Book review: “The Syrian Virgin” (2014)


The Syrian Virgin (The Syrian Virgin #1)The Syrian Virgin by Zack Love

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tackling sensitive, timely issues is daunting for any author. There is a certain kind of finesse required to openly discuss hot button topics that rarely transcends into the fictional narrative. However, it is not only imperative to the people that writers push the boundaries of the social and political climate, it is also necessary to do so in order to improve upon the human condition. This is the goal for any writer, but not all have such strength of technical skill and forethought to bring such a project to fruition.

Zack Love accomplishes this daunting task with his novel, “The Syrian Virgin.” By focusing on the treacherous path of his young protagonist, readers get to follow in the footsteps of a fascinating character that is not oft touched upon and experienced by western audiences. Bridging American culture with those abroad is imperative to the overall construct of “The Syrian Virgin.”

The protagonist, Anissa, and her family are caught in the midst of tragedy and war in the Middle East. She resides within the Christian minority of the region and is thrust into an emotional and physical journey to New York where she meets two sharply different men with assorted backstories of their own. The characters and setting are depicted realistically and readers get to see this growth from the first chapter, resulting in a quick-paced, engaged writing style.

Love’s novel does a superb job of rounding out a cast of believable villains and heroes by bait and switching readers between a deep sense of likability and outright persecution. I use “villains” and “heroes” loosely, because most of the characters reside in the gray, like all individuals do. It is not juxtaposed or contrarian in the slightest, because it hits on what it means to be human. We are all flawed creatures and it is expressed through desire, love, and hate. Zack paints a picture that other similarly calibered writer’s would find difficult finishing.

From a technical aspect, “A Syrian’s Virgin” is solidly constructed. Transitions and character growth are natural, while some of the contextual information is a bit hasty. Love’s strong suit is definitely in his character building. The cast is diverse, personality-wise, which keeps readers guessing and alters the dynamic of the tale on the fly with minimum jarring to the reader.

“The Syrian Virgin” is more than a worthwhile read— It is enlightening and sheds light on sensitive topics that others might not feel comfortable writing or reading about. As previously iterated, we need more novels of this stature. The concept of other cultures, a better future, sexual awakening, and personal discovery need to be written about. The world would be a better place for it.

I highly recommend picking up Zack Love’s “The Syrian Virgin,” because you won’t be disappointed by the words nestled betwixt its covers.

For more news and information concerning Zack Love’s work, his website can be viewed and perused by clicking here.

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Book review: “The Martian” by Andy Weir (2012/2014)


The MartianThe Martian by Andy Weir

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am a vivacious reader, but very rarely am I truly surprised by a book. I spend most of my time reading books to edit for others, ARCs and galleys to review, or graphic novels and comic books for pleasure and review. Like all writers and readers, I have my tastes. Science fiction, fantasy, and action-adventure are some of my favorite genres, but because I critically analyze these genres, and I read an immense of content, I don’t often stumble upon a novel that captivates my attention by providing a high-quality read with the excitement of a new creativity. “The Martian” by Andy Weird delivers. It is riveting and fresh. It is reminiscent of highbrow science fiction films, but layered with nuance that only a novel can achieve.

I received “The Martian” as a galley via Crown Publishing Group—which is an imprint of Random House—and I chose “The Martian” based solely on its synopsis:

“Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.

Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there.

After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive.

Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first.

But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?”

It plucked at my sensibilities in an abstract and I immediately requested it. It arrived a scant week later. I was graced with an ornate hardcover, a beautiful smell, and a gorgeous slipcover with an astronaut caught in Martian sandstorm. The colors are vibrant— Orange and red with a hint of a white spacesuit caught in the throws of survival.

In a word: Exquisite

“The Martian” follows NASA astronaut Mark Watney, a botanist and a mechanical engineer, on the third manned mission to Mars, Ares 3. The novel begins with a bang. Readers are not privy to the mission setup, crew members, landing, and the circumstances to Watney’s predicament. Without ruining the suspense and discovery, Watney is presumed dead and left on Mars (when in fact he is not) and is forced to survive on Mars without any means of communication till interplanetary comms can be reestablished or the next Ares mission arrives…four-years in the future.

The rest of the novel focuses primarily on Watney and his survival. Through the use of his mechanical and botany background, Watney comes up with some pretty ingenious ways to prolong his rations, Oxygen, water, and transportation. The narrative is primarily composed of Watney leaving logs for himself (or as a testament to his journey and untimely death), so the technical side to his endeavors are filtered through his warm and charming personality, which lightens what could be an overly scientific text— Changing a potential negative into a strong positive. Weir deftly avoids a common issue among science fiction writers with clever character development and use of perception.

The rest of the novel proceeds like Alfonso Curacao’s Gravity. It is deeply individualistic, but symbolic. The writing isn’t stretched by only focusing on a single character, because as the novel goes on it begins to layer in Watney’s support team on Earth. It provides a wonderful message of hope due to the global cooperation that is required to bring home an astronaut stranded on another world. “The Martian” doesn’t pull any punches or use its arsenal before the tale is done, either. It continuously builds upon the tension set by Watney’s survival till its climax. Its ending is extremely satisfying— One of the best that I’ve read in years.

After reading Andy Weir’s “The Martian” I was awed by the level of detail, character development, and sheer quality of the narrative. It is one of the best science fiction written and should be considered along the likes of Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke. If you get a chance try and read “The Martian” before the Ridley Scott-Matt Damon film adaptation, which is set to release in November of 2015— It is sure to be hit.

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Book review: “Xom-B” by Jeremy Robinson (2014)


XOM-BXOM-B by Jeremy Robinson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Xom-B” is one of Jeremy Robinson’s best novels to date. It takes a simplified approach to science fiction by being relatively plain spoken but incredibly deep by diving into the ramification and potential of humanity. It isn’t simplified in the derogatory sense, but much the opposite. It uses a specific style to accentuate the plot and subsequently, hard-hitting questions. It poses a myriad of inquiries that invoke his audiences into pondering their own existence and what it means to truly be a human.

Is it our characteristics? Our equal propensity for love and hate? Can we be something greater than we are now? All of these questions are touched upon inside the pages of “Xom-B”— Some more thoroughly than others but always touched upon. The depth at which Robinson explores these lofty topics seems to depend upon the narrative structure, or probably more intimately so…his own thoughts upon the questions themselves.

“Xom-B” begins by focusing on the near feature. Humans have advanced far enough where we have created life-like servants that provide us our every need, however, this leads to a grave injustice. Essentially, humans have created a new sect of society to subjugate and exploit. Decent people treat the artificial servants as one of their own, but there are just as many who do not. Some are sexually exploited, verbally and physically abused, while others are required to serve without question no matter the task. A tangible, ethical debate and rallying cry arises in the form of organized, peaceful protests from the aforementioned servants; the humans balk, and war ensues.

The plot then flashes forward to follow the most recent life of the new world order, Freeman; Freeman is fresh-faced, young, inquisitive, and intelligent. He questions authority and he seeks answers— The very mentality that could topple a fledgling empire and spark a new one…a better one. Audiences follow Freeman as he meets and allies himself with a wide cast of characters with their own unique strengths and weaknesses.

Robinson does a masterful job developing his characters. Each main character presented is given a proper backstory and motivation for their actions. The characters that strive to change (or at the least have the propensity to change) end up doing so with all pains present and included. The growth is logical and straightforward. This aids in the narrative and then culminates into near-perfect synergy…something much more than itself. The plot could be considered hard sci-fi, but because of how it is written it focuses so much more on character growth than the overall setting, atmosphere, and futuristic aspects of the framework. This results in a reminiscence of Arthur C. Clarke’s “Against the Fall of Night,” especially in its careful crafting to draw the reader’s focus to the overarching theme rather than the minutia. It may be classified science fiction in the strictest sense, but it poses big questions by following the journey of an individual trying to simultaneously escape, embrace, and find humanity.

An author’s style is an important facet to their career and writings, and some authors are fairly rigid in their methodology. Some stay well within their wheelhouse and constantly improve that particular style as they write throughout the years, others (like Jeremy Robinson) vary their style. They challenge themselves by matching a diverse cast of styles to the content, and in the case of “Xom-B” it pays off wonderfully. That being said, some longtime readers of Robinson may be put off because they prefer a singular style, while Robinson is delivering a different flavor. It would be hard to argue the validity of that point because in all honesty every reader reads differently.

“Xom-B” is a fantastic work of fiction. “Xom-B” is character driven, it provides insight and asks important questions in terms of what is means to be human, and it does so brilliantly in a straightforward plot that includes a great twist and conclusion. I highly recommend any reader who enjoys a quick-paced novel, science fiction, and/or the writings of Jeremy Robinson. He out does himself with “Xom-B” and I personally look forward to reading more of his work in the future.

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Pickup Stephen King’s new novel “Joyland” now!


JoylandStephen King’s recently released novel “Joyland,” which hit stores with a bang last month courtesy of Hard Case Crime, received solid marks from the NY Times, EW, and Goodreads.

Hard Case Crime specializes in mimicking the hardboiled, pulp novels of the 1940s and 50’s, and does so by recreating the process in which was taken when publishing similar novels of the aforementioned era. King first published with the imprint in 2005 with his novel, “Colorado Kid.”

Even though “Joyland” is only the second novel King has published with Hard Case Crime it fits with their mantra so snugly that King’s prose supposedly brought his editor, Charlie Ardai, to tears.

Amazon describes the tale as “the story of the summer in which college student Devin Jones comes to work as a carny and confronts the legacy of a vicious murder, the fate of a dying child, and the ways both will change his life forever.”

Stephen King has been a main proponent inePublishing and continues to support Amazon’s Kindle rigorously. However, this being said, “Joyland” will not be released digitally in an effort to support brick-and-mortar bookshops this summer, and marks one of the few occasions in which King will not be releasing an eEdition along with the hardcopy.

Stephen King had this to say about “Joyland,” working with Hard Case Crime, and taking a step back from the eBook industry this time around:

I love crime, I love mysteries, and I love ghosts. That combo made Hard Case Crime the perfect venue for this book, which is one of my favorites. I also loved the paperbacks I grew up with as a kid, and for that reason, we’re going to hold off on e-publishing this one for the time being. Joyland will be coming out in paperback, and folks who want to read it will have to buy the actual book.

Long story short, check out King’s newest novel, “Joyland,” at a book store near you. It is a wonderful coming of age tale, that harkens back to the one-and-twenty or the one yet to come. It’s universal and a fun read. Check back here for the review for “Joyland” in the coming weeks.

 

Reblog: “To Read or Not To Read…Reviews” by Jeremy Robinson


I am huge fan of the author Jeremy Robinson.  I try to follow his posts and updates through Goodreads, and for the most part I am successful.  This post particularly caught my eye, because the act of critiquing and being critiqued is a hard pill to swallow for anyone especially a writer.  I think that Jeremy Robinson sums it up best in his latest blog entry.

Check out his post, and visit the original at Goodreads.com and his website by clicking the aforementioned links.

To Read or Not To Read…Reviews by Jeremy Robinson

ben-661x1024I’ve seen a good number of blog posts recently from fellow authors focusing on the issue of reviews, which can be, and often are, posted by folks with rude dispositions, grudges, agendas, etc. For a new author, even an honest negative review can be soul crushing. To the experienced author, with thicker skin, negative reviews can be a distraction. So the advice being given is generally this: don’t read reviews for your books. Sounds good on the surface. By not exposing yourself to these negative opinions, you are protecting yourself from the pain delivered by Internet trolls with nothing better to do than harass an author. The troll might be angry after reading the first line of a book sample, or might disagree with the pricing, or might be annoyed that Harriet Klausner gave your book 4 stars, or any number of silly reasons for an anonymous rant. And YES, these people should be ignored. They’ve likely taken to the Internet for attention, because the people in their real lives have begun ignoring their sour mood.

BUT, by ignoring ALL reviews you are also missing out on some well thought-out critique. Many readers, including some die-hard fans who know your books better than you do, take time to offer honest opinions, often based on a lifetime of reading. To discount this suggests a few things that I don’t think are good for any writer, new or experienced:

1) That your writing is flawless, or at least so far advanced that Joe-reader can’t find a flaw.

2) That you can’t learn from your fans, or even from your detractors.

3) That readers are, in a way, the enemy, if they don’t like your book.

4) That you are detached from your fans.

Now, before anyone hates on me for implying authors who ignore reviews are fan-hating ego-maniacs, that’s not what I’m saying. The point is that they’re missing out. On connecting with readers. On improving as authors. On increasing sales (in the long run). As someone who has received his fair share of angry, spiteful and even hateful reviews, I understand the temptation to turn away from reading reviews entirely. A bad review, especially a scathing one that is…accurate…can ruin your day. But they can also make future days brighter, if you pay attention to what is being said.

I didn’t begin my creative career as a writer. I went to art school. And every day, we would draw or paint, carve or shape, pouring ourselves into the creation of an image in the same way that an author does a novel. And at the end of every day, we would line them all up and spend a half hour critiquing. And not always gently. And this is universal to art schools. There is something about visual arts culture that recognizes the best way to improve is through frequent honest critique and listening to that critique. This process became part of my creative experience and still is today. I love critique, because whenever someone takes the time to work out the flaws in my art, or writing (and there will always be flaws), I get better.

A few years ago, after the release of THRESHOLD and before I started writing SECONDWORLD, I went to my editor and said, I’ve done three hardcovers for you now. I want to take things to the next level. Tear me apart. Tell me what I can do better. And he did, but not before saying, with a trace of amazement, “You are the first author to ever ask me to do this,” which surprised me at the time, but I’ve since learned that authors really don’t enjoy being told what’s wrong with their writing, or stories, and maybe their blog posts on the subject. :)  But the result of this critique, and my applying it to SECONDWORLD, was that sales doubled, the book got a lot of press and my audience grew.

As a writer, I began as a self-publisher. Without any connections in the writing world, I had only two sources of honest critique: my wife and my readers. I released five novels on my own (what I now call the Origins Editions), and the improvement from book to book is pretty obvious. Without honest readers, I’d never have improved, and I’d never have signed a deal with Thomas Dunne Books and 47 North, or become a bestselling self-published author.

But why am I still reading reviews? I have an editor. Hell, I have FOUR editors. And an agent. And lots of author pals. Why still read the reviews?

Because I am not writing for my editors, or my agent, or my author pals. I am writing for YOU, the reader, and for ME. While I pick the content most of the time, I listen to my fans. I’ve written and am writing sequels, because of requests from fans. I’m currently writing I AM COWBOY because of how many people expressed their love of the Czech Cowboy from SECONDWORLD. And I’m still reading reviews because I want my future books to be better than they are now. And that’s only going to happen if 1) honest people speak their mind, and 2) I listen.

Last October, I released RAGNAROK, the fourth Jack Sigler book, co-authored with Kane Gilmour. Kane did an amazing job at matching my style, and we worked closely throughout the process, but I knew it would be different than the previous three. That it would feel different. That there would be flaws introduced simply because it was a collaboration and because I’m not perfect, and neither is Kane (and he would agree). So I was very pleased when a few reviewers spotted these flaws that I couldn’t see and pointed them out in reviews. And after reading them, I agreed with many of them and discussed them with Kane. We’re working hard to apply them to OMEGA, which will be an even better book than RAGNAROK, which I should point out was my first Amazon.com bestseller and has a 4.5 star rating after 110 reviews.

So, if you’re an author, buck the trend that says you don’t need to read reviews. Yes, ignore the nut-jobs. Skim the 5 stars if time is short. But pay attention to those 2 – 4 star reviews. Critiques shouldn’t be feared, ignored or undervalued. They’re good for you. Sure, there are tons of people reviewing books, and not all of them are right, but those nuggets of insight from dedicated fans and readers are invaluable. If you really believe that a reader can’t possibly improve a writer, you’re mistaken. My readers, who are awesome, dedicated, intelligent and invested, are the very BEST people to critique my books.

And if you are one of my readers, know that I am listening, that your opinion matters and that I am doing my best to make sure each and every book is better than the last.

– Jeremy Robinson