Monday, October 29, 2012

REVIEW: Order of the Dimensions / Irene Helenowski

TITLE: Order of the Dimensions
AUTHOR: Irene Helenowski
PUBLISHER: Self-Published
AVAILABILITY: Lulu Marketplace (paperback)
APPROXIMATE LENGTH: 314 pages (paperback)

Recommended for fans of alternate universe science fiction such as the TV show Sliders.

Science Fiction—Thriller

Order of the Dimensions follows grad student Jane Kremowski as she travels through multiple versions of contemporary America, trying to stop the power-hungry Anton Zelov from using the multiverse device to take over the world. This book can be safely classified as “soft” science fiction, as there is no technobabble, and many parts of this book read more like a contemporary thriller.

Order of the Dimensions alternates between snapshots of everyday life in the various dimensions, in which Helenowski takes the time to set up each world, and faster paced action scenes depicting Jane’s efforts to stop Anton.

Third person omniscient. While the majority of this book follows Jane and shows events from her point of view, the perspectives of supporting characters and the antagonist are also shown.

Jane Kremowski is a physics grad student working on the Multiverser, a device that allows one to visit alternate universes. In some dimensions, her life is fairly similar to her real one; in others, it is drastically different. Anton Zelov, an ex-KGB agent, seeks to use the Multiverser to create a world in which he rules the Earth. He’s also obsessed with Jane, and in his ideal dimension, she is his wife.

Order of the Dimensions follows Jane as she tries to stop Anton’s scheme. The two engage in a multiverse tug-of-war. Anton uses the Multiverser to gain power and force Jane into an alternate reality in which he is married to her. Jane, after finding herself in Anton’s world, uses the Multiverser to return to a dimension in which the world is normal and she is with the man she loves, Randy. Aided by a group of underground rebels seeking to liberate the world from Anton’s clutches, she fights to restore order to the world and protect the ones she loves.

While Jane is the focus of the story, Anton is the one who drives the actions. He is a classic supervillain in many ways: conniving, merciless, intelligent. The Order he seeks to create is both coldly rational and indisputably efficient: he plucks individuals out of the various dimensions and transports them into the ones where they will be the most useful. Those he deems unworthy in any dimension are sent to the Black Dimension to spend the rest of their lives in oblivion. This Nazi-like mentality coupled with his creepy so-called love for Jane make him a truly despicable character—and the best kind of antagonist. Despite his wicked actions and intentions, he’s still human at the core and can be surprisingly affectionate.

Jane, meanwhile, is a protagonist who’s easy to sympathize with. Although her mission is to save the world from Anton’s rule, her ultimate goal is to protect her loved ones. For instance, in the dimension she came from, her parents died in a car crash and her cousin was traumatized by the tragedy. Jane is determined to make the dimension in which this never occurred a reality. With no combat training and courage as her only weapon, Jane faces off against overwhelming odds, making her quite the underdog.

Helenowski takes the time to describe each dimension, including scenes from everyday life. Although those sections slow the plot considerably, they serve as reminders that each alternate universe is real to the characters. The rules of the Multiverser are complex—under some calibrations, the characters remember their lives in other dimensions, but they don’t in others. Helenowski’s explanations of each dimension’s unique characteristics are succinct and straightforward, making the story easy to follow despite the complicated story lines.

What drives all science fiction is the question: “what if?” In Order of the Dimensions, Helenowski takes this concept to a broader level as each universe Jane travels through presents a new question and a new answer. With an interesting premise and a great villain, this book makes for an enjoyable read.

There are a handful of small errors, but nothing distracting. To be completely honest, I felt as though some sections could have benefited from an editor in terms of sentence structure.

Just FYI, this book is a much quicker read than its page count would imply, as the font is on the larger side and the margins are pretty wide.

This book is fairly G-rated. It contains some action movie style violence, but nothing graphic or gruesome.

Irene Helenowski is a statistical analyst living in Chicago. She recently received her doctorate degree in Biostatistics.

Thursday, October 25, 2012


Paul Rasche, author of the "Nazi Occult Space Madness" novel Smudgy in Monsterland, answers questions about his book's background and inspirations. Contact him by email.

What was the very first idea you had for Smudgy in Monsterland, and how did the story grow from there?

That's a bit difficult to answer without giving away major plot points, so, SPOILER ALERT: The original idea was “What if someone was attacked by jackals every day of their lives?” The story was then extended in either direction from there—i.e. I had to build the story to explain how that situation came to exist, and then I had to extend the story to explain the ramifications of such a situation.

This is actually my second novel—my first novel, which is untitled and unfinished, was built in a similar way, except the cental idea behind that one is: “What if someone’s cat told them to f**k off?” That central idea also leads to a cavalcade of darkness, insanity, and killings. 

My only goal as a writer is to tell an interesting story. I am not interested in drawing parallels to modern society or having a moral. I think that's why Alice In Wonderland is such an influence. I don't want people to learn from the story. The only rule I have for myself when writing is “No research.” Research is for PhDs.

Smudgy in Monsterland is genre indefinable, combining elements of dystopian science fiction, demonic horror, and then some. How did you end up combining elements of all these different genres?

I had the basic idea of this novel in my mind for years and started writing it about five times, but it never took.

That all changed with one drunken conversation with my brother Nicholas Rasche (who is also a writer—google him). I was talking about how my favourite movie genres were Nazi Occult (e.g. Outpost, Hellboy) and Space Madness (e.g. Pandorum, Event Horizon). We speculated about a combination of these two genres. That’s where the idea came from—it’s Nazi Occult Space Madness. The book has all four of these elements.

Before then, the story was set on Earth, in the modern day.

The main character, Odo, is a 12-year-old boy, but this book is decidedly not aimed at children (unless you’re trying to scare them). Why did you choose a child as your protagonist?

Well, it had to be set in an orphanage, so my hand was forced. The main character had to be in an utterly hopeless situation, and things had to keep getting worse for him. He had to be innocent, lost, scared, confused by the world, so that when things start getting supernatural, he just accepts it as another thing he doesn't understand. There was never any “choice” to make Odo a young boy—it just had to be that way.

I feel like the book is aimed at a young adult market. There is a lot of violence and scary things in there, but there's no sex or swearing. I read a lot of Stephen King when I was Odo's age and I turned out juuuuuust fine.

Are there any stories behind the naming of your characters?

I had Lambchop chosen as a name years ago. Some other names are from my real life—Suki is the nickname of my wife's car, Straker is my neighbour's surname. Spider-Legs was the nickname a friend of mine gave to a romantic rival. Other names, like Cruor Muli, as phrases that have just stuck with me over the years.

Other names I had to come up with as I wrote them. A lot of them I got by googling “German first names.” It took a long time to settle on Odo. I also took years before thinking of “Smudgy.” He used to be called Oopsy, Pinky—all sorts of things that never sounded right. When Smudgy popped into my mind, I knew it was perfect.

With the orphans, there's a band I like called “Does It Offend You Yeah.” I heard they got their name by turning on the TV and using the first phrase that came on. I don't know if that's true, but I liked the idea. All of those orphans were just named on the spot, as I wrote. I also had to come up with a lot of place names—they were all just named on the spot as well, except for Runemagick, which is the name of my favourite band (old-school Swedish Death Metal). I listened to them on permanent repeat while I wrote this book (in order to keep the mood right), so I thought they deserved some recognition.

The title of this book refers to a cartoon series that became a cultural phenomenon in the story’s universe, as well as the center of Odo’s world. Why did you choose to feature a cartoon so prominently?

Featuring the cartoon like that was an organic decision. I always prefer stories that are set in one location—in this case that was originally the Monsterland amusement park. So, I had to figure out what Monsterland was and why Odo would want to go there so much. Later on, when I decided to set the book 1000 years in the Nazi future, I had to figure out how to integrate that into the existing “Monsterland” concept. I think it all just came to me as I wrote it. Smudgy had to be central to Odo's mind AND to the outside world at the same time, so making him world-famous was a good way to accomplish that.

Were there any parts of the book you particularly enjoyed writing?

My favourite part of writing this was coming up with the different attractions of Monsterland, like the Fork Fields or the Inky Maze. In terms of actual plot points of the book, my favourite part is when Odo is wielding Pillow, fighting the undead angels on the rooftop of the Haunted Mansion.

Do you have any particular writing habits? Locations you prefer? Snacks that help you keep going?

I wrote this in three main locations: on the couch, in bed, or at work. Once I started, I couldn't stop, I was writing thousands and thousands of words a day. The hardest thing is to get started. I just reminded myself that it didn't have to be the world's greatest novel—I just wanted something that could turn up in a second-hand bookshop for $2.

Are you working on anything new?

Of course—a sequel! I have the first part plotted out already. Literally millions of people are killed in the first chapter. A lot of the under-used characters from the first book are featured more prominently—like the Uberhexe, who is only mentioned in passing—people like that.

I love sequels in which the only goal is to outdo the original, and end up being completely nuts in the process. I'm thinking Die Hard 2, Superman 2, Final Destination 2 here. I just want it to be completely nuts.

Smudgy in Monsterland is available at: Amazon US (Kindle e-book), Amazon UK (Kindle e-book), Lulu Marketplace (iTunes e-book), Lulu Marketplace (hardcover)

Monday, October 22, 2012

REVIEW: Dastardly Bastard / Edward Lorn

TITLE: Dastardly Bastard
AUTHOR: Edward Lorn
AVAILABILITY: Amazon US (paperback), Amazon US (Kindle e-book), Amazon UK (paperback), AmazonUK (Kindle e-book)

Recommended for fans psychological thrillers and chilling horror stories


Dastardly Bastard is the suspenseful tale of a tour group that finds the chasm they visit contains supernatural forces. Like many horror stories, it opens with ordinary people in an ordinary situation, and then the dangers start creeping in bit by bit, picking them off one by one. They discover the truth behind the mysteries as they struggle to fight back, all the while confronting disturbing memories and fearful ghosts. Familiar territory for fans of Stephen King and other such suspense writers.

Dastardly Bastard is a fast-paced suspense story that ends each chapter with an irresistible hook. I finished the book in two reading sessions, with the break in the middle being only due to that pesky thing called a day job.

Dastardly Bastard rotates between the close third perspectives of each of its principle characters, allowing the reader to view the story from many different angles. Chapter breaks indicate a change in perspective.

A photojournalist, a bestselling author, a pair of young lovebirds, a widow and her son. These are the people who make up the tour group bound for Waverly Chasm, led by tour guide Jaleel. The chasm is a stunning natural formation with a quirky poem describing the legend surrounding it: “The Dastardly Bastard of Waverly Chasm / Does gleefully scheme of malevolent things…”

Who this “Dastardly Bastard” is and what “malevolent things” of which he schemes are remain a mystery for the majority of the novel. What starts out as an ordinary hiking tour soon to horror as the supernatural begins taking over. The group finds themselves trapped by unexplained happenings—possessions, disappearances, paranormal phenomena—and forced to confront their most devastating and horrible memories. What is real and what is imagined become blurred, and the characters must confront the evil of the mysterious force known as the Dastardly Bastard if they are to survive.

Lorn’s talent for suspense and snappy writing style make Dastardly Bastard a difficult book to put down. Through his descriptions and clever plotting, he creates a story that’s easy to get lost in. Who is the Dastardly Bastard? What does he want? How can the characters, mere mortals to his supernatural power, fight back? Why did he choose to attack them when so many other tour groups have passed Waverly Chasm in peace?

On top of that, each point of view character is fully developed, and so one really cares about what becomes of them. Lorn opens his novel with an introductory chapter for each, allowing the reader to get to know these people before they’re thrown into the chasm’s horrors. The third person narration of each point of view character’s chapter adjusts to reflect that particular character’s unique traits. For instance, morbidly obese photographer Mark is written with a tongue-in-cheek attitude that reflects the character’s attitude toward himself. Donald, the vertically challenged author, exudes bitterness and a witty bad attitude, shields against years of abuse. Widow Marsha, meanwhile, is written in a forlorn and sympathetic manner.

And then there’s Justine, who came on this tour to humor her boyfriend. From the moment she’s introduced, one realizes that there’s something… special… about her. She appears to be an ordinary, if someone sassy, girl. It’s soon revealed that she has a strange connection to the supernatural. “Throwing shadows,” as she calls it. What these shadows are and what they mean is integrally related to the Dastardly Bastard. Meanwhile, she experiences visions of her deceased grandmother, Nana Penance, a spunky old woman who sometimes seems to be Justine’s guide and salvation and other times a tormentor.

Each character comes alive on the page, and each has his or her mettle tested as he or she faces off with the shadows of the past. In a way, Dastardly Bastard is as much a character study as a horror novel. I couldn’t help sensing a message behind the thrills, a message about how much the past can haunt you, consume you, if you let it fester.

Dastardly Bastard presents an interesting twist on the horror genre, unashamed to play on its conventions and unafraid to bend them to its own purposes. No one can come out of Waverly Chasm unscathed, if indeed they come out at all. That includes the reader. Whether it’s because of the chills and frights—dark specters and phenomena that shame Final Destination—or the poignant character moments in between, Dastardly Bastard is a book to remember.

This book is impeccably edited, and I did not find any errors.

This book, being a horror novel, contains a lot of scenes that some might find disturbing—undead people, violent imagery, and the like. However, there is nothing gratuitous about the gruesome parts.

[from the back of the book]
 Edward Lorn is an American horror author presently residing somewhere in the southeast United States. He enjoys storytelling, reading, and writing biographies in the third person.

Disclosure: Red Adept Publishing is also the publisher of my own novel, Artificial Absolutes. I bought and read this book on my own, and the above reflects only my honest opinion.

Monday, October 15, 2012

REVIEW: Thought I Knew You / Kate Moretti

TITLE: Though I Knew You
AUTHOR: Kate Moretti
AVAILABILITY: Amazon US (Paperback), Amazon US (Kindle e-book), Amazon UK (paperback), Amazon UK (Kindle e-book), Barnes & Noble (Nook e-book), Smashwords (multiple e-formats), Kobo (e-book), Sony (e-book), All Romance Ebooks (e-book)

Recommended for readers of contemporary romances looking for realistic character portrayals

Romance—Women’s Fiction

Thought I Knew You is part romance and part mystery, being about a woman whose husband, Greg, disappears and who reconnects with her childhood best friend, Drew. Although much of the story concerns Claire’s relationships with the men in her life, her story is not a typical boy-meets-girl romance.

This book is surprisingly fast-paced. I read the majority of it in one day because I simply couldn’t put it down. The “where’s Greg?” question coupled with the “will they or won’t they?” aspect of Claire’s relationship with Drew makes the story unexpectedly suspenseful.

Thought I Knew You is written in Claire’s first person perspective. A handful of flashback chapters are written in present tense, and  the rest are written in past tense.

When Claire’s husband, Greg, fails to come home from a business trip, she tries not to fear the worst. But it soon becomes clear that he’s not simply delayed or stranded—he’s missing. Claire does everything she can to help the police find him, even trekking up to Greg’s last known location in an effort to bring him home herself. By her side during this journey is her best friend, Drew, a man she’s loved platonically since childhood.

Moretti’s evocative and sympathetic writing brings Claire to life, making Thought I Knew You one of the most “real” novels I’ve ever read. Here is an ordinary woman who seems to live in the bliss of normality: a great husband, a house in the suburbs, two charming little girls, even a dog in the yard. From a distance, her life is the quintessential American Dream. And then, for no apparent reason, it shatters. Greg vanishes into thin air, leaving Claire alone to face the uncertainty that lies ahead. Much of her anguish comes from the fact that she doesn’t even know whether Greg is alive. Unlike the finality of death, a disappearance leaves the lingering possibility of return. Claire bravely tells her children that Daddy’s simply lost and can’t find his way back while wondering whether her husband abandoned her.

Claire acknowledges that her marriage seemed “off” recently, that behind the external perfection of their lives, a fundamental discontent festered. The little moments of incongruity, barely perceptible until magnified by hindsight, pricked at her relationship with Greg, each tiny stab seeming inconsequential until reflected on. Then, suddenly, the whole thing seems like a bloody mess. The arguments over nothing. The forced “date night” rituals. The inability to communicate.

Claire’s relationship with Drew is considerably more compatible. To her, Drew is a fundamental part of her life, someone she’s known forever and on whom she can rely. The thought of becoming more than friends had occurred to Claire a few times, but she’d always considered Drew to be first and foremost a best friend rather than a love interest.  As he helps her through her ordeal, she realizes that perhaps he’s just what she needs—a dependable man around whom she’s free to be herself. Yet any chance of her blossoming interest becoming more than just that seems doomed by bad timing and missed opportunities.

How can Claire kindle her feelings for Drew when the father of her children might still be out there? Would she be able to stay in an increasingly unhappy marriage for the sake of her little girls? Is she allowed to move on? Moretti describes this whirlwind of emotions in a manner that leaves the reader feeling as torn as Claire, turning Thought I Knew You into an unexpected page-turner. The desire to know how this mess of complications can work out made me unable to put the book down. And of course, there’s the mystery aspect. Through her own investigation, Claire learns things about her husband that make her wonder how well she really knew the man. The lack of answers left me echoing Claire’s friend Sarah’s sentiments as she slams a table and yells, “Where the f@*! is Greg?”

What makes Thought I Knew You so compelling is the fact that it’s about characters one can truly care about. Claire displays a realistic combination of strength and fragility, doing her best to hold together in spite of the chaos within. The little details of her everyday life—taking care of the children, the house, etc.—serves as a reminder that the world won’t stop turning even though her own life is forever changed. Drew is an easy romantic lead to root for. Loyal, friendly, and, of course, good-looking, he’s the kind of man every woman dreams of. At the same time, he’s not too perfect; he makes his share of mistakes.

Thought I Knew You is anything but a typical romance. In fact, I often forgot it was a romance while reading it, seeing it more as a story that happened to lead to a romantic entanglement. The dual suspense of “where’s Greg?” and “will Claire and Drew work?” makes this story more of a page-turner than most thrillers I’ve read. Plot-wise, it’s not all that exciting—there are no car chases or explosions or anything—but Moretti’s talent for describing internal conflict and bringing Claire to life make this the kind of book that’s easy to get lost in.

This book is impeccably edited and contains no errors as far as I could tell.

This being a romance, there are a handful of sex scenes. While descriptive, the scenes are tastefully done and fairly short.

Kate Moretti lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, two kids, and a dog. She’s worked in the pharmaceutical industry for ten years as a scientist, and has been an avid fiction reader her entire life.

Disclosure: Red Adept Publishing is also the publisher of my own novel, Artificial Absolutes. I bought and read this book on my own, and the above reflects only my honest opinion.

Thursday, October 11, 2012


Johnny Ray, author of the spy thriller/romance For Love and Vengeance, talks about his inspirations as a writer. Visit his website, Follow him on Twitter, or Find him on Facebook.

What was the first idea you had for For Love and Vengeance, and how did the story grow from there?

This is a very interesting question. Several years ago before I was married, I went to Jacksonville, Florida to surf during a storm there. I was in the water when I spotted a large shark that scared me a lot. There was a girl in the water surfing with me that I had never met before. After we made it in from the surf, we laughed about it and went to a wine bar before walking  the beach for a while. I had her number in my pocket, but the waves hitting my legs as we walked the beach made it bleed, and I was unable to recover her number. I never saw her again. 

Being the writer, I decided she must be a spy. Not really, but I let my imagination grow the story from there. 

What was the inspiration behind Victoria, the woman whose disappearance drives the story?

I think I just answered this one, but I had to make her mysterious and beautiful.

Although Victoria drives the story, the majority of the book follows the ex-spy Royce as he searches for her. How did you go about developing his character?

If you are going to have a great heroine, you have to have an equally important and impressive hero. While I developed his story to some extent, you will see it even more so in the next two novels. One will continue on  with their lives and one will give the back story of Royce.

Why did you choose to combine the romance and spy thriller genres?
Writing romantic thrillers is what I like to write. If you notice in the movies you see this all of the time, but not so much in novels. I want to change that. A thriller has to have constant up and downs in emotions to have impact. I think allowing the romance to pace the novel is perfect. 

Are any elements of the book inspired by your own experiences? Places you’ve visited? People you’ve met?

Again, I think I answered that, but since my wife is Russian and I have visited Russia for sure, I have gained much perspective from her. I was also big into surfing at one time.

What are you working on now?

I have another novel, THE SALSA CONNECTION coming out in a few weeks. This is about a Russian girl living in St. Petersburg, Russia who receives an invitation to go to America and enter a salsa competition.  At the bottom of the invitation is a hand written message, “please come and enter, my little lady.” Only her papa had ever called her that and he disappeared 25 years ago when she was 3. He had gone to a ballet competition in America and disappeared. The Russian mafia say he defected, but the Americans say he was murdered. In any event, he never resurfaced until now.

Additionally, I have 2 more novels completed but working their way through the polishing and editing process. It is good to stay in touch with me by following me on facebook and reviewing my author application page there marked in a red box that says read my book. Once there you can also sign up for my newsletter. 

For Love and Vengeance is available at: Amazon US (Kindle e-book), Amazon UK (Kindle e-book)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

REVIEW: For Love and Vengeance / Johnny Ray

TITLE: For Love and Vengeance
AUTHOR: Johnny Ray
PUBLISHER: Self-Published
AVAILABILITY: Amazon US (Kindle e-book), Amazon UK (Kindle e-book)

Recommended for readers seeking escapist entertainment, especially those who enjoy spy thrillers and romances.


For Love and Vengeance is primarily a thriller, following Royce Cianni around the world as he uncovers nefarious secrets of international spy rings. But his motivations are purely romantic; after one night of passion with the mysterious and beautiful Victoria, he sets out on a quest to learn the truth behind her disappearance. The scenes right after the two meet are straight out of a romance novel, involving walks on the beach and a wine tasting.

For Love and Vengeance takes its time to set up the backgrounds of and relationship between Royce and Victoria, and the lays out Royce’s investigative process. The book takes off around the second half, when the shadowy organizations involved make their moves.

Third person limited—the book rotates points of view between characters. Although the book opens with Victoria’s perspective, it is primarily Royce’s story. We are given glimpses into the behind-the-scenes meetings between secretive agencies, creating a sense of dramatic irony as we know what they’re up to even when Royce doesn’t.

For Love and Vengeance opens with Victoria, a double agent for both the United States and Russia, contemplating her situation. Trapped between two nations and manipulated by an international crime syndicate, she seeks a way to escape her dangerous life. As she walks along the Florida beach, she meets Royce, a handsome ex-spy haunted by the death of his girlfriend, who was killed due to one of his past missions.

After one evening of romance and passion, Victoria vanishes, presumed to have been killed in a shark attack. But Royce is unwilling to accept her loss so easily. Driven both by an infatuation with her and guilt over his past inability to save a woman he loved, he sets off in search of the truth behind her disappearance—and whether she is even dead. His journey takes him around the world as, bit by bit, he uncovers her intriguing past. Meanwhile, both the American and Russians spy organizations keep a watchful eye on him as they, too, hunt for Victoria.

In For Love and Vengeance, Ray has created an appealing blend of thriller and romance. The book is first and foremost a thriller, involving shadowy organizations and nefarious characters. And yet the scenes between Royce and Victoria are purely romance, containing all the staples of the genre: mutual attraction at first sight, flirty conversation, passion. The setting Ray chooses—a balmy Florida beach—makes for great escapist reading. Like Victoria, in those moments, it’s easy to forget about the spies and the crime syndicate and all those dark elements when the story zeros in on two people who seem destined for one another.

Both characters are instantly likable. Victoria comes across as a strong character, a woman who is intelligent and able and ready to take enormous risks to get her life back. While she does, to some extent, use Royce as a cover as she plans her escape, she does truly care about him. Royce is down-to-earth and charming, fully dedicated to whatever it is he sets his mind to.

As suddenly as she appeared, Victoria disappears from Royce’s life. While Victoria dominates the first few chapters of the book, it is primarily Royce’s story. His efforts to track her down are nothing less than obsessive, as, for all intents and purposes, she might as well be dead. Herein lies the thriller element of Ray’s novel, the part that keeps the pages turning. As an ex-spy, Royce is no stranger to the shadowy world of spy organizations, and he unleashes the full force of his investigative skills to discover the truth about a woman he barely knew and yet instantly fell for. The more he learns, the more he realizes just how much he and Victoria have in common. Both are good people working for not-so-good organizations, organizations more than willing to screw them over to get what they want.

It’s not much of a spoiler to say that Victoria is, in fact, alive, and that she faked her death to get away from those who were controlling and threatening her. Once she returns, the story accelerates in a way that makes this a hard book to put down. For Love and Vengeance is a shamelessly entertaining guilty pleasure, the kind of book one reads to escape the doldrums of everyday life and delve into a world of intrigue and passion. Between the suspense and the romance, Ray has created a very entertaining story, one that keeps you guessing.

There are a handful of small typos, but nothing too distracting.

Some parts of the dialogue are written in Russian with translations in parentheses.

In terms of sex and violence—they’re present but not graphic.

Johnny Ray is a full time writer who loves to write on the beaches of western Florida. While addicted to coffee in the morning, he enjoys his friends and wine at night. 
He won the Royal Palm literary award for best thriller and is quickly making a name for himself as the master of the romantic thriller.

Visit his website, Follow him on Twitter, or Find him on Facebook.

RELATED: An Interview with Johnny Ray

Thursday, October 4, 2012


Science fiction author Ross Harrison discusses his most recent publication, the post-apocalyptic steampunk novella Kira. Check out his blog, Like his Facebook page, or Follow him on Twitter.

What was the first idea you had for Kira, and how did the story grow from there? What inspired the bleak, post-apocalyptic alternate future depicted in your story?

With my memory, it’s always a struggle to answer questions like that! The first idea I think I had for Kira was Kira herself. I had a picture of her in my head, and when I was searching for steampunk images, I happened across some artwork that matched my mental picture almost perfectly. Every time I wondered what she’d say or do next, I’d look at the image and she’d tell me!

From there, the story unfolded itself, as usual. I knew I didn’t want her to live in the city of New Haven itself, so I gently guided it in that respect—otherwise, everything just happened on its own, with very little (read: “no”) planning.

The setting itself came about because I was interested in both the Victorian and wild west styles of steampunk, and I decided there was no particular reason I needed to be restricted to just one.

Since the Last War, which left the world devastated, the Government has rebuilt and advanced. The Wastelanders, on the other hand, live in shanty towns in the desert, and struggle to simply live through each day. Despite being so close to each other, this means the two areas are very different in nearly every way.

How did you go about developing your corset-sporting, sass-mouthed, tough-as-nails titular heroine?

I don’t recall making a conscious decision to have a girl as my main character—she just ran around the street corner as I was busy writing, threw herself into the story and decided that she’d be the heroine. Her obvious traits are her mouthiness and fondness for violence as a problem solver, but I wanted her to be a bit more behind all that. She’s not as confident as she seems—certainly in situations that can’t be solved with violence or swearing. She’s doesn’t have a huge amount of self-confidence. She knows her skills, but when it comes to any kind of acceptance of herself, it’s a different story.

This comes through mostly in her speech. Her natural way of talking isn’t particularly refined, but has changed over time to a slightly odd, refined cockney. This is because of a man, whose refined speech makes her feel stupid. She tried to emulate his speech somewhat, and pronounce words correctly in a misguided effort to be seen by him as intelligent.

It was interesting to see how different she is behind the tough façade. Not entirely easy, though, since I’m not a girl, and so don’t think like one.

Your previous book, and current work-in-progress, are both feature-length space operas. What was it like working with the smaller canvas of a novella?

The only time I’d tried a short story before was in school, in a mock exam. It wasn’t particularly short. I ended up not answering any other question, and I still didn’t finish the story. I think it involved a subway train, a lake and a duck. Maybe a goose. It wasn’t very good. Just as well it was a mock.

I wasn’t really expecting to be able to write a short story that was actually short, and still get in everything I wanted. It’s quite difficult to cut out everything that doesn’t further the story or characters, and still keep it feeling fluid.

On the other hand, a short story/novella is conducive to mystery. In a longer novel, it would be a lot harder to get away with not explaining things, and leaving it more of a “you’ll have to wait and see.” In Kira, there are several mysteries, the answers to which simply weren’t relevant to this particular story, so it’s acceptable to leave them unanswered…for now!

What are you working on now?

Now that Kira is out, all I have to focus on is book two of the NEXUS series. I’m coming near to the end of editing that now.

I have another short story waiting for me to go back to it, but it’s not like anything I’ve done before, so it’s not easy going at all. I also have to be in a certain mood to be able to write it, so it’s entirely possible it won’t see the light of day for anywhere between a few months to a few years!

But I still have the main series going—books three and four are planned, so I can working again as soon as book two is out.

Kira is available at: Amazon US (Kindle e-book), Amazon UK (Kindle e-book), Smashwords (multiple e-formats)

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

REVIEW: Kira / Ross Harrison

AUTHOR: Ross Harrison
PUBLISHER: Self-Published
AVAILABILITY: Amazon US (Kindle e-book), Amazon UK (Kindle e-book), Smashwords (multiple e-formats)

Recommended for fans of steampunk, dystopia, and post-apocalyptic science fiction, especially those featuring strong heroines.

Science Fiction—Steampunk/Dystopia (novella)

Kira takes place in a bleak future in which the almighty Government destroys entire towns for dissent, and those who refuse their rule are forced to scrape for survival in a desert haunted by mysterious creatures. Like all steampunk, this alternate future is heavily influenced by Victorian aesthetics—corsets, airships, thick cockney accents, and the like.

Fast-paced. This novella is tightly written and utilizes strong language that keeps the action rocketing forward even in the lulls between action scenes.

Third person limited. This story is told from Kira’s point of view, and the third person narration reflects her internal thoughts and distinct voice.

Kira opens with its titular main character sprinting through the streets of New Haven, the seat of a totalitarian government’s power. Hunted by the police and government agents, Kira uses her own brand of fighting skills to make it back to her town in the Wastelands, one of the few bastions of freedom in a world where those who refuse the Government’s control struggle for survival. There, she reports her discoveries to the town Elders, who lead the ragtag resistance.

Having previously read Harrison’s novel-length space opera, Shadow of the Wraith, I could tell immediately that Kira is a trophy case displaying all his strengths as a writer: heart-pounding action, detailed world-building, characters that don’t just spring from the page, they leap out and yell, “’ello there!” in your face. His descriptions, scattered through the action, subtly paint the world around the story, allowing one to easily visualize what’s going on. With the smaller canvas of a novella to work with, Harrison whittles down his writing to showcase only the best, making each sentence worthwhile and effective.

Kira, a colorful young woman with a heavy Cockney accent, is the kind of protagonist who’s easy to love. Her strength and resilience are offset by a touch of insecurity—mentions of her troubled past make her uncomfortable, and she attempts to transition into proper English in the presence of a handsome young man and fellow member of the resistance—making her a realistic and relatable character. Her irreverence and wittiness make her third person limited narration a delight to read, adding a touch of humor to this otherwise tragic tale. Also of note is her teenage friend Flip, an odd yet adorable boy whom Harrison successfully brings to life in only a few paragraphs.

Kira is a tightly written and fast-paced novella that’s easily read in one session. In a few short paragraphs, Harrison creates an immersive steampunk universe that’s easy to get lost in and leaves you craving more. The speculative future he sets up is at once bleak and scintillating—bleak in its post-apocalyptic setting, scintillating in its dynamic characters and captivating backdrop. The story is a perfectly angled snapshot of a vast, multi-faceted world, a wonderfully packaged stand-alone tale that leaves room for much, much more.

Ross, if you’re reading this, can you please write a sequel? Or three? Or five?

This novella is impeccably edited.

There is one scene that takes place in a bathtub, which involves partial nudity, but nothing sexual.

[from the author's page] 

Ross Harrison has been writing since childhood without thought of publication. When the idea was planted by his grandmother to do so, it grew rapidly, and after a bumpy ten years or so, here sits the fruit.

Ross lives on the UK/Eire border in Ireland, hoping the rain will help his hair grow back.

Check out his blog, Like his Facebook page, or Follow him on Twitter.

RELATED: An Interview with Ross Harrison 

Monday, October 1, 2012

REVIEW: Smudgy in Monsterland / Paul Rasche

TITLE: Smudgy in Monsterland
AUTHOR: Paul Rasche
PUBLISHER: Self-Published
AVAILABILITY: Amazon US (Kindle e-book), Amazon UK (Kindle e-book), Lulu Marketplace (iTunes e-book), Lulu Marketplace (hardcover)
APPROXIMATE LENGTH: 382 pages (hardcover)

Recommended for fans of twisted fantasies and demonic horror.


Smudgy in Monsterland is a twisted tale that takes place about a thousand years in the future, in which Nazis won World War II and subsequently conquered the Earth and its interplanetary settlements. The title refers to a cartoon series that became a cultural phenomenon and inspired the theme park in which the story takes place. Although it opens like a science fiction novel, it soon spirals into the domain of the supernatural, introducing Satanic cults, demons, and witchcraft. Death and mutilation occur with relative frequency and are treated offhandedly, with the bloody scenes described but not in excessive detail.

This book is mostly fast-paced. A few chapters in the opening take the time to set the scene, and there are lulls in which time passes, but the majority of the book barrels forward at a pace that kept me flipping the pages. By the time I got to the second half, I couldn’t stop and finished the book in one session.

The majority of the book is written in third person limited, describing the experiences and thoughts of the main character, a 12-year-old boy named Odo. One chapter near the beginning is the first person account of a Satanic terrorist, and there are a handful of chapters focusing on another Satanic cult member, Gretel, written from third person limited.

12-year-old Odo Kreppler is the sole survivor of a terrorist attack on the space habitat on which he lives. The space habitat serves as an enormous amusement park dedicated to the cartoon series “Smudgy in Monsterland,” a cultural phenomenon that has run for centuries. Odo’s sole comfort in his newly orphaned state is his plush Smudgy toy, a white rabbit missing an ear.

Sent to an orphanage near the Monsterland park, Odo finds himself bullied by the other boys, who have formed gangs united under the mutual goal of defeating the corrupt nuns who serve as their guardians. After a particularly cruel boy destroys the Smudgy toy, Odo is greeted by a real life talking rabbit claiming to be Smudgy’s brother, Sludgy. Confused, traumatized, and tormented, Odo is blind to the absurdity of the situation and unquestioningly does Sludgy’s bidding in hopes of not only getting revenge on the bullies, but gaining immortality.

Throughout the book, Odo is driven chiefly by his paralyzing fear of death. For a chance at eternal life, he is willing to compromise his morals and even his very soul. Many of his actions, when reflected upon after the fact, are nothing short of despicable. And yet when caught up in his story, one cannot help sympathizing with this tortured young boy, whose sanity is questionable. He acts out of desperation, not malice. The eventual destruction of his innocence, with its glimpses of hope and pits of despair, is both horrifying and fascinating to watch.

The world Rasche creates in Smudgy in Monsterland is truly unique. The title could refer to the cartoon that so influences Odo, or it could refer to Odo himself. The premise of the cartoon is that Smudgy, a noble rabbit, is trapped in a world of fantastical and wicked creatures, a twisted version of Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland. Like Alice, Odo is torn into an unfriendly and unfamiliar world, but instead of delightful nonsense, he faces the very worst of both humanity and the supernatural. Rasche shares Carroll’s flair for the bizarre. The orphanage is located next to the amusement park’s largest rollercoaster, and thus serious moments are interrupted by the screams of tourists. The orphans assign each other random gang names, such as Blue Folder and Recommended Method, based on the first words heard from a television channel. Personalities are exaggerated—such as the large oaf Jep, whom Odo bribes with cakes into doing his dirty work, and the drunken nuns. And then there’s Sludgy, the little black bunny rabbit who serves as Odo’s personal Mephistopheles.

All this rests against the backdrop of a twisted regime, in which the cartoon Smudgy has become next to holy, Nazi officers chop off their ears in reverence to the character, and those convicted as witches are burned alive annually. Smudgy in Monsterland is the kind of book more focused on its universe than its characters, as people other than Odo and Sludgy are left as vague sketches, background humming to the main conversation. While some are memorable, such as Lambchop, the bully who destroyed the Smudgy toy, and Suki, the pretty teenage girl who helps Odo and serves as his only friend, most are merely functional.

Smudgy in Monsterland can only be accurately described as “indefinable.” Part dystopian sci-fi, part demonic horror, intertwined with a maniacal sense of humor. The surrounding madness is both disturbing and mesmerizing, and the atmosphere of the book is one that left me thinking both “what the hell is this?” and “I can’t stop reading...”

There are a handful of small errors that are barely perceptible when one is caught up in the story.

Some readers may find the Satanic themes and gruesome violence disturbing. Although the protagonist is a young boy, this is not a children’s book.

Paul Rasche lives in Melbourne, Australia. He is a cartoonist and designer as well as a writer. Contact him by email or Find him on Google+.

RELATED: An Interview with Paul Rasche