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Book Recommendations, Plus My Review of Jason Cordova’s “A Christmas Surprise”

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Folks, I’ve wanted to write a blog for weeks now about several books I’ve enjoyed, either reading or editing. But as I read a book last night I truly wasn’t expecting whatsoever — Jason Cordova’s A CHRISTMAS SURPRISE, I want to lead with that review first. (I’ll cut and paste from my Amazon review, as I never know exactly when that will go up. Or even if.)

Here goes:

I didn’t know Jason Cordova had something like A CHRISTMAS SURPRISE in him. Lately he’s been writing dark, depressing, and despairing military SF, where most of the characters die and the few who remain never seem to remark on what’s gone missing.

Thank goodness he took a detour and wrote a smart, sweet, and timely Christmas story for a change instead.

Bluntly, I loved A CHRISTMAS SURPRISE. It was a fast read, and probably is intended for kids aged about eight and up; it’s also a clean read, with no profanity whatsoever. (Another surprise, as sometimes in Cordova’s work I can count how many people are going to die by the amount of f-bombs used in process.) It has a great message for Christmas, too: we have to work together with people who don’t look like us, and maybe people (or in this case, a baby kaiju, one of the most adorable kaiju I’ve ever seen in print — another thing that looks like a misnomer, but isn’t) will surprise you if you give them a chance.

I was also pleasantly surprised with the resonance here — how the story sounds, in addition to how well it reads — as it has a style that was reminiscent, at least to me, of C.S. Lewis’s work in the Narnia series. (While Cordova doesn’t bring in a brand new mythology, he does talk briefly of all the different ways Christmas is celebrated around the world, and a Hawai’ian moon goddess is a significant player.)

Overall, this is a can’t-miss Christmas SFnal tale of hope, faith, optimism, and the true meaning of Christmas (giving, rather than receiving, in addition to gifts not being what you may want, but instead what you need). And I loved the little baby kaiju, Georgie, something fierce.

Five stars-plus, with the highest recommendation possible.

And please, write more in this vein, Jason. You have a gift for it.

Barb Caffrey

OK, now that I’ve gotten your attention, here are a few more books I want you to check out.

First, take a look at Ken Lizzi’s KARL THORSON AND THE JADE DAGGER. I edited this book, and I know it’s wonderful. Karl is a military vet and a type of “muscle-for-hire” at the site of an important archaeological excavation, and many things happen to Karl that he never could’ve expected. There is true magic here, as well as the ever-present fight between good and evil; there is a good deal of character-based humor; there are many, many excellently rendered fight scenes; there’s a swift-moving story; there’s a wonderfully compelling and spare, yet still luxuriant, writing style.

And — best of all — it’s only ninety-nine cents as an e-book. (How sweet is that?)

Next, take a gander at Loren K. Jones’s latest, THE LEGEND OF MARY DEATH. I also edited this book, and I know it’s a terrific read. Loren’s main character, Marydyth “Mary Death” Zel’Karyn, is a renowned swordswoman. She’s also a trailblazer, a Captain of Cavalry, then a Knight of Justice…eventually also a wife, mother, and teacher. If you’ve read any of Loren’s previous work, most especially the books in the Stavin Kel’Aniston series, you may recognize Mary a bit. (But only a bit, because in those books, she was legend. They knew she’d lived, and existed, but what she found important in her life and what the legends found important may not have been one and the same.)

What I found the most fun about this book was how Mary, herself, hated her nickname of “Mary Death.” She never wanted to be “Mary Death,” and the only reason the nickname took off was because one of her officers burped in the middle of her name during a bit of drunken revelry after a decisive battle. (Hee hee!)

But there’s so much here for people to like, if they just pick up the book. It’s not selling as well as Loren’s previous books, perhaps because people are out Xmas shopping and it may not seem as timely as some books. But if you enjoy fun, fast adventure with a bit of romance along with the power of trailblazing women, you’ll enjoy THE LEGEND OF MARY DEATH.

Finally, there are two books of Chris Nuttall’s I want to point out. (No, he doesn’t need the help, but I enjoyed the books so I may as well mention them. Humph.) The first of these is his latest in the Schooled in Magic series, MIRROR IMAGE. His heroine, Emily, is trying to get a magical university off the ground in the Nameless World (the world she was transported to, way back in book 1, by a necromancer she later killed). And it’s not going well…plus she has to deal with tensions both mundane and magical, as well as an alternate-universe versions of several people…perhaps including Emily herself.

Mind, as this is book eighteen in the SIM series, it’s probably not the best place to start it. But I do think you would understand most of it if you haven’t read any…still, the first few books in the series are on sale for ninety-nine cents, so if you haven’t read any of this compelling magical series yet, you should.

And as I am one of two editors for this series (and yes, we both work on every single book in the series, one way or another), I know how wonderful they are. (So do get to getting, will you?)

And the second of Chris’s books — the last of my recommendations for this Saturday before Xmas — is the sixth book in his Learning Experience series, THEIR LAST FULL MEASURE. This is military SF at its most deadly, with an alien race in the Tokomak that wants to wipe all humans off the map as they feel threatened. Chris’s twist is that the Tokomak could’ve once been humanity’s ally, if only the Tokomak hadn’t looked inward and stagnated. (And then started to hate everyone who was able to continue to adapt, of course.)

Of course, that’s not stated full-out, but it’s there. (I know this, again, ’cause I edited it.)

Not to mention, there are space battles galore, some expeditions behind enemy lines, some new and dangerous tech, a bit of romance between long-term couples…you name it, THEIR LAST FULL MEASURE probably has it.

So, there you have it! Some book recommendations you probably weren’t expecting, and one I definitely, myself, wasn’t expecting…but that’s the fun of the Christmas season, isn’t it?

Enjoy!

——

P.S. You may have noticed I didn’t have any cover photos. I’m sorry about that. But if the authors in question will get them to me, I will be happy to incorporate them into this post at a later date. (You have been warned.)

 

Written by Barb Caffrey

December 21, 2019 at 9:20 am

Book Review: “The Night of Blind Ambition”

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As I said in my previous review, I never know how long Amazon will take to put up a new book review. And it’s too important these reviews don’t get lost. I don’t want Mr. Wardlaw to suffer the same fate I have, of being way too little-known, putting out books that are damned good but no one reads.

So I’ve done my best here to let people know Mr. Wardlaw’s books exist. And I do hope that’ll make some sense.

Now, onto my review of Mr. Wardlaw’s second book, THE NIGHT OF BLIND AMBITION, cut and pasted from my Amazon review:

As I said in my review of A BLOODY ARROGANT POWER, it astonishes me to find a work of such superior quality as THE NIGHT OF BLIND AMBITION, Malcolm J. Wardlaw’s second book in his “Sovreigns of the Collapse” series.

Indeed, this is the story of Lawrence, the younger brother of Donald’s (from the first book in the series). Lawrence is a former military officer who did unspeakable things, but that’s not what got him exiled to the “Night and Fog” (slave labor camps, roughly). Nope, ’cause in Wardlaw’s dystopia, unspeakable things are just part of the game for competent military officers. Instead, what got Lawrence exiled was noticing a scheme of graft and corruption, wanting no part of it, reporting it…and instead being tagged with the crime himself and exiled, because the higher-ups in Lawrence’s chain of command didn’t want to deal with Lawrence’s allegations (probably profiting from the graft themselves).

Worse even than the Night and Fog is when Lawrence is sent to something called “The Value System.” This is an all-male penal colony that does things so disgusting, I hesitate to say. (Let’s put it this way: the man who came up with this system, Prentice Nightminster, is a piece of work and a half.) They are forced to labor for long hours, almost as if they lived in a Siberian gulag. But now and again they get days off, can listen to music, think about their plight, and remember their real names and their real lives.

Most of them get dead drunk during these times. And who can blame them?

Anyway, Lawrence is made of stern stuff. He was indeed competent, as a military officer, and he learned how to survive, strike, and evade. He has a gift of knowing when, exactly, to fight, but also when, exactly, to bide his time.

And when Prentice Nightminster, also known as The Captain (and yes, that’s how Nightminster wants it styled), gives Lawrence an opportunity to get out of the Value System penal colony, Lawrence realizes it’s a poisoned chalice and escapes. (The friend he escapes with was a very learned man, high up in one of the enclaves of high society before his fall. That this learned man helped Lawrence realize this is important; that Lawrence again seizes the gift of knowing when to escape, on a night of raucous merriment for the slaves at the penal colony, is highlighted.)

It’s hard to know when to stop giving a plot summary, especially when much of this book concerns Lawrence’s escape. (We know he does escape from the first book, mind you, so me telling you that is not exactly a spoiler.) So I will stop there, except to say that Lawrence’s exploits are harrowing. And his realizations of who he used to be, coupled with who he now is, are well worth the price of admission.

Honestly, you need to read this book, as well as A BLOODY ARROGANT POWER. This is a very thorough society Mr. Wardlaw is depicting (that is, when he’s not skewering it to a fare-thee-well), and the full immersion within it is total.

All I knew was, after I finished A BLOODY ARROGANT POWER, I had to read this book, THE NIGHT OF BLIND AMBITION. And I’m glad I read both.

Five stars, highly recommended to all SF fans, but most particularly those who enjoy military SF and escape stories.

Barb Caffrey

P.S. Write faster, Mr. Wardlaw! I can’t wait to see what happens to Donald, Lawrence, and Sarah-Kelly next.

Written by Barb Caffrey

November 9, 2019 at 1:39 am

Book Review: “A Bloody Arrogant Power”

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This is cut and pasted from my recent book review at Amazon. I don’t know how long it’ll take them to get this book review up, and a few times I’ve had it completely go astray in their system.

That would be a shame, in this case. Which is why I’m going ahead and posting it here, at my private blog, in the hopes it will not get swallowed up.

Short version of the following: You need to read A BLOODY ARROGANT POWER by Malcolm J. Wardlaw. It’s just ninety-nine cents as an e-book. And it’s a worthy read, one that’s hard to put down…and even harder to understand, once it’s over, how a book this good has been thus far overlooked.

Then again, as my own history as a writer has shown, sometimes good work does not get noticed (immediately, anyway; I refuse to believe otherwise). One can hope Mr. Wardlaw’s conception will escape the fate of my own two books in the Elfyverse.

Now, here’s to the cut-and-paste:

I had never heard of Malcolm J. Wardlaw before picking up his book, A BLOODY ARROGANT POWER. As an author myself (and as a little-known one at that), I am sympathetic to other authors struggling to break through the noise of independent publishing to get their vision out.

And what a vision: A BLOODY ARROGANT POWER is astonishingly thorough, and shows what the world could be a century or so hence after the current society collapses. Wardlaw’s dystopian vision is completely realized, down to the lexicon (“drains” are roads, or at least public thoroughfares, which “surplus” — people who don’t make enough money to protect themselves from being turfed out on a moment’s notice — are “discharged”); the people all feel real, with some being quite venal, some being quite opportunistic, some being idealists, some being realists…and the worst of all blending those four things into something abhorrent. (Prentice Nightminster, I’m looking squarely at you.)

A book as good as this should not be languishing in obscurity.

In fact, I read this book in three hours. And I came over here, to Amazon, to make absolutely sure it finally got someone rating it and commenting on it, all the while wondering what in the Hell has caused people to overlook A BLOODY ARROGANT POWER in the first place.

Honestly, if you enjoy SF, dystopian SF, future visions of a harrowing nature, or just plain good writing, you need to read this. Donald, the protagonist, is well-realized, and goes from company man to revolutionary without missing a beat. (Trust me: If you had an ounce of sense if you lived in this world, you’d do the same thing.) His love-interest, Sarah-Kelly, is also well-realized; she’s a smart, educated woman with a vision of a better society, and refuses to live in the world she finds herself in. (Good for her, I say.) And finally, Donald’s younger brother Lawrence, an ex-military officer with a conscience, emerges just at the end to give a glimpse of what the next book in the series is likely to be…he’s brash, but well-intentioned, and he’s lived through some harrowing stuff.

Very solid work, all the way around.

In fact, if this book had been picked up by a major publisher, I think it would’ve won several awards. It is that well-realized, that well-considered, and that thoroughly satisfying of a read.

I do not say these things lightly.

In short, if I could give this book more than five stars, I would. But since I can’t, this book is given five-stars and a highly recommended tag.

I hope more people read this book. And I hope Mr. Wardlaw finds his audience, because he — and his book, A BLOODY ARROGANT POWER — deserves it.

Barb Caffrey

Written by Barb Caffrey

November 8, 2019 at 1:18 am

Monday Reading — Time for a New Book (or Four)

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Folks, I have been remiss about letting you know about a few books that are out that I’ve either had something to do with, or that I have reviewed. I even managed to find cover photos this time. (Yay, me!)

So, without further ado:

citadels front cover blog size THE CITADELS OF DARKOVER is out in e-book and trade paperback. I have a short story in this called “Citadel of Fear,” and I hope you’ll enjoy it. I also was interviewed by the editor, Deborah J. Ross, at her blog; I did the interview in February (I think), and it went up in April. But I missed it at the time and only saw a link to it on Twitter a few days ago.

 

Cursed_med_smallI was one of two editors on Chris Nuttall’s newest novel, CURSED, which is out in e-book form now. CURSED is the seventeenth book in Chris’s long-running Schooled in Magic series, and I’ve been fortunate enough to edit all but two of those books. His heroine, Emily, is a young woman originally from Kansas who’s been transported to another world entirely (Chris calls it the Nameless World). But during a recent battle against a crazed monarch, Emily nearly died…and woke up without access to her hard-won magical powers. Now she must get them back, and has to cope with a host of unexpected challenges. (Further editor sayeth not.)

 

Bro coverKayelle Allen has a new entry in her long-running Sempervians saga called BRO. It’s a fun story about two brothers who meet at an odd time; one (Senth) had no idea he had a brother, while the other (Khyff) has had the wrong idea about his long-missing brother for quite a few years. Neither is in an ideal situation, though both are making the best of things…will they manage to find common ground before it’s too late?

I was fortunate to edit Kayelle’s story, and know it’s excellent. It is also available via Kindle Unlimited, so if you have that, you should give it a try forthwith.

 

sons-of-the-lionFinally, I reviewed Jason Cordova’s newest novel, SONS OF THE LION, and as usual Amazon is playing silly buggers with the review. In case Amazon kicks it out (or just eats it), here it is:

SONS OF THE LION is a very well-written book filled with characters I adored and cheered for. The action works. The military ethos and care is profound. The distaste for child slavery and the uplifting of one exceptional child saved from the slavers into the merc company was perhaps my favorite thing overall.

So, you may be asking me, why didn’t I give it five stars if I liked it so much?

It’s the ending. I didn’t like that at all. And as I don’t want to spoil things, I will just say this: as an editor myself, I would’ve chosen a different route. I am unsure if the writer was boxed in by other issues in the Four Horseman Universe (I’ve read all the books to date, but the writer may be aware of things coming that I am not; surely the publisher, Chris Kennedy is). But I was very pleased with everything up to three chapters from the end.

Even with that — something that threw me out of the reader’s trance with great force — I thought this an exceptionally well-written book that did everything and then some that it was supposed to do. Military SF fans will love it. Four Horseman Universe fans will, too — that should go without saying — but anyone who loves military adventure (even if they don’t usually read SF) should appreciate it as well.

Four very solid stars. Recommended (despite its jarring and frustrating ending).

Barb Caffrey

I was happy to review SONS OF THE LION, though I had to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about how I felt about that ending without revealing spoilers. That proved to be difficult.

But do I think you should read it anyway if you enjoy military adventure, military SF, or have read any of the other novels or anthologies in Chris Kennedy’s wildly popular Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse universe? Yes, I do.

Why? The writing is stellar. The characterization is great. And while I hated the ending — let’s get real here — everything until three chapters from the end was exactly what I wanted. (Am I going to make up alternate endings like some of the folks signing petitions asking for a different ending to Game of Thrones on TV? No. But would I like to if I had enough energy? Hmmm…have to ponder.)

So, there you have it. Some books to whet your interest that you may not have known about, and I hope at least one of them will be to your liking. Have at!

Mourning Ursula LeGuin

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Earlier this week, well-known science fiction and fantasy author Ursula K. LeGuin died at age 88. While this was a very long and well-honored life, most of the SF&F community is in some degree of mourning due to how influential LeGuin was on the entire field of SF&F.

Most people who have read any SF&F at all are aware of her best works, which include the Earthsea Trilogy, THE LATHE OF HEAVEN, THE DISPOSSESSED, and the gender-bending THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS, that deals with a planet where traditional gender roles do not apply and people can become male or female as the situation arises due to a type of estrus. But LeGuin also wrote poetry, short stories (in and out of SF&F), and any number of other things…and in some ways, she was primed from birth to become a writer.

Now, why do I say that? Well, her mother was a writer. Her father was an anthropologist. And she came from a well-read, well-educated household, with three siblings; all of them were expected from a very early age to reason and explain their reasoning to their intelligent parents, along with reading widely and being able to research nearly any subject.

All of these things — reading widely, being able to research, and being able to reason and better yet, explain your own reasoning — are important to writing. If you don’t read widely, you’re only rarely going to be able to produce anything of worth; if you can’t research new things, you can’t possibly explain them; if you can’t explain your reasoning, you can’t tell a story, because the story would ramble, meander, and perhaps wander off on tangents as it would not be properly set up in the first place.

LeGuin could and did all of those things. But her style, even from the first, was unusual. She wrote in a way that was both moving but also passive; she let the words speak precisely because of how they were stated, and let the reader interpolate a lot as to how people felt about whatever was going on in whatever story.

For example, in my favorite of all her works, THE LATHE OF HEAVEN, George Orr has a gift: He can dream true, and thus change his world through his dreams. But he doesn’t know what to do with it, and is afraid of it, so he refuses to use it.

Enter a corrupt psychiatrist, William Haber, who believes he can control Orr’s gifts. (Orr has no choice to see the man, either, as Orr was abusing drugs to keep himself from dreaming true and thus altering the world.) And over time, Orr loses nearly everything — his world, his girlfriend, even his psyche — until he realizes he must stand up to Haber once and for all.

The problem is, by this time, Haber has figured out how Orr’s managing to do what Orr’s done. And Haber’s version of a utopia is far worse than anything Orr has dreamed up, all unwittingly…so almost all of the pulse is internal, dealing with how Orr feels (which I like quite a bit), rather than external, though there is some of the latter (in particular, what will this horrible guy Haber do with the power Orr refuses to use?)

THE LATHE OF HEAVEN is the most deeply romantic novel LeGuin ever wrote. The romance between Orr and Heather Lelache (later Andrews, as in different worlds she married, or didn’t, thus changing her last name) is halting but real. Orr is enriched by his love for her, and she is given an unusual type of dignity along with the ability to realize that being soft does not make you weak by her love for him. And thus, they become better, wiser, kinder people…that is, until Haber interferes with the relationship. (Which for those who have read this, and are going, “Barb, you are misstating this,” is exactly what Haber does. Haber doesn’t like Heather at all. And he’s just as happy once Heather’s out of the picture, because Haber realizes instinctively that Heather is the main reason Orr will oppose him, due to Orr’s innate passivity.)

See, what I think LeGuin was saying is that we all deserve to find love. Whether we’re more passive than not, whether we’ve made mistakes (as both Orr and Heather have definitely done more than a little of that), whether we’ve done everything right all the time is immaterial. What matters is that we do our best, and stand up for what’s right, even when it’s difficult — and even when the best solution seems to be passive, rather than active, everything will find a way to work itself out over time if you just keep making your best effort.

That’s why I enjoyed THE LATHE OF HEAVEN so very, very much. I could see myself in Heather, for sure. I even saw a little of myself in George Orr, even though I’ve never been considered a passive sort of person…still, having gifts that you don’t always feel comfortable in using is a theme most people recognize instinctively, as we all have talents we’re sometimes afraid to use for various reasons. (Granted, not everyone wants to admit this. But it is the verimost truth.)

So if LeGuin had only written that one, very fine novel, I’d have remembered her and have mourned her craftsmanship and humanity, both of which shone through as a writer.

But as I said, she wrote many other things. And in nearly everything she ever wrote, I found value and worth…which is all you can ask of any writer, really.

And for those who want entertainment and just that in their stories, well, LeGuin could do that, too. Witness the Earthsea trilogy, TEHANU — the fourth book of Earthsea, and THE OTHER WIND, the fifth book. These are all ripping good reads, with heart and pluck and adventures, and kids of all ages enjoy them to this day.

(To clarify, TEHANU is about an older woman as she finds love, all unlooked for, with the former Archmage, Ged from the first three books. But there’s still a great deal of stuff there that younger kids will like, and the romance is certainly not a graphic one.)

So, here’s to you, Ursula LeGuin. I’m glad you lived. I’m glad you left behind excellent novels and stories and essays and poetry. And I hope your family — which includes, effectively, the vast majority of the SF&F community — will find comfort in your memory.

Jason Cordova’s DEVASTATOR Is Out — And It Is Good…

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Folks, this is the review I just tried to post on Amazon for Jason Cordova’s DEVASTATOR, and couldn’t manage to get it there. (With my luck, though, it’ll post after I put this up here at my blog.)

Mind, I discussed DEVASTATOR, along with Kayelle Allen’s Bringer of Chaos series, last week here at the Elfyverse. So if you haven’t read that post yet, it might be nice to start there…ahem.

(Thus ends today’s try at self-promotion. I’d rather promote someone else anyway!)

So, without further ado, I figured I’d post it here, and I do hope you’ll go read Jason’s newest as soon as you can if you like YA, S/F, or any stories having to do with near-future virtual reality simulations. (Or if you just like Jason’s writing. I mean, really…what’s not to like?)

It’s great to see Tori back in action again in Jason Cordova’s newest novel, DEVASTATOR. She’s a tough customer, albeit a tough customer who’s only seventeen…she’s already had to fight her way out of an insane situation in her favorite virtual reality game known as The Warp in CORRUPTOR (book one of this series), and now been asked to re-enter The Warp to keep an eye on some anomalies no one can quite figure out.

See, things are happening in The Warp that make less sense than usual. For a fully programmed environment to do things that no one understands is just plain wrong; it’s even worse than the previous contretemps Tori defused in CORRUPTOR, as at least there once highly paid programmers were made aware of the issues, they were able to fix them. (What Tori had to do before was to defeat the bad guys wherever possible, evading the rest until she could be rescued and brought out of V/R.) And Tori is possibly the foremost expert on how The Warp actually acts, as opposed to how The Warp is supposed to act, so of course she’s asked to lend her expertise to the problem.

(Lending her expertise sounds nice, doesn’t it? But it’s code words for “murder and mayhem are about to break out here,” really…though I digress.)

Anyway, Tori gathers a bunch of others who are known to her as solid individuals (or at least solid players of The Warp) and all are made referees, more or less glorified Moderators. There’s a tourney going on that will cloak their actions, as the folks who make The Warp absolutely, positively do not want to cause trouble for themselves. And as no one can understand, much less explain, the anomalies that have been observed, discretion is of the essence…thus this subterfuge.

So, they go in there. They have a whole lot of problems. (No, I’m not going to tell you what they are. You need to read DEVASTATOR for yourself, preferably sooner rather than later.) And Tori, her boyfriend Dylan, and many others who’ve risked so much up until now will find their world spun on end, as there are a few plot twists here that I absolutely refuse to spoil.

Great things about DEVASTATOR include an age-appropriate romance (Tori’s a badass, but she’s a more or less innocent badass, which is a refreshing change), a lot of Kaiju-inspired fight scenes, an interesting V/R take on Ragnarok, and much, much more.

Tori’s a fun character, and I rooted for her the whole way. I can’t wait to read the next novel, OBLITERATOR — write quickly, Jason!

———- (Review ends here)

And then, I gave the novel five stars, said it was highly recommended, and tried to point out I’d received it as an ARC, downloaded it right away via KU and read it again, and will be making a point to buy it to put it in my permanent collection, too, down the line. (What else can I do to point out I enjoyed this book?)

Written by Barb Caffrey

January 11, 2018 at 7:11 am

Jason Cordova’s “Wraithkin” — and Music?

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Folks, it seems to be my week for stories, so let me tell you another one.

Years ago — I’m not sure how many, now — my late husband Michael told me, “Barb, I swear, you think in music, not words.” It was Michael’s contention that every time I wrote something, I was automatically translating it from the music I heard in my head.

I don’t know if that’s true or not, mind. But it was a poetic conceit he enjoyed, and as such, I appreciated it.

For some reason, that came to mind when I recently read an advance reader copy of Jason Cordova’s WRAITHKIN. Something about this book reminds me of a musical suite, and as I’m both a musician and a writer, I thought I’d use that to my advantage to try to explain why I like this book so much.

As I’m having no luck today uploading the cover, here’s the blurb instead:

How far would a man go to protect those he loved? For Gabriel Espinoza, the answer was simple: to the ends of the universe.

When a failed genetic test ruins his life, Gabriel and his fiancée prepare to run to a world where the laws aren’t as strict. There they could remain, in peace, for the remainder of their days, their love unspoiled by the strict regime which controls the Dominion of Man.

But Fate is a cruel, fickle mistress.

Torn from the only woman he had ever loved, Gabriel is prepared to burn the galaxy to get her back.

How far would a man go to protect the empire he was sworn to uphold? For Andrew Espinoza, the answer was a bit more complicated.

Torn between family loyalty and his duty to his country, Andrew must infiltrate a rich and powerful clan to determine if they are plotting against the Dominion of Man, but while undercover he discovers something far darker and more dangerous is lurking in the shadows, and he is the only man who can stop it.

But Fate is a cruel, fickle mistress.

How far will Andrew go to ensure the success of his mission?

One brother must save himself; the other must save the universe. But can either survive long enough to achieve their goal?

Now, here are my musically-related thoughts:

To my mind, WRAITHKIN is like a symphony in four parts. First, we have a slower, quieter, more intense first movement, where all the major themes are laid out. We meet Gabe and Sophie, see their love for one another, see it dashed after Gabe fails a genetic test (technically, he’s supposed to be sterilized right away, but his family is wealthy and powerful and keeps that from happening), and then they attempt to run away.

But Sophie has to pretend to be angry, and leaves her world in feigned grief and despair, meaning she goes out to a lightly defended colony world all but undefended. And when Gabe finds out that world has been attacked, and Sophie is missing, he vows revenge.

Then we have the second movement, which is more about Gabe’s brother, Andrew. Andrew is a spy, pure and simple, or if you’d rather, he’s a chameleon/mole. He has been trained to do what he does, but because of that, he submerges himself in other people’s roles — or, as this is my blog, the music of other people’s thoughts. So while the second movement moves faster, and hints at much, it uses similar themes as the first, but reversed and in retrograde…as befits a symphony, where many things must come together to make a greater whole.

The third movement is about how Gabe meets up with a bunch of guys in his position — they all have failed genetic tests, so are considered expendables, the lowest of the low. But they all want to serve…something. Or at least blow up stuff. So there’s training involved, and a bunch of gadgetry to use, and all the military SF trappings that are required are there for the use…almost as if there’s a template for the third movement.

Still, there are touches of humor. Pathos. Genuine characterization. Friendship, all unlooked for, and camaraderie, too…proving, as if there was any doubt whatsoever, that new music can be reminiscent of older music, but still pack a walloping punch.

Then comes the fourth movement. Andrew and Gabe must somehow complete their joint missions. Will they manage to do this, or won’t they? And what will be the consequences either way?

This fourth movement ties up all the themes of the book nicely, and lays hints for books to come…kind of like how if you’ve heard one symphony by Haydn or Brahms or Mozart, you want to go hear another one if you’re smart. They all have things in common, sure, but they’re all a little different and they all have much to teach you, much for you to appreciate, and much to savor, time after time…

Anyway, I liked Jason’s book quite a bit, in case you couldn’t tell. I think it has a little bit of everything. Slam-bang action. Romance. Family. Friendship. A big canvas, with a dystopian government to be alternately fought and defended…Jason’s writing keeps getting better and better, and this is a story to immerse yourself in fully.

That’s why I compared it to music, and I hope you’ll understand why, once you read it.

(And do go read it, will you? If you like milSF, you will love this book. And even if you don’t, but like big novels full of life and vigor, you will still love this book…)

Written by Barb Caffrey

December 16, 2016 at 1:55 pm

Where Have You Gone, Judith A. Lansdowne?

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Folks, it is no secret that I’m partial to romance novels.

As such, I’ve been asked often what I like about them. Because these are often the oldest stories in the world — boy meets girl, boy either takes to girl right away or can’t stand her (or vice versa), and in the end the couple walks off into the sunset.

This is the case in ninety percent of traditional romances, whether set in a historical period like England’s Regency, or in the current day.

But some romance authors add more. They add wit, charm, style, a certain zing — it’s hard to quantify, but it’s very easy to spot.

Judith A. Lansdowne has this extra ability. From her very first novel, AMELIA’S INTRIGUE (which I recently read via Inter-Library Loan) to her latest, JUST IMPOSSIBLE, Ms. Lansdowne found a way to weave in suspense, intrigue, humor, genuine pathos, and anything else anyone could ever want in a story.

Ms. Lansdowne hasn’t been active as a novelist since 2004. I’ve heard rumors that her husband was not well, or that there was some sort of family health crisis that took her away from her writing.

I have to assume that this is the only reason why her books haven’t re-emerged as e-books in the intervening eleven years. Because these are truly excellent books; they make you laugh, they make you think, they make you wish that every romance had this much charm.

In my own case, I often look at these romances between difficult women — too intelligent, maybe, or too forthright (as they used to put it in the Regency Era, “not quite in the common way”) — and prickly, dangerous, or a bit off-center men and find bits of myself and my late husband in there.

Even in the more “tame” romances, such as MUTINY AT ALMACK’S or JUST IN TIME, there’s always something different, something intriguing, to hold my interest.

Anyway, I don’t know where Ms. Lansdowne is. I’ve never met her. I do know that she, like myself, is an alumna of the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. (She was class of ’75, while I was class of ’94.) And because I know that at least some of my readership consists of Parkside graduates, my hope is that this little blog post will find her.

Because she may be thinking, at this late date, that no one wants to read her writing. And that’s just not true.

Or that her writing didn’t matter, which isn’t true, either.

One, final thought: Over this past week, when I had many disappointments — including the realization that I must push back the release of CHANGING FACES as despite my efforts, it is far from complete — Ms. Lansdowne’s words have given me hope, and have reminded me of what’s important in life.

My husband Michael believed in me, and believed in my writing. Just because I have a lot on my plate right now, that doesn’t at all mean I can’t get it done…I just have to believe in myself, and keep going.

And for the moment, Ms. Lansdowne’s work is helping me stay focused and centered.

So, wherever you are, Ms. Lansdowne, know that you’ve got a new fan in me…eleven years after your latest book came out.

Just Reviewed “Station Eleven” and “Timebound” at SBR — and more Hugo Awards Commentary

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Folks, I’m happy to report that I finally got a couple of book reviews up today for both Emily St. John Mandel’s STATION ELEVEN and Rysa Walker’s TIMEBOUND. This took me a little extra time, so I decided to make them a 2-for-1 SBR special (with SBR meaning “Shiny Book Review,” as per usual).

Now, why did I like both of these novels so much? It’s simple. There’s hope there. Desperate situations, yes — two very different ones. But there’s legitimate hope, and there are people doing the best they can to foster that hope.

I am very happy I was able to review both of these today, and I do hope you will go check out my review forthwith.

This has been a very difficult week in many respects. It saw the shooting of two young journalists while on the air, which is by far the worst thing I’ve seen in many years. It also saw a lot of SF&F infighting due to the fallout after the Hugo Awards because of five categories (including the two that normally reward editors) giving out “No Awards” instead.

I prefer to talk about good things that inspire me rather than talk about distressing things that upset me. Yet it’s often the distressing things that seem to draw people to my blog for whatever reason. And the Hugo Awards controversy has drawn people like nothing else in recent memory. Only my posts on the Wisconsin recall elections rivaled the attention my little post on editing and how I felt the Hugo Awards should not have given out “No Awards” in those two editing categories received.

I wish I knew what the answers were to help heal the divide in SF&F right now. Life is so short — we saw that earlier this week in Roanoke, VA — and we need to make the most of it. Do positive things. Do creative things. Enrich ourselves. Maybe even make the world a better place because we were here.

I fail to see how the SF&F controversy does any of that.

There are good people on both sides of this who have their backs up something fierce. But to even say that, I get dismissed by the long-term SF&F cognoscenti — not the Sad Puppies, not even the Rabid Puppies, but those who’ve been in publishing the longest.

Those are the ones who seem to be taking the gleeful attitude of, “If you aren’t with us, you’re against us. Nyah, nyah, nyah.” And that is just not acceptable for adults.

Edited to add: Before anyone else says it, I know Vox Day is also gleeful over the five “No Awards” at the Hugos. He believes he’s won. Which, if true, means this is possibly the unholiest alliance ever…but I digress.

As SF&F authors, we want people to read our books and be inspired, or taken out of their lives for a small instant so they can reflect on something else. Space travel. Worlds where Elfys, Trolls and Dwarves get along (much less Humans). Post-apocalyptic worlds. Time-travel. Machinery gone wrong. Machinery aiding space travel. What happens to the human condition when advanced biology allows a ninety-year-old woman to give birth via something akin to Lois McMaster Bujold’s uterine replicator. And so forth and so on.

I’d rather talk about what’s uplifting. Positive. Meaningful. Even educational, as bad of a rap as that gets.

Instead, I’m still talking about the Hugo Awards, because I know so many who’ve been hurt badly by this mess. (Most of them are on the Sad Puppy side. A few are on the traditional publishing side.)

I’m little-known. It may always be this way. But I write, too. I edit, too. And I have a perspective on this.

No one should be getting death threats for his or her opinion on this matter. No one should be gleeful that so many people are angry and frustrated. And no one should be happy when a bunch of authors who are skilled with words end up having to defend themselves or their positions rather than creating interesting new worlds for readers to discover.

All of this takes energy, folks. All of this takes time. And while I believe in creative dissent — how not? — I am very tired of the childishness I’ve seen. (Edited to add: I hate childishness, except from a child.)

While I still do not align myself with the Sad Puppies (and will never be a Rabid Puppy), I think it’s time to admit that at least some of what the Sad Puppies were talking about was the truth.

And that truth — insular authors shutting out fans or other authors they don’t particularly like or get along with — is extremely heartbreaking to see.

Written by Barb Caffrey

August 29, 2015 at 1:16 pm

Just Reviewed “Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty” at SBR

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Folks, I wanted to point your attention toward my latest book review of Charles Leerhsen’s TY COBB: A Terrible Beauty, which is up right now over at Shiny Book Review (SBR for short, as always).

Now, why am I so proud of this review?

I think it has to do with two things. One, Mr. Leerhsen’s baseball scholarship is superb. And two, I was pleased to realize, after reading Leerhsen’s  book, that Cobb was not at all the virulent racist he’d been portrayed to be.

See, all of the stuff I thought I knew about Cobb was wrong — well, except for the actual baseball facts. (I knew Cobb hit .367 as a lifetime batting average, for example, and was the all-time hits leader until Pete Rose moved past him in the mid-1980s.)

Basically, Ty Cobb, since his death in 1961, has been the victim of a shoddy narrative. Apparently his “biographer” Al Stump was no such thing; instead, Stump invented the wildest flights of fancy about Cobb, figuring that as there was almost no film or still pictures or even radio accounts of Cobb’s play, Stump could do as he liked and no one would be the wiser.

Besides, monsters sell. So Stump made Cobb a monster.

Leerhsen proved just how fallacious Stump’s account actually was by going back and reading all of the various newspaper reports, which were readily available in the archives. (Thank goodness for archives, eh?) Stump made so many erroneous assumptions that it’s hard to believe Stump didn’t know what he was writing was dead wrong; in fact, Cobb himself was in the midst of a lawsuit at the time of his death, because he’d gotten wind of what Stump was about to do to him in the guise of Cobb’s “autobiography” (which was ghost-written by Stump), and wanted no part of it.

The most egregious fallacy of Stump’s was to paint Cobb as a racist. Cobb was anything but — in fact, according to Leerhsen, Cobb used to sit in the dugout with players like Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige during Negro League games, and famously remarked that “The Negro (ballplayer) should be accepted, and not grudgingly but wholeheartedly.” And Cobb was a big fan of Roy Campanella’s, plus he enjoyed Willie Mays and Jackie Robinson.

And as far as being a mean, nasty, vicious old cuss — well, how mean, vicious and nasty could Ty Cobb have been if he was willing to help the young Joe DiMaggio out when Joe D. signed with the Yankees? (Cobb understood baseball contracts, and young Joe didn’t.) How mean was Cobb when he helped Campanella and his family out after “Campy” became paralyzed? And how vicious was Cobb when, after his playing days were over and he had nothing at all to gain by it, he and Babe Ruth became fast friends?

Leerhsen has dozens of stories about Cobb, and very few of them depict anything close to the man Stump portrayed (and Tommy Lee Jones later masterfully acted in the movie version, Cobb).

While Cobb was a difficult man to know — he was prickly, quick to anger, and settled things with his fists more than once — he was not a monster.

Instead, Cobb appears to be the victim of one of the worst narrative frames in the history of all narrative-framing.

So do, please, read my review of Charles Leerhsen’s book TY COBB: A Terrible Beauty. Then please, if you have any interest whatsoever in early 1900s to the “Roaring Twenties” Americana, baseball history, or just want to find out what’s actually the truth about Ty Cobb, go read his masterful book for yourself.