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Book reviews by: R. S. Leergaard

General reviews of books (old & new) that I like. I'm also an amateur writer with several stories up on Wattpad under the pseudonym R. S. Leergaard

A Bit of a Twist – An Anthology of Short Stories

A Bit of a Twist: Read on the Run Anthology - Laurie Axinn Gienapp, Loni Townsend, Robert Petyo, Catherine Valenti, Charles Allen Gramlich, Jacqueline Seewald, Jeffrey Burton Russell

The second volume in the Read on the Run series by Smoking Pen Press, A Bit of a Twist is a collection of twelve short stories by various authors. Each of the stories presents its own unique spin on what might be considered a twist, with the first story getting extra credit for being a mini anthology inside an anthology.

 

***

 

David's Not Herewas actually written in five mini sections by five different people (The Asylum). Considering the difficulty of pulling a story like that off, it actually comes out as a fairly smooth effort. The minor attempt at humor in the middle section, though not a story-killer, did distract slightly from what is otherwise an excellently twisted tale of revenge. While I do, in fact, know who wrote that section, I won't embarrass that author by naming him here. 3 stars. (Because of the middle ;) )

 

Eternal Youthshows what might happen when one's goals are repeatedly put off due to the various stresses of living from day to day. While the story seems to drag at first, once the twist at the end is revealed, it turns out the story was exactly as detailed as it needed to be. One of my favorites. 4,5 stars.

 

The Reunionturns out to be a tale of revenge, but not in the way such stories usually go. The twist at the end of this one is sure to give several readers pause as they wonder what they might do if confronted with a similar revelation. 4 stars.

 

An Air of Authority – is one of two tales in this volume with a fantasy setting. It also happens to be mine, so I won't review or rate it. I will say that the setting itself distracts from the flow of the rest of the stories since all but one of the others have contemporary, modern settings. (I will also hope that others aren't as put off by this as it turns out I am.)

 

Down Home – takes a couple of different turns before it reaches its incredibly surprising and very sad conclusion. I really can't think of much else to say here without spoiling the story. 3.5 stars.

 

The Marriage Counselor – has a seemingly effective way of solving relationship issues. In the end, the reader is left wondering how many others used a ruse to achieve their surprise final resolutions. 4 stars.

 

Blind Date – is actually a feel-good tale that ends up turning from the ending one generally expects for what initially appears to be a self-centered and shallow main character. Some may see the ending coming right from the start (and some may not) but that does not detract at all from this wonderful story. 4.5 stars.

 

The Chateau de Puyguilhem – is the other tale with a fantasy setting (although it does exist in the 'real' world). Aside from my already mentioned complaint about how the setting disrupts the flow of this volume, I'm sad to say that I had a hard time following this one, but that's on me, I think. (Apologies to Andrew :( ) I think maybe it was a twist on the old 'Beauty and the Beast' theme, but I'm not 100% sure I got that right. 2.5 stars (mostly because it went way over my head).

 

River Road – takes readers in a surprising direction in the realm of the paranormal, though the revenge factor is pretty standard. No, the surprising twist in this tale is the way the MC and interacts with his sister, Callie. Overall a nice entry for this volume. 3.5 stars.

 

Aliens Among Us – takes the reader on a wildly paranoid ride through the mind of a high school junior just on the verge of maturing. While one might assume that the twist is Frank's sudden and inexplicable assumption that his step father is an alien, that isn't where the real twist lies, but I'll let future readers find that out for themselves. 4 stars.

 

Happily Ever After – is another feel good story, though anyone reading this is going to see a horror story, at least at first. In fact, it actually is a horror story right up until the excellently surprising ending that I'm not going to even hint at, much less reveal. You'll just have to read it for yourselves. 5 stars.

 

The Wish – is a convoluted tale of the round-about travels of a possibly magic lamp. I rather like the concept in this one, but I don't want to give away the twist in this particular tale. I will say that if you find an abandoned lamp on a lonely park bench, leave it alone—and definitely don't make a wish on it. 4 stars.

 

***

 

While this volume is significantly longer than SPP's first ROTR release, 'A Step Outside of Normal', it can still be read in one sitting and offers enough variety of style to keep readers interested until the last page, and I'm not saying this just because one of the stories is mine.

 

As long as Snappy is happy, that's what counts.”

 

4 stars overall.

 

RSL

The Ancient – An Anthology by The Seven

The Ancient: An Anthology by The Seven - Bobbi Carol, Marlie Harris, Sherry Briscoe, Loni Townsend, Troy Lambert, Rochelle Cunningham, Catherine Valenti Not all of the stories in this anthology involve actual lamps (Aladdin's or otherwise) but all do involve wish-granting artifacts of one sort or another, and all of them have their points to make. The themes (and realms) range from sci-fi/fantasy to Lovecraft-esque type horror to everyday normagicity (<<

The Weatherman

The Weatherman - Laurie Axinn Gienapp

Intentional or not, this turns out to be a cautionary tale about how easily public opinion can be manipulated. There is intrigue, suspense, danger, and maybe a little bit of fear at how this could become a real thing.

 

The characters are interesting and believable, as is the plot line and concept behind the tale. Weird as it sounds to say this, readers are taken on a fast and furious ride through the world of weather forecasting. Compelling enough that I read this in one sitting.

 

There needs to be a sequel. Soon.

 

RSL

 

ps: Not every story has to have raging hormones, ravening beasts, or overly heroic heroes. For certain Hollywood types who might be looking for something a little different, this could be it.

A Step Outside of Normal

A Step Outside of Normal - Kathleen Terrell, RS Leergard, Laurie Axinn Gienapp, Catherine Valenti, Theresa D. Thompson

 

A collection of seven short stories by five different authors, A Step Outside of Normal can easily be read during any cross country or other extended flight. I'm not going to write extended reviews of each story since, in some cases, such a review would challenge the story itself in length. Below are short blurbs about each story (except my own) that hopefully will make them sound interesting enough to check them out.



Hell of a Day by Laurie Axinn Gienapp: A very short tale – about four pages – that shows it's sometimes a very bad idea to take your work home with you. Especially when your job is in Hell.



Sunnybrook Acres by Catherine Valenti: A ten page and rather fun tale about the antics of various aging and eccentric super heroes at a certain retirement home.



Pirates by Kathleen Terrell: This one is a cute little tale about a young girl who spends a lot of time daydreaming about all of the men (pirates) who try to date her mother and wishing the father who left when she was five would return.



Always by Theresa Thompson: A heartbroken woman contemplates the end while attending her cheating husband's funeral. About ten pages.



The Book of Xyxyx by R.S. Leergaard: This one is mine so I'm not going to try to describe or review it. I'll only say this is a weird idea that came to me during a midnight to eight am shift as a security guard. About nine pages.



The Double by Laurie Axinn Gienapp: A flower shop owner comes to believe she's being stalked by her doppelganger double, who thinks she's being stalked by her doppelganger double. Eight pages



Rage by Catherine Valenti: At seventeen pages, this is by far the longest story in the book. It's a violent tale of anger, murder and betrayal. It only goes to show that sometimes a little vengeance is good for the soul.



All-in-all this is an interesting and unusual set of stories that should capture and hold the readers attention during an otherwise boring trip. Best of all, you should be able to finish it in that one sitting.



RSL

New Realm Vol. 04 No. 08

New Realm Vol. 04 No. 08 - Douglas W. Lance, Jill Hand, Terry Ibele, R. S. Leergaard, Alice Loweecey, Brian Barr

New Realm is one of several monthly magazines published by FictionMagazines.com, usually featuring five short fantasy stories from five different authors.

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Story #1 – The One by R. S. Leergaard

For fairly obvious reasons, at least to me, I won't be reviewing/critiquing the first story because it's mine. I will say that the story called “The One' was written in June of 2013 for a monthly challenge at a fantasy writers' site. The challenge was as follows:

 

Your challenge is to write a story based on a cliché that's in some way reversed. For instance, the the heroine rescuing a beautiful prince from an enchanted tower. It doesn't have to be a gender issue, though, just a cliché turned on its head.

That's what I did with 'The One.'. More accurately, I took several fantasy clichés and exaggerated them to the point of cartoonish silliness, and maybe turned one or two of them a little sideways.

#

Story #2 – Wurm by Jill Hand

Wurm is an ancient dragon who has survived to modern times and is being less than capably – and honestly – represented by his current servant, Dennis Twombey. And then the lawyers get involved and things go from bad to worse as Dennis has to juggle several problems – including his daughter, her mother and a RenFair owner (Sir Richard Blott) – at once while keeping Wurm happy.

A lot of little but interconnected things happen that lead up to a final confrontation between Wurm the dragon and Sir Blott. Although it's not your typical happy ending, the story does end happily as Dennis learns a valuable lesson about honesty and fairness … and that, as far as I'm concerned, is a good thing.

Far too many stories, movies and tv shows these days seem to think that a story isn't any good unless it contains blood, guts and “gritty realism” and that gets to be a little draining at times—at least to me. I can see that sort of thing any time by simply turning on the cable news channels or almost any drama series.

It's kind of nice to read a feel-good story with a happy ending once in a while. :)

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Story #3 – A Trail of Breadcrumbs by Alice Loweecey

An interesting little tale that takes a bit of a turn when the bounty hunter, Jade, discovers the criminals she's hunting are her own brothers. Also complicating matters is the constant danger of Alternate World collisions and changes those events sometimes cause. In the middle of the hunt for the rest of her brothers – she's already captured one – another Alt-World collision occurs, sending Jade back in time five years where she learns of a different history where her brothers aren't the criminals she believed them to be. Or maybe it's not that simple.

This tale has several twists and turns in it, and it leaves everyone – including the reader – wondering which reality is actually real.

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Story #4 – Godswap Apocalypse by Terry Ibele

Who knew there was so much red tape involved in the transferring of God's power? Certainly George didn't. And what good is it when the only thing one has figured out how to do is end the world? These and others are questions George had never received an answer to until his latest universe scenario landed him in an office building where such things are decided.

This story is an often amusing account of how even the universe and the transfer of power from God to God is governed by certain bureaucratic rules and regulations.

#

Story #5 – The Shadow Ward by Brian Barr

One of the nine necromancer flutes, the flute of Saturn and Mercury, has been stolen and the Shadow Ward, Ludwig has been sent to retrieve it. His search takes him from stable hand to pirate to the former slave and current possessor of the Babylonian flute, Mawuli, aka Sarah. She and her common-law husband, Patrick Goodfellow, almost destroy Ludwig before re-enforcements arrive to save him and return the flute.

There's a lot of back story and other details told, of course, but in the end, the twist here is that the bad guy wins, though one is left to wonder if there is such a thing as a 'good' necromancer.

#

The common theme for all five stories, as far as I can see that there is one, is that all of them have some sort of plot and/or character twist that turns the story away from the usual and expected conclusions. All-in-all this could be a fun and interesting addition to anyone's collection of anthologies.



RSL

Compact Discworlds: The Colour of Magic, The Light Fantastic, Equal Rites, Mort

 

 

See Rincewind run. Run, Rincewind, run. That, in a nutshell, sums up the essence of Terry Pratchett's first main character, Rincewind.

 

His first two Discworld novels—The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic—are actually one long story split into two short novels starring Rincewind, a failed wizard, and Twoflower, the Discworld's first tourist.

 

Rincewind is a self-avowed coward who spends all of his time running from danger only to find greater danger at his destination. He's coerced by the Patrician into accompanying and protecting Twoflower, a tourist from the Counterweight Continent, who has managed to leave that very restrictive society in order to see the world, meet heroes and villains, buy questionable sausages from disreputable street vendors . . . you know, have an adventure.

 

For most Terry Pratchett fans Rincewind is an all-or-nothing character. He's either their favorite character or they hate him. There's very little middle ground, though I'm one of the few standing in the firmly undecided category. I'm not fond of his mostly cowardly nature, but when push comes to shove, Rincewind usually does the right thing - and always regrets it.

 

While it's easy to tell the the author [Pratchett] is just getting his feet wet in his new universe, his wisdom and humor are evident right from the start and first time readers will notice a magical reflection of the 'real world' in this one.

 

All that being said, it is not necessary to begin reading the Discworld series from the beginning, and I am in the camp of fans who do not recommend it. About the only things you'll miss are some basic world building, which you'll easily pick up in later books, and the scene where Unseen University's librarian gets turned into an orangutan. That story, specifically which spell does it, is never repeated in any other book (later books only say that an out of control spell did it, they never again say which one, and I'm not going to tell you here). While I don't recommend starting with the first two books, at some point they must be read.

 

Most of Mr. Pratchett's early books are unrelated to each other, though several characters have multiple stories and there is some crossover, but the series can be started anywhere in the first six to eight books or so without losing too much context. After Guards! Guards! some characters start repeating (including Rincewind, who pops up briefly in other books (book five) and stars in a couple more much later books).

 

The third book, Equal Rites, is as good a place as any to start. While Death is arguably Mr. Pratchett's most iconic character, Granny Weatherwax, de facto leader of the Ramtops witches, is right up there at the top of the list and this is the story that introduces her. Many of the author's most famous (and quotable) quotes come from Equal Rites.

 

A dying wizard arrives in the village Bad Ass, far up in the Ramtop Mountains, and bequeaths his wizard's staff to the eighth son of an eighth son . . . village blacksmith, Gordo Smith. There's just one problem. Gordo Smith's eighth son is a daughter. The Discworld's first, and only, female wizard. What comes next is a wild, and often hilarious, exploration of what it's like to be a woman (or in this case an eight-year-old girl) in a man's world.

 

Book four, Mort, is the first book where Death is a main character, though he has at least a cameo appearance in very nearly every book. Even if he's never mention by name, Death is instantly recognizable by his voice. HE ALWAYS SPEAKS IN ALL CAPS.

 

In Mort, Death takes on an apprentice, Mort of course, then decides he wants to find out what it's like to be human and goes on vacation. Mort, however, is not yet ready for the full responsibilities of being Death and makes a mess of it. Complicating matters is that Mort is slowly falling in love with Death's adopted and very human daughter, Ysabel.

 

Even if your first exposure to Terry Pratchett's Discworld is this compilation, I still recommend starting with Equal Rites and/or Mort before going back to the first two stories. You won't miss much except the surprise, and eventual joy, of the librarian becoming an orangutan, and you'll be captivated by the hidden depths of the Discworld as Mr. Pratchett begins to really hit his stride in the later books.

 

I was, anyway.

 

R S L

 

*Terry Pratchett's Discworld series is probably the only series I know of that can best be described with an oxymoron - “These books are seriously funny!*

 

Forge of Heaven

Forge of Heaven - C.J. Cherryh

Set in Ms. Cherryh's Gene Wars universe, Forge of Heaven is filled with political intrigue, betrayal, and, in the end, perhaps a tiny hint of hope.

 

The plot and theme of this story is well conceived and delivered. In a nutshell, Earth and the Inner Worlds claim to have evidence that banned First Movement nanotechnology may have escaped from the last outpost known to possess it, an unnamed world monitored and proscribed by Concord Station because the last survivors of the First Movement—humans who are essentially immortal because of the complex nanoceles that inhabit their bodies—still survive there.

 

That world and its attendant station are inside the alien ondat space, and the station is unique in that it is the only one that has both human and ondat observers, and their mission is to ensure that the last vestige of First Movement technology never again escapes the planet's gravity well. An Earth ship's unscheduled visit and secretive mission is the cause of the all of the ensuing intrigue and turmoil.

 

A huge plus for this book is that the characters are just as interestingly delivered as the storyline.

 

Marak trin Tain – Immortal human survivor of the Hammerfall (see first book in the series), considered by the ondat to be the only honest Man.

 

Procyon [nee: Jeremy Stafford] – Youngest of Marak's three taps (monitors), and stated subject of Earth's investigation.

 

Ardath [nee: Arden Stafford] – Procyon's sister and leader of the Stylists who inhabit the Trend.

 

Antonio Brazis – Head of the Planetary Office and administrator of the Outsider section of Concord Station.

 

Setha Reaux - Earth appointed governor of Concord Station, he manages the earther sections of it.

 

and

 

Kekellen – Alien ondat observer of everyone and everything.

 

Of all the interesting characters in this book, my favorite is the alien ondat known as Kekellen, a mysterious presence who is never physically described and is only seen once by Procyon [Jeremy Strafford], and that during a pain-fueled fugue.

 

Kekellen sends robotic minions into the human sections of Concord Station to collect, among other things: orange juice; table salt; live lettuce; eight canisters of liquid chlorine; and a sculpture. While (s)he/it is supposed to only be in contact with station officials, he occasionally sends queries to regular Joes; ie – a plumber on deck three and Procyon (to say hello). While there is a hot-line of official translators for such people to consult when this happens, the person is expected to answer in his/her own name or Kekellen will continue sending the inquiries that jam the system and disrupt all station business until (s)he/it gets an answer.

 

Forge of Heaven is an interesting, enjoyable, and, in my opinion, much more fun sequel to Hammerfall. This is not to imply that Hammerfall is bad or boring or uninteresting - it is none of those things. It is, in fact, a necessary read if you want the full history of Earth and the Inner Worlds, the Outsiders and the ondat. It's just that I like Forge of Heaven better than the first Gene Wars book. My only regret is that Forge of Heaven is the last (so far) entry in her [Ms. Cherryh's] Gene Wars universe.

 

R S L

Santiago: A Myth of the Far Future

Santiago: A Myth of the Far Future - Mike Resnick

For those who like hard science in their science fiction, this book is not for you. Oh, there are faster-than-light spaceships (including one that used to be a human*), laser and sonic pistols, alien races, and a galaxy-wide civilization, but this story is all about the characters; the science takes a back seat here.

 

The story is told in six parts (Books) from the point of view of six of the many characters that populate this tale, all of whom have a compelling reason for wanting to find the most wanted man in the galaxy: 

 

 

Santiago

 

Bandit, murderer, known to all, seen by none...has he killed a thousand men? Has he saved a dozen worlds? His legend is as large as the Rim itself, his trail as elusive as a wisp of starlight in the empty realms of space. The reward for him is the largest in history.

 

Santiago

 

Do you dare chase him?



So reads the back-cover of this charming and compelling tale.

 

Every chapter but one starts with a verse from an epic saga written by Black Orpheus, the Bard of the Inner Frontier, and every verse is about one of the many legendary characters the Bard met in his travels. Of course, one didn't become legendary until one was written up by Black Orpheus and tagged with a sobriquet.

 

There are: *Schussler the Cyborg, an unhappy melding of man and machine; Simple Simon, killer for hire whose specialty was hidden laser traps (anything but simple); Halfpenny Terwilliger, gambler extraordinaire; and a plethora of bounty hunters, (Giles Sans Pitié, Peacemaker McDougal, Johnny One-Note to name a few), all connected to or searching for the bandit king, Santiago. Only to be expected when the Democracy is offering twenty million credits for the head of said bandit king, whether or not it is still connected to the body.

 

But the real stars are the six main characters, and the larger-than-life stories behind them. And larger-than-life they are, bordering on tall tale proportions a-la Paul Bunyon, Pecos Bill and Alfred Bulltop Stormalong.

 

No, there's no hard science here, but there is a fun read full of non-stop action and adventure that could easily be set in the Wild, Wild West.

 

I loved this one.

 

R S L

Storm Front

Storm Front - Jim Butcher

Meet Harry Dresden. He's in the greater Chicagoland yellow pages . . . under Wizards. He doesn't do love potions, endless purses, parties, or other entertainment.

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That's how Storm Front – Jim Butcher's first entry into the world of The Dresden Files begins. It's a world filled with supernatural beings like: vampires, zombies, other wizards and wardens (Beware of the White Council), demons, and many varied fae creatures from what the author [Butcher] calls the nevernever, including of course, faeries (but don't call them that).

 

One of Harry's few allies is Detective Lt. Karrin Murphy of Chicago's Special Investigations, whose squad is always tasked with the weird cases that no-one else can—or is even willing—to investigate. But Karrin Murphy has seen things, man. She believes in things that go bump in the night, and sometimes she hires Harry as a consultant.

 

Harry, however, has serious authority issues, and there are certain things he can't tell his friend and ally [Murphy] about—number one on that list being the existence of The White Council. Also, Harry is a wiseass with a very defined set of morals and a tendency to piss people off, including: a mobster boss [Gentleman Johnny Marcone]; his number one henchman [Hendricks]; a White Council Warden [Morgan]; Murphy—at one point—for keeping things from her; and an unknown and powerful wizard who is literally ripping people's hearts out with magic; a clear violation of the First Law of Magic.

 

Unfortunately, there are only a few people alive, much less in Chicago, who have the power to pull such powerful magic off, and Harry is one of them. Now, suspected, hampered and hindered by both the mortal police and a White Council Warden, Harry must find and stop this new and powerful wizard before he claims his next victim . . . Harry.

 

There's a lot to like in this debut novel of The Dresden Files: plenty of action, suspense and danger; Harry's snarky attitude, which provides much of the book's humor; and paranormal overtones that border on being believable. Mr. Butcher introduces a lot of characters and a detailed world in this first entry, and he paints them with a broad brush and a colorful palette.

 

It's well worth the price of admission.

 

R S L

The Architect of Sleep

 

An interesting alternate world tale told through the eyes of main character James Bentley and the translated journal of his to-be friend, Truck.

 

He [Bentley] arrives in this alternate reality in the standard way—through an inter-dimensional portal (there are, after all, only so many ways to get to an alternate world) he stumbles across while exploring a previously undiscovered section of a popular cave.

 

The first 'person' Bentley meets is the other main character, a large (about 5'6”), bipedal, intelligent raccoon he dubs [Truck] after a pet raccoon his ex-roommate once had.

 

The book is divided more or less equally into chapters that are labeled as Narrative of James Bentley and Narrative of Truck, as translated by James Bentley, which is where his [Bentley's] first difficulty is revealed. The raccoons do not have highly developed vocal chords, therefore their language, so to sign, is almost entirely visual. Sign language, which Bentley has to learn before he can translate Truck's journal. This the author [Boyett] explains early on.

 

The majority of James Bentley's narrative is devoted to introspection on himself—some initial self-pity and other emotional concerns, worry about others (including his dog), whether he'll ever get back to his (our) world and/or see another human person (female)—and speculation about how a raccoon-based culture came about and a primate-based culture didn't. This also leads to more questions and self-doubts about himself and whether or not he has anything of value to offer his new friend [Truck]. After all, he's a lit major. He could tell them about advanced technology (cars, cell phones, etc.), but he can't tell them how these things work, or even adequately draw a diagram of one.

 

Truck's narrative is divided between her speculation on Bentley's nature and how he came to be there, and worry about her current situation and her plans to remedy it. For Truck is a leader of one of the provinces of her world, a True Dreamer that her people title an Architect of Sleep, and she's been deposed. One of Truck's true dreams showed her when and where Bentley was going to arrive and that he would be important to her and her struggle to regain her chair.

 

And she needs her chair back quickly because she also dreams of a near future cataclysm that is going to cause massive destruction across several provinces, tens or possibly hundreds of thousands of deaths from flooding, and disease and famine from loss of crops.

 

Between the two narratives, Boyett does an admirable job of setting up and building this world, and it's clear he's done some research of evolutionary theories/possibilities, or at least given a fair amount of thought to it. The characters and his world are fully fleshed out, interesting as hell, and believable, even if all but one of them are raccoons. There's plenty of action here too, for those who like a rousing adventure, not to mention a fair amount of humor. His [Boyett's] world is largely medieval, technology wise, but one gets the feeling that the raccoon culture is just on the verge of their equivalent of an industrial revolution.

 

This brings me to the major criticism all of Mr. Boyett's previous reviewers had. The story doesn't have an adequate ending, or an ending at all. For the author's explanation as to how and why this happened, see this link:

Calico Cat

 

I don't know if Berkley/Ace publishing ever responded with their side of the story or not (I've not been able to find one) but as this all happened in the late 80's (1986), when publishers had all the power, it's highly unlikely the story will ever be finished. And that's a damn shame because this is a very enjoyable tale. Even though it leaves a lot of questions and situations unresolved, I highly recommend this book for it's thoughtful nature and entertainment value. It's still one of my favorites despite its drawback.

 

R S L