Archive for the ‘Book reviews’ Category
Folks, I was very pleased to feel well enough to review Katharine Eliska Kimbriel’s HIDDEN FIRES, the only book I’d not yet reviewed over at Shiny Book Review (SBR) in her excellent Chronicles of Nuala series. HIDDEN FIRES continues the story of Sheel Atare and his wife, Darame the former free-trader (consummate con-artist) and introduces several new characters, including the naïve young would-be free-trader, Garth Kristinsson, his love interest, Lucy of Dielaan, and the next head of the powerful Dielaan family/clan, Rex.
Now, if you’ve already seen my review, you know I gave this book a slightly lesser grade than the two others, as I gave HIDDEN FIRES an A-minus. (FIRES OF NUALA received an A-plus. FIRE SANCTUARY received a solid A.) I loved this book, thought the writing and world building and plot were great, loved most of the characters (and really, most is all you get in any book), but considering the other two were so exceptionally good . . . and even considering that in many ways I enjoyed this one the best of the three, particularly because of the romance involved (two good romances, even), I just didn’t feel right giving it a full A.
It’s weird, sometimes, how I grade books. There are books I absolutely adore that aren’t worthy of A grades at all (not an A-plus, A, or A-minus) . . . for example, one of my favorite comfort books is P.C. Cast’s GODDESS OF SPRING, which has a great heroine in forty-three-year-old Carolina “Lina” Francesca Santoro, and a fine, sexy, brooding and misunderstood hero in Hades, Lord of the Underworld. Lina is a baker from our world who’s in trouble; her newest bakery is failing despite her many talents, and she needs help. She prays to Demeter, finding a prayer in an old cookbook, and ends up being exchanged for six months with Demeter’s daughter Persephone. In that short span of time, she meets up with Hades, falls in love with him, but knows she cannot stay — and it doesn’t help when Demeter fails to realize that Hades truly is in love with Lina, either.
This is a book that I love, yes, but it gets a solid B from me (maybe a B-plus on a good day) for several reasons. One, there are some really odd editing things going on in that book — stuff Ms. Cast probably couldn’t do anything about when the book first came out, but in the many reprintings since should’ve been addressed. Two, I hate to say it, but I did not buy Persephone’s transformation at all. While we do see some of Persephone in our world, she never once throws a hissy fit at being exchanged against her will by her mother Demeter — because, you see, Persephone did not consent to this whatsoever — and really, I would’ve expected at least one. (Wouldn’t most people be upset if they were in their youth and first blush of beauty one minute, and in a forty-three-year-old body the next?) But rather than being upset, Persephone insists on “upgrading” Lina’s body by exercising, dieting, and revamping Lina’s wardrobe.
Another book I’ve read again and again is by Linnea Sinclair, GABRIEL’S GHOST. This, too, is a fine B-level effort by Ms. Sinclair rather than an A, mostly because there were elements of the plot that didn’t seem to fit as well as in other novels by Ms. Sinclair (such as the excellent AN ACCIDENTAL GODDESS or even THE DOWN-HOME ZOMBIE BLUES). Here, I loved the main characters, hated the characters Ms. Sinclair wanted me to hate, and enjoyed the rousing action-adventure — yet there was something in this book that left me feeling unsettled.
This, my friends, is the difference between an A-level of any sort and a B-level of any sort.
So what you see in my review tonight of Ms. Kimbriel’s HIDDEN FIRES is that I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, plan to read it many times in the future, and will never forget the characters nor the situations they’re in nor the world in which all this action takes place. I thought the characters were great and did what they were supposed to, and felt that the returning “mains” — Sheel and Darame — were solid characters that felt real in every possible respect. And I believed that the other two “new mains,” Lucy and Garth, were realistic, honestly written characters that were probably damned difficult to deal with due to Lucy’s rather odd self-abnegation (during most of HIDDEN FIRES, I kept wondering, “What does Lucy want? Not what Rex Dielaan wants — not even what Quin, the good Dielaan wants — what does Lucy want?” But Lucy, herself, never once asked that question of herself.) and Garth’s obvious naïveté while thinking he’s a big-time man of the worlds.
As a writer, these were Ms. Kimbriel’s characters. They make perfect sense, in context. And I believed them, in context.
But as people, they don’t completely make sense to me. Even on Nuala, it seems to me that most of the women are very strong individuals whether they’re healers, Ragärees, or are farmers way out in the Ciedärlien, so why Lucy has so little sense of self — it’s not even a lack of self-esteem so much as seeing Lucy, herself, as important in the cosmic scheme of things (or at least in the microcosmic scheme of things) — is worrisome.
Granted, Ms. Kimbriel couldn’t go there in HIDDEN FIRES because it wasn’t Lucy’s story, exactly. Lucy was a pawn, not a queen, and certainly not a Ragäree — she knew she’d been raised as a glorified “brood mare,” resented it, and wanted more for herself, but — spoiler alerts beyond this mark — backed the wrong horse.
And Lucy needed to back that wrong horse so we’d see her eventual redemption, an arc done particularly well by Ms. Kimbriel as Lucy, once again, is a character where very little of who she actually is comes out in anything she says.
While Garth needed to be exactly who he was — a naïve man, yet fundamentally honest enough in his own, twisty way to figure out how to keep Rex Dielaan from hurting everything (including Lucy), even if it meant joining forces with Darame Atarae in the process.
Anyway. This book is exactly what it needs to be, but those two characters were difficult to root for in certain respects despite Ms. Kimbriel’s charming way of writing them. (Not her fault Lucy wouldn’t talk with her, after all. Characters are funny that way.) That’s why even though I adored the book, and thought it’s in many ways the strongest of the three — particularly in the romance department — it received an A-minus.
One final thing about grades, though: Recently at SBR I’ve read a number of books that have been wonderful. This is not always the case, as long-term readers of my book reviews already know. For a trilogy to get no lower than an A-minus out of me for all three books is astonishingly good, and might even be a first.
And the series, as a whole, is a solid A. Which rarely, if ever, happens.
So the upshot is this: Aside from Stephanie Osborn’s great Displaced Detective series (book four will be reviewed by me, here at my own blog, in the coming weeks), I haven’t read three books I’ve liked more in a very, very long time.
Really. You owe it to yourself to read what Ms. Kimbriel has written, is writing and will write.
So do yourself a favor. Go buy one of her excellent books. Then settle down to read.
Elsewise, you’ll be missing something extraordinary.
Folks, if you’ve looking for a very good, entertaining, interesting and thought-provoking novel of the far future, look no further than Katharine Eliska Kimbriel’s FIRE SANCTUARY, which I just reviewed over at Shiny Book Review (SBR). FIRE SANCTUARY deals with cross-cultural romance, a brewing interplanetary war between the Axis and the Fewhas (with Nuala stuck in the middle), the difficulties of living on a planet that endures much radiation and much, much more.
Again, as with Ms. Kimbriel’s THE FIRES OF NUALA (that “the” may be optional, but I keep typing it over here and not at SBR; weird, huh?), there’s much action, intrigue, drama, and romance. But the stars of the show are the characters, including Braan and Ronuviel of the Atare clan, Moran and Lyte (Axis officers), and Teloa, a planter (a farmer by any other name). And even the minor characters are brimming with life and desires and goals and dreams . . . just a winning effort, all the way around, for Ms. Kimbriel.
As I’ve said before, I believe more people need to read Ms. Kimbriel’s writing. So if you haven’t given her books a try yet, why not do so today? (You’ll be glad you did.)
Folks, if you haven’t read any of Katharine Eliska Kimbriel’s novels before, you need to go find them and read them immediately.
I don’t often say this. In fact, I’ve said this with regards to maybe two other authors in my entire life, those two being the novels of Rosemary Edghill (in any genre) and the novels of André Norton. These two authors — one extremely well-known and a Grandmaster, the other who should be much better known than she is — are must-reads in any genre.
So far, I’ve read the three books in Ms. Kimbriel’s The Chronicles of Nuala, but only reviewed the first, THE FIRES OF NUALA, this evening over at Shiny Book Review (SBR). (The second two books will be reviewed next week.) What I’ve read has shown me that Ms. Kimbriel knows what she’s doing, as she’s developed a complex world with a mythos all its own and characters who are vital people who demand attention at all times.
THE FIRES OF NUALA came out in 1988. Somehow, I missed it back then. The reissued** version came out in 2010 courtesy of Book View Cafe.
I’m glad I read it now, as it’s a first-rate novel that combines space opera, mystery, romance, epic world building and a complex plot into something that’s even more than the sum of its parts. (I didn’t call it “…a book that should be in every science fiction library as it is complex, engrossing, interesting, compelling, and outstanding” for nothing, folks.)
THE FIRES OF NUALA should’ve won every award there was, as far as I’m concerned, unless the 1988 version was radically different than this one (something I find extremely hard to believe). But due to the nature of the e-book revolution, at least it’s back out there and available to captivate new readers.
Seriously. Read my review, then go read the novel. Then ask yourself, “What happened back in 1988 that I missed this?” (Unless you’re too young, of course, for this to apply. In which case, just go grab the book and save steps.)
** Upon further review, I’ve been reliably informed by Ms. Kimbriel that THE FIRES OF NUALA that I just read is the very same, exact version put out in 1988. I really do not understand how a book like this one could be completely overlooked by the Hugo and Nebula Awards, but then again, I don’t run in those waters and never have.
However, I do know quality when I see it, or read it. This book is quality with a capital “Q.” So go out and read it, if you haven’t already. (If you have, great! But if you want an e-book, $4.99 for a book of this length and excellence is, as previously stated over at SBR, an absolute steal.)
Folks, if you are looking for a compelling epic fantasy that’s never boring, features a fine, yet flawed, heroine and a subtext that heroines need love, too (yet can rarely find it), you will really adore Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory’s newest novel, CROWN OF VENGEANCE. Set in their world of Jer-a-Kaliel deep in the misty past, they tell the story of the great Elven Queen Vieliessar Farcarinon . . . and how the myths and legends that have arisen in the centuries upon centuries since her adventures are both more and less than what she actually was.
Before I discuss more of my typical “after-action report,” here’s the link to my review: http://shinybookreview.com/2013/03/17/lackey-and-mallorys-crown-of-vengeance-one-compelling-epic-fantasy/
Now, back to the AAR.
See, Vieliessar is a very complex person. She’s a mage. She’s a fighter. She’s a scholar. She’s a wise and benevolent ruler. But she starts out very much behind the eight ball, as her mother died giving birth to her, the rest of Vieliessar’s family has been killed due to infighting among the Hundred Noble Houses, and because of that infighting, Vieliessar barely knows anything about herself until age twelve or so.
Instead, she thinks she’s Varuthir, and no one special. But she hopes to become an Elven knight anyway, and win glory on the battlefield, as that’s the best way for her to gain a name, and home, of her own.
At that point, she is instead sent to the Sanctuary of the Star — the place her mother gave birth, mind you — to become a perpetual servant. The reason this happens is because the Hundred Houses want no one of Farcarinon left able to reclaim her birthright. But because one petty, spiteful noble actually tells Vieliessar her real name and just a tad about her heritage, Vieliessar becomes both curious and angry as to why she’s been misled all this time.
The Sanctuary is a safe place for Vieliessar for a number of years. She learns more about who she is by doing various things, including learning that servants are just as important as nobles, that the status of the Landbonds (serfs tied to the land, more or less — farmers) is far below their actual worth and value, and that she actually has magical talent.
Then, after she’s resigned herself to becoming Vieliessar Lightsister (sort of a combination of mage, cleric and scholar), she has to reinvent herself again due to factional infighting at the Sanctuary. (Mind you, I didn’t have time to get into that in my review, plus I didn’t want to give too much away. Read the rest of this AAR at your own risk!) And she becomes a swordswoman.
At this point, she finds a few of her family’s old retainers — the few that were left alive after the destruction of House Farcarinon — and decides to go to war.
But she’s not going to war with the other nobles, even though they think she is due to her destiny as the “Child of the Prophecy.” (I talk more of this in my review.) Instead, she knows she must unite the noble houses behind her banner in order to fight the nasty, vicious, disgusting and evil Endarkened — blood mages of the worst sort, who don’t see themselves as evil but obviously are.
Note that Vieliessar does not know who the Endarkened are, much less what. But she does know that some sort of monstrous evil has been prophesied. She also knows that she’s sensed something really bad out there that doesn’t like Elves, and figures that this must be the evil that’s been prophesied. (She’s right, too.)
Book one mostly discusses Vieliessar’s quest to unite the noble houses. It’s an absorbing read so long as it’s fixed on Vieliessar’s hopes, dreams, and aspirations — and it’s even interesting when dealing with the petty, political one-upmanship seen in the various maneuvering of the noble houses as they try, in vain, to escape their eventual joint fate as vassals to Vieliessar.
Really, if you enjoy a good, solid epic fantasy, you will love this book. And if you loved any of Lackey and Mallory’s previous six collaborative efforts, you will assuredly love this book . . . so what’s stopping you from first reading my review, then reading the book itself? (Go pick up a copy today! Further reviewer sayeth not.)
Folks, if you’re looking for a unique and different take on the afterlife, Lenore Applehans’ debut novel LEVEL 2 has you covered. This is a young adult dystopian romance featuring good and bad angels, a distinctly different take on Purgatory, and an interesting young woman, Felicia Ward.
The main reason I picked up LEVEL 2 (spelled out in the titles, both here and over at Shiny Book Review, for ease of reference) is because of its take on Purgatory. I thought, This sounds interesting. No one’s done that in a long time, particularly not in the context of a young adult dystopian romance.
And I wasn’t disappointed, either, as LEVEL 2 was original, suspenseful (despite its inherent nature, which meant flashbacks were a must), and had the nearly obligatory “love triangle” — except that the bad boy, Julian, was far more interesting than good boy, Neil. (Which is closer to what happens in real life, actually.) Even though Felicia didn’t seem to realize it, at least in this novel.
(LEVEL 3 will be out next year, so perhaps this will change.)
Anyway, I just reviewed LEVEL 2 over at SBR — go take a look! (Further reviewer sayeth not.)
Folks, I was able to finally review well-known SF writers (and scientists) Travis Taylor and Stephanie Osborn’s A NEW AMERICAN SPACE PLAN over at Shiny Book Review (SBR) this evening. This is a review you want to read, especially if you love space, space exploration, or the science that goes along with “science fiction.” (We have to get our ideas from somewhere. And a non-fiction book like this is a precious resource.)
Anyway — the science is sound, the arguments for why the United States still needs a space program (much less that it be fully funded and that its mission stay the same regardless of which President occupies the Oval Office) are first-rate, and the style is easy to read for the intelligent layman ninety-nine percent of the time.
So please. Do yourself a favor. Go read my review, then go grab the book! You will not be disappointed, as the arguments put forth are thought-provoking and interesting.
(Further reviewer sayeth not.)
Folks, it’s Romance Saturday at Shiny Book Review (SBR), and I kept meaning to review two romances all month.
But time kept getting away from me, as it always does . . . then I looked up and realized, “Hey! It’s nearly the New Year! I still have these two romances hanging fire here. What’s to do?”
So I reviewed them both tonight over at SBR.
This was quite a different thing for me, because the two novels, while both were romances in one way or another, were wildly different. The first romance I reviewed is Sherry Thomas’ Victorian era TEMPTING THE BRIDE, book three in the Fitzhugh trilogy (and yes, I did review the other two books earlier this year, which you know if you’ve been reading my blogs). I liked this novel far better than I liked either of the first two, mostly because I really liked the characters and felt the emotional resonance between them scanned the same way a real couple would if someone dropped into this same scenario (which is, of all things, the dreaded amnesia plot).
The second romance is Marie Lu’s young adult dystopian near-future LEGEND (say that three times fast). This is Ms. Lu’s debut novel, and it’s a fast-paced thriller that still gets the emotional resonance right between our two teenage protagonists — June, from the military elite at the top of the economic scale, and Day, a fugitive from the “wrong side of the tracks” who is nevertheless extremely gifted in military matters. Normally the two would never meet, but June’s brother is killed under highly suspicious circumstances, which throws the two together (mostly because the military elites running the place do their best to make it appear that Day killed June’s brother).
These may be the last reviews I do before the New Year — in fact, it’s highly likely that this is the case — so what better way to end 2012 than with two romances I really enjoyed?
I truly hope you’ll enjoy them, too — or that you’ll at least appreciate my reviews. So have at, and in case I don’t get a chance to blog between now and then, Happy New Year to all . . . and to all a good night!
Folks, it’s not every day that I get to review a Christmas-themed romance, much less two of them. Yet that’s exactly what I just did over at Shiny Book Review (SBR), so go take a gander here.
To give you a bit more information about the two books, the first is ‘TWAS THE NIGHT AFTER CHRISTMAS by Sabrina Jeffries. This is a romance set in Regency-era England between two flawed but engaging humans, Pierce, an Earl, and Mrs. Camilla Stuart, a respectable widow with a young son. The set-up is interesting, the romance convinced, yet some of the ending (which I can’t really talk about much or I’ll spoil your reading pleasure) didn’t quite scan to me.
Even so, it was a diverting read and I’ll gladly read more of Ms. Jeffries in the future.
The second book is WHAT HAPPENS AT CHRISTMAS by Victoria Alexander. This is a romance set in Victorian-era England between Camille, Lady Lydingham, and the “man who got away,” Grayson Elliot. Both are now older, wiser, and available, yet there’s a great many hoops to jump over, not the least of which is Camille’s impending engagement between herself and Prince Nikolai of the Principality of Greater Avalonia.
Ms. Alexander’s book is one that’s difficult for any reviewer to do justice because it’s a flat-out farce. Yet I did my best because I really enjoyed this book, mostly because it’s extremely funny.
At any rate, please go read my review, then go take a gander at the books.
Happy holidays to all!
Folks, if you’ve been looking for a thrilling YA action-adventure set in an alternate universe where the science has been meticulously worked out, well, search no more.
Such a book exists — actually, two such books exist, the first being Dave Freer’s CUTTLEFISH, and the second being THE STEAM MOLE, set in the same universe with most of the same characters but a different setting.
Hie thee hence to your local bookstore, online outlet or what-you-will, or if you’d like to read my review first, go here.
Then do yourself a favor, and buy both books.
Now, you might be asking yourself, “Barb, why are you pushing these novels so hard?”
It’s simple, really. Freer wrote two books on contract for Pyr — those two being CUTTLEFISH and THE STEAM MOLE — and now has to decide whether he’ll write another in this universe (as Freer does have other options for publication, whether it’s self-publishing or through the Naked Reader Press). My hope is that Freer will write many more books in this universe, as it seems to me there’s a great many plots that could be viable in such a milieu . . . which is why I urge you to go read my review (better yet, read both reviews, as there’s a link to my review of CUTTLEFISH included in tonight’s review), then go buy the books as fast as you can.
And, as always, enjoy!
Folks, THE NEW ARCANA by John Amen and Daniel Y. Harris is an extremely unusual book. Experimental in nature and eclectic in the extreme, this was a book that grew on me after many, many re-reads.
This isn’t your father’s book of poetry.
Instead, this is a book full of postmodern sentiment, faux journalism and mock academic writing, photographs of made-up people, and even fake autobiographies mixed in with some excellent poetry of the most trenchant sort. The sly and subtle wit these two writers have come up with takes a while to understand, but once it finally manifests (or once my brain fully processed it, whichever), it’s more than worth the price of admission.
Some pages are far more understandable than others (as I said in my review at SBR, I absolutely didn’t understand the four lines on p. 99), but there’s enough here to please just about any poetry lover if he or she just gives the book a chance. And if the poetry lover enjoys postmodern sentiment, for that matter, as without an appreciation for postmodernism, this book is likely to fly right over the poetry lover’s head.
Look. This is a book I agonized about reviewing, mostly because it is so very different and is the farthest thing from an easy read that I can possibly imagine — and partly because it took me a while to appreciate the golden nuggets floating amidst a veritable ocean of words.
My belief is that THE NEW ARCANA is akin to a jazz improvisation that starts out as tonal, quickly becomes atonal, then does something unprecedented that somehow melds the two yet transcends the two at the same time.
Seriously. Go read my review. Then take a gander at THE NEW ARCANA. Read it several times. Try not to pre-judge it.
Then figure out whether it’s a really good book based off an unusual interpolation of forms, or just an odd mix that doesn’t quite hit the mark. Because while Ornette Coleman and the “free jazz” movement of the 1960s can be really interesting to listen to — especially for lovers of music history and theory — it’s not always an easy experience.
Besides, not every instance of jazz improvisation works for everyone, because humans simply aren’t wired that way. (Thus the reason for poetry in the first place. But I digress.)
My final word is that THE NEW ARCANA is a valuable piece of literature that’s worthy of study by poets and other writers, and should intrigue lovers of postmodern and experimental poetic forms everywhere. (Further part-time poet sayeth not.)