Posts Tagged ‘book’

I just finished reading a mediocre novel set in the American Old West. It seemed to me that the setting was more of a cartoony idea Old West than anything researched for any length of time. I made the comment in my Amazon review that the novel was as much Historical Fiction as the TV show Xena: Warrior Princess was. Oh sure it was set in the past, and there were historical events and people that showed up, but does that really make it Historical Fiction? So I thought I would toss this question out to the universe: are there criteria a respectable author must meet to classify a book as Historical Fiction?


Xena: Warrior Princess

Reading Star Wars novels has long been a guilty pleasure of mine; they are fun, and they feed the Geek. And Lost Stars was delicious!  Sure it’s marketed as a YA novel, but there is a lot of great Star Wars goodness throughout.

For fans that know Episodes 4, 5 and 6 well, you will enjoy the weaving this story does between established events in the movies. The characters are placed in pivotal roles on the Death Star, Hoth, and Darth Vader’s lead Star Destroyer, the Executor.

Two young folks, Thane Kyrell and Ciena Ree, from an Outer Rim world meet Moff Tarkin when he visits their planet. Coming from different social classes, their friendship is frowned upon. As the years pass, their bond deepens and they develop a mutual love of flying. Knowing nothing but loyalty to the Empire they both strive to enter the Imperial Academy, and are accepted.

Over the years, Thane and Ciena realize the Empire had become twisted and corrupt. Where Thane expresses his willingness to leave the Empire, Ciena holds tightly to her oath.

“…this isn’t about whether we’ve kept faith with the Empire. It’s about whether the Empire has kept faith with us.” – Thane to Ciena

After witnessing the destruction of an entire planet from an open hanger bay on the Death Star, and the enslavement of entire species, Thane’s disillusionment with the Empire evolves into disdain. Some may call it the Force, others pure chance, but Thane and Captain Wedge Antilles cross paths. And just like that Thane finds himself flying for the Rebellion.

Even on opposing sides, Thane and Ciena can’t seem to sever their bond. What will happen when they find themselves in direct combat?

A great read for a Star Wars fan!


The Batman Arkham Knight book by Marv Wolfman is the novelization of the video game which released in June of this year. I’m not sure which is more geeky, playing video games or reading books about them. Either way, I accept my status in the geekdom. So anyway, Marv wrote this book capturing all of the gameplay in novel format, and much more. You get inside Batman’s head in a way that you can’t experience playing a video game, you feel the depth of his fears and desperation to save lives. This is not your parents’ Batman story, people are dying in Gothem City and Batman is losing control.

The Joker is dead, but his legacy continues; he has infected Batman with his blood which is changing Batman and driving him mad. Jonathan Crane, aka the Scarecrow, has developed a fear-inducing toxin that he plans to spread across the city. Those infected are terrified beyond all reason, and will do anything to escape the terrors they see…including tearing each other apart. Lives are being lost in vicious attacks. And then there is the Arkham Knight, working with the Scarecrow but with a vow to be the one to kill Batman; this mysterious figure knows everything about Batman, from his identity and history to the way he fights and all his weaknesses.

Just another day for Batman. But it’s not just another day. It is the worst day of his life.


This Batman story is exciting and tragic. A must read for any Batman fanatic.

Released in late April, Paul S Kemp’s Lords of the Sith is one of the newest installments in the Star Wars canon. Find it hard to keep track of what is now canon? I do too, but I have found this Star Wars wiki to be a great resource. This novel takes place about 5 years after Anakin Skywalker’s fall to the Dark Side.

Emperor Palpatine, the secret Sith Lord, and his apprentice, Darth Vader, are heading to Ryloth, the Twi’lek homeworld, where a group of freedom fighters has become more than a pesky annoyance to the Empire. When Cham, the Twi’lek leader of the dissidents, learns of their imminent arrival, he formulates a plan that would cripple the oppressive Empire. Meanwhile, the emperor senses the impending confrontation as a disturbance in the Force and uses it to test his apprentice’s abilities, and his loyalties.


A female Twi'lek

Kemp has truly captured the inner struggles that Darth Vader is going through; his memories of childhood and of Padmé trouble him. We are given our first look into the tension that grows between Master and Apprentice. And we see how truly terrifying and powerful these Sith Lords are to the galaxy. As readers, we have born witness to their strengths through the movies, but now we see how word will begin to spread of Darth Vader, and how far the Emperor will go to keep his power a secret.

Pain fed his hate, and hate fed his strength. Once, as a Jedi, he had meditated to find peace. Now he meditated to sharpen the edges of his anger.

Plus there’s lots of great Force fighting!


Well, it’s been a while but I finally finished another book, and can check off the next box on my 2015 Reading Challenge list: A book based on, or turned into, a TV show. I borrowed an actual, physical book and read Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay. This is the first of 7 books about Dexter Morgan (the 8th and final installment is coming in July of this year) which inspired the very popular Showtime series, Dexter.

Dear ol’ Dexter is a sociopath, but a good sociopath. He works hard to fit in and pretends to care and fakes emotions to appear normal. He has a good job as a blood spatter analyst for the Miami PD, and even has a girlfriend. But inside he has an evil need that calls to him, his Dark Passenger. With help from his foster father, he has learned to control this need, and feed it after careful research and preparation. For his victims he selects people who deserve to die for horrendous acts they have committed. Does that make Dexter a good guy or a bad guy? Well, it’s complicated.

What I do know is that Dexter Morgan is witty and his story has a dark humor to it which i greatly enjoyed. I am one of the few people who has not watched the Dexter series, but reading this book has inspired a binge watching.



For years, author Steve Berry has produced exciting thrillers filled with international espionage,  high – stakes intrigue, fast-paced action sequences, and deadly political maneuverings centered around poignant moments throughout history. Berry’s reoccurring hero, Cotton Malone, is a retired Justice Department agent who finds himself drawn back into the intelligence game as a freelancer. His newest novel, The Patriot Threat, is the next great installment in this series.

I would be hard pressed to name another author who can turn a debate over the legitimacy of the United States Constitution’s 16th Amendment, which pertains to income taxes, into a deadly race to uncover damning documentation that could bring both the U.S. and Chinese governments to ruins. Cotton Malone and his team must retrieve stolen documents and unravel a century old mystery while dodging bullets.

I had the great opportunity to ask Steve Berry a few questions.

RS: You published your debut novel, The Amber Room, in 2003 after 12 years of rejections. It would have been so easy to just let the story go and focus solely on your highly successful legal career. But instead you pushed through the disappointments until Ballantine Books finally said yes. Where did you find the strength to overcome any self-doubt that must have crept over you?

Steve Berry: It was the little voice that all writers have in their head, the one that nags at us everyday and only quiets when we write.  That voice kept me going.  It still keeps me going to this day.  I used to think I was a little crazy.  But I’ve learned that every single writer in the world has that same little voice, and its command is short and sweet.  Just sit down and write.

RS: Your first few novels were standalone stories, then in 2006 the first Cotton Malone novel, The Templar Legacy, was released. How long had the character of Harold Earl “Cotton” Malone been developing in the back of your mind before you found a place for him?

Steve Berry: Once the publisher and I decided that a series character was the way we wanted to head, I began to conceive just such a character.  But he changed.  I actually wrote 30,000 words of The Templar Legacy, the novel where Cotton is born, before a new version of him came to me.  I was in Copenhagen, in Hojbro Plads, a busy square, having dinner when he appeared in my brain.  I realized that Cotton had to be retired from the Justice Department, now living in Copenhagen, running on old bookshop —- right where I was sitting.  So I went back home, tossed out the 30,000 words, and started over, creating the Cotton Malone that now exists.

RS: The Patriot Threat, your 10th full length Cotton Malone novel, has just been released; congratulations on a great series! Each installment is a standalone thriller, but every successive book reveals more of Malone’s character and history. Have you had this guy all figured out from the beginning?  Or does he develop with each new adventure?

Steve Berry: He’s definitely a work in progress.  Each book explores some new facet of Cotton, and that’s intentional on my part.  I want him to grow, develop, and change.  And he has.  The Cotton Malone from The Templar Legacy is a different person from the Malone in The Patriot Threat.  I think that’s a good thing.  Characters should evolve, otherwise a series could rapidly become stale.

RS: Your personal interest in historic events is directly reflected in your work — this is what drew me to your books to begin with. Do you feel that capturing the spirit and legend of these events presents an added level of literary responsibility, over and above creating a great thriller? Because, in essence, you are writing both a historical fiction and a thriller all in one book. How much time do you schedule for research when you sign on for a new novel?

Steve Berry: I learned early on that a lot of people are learning their history from novels like mine.  That’s not necessarily a good thing since a novel, by definition, is not real.  That’s why I try and keep my stories about 90% accurate to reality, tripping up only that 10% for entertainment value since, after all, that’s my main goal — to entertain the reader.  I also place a writers note in the back of each book that I spend a lot of time developing.  There I explain what’s real and what’s not, so there’ll be no misunderstandings.  That note reflects the research that goes into each story.  For me that’s an 18 month process with each novel.  Research consumes the lion’s share of my time.  But it’s important, and it’s even more important to get it right.

You can find all of Steve Berry’s novels on Amazon.



Shawn Speakman

Shawn –
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me. I have a great passion for books, and have found that I very much enjoy talking to the amazing people that can create these books.

RS: I want to congratulate you on beating cancer. That must have taken great will and determination, which speaks to your strength of character. Did your decision to write and publish The Dark Thorn, the first installment in the Annwn Cycle series, come out of this trying period in your life?

Shawn Speakman:  In a way.  This requires a much longer explanation. I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 2001, a much tougher fight than my 2011 diagnosis for Hodgkins. When I finished chemotherapy in 2001, I decided then that I wanted to do what made me happy.  And writing has always made me happy.  I asked Terry Brooks –whose website I have managed since 1996 — if he would look over some of my work. He saw enough in it to mentor me through THE DARK THORN. I still believe if I had not been diagnosed with cancer in 2001 that I would not be writing today. Not as a professional, at any rate.

RS: You currently have more novels in the Annwn Cycle series scheduled, as well as several short stories. This seems incredibly organized and thought out. Did you already have all of the story arc planned out before you began The Dark Thorn?

Shawn Speakman:  Questions lead to answers which lead to larger questions.  That’s how the craft of writing and world building works for me. The first book introduces Richard McAllister, a spiritually and emotionally broken knight who guards a portal that leads from Seattle to Annwn, a world like Avalon from Arthurian legend. I knew I wanted to tell his life story over the course of my Annwn Cycle. Therefore, there is about five or six years between each novel. If I have the chance to write seven novels, I’ll be sincerely happy.

Before I finished THE DARK THORN, I knew where I would go in is sequels. Five years into the future for each one. The first book establishes Richard, his origin story. The next two books, THE EVERWINTER WRAITH and THE SPLINTERED KING, will take him from 35 to almost 50 years old. I want to look at how we age and how our major life situations change us over the decades. Kind of like how we saw the Harry Potter kids grow up but instead we will see Richard and other characters over decades. Those two sequels are fully outlined and I am currently writing THE EVERWINTER WRAITH as well as writing an Annwn Cycle short story for the forthcoming anthology, UNFETTERED II.

The world itself is rich with history. Celtic mythology, the history of Britain, and the history of the Catholic Church lend themselves well for idea mining. I have way more stories — especially short stories — that I can probably tell. It’s not a bad problem to have!

RS: Often times, making a dream come true requires action. You launched, a small publishing company, to publish The Dark Thorn and its sequels as well as the fantasy short story anthology Unfettered. Was it always your intention to launch a publishing company?

Shawn Speakman:  It was not. Not even close my intention. As I mentioned before, I was diagnosed with Hodgkins in 2011. At the time, THE DARK THORN was making its rounds in New York City with various agents and editors. It was an exciting time. People were genuingly interested in the book, a kind of hybrid between the works of Terry Brooks and Jim Butcher. Then the diagnosis happened. I was angry and heartbroken and angry and angry some more.

I was angry for reasons that might not make sense. I had beaten cancer before. I knew I would do it again. I had little fear that I would lose my life to cancer. But I lacked health insurance.  I had repeatedly been denied coverage from insurance companies due to my pre-existing cancer diagnosis and treating the second cancer was going to financially ruin me. Right when I was thinking about buying a home, settling down, having children, etc. My future had turned upside down in a single afternoon.

That’s when Terry Brooks offered to write me a short story, something I could sell online to keep the bill collectors at bay. He didn’t stop there. He told me to contact my other writer friends. So I did. That’s how the short story anthology UNFETTERED came to be.

Due to the quality of talent in UNFETTERED, I knew there would be a lot of publicity featuring my name. So I pulled THE DARK THORN out of NYC and decided to package it at the same time as UNFETTERED.  It has turned out to be a smart move.

And in a twist of fate, to publish those books and end my medical debt, I had to launch a small press.  Grim Oak Press is that business. More will be coming from Grim Oak Press in the future, especially UNFETTERED II in October 2015! All proceeds from that anthology will go toward alleviating medical debt for other writers and artists, my way of giving back for the generosity shown me.

RS: I have to say, I very much admire where you are in life; webmaster for the amazing fantasy authors Terry Brooks, Naomi Novik, and David Anthony Durham as well as authoring your own fantasy series and freelancing for I will geek out for a moment and say that web development is a career goal of mine, and writing a growing passion. I have been in IT for 14 years and have finally realized what I want to be when I grow up — I want to be you! Okay, I want to be me, but you have shown a light on the path I want to take. How did you get to where you are now? Was all of this a goal or did it just develop over time?

Shawn Speakman:  It definitely developed over time. A lot of tenacity.  A lot of not having shame.  A lot of luck in that I never could have forseen getting cancer — twice even — and how that would shape my future.

For people who wish to write or make a dream a reality, I have a philosophy.  Never give up.  I have been told ‘no’ far more times than I’ve had people say ‘yes.’ That’s where the no shame comes in. I have no shame when it comes to asking people questions — complete strangers even.  I approached Terry about being his webmaster.  I approached the writers in UNFETTERED to submit stories.  I approach writers every week about stopping by my book business, The Signed Page (, and signing books while touring through Seattle.  I let people decide if they want to work with me.  And in doing so, I’ve been told ‘no’ alot.  But the yeses have given me a career.  The trick is learning to treat rejection as a step toward the dream, not a step back from the dream.

RS: You have a LOT on your plate! How do you maintain your passion for writing under all the time constraints?

Shawn Speakman:  It’s difficult. I learned time management very early on.  I force myself to write at least 500 words a day, no matter the other things I have going on.  I write those words in the morning before other things can infringe on my time. There are days when I can write 2000 words if I have nothing else going on and I work hard at making that happen.  Thankfully, I burn out around noon or one in the afternoon, so that leaves the rest of the day doing other things — either other work or opening a book or playing a game with my fiance. I believe in balance. It’s the only true way to be happy!

Ebooks copies of Shawn books can be found here. Follow him on Facebook and @shawnspeakman!


Dark Thorn Cover