BOOK REVIEW: Day By Day Armageddon: Ghost Run

This review is long overdue, but better late than never.

 

51s0etzxtylIt was about two years ago when I first picked up a copy of Day by Day Armageddon by J.L. Bourne. Being a red-blooded American, I’ve always enjoyed zombie movies/games, but thanks to Max Brooks I became quite enthralled with zombie literature, as well. So, when I came across DBDA on sale, I thought I would give it a whirl. After all, the author is in the US armed forces, which already warrants a great deal of respect from me. I figured the worst that could happen was that I didn’t like it, and one of the men protecting this nation has a few extra bucks in his pocket. Suffice it to say, my socks were full and properly blown off with this series—I was hooked.

I’m considering doing another, lengthier review on books 1-3, but this review will be about book 4, subtitled Ghost Run. While this review will be best read by people who have gone through the previous books, I will do my best to avoid significant spoilers for someone who hasn’t read all (or some) of the prior books in the series.

Book 3 (Shattered Hourglass) deviates from the rest of the series and is written (mostly) in third person following several different people/groups. At first this was a bit difficult to chew, and I questioned why Bourne made that decision. However, by the end of the book I had seen a story—a much deeper story—develop. And while the move to third person was a bit jarring, it advanced the story in a way that would just not have been possible to do from the first person perspective of the main character. This is not to say the book was bad, just that it was different. But, I realized that it was a necessary choice for Bourne to make to take the plot the direction he did. And I am glad he did it, because it set up the story for Ghost Run—the best book of the series!

Ghost Run returns to the first person perspective of Kilroy (Kil), the protagonist, and starts off a short time after Shattered Hourglass ends. And it doesn’t take long for Kil to find himself out on the road, again, facing hordes of the undead who are hellbent on having him for dinner. Picking up a faint distress signal from a familiar group with significant news, Kil quickly decides to take on the suicidal task of locating and extracting the group located inside a major city. It’s worth the risk.

One of the first things I want point out about this book that I love is that Kil is alone. Sure, he interacts with a few people here and there (many of which don’t take too kindly to strangers), but in this book he is by himself more than he is in any of the other books. And, as I read through the book, I think I felt more anxious and empathetic for the hero than at any other point in the series (with perhaps the exception of a stretch of chapters in book 2). And even though Kil has a companion of sorts in Ghost Run, for all intents and purposes it’s him versus the world. And it’s great!

Another thing I really enjoyed about this book was getting to know Kil more on a personal level—on a more vulnerable level. In the interest of those who haven’t read the other books, I won’t go into details, but the concerns and worries that plague Kil’s thoughts at times, for the people he cares about, brought a new depth to his character in this book. One that I can personally relate to. I am quite sure these thoughts came straight from Bourne’s heart, and was not just an attempt to pull at the heart strings of the reader. I found it easy to laugh when Kil laughed, get choked up when Kil got choked up, and get frustrated for him when the crap kept piling on. In this book, Kil has to climb a mountain of struggles while slaying more demons than just the undead.

As if there was any question to it, Bourne delivers brilliantly on the intense action front. There are some chapters in the book that I found myself so tensed up that my fingers began to hurt from clutching my Kindle, and it would take me several minutes after powering down my e-reader to come out of the story and back to reality. For some readers, reaching this point comes a bit easier, but not so much for me. I can count on one hand the books that have impacted me that way, and Ghost Run, by far, did it the most.

J.L. Bourne, like myself, is a gun enthusiast. And, like me, inserts much of that enthusiasm into his writing. For me personally, I loved reading the details about weapons and supplies Kil came across over the course his journey. Some people might get a bit bogged down with this information if their knowledge of the subject is limited, but Bourne does a good job of keeping the story flowing even during these situations. And proper context is usually offered to explain the technical talk. However, I’m going to go out on a limb here, and assume most of his readers won’t have any problems in this department.

Ghost Run is written in a way that I feel someone who has not read any of the prior books in the series could pick this one up and read it standalone. There’s enough information given to explain characters and past situations that it wouldn’t leave you completely confused. Having said that, you will get so much more out of this book if you read the first three. So, do it.

I’d be lying if I said J.L. Bourne wasn’t one of my favorite (if not my favorite) author. His craft improves with each story told, and each one of those stories is even more compelling than the last. Without a shadow of a doubt, J.L. Bourne has gained me as a reader for life. I look forward to his next release, whatever and whenever it may be.

 

You can pick up Day by Day Armageddon: Ghost Run (along with the other DBDA books in the series) over at Amazon and other book retailers. You can also check out his standalone doomsday/prepper novel, Tomorrow War, which was my favorite novel of his until Ghost Run released.

You can also learn more about this author at his website http://jlbourne.com/

 

-AJ

Book Review: Tomorrow War by J.L. Bourne

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A while back when J.L. Bourne tweeted that his new book, Tomorrow War, was going to be a lights out societal collapse novel, I was immediately intrigued. His previous series, Day by Day Armageddon, is a very enjoyable zombie apocalypse series, so it wasn’t much of a surprise that he went with another (but more realistic) TEOTWAWKI universe. A few days after release, I picked up the hardback and dug in. So what did I think?

First, I must take you back to 2008 when I read this little book called World War Z. I read it back when I was working for id Software and was getting a little bit of inspiration for the project I was working on. WWZ has a significant, permanent place in my heart because it was the first full-length novel I read as an adult. Sad, I know, and I hate admitting it, but as a game developer (especially an artist) you tend to get wrapped up in more visual medias like games and movies. But the reason WWZ was so significant is that it was a literary gateway drug for me. Suddenly, reading books could be as fun, if not more fun, than just watching a movie or playing a game. I quickly became hooked and found myself at book stores as much as a GameStop or Best Buy. World War Z, with it’s journalistic first person writing style and various entries ranging from a few hundred words to a few thousand words, engaged me in a way a book had never done before. It truly was a book that I “couldn’t put down,” and despite many of the incredible titles I’ve read since, I’ve not really found another book that I could honestly say I couldn’t put it down…Until I read Tomorrow War.

If I had to guess, I’d say that I read through Tomorrow War in fewer sessions than any other book (including WWZ). When I actually got time to sit down and read this book (not always an easy task with a toddler and an infant), I became immersed. I saw the world the characters saw, I felt the pain, anger, and fear the characters felt—I was a fly on the wall during the collapse of the American society, and based on the events that occur in the book, I think I’d prefer being the fly. Bourne does an excellent job with an elegant, but very readable writing style that brings the universe to life. There are some books that truly have one-dimensional characters and a smorgasbord of cliches intertwined with a series of “WTF” moments that make you wonder how this author even got published. But fear not! You will not find any of these in Tomorrow War. Also, Bourne does go into some technical detail about guns/gear, but nothing too over the top. And when he says something without a clear explanation, he uses context to do the explaining for you. As a gun/gear guy myself, I really like reading about these types of things, but if you’re not into that stuff as much, it should still be pretty clear what he’s talking about.

As I did with my last review (and what I will continue to do here), I will not go into too much detail about the book’s premise or story elements out of respect of the author. The last thing I want to do is spill beans the author intended to be left in the can until the readers experience it for themselves. However, the elevator pitch for this story is that through unexpected events (to the main character), the “just in time” network of food and supplies the majority of Americans rely on for their very survival is disrupted. The instant communication, the on demand entertainment…All gone in the blink of an eye. This book showcases just how devastating this would be for most Americans today, and speculates at the horrific lengths individuals would be willing to go in order to get their block of government cheese. There were no fewer than a dozen times when I shuddered at some of the events described, not because they were gruesome (though there is plenty of that), but rather because none of it seemed far enough fetched to think “that would never happen.” Several sobering scenes in this book that will make everyone reading this review thankful for this cozy world we currently live in.

I will be transparent here: While I was intrigued with this book when Bourne announced it, I was a bit hesitant at the same time. I’ve tried prepper books in the past, and…Well, please refer to my comments above on one-dimensional characters and cliches (DISCLAIMER, not saying all prepper books are like this, but many of the ones I’ve read are). I wouldn’t say this is a full on “prepper” book—there is quite a bit of it towards the earlier half, and admittedly I was vicariously living through Max [Redacted] as he extravagantly purchased thousands of dollars of goods and supplies before things went down—but this book moves past that in favor of developing the story further. Some people really enjoy just the prepper stuff exclusively; to each their own. I for one am glad Bourne didn’t go this route. He gave it the appropriate amount of time needed (certainly emphasizing the importance of such preparations), and then moved on. Well done!

I think I tweeted this statement before, but I had this book listed in my top five favorites. Honestly, it could probably be top three, maybe even taking a close second behind World War Z. I really enjoyed this book, and I was thoroughly disappointed when I flipped the last page and saw the acknowledgements. I was not ready for this story to end. I want more, and I hope that this talented author continues writing, he has a knack for it. And to be honest, between World War Z and Tomorrow War, I am pretty inspired to do some writing in a similar fashion sometime (First person, journal/log entries).

Tomorrow War is, in my opinion, a stronger showing than the Day by Day Armageddon series. Bourne takes his writing to the next level, and I am excited to see what he does next.

Final thoughts: This was a great book, and I highly recommend it. The situations were not always pleasant, and the whole concept is downright scary (society collapse could occur in countless different ways), but as Bourne states in his acknowledgements, let’s hope this kind of situation stays where it belongs—in a fiction book.

You can pick up Tomorrow War at pretty much every book retailer, but here’s a link directly to Amazon. You can also visit his website at www.jlbourne.com and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

 

 

Novel Postmortem

In the game industry we (typically) do a postmortem after every project. Essentially each person writes about their own experience on the project—the good, the bad, and the ugly. As I near the end of the project with As the Ash Fell I thought it would be fun—if not a little therapeutic—to write one about my first full-length novel experience.

I started writing Ash almost exactly a year ago (I think it was in the closing days of March, 2014). I set out a goal to finish the draft in just a few months, get my wife to edit during her last trimester of pregnancy with our son, and then get ready to release shortly after he was born. As you can see, that didn’t happen. So my first point is:

Slow and Steady Wins the Race!

Ugh, I really hate to use cliché phrases, but this is really the case here. When I first started the project, I wrote the first couple of chapters and decided I was done. After my wife read those chapters, she emphatically told me I wasn’t done, and that she wanted to know what happened with this story. So I continued writing with the plan I mentioned above. I wanted to ship this book and move on, but I had to deliver a high quality piece for my debut splash into the novel world. Unwilling to compromise on the latter half of the plan, I decided I needed to just take as long as I needed to do it right. Despite my disappointment that it’s a year later and still not released (almost there, though), it was the right call. Rushing something out the door, especially when there is nobody pressuring you to do so (except for yourself) is a really foolish move. No matter how many times I wanted to rush this area, or cut that corner, I felt the nag in the back of my head to avoid such lazy tactics. I am glad I did. I believe the end result is something significantly better, and I believe readers will enjoy the book much more because of it.

Eyes on the book before you release.

Once I finished the draft, I was pretty proud of it. I wanted to just get it edited and shipped (again, my desire to quickly publish it was taking control). I thought it was perfect the way it was, but I knew I needed some people to read it. So my wife/editor, and my good friend J.T. O’Connell read what I called an “Alpha” version of the book. The feedback from both of them was genuinely good, but they also both agreed: The ending needed to change! I won’t go into detail about this as to not spoil the story, but I was really surprised with that feedback. I disagreed, and it took a lot of convincing to change it. I eventually caved, and after I released the book to a handful of “Beta” readers they told me how much they liked the book, and enjoyed the reworked ending. When I told them the original ending, every single reader agreed with Lia and J.T. about the original ending not working. I would have never thought this would be the case, but their valuable feedback and insight made this book stronger. Get as many eyes on the book as you think you can before releasing it. Yeah, it might mean you get a few less sales, but if your book is better for it, the added sales in the long run will far outweigh the fewer in the beginning.

Edit, Edit again, and for a change of pace, edit some more.

When I finished the draft for Ash, I thought it might have a few little grammatical errors here and there, and certainly expected some punctuation issues. I thought there might be the occasional paragraph restructure to help make things flow more smoothly, but overall I knew it was solid. Then, before I let my alpha readers get a copy, I did my own edit pass. Wow! I spent a couple weeks reworking many areas, tweaking, correcting, and so on. It was rough, but that’s why it’s a rough draft. Then I gave it to my alpha readers. Lia printed the whole thing out and did red-ink on it as she read. Keep in mind her red-ink comments were more or less just pointing out places it didn’t flow well, incorrect word usage, details that were far too technical, etc. Essentially, it was not a line-by-line edit. I am surprised her pen didn’t run out of ink before she finished. It was bad. Real bad. Then, after I made those adjustments, I released to the beta readers and they found a plethora of mistakes, too. Some that I missed even on my second, more detailed read through. Lia is now doing the line-by-line edits and I know that by and large this release will be very clean and professional-level editing, I know that if I can find mistakes in big-house published books, there will likely be some in mine. But the point I am getting at is: don’t release a book plagued with little mistakes that will take the reader out of the story. One of the biggest stigmas indie authors have going against them is crappy editing. Take the time, edit carefully, and make readers go “Wow! This is an indie book? It’s so well written and has almost no grammatical mistakes.”

Cover Art.

Despite being encouraged not to, people do judge books by their covers. You need to make it a good one. In my case I actually do cover art for other authors, so I thought that would be a simple enough task. Except when it came time to put down the first pixels for my own book cover, I acted as if I had never opened Photoshop before. To those that have seen the cover, you know it’s a pretty simple illustration. Not a whole lot going on. However, it took me quite a while to reach that point. I almost contacted some artists I know from the game industry to have them do a cover. Thankfully, I feel I pulled it together in the last minute (thanks to some suggestions from Lia) and I am happy with the end results. But the big takeaway I have from this is, if you can’t create a professional looking cover, then hire a professional. You might have a great book, but if nobody looks inside how will they ever know? Indie books are in the middle of a sea of other books. You need to stand out in all aspects—that especially includes cover work. I was just a day or two away from hiring someone to do mine, which would not only be a hit financially, but a bruise to my ego as an artist. If it made my book more attractive, however, then it would have been worth it.

Writing your draft is only half the battle.

So, after you finish your draft you think you’re finished, right? Wrong! Besides what was discussed above, there is so much more to launching a book. Get ready to become a marketing major! I will say this—I hate this part of launching a book more than anything else. The amount of time I spend on Twitter and Facebook just trying to get a few people to share or re-tweet is very frustrating. I’ve also spent money to advertise posts, and will likely do a lot more of that in the future. It’s anything but fun, however, it is necessary. Yes, a lot of your sales will eventually come from word-of-mouth, but you will need that initial momentum to get people to read your work so they have something to tell their friends about. Once Ash releases, I do plan to do some advertising on websites which will cost money instead of so much time, but I also plan to give review copies away, offer prizes/giveaways on my social networks, find relevant websites and social media folks to try and get interviews and such. As an author, I would much prefer to spend my time writing and reading, but it’s a necessary evil so long as I am an indie author.

 

I am sure there is much more I could write about, but I’ve already rambled on long enough. The high-level takeaway here is that, as an indie author, it’s a lot of work to release a book, if you want to make a splash. I have seen plenty of indie books that have me shaking my head as I see awful covers, poor marketing techniques, and worst of all—terrible quality control on the writing itself. So many great ideas are dead in the water because authors rushed to get things out the door. Don’t make that mistake. Take your time (even if it means missing your own deadlines) and make sure you are making a great first impression.

A friend of mine posted a review about a book she enjoyed, and she started off by saying that she almost didn’t read it because she was turned off with the author’s first book. However, she gave him another chance and was glad she did. Unfortunately, most readers don’t give authors a second chance—don’t give them an excuse to write off (no pun intended) your books forever because you were just itching to release your work before it was truly ready.

Anyway, sorry for the long post. I hope you enjoyed it, and that you found it beneficial.

Until next time,

AJ

Beta, Cover Art, and Newsletter

Greetings and Salutations,

I am excited to announce that my book–currently titled As the Ash Fell–is in the hands of my beta readers and well on its way to release in April. I can’t begin to describe how exciting this is for me. While I had a few folks read my first release (a novella back in 2011 that has since been taken down by my choice), I’ve never had so many beta readers before (Thank you!) and certainly never for anything of this magnitude. It is both thrilling and terrifying at the same time. When I hit the “send” button on that email, my wife joked with me “There, it’s done, people are seeing your work and you can’t take it back.” There’s a lot of anxiety that comes with that statement, kidding or not. It’s not a bad thing, but it’s putting myself out there and to say I am nervous about it would be an understatement.

Now that the book is in the hands of the Beta Readers, I will be moving on to my cover art. I had this perfect idea for what the cover should look like; I have had it floating around my head for months. But now, as I attempt to block out the scene in Photoshop, I realize how much of a headache this scene will be. While I hope I can get the scene I had in mind to work out, I’m not afraid to abandon it altogether and start with something new. It is quite apparent to me, however, that creating my own cover art work (something I haven’t done since 2011) is much more difficult than when I create one for other authors. At any rate, once this is done I’ll be revealing the cover in my newsletter, and then eventually on here and the social media outlets. Speaking of newsletters…

If you head over to the Newsletter page, you can sign up for my newsletter which is something I send out once or twice a month with information/tidbits about my writing/art that I may not post online anywhere else. For example, in the coming week I will be sending out the first chapter of my book in the newsletter. I will also be giving away a prize to one of the subscribers (prize to be announced soon). So sign up today! It’s easy. Just fill out the little form on the Newsletter page and then just click the link on the confirmation e-mail. Done.

I am really looking forward to this release next month, and can’t wait to hear the feedback from the Beta Readers (good or bad).

Until next time!

 

-AJ