BOOK REVIEW: “The Dragon Tax” by Madison Keller

A lighthearted adventure, perfect for an afternoon of coffee and reading

Sometimes you just want a light story to while away an afternoon; preferably a well written one. Perusing book tables at a con recently, the “Dragon Tax” cover caught my attention. I picked it up and decided the description on the back had potential. The main character, a renowned dragon slayer, is ‘suspected of aiding and abetting the escape of a dragon”. Cracking it open and reading a couple pages piqued my curiosity enough to buy it, and I’m glad I did.

Sybil Dragonsbane is hired by a king to demand taxes from a dragon. Magic potions are the only thing that persuade her to attempt it, since challenging a dragon generally meant death for someone. But deeper intrigues are at work and she finds herself scrambling to elude the threats mounting against her. It’s an upbeat caper that progresses to a cleverly turned ending and sets the stage for more conflicts and escapades in future books.

Keller brings you quickly into a world that feels very familiar in spite of the dragons and magic, and paints a believable hero whose wits and fighting skills are balanced by respect for human life. Book covers often promise and can’t deliver, but “Dragon Tax” was exactly what it seemed to be: a fun adventure!

Note—use of English is good and grammar is clean. Sex is referred to once without description but the context may not be suitable for adolescents. Some violence is part of the story but is handled reasonably.

BOOK REVIEW: “A Giraffe in the Room” by Denise Kawaii

“A Giraffe in the Room” is a poignant tale of an aging man that tells its story simply and beautifully. Exploring the loss of memory and capability from within, through the eyes of the person living it, Denise Kawaii writes with insight and compassion. Memories of the early years are the framework and lifeline for Stanley as he goes from one confused scene to the next in a lonely, distressing dream that never ends. The reader knows only what he knows. The author captures the impression made by nursing staff instructions particularly well. I found myself trying to decipher it much the same way Stanley did.

The old man repeats to himself the same reassurances he once shared with his daughter, making a connection between the shadows of the past and the stark reality of the present. The words become more meaningful as the story progresses and in the end, the reader may find it comforting, as well.

Kawaii reaches out to the reader as an equal, offering a new measure of understanding to those who want to go beyond just processing their own loss of someone they care about.

Individuals matter, their lives, dreams and thoughts, have value, even when they can’t share them.

If you are going through a season where someone you care about is loosing brain function, this book will be a comfort. 

Suzanne Hagelin

Nine Things I wish I knew Before Trying a New Book

Ever since I tried a recommended book and was disturbed by a heartless description of cruelty only a few pages in—a scene that continues to distress me any time I think of it—I have searched for quality book reviewers.

It’s not enough to see what’s popular or a big seller. Where are the reviewers who will tell me what I want to know? It takes so much time to wade through the descriptions only to be left with my questions unanswered. The reviews that are the easiest to find are often the least helpful.

The world of book publishing has become swamped, glutted, and mass populated with new books by unknown authors gushing out words, pages, blogs, epub documents and podcasts. The traditional publishing companies that are braving the churning waves send out their books with mass advertising campaigns like riders on jet skis. Many are successful, some not so much. They invest mostly in proven authors who will turn a profit and help them survive the challenges of today’s world of books.

But do I want to read them?

Here’s what I wish I knew about a book before cracking it open.

Language is the great gift of writers, where artistry and skill can exalt or diminish the ideas and images the author imparts.

  1. Quality of writing. Does the author write well according to classic standards of good writing? This involves a decent command of the English language, grammar, sentence structure, communicating effectively, and using words accurately. If they deviate from the standard, I expect a valid reason for it.
  2. Profanity. Words, situations, and imagery can all be profane and I want to know what and why the book includes it, whether it’s reasonable in context or something I would find offensive. This is subjective and personal, but any indication along these lines would be helpful.
  3. Age group. Categorizing a book as children’s or young adult isn’t just about vocabulary level. What is the targeted age group? Do the book’s subject matter, language, and descriptions, fall into the guidelines for it?

Story—crafted to nourish, or mishandled and cheapened—is what we’re longing for, are inspired by, perhaps dreaming about.

  1. Plot. Whether simple, complex, or somewhere in between, does the plot hold together? Has the author built a tale worth telling?
  2. Quality of storytelling. When it comes to storytelling, there are as many ways to weave a tale as there are people to weave them. But the best storytellers share some common characteristics: purpose, rhythm, pace, style—it’s hard to define what makes it good. But if someone I trust says, “Yes, this book tells the story well,” it’s a good recommendation.
  3. Originality. A story doesn’t have to be overly original in concept to be excellent but I’d love to know if that’s something the author should be noticed for. Original ideas, or an unusual approach to common ones, world building, artistry; they add to the appeal of a book.

Values are the underlying framework authors build their work on.

  1. Author position. Every writer takes a position toward their readers. Do they come across as informative or friendly, superior or manipulative? Are they talking down to us or relating to equals? Am I drawn in or repelled by their manner? Maybe this is nebulous and subjective but I want to know what impression they made.
  2. Moral quality. Many books don’t have specific moral values they want to promote, but they’re always written in some kind of moral context. Will this book challenge my views or offend me? What is the overall impression the writer gives toward things like: equality, compassion, friendship, love, rivalry, justice, and so on. Again, this is subjective, but it’s good for reviewers to talk about these things.
  3. Sexual content. This is a simple request. I just want to know what I’m getting into. Movies are rated to give you an idea of sexual content. Why can’t books have the same caveat?

I’d like to build a list of reviewers that can fill in some of these gaps for me.


New Fantasy: The Venomsword

This is an overview of the book, not an objective review.

The Venomsword

Good reasons to read this book:

The Venomsword is an adventure story takes place in a fantasy world with an intricate magic system. Leif and Fryn are engaging and well developed main characters. The villain is interesting and despicable. I love how the author counterpoises Mythrim’s intelligence and ruthlessness with the heroes’ skill and strength of character. He introduces a number of intriguing secondary characters, as well. (I hope he brings them back in another book.) The plot moves quickly and takes turns you don’t expect, but Hagelin takes just enough time to paint striking scenes of the colorful, cold city of Frorin.

This may be a simple, fun adventure tale, but I think this author shows promise of much more to come. He has great language skills and tells stories easily and eloquently — and it’s such a relief to read something that has been well edited! No sloppy grammar or disjointed story-telling. I can’t wait to read the sequel!

Points you may want to know: there are some pretty intense fight scenes and a number of deaths, but it’s not overly graphic. There’s romance, too, handled tastefully.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book.


Paperback available as well. Any major online bookstore, look for ISBN: 9781937046040

Interplanetary Adventure

Starting a cooperative publishing company is a lot like traveling to a planet in a different solar system.  It takes years and is really foreign once you get there.  Every step is an adventure you want to record in detail and each pile of dust and extended panorama is worthy of myriad photographs.  Traveling a few hundred yards requires a new base camp and multiple samples of rocks.

Taking off from Earth is a great experience with celebrations, high hopes and the thrill of facing the unknown.  Traveling through empty space with no external sounds or vibrations or friction or visible signs of the stars moving past the window, becomes a monotonous and tedious journey.  Are we progressing at all?

The original goals of completing and publishing a variety of sci-fi and fantasy novels, comics and graphic novels, collections of art work and poetry, Spanish curriculum and Bible studies, became bogged down in the reality of daily life; time limitations, money restrictions, commitments.

When Varida Publishing & Resources was started in 2010 the plan was that as writing projects were completed, the company would be getting up to speed in the practical details of business.   This is in fact what has been happening.

But living in a small metal spaceship for months or years doesn’t feel like progress.

Here is what a Mars base approach to publishing looks like:

The pioneering space travelers are responsible for all the jobs that are a part of the settlement; i.e. the authors are also the editors, the marketers, promoters, administrators, artists, website designers, and project leaders.  It’s not unlike a space kibbutz, a community encampment where tasks and profits are shared and there are no wages – and no debt.

Earning in a different job and saving for every expense is a prerequisite to running this company, and the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow has more to do with the desire to produce excellent work than making money.   We’re idealists investing in a dream with hard work and long hours.

Deadlines have slid, arrangements with artists and other collaborators have fallen through, and creative juices have occasionally run dry, but the destination coordinates have remained unchanged.

We are moving through space, working on our projects, keeping our eyes on the goal, and the planet is growing in our window.

Just a little longer and the next stage of adventure will begin.

Suzanne Hagelin

President of Varida P&R