Saturday, December 9, 2017

James Review -- Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Volume Four

This week I decided to review Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Volume Four written by Kyle Higgens

Billy Cranston and Tommy Oliver are still trapped in the timeline ruled by Lord Drakkon, this timeline’s counterpart to Tommy who rejoined Rita’s forces after being freed from the Mind Control spell she placed him under. The pair are led by this timeline’s Saba to the Coinless, an anti-Drakkon resistance movement led by this timeline’s Trini Kwan and Zack Taylor. While roaming the Coinless headquarters, Cranston finds a library dedicated to his dead counterpart and tracks down Kwan trying to find out what happened. Kwan explains that Cranston’s counterpart was killed protecting her during a lost battle. And when Drakkon tracks Saba to the Coinless base and launches an attack, Kwan leads Cranston to the last resort option of the Coinless, his counterpart’s power coin, the last one in this timeline not controlled by Drakkon. But Cranston is uncertain if the power granted by the coin will be enough to allow him to turn the tide against the overwhelming army the rebels face…

Meanwhile in the primary timeline Trini Kwan, Jason Scott, Zack Taylor, and Kimberly Heart are trying to find a way to regain their powers, and retake their command center, now serving as Rita Repulsa’s base of operations. Alpha 5 contacts them, revealing an unguarded route into the command center. But when the rangers arrive they discover that Alpha has been reprogrammed to lure them into a trap and find themselves in a desperate battle against a squadron of enhanced versions of Goldar
There is also a short scene where Zordon, trapped in a space between timelines, observes what happened in Drakkon’s timeline. He also has a brief discussion with his dying counterpart as well as meeting that timeline’s Saba.

I give this book 8.5 out of 10. I still enjoy the new forms of the original characters a great deal as well as the overall story. But there were a number of questions about Drakkon’s timeline left unanswered which I wanted answers to badly. Also, there’s a point in the simultaneous climatic battles where even after re-reading them several times I’m not sure which timeline it takes place in or if it is supposed to mean the same thing is happening in both timelines because the shifts aren’t always made clear and I feel that shifts between timelines should always be obvious.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Aragami Update

I have finished the first draft of Aragami, the next book in my Divine Protector series. It's editing time. Here's the current schedule:

  1. Self-editing
  2. Implementing suggestions from beta readers
  3. Professional edit by my oh-so-professional editor
  4. Commission cover from my artist
  5. Convert to Kindle
  6. List it for pre-order on Amazon
I'm shooting for an early 2018 release with a paperback release to follow. Stay tuned!

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Kindle Spotlight -- Phasma

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you're all having a merry holiday. Much like the original pilgrims, today's review also concerns the story of a group of people struggling to survive in a harsh environment. It is Phasma: Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi by Delilah S. Dawson. Finally we get the origin story of The Force Awakens most mysterious character.

The story begins with Resistance spy Vi Moradi exiting hyperspace and running smack dab into a First Order ship, the Absolution. She is promptly captured and taken prisoner by well-respected officer Captain Cardinal. He escorts her to a secret dungeon aboard the ship and interrogates her about Captain Phasma. He wants information he can use to take the chrome-plated woman down, and he believes Vi has it. Vi agrees to cooperate if he'll let her go afterwards. Cardinal says he will, if she gives him the proof he needs to discredit Phasma. Vi then tells him a story.

Years ago, on the ravaged planet Parnassos, there lived two sibling teenagers, Keldo and Phasma, who governed their crappy spot of land. You see, on Parnassos there was very little plant life, sparse food, acid rain and hostile neighbors. In other words, it sucked. They made the best of it, however, managing to eke out a meager living.

One day a ship crashes on Parnassos, and from the escape pod emerges a man named Brendol Hux. He's a First Order officer and promises to save them from their miserable existence if they help him get back to his ship. Phasma sees it as their only hope for salvation, but Keldo disagrees. Phasma disobeys him and takes her best warriors, along with Hux and three stormtroopers, to set out on a journey that will decide everyone's fates. Cardinal listens to Vi's story, but what will he do once it's finished? 

After a rather underwhelming presence in The Force Awakens, Phasma needed something to keep people interested in her. Thankfully, her namesake novel does just that. Dawson has managed to churn out a compelling and well-realized psychological profile for this character. You'll get to know Phasma very well and understand the forces that helped shape her into the lethal First Order presence she became. Dawson's writing isn't perfect, but unless you're an author like me, you'll probably never notice.

If you're a fan of Star Wars and looking forward to The Last Jedi next month, you've got read this first. It'll give you a much better appreciation for Phasma's character going into the new film.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Movie Review -- Justice League

The DC Comics cinematic universe soldiers on in this week's big-time offering in Justice League. Once again directed by Zack Snyder, is it another bomb like Batman VS. Superman? Let's find out.

The story begins with Batman (Ben Affleck) luring out a mysterious creature called a Parademon and trying to capture it. These things are popping up all over, and something needs to be done about them. Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) informs him this is the work of a demonic tyrant called Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds). Realizing time is of the essence, they set out to recruit other super-powered beings. Victor Stone (Ray Fisher) is an athlete turned cyborg who can interface with computers. Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) is super fast. And Arthur Curry (Jason Moma) is the prince of Atlantis and handy with a trident. Together they set out to stop Steppenwolf, but Batman thinks they're still not enough. He wants to bring back the world's greatest hero, but is that a good idea?

I hear this movie's been getting bashed by critics. I don't know what complaints they might have because I don't read reviews of things I'm going to review myself so as to avoid being influenced. But just like the Ghostbusters reboot, I'm here to tell you this movie's A-OK. Sure, it's just The Avengers with DC characters (and with a very similar plot). And yes, the message doesn't get any deeper than a speech about the power of hope. But is this really a bad thing? You want your superhero action, and this gives it to you. You'll see all the badassery you want, delivered with all the panache you want. The only thing missing is Tony Stark's snarkiness (or is that Starkiness?).

And this is all accompanied by a terrific score courtesy of Danny Elfman who did the theme for the 1980's Batman movie. You might think he's only good for the Simpsons theme, but he's actually very talented. I feel the change in composer works well here since even Hans Zimmer is sick of doing this (hence the reason he retired from superhero movies).

Finally, the post-credits scene really sets up a conflict of epic proportions to be continued in a future film.

Bottom line: You can't go wrong with Justice League.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Thor: Ragnarok Thoughts

I just saw Thor: Ragnarok today. Since it's not quite timely and you've probably seen it already, I won't waste your time with a full review. I will say I like the new direction the series has taken. Tonally it is different from previous Thor movies, opting for a more caper-esque action romp with a new electronic soundtrack by Mark Motherbaugh. Cate Blanchett still looks stunning despite being almost 50. Newcomer Tessa Thompson plays her part well and in a less obvious way (I was not expecting a drunken Valkyrie to fall off her ship's ramp upon entry). Loki delivers fewer surprises and acts pretty much how you would expect from him.

Other than that, it's pretty much your standard Marvel movie, which is either good or bad depending on your point of view. Not groundbreaking but pretty solid.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

James Review -- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Gamma: Original Sin

This week I decided to review Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Gamma: Original Sin by David R. George III. 

The novel has two primary stories. One of these is set in the novel’s present of 2386 and the other is set in 2380 being told as a series of flashbacks.

The present story begins with the USS Robinson, commanded by Captain Benjamin Sisko, making its first contact with a new civilization since its long-term exploration of non-Dominion controlled portions of the Gamma Quadrant began. However, the ships that they encounter attack them first with weapons that disrupt space and create zones of non-space, then with sonic weapons that knock out the crew. 

While the crew is unconscious the attackers kidnap dozens of children including Captain Sisko’s daughter Rebecca. With the Robinsion’s engines useless due to being in non-space, the crew first must discover a way to free themselves. 

After the starship escapes from the area of the attack, she sets out to find the base of their attackers, discovering the remains of other ships that had suffered similar attacks along the way. When the home world of their attackers is discovered they try to negotiate the release of the children but the Glant, their attackers, refuse. The Glant eventually reveal that their culture creates each new generation by having organics create mechanical bodies then harvesting the brains of children to install in those bodies. With very little time before the harvesting begins the Robinson’s crew struggles to find a way to rescue the children before it’s too late…

The flashback story starts with Rebecca being kidnapped by an extremist from a Bajoran religious sect that believes she is the Avatar of their prophecies. But as the length of her captivity grows her captor becomes more unstable eventually deciding that the prophecy calls for him to kill Rebecca so she doesn’t become a tyrant. When he takes her to a large forest planning to kill both her and himself a desperate race to stop him begins…

I give this book 7 out of 10. While nothing is particularly bad I feel it has some key flaws. First, I feel the flashback story could have used more development, perhaps even its own book. Also, while I don’t dislike the story, I feel it is a poor choice for the first book of the Gamma sub-series. I think it would have been better for the first book of the sub-series to have a story that didn’t have such a large portion dedicated to flashbacks. Instead, I feel the space would have been better used getting to know the Robinson’s crew. Finally, while I see some interesting possibilities from what the ending revealed, I’m worried they will be shoved aside for a long time before anything is developed from them.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Kindle Spotlight -- Flame Kissed

Alexis Radcliff is back with a new series called Seeking the Dragon. She asked me to review the first book, Flame Kissed, and so here we go.

The protagonist is 17-year-old Ella Denton. Years ago, her family was killed in a mysterious fire and she got shuffled between foster families until finally arriving at the Dentons. So now she's settled in and getting ready to go off to college. But before she does, she heads off to a ski lodge with friends and family. There she is reunited with her long-time crush Nick. She plans to confess her feelings for him, but stuff happens and she ends up getting transported to a parallel world called Ether-Realm which seems to be filled entirely with dicks. They all either want to perform unspeakable medical experiments on her, enslave her, or just beat her into submission. Not a good way to spend summer vacation. I get the sense there are nicer people around, but we don't meet them in the first book. But hey, at least she has some strange magic power to make things a little better.

And that's pretty much it for the first volume. It's very short and mostly just serves to introduce us to Ella and the Ether-World. Obviously there are big secrets to be revealed, but you'll have to wait until later. Honestly, you can almost skip this one because I've told you just about everything. Still, it wouldn't hurt to start from the beginning, and you can knock this out in about an hour. For the most part, it's written well, although Radcliff uses words like "feel" and "saw" instead of just showing what was felt and seen.

I sort of feel this should have been longer, because it just doesn't do as good of a job as it should bringing us into the world. It doesn't really get good until the end. On the flip side, however, that hopefully means the subsequent books will be even better.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

James Review -- Star Wars: Aftermath: Empire’s End

This week I decided to review Star Wars: Aftermath: Empire’s End by Chuck Wendig. 

The story opens with Norra Wexley’s team hunting Imperial Grand Admiral Rae Sloane, whom they believe is responsible for a series of assassinations and attempted assassinations using mind- controlled agents, including Nora Wexley’s husband Brentin. Meanwhile, Sloane and Brentin have joined forces to hunt down Gallius Rax, the true mastermind behind the assassinations and now leader of the Empire in all but name. Both group’s find their way to Rax’s home world of Jakku. Sloane and Brentin arrive first and begin a long journey across the world having to ally with the local Hutt crimelord.

When Norra’s group arrives, they find a massive Imperial fleet gathered around the planet. While their ship flees Norra and Jas Emari take an escape pod to the planet’s surface, and Norra’s son Temmin sends Mister Bones, a B1 battle droid he had repaired and upgraded to protect his mother. 
Soon Norra and Jas are captured and separated. Eventually Norra is rescued by Mister Bones and they shortly regroup with Jas, who had also escaped captivity.

Meanwhile, on Chandrila, the current Republic capital, the members of Norra’s team that fled Jakku find themselves caught in a maze of Republic politics as they try to gain support for an attack on the Imperial fleet over Jakku. Eventually they succeed, but as the battle rages, Norra’s group and Sloane’s duo discover what Rax’s true plan is. And other enemies are closing on the Republic’s leaders while the bulk of its fleet is away…
he book also includes several sections showing events away from the main plot, and flashbacks to earlier portions of Rax’s life and his education by Palpatine.

I give the book 7 out of 10. I still like most of the characters and the battle sequences were entertaining. It was also interesting to see a little of Palpatine’s thought process behind the plan he entrusted to Rax. However, the political scenes dragged on far too long in my opinion, and felt like filler for the most part. Also, there were a number of sections near the end that made little sense to me. Finally, I feel that the ending created more questions than it answered.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Kindle Spotlight -- Horns of the Ram

Last year I reviewed Austin Rogers' intriguing sci-fi novel Sacred Planet ( A while back, he asked me to review the follow-up. I was sitting on a sizable pile of stuff to read and couldn't get to it right away, but while it's no longer timely, I'm keeping my word and finally reviewing it. Here is Dominion Series book two, Horns of the Ram.

The story picks up shortly after the first book. Davin and Strange are the only two members of the Fossa to survive the ambush in Jerusalem which resulted in the abduction of Sierra Falco. Davin is patched up by a Middle Eastern group of freedom fighters called the Defenders of Glory, and they task him with rescuing Sierra. They send along a Defender named Kiki to help them/make sure they don't run away. The trio sets off in the Fossa for Carinian space.

Meanwhile, Ulrich Morvan continues his mysterious and sinister agenda to make Carina great again. He's championing for war, and he doesn't particularly care who it's with. His sights are set on Earth--the Sacred Planet, and he wants to claim it for Carina.

Meanwhile, Cristiana of the house of Eagle wants to be the champion of Zantorian of the Sagittarium Regnum like her hero Kastor (only with a more optimistic future). She competes in an intense race across a volcanic planet to make it happen, but the competition is fierce.

Back on Earth, the Defenders begin their campaign to seize Jerusalem from the Confederacy. Backed by a mysterious adviser, it looks like they might have a shot at pulling it off. Zantorian is concerned by these developments, so he sends Cristiana and fellow warrior-noble Larkin to get to the bottom of it. But when they arrive, they discover the identity of the adviser, and it's the last person they would ever suspect.

So some people want to start a war, and others want to prevent it. Regardless of who succeeds, the galaxy will never be the same.

As I reported last time, this series is pretty much Game of Thrones in space. But before you go writing Austin Rogers off as a George R.R. Martin wannabe, hear me out. Horns of the Ram is a worthy follow-up to Sacred Planet. It's well-written, has great action and endearing characters. There are also very detailed descriptions of what is happening in each scene, so you feel like you're there. If you like science fiction, you have no excuse not to pick this up. Give this series a try, and you won't regret it.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

James Review -- Rita Longknife: Enemy in Sight

This week I decided to review Rita Longknife: Enemy in Sight by Mike Shepherd. 

When this book begins, the series namesake is in command of a heavy cruiser dedicated to exploration. She has found the wreckage of an alien ship, in a time where humanity has never contacted any non-human sentient life, and evidence that first contact was made by pirates. After her ship returns home, a council decides to commission a task force to deal with the growing pirate menace before attempting to locate and establish peaceful contact with the aliens. Rita is assigned a command of the warships assigned to the mission with her husband Ray attached to the fleet’s ground force.

Meanwhile the pirate fleet splits into two groups, each with a small colony as a base. But they swiftly reunite when an alien colony rich in gold and silver is found. At first the occupation of the alien world seems to go well, but it swiftly turns into a fight with the alien settlers waging a guerilla war against the pirates. And after some of the pirate ships seeking more worlds to plunder are routed by an alien fleet and lead it back to the occupied colony, the pirate armada flees, planning to make a stand at the nearer of the two colonies they were using as bases.

The anti-pirate task force encounters a suspected pirate vessel near the planet Savannah and sets out in pursuit but the acting leader of LeMonte, one of the pirate base worlds, manages to convince them his world is just an unregistered colony rather than a pirate port. The naval force returns to base but soon one of the two pirate ships that survived the first battle with an alien fleet, and whom had abandoned their comrades, arrives warning of an alien attack force. The naval fleet sets out again but this time discovers that both pirate colonies have been eradicated. The warships move on to the alien colony the pirates had occupied and find themselves facing an alien fleet of unknown power and technology…

I give this book 9 out of 10. It has a nice variety of scenes, and I like some of the new characters a lot, or, at least the ones that weren’t in books I have read before, but there were two major drawbacks that keep me from rating it higher. The final battle was too short for my taste and, even worse, the battle between the pirate armada and the alien pursuit force was skipped entirely. After all the pirate-focused chapters I was really looking forward to this conflict but, instead, the pirate plotline ends as soon as the pirate fleet is deploying to make its stand. I’ve always liked this author’s space battles so I view this as a horrible error.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Pandora's Box 4S 800

Today I want to tell you about an exciting new product I just acquired. It is the Pandora's Box 4S and it is a dream come true. It's pretty much a retro videogame console that only plays arcade games, but man, they are some of the best games ever. This isn't shovelware; these are real arcade games you used to have to shell out your hard-earned money to play in the arcade, or plunk down thousands of dollars for a full cabinet in your home. There are multiple versions of this available, but I'm going to focus on the particular one I bought.

The thing comes pre-loaded with (depending on the model you purchase) 800 or more arcade games. It has many of the greats such as the Ninja Turtles games, The Simpsons, X-Men, countless fighting games like Street Fighter, and obscure Japanese titles. If I had this as a kid, I would have literally died of joy.

However, I should mention it's not perfect. Here are the pros and cons.

1.) 800 of the greatest arcade games ever
2.) HDMI support. You can also hook it up to your PC monitor.
3.) Uses an authentic joystick setup
4.) USB support
5.) You can create a Favorites list so you don't have to keep cycling through the massive library to find the game you want to play.
6.) The games run pretty faithfully from what I've seen so far.

1.) The emulation isn't perfect. I've noticed some slight (and not so slight) glitches.
2.) Comes with a very cheap HDMI cable which broke the same day I set it up. You're better off using your own.
3.) The power cable comes in two pieces that don't fit very well together.
4.) The model I got has a two-player joystick board which requires you and a friend to pretty much be rubbing up against one another to play. There are other models which come with different controllers, so maybe shop around a bit.

So far, I feel the pros outweigh the cons and this thing is fantastic. I'll keep playing on it, and if my opinion changes, I'll let you know.