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Just Reviewed Aaron Lazar’s “Spirit Me Away” at SBR

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Before I forget, I wanted to let my readers know that I just reviewed Aaron Lazar’s SPIRIT ME AWAY over at Shiny Book Review (SBR for short, as always), which is a new mystery in his long-running Gus LeGarde series. SPIRIT ME AWAY is set in 1969 and is a prequel to many of his mysteries featuring Gus.

In SPIRIT ME AWAY, Gus married his young bride, Elsbeth, a few months before the start of this novel; they’re music students living in Boston. When a young woman who’s lost her memory shows up nearby, they take her in and try to find out who she is. But there are some bad people out there who want her for nefarious purposes . . .it’s not a “cozy mystery” as are many in the LeGarde series, being rather a mystery with a great deal of romantic suspense. But it’s very, very good, and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

Also, I reviewed Aaron’s LADY BLUES over at SBR a couple of weeks ago. This, too, is a novel featuring Gus LeGarde, but is in the present-day and deals with the mystery of an old man in a nursing home who’s struggling to recover his memories with the aid of a new and experimental drug. But then the drug’s formulation is changed . . . slowly the old man loses his memories again. And then a friendly nurse goes missing, then the old man himself seemingly wanders away . . . Gus must get to the bottom of whatever is going on and, if possible, reunite the old man with his long-lost lover in the process before the man’s memories are gone for good.

I enjoyed LADY BLUES. It’s a warm, comforting mystery with a lot of musical ambiance and tons of food references. Gus and his family and friends are vital people who enjoy life and live it to the fullest, and they seem like people you know (or at least should know) . . . anyway, go take a gander at these reviews, and let me know what you think of ‘em.

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 20, 2014 at 1:25 am

Two New Book Reviews up at SBR

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Folks, it’s been a busy weekend for me over at Shiny Book Review (SBR, as always).

On Friday night, I reviewed the tenth and final volume of Stephen R. Donaldson’s long-running series starring Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, THE LAST DARK.

And a few, short hours ago, I reviewed Veronica Roth’s ALLEGIANT, which is of course the final volume of her Divergent trilogy.

I hope you’ll enjoy the reviews, and let me know what you think, as per usual.

This week, I’ll be reviewing Cedar Sanderson’s TRICKSTER NOIR and Aaron Paul Lazar’s mysteries SPIRIT ME AWAY and LADY BLUES, the latter as a 2-for-1 special.

As for an ETA for these reviews, my normal reviewing days over at SBR are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday (though sometimes, as today, I bleed over into Sunday. Bad me.) So do stay tuned…

Written by Barb Caffrey

June 8, 2014 at 5:06 am

Kendall and Kylie Jenner “Write” a Book — My Rant

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Folks, I just finished reading two sample chapters from REBELS: CITY OF INDRA: The Story of Lex and Livia, a book purportedly written by Kendall and Kylie Jenner. (Yes, they’re the sisters of Kim, Khloe, and Kourtney Kardashian.)

Here’s my capsule review: It’s dreadful. (Take a look at these one-star reviews if you don’t believe me.)

Why?

There’s no plot. There’s nothing in the way of characterization. And the Jenner sisters didn’t even write it.

The only good thing about REBELS: CITY OF INDRA: The Story of Lex and Livia (and yes, it has all of those colons) is this: Two ghostwriters actually got paid to write this garbage.

As a writer of YA fiction (you may have heard of my novel, AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE, if you’ve ever been to my blog before), I am appalled that this pitiful excuse for a book is currently sitting at #353 paid in the Amazon store.

And the only reason it appears to be there is this: The Jenner sisters are the young half-sisters of Kim Kardashian, reality starlet. So when they said, “Hey, we want to write a book,” they immediately got a book contract.

Then, apparently, after they realized how hard writing is, they quite sensibly hired ghost writers — which actually makes good business sense, but doesn’t show much on the creative side of the ledger for either of the Jenner sisters.

And now, they’re making money hand over fist despite the many negative reviews, merely because of name recognition.

It’s enough to make me, a barely known author, cry.

What can you do to combat this sort of nonsense? It’s blindingly simple: read something else.

“But Barb!” you yell. “I don’t know what to read! Help me!” (With or without exclamation points, granted.)

Look. I know many writers, and have reviewed many, many, many better books than this one. Here are just a few in the YA category that I recommend, and why:

Stephanie Osborn’s StarSong is a fable about a young, spoiled girl who realizes she needs to grow up and start doing things for herself before she finds the man of her dreams. This is an excellent novella about a spiritual awakening and a nifty coming-of-age tale, all in one. It was written for pre-teens, but anyone eight or above should enjoy this fun little story of loss, romance and redemption.

Chris Nuttall’s latest, LESSONS IN ETIQUETTE, is the second story about Emily, a teenage girl from our world who’s been transported to a quasi-medieval world where she can do magic and is important…but is important as much for the technical innovations she introduces into this new world (the printing press, Arabic numbers, double-entry bookkeeping, etc.) as she is for her own prodigious magical gifts. It’s a well-paced, well-written book that will keep you turning the pages, and is possibly Chris’s best book to date.

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel’s NIGHT CALLS is the story of Alfreda Sorensson, who is a frontier girl with magic. Again, she does for herself, thank you, and spends her time productively by learning about herself and the world around her. This is one of the best books for teenage girls I’ve ever read.

Jason Cordova’s CORRUPTOR is about Tori, a teenager trapped in a virtual reality game environment. Tori’s ex-boyfriend causes trouble, while Tori’s widowed father tries to get her out of the simulation. It’s a fun, fast read with a lot of real-world implications.

Sarah A. Hoyt’s DARKSHIP THIEVES is about Athena, a girl on the cusp of adulthood who must find herself, fast. Her father is against her, so she flees as far away as she can and finds a whole different place than she’d ever imagined…she falls in love and marries, yes, but she does so on her terms and by showing how competent and intelligent she is at every turn.

Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill’s neo-Arthurian Shadow Grail series (LEGACIES, CONSPIRACIES, SACRIFICES and VICTORIES) features Spirit White, who loses her parents in an accident and only then finds out she has magic. But what type, and why? (And was it really an accident?) So she first has to find herself, learn her talents, and then save the world…

Folks, those are just a few of the many excellent books out there in the YA and/or pre-teen category. These are all writers who work hard at their craft, write excellent stories that make sense, with characters you will appreciate, and came up with plausible worlds in the bargain. I highly recommend all of these stories, and hope you will support these writers — real writers working really hard to give you really fine stories with real craftsmanship.

(Really.)

So, in short: Please do not support this newest effort by the Jenner sisters. They don’t need the money. They didn’t do the work. And they don’t deserve your patronage thereby.

But many other real writers do.

——–

Edited to add: I’ve started a Twitter campaign called #SupportARealWriter to get the word out about real writers who use real craftsmanship to create good, solid, honest books — really. If you see #SupportARealWriter at the end of something, please  support that writer and let people know their books are out, available, and are much, much better than the above book with the Jenner sisters’ name on it.

Just Reviewed Stephanie Osborn’s “A Case of Spontaneous Combustion” at SBR

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Folks, it’s Romance Saturday. And long-time readers of my blog know what that means . . .

Yes, it’s true. I reviewed another romance again at Shiny Book Review (SBR for short, as always). This time, I reviewed Stephanie Osborn’s A CASE OF SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION, book 5 in her Displaced Detective series.

A quick after-action report for y’all:

I enjoyed Stephanie’s latest very, very much. I thought the romance was stellar, and I agreed that something like this could very easily happen (though I have to admit that I took all the high-tech devices for metaphors).

Why?

Well, without giving too much of the plot away, a miscommunication between newlyweds Sherlock Holmes and Skye Chadwick-Holmes has caused major trouble in both their personal and professional lives. And while the failure of high-tech devices to work as operated is part of it (though there is an operator behind this failure; further reviewer sayeth not), the biggest problem between them is one that any newlywed couple can have.

“What’s that?” you ask.

Simple: it’s the problem of expectations.

While Sherlock Holmes is a fictional example (in both Arthur Conan Doyle’s version and Stephanie Osborn’s), the fact of the matter is that most newlyweds don’t see one another as real, live human beings with real, live failings. Someone like Sherlock or Skye has fewer failings than the average person, but both of them still have failings.

Instead, most newlyweds wear rose-colored glasses and want to believe their spouses are the absolute best person who ever walked the face of the Earth (save, perhaps, for Jesus Christ Himself, or Gautama Buddha, or maybe Confucius).

This is both a strength and a weakness, and it can be exploited by someone malicious, as Sherlock and Skye found . . . but if you can get past this, and see your partner as a human being with flaws and challenges, just like every other human being, it deepens and broadens your love considerably.

Look. My husband Michael was the most wonderful person I have ever met, bar none. But he was still a human being. He had flaws. (Not many, but he had a few.)

Did we have a newlywed blow-up? Not one as bad as Skye’s and Sherlock’s, no. But we did have a couple of misunderstandings, mostly because we were learning how to live with one another, and sometimes even with the best of intentions, you’re not going to be able to communicate with one another.

(Yes. Even two writers cannot always communicate with each other. Go figure.)

We worked around that. We found what worked for us. And that’s why our marriage worked.

In short, we met each other as real, live human beings with real, live failings. So we entered into our marriage with a more realistic expectation — granted, it wasn’t a first marriage for either one of us, so that possibly made a difference as well. (I’d say “probably,” but who knows? Not me.)

That doesn’t mean you don’t think the other person is wonderful. Believe you me, I did — and I still do.

But it means you see him as human and mortal. Not as a demigod. And that allows you to meet him on a field of equality, where you both have something to bring to the table.

Anyway, that’s why I enjoyed A CASE OF SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION so much as a romance. (I already discussed the mystery and hard SF elements in-depth in my review, but figured the actual romantic elements warranted a wee bit more discussion.)

You will, too, if you love honest romance with heart between two intelligent, passionate, hard-working individuals; if you love Sherlock Holmes stories (as brought to the modern-day); if you love hard SF along with your romantic mysteries; or if you love just-plain-good writing.

Just Reviewed Stephanie Osborn’s “Endings and Beginnings” at SBR

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Folks, I’m glad to pass along a teensy bit of good news tonight, as I was able to review Stephanie Osborn’s THE CASE OF THE COSMOLOGICAL KILLER: ENDINGS AND BEGINNINGS (otherwise known as book four of her Displaced Detective series featuring Sherlock Holmes as brought to the modern-day via the World of Myth hypothesis) tonight over at Shiny Book Review (SBR).

Why?

Well, sometimes it’s refreshing to read a romance, especially when it’s about two unabashedly smart, talented, thoughtful individuals. Much less two romances.

You see, there’s a romance going on between our universe’s Sherlock and Skye Chadwick-Holmes (Skye being the hyperspatial physicist who brought Sherlock to our world in the first place, natch). They’ve recently married, are on their honeymoon, and are also investigating a crime (as that’s what they do).

But the other romance between the secondary universe’s other-Sherlock and other-Holmes isn’t going nearly so well.

And our Sherlock and Skye know this and want to fix things between their counterparts. Which is something you see all the time in romance, but you only rarely see in science fiction . . . but as well as this works, I wish we saw more of it.

To see a couple in deep distress (in this case, other-Sherlock and other-Skye) figure out a way to rectify their distress and fix their relationship is the hallmark of a great romance. Which is why I’m urging you to go read Stephanie Osborn’s ENDINGS AND BEGINNINGS just as soon as you can if you love Sherlock Holmes (as brought to the modern-day), if you love intelligent romances, and/or you love intelligent science right along with your intelligent romance.

You won’t regret it.

Reviewed “Lincoln’s Boys” at SBR Yesterday

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Sometimes, I get luckier than others when it comes to books I review over at Shiny Book Review (SBR for short, as always). Such is the case with LINCOLN’S BOYS, perhaps the most interesting piece of nonfiction I’ve read this year.

Why?

Well, LINCOLN’S BOYS is the story of Abraham Lincoln’s two young personal Presidential secretaries, John George Nicolay and John Hay. They saw Lincoln from a unique vantage point in two ways: first, because they worked with him for four-plus years, they saw him in nearly every imaginable circumstance. And second, they later were tapped to be his biographers by Lincoln’s sole surviving son, Robert Todd Lincoln, and were given access to all of Lincoln’s Presidential Papers in order to put out a massive ten-book biography, LINCOLN: A HISTORY.

I enjoyed this book thoroughly for a wide variety of reasons. Seeing Lincoln as a man first, able politician second, and transformational figure third was a revelation in and of itself. But seeing how Nicolay and Hay managed to craft Lincoln’s image at a time no one had even conceived of such a thing — and doing so in such a way that showed Lincoln as a man rather than as a demi-god or worse, a full-fledged Deity figure (as was already happening at the time they started work on Lincoln’s biography) — was also eye-opening.

As I said in my review:

Because Nicolay and Hay were honest men, they did their best to show Lincoln as a man. Full of talent, yes, and possibly the best President we’ve ever had . . . but still a man.

And because Zeitz is an honest biographer as well as an honest historian, he was able to show Lincoln in a brand-new light by showing Lincoln through the eyes of Nicolay and Hay.

So if you like history, politics, or have made it a point to seek out every word ever written with regards to Abraham Lincoln, this book is obviously meant for you.

But if you also like biographies that put the subjects of same into the full context of their time and shows them as living, breathing men with interests and goals and dreams all their own, you will adore LINCOLN’S BOYS . . . guaranteed.

Reviewed Grant Hallman’s “IronStar” and “Upfall” Last Night at SBR

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Folks, this past week has been a nightmare.

Why? Well, I’ve been dealing with a sinus infection. The hot water heater decided it had had enough, too . . . and even the cheapest and lowest-rated hot water heater is currently beyond my reach, though of course I’m working on that.

Anyway, I’d hoped to review Grant Hallman’s novel IRONSTAR and novella UPFALL a few weeks ago. But I knew I couldn’t do them justice, which is why I’d delayed . . . at any rate, I have reviewed them now over at Shiny Book Review (SBR, as always).

Now, why was I worried about doing two science fiction stories justice, when I’m a SF writer myself?

Simple. IRONSTAR incorporates some metaphysics into the mix (as you’ll see if you go over and read my review), and I was unsure at first how to discuss this without giving too much of the plot away. And, while IRONSTAR is military SF, I was worried about describing the many other parts of the diverse plotline . . . but it all came into place once I realized I could review both stories on Saturday.

You see, I’ve reviewed many books that have a romantic component on Saturday for SBR’s “Romance Saturday” promotion. And Hallman’s novella, UPFALL, is an unabashed romantic SF story of the old school . . . lots of good science, lots of intelligent romance, and a crowd-pleasing ending, so what’s not to like about that?

When you put UPFALL together with IRONSTAR, which also has a romance along with the military SF going on, it seemed a natural fit for Romance Saturday.

Anyway, I hope you will enjoy my review. So have at . . . and enjoy your weekend. (As for me, while I do intend to watch the Brewers play the Reds, I have a whole boatload of editing to get done by Monday morning.)

 

 

Written by Barb Caffrey

May 3, 2014 at 6:14 pm

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:

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