Broken Empires: Aftermath by E.A. Copen – a review

I continue to marvel at Copen’s versatility as an author. With Broken Empires, she begins a space opera. I actually had to do some research on how space operas work and how they’re formatted. With that said, here’s my review.

Copen begins her description of the book with three words: Soldier, Traitor, Savior. We soon learn that she’s describing Timothy Val. The Senjele Empire is restless, and rebellion is breaking out in some of the outer planets. Val is one of those sent to quell the rebellion on the backwater planet of Toria. Ethical questions begin immediately as members of Val’s squad wonder about shooting people who are part of their empire. Once the rebellious planet is subdued, Val is faced with another ethical dilemma about how to deal with the rebellious subjects. His response sets the rest of the book in motion.

Copen, as an author, reveals a lot about humanity. In her other books, she veils the message by sending it through the monsters of urban fantasy (Judah Black series, Beasts of Babylon). In Broken Empire: Aftermath, the message comes from a humanoid species forcing the reader to think about the best and the worst of humanity. Val becomes involved in a web of political intrigue that involves the emperor, his sons, his wife, a senator who is part of the revolution, in his own words, and a complicated slave belonging to the senator. All this plays against the background of Val’s family history.

If things aren’t bad enough for the Senjelens, relationships with the Erolyians, long time enemies, continue to worsen. Intrigue abounds in the Erolyian Empire as well and the Emperor of Erolyia seems to have some interesting powers. Bring in an unwelcomed birth and the emperor as a distraught father and husband, and the possibilities are endless.

One of Copen’s strengths in my eyes is that readers always want the story to go on. She weaves amazing stories that you don’t want to stop. Aftermath fits that pattern well, perhaps too well. Without giving too much away, the ending is closer to “The Empire Strikes Back” than “A New Hope.” Honestly, I was hoping for a resolution to one of the story lines, but I understand that Space Opera is like that. The good news is that more books are in the planning stage according to rumors I’ve heard!

The above disappointment aside, I really enjoyed this book. It has a few language issues that bother me, but most people aren’t as easily offended as I am. If you can’t live with profane language, you may have some issues with the book. Most of the time, though, they don’t come into play. I can recommend this book because Copen, in spreading her wings even further than she has in the past, plays to her strength and develops a great story that makes it hard to put the book down.

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New Year, Old Problem: Innocent Author Rank-Stripped For Third Time

While I’m not likely to have this problem, it’s something for authors to be aware of.

David Gaughran

Kristi Belcamino is really being messed around by Amazon. Yesterday morning, she was rank-stripped for the third time, and it appears to be happening every time she puts a book free – even before she hits the promo sites or moves up the charts.

Back in September, Kristi was one of the unfortunate (and innocent) authors who were unfairly rank-stripped by Amazon for several weeks. She had a BookBub promotion which catapulted her up to #3 in the Free charts on September 18, was then rank-stripped, and didn’t have the sanction lifted until October 22 – over one month later.

Along with all the other authors I wrote about in October’s post Amazon’s Hall of Spinning Knives, Kristi received the standard form letter about rank manipulation from Amazon KDP’s Compliance team, regarding her book Blessed are the Peacemakers.

Hello,

We detected that purchases or borrows of your book(s)…

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One Last Performance

By the way, I’ll accept other title ideas. I came up with a short story idea earlier this morning and decided to play with it. Constructive feedback is welcome.


Jason looked at himself in the mirror, using an eyeliner pencil to make the last necessary adjustments to his makeup. “Perfect!” he said out loud, even though no one could hear him. He still got a private dressing room, in deference to his past greatness. He may not have the starring roles anymore. He might make more mistakes in his lines, but he still commanded the respect of audiences and directors.

There was a knock on the door. “Ten minutes, Mr. Riordan,” the assistant to the assistant director called as he opened the door just a crack to deliver his message.

Jason smiled. His timing on getting his makeup done was still impeccable. Ever since he’d started in theater, he had done his own makeup. “It helps me as I become my character,” he had told countless makeup artists. And now, his routine to get into character would continue. He stared at the mirror, inspecting his makeup one last time. Satisfied, he slowly closed his eyes and went over the play in his mind.

His first play ever had been a church play where he had been shepherd number 3 in the Christmas pageant. He saw the character playing Joseph follow this same routine, and he’d adopted it ever since. It had served him well as his characterizations had earned him three Tony nominations. He allowed himself to reminisce about that history for about five seconds, and then went back to work. He muttered softly as he told himself where to make his entrances, he recited his lines.

He needed to be perfect this last night of his career, and he got so engaged in his thoughts, that he realized he must have missed the underling’s five-minute call. He heard the overture playing. He cursed silently to himself, knowing that his routine called for him to be ready in the wings just before the overture started playing. Now, he rushed to get to his place, so he could relax for a few seconds before his entrance. The director had made a special accommodation to allow him to begin this, his last play, alone on the stage with one extra line, so that the audience could acknowledge their appreciation for his career.

They had flocked to see the once-great Jason Riordan in his last performance. Those who had acted alongside him, those who had seen him, and those who had just heard about him – he was one of the few truly beloved actors. He got to his spot on the wing with a little over a minute to spare, and he took a couple of cool-down breaths. Then, he did that which he had never done before in his career, he pulled back the curtain and sneaked a peak at the audience. The lights kept him from seeing much of the audience, but those people he saw and recognized left him with a slight case of stage fright.

He closed the curtain and took another deep breath, and then, he was on. From that first, special line, to his performance throughout the play, to his final line, he was perfect. He didn’t suffer from the missed lines or cues that had plagued him in recent years. His swan song performance was amazing, and the audience recognized it. Audience decorum was thrown to the winds as his fans screamed his name and he took bow after bow. The stage hands picked up flowers that were thrown in congratulations. He left the stage triumphantly after one of his finest performances ever. He walked back to his dressing room accepting handshakes, hugs, and pats on the backs from the cast and crew of his last show. He kept looking at the floor, lest they see his tears, and by doing this, missed seeing their tears as well. He arrived at his dressing room for the last time and sat down, laying his head on the makeup table to rest for a few minutes before taking his makeup off one, last time. He didn’t want to take it off just yet, because that would make his retirement too final.

There was a knock on the door. “Five minutes, Mr. Riordan,” the assistant to the assistant director called as he opened the door just a crack to deliver his message. This time he waited for the customary acknowledgment. There was none. He knocked harder, and called out louder. When he got no answer, he ran in and saw Jason slumped with his head down on the makeup table. He checked for a pulse. When he didn’t get a pulse, he ran out in the hall and looked for a stage hand. “Get the director!” he yelled.

“Sir, the director’s …” the stage hand began.

He cut him off. “Don’t argue with me. Get the director now.” When he saw him hesitate, he added, “This is a real emergency.”

The stage hand finally believed him, ran off and came back with the director. “Jones, I don’t know what this is about, but it better be a real emergency.”

He gestured for the director to follow him. When the director saw Jason, he stopped in his tracks. “That how you found him?” he asked.

He nodded.

The director walked over and tried to find a pulse himself. He teared up a little when he realized that Riordan was gone. He walked around and looked at his face. He couldn’t help but wipe away his tears and smile himself when he saw Riordan’s smile. It was his after-performance, embarrassed smile that he used when he’d look at the director and ask if they couldn’t make the curtain calls stop. “It would have been one, great, last performance,” he said as he closed Riordan’s eyes.

 

Dragon Award Nominations – Make Yours Now

Dragon Award Nominations – Make Yours Now

I had the privilege of going to Dragon Con over the Labor Day weekend this year. Yes, I should have been at home helping with hurricane cleanup, but I wanted to go to have the chance to learn about writing, and the marketing of writing, from some of the best. And that I did. I don’t know if I’ll be able to make Dragon Con next year, but I would really enjoy the opportunity.

One of the highlights of Dragon Con comes during the Dragon Con Awards in various categories. One of the surprise nominees the last two years has been R.R. Virdi for his books Grave Measures, and Dangerous Ways. Dangerous Ways was just announced as the “Book of the Year” for 2016 by Drop of Ink reviews. Both books were nominated in the Fantasy category – they’re Urban Fantasy masterpieces. I had the chance to meet Virdi and truly enjoyed him as a person. Another author I had the chance to meet was D.R. Perry whose book, A Change in Crime, was nominated in the category of Alternative History. Perry whose series on Providence Paranormal College is highly whimsical, was equally skilled at this Prohibition era crime thriller – with a twist. She is also a wonderful person.

I mention this because you can begin making nominations for the Dragon Awards for the 2018 convention. You can only nominate once in any category, so use your nominations wisely. You can go back and nominate in another category later if you come across a worthy nominee. I’m going to be honest with you and share my nominees so far. First, in the Fantasy section, I’m pretty sure that R.R. Virdi’s newest release, Grave Dealings, is one of the best books of the year and is a worthy candidate. I seriously considered E.A. Copen’s book, Playing With Fire, for this category, but I stayed with Virdi’s book because I love it just a little more than Copen’s book. I’d also like to see Virdi get a third nomination. Could the third time be the charm? Speaking of Copen, though, her book Beasts of Babylon is awesome and a worthy nominee in the horror category. Beasts of Babylon was just named book of the year for 2017 by Drop of Ink reviews. I think this book deserves the nomination and support. I had a chance to meet Copen at Dragon Con as well and found her also to be a great person.

There’s one other book I will probably nominate: Wiser Guys by D.R. Perry. I haven’t read it yet, but if it’s the quality of A Change in Crime then I’ll be happy to lend it the recognition it deserves.

So here’s my suggestions. First, read the books I’ve mentioned to see if they’re worthy of nominating in your view. If not, then nominate your favorite books in these categories. Second, make the nominations. Third, Dragon Con is an overwhelming experience, but let me suggest that you look into going if you like those convention experiences. The experience was amazing.

Just a note on how I linked: Links on the author’s names go to their websites. Links on their books go to their Amazon pages so you can see all their work.

Top Ten Graves Moments – Reblog

Leslie Conzatti over at Upstream Writer put together a top 10 list of moments from the Grave Report Series (the first two books). I’m sharing her first two, and then giving you a link to the rest. If you’ve read the series, do you agree with her? What other moments would you consider. If you haven’t read the series, maybe this will give you a good introduction and spike your interest.


Hit List: Top 10 Vincent Graves Moments from “The Grave Reports” by R. R. Virdi

Vincent Graves. Those who know him, love him. Those who don’t know him–have no idea what they’re missing. A man reduced to literally a soul and begrudgingly whisked through time and space at the behest of a higher power, if there’s anything Vince consistently carries with him, it’s the sarcasm, the nerdy references, the brash impulsiveness–and at the bottom of it all, the unshakable belief that he can use his constantly-repeating life to make all the difference in the world, even if he has to break a few supernatural rules to do it. It’s that heart that drives us back to him and keeps us thirsty for more–and it’s moments like these ten (in no particular ranked order) that live in our imaginations and keep us giggling even when the peril is at its greatest!
1. Scaring The Bejeezus Out Of The Old Groundskeeper
We first meet Vince Graves in Grave Beginnings… literally bashing his way out of a grave. If that’s not a totally fitting introduction for a character, I don’t know what is!
It’s not just the fact that he knows all the statistics and “insider information” about being buried in a coffin, though… It’s when he gets out, and there’s this old man standing there–Vince has the gall to greet him with the well-timed phrase, “Well whaddya know? You really can dig your way here from China!” Whereupon the groundskeeper clutches his chest and keels over… and so the fun and games begin!
2. “Supernatural Douche Kitty.”
Hands-down my favorite line from the first book, Grave Beginnings. And absolutely a fitting insight into his character. See, the supernatural don’t fight by what we mortals consider “fair.” Things like inanimate objects, gravity, empirical senses–everything is fair game when you’re tracking a supernatural entity! This was the moment, though, where things began to really take a turn for the “holy altered state of reality, Batman!” Vince is on the trail of discovering the monster who killed the person whose body he currently inhabits (yeah… it takes some getting used to…) when said entity decides to throw him off–by animating a bronze tiger statue in front of a nearby Asian restaurant! Vince responds with his customary dry wit, understating the visual of a full-size tiger made of metal chasing him down the streets of Manhattan by referring to it as a “kitty.” And from that moment on, I knew I was going to love this series forever.
To read the rest of the Top Ten, go to Upstream Writer
Author Interviews – R. R. Virdi

Author Interviews – R. R. Virdi

I didn’t get a chance to interview Mr. Virdi before the release of Grave Dealings, but two other authors did. I’m going to post excerpts from their interviews, and then send you to their page. Both are successful authors in their own realm. First, the interview from E. A. Copen, author of the Judah Black series and The Beasts of Babylon:

E.A: First of all, welcome and  tell us a little about your new book. 

R.R. Virdi: Grave Dealings is book three in the Dragon Award-nominated urban fantasy series, The Grave Report. It picks up with Vincent Graves waking up in a new body in Queens, New York, and already hunted by the paranormal instead of doing the hunting. No reprieve for our free spirit and paranormal investigator. He’s got 57 hours to find who’s behind a string of devilish bargains that’s leaving a line of dead bodies.

E.A.: It was really exciting to read! Now, I don’t want to spoil anything, but this book has a really unique monster. Can you tell us how you decide which monsters to use and where you find them? 

R.R. Virdi: My passion of mythology. I love reading about it all the time anyhow. That gives me a near-encyclopedic knowledge to draw from, and then I just pluck what seems most fun to me, whatever I can twist.

The full interview can be found on Copen’s website.

The second interview was conducted by D. R. Perry, author of the Dragon Award nominated A Change in Time and the whimsical urban fantasy series about Providence Paranormal College.

D.R.- You’re ready to write and have your pen and paper or computer or microphone ready. What else do you need during your session?

R.R.- Music (without lyrics) really helps me focus. I’m ADHD, so the constant engagement without distracting lyrics helps me tune out other things and set a constant workflow/pattern. I prefer what some people call, “Epic music.” It’s bombastic, orchestral, evocative, stuff from movies, games, anime.

You can read the full interview on Perry’s website.

Diving Into Grave Dealings

At last! It’s here! Fans of The Grave Report series have been waiting anxiously for the latest installment of the series, Grave Dealings, for a long time. It was worth the wait. R.R. Virdi brings Vincent Graves to life again in another great story. Yes, I had an Advanced Reader Copy so that I could write the review below. (Just so you don’t think I’m trying to hide anything.) I can tell you how much I like it by saying that the first thing I did was order a paperback copy so that I had the book in my collection. The enjoyment of the book is well worth the price.

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I have got to find a different place to read the next Grave Report book. Seriously. The edge of my seat is so worn down from this most recent book that I’m sure I’d keep falling on the floor going through another action-packed story like Grave Dealings from the Grave Report. Grave Dealings lives up to, no surpasses the standards of excellence that Virdi has established in “Grave Beginnings” and “Grave Measures,” as Vincent Graves comes back for another amazing case.

For those of you not familiar with the basic concept, Vincent Graves is a paranormal detective with a bit of a twist. He’s dead. Graves isn’t even really his name. He doesn’t know what his name is. He comes back to life in the body of the victim of a paranormal crime with the responsibility to bring the paranormal criminal to justice – which is a gentle way of saying he has to kill them. He arrives in the most unusual circumstances, depending on how the dearly departed was disposed of. In Grave Dealings, Graves wakes up sinking into a watery grave. He has to extricate himself from his bindings, swim back to the surface, and then quickly find the nearest church where he meets his contact, Church, who gives Graves all kinds of information, as long as it isn’t about him or the case. In this episode, though, Graves is hounded by another monster who tries to kill him even before the case starts. And the fun begins.

(Note: there may be spoilers from here on out. Be forewarned)

Daniel Kim has been murdered by unknown paranormal creatures and dumped into the ocean. What better way for Vincent Graves to begin a case than falling deeper and deeper into the water. He gets out of the water, and begins his quest to solve his body’s murder. While Graves is trying to do that, other forces are seeking to kill him. Along the way he runs into an old friend who apparently had feelings for the person who used to inhabit the body Graves is using now. This makes for some awkward relationship issues along the way. We’re introduced to a new character who brings Graves and company into the 21st century with her computer hacking and blogging skills.

Graves and his old friend outwit the monsters trying to kill him, and discover who had put the hit out on him only to realize that this was part of an old deal comes back to haunt him, and he gets dragged to a paranormal ball in the Neravene. (Do be careful who you deal with, it will come back to haunt you in the most inconvenient ways.) During the ball, his services become a highly valued gift, when he proves himself in a life or death match; meanwhile, his “date” to the ball causes all sorts of trouble in what was a “coming out” party for her.

Still, the case goes on and the time Graves has left keeps dropping. Graves puts it all together when he notices how many friends of the meat skin he’s using seem to have been unduly successful, and yet, still were dying. In the end, Graves takes on the monsters killing Daniel Kim and his friends off and crushes them, solving the case so that he can say good bye to friends old and new and get ready to move onto the next case.

As you read through this book, you’ll realize that Virdi is holding a mirror up to society, and to each of us. What are our dreams? What are our ambitions? What would we do to accomplish those dreams? What kind of deals would we cut to gain success. You cannot read this book without reflecting on those questions, and the answers might scare you. Still Virdi does this in such a skillful manner that you don’t realize that you’ve done it until after you’ve finished reading the book.