NaNoWriMo 2018

This post is predominantly about the fact that November is right around the corner, and with it, NaNo 2018. It’s been 9 years since I last “won” at NaNoWriMo, but I’m going to be foolhardy enough to try it again this year.

I’ve been lately feeling the pull stronger than normal to write something. To create something. I feel that those urges, those pulls, should be answered, and can be answered easily enough. But, the satisfaction of them requires that we do a bit of work.

Work in the form of sitting our butts in the chairs and doing the writing.  At least in the case of the urge to create some form of written word work. The same could be said for other creative forms. Feel the urge to paint?  You’ve got to apply the paintbrush to canvas. Want to create a finely crafted rocking chair?  You’ve got to start cutting the wood.

Whatever your creative outlet, when the urge calls, answering it is the easiest way to satisfaction. And sanity, I believe. Those pulls. Those urges. Unanswered, I believe they erode away at the strings that hold us together.

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

Twist of Faith

Twist of FaithTwist of Faith

By: Ellen J. Green

Disclaimer: I received an Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book to review. As is my policy with books that I receive for review, if I don’t like it, I don’t review it.

Twist of Faith is a book that immediately sets itself up to become an interesting mystery. The story is that of Ava, the adopted daughter of a woman who has recently passed away. Despite Ava’s requests, her adoptive mother has never given her any information on her origins other than to say that she had been left on the steps of the church and taken in. When her adoptive mother passes, Ava seizes the opportunity to filter through her belongings and finds a single Polaroid among the childhood belongings her mother had stored away. When she discovers that the couple who once lived at the house pictured in the Polaroid was brutally murdered five years ago, the story she’d been told for so long begins to unravel. The deeper she digs, the more strange, and dangerous, the story becomes.

I wasn’t sure if I’d enjoy this book all that much. I’m usually not one for a mystery and tend to stick to my science fiction and fantasy. However, I found myself constantly wanting to read more to find out where the story was going. Green has a way with storytelling that pulled me into the story and kept me going right up through the end.

They say that every good mystery has a good plot twist or two to keep the reader guessing. You’ll find that and more in this book.  I truly enjoyed this book, and I think you will too. Even if, like me, you aren’t a regular mystery reader. You can pick it up at Amazon.

Preview – Star Wars Stormtroopers: Beyond the Armor

If you’re like me, you’re not so patiently anticipating the new Star Wars movie that comes out.  The trailers make it seem like it’s going to be a good one, and I can’t wait to see Luke get back into the action.  I’m sure there’s some creative editing going on in the trailers to keep us guessing, and I can’t wait to see how it all works out.

If you’re looking for something to satiate for a bit while you wait for the movie, I was recently pointed in the direction of Star Wars Stormtroopers: Beyond the Armor.  From the synopsis:

star wars stormtroopers

Foreword by John Boyega

Just in time for the next blockbuster, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, this unique and beautifully designed compendium with removable features traces one of the franchise’s most iconic characters—the stormtrooper—from initial development through all nine Star Wars movies to their many iterations in TV, comics, videogames, novels, and pop-culture.

Star Wars: A New Hope, the very first installment in the beloved science-fiction series, introduced the Imperial stormtroopers—the army of the fearsome and tyrannical Galactic Empire. Charged with establishing Imperial authority and suppressing resistance, these terrifying, faceless, well-disciplined soldiers in white have become a universal symbol of oppression.

Star Wars Stormtroopers explores these striking warriors and their evolution in depth for the first time. Ryder Windham and Adam Bray trace the roots of their creation and design, and explore how these elite troops from a galaxy far, far away have been depicted in movies, cartoons, comics, novels, and merchandising.

Filled with photographs, illustrations, story boards, and other artwork, this lavish officially licensed book comes complete with removable features, including posters, stickers, replica memorabilia and more, making it an essential keepsake for every Star Wars fan, as well as military, design, and film aficionados.

It sounds interesting. There’s a few sneak peeks at what is inside the book in the book trailer they put together (embedded below). The Stormtrooper is one of the most iconic science fiction characters, and really only ranks behind maybe Vader and R2 in the Star Wars universe. The book is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Indiebound, and most other places you would purchase a book from.

Excerpt: Chains of Command

Once again, I was lucky enough to get offered an excerpt of a new book to share with you all.  This time, it’s an exclusive excerpt, so this is the only place, short of buying the book, that you’ll read this bit.  Chains of Command is a book in Kloos’s Frontline series.  It’s military sci-fi.  Oh, and you likely will figure it out, but a “Lanky” is the alien race that’s attacking Earth.  Without further ado, an excerpt from Chains of Command by Marko Kloos:

Chains of Command CoverExcerpted from CHAINS OF COMMAND by Marko Kloos

Copyright 2016 Marko Kloos, Published by 47 North, Seattle


Excerpt 2 (pages 18-10):


“All squads, on my mark,” Sergeant Fisher shouts. “Center mass shots. Don’t waste ammo. Three, two, one, fire!”

The platoon’s rifles all bark more or less as one, a stuttering drumroll of thundering reports. The new M-90s are shorter, lighter, fire faster, and are more effective than the old M-80 double rifles. They’re also much, much louder. At the last fraction of a second before the sergeant gives the fire command, I cheat a little and make the Lanky lower its head and cover most of its upper body with the large, bony, shield-like protuberance on its head. Thirty-three simulated explosive gas rounds fly out from the rooftop. Most of them shatter and ricochet off the Lanky’s cranial shield like pebbles thrown against a concrete wall. The Lanky bellows a wail, shakes its head, and keeps coming, undeterred. They have monstrously long strides when they’re in a hurry, easily ten meters to a step, and the three hundred meters between the terraforming building and the Lanky turn into two hundred before the platoon fires the next salvo.

This time, I let the Lanky walk into the defensive fire. At two hundred meters, the rifles’ ballistic computers can put the rounds into a sheet of paper that’s been folded over twice. The better part of three dozen rounds pepper the center of the Lanky’s mass, and the creature’s chest heaves out and explodes with a wet and muffled thump. The Lanky’s stride falters, and the thing collapses midstep, its body crashing to the ground in an ungraceful tangle of limbs. The platoon’s troopers send up a satisfied cheer.

The new rifles have new ammunition, developed by the R&D section at Aberdeen Proving Grounds. With dozens of Lanky bodies at our disposal after the Battle of Earth last year, R&D has had no shortage of ballistic testing material. Lanky skins are thick and almost impossibly tough—even the old armor-piercing shells from our auto-cannons bounced off half the time—but they’re not impenetrable. It turns out that shooting grenades or fléchettes at a Lanky is mostly pointless. The new ammo is truly evil stuff, saboted subcaliber penetrators that work like hypodermic needles. They hit the Lanky, pierce the skin, release a hundred centiliters of explosive gas, and then ignite the mess. The Lanky on the field in front of the terraformer rolls to one side and lies still, its chest blown out from the inside by a few liters of aerosolized explosive. I’ve never seen what a round like that would do to a human being, and I really hope I never do, because this ammo can take a hundred-ton Lanky down with just a few well-placed hits.

In theory, I remind myself. We’ve tested the new rounds on Lanky corpses, but we haven’t had a chance to use them in combat yet. It’s all conjecture based on dead-meat terminal ballistics, but the gas rounds make an unholy mess out of a dead Lanky, and I have no reason to believe they won’t ruin the day of a live one.

The troops on the roof are still in the middle of their self-congratulatory cheer when I send in the next wave. The cheering ebbs when they hear the thundering footsteps in the fog in the distance. Again, I am cheating a little. When I lived through this scenario in real life over six years ago, the second wave was made up of three more Lankies. We had just a squad then, with fléchette rifles, and no hope of stopping three of those things from tearing up the terraformer. Because these troops are a full platoon with much better rifles, I send in not three, but six more Lankies. Let them have a little challenge.

The squad leaders bellow orders again, and the platoon engages the newcomers. I study the camera feeds and the tactical display as they re-form their line and assign fire teams to individual Lankies, just like they should. Two fire teams per squad, three squads per platoon, four rifles per Lanky, five rounds in each rifle between reloads. I’m having the Lankies cross the distance as fast as we know they can move, a kilometer per minute. That doesn’t leave much room for errors on the part of the platoon. Alerted and ready for trouble, the Lankies advance with their cranial shields in front of them, and they bob and weave as if they are walking into a hailstorm and the platoon unloads on them. Their head shields are too tough for anything man-portable in our arsenal—even armor-piercing MARS rockets will just chip off bits—and most of the rifle rounds expend themselves harmlessly in small puffs of aerosolizing gas.

“Aim for the joints,” Sergeant Fisher yells into his squad channel. The recruits shift their fire, but many of the shots miss the relatively much smaller limb joints of the Lanky bodies.

Not as easy as a static target that doesn’t come charging for you, is it? I think and smile to myself. Every last one of these recruits can pot a target the size of a helmet at five hundred meters with those computerized rifles, but it’s much harder to aim true when you’re scared to death and out of breath

Seems like a good start to a military sci-fi, if I do say so myself.  It’s available now, so go ahead and check it out.

The Paper Menagerie and Other Short Stories

The Paper Menagerie and Other Short Stories

By: Ken Liu

Disclaimer: I received an Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book to review. As is my policy with books that I receive for review, if I don’t like it, I don’t review it.

The Paper Menagerie is only the second release by Ken Liu.  His first, The Grace of Kings was a novel that I read and reviewed previously.  In my review of Grace, I mentioned that if I had only given the novel 100 pages, I would have surely set it down and never returned.  I felt that the book just took way too long to really get into the meat of the story.  However, I did continue on past the first 100 pages, and eventually found that the book was  a very pleasant surprise.

One of the differences between a novel length work, such as Grace, and a short story is that you don’t get 100 pages to set the story for the reader.  In a short story, the story must immediately jump right up and grab the reader and then drag them on into the story.  In the short story medium, Liu clearly has a bit more experience and really shines.

I initially read the title story, The Paper Menagerie, as a teaser, before having the book sent my way.  There’s a reason that it’s been chosen as the title story.  It’s incredibly powerful.  The loss of culture and connection to history is one of Liu’s favorite themes, and it stands out poignantly in the title story.  Liu closes the collection out with another story that deeply explores that theme, The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary.  It’s an interesting story that is written to read like the transcripts of a documentary movie.

While I found a couple of stories to be somewhat abstract and that really just seemed like character or idea studies rather than fully fleshed out stories, the majority of the stories in this collection are highly readable.  There are also a few stars of the show.  The Paper Menagerie, The Literomancer, Good Hunting, and A Brief History of the Trans-Pacific Tunnel stood out as the better stories in the collection.  At least they were my favorites.

As I mentioned in my review of Grace, Liu has a masterful grasp of language and how to warp and weave it into an excellent story.  The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories is an excellent sampling of that mastery and really should be on readings lists for literature classes at colleges around the country. You can pick it up at Amazon.

Excerpt: Armada

Ernest Cline rushed on to the sci-fi scene with his first hit, Ready Player One, which was an instant hit. Ready Player One is currently in the process of casting for the movie adaptation. I really enjoyed Ready Player One with all of it’s geeky goodness. So, it’s with high expectations that I look forward to reading his newest novel, Armada. I was lucky enough to get an excerpt to share with you all today.

Armada (excerpted with permission):

Armada CoverI didn’t remember unzipping my backpack, or taking out the tire iron, but I must have, because now I had the cold steel rod clenched in my hand, and I was raising it to strike.

All three of my opponents stood frozen for a moment, their eyes wide. The Lennys threw up their hands and started backing away. Knotcher’s eyes flicked over to them, and I saw him registering that his simian pals had bowed out of the fight. He started moving backward too.

I looked at the curb a few feet behind him, had a nasty thought, and followed through on it by lunging at Knotcher with the tire iron. He lurched backward and—just as I’d hoped—caught a heel on the concrete rise and landed flat on his back.

And then I was standing over him, looking down at the tire iron clutched in my hands.

Off to my left, someone screamed. My head snapped around and I saw that an audience had gathered— a handful of students on their way in to first period. Among them one girl, too young and deer-in-the-headlights to be anything but a freshman, slapped a hand over her mouth and flinched backward as I looked her way. As if she was terrified that I—Zack the school psycho—would choose her as my next target.

I glanced back at the Lennys, who were now standing among the students who had gathered to watch the fight. All of the onlookers seemed to be wearing the same expression of horrified anticipation, as if they believed they might be seconds away from witnessing their first homicide.

A wave of cold shame washed over me as the intensity of my rage faded away. I looked down at the tire iron clutched in my hands and let it clatter to the pavement. I heard a chorus of nervous laughter behind me, along with more than one relieved sigh.

I stepped away from Knotcher. He slowly got to his feet. We stared at each other for a moment, and he looked as if he was about to say something when his gaze shot upward, focused on something in the sky behind me.

When I turned around, I saw a strange-looking aircraft approaching from the east, moving at an incredible speed. The closer it got, the more familiar it looked. My brain still refused to accept what my eyes were seeing—until a few seconds later, when the craft braked to a dead stop and hovered directly over us, close enough for me to make out the Earth Defense Alliance crest stenciled on the side of its armored hull.

“No way,” I heard someone whisper. A second later, I realized it was me.

It was an ATS-31 Aerospace Troop Shuttle, one of the ships used by the Earth Defense Alliance in both Armada and Terra Firma. And it was about to land in front of my high school.

I definitely wasn’t hallucinating this time: Dozens of other people were staring up at the shuttle in amazement, too. And I could hear the rumble of the shuttle’s fusion engines and feel the heat from their exhaust buffeting my face. It was really up there.

As the shuttle began to descend, everyone in my vicinity scattered like roaches, heading for the safety of the school.

I just stood there like a statue, unable to look away. The ship was identical to the troop shuttles I’d piloted while playing Armada, right down to the EDA crest and identification bar code stamped on the underside of its hull.

The Earth Defense Alliance can’t be real, Zack, I assured myself. And neither can that shuttle you think you’re looking at right now. You are hallucinating again, only it’s much worse this time. This time, you’re having a full-on psychotic break.



Reprinted from Armada Copyright © 2015 by Dark All Day, Inc. Published by Broadway Books, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House LLC.

Looks good so far.  Can’t wait to read it.

Armada is available on Amazon in Kindle, Paperback, and Hardcover.

Excerpt: The Short Drop

The folks at Thomas & Mercer were kind enough to send over this excerpt of Chapter 1 of The Short Drop by Matthew FitzSimmons for me to post for you here.  The Short Drop is billed as a political thriller of sorts, following the main character who is a former marine and legendary hacker as he tracks down a friend who’s gone missing.  the first chapter looks pretty good so far.

Here’s the excerpt for you: (excerpted with permission)

Gibson Vaughn sat alone at the bustling counter of the Nighthawk Diner. The breakfast rush was in full swing as customers milled about, waiting for a seat. Gibson barely registered the crescendo of knives and forks on the plates or the waitress who set his food down. His eyes were fixed on the television behind the counter. The news was playing the video again. It was ubiquitous, part of the American zeitgeist—dissected and analyzed over the years, referenced in film, television shows, and songs. Like most Americans he couldn’t look away no matter how often it aired. How could he? It was all he had left of Suzanne.
The beginning of the video was grainy and washed out. The picture stuttered and frames dropped; distorted lines rolled up the screen like waves pounding an undiscovered shore. By-products of the store manager having recorded over the same video tape again and again and again.

Shot down at an angle from behind the cash register, the footage showed the interior of the infamous service station in Breezewood, Pennsylvania. The power of the video was that it could have been anywhere. Your hometown. Your daughter. Viewed in its entirety, the silent security camera footage was a melancholic homage to America’s most prominent missing girl—Suzanne Lombard. The time stamp read 10:47 p.m.

Beatrice Arnold, a college student working the nightshift was the last known person to speak to the missing girl. At 10:47 p.m., Beatrice was perched on a stool behind the counter, reading a tattered copy of The Second Sex. She would be the first to recall seeing Suzanne Lombard and the first to contact the FBI once the disappearance hit the news.

At 10:48 p.m., a balding man with long, stringy blond hair entered the store. On the Internet he’d come to be known as Rif-Raf, but the FBI identified him as Davy Oskenberg, a long-haul trucker out of Jacksonville with a history of domestic violence. Oskenberg bought beef jerky and Gatorade. He paid cash and asked for his receipt but idled at the counter, flirting with Beatrice Arnold, in no apparent hurry to get back on the road.

The first and best suspect in the case, Oskenberg had been questioned repeatedly by the FBI in the weeks and months after the disappearance. His rig was searched and searched again, but no trace of the missing girl was found. Grudgingly, the FBI cleared him, but not before Oskenberg lost his job and received dozens of death threats.

After his departure the store fell still. An eternity ticked by…and then you saw her for the first time—the fourteen-year-old girl in an oversized hoodie and Phillies baseball cap, a Hello Kitty backpack slung over one shoulder. She’d been in the store the whole time, standing in the camera’s blind spot. To add a layer of intrigue, no one could say for certain how Suzanne came to be in the store in the first place. Beatrice Arnold didn’t remember seeing her enter, and the security tape offered no answers.

The hoodie hung off her in great, draping folds. She was a pale, fragile stalk of a girl. The media liked to contrast the black-and-white footage with colorful family photographs—the smiling blonde girl in the blue bridesmaid’s dress, the smiling girl at the beach with her mother, the smiling girl reading a book and gazing out the window. They stood in bold relief to the grim-faced kid in the baseball cap, hands thrust deep in pockets, hunched low like an animal, watching warily from its burrow.

Suzanne wandered up and down the aisles, but her head was cocked toward the front window. One hundred and seventy-nine seconds passed. Something out the window caught her eye, and her posture changed. A vehicle perhaps. She snatched three items off the shelves: Ring Dings, a Dr. Pepper, and a box of red vines licorice. A combination now known eerily as the Lost Girl’s Picnic. Suzanne also paid in cash, dumping crumpled dollar bills, quarters, and pennies on the counter before shoving her purchases into her backpack.

The security camera caught her eye, and for a long moment Suzanne gazed up at it—an expression frozen in time and, like Mona Lisa’s smile, interpreted a thousand different ways.

Gibson stared back, as he always did, locking eyes with Suzanne, waiting for her to smile shyly at him the way she had when she wanted to tell him a secret. Waiting for her to tell him what had happened. Why she’d run away. In all the intervening years, he’d never stopped hoping for an answer. But the little girl on the security video wasn’t talking.

To him or anyone else.

In a final gesture, Suzanne drew her baseball cap low over her eyes and looked away for good. At 10:56 p.m., she stepped out the door and into the night. Beatrice Arnold would tell the FBI that the girl seemed anxious and that her eyes were red as if she’d been crying. Neither Beatrice nor the couple pumping gas noticed whether she got into a vehicle. One more frustrating dead end in a case of dead ends.

The FBI failed to turn up a single substantial lead. No one ever came forward to claim the ten-million-dollar reward offered by the family and their supporters. Despite the frenzied media coverage, despite her famous father, Suzanne Lombard walked out of the gas station and vanished. Her disappearance remained an enduring American mystery alongside Jimmy Hoffa, D.B. Cooper, and Virginia Dare.

The news went to commercials, and Gibson exhaled, unaware that he’d been holding his breath. The tape always left him spent. How much longer were they going to keep showing it? There hadn’t been a development in Suzanne’s case for years. Today’s big breaking story was that Rif-Raf had cut his hair short and earned a college degree while in prison for a felony drug bust. The Internet, in its infinite snark, rechristened him Professor Rif-Raf 2.0. Other than that it was all a maudlin rehash of what everyone already knew, which was nothing.

But the tenth anniversary of her disappearance loomed, which meant the networks would keep running their retrospectives. Keep exploiting Suzanne’s memory. Keep trotting out anyone with even a passing relationship to the family or to the case. Staging their tasteless reenactments at the service station in Breezewood and using computer models to project what she might look like today.

Gibson found the mock-ups especially hard to look at. Suzanne would be twenty-four now, a college graduate. The images tempted him into imagining what her life might have been. Where she might live. Her career path—something to do with books, no doubt. He smiled at that, but caught himself. It wasn’t healthy. Wasn’t it time to give her some peace? Give them all some peace?

“Heck of a thing,” the man beside him said, staring up at the television.

“Sure is,” Gibson agreed.

“I remember where I was when I heard she was missing—hotel room in Indianapolis on a business trip. Like it was yesterday. I have three daughters.” The man rapped his knuckles on the wooden counter for luck. “I sat on the edge of the bed for a couple hours watching. Just terrible. Can you imagine not knowing for ten years whether your little girl is alive or dead? Hell of a thing for the family to endure. Lombard’s a good man.”

The last thing Gibson wanted was to get drawn into a conversation about Benjamin Lombard. He nodded to be agreeable, hoping to put a tourniquet on the subject, but the man would not be deterred that easily.

“I mean, if some sick bastard, excuse my French, can grab the daughter of the vice president—and get away with it—what hope do the rest of us have?”

“Well, he wasn’t vice president then.”

“Yeah, sure, but he was still a senator. That’s no joke either. You don’t think Lombard had juice with the feds back then?”

In fact, Gibson knew firsthand just how much influence Lombard wielded and precisely how much the man enjoyed wielding it. Vice President Benjamin Lombard was another subject he tried not to think about.

“I think he’ll make a good president,” the man continued. “To come back from something like this? Get the VP nod when most people would curl up in a ball. And now a run for president? That takes a strength you can’t imagine.”

As a two-term incumbent VP of a popular president, Lombard had been expected to nail down the nomination early—the convention in August a mere formality, a coronation more than anything else. But Anne Fleming, the governor of California, had come out of nowhere and seemed intent on playing spoiler. The two were currently polling virtually neck and neck. Lombard led in the delegate count and was still the favorite, but Fleming was making him work for it.

That the tenth anniversary of Suzanne’s disappearance fell during an election year had, in a perverse way, been a boost to Benjamin Lombard’s campaign. That was nothing new, though: championing Suzanne’s Law through the Senate had propelled him onto the national stage in the first place. Of course, Lombard gracefully refused to discuss his daughter. The cynic would argue that there was no need, since the media couldn’t help but do it for him. And, of course, there was his wife. Grace Lombard’s tireless efforts on behalf of the Center for Missing and Exploited Children had been a staple of cable news outlets throughout the primaries. She was, if possible, even more popular than her powerful husband.

“If he gets the nomination, he’s got my vote in November,” the man said. “Doesn’t even matter who the other side runs. I’m voting for him.”

“I’m sure he’ll appreciate that,” Gibson said and reached for the ketchup. He poured a generous dollop onto one end of his plate, mixed it with a little mayo, and scrambled it into his hash browns the way his father had taught him when he was a boy. In the immortal words of Duke Vaughn, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, take a big bite and chew slow.”

Words to live by.

The Short Drop was released December 1st, and is available at all the regular places; including Amazon Kindle!

Infinity Lost

Infinity Lost (Infinity Trilogy)

By: S. Harrison

Disclaimer: I received an Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book to review. As is my policy with books that I receive for review, if I don’t like it, I don’t review it.

Infinity Lost is a YA novel about the 17 year old daughter of technology magnate Richard Blackstone.  Or, at least that’s what she’s been told.  Because Blackstone is a recluse, Infinity (Finn) is raised by the staff of the mansion where she lives.  She leads the boring life of a rich kid until she starts having strange dreams.

The book is meant to be a YA novel, so there aren’t a whole lot of deep passages, and the reading is easy.  Harrison did an incredible job of keeping the story moving and pushing the reader along.  I found myself instantly enamored of the characters and always wanted to keep going to see what would happen next.

As far as plot goes, there were parts that started to become pretty evident about half way through the book, but even so, I still wanted to read on to find out the rest of the missing pieces and see how all the parts fit together.  It’s fast paced, with no parts that I would consider boring or slow.

The one nit-pick that I have with the book is that the plots weren’t totally wrapped up by the end.  Yes, it’s a trilogy, but in most books of a series, there’s a larger plot that you don’t expect to have finished and plenty of smaller plots that do get finished.  Maybe it’s because it’s YA, but I didn’t feel like there were too many sub-plots and it was all revolving around the larger main plot which, of course, didn’t come anywhere near completion.  It clearly moved forward.

Overall, the book is an excellent sci-fi YA story, and I look forward to the next installment of the series.

You can pick Infinity Lost up on Amazon.

The Grace of Kings

The Grace of Kings (Dandelion Dynasty #1)

By: Ken Liu

Disclaimer: I received an Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book to review. As is my policy with books that I receive for review, if I don’t like it, I don’t review it.

I was really torn on this book.  If I had only given it the first 100 or so pages, I would have never have gone any further.  This could be why I don’t tend to try and read too many epic fantasy books.  They mostly seem to start so slow and spend so much time building the world and characters without getting anywhere, or really doing much with the plot.  The same is mostly true here. There’s enough of a cast of characters in the novel that we spend a great deal of time introducing them and getting backstory for each.  We also spend some time, rightfully, learning a bit about the history of the world that we’re entering.

Liu is a talented writer, who has a skill with prose that makes it worthwhile to continue on into the story.  Eventually, after he’s done the building, and we get into the meat of the story, the characters bring you into the plot.  The plot and characters really saved the book for me.

This is likely to be seen as one of the better epic fantasy novels of the year, and if you’re into epic fantasy, it really should be added to your to-read list.

Excerpt – The Devil’s Game

The Devil's GameWhile we’re on an excerpt kick, let’s have another, shall we?  What follows is an excerpt from Sean Chercover’s novel, The Devil’s Game.  The good folks over at Thomas & Mercer were kind enough to send over this excerpt.

From what we’ve got here, it looks like it’s going to be a pretty good story with some heavy military foundations.  The Devil’s Game is out now; $4.99 for the Kindle edition (free for Kindle Unlimited folks) or $11.99 for the paperback edition.  Take a read of the excerpt and then pick a copy up today.


Today is a good day to die.

Daniel Byrne handed the counterfeit identification card to the soldier behind the metal desk. To the left of the desk another soldier stood blocking the solid steel inner door. Mounted to the cinderblock wall beside the door, an electronic palm-print reader.  A third soldier—the one cradling an assault rifle—stood behind Daniel, blocking the larger metal door through which he’d entered, and which he knew was the only exit. They wore plain green uniforms, no identifying patches or insignia.

Today is a good day to die. But Ive decided to stay alive until tomorrow.

The soldier at the desk examined the forgery, which identified Daniel as Colonel Walter Pomerance of the Defense Intelligence Agency, then tapped on the computer keyboard and looked at the screen.  His mouth twitched once and he became very still. The sentry of the inner door moved his hand an inch closer to his holster.

The soldier at the desk said, “Sir, there’s no record—”

“Typical,” snapped Daniel. The persona he’d created for Colonel Walter Pomerance was that of an insufferable bastard—he would play the role all the way, whatever the outcome. “Is it too much to presume your computer is at least capable of providing you the phone number of the Pentagon?” He resisted the urge to adjust his uniform. Putting ice in his voice he added, “Don’t waste my time…Sergeant.”  Forcing that last word, having no way of knowing if the man was in fact a sergeant.

During the pre-insertion briefing Raoul told him the one behind the desk would be a sergeant and said to address him by rank. And Daniel had just now bet his life of the accuracy of that intel. Intel provided by a man he’d known less than three months.

He raised his left wrist and pressed the button on the side of his watch—starting the chronograph—and shot the young man a look. From the soldier’s perspective, the move would scan as an ego-driven high-ranking officer tossing his clout around.  But Daniel needed to track time.  From the moment the soldier had entered Daniel’s cover name into the computer, he would have one hour.  That is, if the Foundation computer geeks, tapping away furiously 538 miles away in New York City, were successful.

If they were successful, the phone call would be intercepted by the Foundation, who would also take control of the local computer network and upload the military file for Daniel’s legend—not a complete file, because much of the fictional Colonel Pomerance’s file would be classified even above the level of this place—but a file even more impressive for what was redacted than for what it contained.  Colonel Walter Pomerance. A very powerful DIA spook.

Not a man whose time you wanted to waste.

Daniel watched a half-dozen seconds tick by—he loved the smooth micro-ticks of his new watch’s automatic movement—and when none of the three soldiers put a bullet in his head, he figured the guy was really a sergeant. He dropped his wrist to waist level.

The room was a perfect square, 20 feet wall-to-wall. No furniture beyond the steel desk and single chair, nothing on the desktop but the computer and a telephone. LED light fixtures set into the ceiling, protected by thick sheets of clear bulletproof plexiglass. Nothing on the walls. No military shields or symbols, no flags, no official portrait of the Commander-in-Chief. Of course, there wouldn’t be. Officially this facility, which ran twelve stories down into the earth, did not exist. Black Ops, according to the case file Daniel had spent two days studying. It was once a coalmine, and hundreds of West Virginia men and boys had died here in the early 1900s. How many men died here now, and what they died of, was not in the case file.

The sergeant at the desk picked up the telephone receiver and pressed a speed-dial button. He offered a verbal passphrase, paused for confirmation, and began to explain the problem. There was nothing Daniel could do now but act inconvenienced and wait for it to play out.

And breathe.

He took his mind back to the zazen meditation that had started his day. Sitting seiza—kneeling, sitting on his feet with his back straight and his hands cupped together in his lap—on the impossibly plush royal blue carpet of the Greenbriar hotel’s Congressional Suite. Counting breaths, mentally tuning out the riotous floral print that assaulted him from the draperies, headboard, duvet cover…the smell of coffee beckoning from his room-service breakfast table…the sound of a distant woodpecker working to find its own breakfast.  Tuning out thoughts, worries, fears about the day ahead. Tuning in to counting breaths. Then moving past counting, tuning in to breathing itself.

Tuning in, to the now.

Excerpted from THE DEVIL’S GAME by Sean Chercover. Copyright 2015 by Sean Chercover. Published by Thomas & Mercer, a Division of Amazon Publishing. Reprinted with permission.
Bio: Sean Chercover is the author of the bestselling thriller The Trinity Game and two award-winning novels featuring Chicago private investigator Ray Dudgeon: Big City, Bad Blood and Trigger City. After living in Chicago; New Orleans; and Columbia, South Carolina, Sean returned to his native Toronto, where he lives with his wife and son. Sean’s fiction has earned top mystery and thriller honors in the US, Canada, and the UK. He has won the Anthony, Shamus, CWA Dagger, Dilys, and Crimespree Awards and has been short-listed for the Edgar, Barry, Macavity, Arthur Ellis, and ITW Thriller Awards.