Sunday, September 14, 2014

REVIEW: "Schism" and "Collision: The Battle for Darracia" by Michael Cash

SCHISM: The Battle for Darracia - Book 1
On the planet Darracia, an ever-widening social gap between its inhabitants is causing turmoil that is fracturing a once peaceful world. Struggling with his identity, nineteen year old Prince V'sair must harness the power of the elusive Fireblade, the secret to a warrior's heart, in order to overcome his uncle Staf Nuen's lust for supremacy. Will the energy of the Elements guide the young prince to his true destiny or will Staf Nuen conquer Darracia? After the success of his first three books (Brood X, Stillwell, and The Hanging Tree) Michael is fulfilling a dream and creating his own epic fantasy world. Schism: The Battle for Darracia is the first book in a planned series.


COLLISION: The Battle for Darracia - Book #2
The Darracia saga continues with all the key players spread out and searching for answers throughout the solar system. Prince V'sair struggles to hold his fractured kingdom together without help from his family. His stepbrother Zayden is on a vengeful hunt for his evil uncle Staf Nuen. Tulani navigates her two worlds trying to bring them together. Staf Nuen, the orchestrator of the original coup, is making unholy alliances with nefarious new allies. Like the comet zipping across the horizon, all the different factions are heading for a collision course that will test both their faith and power.



Born and raised on Long Island, Michael has always had a fascination with horror writing and found footage films. He wanted to incorporate both with his debut novel, Brood X. Earning a degree in English and an MBA, he has worked various jobs before settling into being a full-time author. He currently resides on Long Island with his wife and children.



NOTE: I'm reviewing the first two books of this series together as I read them one right after the other.  Typically, I would not do this, but for the sake of time and effort I'm combining my review of these two books.  They are, after all, two parts of the same story.

One need not go far in order to hear tales of a people who are not getting along with another people.  Nor does it take much effort to hear of one group of people, or one person, trying to usurp power and gain control over a land which may not be rightfully theirs...whether that is good for the land or not.  Power has this corrupting quality.  But what about when those rightfully in power are trying to do things for the good of the people that might unite fronts that have been divided, upending very old societal structures?

A prince born from the love between royalty from different peoples (different planets, even) must face his destiny sooner than anyone expected when an uncle on one side leads a revolt against his own brother - a king who is determined to make his kingdom a fair and equal place for both people of the planet to live, Darracians and Quyroos alike.  Good vs. evil.  Tradition vs. a new way of thinking.  Love?  In some ways this is an age-old story told in a new way with new characters and settings that are put together rather well.  While characters are unique individuals, the settings are interesting, and there are elements of science fiction and the mystic that would please even the most die-hard SciFi fan, the plot and writing styles themselves leave something to be desired.  The story itself unfolds rather slowly at first, almost laboriously.  It is like a movie that starts slowly and takes awhile to get to the action.  Once the action is reached, however, there are issues with how it is presented.  For example, scenes full of action fly by so quickly that it is hard to know what exactly is going on.  I found myself confused during about half of these books....which isn't conducive to an enjoyable/productive reading experience.  The writing style itself is also very clipped and efficient in places, while being descriptive in other places - there is a lack of consistency.  Typos are also found throughout the work.  I'd gripe about how the book itself is formatted (double-spaced), but have been told there is a plan in place to address some formatting issues.  A good story with some presentation issues.

On an ascending scale of 1 to 5, I give this book a 3.

The Good
Here we find a classic story: child born of a union between two unlikely individuals whose destiny will not only shape his world, but possibly that of others as well.  Add a social stratification on his home planet reminiscent of the stratification found in India (albeit with only two factions), floating cities, love, and a traitorous uncle and you have this book.  It is something akin to if Macbeth met "Avatar"....just add a few extra planets.

V'sair is a prince sired by a Darracian king and a princess from a water planet.  He looks different than literally every other individual on Darracia, the planet where he lives.  He has a different destiny - against all odds, unite the two deeply divided peoples who populate Darracia: the Darracians and the Quyroos.  One problem: he has never gone through the Fireblade challenge.  But is the Fireblade what it seems to be?  Only time (and, well, the end of the first book) will tell.  He falls in love with a girl he has known for years as his mother's servant...but she is more, so much more.  About the same time, his uncle stages an uprising that leads to the death of several key figures, physical disfigurement of others, and pushes V'sair to seek out the truth behind the Elements....a truth which reveals more truths which threaten to undermine the planet's societal structures.  And so ends the first book. 

The second book picks up months after the carnage.  V'sair is struggling to figure out how to live into his new role with the people when he was pushed into it before his training was even nearing completion.  Not to mention the other half of his being has been AWOL for awhile, trying to lead her people....but will they trust someone who is of them but not of them?   V'sair's brother is off seeking out the uncle who destroyed everything he once held dear, but perhaps he will lose his life in the process.  There is a pair of sisters who present an interesting question (sorry, you're gonna have to read to figure out what I'm talking about).  The stage is set for a rather epic battle.  Seriously, this book seems to be almost purely stage-setting for the next book....which I find rather intriguing.  Yes, it carries the story forward a bit, but it provides much more background than in the first book.  Frankly, some of this background would have been helpful in understanding what was going on in the first book, but so is.

I'm going to applaud Cash for something that I usually nit-pick authors about: the characters are unique. Even in long, complicated conversation scenes I could generally figure out who was talking even without the "he said this, she said that" indicators.  I deeply appreciate characters who have their own personalities that are clearly distinct from one another and that of the author.  Yay!!  I also really like these characters - especially Bobbien (I think she's my favorite of the entire series - kind of reminds me of the baboon in "Lion King").  They are images of flawed beauty in a way that means they are relateable.  Good deal.

This is a good story.  Sure, some tropes are used that have been done and done to death, but they have actually been combined here in a way that I find rather intriguing.  I'd love to see this story done on screen....after the following has been addressed.

The Bugly (bad/ugly)
Good story.  Less than stellar presentation.  I'm going to rip on this book a little bit because there were enough things that bothered me that, frankly, my reading of these books was a little more stalled than it could have been.  I just couldn't get into it the same way it seems other reviewers were able to.  To each his own - no book is going to please every single reader, this is why we have multiple genres and millions of works within genres.  :)

Anyways, let us first look at style.  I can't fault Cash too much for stylistic choices that I would not make, but I can nit pick on a lack of consistency.  My fiction writing style is one that is very descriptive, full of "flowerly" adjectives and such.  It is not very efficient.  Cash's style is remarkably most places.  In other places it is much more descriptive.  The lack of consistency made my head keep changing gears in a way that bugged me. 

Second, the plot itself.  While the story is pretty good, the way it unfolded left a few things to be desired.  It took awhile for the story to get going.  So much work was done in the beginning setting the scene that it was like a movie that starts off slow, with all of the action happening in the last 30 minutes.  Now, this can make some sense given that there is a new world to explore with a new societal structure, entirely new characters, etc.  I get that.  I just had an exceptionally hard time following what in Darracia was going on and keeping track of who was what.  Wait, how'd that person get across the room?  How'd his eyes gum shut with blood in all of 20 seconds?  Oh yeah, and there were enough moments where I thought "that's not how science works" that my brain hurt.  Blood drying too quickly, people not falling right according to how they were just hit, etc.

Third, there were typos all. over. the. place.  Not just the kind of typo where a few letters are out of order, though these were certainly present, but the kind of typo where a sentence had clearly been written one way, then written a different way, and the first way wasn't completely cleared out of the way (confused yet?).  Pronoun confusion reigned supreme, as did sentence constructions that didn't make a lot of sense in my head.  Keep in mind that I'm hard on grammar - while I can't diagram a sentence to save my life, I know when something sounds wrong.  Unfortunately, a lot sounded wrong here.

Finally, I just wasn't that into these books.  I read them because I had agreed to, but after the first book I didn't feel much like reading the second one....and now I really don't feel like continuing to the third.  I really feel as though this is a good story wrapped in less than stellar presentation.  It just was not my cup of tea.  It happens.  

Monday, September 8, 2014

REVIEW: "There is No Fear" by Michael Bowler (Tribute Books Blog Tour)

The most famous boy in the world is a prisoner. He’s been charged with a crime he didn’t commit, a crime that could send him to prison for the rest of his life. Languishing within The Compound, the most secure juvenile facility in California, while the district attorney vows to make an example of him because of his celebrity status, Lance must endure the daily indignities of the incarcerated.

New Camelot is fractured without him. Ricky and Chris are bereft, living for the weekly phone call that becomes their only lifeline to the brother they so desperately love, while Arthur and Jenny feel the loss of their son with a sadness that can’t be quelled. And what about Michael, the highly volatile teen who helped write the proposition that will change California forever? Could he really be the monster he says he is? His hatred of Ricky is palpable, and his instability may well threaten the lives of everyone at New Camelot.

As the election looms closer, Proposition 51 takes on an even greater significance in light of the pending trial of the century. The more harshly fifteen-year-old Lance is treated within the broken justice system, the more he contemplates the wisdom of his idea that children need more adult rights. If The Child Voter Act becomes law, won’t it simply allow adults to throw more kids into prison with impunity?

Whichever way the voters decide, his greatest fear remains the same: will he ever again be with the people he loves?

The Knight Cycle Continues…

Pages: 284
July 17, 2014


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Michael Bowler
Michael J. Bowler is an award-winning author of three novels - A Boy and His Dragon, A Matter of Time, and Children of the Knight - who grew up in San Rafael, California.

He majored in English and Theatre at Santa Clara University and earned a master’s in film production from Loyola Marymount University, a teaching credential in English from LMU, and another master's in Special Education from Cal State University Dominguez Hills.

He partnered with two friends as producer, writer, and/or director on several ultra-low-budget horror films, including “Fatal Images,” “Club Dead,” and “Things II,” the reviews of which are much more fun than the actual movies.

He taught high school in Hawthorne, California for twenty-five years, both in general education and to students with learning disabilities, in subjects ranging from English and Strength Training to Algebra, Biology, and Yearbook.

He has also been a volunteer Big Brother to seven different boys with the Catholic Big Brothers Big Sisters program and a thirty-year volunteer within the juvenile justice system in Los Angeles. He is a passionate advocate for the fair treatment of children and teens in California, something that is sorely lacking in this state. He has been honored as Probation Volunteer of the Year, YMCA Volunteer of the Year, California Big Brother of the Year, and 2000 National Big Brother of the Year. The “National” honor allowed he and three of his Little Brothers to visit the White House and meet the president in the Oval Office.

He has already written the four continuations of Children of the Knight that complete The Knight Cycle and all will be released in 2014.

He is currently at work on a new novel.


This country is spoiling for a youth-led revolution, if psychologists examining the popularity of shows "Hunger Games" are to be believed.  Something is wrong, youth know it, youth are affected by it, and youth seem to be the only ones who aren't too tired to do anything about it.  At the same time, people are jailed unjustly all. the. time.  But what do we do when someone who is jailed unjustly is a kid?

The first two books in this series (Children of the Knight & Running Through a Dark Place) were absolutely superb, and this third installment fits nicely in this well-established reputation.  The story neatly picks up at the cliffhanger from the end of the previous book, in the middle of heart-pumping drama where the hero of the day has been arrested for attempted murder.  He's innocent, but can he prove this in the face of a public who craves nothing more than fallen heros, DA's bent on reelection, and a corrupt system which stomps upon the rights of youth...all the while figuring out who actually guards his heart?

Search no further for a book that will ignite your passion to work for the good of those whom society has deemed "the least of these", a passion for justice served as well as rights protected and accountability realized.  This amazingly well written book drew me into its action, into the very lives of these characters, in a way that made me want to assign this series as mandatory reading for every high school graduate.  It made me feel.

On an ascending scale of 1 to 5, I give this book a 5.

The Good
Honestly, I'm not sure anything good I have to say about this wonderful book has not already been covered in my reviews of the first and second installments in the series.  

We start where the last book left off: Lance being handcuffed and roughly dropped in the back of a police car without even knowing the nature of the charges leveled against him.  Upon reaching the detainment facility, Lance learns that he is being accused of attempted murder against a man he had seen recently, a man who has caused much turmoil and pain in Lance's life.  A man whose genitalia had been removed from his body in a brutal attack.  

There is just one problem.  Lance is innocent.  But can he prove so when the district attorney is running for election and wants to nail Lance to the wall in order to further his own campaign...despite rather shaky "evidence"?  SPOILER ALERT: Lance does get out of jail.  But what happens next will keep you pinned to your seat.  Seriously, somehow I thought I'd get to bed on time.  Nope.  I found myself awake well into the night as I read about Lance's struggle to come to peace with his identity, his relationships (just what is he supposed to do with Michael, Ricky, and Bridgett?), and the legal proposition that his efforts helped put before voters.  What will happen?

 Seriously, that question kept me up for two evenings as I read through this work - what is going to happen next?  What next bit of drama will be revealed?  What will Lance uncover about himself and those around him?  Will he be able to handle the things he finds on his quest for truth?


Not a lot of time is spent on character development, as much of this happens in the first two books.  The same is true about settings: new locations are set up very well while settings from previous books are mentioned but not described much.  It is kind of expected that readers have read the first installments in this series as these books are meant to build upon one another.  They do so very well.  On the one hand, I was glad to see there are at least two more books in the series because it means two more awesome books are coming....and yet on the other hand there is a cliffhanger ending (which is seriously put together in the span of the last 2-3 pages....just when you think it is over, you find that not only is it not over yet, but the story may have just begun) that just makes me desperate to read the next book.  Ugh.  Not a patient person over here!  :P

Anyways, I loved this book - as you can see by the perfect score (I don't give perfect scores easily).  Now, to wait for the next "season" to come out........ 

The Bugly (bad/ugly)
A few minor typos here and there, but nothing to major.  However, CLIFFHANGER.  /grumble.  Again, this is a stylistic choice that I cannot fault Bowler for, but seriously annoying (in honesty, I'd do the same thing).  

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