The Legacy of the Gods: Zeus’ Warriors by Michael West (Review)

Book cover for Zeus' Warriors

The third installment of “The Legacy of the Gods: Zeus’ Warriors” is, appropriately enough, out just before Halloween. A world of shape-changing Lovecraftian, and worse, creatures that are all battling for control of the world are perfect for that time of year.

Author Michael West has diligently continued the story of main human protagonists Earl Preston and Carol Miyagi.  Also included are some familiar faces from Poseidon’s Children, favorites who are suddenly thrust back into the limelight.

Homicidal human monster Dante “Horror Show” Vianello is back, along with his enigmatic cellmate Preacher. Vivian Song, Dante’s nemesis has also returned and she is as terrifying as before. Song’s favorite Brit; Benny, who is Vivian’s lover is also back, much to Earl’s chagrin.

Book Two saw Carol Miyagi get critically injured by Yeti’s.  Alan and Kari, both of whom love Carol, struggle to get her treated in the mysterious ark found in the mountains.

Song and her henchmen, or hench-were-creatures, are steadily taking everything they need to rule the world.

West has continued building this world of “mutating” creatures that are locked in a battle as old as time. The first novel, “Poseidon’s Children” began the story with Larry and Peggy, and their neighbors in a small seaside town.

“Hades’ Children” introduced Vivian Song, a dragon lady in more ways than one, and Carol Miyagi a human heroine with almost superhuman ninja skills.

The author has given his readers a cast of characters that, despite some having a rather disturbingly  inhuman duality, are fascinating, touching, scary and, in at least one case, funny.

Earl Preston, whose life has changed a good bit since readers first met him in another Michael West novel; “Spook House,” has teamed up with a gorgeous, and fierce, female werewolf and an enormous crocodile creature. The trio are ready to take on Song and Benny, along with any of their evil minion.

Larry, from “Poseidon’s Children,”  seems holds the key to Vivian’s success, or failure, and his life, as well as Peggy’s depends on his actions.

This was a brilliant third installment to this “page turner” series.   It is literally impossible not to attempt reading all of the book in one sitting.  (A word to the wise: Even the most accomplished speed-readers will find this hard to do as there is so much going on in this world.)

All of West’s characters connect with the reader. Empathy is not an issue with any of the players, even a human monster like Horror Show prompts a positive response.  We can even understand Vivian Song’s actions, heaven forbid, and her lover Benny’s.

“The Legacy of the Gods: Zeus’ Warriors” was well worth the wait.  It is still set against an international backdrop and carries the story forward with an admirable momentum.

Do not miss this third installment in the series.   There are still many questions left to be answered. But…The journey to reach a final conclusion is such an addictive treat that we do not mind the remaining queries.

“The Legacy of the Gods: Zeus’ Warriors” will leave readers clamoring for more.  Michael West’s latest novel is published by Seventh Star Press and can be purchased from Amazon.com via Kindle. Make sure you read this third visit to West’s wonderfully weird world.

zeus-warriorscover

Bite: A Vampire Handbook by Kevin Jackson: Vampires 101

Published in 2009 Bite is a sort of chronicle of vampires for beginners. Jackson starts off by listing the various vampire myths throughout the world and points out that almost every civilization has their own version of vampires as well as unique names for the un-dead.

Considering the fact that the book itself consists of only five chapters there is not a hugely in-depth analysis of the vampire mythos it does , however, pay considerable “lip-service” to most of the more popular vampires of fiction.

The book goes on to discus vampires in literature, trotting out the old story of Byron and the Shelley’s and Polidori’s “monster” party where they challenged themselves to write a scary tale. Mary Shelley famously came up with the roots of Frankenstein which she later tweaked for publication. Polidori wrote about a vampire and was accused of plagiarizing Byron’s story.

There is also a mention of the penny dreadful series about Varney the Vampire and finally he winds up touching on Bram Stokers Dracula and gives a little background on Stoker’s alleged homosexuality and the actor Sir Henry Irving.

The vampire on stage and celluloid are broached next with a minimum of attention paid to Bela LugosiChristopher Lee and Max Schreck in their early depictions of the blood drinking Count Dracula.

There are quite a few books and authors that Jackson recommends and discusses. Anne Rice, Stephen King, Kim Newman, et al. The same holds true with films and television shows dealing with blood suckers although somewhat amazingly Jackson confesses that he did not like The Lost Boys, one of the best films dealing with the vampire genre in the 80’s.

Besides the fact that I seriously questioned the authors taste in film, I doubted that he had even seen the movie. How anyone could chronicle vampires in fiction and not like The Lost Boys worries me. More importantly to not  recognise the important impact that the film had on future vampire films is almost criminal.

Still, he does cover a lot of material in his five chapter introduction to the lore and gore of the vampire world. But, as I suggested in the title of this post, it is just an introduction for all that. He does not spend enough time on any of the areas he writes about.

For the novice vampire fan, it will serve the purpose of at least giving the burgeoning reader or film-goer a choice of what to read or watch. Although the first chapter can drag a bit as he lists all the names of the different versions of vampires in different cultures. It’s somewhat akin to reading the Book of Genesis in the Bible and yawningly going through all those begets.

So I can safely give this little handbook 3 out of 5 stars. There are other books out there that delve a lot deeper into the subject than this one, but it’s not bad for all that.

Author of Bite, Kevin Jackson.

The Birthday Girl by Stephen Leather: Not Just an Arms Race

My local library has gotten a whole load of Stephen Leather and Jo Nesbo books in at the moment so I’m having to “switch hit” as it were between the two. So it looks like a Leather and Nesbo winter read by the metaphorical fireplace.

I had hoped to read some more of Leather’s more vintage material, to get a feeling of how each story matured in the way of content and presentation. After reading The Birthday Girl though, which is still fairly early in his writing career being published in 1995, I think that plan has been circumvented by the fact that all Leather’s stories thus far have been rich in detail.

The book starts with Tony Freeman who works for an arms development company. He is outside of the Sarajevo Holiday Inn when he is kidnapped by Bosnian rebels and held for ransom. While in captivity he meets the leader of the rebels and his 13-year-old sister Merisha.

Back home, Tony’s partner Maury Anderson has made a deal with a Russian Mobster and his psychopathic brother to pay the ransom and to get some mercenaries to free Tony. As the mercenaries attack the rebels and start to kill Merisha, Tony throws himself over the young girl and is shot in the legs as a result.

While he is recovering, he demands to see Merisha (he had built up a rapport with the girl while he was being held for ransom). When he sees that she has been put in with male adult prisoners and is being mistreated, he demands her release and states that he will adopt the girl and that he and his wife will raise her.

In one of the less believable plot twists of the book, the authorities agree to this proposition and allow Katherine and Tony Freeman to adopt the little rebel.

Fast forward four years and it is Merisha’s 16th birthday. Besides the traditional celebrations all Maury Anderson’s “chickens” have come home to roost. His Russian buddies now want the entire arms company and he has a cocaine habit the size of an elephant riding on his back.

Katherine, we find out, is a bit of a nymphomaniac and is busily shagging anything with a snake in their trousers. Merisha is seeing a ‘shrink’ for therapy and Katherine is seeing him for other reasons. When Merisha finds out that Katherine is shagging the good doctor, she decides to pay him a visit and demand that he stop. She adores her father and will do anything to make sure he is happy.

It is another thriller and it is the usual fast paced, action packed read. I did enjoy the book, but, I spent a lot of time “skip reading” it. I found that I literally hated Katherine and Maury and really could not get behind their characters at all. So when a sentence would start with Katherine getting ready to have another extramarital shag or Maury begging the Russian gangsters for a little more leniency, I read one or two sentences and then would “skip” to the Tony/Merisha part of the story.

But to be truthful, I did not really like Tony that much either. He is a staunch Scotsman who sticks by his principles, but damn it, the man is as bland as Melba toast. Apart from standing up to Katherine’s bullying father so he could marry her and “saving” Merisha, he is devoid of any real personality.

The only character I had any interest in was Merisha. Leather’s description of her healing process after being taken away from the Bosnian/Serbia war was interesting and fairly truthful, I felt. I have had dealings with a teen Bosnian refugee from that horrible time.

He has seen his immediate family murdered and watched his mother and sisters being repeatedly raped. This young man was anything but normal. He had, not unsurprisingly, started off a life of crime and violence. His extended family (distant relatives who had taken him in) could not control or understand this tortured young man.

So Leather’s story of Merisha’s childhood and the horrible atrocities against her family and the other Bosnian families had a solid ring of truth. It is this fact alone that made the book worth reading. I have read other books that made reference to the ethnic cleansing that the Serb‘s were involved in, but they have been from a military or mercenary point of view.

It was very interesting to see it from a surviving victim’s point of view, despite the fact that I felt the initial opening of the adoption was a bit hard to digest.

I wouldn’t recommend that you rush out to read this book, but it is well worth a look. It is standard Leather reading but without the usual characters that you can really root for. You will have to suspend your disbelief quite a lot for this one, but I’d still give it three and a half stars out of five for entertainment value.

Stephen Leather.

Sock Puppets…Trolls With a Hand Up Their Butt?

Photo courtesy of Read it again, Mom at blogspot.com

While I was writing my latest book review, Fair Game by Stephen Leather I was cruising the net for images to put on my article. I came across a picture of Stephen that stated that he liked sock puppets. I glanced at the image and chuckled. I then found an image I liked and moved on.

I then moved off the Google page of images and the engine coughed up an article about the practise of Sock Puppetry. I was curious about this “new” thing that was going on in the world of literature.

Essentially, sock puppets is another term for trolling. Okay, the article did not call it that, nor did the other multitude of  articles dealing with this practise. The explanation of sock puppetry is as follows:

” pseudonymous handles to post positive Amazon reviews of [sic] an author’s own books and one-star reviews of others.” *courtesy of the LA Times* Basically, “certain” authors are giving their published works 5 star reviews on Amazon (and presumably sites like Goodreads) and slating the competition.

It certainly sounds like trolling to me. Slating something someone else has done (usually on YouTube) and hiding behind a fake identity. The main difference of course is it that the sock puppet version of trolling is being done by someone with a vested interest is “cutting back” the competition.

Whether we like it or not, writing is a business. One that has become increasingly reliant on author participation directly related to sales. New authors (and even “established” ones) are having to resort to touting their wares beyond the “old-fashioned” route of book signings and interviews on  local and national media stations.

New authors are having to go the ‘self publishing’ route or are striving to make a name for themselves in the ever-increasing tide of eBooks that are the “bread and butter” of the kindle world. The old-fashioned publishing world exists, of course it does, with its huge slush pile of rejected manuscripts and agents on the look out for a “new” published author.

Cover of "Kindle Wireless Reading Device,...
Cover via Amazon

As the eBook industry  is gearing up, book reviews in newspapers and magazines are getting sparse. You can still find them of course, Reader’s Digest still has a monthly one, but, these are mostly for established writers well-known to the reading public. New authors do get a mention, sometimes.

So you are a writer and you’ve finished your book and , dammit, it’s good. You’ve got a ton of reject slips telling you so, it’s just that it’s not what the publisher needs right now. So you go the eBook route and self publish. It’s done more than you would think.

Now your book is published and out there for the world to read. It is unfortunately under-priced and the revenue coming in isn’t enough to buy a pint of bitter down the local pub. It needs some attention and a lot more positive notices so that readers want to try it out.

Now the under-pricing is impacting the sales of books in that they are driving the value of books down. As a consumer I applaud this, as a writer I am appalled. How can you make a living out of selling books that go for 99 pence a copy? I might have to work at MacDonald’s while I write in my spare time for the rest of my life.

But price matters aside (we won’t mention the “free” books) how do you drive readers to your works apart from relying on the medium that is selling your book?

Reviews.

Amazon has a section for reviews and has had for a long time. This system, set up for readers to say what they thought of their reading experience has always been open to “fake” reviews. It is part and parcel of a business that relies on “written word of mouth” to sell your stories.

The Pulitzer Prize gold medal award 한국어: 퓰리처상 ...
The Pulitzer Prize gold medal award 한국어: 퓰리처상 공공 보도 부문 상인 금메달 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pulitzer Prize winner Edna Buchanan wrote in one of her autobiographical books that when she worked on a small newspaper in Florida she and a co-worker wrote “fake” inflammatory letters to the editor to get a reaction and drive their readership up. On a lesser note, editors use to also write to their own Playboy magazine with “sexual exploit” letters for a similar reason.

So  could we accuse the award-winning Ms Buchanan of early sock puppetry? I don’t think so. Because no matter how we go about it, business is business. Sure it’s not the same as the old saying, ” In love and war…” There are laws and apart from a lot of authors all squealing because they got a poor review on Amazon from a fictitious fan, trolling is not illegal.

Unethical? Probably. Maybe.

Either way, it is the way business is being done in an environment that requires so much more author input into the sales of their books.

On a final note, who really pays attention to book reviews? I read them (always have) but most are written by book critics who have their own agendas. Just like internet sites like IGN  and  G4 are thinly disguised marketing tools, so are book critics. I do pay a bit of attention to fan reviews but they are opinion based and not a hard and fast picture of how good a book really is.

I can sympathise with the aggrieved authors who feel (quite rightly, I suppose) that they are being unfairly picked on, but…

I know that at least one author who has clawed his way up through electronic publishing to become a successful “traditionally” published writer has bucket loads of talent and writes one helluva good book. I think that if you are on the other side of the fence and are trying to become successful in your field you will do whatever you have to.

Success isn’t just a state of mind, it’s having the dedication to take advantage of any legal doors open to you.  This war is going to go on for sometime to come. Just because a few authors have been caught with their fingers caught in the proverbial cookie jar doesn’t mean that the practise will stop.

Oops.