Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

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Just Reviewed Veronica Roth’s “Divergent” and “Insurgent” at SBR

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Folks, even though my novel AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE is just out, that doesn’t stop me from reading and reviewing other people’s books.

Though if the legions of fans who loved Veronica Roth’s DIVERGENT but hated book two of her trilogy, INSURGENT, happen upon my review of both books — which I posted not ten minutes ago over at Shiny Book Review (SBR for short, as always) — they may wish I’d refrained.

Why? Because, oddly enough, I truly enjoyed INSURGENT, but I just could not get past the initial implausibility of DIVERGENT. Ms. Roth’s setup  of the five factions which rule near-future Chicago, much less the whole idea that someone who doesn’t truly fit into any of the five factions would be shunned or excluded from society, was too hard for me to get past. But I firmly bought into the five factions’ system coming apart, which is why I enjoyed INSURGENT so much.

This is not the prevailing wisdom on “the Internets.” To put it mildly.

For those of you going, “But Barb! DIVERGENT had some really good writing! Why didn’t you like it?,” the answer is simple: The plotline made little sense. And that was too hard for me to get past.

Yes, the writing in both books was good. I liked Ms. Roth’s heroine Beatrice “Tris” Prior and believed in her characterization, I also liked her boyfriend Four/Tobias, and I believed in what she was going through in both books — but only to a point.

And because it was far easier for me to believe that a near-future Chicago that had somehow been ruled by five and only five factions for some lengthy period of time was now starting to come apart at the seams because five factions just couldn’t do the job any more — and because I believed that when a society breaks down, there’s lots of mayhem, carnage, and graphic violence — it was far easier for me to buy into INSURGENT than DIVERGENT, most particularly because the stuff I liked about DIVERGENT was at the very end of the book.

Which was exactly the stuff I couldn’t discuss in my review without spoilers.

Anyway, there’s one other really good thing about the Divergent trilogy (of which I’ve now reviewed the first two books) — there was no unnecessary love triangle!

YAY! YAY! YAY! (I’d keep cheering, but I’m sure you get the point.)

At any rate, I plan to review ALLEGIANT, the concluding book of Ms. Roth’s trilogy about Tris Prior, in the next few weeks over at SBR. So if you can’t wait for the movies (must. have. movies!), please be sure to check out my forthcoming review . . . ’cause I never know exactly what I’m going to say next. (And that’s the beauty of it. Right?)


Written by Barb Caffrey

April 12, 2014 at 11:50 pm

New Review is up at SBR; Chapter Excerpts up for “An Elfy on the Loose”

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Folks, Saturday night was pretty eventful.

First, over at Shiny Book Review I reviewed Sharon Lee and Steve Miller’s NECESSITY’S CHILD, the sixteenth book in their long-running Liaden Universe series. I enjoyed this novel immensely; it’s a solid coming-of-age tale that should please readers new to the series as well as people who already salivate at the mere mention of a new Liaden Universe novel.

Next, I found out that the first five chapters of my novel, AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE, are now available via my publisher, Twilight Times Books. So if you’ve ever wanted to know a little more about Bruno the Elfy, much less his Human companion Sarah, now’s the time . . . or in other words, you now can try before you buy. (How about that?)

And if you’re a Wisconsin sports fan, as I am, tonight also was eventful for another reason, as the Wisconsin Badgers defeated the Arizona Wildcats. This means that the Badgers are in the Final Four — that is, they are part of the last four teams taking place in the NCAA Division 1 National Basketball Championship, commonly called the NCAA Tournament for short — and have actually done exactly as I predicted when I made out my bracket in making it this far. (Though I must admit that I had expected some of their opponents to be a bit different; for example, my bracket had Arizona going out in the second round.)

So that’s three interesting things of note. As three can be a theologically significant number for certain religions, maybe that will intensify the positive nature of it all? (I assuredly hope it will, anyway.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 30, 2014 at 1:11 am

New Interview, Book Review Up at SBR Over the Weekend

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Over the weekend, I put up two new things over at Shiny Book Review (SBR for short, as always). One is an interview with the incomparable Katharine Eliska Kimbriel, while the other is a book review for Vera Nazarian’s COBWEB FOREST, the third book in Ms. Nazarian’s Cobweb Bride series.

Now, you might be wondering why it is that I did two such labor-intensive things on the weekend. (Well, you’re probably not wondering that, for all I know. But take my word for it: Reviews take effort, and interviews also take effort, plus a goodly amount of pre-planning on the part of both me, the interviewer, and whoever the interviewee is, in this case Ms. Kimbriel.) Why not do them earlier in the week?

Well, like most people, I have all sorts of things going on during the week that tend to preclude me from doing things that take several hours apiece, no matter how much I might enjoy doing them. And as I tend to review romances on Saturday over at SBR for our Romance Saturday promotion, that’s why Ms. Nazarian’s book was reviewed then.

Note I’m not talking much about why my interview with Ms. Kimbriel went up on Sunday . . . that’s mostly because I ran out of time on Friday, and I also thought of a few last-minute questions late Thursday evening. Ms. Kimbriel answered them very quickly, bless her, but I was still in the process of figuring things out on Friday evening, so the interview did not get done until Sunday.

I don’t do a whole lot on Sunday at SBR, mostly because Jason Cordova tends to review on that day, Monday, Tuesday, and/or Wednesday. But he and I can arrange for me to review — or in this case, interview — on other days, and that’s what we did here.

I hope you enjoy both my interview with Ms. Kimbriel, as she had a great deal of insight to offer about writing, editing, and the whole publication process as she’s part of Book View Cafe, an author’s consortium that does well by its writers and editors, and the review of Ms. Nazarian’s COBWEB FOREST.

Now, as for my plans for this week’s blog posts? Some of it depends on what happens in the world, but I can say I do plan to do a Milwaukee Brewers pre-season report — what I’ve seen from the various Spring Training games that have been televised, what I’ve noticed among a few high-profile (and not-so-high-profile) players — later this week. So do stay tuned for that.

As far as reviews over at SBR, I hope to review three things: Stephen R. Donaldson’s THE LAST DARK, the concluding book of the entire Thomas Covenant series, is the main book of the three, with the other two being Grant Hallman’s well-received debut novel IRON STAR (a work of military science fiction that’s perfect for readers of Michael Z. Williamson or Ric Locke) and his prequel to IRON STAR, the novella UPFALL. Figure THE LAST DARK for Saturday, while if all goes well I should be able to review UPFALL, at least, on Friday — and perhaps IRON STAR as well. (Have I mentioned that I’m a big fan of IRON STAR yet?)

Now, speaking of “Mad Mike” Williamson, I do have a special treat in store in a few, short weeks, as his debut novel FREEHOLD has been re-released by his publisher, Baen Books, in hard cover. Because of that auspicious event — something that was a long time in coming — I’ve decided to review FREEHOLD over at SBR. I read FREEHOLD years ago but never reviewed it anywhere, partly because it came out in 2005 — and because of my husband Michael’s passing the year before, I really didn’t pay much attention to anything that happened then. (I think I actually read FREEHOLD in 2007, but don’t quote me.)

So is the world ready for me to review FREEHOLD?

I don’t know, but we’re all about to find out . . . :insert evil chuckle here:

Two New Reviews Up at SBR Over the Weekend

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Folks, I had a busy weekend with regards to reviews, which is one reason I wasn’t able to write an after-action report right away with regards to Friday’s review of Sharon Lee and Steve Miller’s newest novel in their ongoing Liaden Universe, TRADE SECRET.

You see, my latest review, up as of a few, short minutes ago, is for Vera Nazarian’s haunting and compelling COBWEB EMPIRE, the second in her Cobweb Bride series. Her series is dark fantasy, yet there’s somehow an underpinning of optimism that carries you through nearly unimaginable suffering . . . in Ms. Nazarian’s conception, Death needs a bride and has refused to go on taking souls until he gets one. But he can’t have just any bride . . . oh, no. He needs a specific bride he calls the “Cobweb Bride” (hence the name of the first book of the series, COBWEB BRIDE, and the series itself, natch), and nothing else will do.

This universe is unlike anything I have ever seen. It is rich, dark, menacing, yet there are plenty of good people who populate it, including the couple at the heart of all the chaos, Persephone “Percy” Ayren and her own dark knight, Duke Beltain Chidair. (Note that Beltain hasn’t yet accustomed himself to being the Duke as his father is undead and certainly doesn’t wish to give up the title, being as distressing a personage as can be imagined . . . at least until an even worse one, Sovereign Rumalar Avalais of the Domain, shows up.)

I have enjoyed reading Ms. Nazarian’s conception thus far, and can’t wait to dive into COBWEB FOREST . . . which is why I plan to read and review it this week. (I’ve already skimmed it, but there’s many, many more things to discover by reading it multiple times.)

At any rate, I also enjoyed Sharon Lee and Steve Miller’s TRADE SECRET quite a bit. It’s told in an unusual way that I likened to a mosaic, as nothing really fell into focus for me until right before the end — then I understood it completely.

Why a mosaic? Well, with a lot of mosaics, you can’t really tell what’s going on until you can stand outside and ponder them. And as that was definitely the case here, it seemed to fit.

So there you have it: Two new reviews are up at Shiny Book Review for two interesting and thoughtful books that both delighted me enormously, albeit in radically different ways.

Hope you’ll enjoy the reviews — then, if they intrigue you anywhere near as much as they did me, go buy the books. (Hours of reading enjoyment await. And the re-reads . . . did I mention the re-reads yet?)

Reviewed “Failure of Moonlight,” “Ideality” at SBR on Thursday

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Folks, sometimes I don’t get a chance after reviewing a book to come over here and write a quick blog about it in a timely manner.

I’m not sure why this is, except that the pace of my life seems to be accelerating the longer I’m on this planet. (Weird thing to say, I know. But it’s four a.m., so maybe that accounts for it.)

At any rate, I’m pleased to report that I reviewed two works by Rosemary Edghill at Shiny Book Review (SBR for short, as always) on Thursday afternoon, these being IDEALITY: VENGEANCE OF MASKS and the short-story collection FAILURE OF MOONLIGHT, which features Ms. Edghill’s popular Bast character (a Wiccan detective who takes no nonsense from anyone, not even herself).

Because IDEALITY is a new name for an older title, I mostly just wrote a quick few lines about it and pointed people at the earlier review. I spent most of my time on the six stories and essays comprising FAILURE OF MOONLIGHT.

At any rate, if you are in the mood for some interesting, intelligent stories that will keep your attention long after you’ve turned the final page, please take a gander at these two works. IDEALITY is a fantasy/horror hybrid that’s original, complex, and sometimes shocking — that’s one of the reasons I liked it so much — while FAILURE OF MOONLIGHT is set in our present-day world (albeit slightly in the past, now, as the stories range from the early 1970s to probably the mid-1990s) and features murder mysteries (and Bast; have I mentioned Bast yet?)

Note that IDEALITY is more of an adult read (mind you, if anyone had told me that a book is more of an adult read when I was thirteen or fourteen, that’s the first book I’d have grabbed off the shelf, so it feels really strange to say that), while there’s a mix of age-ranges in FAILURE OF MOONLIGHT.

So please do take a gander at my review, then go read the books.


Written by Barb Caffrey

February 28, 2014 at 5:17 am

Just Reviewed “Balance” at SBR

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Though it took me a few hours to do, I managed to write a book review for BALANCE: The Economics of Great Powers from Ancient Rome to Modern America, a book written by economists Glenn Hubbard and Tim Kane, over at Shiny Book Review this evening.  (Or SBR for short, as per usual.)

You might be wondering, “So, Barb. Why did you want to review this book, anyway? You’re no economist. Why does this interest you?”

Well, as a writer, I’m interested in all sorts of things. I’ve made a study lately of economics — the good, the bad, what works, what doesn’t, and anything that combines history with economics (such as WHY NATIONS FAIL, by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, also reviewed at SBR) is usually going to pique my interest.

I found BALANCE to be an entertaining overview, but some of the actual history behind their theories wasn’t always in balance. (Pardon the pun.) This is the main reason why BALANCE gets a B-minus, when WHY NATIONS FAIL received an A-plus, as the former has at least three things wrong that I picked up on right away, while the latter didn’t have any — and believe you me, I checked.

Note that both Hubbard and Kane worked on Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign as economic advisors, so some of what they have to say about contemporary politics and policies needs to be taken with a grain of salt. But what they had to say about political ossification and the whole concept of “rent-seeking” was completely accurate, and is the main reason why I recommend that every writer — and everyone interested in history and/or economics and/or the history of economics, for that matter — should read this book.

Anyway, go take a gander at my review, will you? Then go take a look at BALANCE — it should be available at many public libraries, or if you’d rather, there is an edition for Kindle and e-books.


Written by Barb Caffrey

February 10, 2014 at 12:21 am

Just Reviewed Ann Leckie’s “Ancillary Justice” at SBR, Plus an “Elfy” Update

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Folks, I just reviewed Ann Leckie’s ANCILLARY JUSTICE over at Shiny Book Review (SBR for short, as always). I enjoyed this novel thoroughly, and said so . . . in fact, I couldn’t find one single thing to nitpick about, which is so rare as to be worthy of celebration in and of itself.

That ANCILLARY JUSTICE is Ms. Leckie’s debut novel makes this accomplishment even more impressive.

Go read my review, then be sure to read ANCILLARY JUSTICE.

Now back to my regularly scheduled blog.

Since I owe y’all an update, here ’tis . . . I’m working on the first half of my novel, ELFY. (No, it hasn’t been retitled. I don’t know if it will be, or if my publisher at Twilight Times Books is going to leave it as ELFY, part 1 and ELFY, part 2.) I’m trying to get everything in train for an April launch; I don’t have cover art yet, but I’ve been told I will soon, and I have some quotes from several gifted authors who’ve read ELFY and enjoyed it.

This last-round editorial lookover, by me, is nerve-wracking, yet it must be done.

For those of you in the writing community who know the stages a book goes through before launch, I’m one step short of the page-proof stage. I’ve made all changes required. I’ve done what I need to do . . . yet as this is my story, something I’ve spent much of the last ten years trying to get published, I want to make sure everything is right before it gets published as an e-book.

And as my publisher asked me for my very best efforts, I intend to give them to her. (Not that I’d ever do anything less, of course.)

Work proceeds more slowly than I’d hoped, but every day, I get some progress made. I believe I’ll be able to turn in the first half of ELFY by the end of January, and still hit the window I’ve been aiming for — April — if all goes well.

(And it had better.)

Anyway, that’s why I’ve not blogged much lately, and it’s why my blogs may be scarce (aside from announcing book reviews and such) over the next week.

And in case you’re wondering why, if I have so much going on, that I’d spend some of my precious time writing about the Milwaukee Bucks — well, it’s simple. A friend asked me to write about them, and I told him that I’d only do so once the Bucks broke their losing streak. Which they did, on Wednesday night, so I wrote about them.

If the Bucks win on Friday night, they’ll have won two games in a row — a seemingly Herculean feat — and I’ve already said I’ll write about them again.

Anyway, now I need to get to getting, as there’s editing to be done (a bit for a friend, a bit of ELFY, part 1), sleep to be had, and more books to be read and reviewed.

Stay warm, folks.


Written by Barb Caffrey

January 23, 2014 at 3:31 am

Just Reviewed Katharine Eliska Kimbriel’s “Kindred Rites” at SBR

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Folks, if you’re looking for an excellent young adult dark fantasy to read — one steeped in authenticity, that’s set in the 19th Century and is part of a subset of alternate histories now being called “frontier fiction” — you owe it to yourself to check out Katharine Eliska Kimbriel’s KINDRED RITES, which I reviewed tonight over at Shiny Book Review (SBR for short, as always).

Note that I enjoyed this book so much, I’ve reviewed it before the e-book edition is officially out.  I found it to be one of the best, life-affirming fantasy novels I’ve ever read. Alfreda “Allie” Sorensson is the best type of heroine — she depends on her wits as much as her magic, she’s caring and compassionate yet is also no-nonsense in her approach to life — and kids of all ages should love this novel.

KINDRED RITES is an excellent book to read on a cold, winter’s night . . . or any night. So go discover this impressive book for yourself just as soon as the e-book edition is available for sale, OK?

Best of all, I’ve been reliably informed by Ms. Kimbriel that book three in Allie’s series (now being called the “Night Calls” series after the first book of Allie’s tale, NIGHT CALLS) is underway.

I can’t wait.

Written by Barb Caffrey

January 17, 2014 at 7:07 pm

Just Reviewed two of Stephanie Osborn’s Stories at SBR

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Folks, I’m pleased to report that I reviewed two of Stephanie Osborn’s stories this evening, these being THE MORE THINGS CHANGE and EL VENGADOR to be exact.  Please stroll on over to Shiny Book Review (SBR for short, as always) and take a look at tonight’s review.

And due to a brief conversation with Ms. Osborn just a few minutes ago, I learned that THE MORE THINGS CHANGE is currently priced only ninety-nine cents . . . but that price will go up at 12:00 a.m. PST to $1.99, then go up to its regular price ($2.99) at 12:00 p.m. PST.  So if you’re in the mood for an interesting, well-researched and fun read about a plausible alien society with a solid, hard scientific background, you might want to go take a gander at THE MORE THINGS CHANGE.

And, of course, if you’re in the mood for some intelligent horror of the paranormal variety, you may well be intrigued by Ms. Osborn’s EL VENGADOR.

Thus ends tonight’s public service announcement.

Written by Barb Caffrey

December 27, 2013 at 12:32 am

Two New Book Reviews are up at SBR

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Folks, I’ve been busy this week.  Between getting up that guest blog over at Murder X 4, editing a friend’s book (he’s trying to get his book out by the end of the year, and there have been a number of revisions to date — but I’ll keep helping him all I can, as you’d expect), editing another friend’s book, and doing a bit of Tweeting and Facebooking to promote fellow authors (most particularly the Twilight Times Books “stable” as I’m a part of that, and I like their work so why not?), I haven’t had a whole lot of time.

That’s why, again, I got two reviews up over at Shiny Book Review (SBR for short, as always), but could not get over here to write anything about them.

So it’s time to remedy that.

Last night for SBR’s Romance Saturday, I reviewed Aaron Paul Lazar’s THE SEACREST.  This is a heartwarming sensual romance between a deeply honorable man, Finn McGraw, and a complex and rather tormented woman, Libby Vanderhorn.  There’s a great deal to the plot that I didn’t even get into at my SBR review due to lack of space — things like domestic violence, post-traumatic stress disorder, lesbian friends (one of whom just happened to have been married to Finn’s estranged brother once upon a time) and more — but my most favorite thing in THE SEACREST, other than what I’ve already remarked upon during my SBR review, was the character of Fritzi the cook.

Yes, really.

Fritzi was a woman who could’ve been a stereotype, but somehow she broke free of that (mostly, anyway — because aren’t we all stereotypes from time to time?).  This is a motherly woman who loves to cook, is German by descent and talks with a substantial accent, yet despite all that possible baggage, Fritzi emerged as a real person with a mind and heart of her own.

And Fritzi plays an important part in THE SEACREST, too, being one of Finn’s quiet supporters in his struggle for Libby to first realize his love for her, then to give it a chance despite all the obstacles in their way.

So if you love romances — especially of the sensual contemporary variety with just enough spice to be realistic but without too much to make it gross-out awful — give Aaron Paul Lazar’s THE SEACREST a try . . . or at least go read my review and see if that whets your interest any.

Completely changing the subject, but staying with book reviews written this week, I also reviewed Leo Champion’s LEGION, which is a particularly impressive piece of military science fiction set in 2215 that has only one drawback: very, very few female soldiers at any level.

I mean, everything works in this novel.  The combat scenes are excellent.  The “bromance” stuff between the military guys (all men) is very good.  The dialogue for the most part rings true (I didn’t ding Champion, who’s originally from Australia, with a bunch of Australianisms I found in his MS from people who are supposed to be Americans — things like “in hospital” instead of “in the hospital,” mostly because this was a debut novel and they mostly didn’t impede the action any), the characterization was crisp and sharp and the writing was quite, quite good.

But if you’re going to write a story about freedom fighters on a colonial world — whether it’s mostly from the men who are tasked to fight them (the United States Foreign Legion, or USFL for short) or from the freedom fighters themselves — it is nearly inexplicable that there wouldn’t be one single woman soldier of note down on that planet on one side or the other.

The women in LEGION, aside from one Naval Commander on a spaceship high above the action and one notable politician, tend to be one of three things: cooks, waitresses, or prostitutes.  And while there’s some justification for this — I was a military wife once upon a time, and I remember the zone outside of Fort Carson, CO, quite nicely, thanks — it still didn’t work for me.

My view is simple: there should be at least one woman among the freedom fighters.  On the one hand, it doesn’t take a great amount of physical strength to fire most weapons.  And on the other, the guys in the U.S.F.L. obviously would never expect it, young and relatively ignorant about male-female relationships as they are.

Furthermore, it seems extremely unlikely that male convicts would be allowed to go into the U.S.F.L. to “make something of themselves,” but female convicts would not be given the same opportunity — providing, of course, that the female convict had any hope of getting through boot camp in the first place.

Being a female reviewer (yes, sometimes I must point out the obvious, folks; sorry), it was really perplexing for me to read such an interesting book that captivated me for thirty pages or more at a stretch . . . then I’d come up for air and think, Now where are all the women soldiers?  Surely they must be there somewhere.

And I just didn’t see it.

Mind you, this is a military SF buddy-buddy piece that is obviously geared toward men.  It’s not likely to hurt Champion’s audience in the short run whatsoever.  And I am aware of this.

But it also won’t build his audience with women who don’t already know him or know of him (by this, I mean people who’ve either met him personally or who’ve read his short stories in the past or who’ve talked with him online about something or other).  And that does not seem like a winning strategy, long-term.

So that was it for the week — I reviewed first a milSF novel, then a romance.  And I enjoyed them both, albeit for different reasons . . . maybe you’ll enjoy one of the two books, or perhaps even both of ‘em, as well.


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