Review: DM Cain – The Phoenix Project

The Phoenix Project
DM Cain

This world of violence is only a small step from our own. Religion has been blamed for terrorism and driven underground, and prisons are bursting at the seams. The only solution is to reduce the number of prisoners and getting them to kill each other for spot is a logical solution. Charged with a deadly crime, Raven punishes himself again and again with no hope of salvation.

This novel opens with a bloody fight scene that positions the reader to empathise with Raven while at the same time wondering why he has killed before. Although the blow by blow of the fight is written slightly awkwardly, the feeling behind it is strong enough to seep through the action and encourage the reader to keep going!

This is a bloodier, more brutal criminal punishment than that explored in Day 7 and Cell 7. I rather like this novel more because it is more detailed and meaty, with a protagonist who has sinned, but is ready to redeem himself eventually.

Ah yes. Raven is a tortured, depressed prison inmate who nevertheless cannot stop fighting for his life. His despondency seeps through the pages and his self-harm (extreme trigger warning) is painful to observe. I felt myself wondering what choices I would have made, and whether I would be as strong as Raven.

This novel comes with an optional epilogue, as the ending within the novel is quite abrupt. I liked being given the option to read it or not, because I can’t decide how I feel about it. I like there to be a concrete ending, even if it is not a happy one. Go purchase this book for yourself, and then decide whether you too want to read the epilogue.

I read this novel a long time ago, and remember that I loved it so much that I gave it 5 stars. Then I neglected to review it, and let it just sit there on the review pile for a year (or more!). So this review is actually written based on my re-read, and it was worth the time.

Guest Post: Igor Valec on ‘Three-Act Theory’

The three-act structure: gold standard, or unnecessary burden?

Anyone with even a passing knowledge of plot structure is all too familiar with the three-act theory of plot structure. Where the first act establishes the setting, the characters, and the conflict; the second follows the conflict; and the third resolves the conflict, then allows the dust to settle as plot threads are tied and issues are resolved.

Though I’m in no position to make authoritative claims as to whether the three-act theory is valid as a concept, I can describe my experience with it in my own writing. Specifically, the reasons I don’t use or recommend it, at least not for larger works.

The Three-Act Structure

My main issue with the three-act structure is what defines the second. Simply put, it’s too broad. We know the second act is the longest, and the hardest for the characters. Yet, this is only because conflict is the meat of any story. What is a story without conflict? Both the first and third acts exist to serve the almighty second—the first launches it into the air, and the third catches it, lest it crash and burn upon landing. Though the first and third are important, the second is what carries its passengers from one point to the other.

But how many air travelers trek across the globe in only one trip? Does the plane have enough fuel to fly from New York to Beijing? Do the pilots have the mental and physical fortitude needed to guide such a trip safely? How many travelers have the patience for such a long journey?

Such is the problem with the monolithic second act. When we define the second act as the central conflict, with little in the way of variety or change, it can become drawn-out and tiresome, especially if handled poorly.

Generally, when we find our protagonists have reached a point of no return around the start of their journey, the first act has ended, and the second has begun. But I put it to you that longer stories, if they wish to stay vibrant and active throughout, need more than one point of no return that the characters should cross. In other words, they need more than one second act.

The Five Act Structure

This is not a novel concept. The idea of a five-act structure goes back even longer than Shakespeare, who used it well in his own plays, and the three-act structure has been criticized by people with better credentials and knowledge than myself.

Personally, I haven’t found it useful to limit myself to a certain number of acts. I find it easier to have my beginning and my end established first, then plot out the points in between, with the lines connecting them drawn by the characters and setting, letting the points change if I find them incompatible in their current state. I would say my latest novel contains five acts—or, if you prefer analyzing plot structure through a three-act lens, a second act divided into three parts—and I have yet to hear complaints about the flow or structure.

There are rare times when I find it beneficial to go against conventional wisdom in writing. This is one of them. When you’re writing a novel, and find the conflict too drawn-out, or the pacing too slow, consider dividing your second act into parts, or even abandoning the three-act paradigm altogether. It helped me. It might help you, too.

Thanks for listening,
Igor Valec

p.s. check out my website at

Review: LEGO Star Wars Ideas Book

LEGO Star Wars Idea Book

Are you fond of Star Wars? Do you love LEGO? If you can answer yes to either of those questions, this book is for you! It is filled with ideas of how to expand your Star Wars universe without buying more boxed sets or collecting yet more ships.

This book is a flip-through book, where you are going to want to just glance at each page until you find something that takes your fancy to build. Come prepared with a box of random LEGO parts to build with, and there will definitely be something there for you. I’m personally fond of the buildings and not so fond of the oversized minifigures.

Did I mention that this has suggestions for a bunch of different games you can play? You can get a random pile of LEGO bricks and try to make a Tauntaun, or create a spinner to help you choose who is going to go first in a game of mechanized robots. The suggestions don’t have to be limited to Star Wars either. For those people who are very knowledgeable about Star Wars, there are some trivia questions as well.

To be honest, I love Star Wars, and I love LEGO, but I’m not keen on Star Wars LEGO, apart from an Ewok village and a Walker that I own… So I’ll be giving this as a Christmas gift to a 7-8 year old boy who isn’t keen on reading, but is keen on building. I can see his face lit up at the sight of some of the monsters and miniature scenes he can build.

This book may reignite your imagination and get you out of your LEGO dark ages!

Penguin Random House | 3rd September 2018 | AU$39.99 | hardback

Review: Lisa Ireland – The Shape of Us

The Shape of Us
Lisa Ireland

The WON forums are a haven of fat women all desperate to lose weight to improve something in their lives. What starts as impersonal interactions online quickly turns into a fast friendship between four women – but will life get in the way of their happiness? Will the group be able to lose weight?

The author has managed to make four very different women all equally interesting to read about. The mix between internet posts and insight within each woman’s head is done well and doesn’t detract from the storyline. The internet posts hold the different perspectives together. I felt like I got to know them all as people and this made it easier to sympathise with them even when they made choices that I myself didn’t agree with.

The dialogue, particularly Mezz’s, feels stilted and awkward at times. It doesn’t seem to read like a real person would say it. At other times I felt like I wasn’t convinced by their interactions and insight when they were together. Somehow, they are almost saintly when dealing with each other’s problems and forgiving rude posts! The only breakdown of this was the Jewels-Josie interaction which felt rushed and unnecessary amongst the rest of the drama.

The end comes up very rapidly. I felt irritated by the fact that we didn’t see a lot of the character development that must have occurred between the climax of the novel and the final chapter (I can’t say more without it being a spoiler). It’s sort of like the author was told that the old ending didn’t have enough drama, and that a catastrophe needed to occur to sell the novel.

I read this novel twice with a year gap in between! I hadn’t reviewed the novel right after I read it the first time, I think because I had read the mother’s promise and both novels came to similar conclusions. This is a light read, and under normal circumstances I wouldn’t recommend a reread. There isn’t enough substance – this is more of a poolside read. It is fiction after all, so I would suggest A.J. or Shauna’s novel/books for a realistic weightloss book. For an actual how-to guide, try Do you really want to lose weight? or Diet and Weight Loss Lies.

I’m giving this novel 4 stars, with the caveat that there are some things you need to overlook before you can enjoy it fully.


Guest Reviews from Kyria #2

Remember last year when I had a guest stay with me for 11 days and she read a bunch of book and reviewed them for me? Well, she’s back and in 7 days she read all these novels. Take it away Kyria!


The start of the book didn’t do it justice. It felt jumpy and confusing, because the book went to the effort of explaining and describing a situation that the character would be in, only to pull her out of it almost directly afterwards. This continued throughout the book to some extent, although never as bad as in the beginning; there were parts that felt jumpy or rushed.

However, after making it through the beginning, the book got much better and by the end of it I was really interested in what was going to happen; so much so that I might have to buy the sequel. 4 stars

The Ash Princess

If there’s one word for this book, it’s mediocre. It had a great idea, but the book didn’t live up to expectation. The idea of different ‘personalities’ that the character had, depending on who she needed to be (Thora vs Theodesia) seemed more like a way to hide a jarring personality change that instead should’ve been written into the book in a much slower, and careful way. The only way that combination of submissive and powerful would have worked is if she had been Theodesia the entire time, choosing instead to act as Thora when she needed. However, this isn’t what happened; instead, it seemed to happen over the span of a few pages, when she decides to reclaim her name, and her kingdom, and not be broken anymore. It’s reasonable that a decision like this could be made in a moment, but there should have been more happening before this, of her slowly gaining confidence, instead of just jumping on an opportunity she’s been beaten away from her entire life. 3 stars

The Bone Queen

This book was definitely not one of the best books I’ve ever read. By the time I was halfway through, I was barely skimming through it, and only because I hate leaving books unfinished. The book started out solid, however, the first change of POV started the downhill spiral than this book went on. Starting with a character who knew nobody meant that there wasn’t a bombardment of names to remember, but this changed once we left his point of view. Already, this meant that I was disinterested in half of the book, because I couldn’t understand who was doing what. The other part of the book was really good… until the two sides inevitably met up, and brought along all the name problems.

The exciting parts of the book were always good; when something interesting was happening, it was well-written, and I was interested. However, these parts seemed to be few and far between as I entered the second half of the book, instead filled with pages and pages of meaningless filler that didn’t add much to the storyline. It was around this part where I just began skipping the filler and reading only the more exciting parts; and while there was some storyline that I missed, the only noticeable difference from ignoring a significant part of the book was one change in location.
This had the potential to be a great book, but sadly fell short. 1 star

The Phoenix Project

This was an amazing book! I was hooked from start to finish. It was unpredictable; but not in a bad way. Instead of being able to guess what was going to happen from the very beginning, the book went in directions I wouldn’t have expected. The character progression felt natural, and I could really understand his actions, and why he did them.
There was only one part of this book that I didn’t particularly like, and it was relatively minor. The relationship between two of the characters felt a bit rushed; they went from barely knowing each other, to disliking each other, to being friends in a way that felt much too fast for my taste. 5 stars


Wow. Just wow. This book legitimately blew me away. I usually have trouble keeping up with a book as it goes through separate storylines; one always seems much more interesting than the other. However, this wasn’t the case at all for this book. Both storylines had me equally interested, because they both brought something new to the table, instead of one half being the necessary but boring part. The author clearly focused on making sure that the book was well-written, and was interesting all the way through, instead of knowing what he wanted to happen, and just finding a way to get there. I started this book in the afternoon, so I inevitably stayed up late to finish it. However, usually when I’m up late to finish a book, I wish it were shorter so that I could get all the enjoyment out of it, but still go to bed earlier. This was absolutely not the case for this; I wanted the book to continue forever, even if it meant I wouldn’t go to sleep for the next few weeks.

The book did a great job at constantly keeping the reader in suspense. There were unexpected twists all throughout the book, which kept me constantly on my toes. I also appreciated that they made sure not to give the surprises away too soon. The two main characters spent so much time together, with one of them not knowing who the other was, that it constantly frustrated me. However, it also kept me reading to wait for the sweet moment when everything would be revealed.

The only negative that I have with the book is that a little more backstory would have been nice. I understand why the book started out on such a vital part, but it meant that as a reader, I was unaware of the relationships that the prince had to the other characters, so it meant that I didn’t have much to expect from when he revealed himself. 5 stars

A Chronicle of Chaos

Absolutely great book. The first part of the book played with suspense really well; I never knew what was going to come out of the relationship. It kept me hooked from the second I started reading. Throughout the book, the character development of the demon was done perfectly. I didn’t think it would’ve been possible for a genuine character development to take a demon into… a not-demon, but it felt genuine the entire time. This also happened with the main character, although there was less development because he hadn’t started off at as extreme a position.

I feel like the quality dropped near the end of the book, when Anathema became human. It felt less exciting, especially compared to earlier in the book. The transition between the relationship of the characters also felt unnatural; Chaos went from hating Anathema to instantly risking everything for him. I understand that this was done because he realised Anathema loved him back, but it still seemed unrealistic, and a bit of a jump. That said, because the rest of the book was so spectacularly done, I kept interest the entire time, because I really felt invested in the characters. 4.5 stars

The Traitor’s Game

This was a solid book. It had a great storyline, and was written well for the most part. The major let-down of the book was the predictability. I could’ve guessed a significant part of the storyline from the very beginning, which ruined a lot of the book for me. There was also one part of the book that I found very confusing, after she found the blade, where it wasn’t made clear what she had actually done with it. I understand that this was for a big reveal later on, but as a reader it just left me confused and wondering if I’d skipped a page.
The character development was also all over the place; especially the character of Trina, who went from hating Kestra to wanting to be friends in the blink of an eye. Kestra was also very predictable. Although she made a few decisions that I thought were genius, and hadn’t expected, a lot of her personality focused on her (extremely predictable) relationship with Simon.

That said, it was enjoying to read, and would definitely be a good choice for a light book you don’t want to think too much about. 3.5 stars

Review: Christopher Sidwa – Brew a Batch

Brew of Batch
Christopher Sidwa

This is a complete Beer Book – whether you are a complete beginner who owns no equipment so far, or an advanced brewer who wants a compendium of knowledge.  Bottling and kegging are both covered in detail, so if you are familiar with one but not the other, this book is still going to be useful to you. It is worth keeping and consulting it when you need to fix a problem with your beer or you are ready to try brewing different kinds of beer.

I confess, I’m not a beer drinker, and the closest thing I get to helping with beer is when I turn the hose on to fill the … keg?! (Luckily) my fiancee is a beer maker, so I thought this book would be right up her alley. After her initial reservations of reading a book not about management techniques, she got into this book and willingly read it. She happily chatted to me about it for 10 minutes and explained all the steps to me – she was invigorated by reading this book.

The author doesn’t want you to rush out and buy new equipment, he gives you the ability to use the things you have already, and gives hints on the practicalities of working with secondhand kegs and so forth. He also wants to make it possible for everyone to brew beer, so he suggests how to make the process more efficient.

The good thing about this book is that it isn’t just a cookbook with the steps and order, it gives little details for when things go awry. That being said, the book walks though through logical steps from types of beer and ingredients through to the actual method part. This way, when you get to brewing you actually know the principles behind the processes.

The author gives a basic, rewarding beer recipe that will still taste ok if you do something wrong. But after that, there are an infinite number of beers that are brewable! The timing at every step can be crucial, and 1 minute at one step and 5 at another can make a significant change to your beer’s flavour. Then the author gets into discussions about fresh yeast vs liquid yeast vs dry yeast. He suggests that you change just one thing at a time, and you will eventually get the perfect beer.

The book gave all the little details on how to fill a keg and put the lid on – don’t worry when the lid doesn’t seal, just wiggle it until it seals! The author’s sense of humour made the non-fiction reading enjoyable, and the deal was sealed with the gorgeous cover. There are lots of pictures inside of beer, and the author looking happy and having fun making beer. Some of the most useful pictures are those that show the different colours of grains and hops – so you know what kinds of ingredients to buy.

The takeaway from this book was: You don’t make beer, you make conditions that the beer is happy to grow in – Just have a good habitat and keep it clean to make delicious beer.

Murdoch | 30th July 2018 | AU$39.99 | hardback

Interview with Don Lubov

An Interview with Don Lubov, author of The Plague

Don has been happily married since 1976. He was an artist for 34 years and exhibited his artwork at 3 New York City Art Galleries and the Heckscher Art Museum. He also spent 8 years teaching Art & Design and in 1985 he received a grant from The Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation for his work combining art & mathematics, with his “Quantum Pictures”. As an accomplished writer, he is the author of 9 books spanning the scope of spirituality and stress relief to science fiction!

You’ve written such a lovely range of books on a variety of topics. Do you have a favourite? Can you tell me a bit about the process of writing it?

I have 6 books currently in print and Kindle…5 of them published in June of 2018, so I suppose I can pick any for this interview. I believe you have an interest in science fiction, so let’s go with my sci-fi story: “The Plague”.

So far, I am writing about a book a year. I can write, with a pencil, almost anywhere quiet. My favorite place is in my den, late at night, with no distractions.

Years ago I wrote a 2-page, 500-word, flash fiction, sci-fi story. It sat in my drawer a long time. I decided to make it into a book. It became my first novel. Until this, I had only written non-fiction. I soon realized I was in over my head.

I bought 9 books on novel writing and 2 workbooks and spent 18 months studying these. I  belong to a writing group, and they helped by making suggestions to my sfds (shitty first drafts). Between my writing group, the writers Bloc Club, and my wife and friends, I have some very helpful beta readers.

I didn’t want to write the somewhat standard cowboys and Indians in the far-flung future shooting ray guns at each other. I wanted something more cerebral, like “Fahrenheit 451” or “1984”. I wrote about a plague of anger that swept our entire planet.

I walk past bookshops and am drawn in by the smell of the books – ebooks simply don’t have the same attraction for me. Does this happen to you, and do you have a favourite bookshop? What are you always on the lookout to read?

As to the smell of books, you’ve got that one absolutely right. I like all bookstores, but my preferred one is our local Barnes & Noble.

My tastes have definitely changed over time. Although I read hundreds of sci-fi books (Bradbury, Heinlein, Assimov, etc.) and books on architecture as a teenager, since 1971 I have read over 100 books on spirituality.

Social media is a big thing, much to my disgust! I never have enough time myself to do what I feel is a good job. What do you do?

Other than emails, the only social media I do is Quora. I do have a website:, and I have been teaching classes in spirituality for the past 11 years. My current book on spirituality (and creativity) is: “An End to Stress” – A Guru’s Guide to Inner Peace.

If you are interested in reading more about Don’s work, either visit his website, or download this Brochure about his current books.

Review: Giovanna & Tom Fletcher – Eve of Man

Eve of Man
Giovanna & Tom Fletcher

Fifty years ago, baby girls stopped being born – making women an endangered species. Eve is a biological anomaly who was born during the drought. At age 16, it’s time for her to start reproducing. Her holo-friend Holly is there to keep her company, just as she has for their lives – but the boy behind it is starting to fall for Eve. As the EPO’s lies fall apart, will Eve and Bram ever be able to be together?

Eve is a naive girl who you want to like as a protagonist. But without more from her it is impossible to do so. I get that it is difficult to get inside her head – that’s why the EPO has Holly after all. But that’s why there are split perspective chapters! I much preferred Bram as the alternative protagonist. Good work Bram on having an actual personality, but you couldn’t carry the novel by yourself when there were other fatal flaws.

It felt like a hard slog to get into the characters, and I didn’t find the premise of the novel particularly promising. It is almost impossible to restart a population from a single individual – even if they are bred every year. Just ask any conservationist of endangered animals! Yet Eve is expected to repopulate an Earth that isn’t even worth saving.

I did finish this novel, but again, just like Zero Repeat Forever, I wish I hadn’t wasted my time. I was a chapter out from the end when my partner pointed out that this was the first novel in a trilogy. I immediately stopped reading in disgust – honestly I would have been happy if the ‘happy ending’ was both of them dying!

I did finish this, so I have to give it 2 stars, but honestly don’t waste your time. I’m not sure who this would appeal to because the science behind it is so unreasonable that I can’t recommend it. Try The Ego Cluster and Sapient instead.

Penguin Random House | 28th May 2018 | AU$22.99 | paperback

Review: Brian Conaghan – The Weight of a Thousand Feathers

The Weight of a Thousand Feathers
Brain Conaghan

Bobby’s life is boring enough on the outside. Inside his house though he has a sick mother who is getting sicker every day, and a little brother who just can’t fit into society or life. When his mother asks him the ultimate question, Bobby feels that he must make a decision.

Bobby’s devotion to his mother is admirable, is is his devotion to his rather difficult little brother. However, a child should never be put into this position. I can’t believe that the professional carer for his mother is such a numskull. Or actually I can. Health professionals that aren’t nurses aren’t always as well trained as they could be.

The circle that Bobby starts going to is a good idea. But if such a problem has been acknowledged, shouldn’t someone be doing more about it? As with any teenage novel, there’s instalove that didn’t go anything for me either.

I’m giving this 1 or 2 stars. I didn’t finish this novel, but whether this was because I had other things to read or it was truly irredeemably terrible, your guess is as good as mine. There are plenty of other good Young Adult novels dealing with this topic in a more believable way.

Bloomsbury | 1st July 2018 | AU$16.99 | paperback

Review: Sam Hawke – City of Lies

City of Lies
Sam Hawke

Jovan was first poisoned when he was seven to train him to protect the Chancellor’s son. His older sister Kalina should have had the role, but she was too weak. With Jovan and Kalina’s Tashi killed by an unknown poison, and the same with the Chancellor, the city must change or die. A siege adds pressure to the already tight city and tensions run high.

What I wasn’t too convinced by was Kalina’s ‘secrets and lies’. I’m pretty sure that except near the end, Jovan knew most of her secrets. I do agree with Kalina that Jovan should back off sometimes, because she needs the right to look after herself for a change. The interplay between the siblings was really believable.

I was caught up in this novel the whole time I was reading it, and I didn’t want to put it down for anything. I was craving a good fantasy after rereading Elantris, and City of Lies hit the spot. A bit of understated magic, some fierce battles and some poison makes for an exciting, plot driven novel that left me feeling sad when I finished it (happy sad, just sad I had finished it so soon!).

I love the notion of being raised by your uncle and your mother. It is in fact considered heresy to raise your children with their biological father. If you are wanting a child, all you have to do is go through the curtains to find basically a sperm donor! This means that women hold a lot of the power in this society.

The blurb reminded me of Three Dark Crowns, where one of the children is trained from birth to be immune to poisons – but the first choice in poisoner is deadly. Anything to do with eating also reminds me of The Sin Eater’s Daughter and of course the popular Poison Study.

Uh oh. I didn’t realise that this was a first in a series, because the ending was so darn satisfying all by itself! I’m giving this one 4.5 stars, as it was almost good enough to read again.

Penguin Random House | 30th July 2018 | AU$32.99 | paperback