Review of Bird Box

bird boxI only picked up this book because of the Netflix film, of the same name. I’d seen the film and thoroughly enjoyed it. Having seen the Netflix film, I knew what I was getting into when I started the debut novel written by Josh Malerman. Having said that, I’m glad I picked it up. Both versions of the story are equally great.

The story begins with the main character, Malorie, standing in the kitchen thinking. It’s been four years since the apocalyptic event that swept across the earth killing untold millions. What follows is a forty-three chapter game of tennis. Malerman switches from the present to the past almost every chapter. In the present, Malorie is gearing up to travel on the river with her two children, Boy and Girl. The destination is a promise of a safe place from the insanity inducing creatures. In the flashbacks, the reader gets the full story of why Malorie is alone and why she has two children of the same age with her.

This is one of the charms of the novel because when a chapter ends, it’s typically a cliff hanger and the reader won’t figure out what happens until a few chapters later. There were moments when I would reach the end of a chapter, look at the clock knowing I need to be somewhere, but couldn’t wait so I continued reading.

Another charming thing that Malerman does in his novel is never show the monster. The apocalyptic event is this creature that causes insanity in those that view it. So, reasonably, the reader never gets even the hint of a description other than it might smell bad. Even when the characters see the creatures, they don’t see the creature. For some writers, that might be a hindrance, but for Malerman he writes it really well. The way characters live in the world where vision is a danger, they wear blindfolds. This natural isolation makes even a leaf falling on the characters shoulder spooky. Is it a leaf? Is it a crazy person taunting the character? Is it the creatures? The characters don’t know and that’s when their imagination is the enemy. Even though it’s a leaf or a random twig breaking is intense to a reader because they don’t know either. They are, literally, in the dark like the characters.

The one thing that bugged me about the story was the lack of technology it employed. Presumably set in 2014 when Malerman wrote it, there isn’t much use of technology. Characters use phone books to call numbers using a landline. They don’t access the internet even though their power is still on. There is no GPS and the characters have to use mileage on their cars to judge distance. It felt like I had picked up a book from the early 1990’s. Which isn’t a bad thing, but for younger readers it may not be a relatable literary experience.

Bird Box is an interesting tale of survival and what a mother would do to protect herself and her two children. It’s an intense novel that’s a true page turner. Even though you know the fates of the characters, you’ll be cheering for the ill-fated characters during the flashback chapters. If you’ve never seen the Netflix film, give it a watch because it’s really pretty good. If you’ve never read the novel written by Josh Malerman, give it a read because it’s equally as good.

If you want to read an apocalyptic novel that doesn’t include the normal amount of blood and gore that is commonplace in most books of this genre, Bird Box is the novel for you.

My newest book release and following your gift

On Saturday, Feb. 2, my third book is being released by Burning Willow Press, LLC (BWP). They are a phenomenal company that cares about the quality of the books they publish. It can be purchased at a variety of places, but if you search “The Book of Ashley, James Master” on Amazon.com you’ll find it easily. Enough of the shameless promotion though.
I watched a video of Steve Harvey while hiding inside my home during the polar vortex on Wednesday. He talked about how you should follow your gift and not your passion.
“All of you have this gift, identify it. It’s the thing that you do the absolute best with the least amount of effort. That’s what you should be doing. You’re wasting your time pursuing your passion,” Harvey said.
If I’d watch this video a few years ago, I probably wouldn’t have understood this message. Up until a few years ago, my passion was playing video games. I’d spend hours playing them, didn’t matter what game it was. Admittedly, I was pretty terrible at esports or other competitive video games. That ruled out playing video games on a professional level. I was terrible at computer programming, ruling out creating video games.
I spent so much time and money trying to follow my passion instead of following my gift. Making the choice to follow my gift, my life has been changed. I have a better paying job, several published works, and an interesting side job with a really great publishing company.
Some of you may be thinking, “but Jim, don’t you work for BWP? Doesn’t that make you biased?” The answer is… sure, maybe a little. For full disclosure, I will state for the record that I am a contracted author for seven books with BWP as well as an editor for them. I also work in the submissions department which typically entails reading submissions and giving my opinion on whether they would be a good fit underneath the BWP umbrella.
Having said all of that, I don’t believe that it would change my view on the publishing company. If anything, this relationship has strengthened my view on BWP. If you ever get a chance to talk with Edd Sowder, VP of the company, you’ll come to the same conclusion I’ve reached. This man loves four things: his wife Kindra (author and BWP President), his company, his coffee, and his authors. You can typically find Edd on the Writer Imperfect Twitch stream that airs Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. If you don’t watch Twitch or don’t know what that is, then go to YouTube and search Writer Imperfect with Joshua Robertson.
Enough about Burning Willow Press, LLC though. Let’s talk about my newest release. For those that might be interested, The Book of Ashley is the third book in my series, The Soul Eater Chronicles. The whole series is based around demons, monsters, and the holy crusader that stands against the darkness. When people ask me what kind of genre the series falls in, I typically call it “Religious Horror.” Basically, if you like monsters, demons, and books about good fighting against evil then these books might be for you.
This will be the third book I’ve had published. I’ve also had three short stories that I’ve had published in anthologies. All of them with BWP. Every time I publish something, there’s this triumphant feeling of accomplishment. It’s a feeling I’ve never experienced while playing video games.
I know that last week’s rant might have seemed like I didn’t exactly like my profession. Which is totally the opposite. I do not regret one word that I’ve written in the last five years of being a news writer/author. I am so grateful to be doing what I’m doing for a living. There’s nothing else I could possibly see myself doing. Well, maybe I’d be doing something in the dining service/gas station arena. I sure wouldn’t like it, whatever it would be.
“A writer is a writer not because she writes well and easily, because she has amazing talent, or because everything she does is golden. A writer is a writer because, even when there is no hope, even when nothing you do shows any sign of promise, you keep writing anyway,” said Junot Diaz, professor of writing and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2008.
Even if I was still working in a gas station or as a supervisor of a café at a college, I’d still be a writer. Even if I received rejection after rejection, I’d still be a writer. Even if I had absolutely zero training in the craft, I’d still be a writer. Even if I lived in Michigan, I’d still be a writer (because if I lived there, I’d need something to take my mind off the fact that I lived in Michigan).
Identify your gift and follow it. It doesn’t mean that you must abandon your passion. I still play video games, but I’m not focusing my time on it.

The Legends of Luke Skywalker

The_Legends_of_Luke_Skywalker_final_coverKen Liu writes an interesting anthology of tales that center around the myth of Luke Skywalker. The story is centered around some passengers on a transport barge on its way to Canto Bight. If you’ve seen the film Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (2017) then this destination will be familiar. In fact, it really shouldn’t be a surprise because the book is included in part of the “Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”

To pass the time, the passengers tell tales of Jedi Master Luke Skywalker. This novel falls between Episode VI and Episode VIII as far as the timeline.

The first thing that I enjoyed about this book is the structure in which it was made. There are six stories about the Jedi Master with interludes in between. Also, the edition I read had fully colored illustrations of the story about to be told that were beautifully drawn by J.G. Jones.

The next thing that I enjoyed about the book was the fact that not all tales about Luke were true. Told by many different characters, the tales of Luke and the Rebellion vary from being saviors of the galaxy to just a bunch of con artists as told in the short story “The Myth Buster.”

If you’re a fan of Star Wars but have never really delved into the cannon/non-cannon books, then this one might be the one to try out. This book is considered cannon, but like I said earlier don’t really count on the legitimacy of what’s being said about Luke Skywalker.

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Just one example of the artwork in this book crafted by Artist J.G. Jones.

Overall, the book is great in terms of writing. Author Ken Liu does an amazing job crafting these stories and making each sound different in terms of the tones of the narrator that’s telling them. My favorite story is at the very end. It’s titled “Big Inside” and is about Luke and the narrator being trapped in the belly of gigantic monster. In order to get out, Luke and the narrator must accept the sacrifice from another trapped group. “Big Inside” contains the most wisdom in the anthology stating that:

“It was one thing to sacrifice yourself for something you believed in, but how much heavier was the burden of accepting someone else’s sacrifice?”

The genius of this concept for a Star Wars book is that since each story is told by different people, nothing can be considered “true” even if Luke did the things that he did in the book. The writing trick of “the unreliable narrator” is used here to make the reader ponder what really happened in each tale.

As far as what I didn’t like about the book, there wasn’t much. If I had to nitpick and find one negative in this book of positives, then I would have to say that one of the stories dragged on and didn’t really capture my attention. “The Tale of Lugubrious Mote” was about the true brains behind the comedic genius in Jabba the Hutt’s palace. That story didn’t quite accelerate until Luke showed up which wasn’t until thirteen pages into the story.

This book can be read by children of all ages. As far as swear words, I didn’t catch any. If you’re looking for a Star Wars book that doesn’t really add to the canon of the films, but does provide some good tales to read then The Legends of Luke Skywalker written by Ken Liu is your book.

If you’re wondering whether or not to purchase the book in hardback or ebook, I would recommend hardback. There is not a book sleeve on it and therefore is just a glossy cover, but the book is extremely durable and has a great feel to it.

To-Be-Read List of 2019

Writers need to do two things: Read a lot and write a lot. Stephen King said something to that effect in his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. If he said it, then it must be true. That is one of my goals for the New Year. To read a lot and to write a lot. Here is my To Be Read list, or TBR list:

• Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews

• Rose Madder by Stephen King

• Dance Macabre by Stephen King

• Gwendy’s Button Box by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar

• Wizard’s First Rule by Terry Goodkind

• Rise of Empire by Michael J. Sullivan

• Heir of Novron by Michael J. Sullivan

• Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

• The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orezy

• Scythe by Neal Shusterman

• The Wolf Gift by Anne Rice

• The Last Magician by Lisa Maxwell

• Angel Dust Apocalypse by Jeremy Robert Johnson

• The Ninth Circle by Brendan Deneen

• Battlefront II: Inferno Squad by Christie Golden

• Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer

• Dying to Live: a novel of life among the undead by Kim Paffenroth

• The Undead Volume III: Flesh Feast edited by D.L. Snell and Travis Adkins

• Ordinary Monsters: High School and the Final Solution by Frank Martin

• Fire in the Hole and Other Stories by Elmore Leonard

• Arthurian Magic by John and Caitlin Matthews

• Last Shot by Daniel Jose Older

• The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman

• American Dream Machine by Matthew Specktor

• The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher

• Dead Zero by Stephen Hunter

• The Third Bullet by Stephen Hunter

• Sniper’s Honor by Stephen Hunter

• That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis

• Liliane’s Balcony by Kelcey Parker

• For Sale by Owner by Kelcey Parker

• The Bitter Life of Bozena Nemcova by Kelcey Parker

• A Lot of Bull by James F. Walsh

• Pretty When She Destroys by Rhiannon Frater

• Escaped with Honor by Charles Layton

• Le More d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory

• I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes

• The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan

• Empire by David Dunwoody 

• Frankenstein: Lost Souls by Dean Koontz

• The Darkest Evening of the Year by Dean Koontz

• Hocus Pocus and the All-New Sequel by A.W. Jantha

• The Magician’s Apprentice by Trudi Canavan

• Tentyrian Legacy by Elise Walters

• Leia: Princess of Alderaan by Claudia Gray

• The Death and Life of Superman by Roger Stern

• The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King

• Anne Bonny’s Wake by Dick Elam

• Fully Awake by Ken Davis

• Nocturne of the Sea by Cameron Davis

• Widow of the Empyrean by Nikki Collins-Mewha

• Human Ouija by L. Bachman

• Harvest by L. Bachman

• Maxwell Demon by L. Bachman

• We Will Heal These Wounds by Nicole Thorn and Sarah Hall

• The Curse of Ormshire by S.L. Perrine

• In the Shadow of the House of God by Jeffrey G. Roberts

• We Will Change Our Stars by Nicole Thorn and Sarah Hall

• We Will Bleed by Nicole Thorn and Sarah Hall

• Way Down Below by Nicole Thorn and Sarah Hall

• We Will Gain Our Fury by Nicole Thorn and Sarah Hall

• The Human-Undead War: Patriarch by Jonathan Edward Ondrashek

• In Obscura Silva by Ellie Piersol

• Mysterium Excelsum Unum by Ellie Piersol

• Wind Up Toy by David Owain Hughes

• Choice Cuts Delicatessen by David Owain Hughes

• Forgotten Hero: The Chronicles of Death Book 1 by Brian G. Murray

• We Could Be Heroes by Sarah Dale

• Manleigh Cheese by James Crawford

• Rowan’s End by L.D. Ricard

• The Starhawk Chronicles by Joseph J. Madden

• The Dinosaur Lords by Victor Milan

That’s a lot of books to read in a year. Of course, I’ll not be able to read all of these books in this year, but I’m hoping to make a dent. What’s your TBR List? Let me know in the comments below and maybe I’ll expand mine a bit longer.

After Midnight Cover Reveal

Every so often, I’m asked to help my fellow authors get the news out about their newest book release. Sometimes, that help looks like participating in Facebook release parties and other times it’s helping them promote their newest book cover.

Like today. After Midnight is the newest book in the Miss Hyde Novellas written by the very talented Kindra Sowder. For the last few years I’ve had the privilege to call Kindra both my friend and my boss at Burning Willow Press, LLC. So when she asked for help regarding the new cover reveal I leapt at the opportunity.

So without further ado, here it is…

Hyde5 frontBlythe’s world is changing. She has finally accepted who — or what — she is. Hyde’s keeping to their arrangement. Blythe can now move forward from all she endured including a new romance with Emmett. Not only does he make her feel normal but helps her see a possible future.

But what of the elusive Adam Burnside? The man who could be her equal in not only state of mind but also body. With Cyra handing over journals filled with clues to her origins, Blythe needs to make sense of the new information within.

 

FB_IMG_1515772882925Author Bio:

Kindra Sowder was born and raised in Rancho Palos Verdes, CA until the age of 12, when her family moved to Spartanburg, SC. She graduated from high school in 2006 with full honors and as a member of her high school Literary Club and the Spanish Honor Society. In January 2014, she graduated with her second degree in Criminal NeuroPsychology. She married her husband Edd Sowder in May 2014 and still lives in Spartanburg, SC where she is basing Burning Willow Press. Her works have earned multiple award nominations.

If you are interested in all of Kindra’s other amazing works, here are a list of her Author Links.

Author Links:

Amazon: http://amzn.to/2HPrZwG

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/12587201.Kindra_Sowder

Twitter: https://twitter.com/KindraSowder

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kmkinnaman

Web: www.ksowderauthor.com

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Welcome back to the Crossroads

What happens when we die? 

It’s a question that cannot be answered by man, so far anyway. And until that riddle’s been solved all we’re left with are theories. Some believe that nothing happens and our memories, thoughts, and our personality just stop when our bodies finally give out. I’m not sure if I like that theory. Maybe it’s because I refuse to think all of my efforts and time, while insignificant in the larger scope of the universe, simply don’t matter.

Another theory is that death is but a door to another higher plane of existence. Call it what you like: Heaven, the afterlife, Valhalla, the void. Every religion has some place where the soul goes when the body perishes. Often, there’s a good place (heaven) and a bad place (hell) depending on the actions of the soul during its duration on earth. 

The final theory I’ll discuss (there are plenty more, but I don’t have all day) is a combination of the two above mentioned theories. If you take the idea of no plane of existence and combine it with the idea of a soul, what do you get?

Well, you actually get two things:

1. Ghosts

2. A good story.

The souls of those that died, released by the death of their mortal bodies, forever to wander the earth searching for the lives that they once cherished. Ghost stories can be found in every part of the world. Often, ghosts don’t travel far from where they lived when they still had physical bodies. Ghosts are sometimes sent as messengers to those in need of some guidance (Ebenezer Scrooge for example). Sometimes, ghosts are jealous entities that terrorize the living. Sometimes their friendly ghosts (I’m looking at you Casper). 

What I’m trying to get across to you is that whatever your comfort level is, there is a ghost story for you. There’s no better way to figure out what kind of ghost stories you like than purchasing the new anthology by Burning Willow Press.

Crossroads in the Dark IV: GHOSTS is a collection of short stories developed in hopes of bringing awareness to suicide prevention around the world. While the stories do not tell of suicide, they do tell of GHOSTS. For whom are the ghosts that haunt us daily? What are the remains of an otherwise perfect life ended far too soon? Which are the people who we find hardest to move forward from when we lose them? The easy answer is the ones we failed to save. 

For those that haven’t read the last three CRITD anthologies, welcome.

For those that have, welcome back to the crossroads.

• Forward by Lily Luchesi, author of the “Paranormal Detective” series.

Stories by:

Kerry Alan Denney

Alice J. Black

Michael Schutz

Kindra Sowder

James Master (that’s me)

Frank Martin

L. Bachman

Carol Browne

C.C. Adams

Mirren Hogan

Erin Yoshikawa

Peter Oliver Wonder

Rachel de la Fuente

W.T. Watson

Cindy Johnson

• James Crawford

Nikki Collins-Mewha

Kevin Wimer

Brian G. Murray

– Lloyd Kerns

Edd Sowder

Books make the best presents

Tis the season, am I right? Now that we’ve all feasted on ham, turkey, gravy, stuffing, and that delicious cranberry sauce it’s time to do what we all love to do after Thanksgiving. And no, I don’t mean sleeping. I mean, I love to do that too. But there’s something else that I love.

Christmas present shopping. There’s a plethora (I love this word) of different days dedicated to the purchase of gifts for your loved ones. Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday.

That whole weekend is a bit sadistic if you really think about it. First, Thanksgiving has people stuffing their faces on as much food as they can before going out and fist fighting for all those sweet deals.

Come on, you had to know that was coming. However, I don’t really spend that much money. For me, shopping isn’t really about spending money. Sure, we all spend money when we brave the cold and the other crazy people that want to save $5 on something they could get cheaper on Cyber Monday. 

Allow me a moment to backpedal. When I say “other crazy people” I include myself. And when I define that phrase it means “people that willingly go out to businesses in the dead of night to battle other warrior-shoppers for the right to claim a discounted item as their prize.” It’s really not an insult when you call people “warrior-shoppers” right?

When I go out on Black Friday, it’s typically to do some people watching. So, that sounds a bit creepy, but as a writer watching people is all part of the job. When you’re writing a story with humans in it, you want to try and capture human nature. And nothing portrays human nature like crowds fighting for $10 copies of the newest Call of Duty game. Seriously, that happened. I was at the South Bend Wal-Mart standing in a circular crowd with the cardboard box of games in the center. As the sales started and the shrink-wrap pulled free from the box, the crowd surged forward as one. Of course, the people at the front that already nabbed their copy tried to move out of the way of the others, it created a wave of push and pull. For a moment, I felt like I was swimming with waves coming and going. 

Over the years, more shopping days have been added. Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday now distract those “warrior-shoppers” from Black Friday. Maybe we should just change Thanksgiving to something more shopping savvy?

If you’re not inclined to fight the shopping horde this weekend, I’d suggest a better shopping alternative: books. That’s right, I said it. Go buy your friends, families, and other miscellaneous loved ones some books for Christmas. Here’s some quick reasons:

• Books are fairly cheap.

• Newly released books are never hard to find.

• Books often don’t weigh much so carrying five to ten presents to a loved ones house is fairly easy.

• Books are easy to wrap.

• Books fuel the imaginations of everyone reading them.

• There’s a book for literally (a literature and literal pun) everyone.

• Books make excellent White Elephant gifts.

• If you buy a book from a local author you’ll be participating in Small Business Saturdays. Do it.

• When someone asks you what you bought, tell them you purchased magic. Because that’s what books are: magic.

• Books, unlike video games, never need updates.

Go to a brick-and-mortar store, shop online, or go to Goodwill/Salvation Army and pick up some books instead of that new video game or that 1,000,000,000,000 inch television for $169.99.

Your wallet will thank you. And so will I.