Think.Laugh.Cry – Entered in 2018 Book Award Contest

5 Stars

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William Baga

Think.Laugh.Cry in 100 Pages by William Baga is a collection of three short stories designed to make you think, laugh, and cry. In “Isaac’s Apple Phi” the reader is given a glimpse into a dystopian future controlled by mega corporations. “Take 2” is a comical look into the life of a mildly dissatisfied middle-aged man fantasizing about being cool. Finally, “Let Nature Decide” is a dark vignette about a man looking to settle a vendetta.


The bulk of the narrative in “Isaac’s Apple Phi” is presented through exposition; such is the nature of the information delivery system that Xylem is interacting with. Unfortunately, this prevents the reader from forming an emotional connection to Xylem or the world he is living in. This choice causes the climax of the story to fall a bit flat. One way to counter this is to allow the reader to experience Xylem’s inner monologue while receiving this information. Show any conflict he may be feeling and let him live with that conflict for just a little while.


Think.Laugh.Cry in 100 Pages stands out because of various genres this collection encompasses. Each story is individual and fits nicely within genre conventions. The short stories are each fully developed. “Isaac’s Apple Phi” challenges the reader to make a connection between Isaac’s gardening pursuits and the dystopian world inhabited by Xylem. “Take 2” hits all the right comedic notes. Baga does a wonderful job of portraying the outlandish dreams of a man who mostly likes his life, but still feels as though he is missing out. “Let Nature Decide” captures the range of emotions that a person like Danny would experience after a massive betrayal. Think.Laugh.Cry in 100 Pages by William Baga will appeal to readers looking for a quick read that exposes them to different genres, while also forcing them to think about the world.

Originally critiqued by a member of the Authors Talk About It team.

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Sky of Dreams – Entered in 2018 Book Award Contest

4 Stars

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Robert A Cozzi

In Sky of Dreams, Robert A. Cozzi presents a collection of poems and prose anecdotes dealing with themes of love, loss, nature, and life. The poems portray the natural world and intimate relationships, while the prose vignettes provide a peek at the author’s remembrances of childhood.


Sky of Dreams suffers from a general lack of organization or structure. The poems do not appear to be organized in any particular order; they may very well be presented in the order in which they were written. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this approach, the collection comes off as haphazard and disorganized. Organizing the collection more deliberately, or making what organization there is clear, would help make the collection feel complete and polished. Additionally, some of the poems in the collection are presented in different fonts than the majority of the pieces and there is no apparent creative reason for this. If this is an intentional choice, indicating in some way why the choice was made would help clear up any confusion the reader experiences. Otherwise, it comes off as sloppy.


Cozzi displays a command of language that takes his work to another level. The descriptive nature of his work is very evocative, particularly in the pieces that focus on nature. The author pours so much of himself into his work. The reader cannot help but come away from Sky of Dreams with a sense of the author himself. Cozzi’s short prose pieces convey the reality of childhood experiences while also demonstrating a struggle for understanding that continues into adulthood. Sky of Dreams by Robert A. Cozzi is a short poetry collection that serves as a reflection of one man’s life. Readers looking for a contemplative look at life and loss through the lens of nature and childhood may find much to like here.

Originally critiqued by a member of the Authors Talk About It team.

 

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Watcher – Entered in 2018 Contest

5 Stars

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AJ Eversley

Watcher by AJ Eversley is set after World War III, during which much of North America was obliterated by nuclear war. The book follows Sawyer, a young girl who had spent the last ten years of her life training as a Watcher. The Watchers are an elite group of human survivors whose purpose is to protect humanity from the Bots and Carbons, robots that have seized control and reigned destruction down on those who survived the war.


Watcher is a great introduction to a new young adult series. This book has a little bit of everything: action, suspense, and romance, all set in a dystopian future. Where Watcher could be stronger is in the characterization of Kenzie. Kenzie plays opposite Sawyer for most of the novel and is, in many ways, a foil for the heroine. The reader spends so little time with him at the beginning, however, that it takes too much work to form the connection with him required to empathize with his position. Giving Kenzie just a little more time to be introspective would help the reader connect with him earlier in the book.


Eversley’s Watcher is a solid contribution to the world of young adult fiction. The characters are largely relatable, grappling with many of the issues that young adults face today, albeit in an entirely fictional setting. The novel moves at a break-neck pace, which fits the dystopian setting and the reality that danger really does lurk around every corner for poor Sawyer. Eversley has created a fully-realized dystopian future full of formidable enemies. Watcher by AJ Eversley is a heart-pounding adventure that is sure to appeal to anyone looking for an entertaining read that also challenges the reader to ask questions about the future of humanity.

Originally critiqued by a member of the Authors Talk About It team.

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Pigeon – Entered in 2018 Contest

4 Stars

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Daniel Zadow

Pigeon by Daniel Zadow is a unique, post-modern trip through the mind of a reclusive man as he uncovers suppressed truths about his history. The book follows Simon, a man who lives alone except for his dog and the specters that visit him late at night, on his quest to uncover the meaning behind these visits. This is a huge undertaking, and one that reveals hidden truths that Simon has gone out of his way to keep buried.


Pigeon is an ambitious project. Zadow attempts to write a post-modernist tale about a man on a journey of self-discovery, but the book ultimately leaves the reader wondering what actually has been discovered. The language and narrative structure of Pigeon is necessarily overwhelming. The creative choices Zadow makes help to put the reader firmly in Simon’s skewed perspective. This does make the events of the book difficult to follow. Pigeon could benefit from a little more explanation of the plot aspects of the story including the Intractable Energy Agency and the Many Worlds Portal. Clearing up these plot ambiguities would assist the reader in focusing their attention on the existential crisis unfolding before them.


This book is a one-of-kind story that demands to be read multiple times. The plot is thoroughly unique and engrossing. There are multiple layers of meaning to what Simon is going through, the reader is bound to miss some of the story the first time through. Zadow is incredibly ambitious with his free use of language and syntax, he really gets the reader into Simon’s head. This choice does make it difficult to keep up with the story, but the effort is worth it in the end. Readers who enjoy post-modern storytelling, science fiction, and emotional catharsis will find something to like in this novel.

Originally critiqued by a member of the Authors Talk About It team.

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Elements – Entered in 2018 Contest

4 Stars

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Nia Markos

Elements by Nia Markos is a paranormal fantasy novel aimed at a young adult audience. It tells the story of Alexa, a young woman on the cusp of adulthood who is about to find out that the world is more complicated than she ever imagined. Alexa is forced to come to grips with her emerging powers and newly uncovered ancestry while racing against the clock to stop an evil warlock from destroying the world.


The biggest problem with Elements is the pacing. It is too rushed. So much time is spent establishing the world and then rushing from plot point to plot point, there is very little time to really get to know the characters. This seems partly by design; Alexa and Aiden are fighting against the clock, after all. However, the book would benefit from slowing down a bit more. This would allow the reader to spend more time getting to know who the characters are rather than just how the characters function within the plot. The story elements that a reader would expect in a novel of this type are present, there just needs to be a little more of everything.


Alexa’s story is set against a richly described, fully-imagined backdrop. Nia Markos has worked to create a well-defined magical realm within our own modern world. More than that the existence of this other realm is completely believable. A lot of time and effort has been put into defining and building the kingdom of Eruva, which is no small feat. Markos has done an excellent job of illustrating the teenage experience, not shying away from how emotionally overwhelming and confusing it often is. Alexa is a solid character, she has just as many flaws as she does strengths. Elements is a good introduction to The Crystal Series; readers looking for a quick read set in a contemporary fantasy world will not be disappointed.

Originally critiqued by a member of the Authors Talk About It team.

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Queens – Entered in 2018 Contest

5 Stars

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Patrick Hodges

Queens by Patrick Hodges is the second book in The Wielders of Arantha series. This book follows Maeve and her son Davin after their ship lands on the far-off world of Elystra. Maeve and Davin form an alliance with the Ixtrayu, a reclusive tribe of women, as they prepare to play their part in the upcoming conflict. Elsewhere, war is on the horizon as Elzor and his wielding sister Elzaria set their plan for world conquest into motion.


Patrick Hodges has created a fully-realized fantasy world, which he uses to tackle issues that are prevalent in our own society. The characters are well-constructed and believable as real people. One thing that this book could benefit from is spending a bit more time exploring the younger characters, particularly Davin and Nyla. A good section of the book is spent with Vaxi, a delightful young Ixtrayu huntress, exploring her history and her part in the coming war. Spending an equal amount of time with Davin and Nyla would more clearly establish the younger generation as up-and-coming players in this game.


Queens is a well-written, thrilling second chapter in this story of cosmic chess. The characters are all realistically constructed with both strengths and weaknesses. The world of Elystra is fully-envisioned with distinct and varied cultures that have full and complete histories with each other. A lot of time was spent creating the world of Elystra, and it really pays off. Hodges uses this world to explore issues of abandonment, religion, gender relations, and power while always keeping the reader fully immersed in this fantasy world. Queens, and The Wielder of Arantha series, by Patrick Hodges is an excellent choice for any fans of science fiction and fantasy, but especially those who enjoy books that go out of their way to tackle difficult issues.

Originally critiqued by a member of the Authors Talk About It team.

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Searching for Sam – Entered in 2018 Contest

4 Stars

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M.G. Atkinson

Searching for Sam by M. G. Atkinson follows Graham and Sophie, two Interpol agents whose job it is to track down serial killers. They have been hunting a mysterious killer named Finn for years when they finally get a break in the case. Little do they know things are not as they seem, and this case is about to bigger than either of them ever imagined.


The biggest issue with Searching for Sam is the pacing. Atkinson spends so much time expertly crafting the action sequences, filling each scene with vivid details, that the rest of the novel drags in comparison. The slower, dialogue-based scenes contain far less descriptive detail which has the tendency to slow them to a crawl. This could be remedied by including further description of the physical actions that take place in these scenes, rather than relying solely on the dialogue to convey what is happening. Additionally, the dialogue is, at times, unrealistic. Few people talk the way these characters speak, and the characters are, in general, way too accepting of every piece of information they receive. This disconnect can pull the reader out of the story as they try to uncover why the dialogue doesn’t quite sound right. Showing the characters grappling with each new discovery or interaction would do wonders to alleviate this issue.


Where Searching for Sam excels is in its action sequences. These scenes are clearly the part of the novel that Atkinson enjoyed writing the most. Each action sequence is described in such colorful detail that it is easy to get swept up in the moment, reading page after page, heart pounding in your chest. This novel confronts a very serious subject, and for that Atkinson should be applauded. While occasionally lacking in descriptive language, Atkinson always approaches the sensitive subjects of slavery and sex trafficking with the respect that the victims of these crimes deserve. Searching for Sam by M. G. Atkinson offers readers a look at the darker side of our world, while conveying a sense of hope for the future and telling a fairly solid crime story.

Originally critiqued by a member of the Authors Talk About It team.

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Men, Djinn & Angels – Entered in 2018 Book Award Contest

4 Stars

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Anton D. Morris

Men, Djinn & Angels: Awakening by Anton D. Morris tells the story of a young Palestinian man named Talib as he sets out on a mission to Cairo, Egypt. Talib is hoping to dedicate himself to the cause of Palestinian freedom, along the way he meets a man named Theodore. Theodore introduces Talib to a world filled supernatural beings and conspiracies.


Men, Djinn & Angels: Awakening is a meticulously plotted novel. Where this book falls short is in the portrayal of its characters, specifically Talib, Fiona, and Kate. The reader is given no reason to emotionally connect with Talib until halfway through the novel. This is too late. Kate and Fiona, while integral to the plot, remain two-dimensional devices through which the reader learns about Talib’s past and the greater conspiracy at work in the novel. One way to counter this would be introduce more conflict into the story. Most of the story is told through Talib’s dreams and visions, as such there is very little active conflict brewing throughout the novel. Introducing some current conflicts for Talib and the sisters to grapple with would help the reader to better connect to the characters and give a reason to care about what they are going through.


Where Men, Djinn, & Angels: Awakening really shines is in the worldbuilding. Morris thoroughly researched numerous historical events and movements when crafting this story, and it shows. The inclusion of references to so many historical moments helps in the creation of a vast conspiracy that is the basis for much of Talib’s current situation. The rich tapestry of historical events and world mythologies that Morris weaves is really something to behold. Men, Djinn, & Angels: Awakening is an intriguing beginning to what may prove to be a well-thought out, meticulously crafted, fictional commentary on modern society.

Originally critiqued by a member of the Authors Talk About It team.

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The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name – Entered in 2018 ATAI Book Award Contest

5 Stars

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Author

In The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name, Fiza Pathan presents a collection of twenty-one incredibly moving short stories. The stories included in this collection highlight the devastating struggle of LGBTQ youth and adults all over the world. In contrast, Pathan also includes a handful of stories that emphasize compassion, perseverance, and love.


The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name is a thoroughly engrossing read that plunges the reader into the lives of many different LGBTQ characters. Pathan explores the ways in which, regardless of country or cultural background, LGBTQ youth struggle through their lives. Where this collection itself ultimately struggles is with the mechanics of the writing. The stories are all well-structured and the characters are clearly established, but the syntax is, in general, awkward. Though the mechanical issues do not interfere with the reader’s ability to enjoy the work, they could be mitigated by an editor who is a native English speaker.


The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name forces the reader to confront the horrible reality that many LGBTQ youth and adults live with every day. The choice to set the stories in countries from all over the world, even those generally considered accepting of the LGBTQ community, is a powerful one which forces the reader to confront the reality of what the LGBTQ community faces every day. These stories do not shy away from the horrific! Pathan strikes a good balance between the depressing and the uplifting, presenting the reader with a handful of stories that end on a positive note. Each story in this collection is cleverly constructed to force the reader to think about LGBTQ issues from a different perspective. The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name by Fiza Pathan is a powerful book that everyone should read, regardless of what community they identify with.

Originally critiqued by a member of the Authors Talk About It team.

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Garden Wisdom – 365 Days – Entered in 2018 ATAI Book Award Contest

5 Stars

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Cheryl Wilfong

In Garden Wisdom – 365 Days, author Cheryl Wilfong using stories and metaphor to share insights to help readers view mindfulness and perspective differently. She takes the readers on a journey from the first day of spring, March 21st, to the following first day of spring. There are daily snippets of wisdom and insight. On any given day of the year, the reader could flip to that page and get a dose of powerful wisdom or the reader could follow day-by-day from start to finish.

The daily wisdom in Wilfong’s Garden Wisdom – 365 Days is not overly deep. Yet, it offers readers a chance to ponder it on their own and let it flow in and out of their own personal perspectives. Wilfong’s style of writing allows the messages to flow gracefully through the readers’ minds. The pictures are black and white, which is a slight drawback. This almost takes away from the true colorfulness of the beautiful insight shared in the writing. Furthermore, said pictures are grainy and look almost photocopied. The cover has a colorful feel, but the imagery inside is not nearly as appealing.

A very well-written book, Garden Wisdom – 365 Days is broken down into simple digestible daily bits of wisdom. In just a few moments, readers can flip to the current day and read a short snippet that is powerful enough to take them on a deep and evolutionary inner journey if they’re interested in taking it that far. Yet, Cheryl Wilfong wrote her insight in such an easy-to-read and brief way that readers can just take a minute or two to read that day’s insight and let it settle into their soul all on its own if they’d rather take that route. Most interesting is that Garden Wisdom – 365 Days encourages gardeners to explore beyond just the concepts and blend Wilfong’s concepts with their joy of tending their gardens.

Originally critiqued by a member of the Authors Talk About It team.

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