Archive for the ‘Book reviews’ Category
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?)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Folks, I’m still — still! — dealing with The Sinus Infection from Hell (TM), which is why I wasn’t able to write an immediate blog about my recent book review for Vera Nazarian’s COBWEB BRIDE over at Shiny Book Review (SBR). COBWEB BRIDE is an excellent book about what happens when Death decides not to take anyone’s life until he gets his “Cobweb Bride” — all aspects of this premise are explored, including the darker ones. I gave COBWEB BRIDE an A and believe it’s perfect for lovers of dark fantasy with a bit of romance. But anyone who loves interesting, original books containing aspects of horror, romance, fairy tales, dark fantasy and historical fantasy should enjoy it.
Now, there are a few things to keep in mind before you pick up COBWEB BRIDE. As I said in my review, there are some really horrific things that Ms. Nazarian writes about — to my mind, the squealing of a pig after it’s been butchered but cannot due was among the most plaintive and heart-rending — and they will disturb you unless you have a heart of stone. (Then again, they’re supposed to disturb you. Trust me on this. )
The main reason to read COBWEB BRIDE, though, is because the most admirable characters — Percy, the Infanta Claere, and even Vlau — are admirable not only because of what they do (in Vlau’s case, in some ways it’s in spite of what he does), but because they keep on doing it no matter how difficult things are all around them.
Writing about that sort of persistence and making it work makes COBWEB BRIDE well worth the price of admission.
So please. Go read my review. Then go take a gander at the book . . . it’s available in e-book and trade paperback . . . and see if you don’t agree with me.
Folks, I’m a bit behindhand on letting you all know what I’ve been doing over at SBR lately. This is partly because I’ve been dealing with the sinus infection from Hell (TM), and partly because I’ve been trying to get everything caught up by the end of the year. (Yes, I’m still playing catch-up from that bronchitis I suffered in the spring.)
Anyway, today’s review over at SBR is for Mario Livio’s excellent BRILLIANT BLUNDERS, a scientific history that deals with the five biggest mistakes of five eminent scientists — Charles Darwin, William Thomson (Lord Kelvin to thee and me), Linus Pauling, Fred Hoyle, and Albert Einstein — and discusses these mistakes in the context of both the history of science and the particular scientist’s career. Livio’s writing is clear and concise, and is accessible to the layman without being shallow or stupid, a neat trick.
I also interviewed novelist and rocket scientist Stephanie Osborn for SBR a few weeks ago. This was a wide-ranging, no-holds-barred interview where Ms. Osborn discussed literacy and panic attacks right along with her own work, and talked a great deal about how she comes up with her plots for good measure. Do go take a gander at that, then read her books as soon as you can, too.**
Aside from that, my plans for this Black Friday are to stay far, afar away from any store (except maybe for the grocery store, as that should be safe) as I’m not interested in fighting with anyone over a toaster. Or a TV. Or even something I would really like to have, like a book card . . . no, life is just too short for such silliness.
(Besides, I can always go get the book card tomorrow, and the lines will be far shorter, too!)
Stay safe, everyone.
**BTW, I’d meant to get up something about the interview a few weeks ago, but this sinus infection from Hell (TM) is just not allowing me to do much, as I haven’t had the energy to do it with. I figured actually finishing the interview, then posting it was much more important than me coming over here to my own blog and discussing it — but as I always had intended to discuss it, today seems to be the day.
So if you haven’t already read the interview with Ms. Osborn, please go ahead and do so at your earliest convenience. You may learn something . . . or better yet, you may both learn something and find a new favorite author. (Stranger things have happened.)
Folks, tonight I wrote a review over at Shiny Book Review (SBR for short, as always) for Karen Myers’ THE WAYS OF WINTER, book two in her Hounds of Annwn series. And because of the very nature of this review — where I called the book both “interesting” and “problematic,” something I don’t think I’ve ever done before — I needed to come right over here and give you all an after-action report even though I’m way under the weather (still) and obviously haven’t blogged all week until now.
I want to reiterate that I find Karen Myers’ work quite interesting. She has a nice way of plotting that for the most part works for me. I like her characterization. I thought the inventiveness of getting a rock-wight into the plot — much less the rock-wight’s child in the bargain — was stellar. And I truly believe she has a ton of potential.
However, when I see a book that’s not up to standard editorially — one that’s very far away from professional standard, to be blunt, in quite a number of respects — I have to say that.
It doesn’t give me any pleasure whatsoever to do so, mind you. I know that Karen Myers is a relatively new writer with a handful of books out (book four in her Hounds of Annwn series is due in a few months, I believe) and a number of short stories. She’s self-published, has a nice Web site, is doing many great things as an independent author and knows how to market herself impressively — all good.
It’s much easier for me to criticize someone like Debbie Macomber (with a hundred books out, or nearly) or Mercedes Lackey (with over forty books out) or even someone like Celine Kiernan, who like Myers was a new author with a few books out but was published by Orbit — so all of Ms. Kiernan’s unevenness in her plotline should’ve been fixed by one of Orbit’s professional editors long before it ever made it to the market.
Granted, I don’t particularly enjoy doing that, either, but at least I don’t feel terrible afterward as I did in the case of Ash Krafton recently and now Karen Myers as well.
As a reviewer, I have to say when I don’t like something, or my book reviews don’t mean a whole lot. (If every book got an A-plus from me, why would you want to read my reviews? You’d know that no matter what I said, it’s all the same sort of nonsense, right?) I also have to say something because it’s the only way a writer might change something down the line.
No, it’s not likely. But it’s at least possible.
As a professional editor, I can’t refuse to say when I think a book has not been well-edited. I’ve had to do this before with a self-published author (Cedar Sanderson and her fun YA urban fantasy, VULCAN’S KITTENS), and I’ll probably have to do it again for all I know.
But it’s harder for me, as a writer myself, to write a review that’s as mixed as the one I wrote tonight. I tried hard to point out all of Ms. Myers’ strengths — of which there are many — while also pointing out as many of the weaknesses I saw without giving too much away by way of unintentional spoilers.
Since you’re here, reading my own blog and this “after-action report,” I’m going to be a little more explicit about my problem with the way Ms. Myers ends THE WAYS OF WINTER. (If you do not want your reading spoiled, look away now. This is your one and only warning.)
My main problem was that Ms. Myers set up a thoroughly hissable villain, Madog, to get his comeuppance. She showed over and over again just how nasty this Fae was, why his loss would only improve matters, and what a terrible excuse for a sentient being he was . . . but then, rather than showing Madog getting what he deserves, Madog’s death occurs off-screen!
So you’ve set yourself up a nasty villain, who every reader is going to want to see die horribly. But then, you don’t really show him dying and only allude to it?
I realize Ms. Myers’ main character, George, was in no shape to narrate this. But she had another character, Seething Magma, who’d had several POV scenes of her own. Why not use Seething Magma’s POV to show this death so the reader will be able to fully enjoy Madog’s passing?
Then, this happens a little bit too early on to suit me also. George is grievously wounded by Madog, and his rehabilitation is important to see, I agree. But there’s really nothing else there other than some quiet wrapping-up stuff — good character moments for George and his new foster-son and his new wife, Angharad, to be sure, and I welcomed them.
But there’s nothing truly essential there. We don’t find out anything else about where Creiddylad is (one of the villains from book one, the sister of George’s great-grandfather Gwyn ap Nudd). We don’t see Seething Magma and her child reunite, really, either — again, it’s alluded to, but not really shown, that reunion, though we do at least see them together and presumably happy.
So the real emotional heart of the ending is Madog getting his comeuppance, which we don’t see. Then we get George’s rehab, which is fine, but there’s nothing to contrast it against — it’s all, “Well, we’re nearly at Xmas, and George is the best Xmas present his wife Angharad could ever receive,” but nearly all of that is in subtext, too.
If I didn’t like Ms. Myers’ writing so much, I probably would’ve thrown the very nice soft-cover review copy she so graciously sent me months ago across the room.
Unlike Ash Krafton’s BLOOD RUSH, which was well-edited and competently executed (I didn’t like the romance, which I said), and Cedar Sanderson’s VULCAN’S KITTENS, which needed some editing work but the main plot points were very well executed and the emotional payoff scenes were all there, THE WAYS OF WINTER had a number of things I just can’t get behind.
And that’s a shame, because I do like Ms. Myers’ writing and want her career to succeed.
So that’s it — that’s why I gave Karen Myers’ THE WAYS OF WINTER a thoroughly mixed review with a “C” grade to boot. I hope you can understand why . . . but even if you can’t, it’s late, I still have the nasty sinus infection to deal with, and somehow I have to try to get some rest.
As far as upcoming blogs go, I still hope to write that baseball wrap-up blog I’d discussed (no longer timely, but perhaps interesting anyway?) and maybe write a blog about the Milwaukee Bucks in the bargain.
One final update: If I can ever get my late husband Michael’s two stories to format properly, I hope to have them up at Amazon within the next several weeks. This has been delayed partially due to being under the weather, partly because I’m very, very bad at formatting, and partly because what little energy I’ve had has gone toward the final, last-round edit of my book, ELFY, along with the edits I’m doing for a number of others.
I haven’t forgotten, and will not. I know Michael still has fans. I want them to enjoy his work. And I want Michael’s work to find new fans — so these stories will come back out, once I finally have clean files to upload.