five stars
Einstein's Beach House

Einstein’s Beach House by Jacob M. Appel

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

  A couple adopt a depressed hedgehog; a mother is seduced by the father of her daughter’s imaginary friend; a man kidnap’s his ex-wife’s pet turtle. In eight tragi-comic stories, Einstein’s Beach House: Stories features ordinary men and women rising to life’s extraordinary challenges.

These are the kind of stories I can jive with. A collection of strange tales that border believably. Nothing too out there, nothing that couldn’t happen, but most certainly quirky. Appel has a sense of humor that resonates with me. As my wife so aptly put it, “I could be friends with this guy.”

The book had eight short stories, including one called Einstein’s Beach House, the namesake. Some of the stories were frightening in subtle ways, others were hilarious, and some made you think. I tend to like dark and gritty themes, and although not all the stories fit this description, I still loved them. However, The Rod of Asclepius certainly aligned with my tastes. It was like sipping that first bit of coffee in the morning. That sensation of, “Ah, so good.” If coffee isn’t your thing (you should get your head checked), think of it as getting your back massaged. That satisfying, relaxing feeling you . . . you get the point. I really like this story.

Go for it, take a plunge. The water’s fine!



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No Room For Regret by Janeen Ann O’Connell
No Room for RegretNo Room for Regret by Janeen Ann O’Connell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is difficult for me to rate. I definitely enjoyed it at times, but then I found that I was exasperated by it at others. It’s listed as a historical fiction and it definitely qualifies, but it is most certainly a romance novel as well.

I had no idea that I was reading a romance until toward the end, although the clues were there. Not that this is a huge issue, as I’ve read some romances before and they were perfectly fine reads. Just not my cup of tea.

But the real issue for me was this: When introduced to the protagonists, Blay and Tedder, I was struck by their incredibly unfortunate story of being sentenced and then sent to Van Diemen’s Land to serve the rest of their lives, or so it seems. They’re in chains, they’re starving, they’re struggling, they’re being whipped, and they’re just generally miserable. How will they escape this misery? I wondered excitedly.

In the most boring way ever. That’s how. Shortly after they get off the ship, the story turned south for me. Don’t get me wrong. I still enjoyed it. I kept reading. I wanted to know more. O’Connell did an excellent job. But! But a normalcy set in that rankled me.

Keep in mind that I don’t want to give away spoilers. Throughout the latter half of the book, the characters would experience a conflict within their normal, boring lives, and it would be resolved within a few pages. No cliff hangers. Each chapter ended on a happy, “everything is going to be all right, and I’m sure glad I was arrested and sent here” note. It certainly became tedious.

UNTIL THE END! The book ends on a cliffhanger of sorts, just enough to drag you into the next book in the series. Will I read it? Maybe. A big maybe.

The character I’m most interested is William Blay, one of the children of the Blay who heads the story. I’m not going to say why, but he has a little adventure that intrigues me a lot.

Next, I want to say that Tedder’s story of how he got arrested really resounded with me, and I was incredibly disappointed with the way the author handled him. The poor man got the short end of the stick.

All in all, it was an excellent read. It kept my attention despite the normalcy near the end, and I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of Australia and/or romance stories.

I’m giving it 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4. I was given this book for an honest review.

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The Mummy (Ramses the Damned #1)The Mummy by Anne Rice
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ramses awakens in 1914 in London, years after his previous awakening. When he had reigned over Egypt he learned the formula to make an elixir that made him not only immortal, but superhuman. He apparently is highly intelligent, reflected by learning English in record time. I personally wonder how intelligent he is, because some of the decisions he makes in the story aren’t the brightest. However, his poor decision making is what drives the plot.

Anne Rice loves her immortals. I think perhaps Ramses is my favorite type of immortality featured in her books. Unlike her vampires, Ramses doesn’t seem to have any flaws (Other than thinking with his little head), but seems to enjoy all the benefits of her older vampires. Although, I personally would prefer Ramses’ immortality, it doesn’t really do the book any favors. A good book needs flaws, and poor decision making doesn’t really do it for me.

All in all, I’ve always enjoyed Anne Rice, and I think this is a fine read, just not as good as some of her others.

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The Mummy by Anne Rice

The Final Touches

The last few weeks have left me worn and tired. I have been working tirelessly on perfecting the cover of The Unfettered Child while also working with my editor to perfect the manuscript.

What more could be done with the cover, you ask? Actually, so much more. In fact, I found something new to fix almost every time I looked at it. It’s been a while since I did part four of this series, so let’s back up to then:

The cover first uploaded to Amazon.

As you can see, I had Samara standing in the corner, looking kind of vague, her feet shrouded in shadow (okay, a gradient really), and striking a tree in the distance with a magical lightning bolt. Something nagged at me when I presented this cover, from the beginning. I couldn’t put my finger on it right away.

Then a comment on Twitter shined a spotlight on the issue. The comment was: “Dude spent 8 years at magic school just to burn down a tree. That’s dedication to a grudge there…”

It was a funny comment, but it raised the question, “Why is she attacking a tree? Also, why should the tree be focused on at all?” So I jumped back into the file and started making adjustments. First, I wanted to focus more on Samara. I came up with this:

Samara centered in the image.

I still had issues with the above image. Something seemed off. One, she was still attacking the tree, which didn’t set well with me. I decided to enlist some help.

I went on over to Reedsy.com and signed up for an account. I already knew the website had tons of resources for authors, so I decided to look there first. However, I also knew that I didn’t have a lot of funds for this, and I do know a thing or two about Photoshop.

So I made a bid on Reedsy to five artists who looked appealing to me and might be willing to help with my request, which was a unique one indeed. Two of the cover artists flat out rejected it due to being too busy, and the rest sent me quotes.

My first quote was basically, “Yeah, your cover sucks. Let me do it over from scratch for lots of money.” The second quote was much more diplomatic, but essentially the same.

Then along came Gwen (@UponADayDreamer), who offered to be an “art coach.” I have to admit, I had no idea what that would entail, but I decided to plunge in and see what happened. At the very least, I might learn a thing or two.

The first thing she asked for was composition thumbnails. I said to myself, “What the hell is a composition thumbnail?” Instead of sounding dumb by asking her, I asked my friend Google instead. Google rarely lets me down, and didn’t this time either. So, in short order, I did this thing.

For those of you who also have no idea what a composition thumbnail is, I won’t make you ask Google. Basically, you’re blobbing your figures with grayscale to help determine where the light sources are, which will in turn help you figure out appropriate shading.

Composition Thumbnails. The last frame is a joke, of course.

I made the last five of these thumbnails to see what a lighter sky and a darker ground would look like. Also, I tried re-positioning the figure, having the tree, and not having the tree.

More thumbnails

These two were with the dark sky. I decided I like the larger figure and the darker sky out of these, so we moved on.

She then asked for more thumbnails with more details drawn in. This was the point at which I had to raise my hands in supplication. I told her, “I can do photo manipulation, but I’m no artist. I can’t draw details.” So she told me to grayscale the work and make thumbnails like that. This time, she wanted me to change a few things.

First, she said, “Your story takes place on a tundra. Oak trees do not grow on the tundra. You need to replace it with a pine or birch tree.” Fair enough. Then, she said, “You need to make it larger to show scale better. But also try some different things. Have her strike a different type of object, maybe a person, also try to just have absorbing the lightning from the sky, leaving the tree alone, and also absorbing the lightning with no tree.”

So I sent her these thumbnails next:

More details in the composition thumbnails.

As you can see, in the top left corner, she’s absorbing lightning and the tree is left alone. In the top right, the tree is gone but she’s still absorbing the lightning. In the bottom left, she’s shooting a camp fire. Last, she’s attacking the tree.

I personally liked the tree gone and her absorbing the lightning, so we went with that.

Next, I sent her the image I was going to use for the full cover (which I don’t have a color image of anymore):

Full cover with first “absorbing the lightning” image.

She told me that she didn’t like the two bolts coming down, so I removed one, and it did look better. I sent that to her, and she suggested I put one bolt on the back part of the cover, striking in the distance. So I sent her this:

You’ll also note that I removed the solid black on the bottom on these last two images, and just had Samara’s shadow there. The dark shadow behind her was there for a reason. I didn’t photograph my daughter’s feet in that picture and I was trying to cover up their absence.

I actually have a ton of images showing the multitude of changes we went through. It was a back-and-forth game for weeks. Each time, we would improve the image a little more. We adjusted the lighting and shadows, added the grass, and finally, she convinced me to plunge in and try to draw the feet in. I did, with excellent results. The final image was truly a masterpiece, the best art I have ever done.

The Unfettered Child without title

After we finally finished the image, we moved on to the text, but we were dangerously close to running out of time, and I couldn’t afford to tack on any more hours to keep going. However, in the last two emails she sent, we managed to fix the text for a beautiful end result.

We lowered the U in “Unfettered” and the C in “Child,” centered the title, and brought it lower. Next, we had the lightning shoot through the D of my last name, which was a really nice effect. Last, I added a tagline, and the final product is just amazing. Check it out here:

The final cover
The final mockup

What do you think?

~Michael C. Sahd

The Unfettered Child Releases

The Unfettered Child Mockup

Today’s the big day. The Unfettered Child released, and it is momentous. My nerves are on end as my wife and I sit and watch the day’s activities online. So far, Amazon has yet to release the paperback to the public, which is kind of an important factor and the most nerve-wracking situation. Hopefully, it will be up by the time I publish this post. The ebook had 13 preorders, and those went out first thing this morning.

Amazon may, unfortunately, take up to three days for the paperback to actually be available. In the meantime, we are waiting before we send out the brunt of the ads.

One of my ARC reviewers dropped their review on Amazon, marking the first one on the site. Also, 100 readers won the ebook on Goodreads last night, and I hope they will also drop some (preferably good) reviews.

We also found this jewel of a review on a blog: http://pagesforthoughts.blogspot.com/2019/08/the-unfettered-child-by-micahel-c-sahd.html?m=1 As far as I can tell, it has not shown up anywhere else yet.

Incidentally, we put Assassin Marked on Amazon promotion for free today through September 1, and it is blowing up. Hitting #1 in all three categories that it’s in, and sitting at #34 in the free Kindle store last I checked.

While we wait, we’ve been catching up on other things. I’ve been writing answers for some author interviews, I’m working on this blog post as we speak, and we’re getting out more advertisements on social media, as well as marking ad date releases for the calendar.

My business card

I almost forgot to mention that I am hosting a launch party at our local comic shop this weekend starting at 7 p.m. I ordered business cards, some bookmarks, and a t-shirt for me to wear, and there will be cake! The details are here: https://www.facebook.com/events/486097878841426/

I can’t wait to see what you guys think of the new book. Please let me know.

Signing off,

~Michael C. Sahd

In Honor of Toni Morrison

To celebrate the life of the esteemed author Toni Morrison, I’m reposting my review of Beloved. This book ranks as one of my all-time favorite reads.

BelovedBeloved by Toni Morrison
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I enrolled into my contemporary literature class, I couldn’t fathom what kinds of novels my instructor planed to toss at us. I remember staring at the reading list with more than a little trepidation, and when my eyes glanced over Toni Morrison’s Beloved, I groaned. The red background with the flowing gold script screamed romance to me. When it came time to read the book, I settled in with an open mind, but still trembled from the thought of sappy narration. Within the first few lines I discovered my fears were unfounded. Never judge a book by its cover!

Beloved tells us a hauntingly beautiful ghost story, brought forth by the desperate actions of an escaped slave woman, Sethe. Some may wonder whether Sethe’s actions are perhaps the wisest; regardless, her actions come back to haunt her, literally. Readers may find Toni’s writing style difficult. She packs the pages full of dreams, flashbacks, and memories that take the reader back and forth through time (think Faulkner or Virginia Woolf), and I found myself confused, having to reread the text sometimes to decipher the meaning behind the words. Regardless the excellent story makes up for this confusion. I highly suggest reading it.

On a side note: The movie failed to encompass the grittiness and emotion of which the book so brilliantly displayed.

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When I start pecking at my keyboard, I generally have a good idea of what I’m writing about. Not that I claim to be a scholar like Tolkien, but I have the internet at my fingertips and a library down the road. Meaning, I do my research.

The reason I bring this up stems from a comment I received regarding Samara’s age in The Unfettered Child. The commentator suggested that I make her 14 or 15 to better fit with the story.

I can appreciate someone not wanting to read about an 8-year-old child, but Samara’s age is perfect for my story. Here’s why:

Age and Culture

Children fishing

Historically (especially in primitive societies like Samara’s), adulthood was attained at the onset of puberty and was expected by then. In many cases, this meant around the age of 10 or 11 years old. To put it quite plainly, a 14-year-old Samara would have been several years into adulthood, probably married, and may have had a child or two of her own. Much too old for the story I intend to tell. Click here for more information; or here for additional information.

This doesn’t answer the full spectrum of the comment either.

Maturity

Image from Imgflip

I know that here in America and in most first-world countries, we spoil children (and ourselves) with the modern conveniences provided to us, and thank God for that. I’m really glad that my children have the opportunity to grow up free from the hardships that the nomads might consider normal.

However, even in our country, some children suffer. Hardship slinks its way even into the best the world has to offer. What happens when children experience hardship? They mature . . . quickly.

Before I even get into the maturity of children that experience hardships or live it on a regular basis, I want to point out that even my spoiled rotten children regularly display maturity and critical thinking. My 10 year old has had a vocabulary that could put many adults to shame, and has for two years now. He also mingles with our adult friends, preferring their company to that of children his own age, and they in turn treat him as a peer.

But back to hardships. Samara’s story, short of the fantastical side of it, echoes parts of my own. I was a year younger than Samara when my mother passed away. My father was 57 at the time and had little in the way of help. As the oldest of my siblings, I had to grow up quickly and learn the importance of responsibility.

Me working when I was younger. No, I joke. A child labor picture from Pixabay.

Plenty of documentation exists concerning the way of life for children in tribal societies. These children are well on their way to adulthood long before some of us begin high school.

So no. An older Samara would be out of place in my story, and historians and sticklers for accuracy would poke holes in the story had I made her older just for the comfort of those who cringe at the idea of children experiencing such hardship.

Do you have trouble with reading stories involving young children in terrible situations? Let me know your thoughts.

That’s all I have for now.

~Michael C. Sahd

Fight Club
Fight ClubFight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Chuck Palahniuk is weird. No skirting around that, he just is. But I really like his style. When I first rated this book, I gave it a 4-star rating, but I’m returning to write a review, and I decided to augment that with an additional star.

The unnamed protagonist suffering from insomnia seeks refuge by joining many support groups by impersonating a seriously ill person of that assembly. When he meets Tyler Durden, we eventually discover that our protagonist has been slowly slipping into madness throughout the book.

Palahniuk’s big reveal at the end would have surprised me had I not seen the movie first. Still, I feel that Palahniuk’s ability to shock his readers executes perfectly in Fight Club.

Looking for something different to read? Give this book a chance. Seen the movie? Great! It was a good movie, but the book is better (even if it doesn’t have Brad Pitt).

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The Magician

He held the fate of two worlds in his hands . . . Once, he was an orphan called Pug, apprenticed to a sorcerer of the enchanted land of Midkemia. Then he was captured and enslaved by the Tsurani, a strange, warlike race of invaders from another world.

There, in the exotic empire of Kelewan, he earned a new name– “Milamber.” He learned to tame the unnimagined powers that lay within him. And he took his place in an ancient struggle against an evil enemy older than time itself.

My thoughts on Goodreads:

Magician (The Riftwar Saga, #1-2)Magician by Raymond E. Feist
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The fact that I knew nothing about this story when I first started reading this book left me with a more favorable impression of it.

This book started as a typical fantasy trope: A young boy (Pug), is stuck in a mundane life, but training as a wizard. The book features elves and dwarves and orcs and conflict and blah . . . Same story I’ve heard and read (and played in Dungeons and Dragons) a thousand times. However, I kept reading at a friend’s behest . . . ***spoiler, but not really because it’s in the blurb*** . . .

Then the invasion from another planet happens. I remember sitting up in my seat, exclaiming “What the h***!” (my agent demands that I quell my public expletives). Anyway, from that point on, I found myself hooked to Pug’s adventures and read the entire series. Had I even read the blurb , this book would not have had the impact on me that it did. I liked the book, but the surprise I experienced made the story memorable. Hence, I give this book four stars and highly recommend you read it.

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The Beginnings

In my upcoming novel, The Unfettered Child, I don’t spend a whole lot of time detailing the world they live in. The main characters, Samara and Orin, live on a vast, flat expanse their people call the Hunting Grounds. They are aware of other lands, but their knowledge is limited.

Here, I will satisfy the thirst some have for elaborate worlds. Come sip on the tea that is Aaruda.

Image by かねのり 三浦 from Pixabay

The picture of the Mongolian plains above should give you a good idea of what the Hunting Grounds looks like, especially in regards to the area where Samara’s unfortunate tale begins.

Like so many other fictional worlds, Aaruda is modeled after Earth. Why not? We know it, we’re familiar with it. Unlike so many other fictional worlds, Aaruda’s overlying culture is steeped with Arabic flavoring. It’s not a unique flavoring, but rarely do we taste fiction that isn’t based on Europe.

Much of the known land in Aaruda is under the sway of the Havallan Empire (think of the Ottoman Empire). Havalla extends from the desert in all directions; from the southern border of the Hunting Grounds to the deep and dangerous jungles of the south and from the western coast to the Ogre Ranges in the east. Many thousands of miles encompass the Havallan Empire, which would be the equivalent of an empire that expands all across Europe and as far south as the northern half of Africa.

Al-Azhar mosque from Wikipedia

Temples like the one above are scattered throughout the Havallan Empire, with depictions of the Sun and the Moon.

Symbol of Najima’uwe’Alqamar min Samawi
Nenets reindeer sledge

Samara’s culture is a mix of what I know about the Apache Native Americans, Mongolian nomads, and what I learned of the Nenet people in Siberia.

Later in the story, a new culture is introduced akin to the Danes, (we all love Vikings), although these people live mainly in the mountains.

Of the fantasy races, I have introduced elves and ogres. I may add more to the world later, but for now, those are the only fantasy races represented in the book. Learn more about these in The Unfettered Child.

If you’re a writer, is your world similar to Earth or did you diverge and attempt something alien? If you’re not a writer, what kind of worlds do you like in the fantasy books you read?

That’s all for now. Thank you for reading.

~Michael C. Sahd