REVIEW - Stingers (T M McLean & Noel Osualdini)

Lapse"A Nightmare at 20,000…Micrometers!"
RainHand Rating:
Find Stingers on Amazon, and Goodreads!

(Review appearing for the first time on Rainhandbooks.com!)
It’s certainly hard to go wrong mixing bugs with fear. I could say that this book went for the lowest hanging fruit in that regard, but then I read it, and found that I could not. If you’re going to make purple by mixing good old red and blue (where everyone expects purple to come from) then you need to do it well if you want your shade to come out above the level of humdrum. I’d say this book did a fine job of exceeding those expectations—it certainly kept me reading.

As an anthology of short stories, a book like this is bound to have high points and low. Not being subject to arachnophobia myself, “They Just Know” didn’t do a whole lot for me, since there wasn’t much to go on other than the general fear of spiders. (Perhaps if said spiders had done something more than just a bit of terrorizing—maybe if they flexed their eight-legged muscles a bit by dragging in effigies of small animals they’d swarmed to show the poor protagonists what was to become of them? Or maybe they weren’t doing anything at all, and the whole tale was just a question of succumbing to paranoia?) On the other hand, “Sex, Death, and Professor Lockwood” was an excellent journey for me. It was easy enough to tell that our good professor would end up somehow doomed in this story just for his disturbing thoughts regarding inappropriate attractions, but the way it actually played out was enough to make me pat myself down at the end to see that nothing had leapt out of the pages to latch on. Fear factor way up, well done!

“The Gold Bug” had me expecting something out of Poe. It didn’t work out that way, but it didn’t need to, as what I received instead was enough to have me wishing the story had been long enough to explain itself (so yes, I was into it). Meanwhile, in “The Bastard or Are You Not Entertained” I found that I could relate to the sheer size of the wolf spider, which is a very common sight where I live. So this was one story I could not only visualize well, but really wanted to see how it turned out for so mighty a combatant…or its abusive captor. Sandkings, anyone? (Also…my money would have been on the spider. Let me tell you, I’ve measured them at three inches before, with enough photogenic detail to look them right in the eye with nothing so high-resolution as a cell phone camera. They don’t always fit in StarBucks cups, either.)

I’m personally not a fan of putting author’s notes immediately after a story—especially a nerve wracking tale of terror—as they tend to take me out of the moment. I don’t really want to know how the shock came to be, if indeed I have been sufficiently shocked (or at least, not right away). That said, I suppose the very fact that I mention it means I was sufficiently involved in the moment, which is a good thing. Still, I’d rather keep the real-life bits about how stories were conceived and various related musings to the back of the book in their own section so they can be addressed (or not) at the reader’s leisure, not as speed bumps on the road.

Anyway, I had a good time, and if you hate insects? This one’s for you. It’s probably for you if you love them, too!


About the Author: T M McLean lives in the Netherlands with his wife and twin sons. He has something of an obsession with short stories and considers himself extremely fortunate to have shared pages with some of speculative fiction's leading voices. His latest release, co-authored with Noel Osualdini, has been shortlisted for the prestigious Shadows Award. Tim likes to put real people into crazy situations. He is currently working on what he hopes will become his first novel, a coming-of-age military adventure set in the turbulent times of the Hundred Years War. Much of Tim's inspiration comes from his life experiences, including parenthood, travel, and a love of philosophy.
('About' info abridged from amazon.com.)

Swords & Sorceries: Tales of Heroic Fantasy Volume 6--Available Today!

Swords & Sorceries: Tales of Heroic Fantasy Volume 6Over 300 pages of Grim and Gritty Action!
Find Swords & Sorceries: Tales of Heroic Fantasy on Amazon, Amazon UK, and Goodreads!


It is with the honor of the ancient gods that RainHand Books announces the release of Swords & Sorceries: Tales of Heroic Fantasy Volume 6, by our friends at Parallel Universe Publications. As the weightiest tome in the series yet, volume 6 boasts more than 300 pages, with twelve highly detailed treks through the grim veneer of vicious demons, gray warlocks, and the barbarians who love slay them, told in the footsteps of frost giants like Robert E. Howard and Clark Ashton Smith. Some of the finest names in the genre today are included...and they even let me in, too!

My contribution to this project, Golden Witch of Adzelgar, is a tale of deceit and revenge told from the perspective of a deceased hierarch warioress, wrenched back from death to serve her once-mortal enemies in a world turned upside-down. To date it is the longest of my traditionally published works, and my first official foray into the world of Sword & Sorcery. I'm excited by the opportunity to be a part of Swords & Sorceries, and honored for the chance to share a tale alongside such excellent names!

If it be your pint of mead, pick up a copy today! (And when you're done reading, crush some monster's head with it--it's a nice big book!)

Swords & Sorceries: Tales of Heroic Fantasy

"Crom count the words!"


Swords & Sorceries: Tales of Heroic Fantasy Volume 6 is compiled and edited by Parallel Universe's own David A. Riley, featuring art by the prolific Jim Pitts (with additional art for the story Raiding the Graveyard of Lost Ships by its author, Tais Teng. Click here for technical/additional information, or visit Parallel Universe Publications.

REVIEW - Life Force Preserve: Anna and the Resurgent of the Precious Blood #1 (Courtney Leigh Pahlke)

Life Force Preserve“A thrilling premise in need of TLC.”
RainHand Rating:
Find Whiplash on Amazon, and Goodreads!

(Review appearing for the first time on Rainhandbooks.com!)
To be fair, I’m going to say off the bat that I had a little difficulty with this book. As I’m not in the habit of providing an opinion without elaborating I’ll certainly do so, but first, let’s talk about the strengths of Life Force Preserve.

There is most certainly a compelling story to be found in this book. You’ve got suspense, tension, danger, and conspiracies; all focused around our intrepid protagonist and her secret bloodline. The storyarc makes reference to a great span of human history dating all the way back to ancient Egypt, and has a healthy dose of “Ancient Aliens” to boot (if you’re into that). If you’re patient, there’s a reward to be found here.

Now, my elaboration. First and foremost, I’m quite concerned regarding the frequency of technical errors in this book. The fact that there’s a grammatical error in the *title* was the first warning sign: “resurgent, precious blood” or “resurgence of the precious blood”—not “resurgent of the precious blood”. The punctuation error in the short plot description posted to both Amazon and Goodreads was the second sign. In reviewing the text itself, I found myself subject to myriad errors in everything from spelling, to grammar, to tense, and back again, to the point that I can’t bring myself to believe that this manuscript was passed under a solid proofreader microscope before it saw publication. As a reviewer of fiction I’m well aware that even the most well-polished books by the most careful professional publishing houses will always have an error or two—it’s just not possible to catch them all. With that in mind I maintain a certain threshold of acceptability, but this book went way over my limit, to the point that I found myself unable to reconcile myself to the idea that this is a finished piece, ready to be enjoyed by the reading public. The fact that the story is described as ‘gripping’ and ‘able to draw readers in’ despite the fact that almost nothing action-packed happens in the first four chapters (until chapter five I wasn’t even sure what the plot was) doesn’t help, especially when combined with such jarring inconsistences as a shifting perspective that goes from first person, present tense, all the way to to third person, past tense (without the presence of our narrator at all).

Don’t get me wrong: Life Force Preserve has potential. Additional beta-testing and a solid proofread would do wonders for bringing this story to life. Unfortunately, in its current state, I can’t in good conscience recommend it to discerning audiences. As for the award the book won, I can’t speak to that, other than to work from the assumption that I may have been given a draft version of the manuscript? That doesn’t appear to be the case, but if there is a more polished version out there, I’d be willing to give this book a second chance!

About the Author: Courtney Pahlke graduated from the University of Iowa with a degree in psychology and a secondary in creative writing. She worked at the Crisis Center in Iowa city leading to graduation day, where she went back home to Illinois with a plan. Courtney hoped to gain her masters degree in forensic psychology at a school in Chicago, while working for her dad, to pay for school. After the first year working for her dad’s company, she decided not to continue on with school and grow the family business instead.
('About' info abridged from amazon.com.)

REVIEW - Lapse (Alex Rodriguez)

Lapse"Time enough at last, or time enough for more."
RainHand Rating:
Find Lapse on Amazon, and Goodreads!

(Review appearing for the first time on Rainhandbooks.com!)
Oooh, timecrimes!

Well, the title and the blurb were enough to get me interested in this title even if it hadn’t been shared with me in return for an honest review. If I picked this volume up off a shelf at Barnes & Noble (or certainly the library) I’d be tempted to take it home with me, and there’s always something to be said for that. Since I’m on the aesthetics, I’ll also add that I really appreciated the clear, clean layout of this book, the readable typeface, and I always like to see cleverly-named chapters. You might think some of that is to be taken for granted, to which I can only say: “Not necessarily.” Especially on the independent circuit.

I felt that the action scenes moved well and kept me reading, with downtime placed at good intervals. If I’m counting the pages rather than being surprised by how many I’ve read there’s a problem, but not so here. I finished this one up rather quickly, and though going through a book too fast can be lamentable, it does profess to a good story. Time travel stories aren’t easy to write due to the need to keep all your ducks in a row (so as not to create an unintended paradox), but the author laid that all out well here, leaving little (at least insofar as the plot is concerned) to misunderstanding. I can’t say I became heavily attached to Nora (who I would prefer never to cross for her combat prowess), Mason, and the crew, but they were solid enough characters with enough depth to make me want to see their story through.

And that brings me to my first issue—the ending. In order to avoid spoilers I can’t say much, other than to express a certain lack of fulfillment. If this is meant to be book one of a longer story so be it, but I went in without any such understanding, and if it ends here…well, I was hoping for more. We’re not talking about a brick-wall cliffhanger tease here; I was just left turning the page, looking for chapter 31.

Next up—and I can only be so forgiving about this in a fully published work—always make sure to do a careful proofread, and then another by someone other than yourself, before a book goes to print. There were simply too many typos in this manuscript for my taste—I’m always willing to forgive a few just because that’s the nature of the publishing beast, but this book went well over my allowable threshold. Further, a number of passages were a bit difficult to follow along with for grammatical issues and a general lack of flow. This made the whole thing feel like a rushed project to me, which does justice neither for the author's prowess (of which I can clearly see storytelling power here) nor the potential reader base. I consider the third star a bit of extra for the honest attempt.

In short—Lapse is a good story with a clever premise; one that the eye of an editor could do a lot for. I hope it gets another edition in the future with the technical work it needs to really shine. If there is a sequel at some point, I’d be interested in checking it out.

About the Author: Born and raised in the Chicagoland area, Alex Rodriguez grew up inspired by action packed stories of science fiction and the adventures of superheroes. She graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Psychology. Now a Wisconsin resident, Alex enjoys spending time with family and friends, walking her dog Titan, attending writing classes, and discovering new books/TV shows to fall in love with. An occasional reader, Alex enjoys novels in the realms of historical fiction, romance, sci fi, and YA. She also dabbles into thrillers and fantasy.
('About' info abridged from goodreads.com.)

Musings - Of Niches and Book Reviews

Hello from RainHand!

When I was taking those #2 pencil Scantron tests in school way back in 198x-199x, there was always one specific instruction in bold text at the end of every section--not that we really needed to be told this mind, as we were quite eager to comply--but it went something like this: STOP HERE. PUT YOUR PENCIL DOWN. Words to live by? Perhaps not, but I still have something to learn from them. (Don't worry, this is a good thing for you if you're looking for a book review! Read on to find out why.)

See, I like to tell stories, and I like to write. I like these things so much that I have never before been able to stick with keeping a journal, until I chose to write an ongoing story just for myself during 'journaling' time instead. Why babble about my day when I can indulge in the struggles of the vast realm inside my head?? (Incidentally, I have no idea how long that journal-story is, but I've filled up at least one college-ruled composition book and will be on to the next soon.) In my time publishing stories online, I've had some trouble with readers who take in a short sci-fi tale, come back tomorrow, and find fantasy, horror, or even romcom as the next thing on my list. Doc Brown once claimed to be a student of all sciences. I'm a student of all (or at least many) genres, and I like changing things up to take on new challenges whenever I can. I spent three years working on an opus-level adult high fantasy novel that tipped the scales at 144,000 words (a big bite for an agent, I know). It doesn't have a home yet, but I became quickly distracted from finding it one by my next project...a middle grade contemporary adventure story that clocks in at about six-figures less. I'm surprised at how well the latter rolled out of my mind and off my pen. It was fun to compose, and as there seem to be many more agents looking for such things now, I believe I'll be focusing on a home for that one first. But see, that's the thing--I need to put my pencil down. So, I'm trying to keep my ideas for a potential sequel on the drawing board while I shop manuscripts. I wonder how long my muse can be kept at bay.

In the meantime, less drafting time for me means more reviewing time for you. I hope to step-up my reading schedule, and continue to make RainHand a voice for the indie author community. There have been a lot of fascinating reads in the past--I can't wait to check out more!

REVIEW - Whiplash: The Rust Chronicles #1 (Morgan Quaid)

Whiplash“CAUTION: SHARP. Handle With Care!”
RainHand Rating:
Find Whiplash on Amazon, and Goodreads!

(Review appearing for the first time on Rainhandbooks.com!)
Whiplash is a ‘sharp’ story—it goes right for the throat with neither apology nor restraint both in content and style. Short, piercing sentences, darker vocabulary choices, basic metaphors that don’t leave you much to ponder, and a narrative that dives right in from page one without any sort of lead-in. You’ll be introduced to young Jack at the outset, but you’d better make sure you strapped in before you cracked that cover, because you’re not going to see the “keep your hands and arms inside the vehicle at all times” warning light come on again. That said, I can’t possibly have come up with a more appropriate title for this book!

At first glance you might be a bit off-put by the somewhat cliché idea of ‘young person suddenly thrust into a fantasy world’, but I ask you to stay your concerns and give this book a chance. To be honest I really don’t even like using the word ‘cliché’ when reviewing new content because, like most buzz words, it’s overused and has outstripped the original meaning; now often peeled from the backing paper and applied to any work that isn’t 15465887789.492% original. Folks, really…everything’s been done before. The thing to look for is innovative ways of mixing up existing ideas, and in that, Whiplash succeeds admirably. The use of dreamscapes, the sudden left turns that toss you across the deck when you think you’ve found your footing, and a good shuffle of character types keep this ball rolling, or dribbling…or hurtling through the air towards a barbed-wire fence at Mach 1.

As for criticisms, our hero, Jack, didn’t really pop for me overall. Call it a matter of personal preference, but I was sort of hoping he might grow past the snide commentary and saucy one-liners as the stakes rose. Perhaps that’s my own fault—expecting a young man who was never really intended to be a white knight to begin with to mount his horse at some point. Hopeless romance won’t help you much on this ride, I guess. Other than that I feel the author did not disappoint in the bold employment of first person/present tense, save for a few bits here and there where characters who are in the moment seem to know a bit more than they should for their perspective. In fairness, it’s a very bold way to construct a novel-length piece to begin with. Hats off.

Whiplash is a high-octane caffeine high, not a subtle journey through complex flavors. The latter may be golden for some, but I think we could all use a blast of the former from time to time. If that’s what you’re looking for in your next story, then by all means I recommend it, but it may not be to taste if you’re going in looking for a deep-developing, paced-out epic.

About the Author: Morgan Quaid is a writer of speculative fiction, specializing in comics, graphic novels, short stories and fast-paced, first person novels. Quaid’s writing tends to blend concision and fast-moving plots with epic sci-fi/fantasy themes, creating stories that often have more in common with film rather than traditional novels.
('About' info reprinted from amazon.com.)

REVIEW - Enoch's Thread (John Aubrey)

Enoch's Thread“A conspiring brew – you’ll try it, won’t you?"
RainHand Rating:
Find Enoch's Thread on Amazon, and Goodreads!

(Review appearing for the first time on Rainhandbooks.com!)
I’ll admit up front that I’m usually not a huge fan of conspiracy stories (be they occult/religious or anything else). Still, I was intrigued enough by the premise to give this one a try, and it was worth the time. For one, I have to appreciate all the work that went into generating such a narrative. Despite the ‘work of fiction’ disclaimer at the outset, it’s clear to me that such a piece could not have been properly conceived without a lot of research on the author’s part, and it shows. The ‘threads’ of religious apocrypha, scientific theory, and climatological concerns spin together well; resulting in a colorful, clever tapestry revolving around characters complex enough for me to care about and become invested in. I’m not particularly knowledgeable of the subject matter aside from some past encounters/experience with the LDS church, but I didn’t have to be, and so I stuck around for the end. Yes, I know it’s only fiction…but it’s real enough to leave you wondering, and I can’t think of a more successful feeling to instill in a reader when they walk away from such a tale.

I can’t really find a whole lot of fault here. Some technical issues; minor enough to be beneath specific mention. The biggest one for me was the terseness of the prose, which occasionally left me feeling as though I was reading a report (I’m more of a flowery, literary fiction type). This in turn resulted in a bit of trouble keeping my focus, although relatively short chapters (and thus more opportunities to take a break) helped. There are a number of intimidating ‘text-walls’ throughout that might benefit from even a minor 6-point lead between paragraphs. I can’t really think it fair to make something like that a formal criticism however, since it’s no ‘error’ – just a reader’s preference.

I hesitate to bring up the Da Vinci Code as a reference point here since that’s sort of a least common denominator approach, but I really could see Enoch’s Thread held in a similar vein – perhaps even on the big screen, someday. In previous reviews I have often said something along the lines of ‘if this sort of thing is your cup of tea, go for it’. This time, however, I think it’s fair to recommend that folks try out a new flavor. Even if you don’t end up switching your daily brew over entirely, I think you’ll be pleased to make Enoch’s Thread your refreshing cup of exception.

Oh, and John Aubrey the writer, writing about John Aubrey the writer who is writing a book…well done. I can’t say it three times fast, but I can certainly read it through.

About the Author: Writing this book became part of a larger plan to use occult practice against disaster capitalists who endanger us all; because Art creates Life.
('About' info reprinted from amazon.com.)