'm not saying that's true of all short fiction writers - some of my favorite works are shorter works of fiction (I'm looking at you, Neil Gaiman). I'm saying that it's hard, damn hard, to do it right. That's why this novelette took me completely by surprise. Before I get into the good, though, let me touch on the few things I didn't like about it. 1. There were a few spots that needed a little polishing - a few commas, an adverb instead of an adjective, that sort of thing. I doubt your average reader would even notice, but as an ex-English teacher, those things really stick out to me. I think it says something that "Semper Audacia" was well - written enough that I was willing to overlook that; usually, I get to the second typo and feel like tossing the thing in the trash. 2.) I was a bit confused about how the races understood each other. Was there a piece of technology that did the translating? Were they bilingual? Aaaaaannnndddd...... that's it for the bad. Onto to the good: ***Warning, there are a few MINOR spoilers in here. If you don't want to read them, take my word for it - it's good - or download a sample and get a taste of the novelette for yourself.*** 1. I think that one of the hardest things an author can do is write an engaging story in which the protagonist spends a lot of time in isolation. Human beings are social creatures and we cling to all things interpersonal. The fact that Leda is the last soldier, and largely alone, makes her part a difficult one to write. Yet M. Pax pulls it off swimmingly, largely due to the advent of the quasi-ghost brigades, the special suits, and the injection of relevant (and emotionally touching) flashbacks. 2. The language choice was excellent, as well. M. Pax creates her world through a rich combination of surprisingly accurate descriptors that invoke all five senses and convey a great sense of action, all without being overly wordy. 3. I loved the protagonist. She was complex, well - rounded, and remarkably human, and I quickly became caught up in her fears and struggles. 4. It's a good ending. I wish I could elaborate further on that, but I guess you're just going to have to read it - and at 99 cents, it's quite the steal. If you'd like to purchase your own copy, you can find it on Smashwords or Kindle. 5. OVERALL RATING: 4.5 STARS. You can see more information about this awesome Indie author on her personal website at mpaxauthor.com
  • City of the Falling Sky on Nov. 10, 2011
    (no rating)
    I didn’t stop reading until it was over. Not to eat, not to sleep … due to the light weight of the kindle, I didn’t even have to stop to pee. Let’s all just be glad that I didn’t have to work today, or I think I would have been fired while trying to sneak glances between … you know … what it is I do. Although the writing is simplistic at times – it is, I believe, geared for YA audiences – it is engaging, descriptive, inventive, and clever. The main character, Sekry, is whole and utterly human. I really empathized with his pain and his frustration, and I really celebrated his joy. The author has done a great job of creating a world detailed and consistent enough to allow a true suspension of disbelief, melding elements of science fiction and fantasy into a classically-styled storyline. My qualms with the book were few and far between. I think I noticed, at some point, a total of two typos – although I was way too enthralled with the book to linger on them or even write them down for reference. I didn’t like the names assigned to various characters, finding them too Disney-Clownish (or, you know, Harry-Pottery). I think some may have issue with a few of the religious parallels drawn by the culture; I didn’t. I loved the development of the plot. It started small, but intriguing, and quickly expanded out into something huge and enthralling, complicated and entertaining all at once. At the same time, I never found myself confused. The author has done a great job of going back and editing everything for cohesion; I didn’t notice any major plot holes, loopholes, etc. And then ending? What a great ending. I wish I could tell you about it, but there would be spoilers bursting out of the woodwork, and as an author myself, I hate when people do that. I looked up the current price, and it’s only 99 cents. A definite steal, if you ask me. I’ll definitely be grabbing the next book in the series as soon as it comes out. Final Rating: 4.8 Stars
  • The Doll on Nov. 16, 2011

    "The Doll" had a few rough moments, specifically with participle tenses - I caught a few cases where "have lost" should have been "had lost", or using "may be" for a past scenario (should be "might have been"). There was also a passage where a set of quotation marks was missing, which gave me a little confusion as to the number of tour guides. (Additionally, the Spanish spoken by the native guide had a few mistakes as well; "munecas" should have been "muñecas" with a tilde, and as a feminine plural, the correct modifier is "las", not "la". "Trajineras" is a plural noun; if referring to only one canoe/gondola, "trajinera" should have been used instead.) Overall, though, the mistakes were quite minor and didn't merit much more than a brief pause. Now, my favorite part - onto the good! First of all, this author has a real talent for description, creating imagery that you can experience in all five senses. The descriptions are both complex and succint, a winning combination that really brings the page to life. Take the following passage for example: He heaved his sunburnt bulk onto the rotting pier, the arthritic planks groaning and shivering in protest of his weight. Or how about this? Vines and weeds strangled the decomposing structure, dragging it into the earth, returning its elements back to nature. Just superb! Great verb choice, sparse yet perfect adjectives, and a sense of movement throughout the entire passage that built dramatic tension. Another thing I really liked about this work was the depiction of interpersonal relationships. The dynamic between mother and child was touching and true to life, and I could really empathize in the frustration between the mother and her ex - especially in scenes about parenting (not that I have children.) Finally, I originally thought that the ending would be fairly easy to guess. I mean, it was pretty clear where the work was going, right? So I was pleasantly surprised by a twist ending that was both creepy and chilling! All in all, I'd have to give this 4.2 stars. Great descriptions, a decent plot, in need of some more editing.
  • The Warden Threat on Nov. 23, 2011

    The Warden Threat, by D.L. Morrese, is like a Shirley Temple – light, sweet, fun and sparkly. It’s part of a grown-up genre, yet appropriate for all ages. Actually, that said, it’s more of a Dirty Shirley, in that it’s laugh-out-loud funny (and as you probably have no idea what I’m talking about, let’s move on.) I did catch a few typos and a couple of missing commas, but other than that, the grammar is refreshingly precise and the vocabulary, well, scrumptious. I admit, I had to look one or two words up, but at the same time, it wasn’t a “too-smart-for-its-own-good” book, which I liked. And as for the bad, that was about it. The characters are believable and well-rounded, although slightly cliche at times. The book avoids all of my major pet peeves. POV is logical, solid, and easily followed. Character motivations are clear and make sense. Descriptions are long enough to be engaging, but short enough to avoid clumsiness or awkwardness. I should make a note here; they are occasionally redundant, like the following passage - “He approached it slowly, staring up into the stern black face and the cold black eyes that somehow seemed alive.” - but then you get passages like this little tidbit that make you overjoyed you picked up your kindle in the first place: “The serving girl began to laugh in the friendly but uncommitted way waitresses do to make customers feel appreciated and more generous when it comes time to leave a tip.” One of my favorite things in the work were the little “easter eggs” that would make sense later – little pieces of our modern world in the medieval setting. Take, for example, this scene of a messenger learning to read for the first time: “Grandpa Nash produced another book for her … about a dog named Spot that also seemed to like to run …” Cute, right? And that’s just it. The whole book is filled with little gems that I just want to quote to you, but I’m quickly coming to the point where it’s no longer me reviewing and more me violating intellectual copyright. So, in order to help you understand the experience of the book, I will leave you with this note. Usually, when I am reviewing a book for my site, I highlight and make little notes as I go, so that I’ll have a lot to say. In this case, I was too busy reading it; I literally read the entire thing straight through in one sitting. \ Aaaa-and it just so happens that the author has agreed to give me a free copy of the sequel, The Warden War, in exchange for another review, so … you know … I gotta go. I’ll, um, call you .. or something. Overall Score: 4.8 stars. (Seriously.) The Warden Threat is available from Amazon here, or from Smashwords here, or you can check out the author’s homepage here. Reviewed for Maria Violante's review site, mariaviolante.com
  • The Other Side of Life (Book #1, Cyberpunk Elven Trilogy) on Nov. 24, 2011

    If I had to pick a word that summed up my feelings about The Other Side of Life, it would be … ambivalent. Creative and stylish in theory, but lacking in execution, it has been the hardest book to review thus far, and I’ll tell you about why. First of all, the bad. There are a number of mistakes (okay, you can call them creative license, I still call them mistakes) the author has made here that made the book hard for me to read. For starters, the POV is all over the place, jumping from character to character, and then into an omniscient state. We’re never fully in one person’s head for long enough to really understand any of the characters, and in sections where multiple people are together and talking, it can actually be hard to know who said what until you’re three or four lines down the passage. I found myself having to constantly go back and reread things and kind of “force” myself into the narrative, especially in the first 25%. This is the opposite of what you want, i.e., a book well written enough that grammar and technique are playing in the shadows while you fall into the story! Additionally, and more minor, Scott throws in a bunch of extra commas, meaning that I’m pausing mentally when I shouldn’t be. Another thing I had a major issue with was character motivation. While Scott *does* give us insight into why her characters do the things they do, I find the explanation to be thin, hard to believe, and lacking – both for minor actions, like “Why do Anya and Nin initially each other,” all the way to major things, like, “Why is Anya risking her neck to help Nin in the first place?” I would have really liked it if the thought processes that led up to the actions were better explained – either through memories, pieces of backstory, or a more detailed description of feelings.” I also (and this one may just be my fault) didn’t really understand how the rules of this new universe worked, especially in how characters suddenly “knew” incredibly complicated and important pieces of knowledge. Like, how does Julius understand that he can choose between his own welfare and Leticia’s without anybody telling him or giving him a clear sign? Did he sense it from the “tree’s” force? If so, that needed to be better explain. This was a pattern I found repeating itself throughout the course of the novel; I just kept saying – How did they know that? The final complaint that I had with this book is that at times, it felt like a diatribe with a novel pasted on top of it. I understand that cyberpunk is all about being against commercialism, the machine, and the danger of misusing technology, but there were entire, oddly timed passages, that espoused these viewpoints without really weaving them into the story. It was frustrating; while writing with a meaning is important, it should always (in my opinion) fall second to the flow and development of the narrative itself. Oh, and minor point. The Mayans were the first with Cocoa as in “chocolate”, coca leaves as the forerunner to cocaine were actually an Incan/Quechua device. The Good: Wow, that felt mean. Unfortunately, it also felt honest. Luckily, there are also quite a few good things to say about this work that will help pull the punch. For starters, it’s pretty imaginative, and it has many of the elements we all look for with a good story. There’s a plucky heroine, a dreamy hero, a loyal sidekick, and an evil but redeemable villain (revealed only after a nice plot twist!) Nobody is invulnerable and everybody is quite human. There are also passages where the author manages to stay in just one POV for long enough to create some real human meaning; my favorite is where the main character is giving her mom an, um, package at the mother’s place of employment. The mother’s concern and unspoken thoughts were both real and touching, and it was a definite point of light in the work. And the author should be applauded for weaving her beliefs and a deeper message into her work, even if the execution isn’t always perfect. She’s definitely attempted something that we don’t see everyday, both stylistically and in her intended message, and she gets full points for bravery in that regard. Finally, there is a lot of creativity in both her descriptions of the near future and in some of the things we see in the Elven domains. I was pretty excited at both the presentation of Nin’s homeland and in the unique method of transport that was discussed, although I felt like these things should have been developed an explained further. Final Score: 3.2 stars. An interesting read that misses the mark of greatness, but an excellent start for this author. I look forward to see how she might handle these issues in the future.
  • The Other Side of Life (Book #1, Cyberpunk Elven Trilogy) on Nov. 24, 2011

    If I had to pick a word that summed up my feelings about The Other Side of Life, it would be … ambivalent. Creative and stylish in theory, but lacking in execution, it has been the hardest book to review thus far, and I’ll tell you about why. First of all, the bad. There are a number of mistakes (okay, you can call them creative license, I still call them mistakes) the author has made here that made the book hard for me to read. For starters, the POV is all over the place, jumping from character to character, and then into an omniscient state. We’re never fully in one person’s head for long enough to really understand any of the characters, and in sections where multiple people are together and talking, it can actually be hard to know who said what until you’re three or four lines down the passage. I found myself having to constantly go back and reread things and kind of “force” myself into the narrative, especially in the first 25%. This is the opposite of what you want, i.e., a book well written enough that grammar and technique are playing in the shadows while you fall into the story! Additionally, and more minor, Scott throws in a bunch of extra commas, meaning that I’m pausing mentally when I shouldn’t be. Another thing I had a major issue with was character motivation. While Scott *does* give us insight into why her characters do the things they do, I find the explanation to be thin, hard to believe, and lacking – both for minor actions, like “Why do Anya and Nin initially each other,” all the way to major things, like, “Why is Anya risking her neck to help Nin in the first place?” I would have really liked it if the thought processes that led up to the actions were better explained – either through memories, pieces of backstory, or a more detailed description of feelings.” I also (and this one may just be my fault) didn’t really understand how the rules of this new universe worked, especially in how characters suddenly “knew” incredibly complicated and important pieces of knowledge. Like, how does Julius understand that he can choose between his own welfare and Leticia’s without anybody telling him or giving him a clear sign? Did he sense it from the “tree’s” force? If so, that needed to be better explain. This was a pattern I found repeating itself throughout the course of the novel; I just kept saying – How did they know that? The final complaint that I had with this book is that at times, it felt like a diatribe with a novel pasted on top of it. I understand that cyberpunk is all about being against commercialism, the machine, and the danger of misusing technology, but there were entire, oddly timed passages, that espoused these viewpoints without really weaving them into the story. It was frustrating; while writing with a meaning is important, it should always (in my opinion) fall second to the flow and development of the narrative itself. Oh, and minor point. The Mayans were the first with Cocoa as in “chocolate”, coca leaves as the forerunner to cocaine were actually an Incan/Quechua device. The Good: Wow, that felt mean. Unfortunately, it also felt honest. Luckily, there are also quite a few good things to say about this work that will help pull the punch. For starters, it’s pretty imaginative, and it has many of the elements we all look for with a good story. There’s a plucky heroine, a dreamy hero, a loyal sidekick, and an evil but redeemable villain (revealed only after a nice plot twist!) Nobody is invulnerable and everybody is quite human. There are also passages where the author manages to stay in just one POV for long enough to create some real human meaning; my favorite is where the main character is giving her mom an, um, package at the mother’s place of employment. The mother’s concern and unspoken thoughts were both real and touching, and it was a definite point of light in the work. And the author should be applauded for weaving her beliefs and a deeper message into her work, even if the execution isn’t always perfect. She’s definitely attempted something that we don’t see everyday, both stylistically and in her intended message, and she gets full points for bravery in that regard. Finally, there is a lot of creativity in both her descriptions of the near future and in some of the things we see in the Elven domains. I was pretty excited at both the presentation of Nin’s homeland and in the unique method of transport that was discussed, although I felt like these things should have been developed an explained further. Final Score: 3.2 stars. An interesting read that misses the mark of greatness, but an excellent start for this author. I look forward to see how she might handle these issues in the future. Reviewed for Maria Violante's review blog, www.mariaviolante.com
  • Water on Nov. 27, 2011

    Water, by Terra Harmony, is a debut novel that is strikingly devoid of many of the common debut novel mistakes. There are occasional errors in spelling, especially where homophones are concerned (“peaking” instead of “peeking”, “wretched” instead of “retched”), but the novel flows smoothly enough even with these problems. My only other real complaint is that the author tends to over-explain or over-describe, especially in the beginning. I hate redundancy as a general rule, so sentences like, “Gaining consciousness was a greater struggle than ever before in my life” make me cringe. Those are my only real complaints with the novel, and when you’re talking self-published, they aren’t a lot. I do want to make a particular note that the novel is not appropriate for minors. There are adult scenes in there, and not necessarily consensual ones, which is something to keep in mind if you are sensitive about that sort of thing. For what it’s worth, it’s pretty clear that the sex isn’t just added for steam; it makes sense, it drives the plot, and it helps us see a lot further into the mind of the characters. Speaking of the plot – it’s terrific, not just in creativity or in the “twist”, but also in the pacing. Water is balanced between giant, crashing catastrophes and quiet, tense moments, yet it rarely lags or feels stale or repetitive. That’s a pretty hard thing to do. It starts to really open up about ten percent out of the gate and just really picks up from there. Water really shines, though, when it comes to characters. They’re highly developed, with good backstories and clear motivations, and they act like real people do. For example – I found myself slightly upset at one point, thinking that the protagonist’s choice to go back to a man with whom her relationship was both illogical and unintelligent – before remembering that I’ve probably done the same thing a few times myself! As a final note, I’d like to touch on the subject matter. Water focuses on an ancient organization, devoted to extraordinary beings that manipulate elemental magic. As such, the idea is nothing new, right? But Harmony does a decent job of reinventing the genre, adding in clear roots of Paganism/Witchcraft, nature-worship, and modern day environmentalism. The myriad of influences help move the book away from something stale and into the field of a really enjoyable read. Overall Score: 4.5 Stars. Well-developed characters and a balanced plot that make for an enjoyable, almost guilty read – sort of like a YA novel for grownups. Reviewed for Maria Violante's review site, http://violantewrites.wordpress.com/2011/11/27/review-water-the-akasha-series-by-terra-harmony/
  • Children of Aerthwheel on Nov. 29, 2011

    Children of the Aerthwheel is a half YA, half grown-up fantasy novel that has been also been placed in the horror genre. I can kind of see it there, but then again, I kind of can’t. There certainly are some pretty terrifying moments, replete with monsters and mayhem, but overall, the sense of absolute wonder I get makes me place this one squarely in the fantasy genre. Then again, that’s not important, so we’re just going to move on. I have a few grammatical complaints, as always. The author has a slight issue with missing necessary commas, and there are occasional spelling mistakes – most of them involving two homophones, like “clicks” vs. “cliques” and “sore” vs. “soar”. The vast majority of the writing is error-free though, and seeing a properly used semicolon made me smile so hard I thought I was going to split my face open. When there is an error, it is glaringly obvious, largely because the rest of it is so good! The pacing is incredibly effective. The novel starts with a series of news articles that at first, I didn’t like, yet as the plot expanded, the author did a great job of tying everything together. Hensler uncovers events in an order that keeps the plot interesting, peeling his story-onion in such a way that each new layer is full of surprises. The novel takes a ton of twists and turns, yet all of them seem “believable” in the sense that there is very little “deus ex machina” going on. In the end, everything is foreshadowed, and clearly – you’ve just got be bright enough to see it. If you aren’t, no fear, you’ll just want to read it again, reveling in the little clues the author has placed on the way. And the reader isn’t left hanging in the end; you find yourself burning for the sequel, but at the same time, you feel like the story has reached a logical stopping point – a balance that is hard to do. Hensler has a gift for description, neither over-describing nor telling too much. He works in all senses; I would have never thought to describe the smell of a magic stone arrow, especially not with such a creative scent as “clean bed sheets.” Many moments, like a kid’s bullying or a daughter’s forgotten pain, are poignant and heartbreakingly realistic. Take, for example, this scene where Andrew is meeting his Alzheimer’s-stricken grandfather, Grant, for the first time in years. “Andrew carefully moved in and they embraced. At first, it was like two sheets of tin grinding into one another during a storm, awkward and unbearable. Then Grant felt the boy’s arms go tight and heard a muffled sob pressed against his weathered neck. Grant’s arms tightened and the hug became something real and definite and meaningful. Grant told himself not to forget this moment, that he had to cherish it for however long he ended up staying in this horrible little room. He had to remember this one thing more than anything else.” This all brings me to my favorite part. The human element of this book is terrific. As a person that was previously estranged from family for a long section of my life, I was blown away by how well Hensler captured the situation. The characters are all believable teenagers with screwed up family arrangements, resulting in the simultaneous quest for approval, independence, and a hiding place. Each one is an underdog that appeals to us on a fundamental level. Many of them represent an interesting dichotomy of good and evil, and none of them are without essential hubris. Your heart really soars with these heroes and you find yourself cheering for each victory and mourning each defeat. Overall Rating: 5 stars. Spectacular, with a twisting plot, incredibly human characters, beautiful imagery, and a great conclusion. Reviewed for Maria Violante's review blog: http://violantewrites.wordpress.com/2011/11/30/review-children-of-the-aerthwheel-by-l-david-hesler/
  • Thieves at Heart on Dec. 10, 2011

    Thieves at Heart, by Tristan J. Tarwater, is a skillfully written, well-pondered fantasy memoir-of-sorts, following the rescue and coming of age of a young female thief by the name of Tavera. Please note that given some of the language and situations involved, it’s not appropriate for children or most young adults. My complaints with the book were few. At times, the writing gets a little unwieldy – uber-long sentences and the occasional awkward passage. Some of the transitions are clumsy. And yup, that’s about it. Grammatically, the book is quite sound, and as far as the writing goes, it’s fairly superb – excellent consistency of POV, enthralling (and often cute) inner dialogues, bright pinches of humor and action. Tarwater creates a fantasy world that is rich and complex, a “similar to ours” place that has been well-thought out enough to include things like a goddess-centered religion and a variety of card games. (Squee, I want to learn to play some of these!) You can really smell the dirt and feel the breeze. The characters are well-drawn, well-rounded, and as a result, well-loved – although perhaps none so loved as Tavera, the protagonist, as it really is her story. We watch her grow up through her own eyes, blooming from a child pickpocket into an accomplished young woman of a thief, as she struggles with the same things that many of us dealt with growing up – abandonment, morality, achievement, loyalty. Overall Rating: 4.6 Stars. Although not my usual cup of tea, the book was engaging, entertaining, well-written, and heartwarming. I hope for a review copy of the next in the series!
  • Saucerers and Gondoliers on Dec. 12, 2011

    What kind of novel is it? Well it's sort of satire science fiction ... erm ... it's political commentar... er, that's not really right either ... how about this: there are aliens, and the book is an absolute riot. The dialogue is great, the descriptions are droll and witty. Here's an example: There's only two sorts of people who wear jumpers, coats and ties," said Ant under his breath. "Racetrack tic tac men and policemen. Leg it." They legged it. Unfortunately, he legged it after them. There are one or two places where it wears a bit thin, but I found myself chuckling on pretty much every "page." The two main characters, Ant and Cleo, are well developed, heartwarming, cocky teenagers that somehow manage to stow away on an Alien craft (even getting their chance to vomit in zero gravity!) Their shenanigans get them involved in an interplanetary cold-war type conflict. A few notes. One, the book is by a British author. There were a few slang passages that I had to really think through, but it isn't incomprehensible by any means. Two, being British, it sometimes pokes fun at Americans. If you are militantly patriotic and can't take a joke, perhaps you should, you know, not read it. If you can take a joke and enjoy a discworld type humor, only from a sci-fi angle, you should definitely grab this one. Overall Rating: Four Stars. If you are into campy, quirky dry humor - or if you have a secret desire to send all of the rednecks to the moon - I recommend this book as an excellent read.
  • Lovers and Beloveds: An Intimate History of the Greater Kingdom Book One on Jan. 05, 2012

    First things first – for the purposes of this review, Lovers and Beloveds: (An Intimate History of the Greater Kingdom, by MeiLin Miranda, will be henceforth referred to as LAB. Perhaps not the most glib of monikers, but it gets the job done, and typing out that whole title over and over would eventually kill me. I find LAB extremely hard to describe or categorize, but I’m going to give it my best shot. While a large part of the novel in some way is devoted to sex and sexuality, I would not classify it as primarily “erotic fiction.” Those words always make me think of a thinly veiled, somewhat pornographic venture in which the main goal is to either turn one on or provide spank-bank fodder. LAB strikes me as something more contemplative, almost anthropological. When boiled down to its bare-bones, one might summarize it as a fantasy novel that details a young prince’s passage into adulthood, nobility, and sexuality. I will state that it is not appropriate for minors or for those who are less than comfortable with some of the more “alternative” forms of sexuality. I don’t want to get too far into the details with that one, so let me say this: if the idea of “alternative” sexuality makes you uncomfortable, then you may want to research this book further before purchase. I should also state, for those still on the fence about a possible purchase, that while the book isn’t without its issues, I found it interesting, unique, well-written, and thought-provoking – the last of which is a characteristic you rarely find in a fantasy work. We’ve become very used to just having a great story told to us, but sometimes it’s also important to think about what you are hearing (er, reading). So, as is always my style, let me begin with what didn’t work for me. My biggest issue, by FAR, involves the way the author handles describing a scene. I think this is definitely a novel that would have benefited greatly from “rose-trimming”; visual descriptions are often jam-packed with someone redundant adjectives that leave little to the reader’s imagination and stretch sentences to mammoth lengths. This clunkiness especially applies to clothing and outdoor scenes. I know that many readers have a particular love for clothes and period costumes, so we may not be in agreement here, but there are only so many descriptions of a ruffled collar that I can take before I start skipping pages. Here’s an example of the style I mean: “On the tracks, the royal train awaited, a great black locomotive at its head, its details picked out in gold, the platform round it and its coal tender behind painted the deep red called Tremontine red: the color of garnet, of a pomegranate, of a thick pool of blood.” In and of itself, it’s not that bad, but when sandwiched between a description of the station and a description of the engine handrails, it kind of gave me a headache, and I found it really interrupted the flow of the story. Happily, this tendency to over-describe seemed to peter out during the course of the novel – or maybe I just got inured to it. Either way, the novel seemed to flow better after the first 15%. It VERY quickly became a novel I didn’t want to put down, and not because of a few steamy passages either. The only other major complaint I had was with the opening itself. It felt rough, abrupt, and didn’t match the rest of the book well. We find out later that it has a very good reason for being there, but I feel like the transition needed to be handled better; I spent the first ten to fiteen percent of the book upset and somewhat confused as to its purpose, only to have an a-ha moment later. So, if you read the beginning and go, whoa, I don’t like that – hang in there just a little bit. This novel just blooms, expanding in both scope and emotional pull until it’s another creature entirely. So, moving on to the good, and the stuff that I really want to talk about. First off, the mythology is great. While not completely original in structure, the take is fresh, inventive, and well-crafted. To me, it echoed the pantheons held by the Greeks and Romans. People pledge to the temples of different Gods, each of which has influence in different spheres. Additionally, we see the use of “embodiments” – gods coming to earth to possess living beings for certain amounts of time. One of my absolute favorite details it the way people treat their own religion, in the novel, just as in real life, people believe and worship in differing degrees – some not at all. Adding further flavor is a back-story that adds in strips of magic. Magic is difficult; give people too little power, and it has no reason for being there, but too much power, and it overwhelms everything else. I found the author’s system to be a real winner, powerful without being overly invasive or cutting into the integrity of the non-magicked. I was especially fascinated by Teacher and his powers – without giving away too many details, I will say that I avidly follow the way authors examine the spatial/communicative restrictions present in a world without internet, airplanes, and radios. The book very much centers around sexuality, and as such, would probably be considered by many to be a work of erotic fiction. Note: I do not read erotic fiction, but I still found LAB to be captivating – almost like an anthropological study of sex, identify, gender, relationships, power, fetish, etc. Unlike your normal smut novel or porn piece, the sex is heart-breakingly realistic, full of warts and rough edges. People are attracted to individuals that fall outside of their mold – without really knowing why – and are uncomfortable with it. People have sex, not just because they are “in love” or “horny”, but for many of the reasons they do in real life – loneliness, compensation for a bruised ego, the need to feel included or cared for. One motivation touched on is power – the need to possess it, to punish, or conversely, the need to yield to it, to be forgiven. We are shown a full spectrum of relationships that crosses lines of age, of gender, of occupation. At the same time, it isn’t romanticized – Tremontine sex has as many consequences as in real-life. One of my favorite moments was the reaction of a mother whose husband had engaged in a few too many dalliances, and as a result, sired a daughter. The author could have presented the situation in many ways, but I think that with anyone, there’s a definite wish to give your opinion on the matter – to either condemn or condone – but instead, Miranda was adept enough to instead offer us the observer’s window into both the wife’s anger and resentment, and the husbands confused mixture of pride, apathy, even reminiscence – without making us feel pushed into either judging or forgiving. Without a skilled hand or a perceptive eye, the scene wouldn’t have worked; Miranda pulls it off beautifully. As I mentioned before, the book gets better as you go through it. Descriptions improve, to the point where some of them are just wonderful - Her screams sent fat bubbles up through the foulness until her lungs contained nothing but water. - but I think another part of it involves the general structure. Each passing chapter peels back further layers of intrigue, moving us from the “more normal” to the “more fantastic”, including a story-within-a-story that just really well done. There is enough action to keep things exciting, but not so much we are overwhelmed. Overall Rating: 4.5 stars. Thought-provoking, well-written, emotionally powerful – but definitely not for the kiddies!
  • Athena's Promise - Book One Of The Aegean Trilogy on March 29, 2012

    While the cover is beautiful, I don’t find it to be representative of the overall work. To me, that cover invokes an air of mystery, a speculative work of either high fantasy or science fiction. So I think that also affected the way I perceived the novel – because it’s not any of those. Instead, it’s a delightful, light, funny work with a little magic thrown in. Athena’s promise feels like what would happen if Janet Evanovich started writing fantasy. The female characters are bright and sassy, the overall premise of both the world and the story are amusing, and the telling is original, fresh and funny (although I did find it a little stretched in one or two places.) Ribken’s editing background comes out pretty strongly – I found only a few minor errors in the work, and absolutely nothing that affected its comprehensibility – just minor things like missing punctuation marks and occasional shifts in tense. Its overall style and tone are very evocative of “chick-lit”, but I think that the creativity of the author (as well as her knowledge of Greek and Roman mythology) really put it a cut above the genre. For example, her treatment of “zombies” is sensational – Ribken gives them a subculture all their own, and has thoroughly investigated their religion, appearance, interactions with other members of society, segregation in living arrangements – it’s pretty clear that she’s put a ton of thought into developing an intriguing world with a complicated and complex structure. All of the “critters”, from vampires to centaurs, get the same treatment. I think that’s why that, although I’m not a fan of romances overall (and I don’t know that I would classify this book as a strict romance, although the relationship between the main character and a supporting character takes a pretty pivotal role towards the end), I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It’s a quick, light read – perfect beach material for the more magical of us.
  • The Backworlds on Aug. 09, 2012

    The Backworlds is a novella-length prequel to "Stopover at the Backworld's Edge". I've read other stuff by M. Pax, including Semper Fidelis, so I had reason to suspect it would be pretty good--and it *was*. Unlike a lot of the reviewers, I wasn't hooked right away, although I think that had more to do with my frame of mind than the book itself. It took about twenty pages before I was shushing everybody around me so I could read. Very, very quickly, the novella revealed itself for what it was--a dashing tale of mischief and adventure with some loveable characters that have to make some pretty important (and difficult) choices. One word of warning--don't start reading this if you don't want to go ahead and read the next book. It's impossible; you're going to be hooked. Luckily for me; I have a free review copy waiting.
  • Stopover at the Backworlds' Edge on Aug. 19, 2012

    This book is the second "Backworld's" book, and I read it directly after reading the first (and if you haven't read M. Pax's The Backworlds, go read it now. It might even still be free.) Stopover at the Backworld's Edge is a great read. There's plenty of action, beautiful imagery (and I've consistently appreciated M. Pax's ability to create a succint, somehow perfect metaphor), engaging characters, and just a touch of romance. It's consistently suprising, with quite a few twists and turns, and a number of rewards for anyone that's read the first book. I was swept up quickly and read it straight till the end. (Reviewer Received Free E-book Copy.)
  • Air on Aug. 20, 2012

    Air, by Terra Harmony, is the second installment in her eco-magic Akasha series. Unlike a lot of sequels, it’s as good as–if not better than–the first, and has a lot of strong positives. I found the storyline intriguing, the plot sufficiently twisty to keep me interested, and I liked the imagination Harmony puts into the manifestations of elemental magic. Actually, I think that was my favorite part–the magic, with its roots in various traditions, including Wicca and what I can only assume to be Terra’s imagination, is sufficiently thought out as to be convincing and yet unpredictable enough to be fun. I loved it. That said, there are just a few caveats. The first is that the relationship between the two main characters, Micah and Kaitlyn, is quite “adult”–not in the sense that they have sex, so much as the aggression, occasional hostility, and, um, forcefulness between them. I found myself slightly uncomfortable once or twice, and unsure if Kaitlyn was in a very good relationship or not. So if you’re squeamish about that kind of thing, you may want to skip a few pages. The second is that the novel may need a slight bit more editing–there was an issue with a few homophones, like annunciating vs. enunciating, that sort of tihng, but it was mostly minor. Finally, readers that really enjoyed (and remember) the first book may find parts of the introduction to the second a bit “tell-y” (vs. “show-y”)–I’d advise you to stick it out, as once you get past chapter three, references to the first novel peter out and you get absorbed in the story. (At least, I was.) All in all, it was an excellent adventure, with a simple, storytelling style that flowed like water air. Overall Rating: Four Stars. Interesting ecofantasy with an epic ending. Waiting to see what comes next! (Reviewer received a free review copy.)
  • The Warden War on Aug. 28, 2012

    The Warden War, by D.L. Morrese, blends galaxy-style irreverent humor and fantasy with politics, court intrigue and sci-fi mystery. Although the mix, a fantasy sci-fi/humor blend, is occasionally odd, it’s also largely seemless and works well. The characters are fresh and fun, the backstory is revealed at the perfect pace to intrigue readers, and the premise and essential problem–how to prevent a war between two countries–is both entertaining and compelling. Although (probably) not intended for children, it’s entirely appropriate for younger readers, with no profanity, minimal violence, no sex, and a great happy ending that leaves you with a nice little sigh. My complaints with the manuscript are minimal–there are occasional copy-editing errors, and there are a few passages when the narrative runs into too much tell and not enough show. Even so, I highly recommend it for anyone that enjoyed the Warden Threat. Overall Rating: 4.5 Stars. Fun and heartwarming fantasy/science fiction for all ages.
  • Gamers on Sep. 04, 2012

    If you’ve never played a video-game, you might not get some of the references in the book. So that’s your warning, and the only one I’m going to give you about this book. It opens with a bang, the action is well-paced, the characters are sufficiently interesting to make you care. The storytelling, while a bit purple at times, is compelling, and the world-building is great–fantastically original, and yet grounded and understandable. Overall, the novel is incredibly well-written. I put ALL of my duties on hold for the moment and read it in one sitting. Five Solid Stars. SMART young adult fiction that was a joy to read. Review provided from free e-book copy.