Monday, April 23, 2012

Review of Firecracker by Charles R. Verhey

4345 3444

Plot ***
Originality ****
Style ****
Grammar ****
Characters ****
Interactions ****
World ***
Enjoyment ****

Firecracker is an urban fantasy which centers on the life of Aideen Cassidy. She is a “Zoë Blood”, a psychic born with special talents caused by the cure to the “88 Virus” plague that killed thousands of people around the world. That cure was the Zoë Vaccine. The vaccine has created a few thousand of these psychics.

Aideen has had a tough life. She is a thin, chain-smoking, vermillion eyed, red-headed young woman, and she is extremely volatile in all senses of the word. She is a pyrokinetic, a fire starter, so she can, and frequently does, start fires with her mind. She is ruled by her passions and can go from one emotional extreme to the other. Unfortunately for her, when she loses her temper, she creates fires and the object of her ire often doesn't survive. Her uncontrollable gift (or curse) has dominated her life and prevented her from staying in any one place for too long. After burning down every business she has worked for, she is now a pariah and no one will give her a job – even PsychTeam.

PsychTeam is a group of psychics who aid the police in solving crimes and they don't want her. Aideen, is broke and desperate and badgers PsychTeam until she gets an interview with the handsome and charming Agent Li Hung. He tells her bluntly that they don't want her or need her.

Fortunately for Aideen, Agent Le's decision is overridden by the head of PsychTeam, Miyuki. She is a frail little girl with enormous psychic powers whose failing health keeps her from living a normal life and whose psychic visions torment her constantly. Miyuki tells Agent Li that he must hire her and that they will need her for the battle with the shadows that is to come. Aideen's life turns around from there and becomes filled with excitement, romance and drama.

I don't want to go much further into the story line lest I reveal things best revealed by the author.


Firecracker is a well written book. Mr. Verhey's writing is strong and his characters are believable and likeable. Aideen is especially fun because of her volatile nature ( which earns her the title of Firecracker from Agent Li ) She is ruled by her emotions and can go from exuberant to depressed in a matter of seconds. I enjoyed following her along on her ride. She starts out with critically low self esteem but is strong willed and bull headed. It is this latter trait that gets her where she needs to know. As she starts to understand and find positive uses for her power, she becomes more confident and starts gaining a sense of self-worth.

The world that Mr. Verhey has created is interesting, self-consistent and complex. This book reveals some of that world, but hints that there is much more going on than the characters know, even the enigmatic Miyuki with her glimpses of the future.

The story is also well structured with tension gradually building towards a satisfying and dramatic climax.


For my tastes, Mr. Verhey is a bit too cagey with the information he reveals. Even most of the members of the PsychTeam don't know what is really going on. They are kept in the dark as to the nature of the coming threat. The reader is too. There is a lot of hinting and suggesting and shuddering which builds up readers expectations to the point that the actual reveal of the enemy is a bit of a let-down and the story arc is fairly predictable. That being said, there are other very interesting things you discover about the plague and the nature of the Zoë Blood which keeps your interest.

Overall, I give Firecracker 3.5+ stars. The characters are likeable and complex and the story is engaging, even if some of the tension seems a little artificial. I would recommend it to anyone who likes urban fantasy. Its an enjoyable read and a good start to what seems to be a promising new series by a promising new author.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Technical Review Format

I'm trying a new format for my future book reviews. I will rate the novel on several different elements to try and present my opinions of the book in a clear and concise format. This selection of elements is likely to change, but I will keep this post up to date with what I mean by my ratings.  There is a table at the end of this post with some clues as to what I consider the various ratings to mean.  Since I almost exclusively read and review speculative fiction, the world building is of particular importance to me.

Let me know what you think or if you have suggestions for changes.


This is the overall story line. Is the story engaging? Does it have a good rhythm and keep my interest and does it make sense within the boundaries of the author's world. I strongly prefer stories where the good guys win and the bad guys lose. That doesn't mean that the protagonists can't be slapped around a lot.

The originality of the world, characters and plot. Is it original or is it more of a derivative work. In my opinion derivative works can be good reads, but I do prefer originality. Doing original work is increasingly difficult with the explosion of new books we are seeing.

Writing Style
How engaging is the writing? Does it flow? Does the style of the story get out of the way and let you enjoy the story? I prefer a clear and clean writing style with more attention to actions and words than to descriptions.

How well the story has been proofread. Number of grammatical, spelling or typing errors I notice. I tend to not notice grammar much, so if this is less than a four, you can be sure its pretty atrocious.

How well fleshed out are the characters? Are they believable, interesting, and consistent. Do they provoke sympathy and antipathy? Are their actions believable?
This covers interactions between characters and other characters or characters and the world. Strong dialog, realistic interactions, well thought out consequences to the characters actions are important.

This is a rating of the texture, feel, or character of the author's world. I give credit for originality and consistency. I dislike plots which set out the rules and then require the characters to break them to succeed.

This is a measure of how much fun I had reading this book. This is not necessarily tied to any of the other metrics and could possibly be affected by the phases of the moon or the general state of my life.

Here is what I am currently considering each score to mean. In general 1 and 5 are rare and 3 is acceptable.

1 star
2 stars
3 stars
4 stars
5 stars
Couldn't choke it down
Not great, forced, unbelievable, dull
Average reasonable plot
Engaging plot, solid pacing, effective climaxes
Couldn't put it down.
Fan Fic
Mix of new and old. Reasonable
Several original concepts. Refreshing
Truly original work.
Gets in the way of the story but still readable
Reasonably transparent, maybe with a few glitches
Transparent style, solid sentence structure and rhythm
Outstanding style which actively contributes to the enjoyment of the story
hinders story. needs editing
A few mistakes scattered though the book. Not enough to cry about
A couple of mistakes in the entire novel.
Dull, boring, 1 dimensional
Some redeeming value but not compelling. 2 dimensional
Average characters. Not the driving point of the story.
Some good to excellent characters with medium to high complexity
Complex, compelling characters.
Unbelievable, dull, or stilted dialog
Tired interactions, unimaginative dialog. motivations not clear, inconsistent consequences for events
Reasonable dialog reasonably consistent. Some stretching of credulity.
Good solid interactions between characters . believable dialog that is germane to the story.
Great, witty, appropriate reparte. Clever use of world rules by characters.
Inconsistent and arbitrary.
Unbelievable world which detracts from story
World is average. It isn't particularly compelling or bad and doesn't affect the story much.
Interesting world, reasonable rules, consistent interactions.
Fascinating, well developed, believable worlds.
Bleh. Where's the lighter?
I can wade through it if necessary, but rather watch TV
Engaging enough to be worth the read.
Good solid fun. Definitely worth the time
Tickled pink by it. Would actually read it again.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Your Baby Is Ugly

'Your Baby Is Ugly'... That is the hardest thing for any proud parent to hear.  Of course almost no one ever tells a proud parent, showing off their new chip that it should have been kept in the oven for another couple months in the hope that it's just not quite done.  What would be the point?  I suppose if you are mean and nasty and liked to make mothers cry and encourage fathers to punch you in the eye, it might be fun. But, that baby is not here for your benefit and enjoyment, it's here entirely for the parent.

Of course, there are other types of babies. Any time you engage in an act of creation, put your heart and soul into a project, that becomes your baby. When that creation is put out there for the entertainment and edification of the public, some people are going to tell you its ugly.  As a recent proud parent of a couple baby novels, I can tell you that it still hurts to hear.  Unfortunately, as a novelist, I need to hear these sorts of criticisms, examine them and look for the truth in the words.

After you have worked and sweated over every detail of your novel, that doesn't mean that it is as good as you can possibly make it. Things that you envision can be completely obvious to you and the words you chose can elegantly invoke the idea you want to convey - in you, without doing the same thing for someone who doesn't share your brain.  That is the reason we have editors.

One of the problems I have run into as a new author looking to self publish my books is that you have to actually PAY for those editorial instincts.  This can be a problem for a fledgling novelist like myself.  What I was hoping to find was an editor who would read my stories and go, "Wow!  If we were to just switch this around and move that over there and have the pencil shoved through his right ear, instead of his left eye, this would be a miracle of modern story telling!"

But, of course, what is much more common is more of along the lines, "Yeeeew. Why does your baby have a third eye?...Yes, I can see that your novel relies heavily on that third eye, but really no one wants to see that."  Even if you kind of realize that eye number three is a bit dodgy, it hurts to hear someone else confirm it.

So hear's a toast to ugly babies and very thick skin

Monday, April 2, 2012

Too Many Books?

So here it is,  at the end of the first quarter 2012.  I have finished 3 urban fantasy novels in the space of a year, I've paid to have them edited, and now I am trying to get people to read them and review them.  In short, I am trying to do what apparently thousands upon thousands of other self published authors are trying to do:  Get Noticed.

If you explore the book publishing web, you will find hundreds of websites and blogs devoted to book reviews, talking about books, selling books, marketing books, authoring books etc.  Each one of these sites has the same driving goal as self published authors:  Each is trying to get noticed.

The majority of  these sites is run by one or two people, and again like the authors, they face one major basic question:  Should I be writing or should I be marketing?  Both of these are more than full time jobs, so how can you do either of them well if you are stuck doing it all yourself?

The basic answer is, unless you are hyperactive and only sleep a few hours a day, you can't.

For example, I was looking for people to review my books.  I've made offers of free copies on goodreads and on smashwords in return for a review and I have checked a bunch of book reviewing bloggers. So far, I've had one person actually take me up on the deal. It was a good review and the guy liked The Dryad's Kiss, but that doesn't get me very far.

 Looking for more ways to get my name out there  I stopped by a site called  They will let you list yourself as an author there if you can get a good review from one of their list of vetted reviewers.  I looked at around ten of those blogs.  6 of them are overwhelmed and not accepting any new books to review.  The remaining 3 are overwhelmed, but game and try to get to the review in a few months.  One of them has already said the story wasn't  her cup of tea.  The final site was so overwhelmed that they have stopped doing reviews and have promised to erase their 1500 book backlog from their hard-drive.   Sheesh.

So, instead of writing proposals to agents, I am writing proposals to reviewers!  I'm getting the same sort of feedback as well (which is simply yes/no).  So, I've had to resort to getting paid reviews of my books.  Most of the sites out there offering paid reviews like Kirkus promise an honest review but not a good one.  Which, of course, is what you want.  I think, in order to handle the flood, everyone will need to start paying reviews.  I'll let you know how it goes.

This is all an indication that I was right in my earlier blogs.  There is a new flood of self-published writers out there and there is no way that they can be supported in a business as usual fashion.  It looks to me like the need for crowdsourced publishing is just getting more critical.  If reviewers, writers and editors can all partake in the creation of a  book and share in its profits, suddenly, for each author, you will have access to a proportional number of editors and reviewers.  If everyone who is part of the creation of a book is publicized then you can give people credit for the books they have worked on and that will help both them and any new books they collaborate on.