The Commons: Book 1: The Journeyman:

The Commons: Book 1: The Journeyman
Published: June 19, 2014
Author's Twitter: @michaelapeck
 “Paul Reid died in the snow at seventeen. The day of his death, he told a lie–and for the rest of his life, he wondered if that was what killed him.” And so begins the battle for the afterlife, known as The Commons. It’s been taken over by a corporate raider who uses the energy of its souls to maintain his brutal control. The result is an imaginary landscape of a broken America-stuck in time and overrun by the heroes, monsters, dreams, and nightmares of the imprisoned dead. Three people board a bus to nowhere: a New York street kid, an Iraq War veteran, and her five-year-old special-needs son. After a horrific accident, they are the last, best hope for The Commons to free itself. Along for the ride are a shotgun-toting goth girl, a six-foot-six mummy, a mute Shaolin monk with anger-management issues, and the only guide left to lead them. Three Journeys: separate but joined. One mission: to save forever. But first they have to save themselves.

Reviewed by Katt Pemble

4 Stars

I don’t really know what to say after finishing The Journeyman… my mind is still whirring around putting things together, rehashing scenes from the start that held hidden meanings that only revealed themselves after you’ve finished the book.

My first thought was around how instantly engaging and interesting the story was, even though it began as a slice-of-life type of story. The first few chapters welcomed the reader into Paul’s world, showed a young man who had struggled through life, had been beaten to the curb time and time again.

Annie and Zach also added to the delightfully well-constructed characters. I especially liked that they were both a bit different from the traditional characters. Zach appeared to be on the spectrum, while Annie is a strong minded, single mother, data analyst and injured war veteran.

Brilliantly different and yet, someone that just about anyone could relate to on some level.

The idea of a purgatory or interim afterlife has been done before, but not with this sort of fantastical element. When the book changes from slice-of-life to The Commons the whole world is turned on its head. This left me a little lost as to what was happening, and while a little disorienting, the fast pace meant you really couldn’t stay focused on that for too long.

This will either encourage the reader to just ‘go with it’ or potentially put them off completely (which is what I’ve seen in a couple of the other reviews). For me, the unanswered questions around what was happening and who all the new people were, was more intriguing than annoying. But I can completely understand how some people would get ‘over it’ quickly.

My biggest criticism, and probably the only one really, is to do with the pace of the book. The action starts at chapter 5, and it does not stop until you read the last line of the book. Now, at times, this works brilliantly. The epic battles and racing through dark tunnels was fantastic at a frantic pace, but normally as a reader you need some slower parts. Parts that allow you to digest what has happened and to form intricate and emotional bonds with the characters; It’s a part that was almost missed because of the frantic pace.

The emotional impact of one of the pivotal sad moments in the story was a mere molehill to me because of my lack of emotional attachment to the characters. The reaction that should have occurred was nowhere to be seen because my level of emotional commitment to the character was still in its infancy. Had there been a few softer, quieter moments with this character, ones to forge emotional bonds with, then I’d probably have been crying like a baby at that climatic scene. I wanted to, I really did.

Are you crying?

This isn’t to say that Michael can’t make the reader care about the characters, because he does. I really felt for little Zach and felt my heart lurch along with Annie’s as she worked her way through the puzzles along her journey, but these scenes were about characters that’d been with me the whole way through the book. I knew something of them, I wanted to read more about them and experience things with them.

When it comes to antagonists, Michael really shone. Mr Brill was insidious in his evilness and yet, still not out and out creepy. There was an intelligence about him and a polished exterior that was somewhat misleading. I also liked his little side-kick Gerald Truitt, he was an interesting character. I can see bigger things for him too.

All in all, this is a fantastic book. One that is well written, flawlessly edited and thoroughly engaging. If you want to try something that’ll get your imagination flowing, pick this book up today, you will not be disappointed.

**Note: I was provided an electronic copy of this book in return for an honest review***

Playback Effect

Playback Effect
Published: December 9, 2014
Author's Twitter: @WordsmithWyle
New technology records the highlights of emotional experience for others to share. But the recordings carry hidden information. What will a sociopath do with recordings of the experience of death? “O wad some Power the giftie gie us/To see oursels as ithers see us!” But what if we could see others as they see themselves? New technology records the highlights of emotional experience for others to share. Buy a helmet and you can feel the exhilaration of an Olympic ski jumper, or the heat of a lucid dreamer’s erotic imaginings. Commit a crime, and you may be sentenced to endure the suffering you inflicted on others. But such recordings may carry more information than the public has realized. What will criminals learn about their victims? When a husband is wrongfully convicted of injuring his wife, how will their marriage change? And what uses will a sociopath find for recordings of the experience of death?

When Your Dreams Are Not Your Own

5 Stars

Wynne Cantrell sells dreams – not the kind you might think, but actual dreams. Wynne has the ability to record her dreams and then provide them to customers. Her husband Hal Wakeman is a noted sculptor, who unfortunately does not take what Wynne does as art, and often takes her for granted. Late as usual for appointments, when Wynne waits for him at lunch near a fountain he designed, he is not there when a bomb explodes, causing the loss of her hand and the deaths of several people.

At a loss for suspects, the police suspect Hal of the crime, either as some kind of over the top artistic protest, or as a way to get rid of his wife. Things go bad for Hal when Arthur Kellic, a rival for her affections, is assigned as the lead detective on the case. Hal is convicted and faces the punishment of the time, which is having to endure the final thoughts of the victims. He’s later cleared, but too late – he’s already punished – a punishment that the system will not undo.

Playback Effect by Karen A. Wyle is a riveting account that follows Wynne as she copes with her injury and recuperation, Hal and Arthur come to terms with their rivalry over Wynne and find themselves working together to find a vicious killer-kidnapper before the list of victims pile up, and Arthur’s boss, Tertius Shaw, an enigmatic figure who seems to be at the center of all that takes place.

This is a novel that’s impossible to pigeonhole into a genre. The presence of a technology that permits recording and playback of dreams is science fiction, but it’s also a legal/crime thriller. The author, who has an extensive legal background, weaves it seamlessly into the story from start to finish. This is also something of a dystopian novel, in its description of the various uses and, most importantly, the misuses of technology, by those seeking to make money, by government, and by criminal elements – and the disastrous impact all this can have on individuals within society.

Playback Effect has an astonishingly diverse cast of characters, and while Wynne is the main protagonist, the others play roles that are no less important. The author uses third person point of view, and moves from one character to another to keep the suspense level high and the tension as tight as a steel cable on a suspension bridge.

It really has two conclusions – befitting a book of this scope – the first when the mysterious killer is identified and brought to justice, and the second, quite satisfying resolution of Wynne’s personal life.

Dialogue, descriptions, and narrative are flawless – not a wasted word anywhere. This is a book that will linger in your thoughts long after you’ve stopped reading – and are likely to invade your dreams. I give it a resounding five stars.


Reviewed by Katt Pemble

4 Stars

ETA: Karen has been in touch with me and we’ve worked through the formatting issues and addressed the typos. Upping the book rating to 4 stars.

Playback Effect is the fifth book I’ve read by Karen and it certainly didn’t dissapoint. Like her other books, this one has a quite complex and intertwined plot. It also has a bit of legalese in it.

The concept of this story is very interesting. What if we could record our emotional reactions to things and share them with people in a form of personalised virtual reality, what would that mean for our friends, our family and even us? What if you could re-experience that amazing high you got when you won your childhood athletics carnival? Or what would it mean to those creatives who use emotion as inspiration? What if you could access someone’s real reaction to something you’re planning to write about?

The book, brings to light some answers for some of those questions, but it also poses some more serious ones. When felons are forced to experience their victims’ emotional trauma as a way of punishment, what do you think would happen? Interesting and thought-provoking questions.

The characters are typical of Karen’s work, three dimensional, flawed and felt very real. Almost as if she were drawing inspiration from people in her life. I didn’t love Hal and Wynne, but I connected with them to some degree. I quite liked Arthur, even though I don’t believe that was entirely intended. I think perhaps I was meant to feel a bit sorry for him, but there was something about him that struck me as a bit of a fighter, one to keep an eye on.

I was pleasantly surprised with Hannah’s character. I would love to see a whole book written about her. She was brilliant!

Speaking of brilliant, but not in a good sense, the antagonist in this novel is decidedly creepy. The emotionally removed way in which they spoke and thought about things – chilling. How they maintained that detatched emotional control even throughout some of the most horrific events – terrifying.

Considering you get but brief glimpses of gruesome acts, the effect on the reader was quite intense because you get to experience the villain’s POV. Great work Karen.

This only gets a 3 out of 5 for me because of a couple of points.

1. The scene changes in places are quite rough. I think this is because of formatting on the kindle – the paragraph breaks fall over the turn of a page so they look like one scene not two. The result was of confusion. “Who is saying what now?”

2. Occasionally the legalese got a bit much. Particularly at the end, I had to read a couple of the scenes multiple times to completely understand what was happening.

Overall, a fantastic plot, a great idea and a good cast of characters. This is teamed with an eye-catching cover. I’m not too sure about the blurb (particularly the opening sentence), but it still draws you in. If the two issues I’ve listed above were resolved it’d easily be a 4-5 star book.

A few things I noticed:
The typos I picked up have been rectified by the author.

**Note: I was provided an electronic copy of this book in return for an honest review.***

Reviewed by Amy Spahn

5 Stars

Let me start by saying this book is not a thriller. The pacing, areas of focus, and multitude of subplots are more akin to a literary novel than to heart-pounding suspense. At no point are the main characters in prolonged existential danger. There is no mystery about the identity of the culprit. There are no major plot twists. There is a layer of suspense and creepiness, but since it receives less attention than the relationship between the two mains, I would consider it more of a thriller subplot.

However, what this book is, is a brilliant exploration of the social and ethical implications of a new technology. I have never seen a book dive so deeply into every societal facet of an idea. This is a strong example of thought-provoking sci-fi, along the lines of Asimov’s End of Eternity. What happens to us as a people when we gain the ability to literally share our minds?

The characters are well-developed, though by far the best of these is the villain. His chapters are spooky, yet provide excellent insight into his psychology. The protagonists are likable and make some major decisions about how they relate to one another over the course of the book. The novel is actually a serviceable romance in addition to its other genres.

By far the most interesting “character” is the helmet technology. Oh my, is this well done. Wyle probes every legal ramification, every marketing angle, every relational hiccup that could result from the ability to record and replay one’s thoughts. Though the book takes place on Earth, she does an exceptional job of world building, displaying the changes that occur based on this one innovation. I really can’t stress enough how imaginative this is; you have to read the book to see it.

The writing is clear and the subplots weave together smoothly. Though unlikely to shock and thrill the experienced crime novel reader, I’d recommend this book to fans of thought-provoking sci-fi and fans of relationship stories with a twist.