Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Dreamt Child (Earth's Pendulum, Book 3) - Yvonne Hertzberger

Fan of epic fantasy? Got a new Kindle? You could do worse than load it up with the three books of Yvonne Hertzberger's "Earth's Pendulum" series. And lucky for you, my friend, the final volume -- The Dreamt Child -- came out this fall.

Once again, we're back on the One Isle, where Earth is a character in her own right. If She ain't happy, nobody's happy -- which the people of Lieth learned to their sorrow two years previously. A political upheaval there threw the entire region into a drought, and the ensuing famine caused many to lose their lives.

But the ruling family of Bargia -- Lord Gaelen, Lady Marja, and their children -- have survived. And so has Liannis, their seer, and a particular favorite of Earth's. Seers historically have had no mates, but despite the tradition, Earth lets Liannis know that she is to join with (which is to say, marry) her manservant, Merrist. Luckily, the two like each other already, but Liannis has qualms. Earth seals the deal by giving Merrist the powers of a healer, thereby making him more or less an equal to Liannis and her power to truth-read and to see the future.

And Gaelen needs her. He is thinking of returning the neighboring demesne of Catania to self-rule. At the same time, the widow of the man whose mismanagement of Lieth precipitated the famine has petitioned Gaelen to let her rule the city as regent for her young son. Both Liannis and Merrist will need to ply their skills to bring about the outcome that's best for Earth -- which includes convincing the people to accept their own changed relationship.

I foundThe Dreamt Child to be a worthy final volume to the series.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Emotion Thesaurus - Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi

If you have a fiction writer on your holiday list and you're still trying to figure out what to get him or her this year, I am here to recommend The Emotion Thesaurus.

One of the hardest things for a novelist to do is to figure out how to explain their characters' emotions to readers without hitting them over the head with them. We're supposed to be showing, not telling -- but how do you convey intangibles? How can you telegraph to your reader that Naomi was really, really angry at Joseph without saying it? How do you get your readers to feel her anger? Because it's the visceral experience that will bring them into your story and hook them there.

Ackerman and Puglisi provide entries for 75 emotions. Each entry offers both internal and external physical cues, mental responses, and other useful information. For the entry on anger, for example, we could say Naomi stood with her feet planted wide apart, glaring at Joseph. She might shake her fist at him. From inside her own body, she might feel her teeth grinding or her pulse pounding. Mentally, she might jump to conclusions or react irrationally to something that's not a big deal. If she's been mad at him for a long time, she might be in the habit of venting her anger by breaking her own things, or she might have an ulcer. Or if she doesn't want him to know how angry she is, she might turn her body away from him and avoid eye contact, or make passive-aggressive comments.

Mind you, you wouldn't want to include all of those cues in a single scene. One or two would be plenty, or else you'll be tipping it over into melodrama. But using any one of them sure beats simply stating, "She was mad." Right? And I got all of them from a single entry in The Emotion Thesaurus. It's a great resource.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Cascade Annihilator (The Second Internet Cafe, Part 2) - Chris James

Lucas Hunter is back in this second installment of Chris James' sci-fi series, and he's still jumping back and forth between historical timelines. But see, that's his job. He's a dimension researcher -- someone who travels to parallel universes that have branched off from ours, to discover what might have been in our world if history had gone a little differently.

In the first book, The Dimension Researcher, Lucas ran afoul of a guy named Dietrich on one of his trips. Dietrich is from a timeline that would like to see the Second Internet Cafe shut down. In this book, Lucas and Dietrich cross paths again, but this time Dietrich is packing the ultimate weapon -- a cascade annihilator, which is a device designed to collapse realities and make alternate timelines disappear as if they had never existed.

While Lucas is chasing Dietrich across realities to thwart his nefarious plan, the Second Internet Cafe itself is under threat of defunding by the international coalition that operates it. Shutdown is imminent -- and that could strand Lucas in unfriendly circumstances. An analyst named Paula Featherstone gets involved in the fight to keep the facility open and its mission intact.

James knows how to build tension, that's for sure. The Cascade Annihilator had me on the edge of my reading chair for a good bit of the book. My one quibble: both Lucas and Paula tell their stories in first person, which is fine, but sometimes I had to read a little way into the chapter to figure out which "I" was narrating. However, it's not a fatal problem by any stretch of the imagination. I enjoyed The Cascade Annihilator and I sure hope a third volume is on the way.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Through the Door (The Thin Veil #1) - Jodi McIsaac

For the past seven years, Cedar McLeod has been going through the motions: raising her six-year-old daughter Eden and working as a graphic designer at an ad agency to keep a roof over both their heads. Her mother, Maeve, watches Eden while Cedar works. But Cedar has never gotten over Eden's father, Finn, who just up and disappeared before Cedar could tell him she was pregnant. One day, they're so in love -- and the next, poof! He's disappeared. No explanation and no goodbye.

Then one day, Eden opens her bedroom door and finds Egypt on the other side.

Clearly, something weird is going on here. And soon, Cedar begins to figure out what it is. I won't give you any spoilers, but suffice it to say that faeries are involved, and maybe Finn was forced to leave, and maybe Eden's cool magical gift has put them all in danger.

I said Cedar starts to figure things out soon -- but she could have gotten there sooner.To me, Through the Door seemed to go on a tad too long. The fae kept refusing to give Cedar their secrets, Maeve kept telling Cedar not to trust them, Cedar kept getting more and more worked up, and I came very close to wanting to throw something at all of them and tell them to get on with it, already.

Still, Through the Door is a pretty good read, particularly if you're into urban fantasies that feature the fae. Book 2 of the trilogy, Into the Fire, is available now, and the third book is due out in May 2014. I wasn't so enamored of Through the Door that I rushed out to buy the next book, but I expect I will probably read the whole series eventually.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

Between NaNo and preparing Thanksgiving dinner, I kind of forgot to do a review this week.

So instead, I'll just tell you how thankful I am for all of you.  Happy Turkey Day, everyone.
www.magickalgraphics.com

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Grumpy Old Menopause - Carol E. Wyer

For women of a certain age -- and I count myself among them -- the so-called "change of life" can be no laughing matter.  Hot flashes are just the start. Later on, menopause brings us such joys as an increased risk of heart disease and osteoporosis, to say nothing of mood swings to rival the teenage years -- at a time in life where at least some of us are dealing with actual teenagers.

And the medical profession, by way of helping us through it (as if women haven't been going through menopause for centuries without clinical assistance) and -- let's be honest -- in an effort to monetize yet another "ailment", offered us hormone replacement therapy. Except that the therapy turned out to be worse for our health than the symptoms it was supposed to alleviate.

Yeah. We could use a bit of humor about now.

Enter this book. Wyer wrote Grumpy Old Menopause as a companion volume to her How Not to Murder Your Grumpy -- a self-help book for women whose husbands had retired and were at loose ends (many of which loose ends were their wives' last nerves). That book was an A-to-Z list of activities for your "grumpy" so he would get out from underfoot and leave you alone.

Grumpy Old Menopause follows the same A-to-Z format, except the entries here include much useful advice about coping with menopause -- everything from herbal remedies to exercise to activities to take your mind off your changing body (raising alpacas, anyone?). And she includes a number of jokes to lighten the mood, at least one of which made me laugh out loud. No, I won't tell you which one it was! Go read the book!

One caveat: Grumpy Old Menopause is aimed at the UK book market, so some of the slang terms might be unfamiliar to American readers. (Suck it up, honey. They have to parse our slang often enough.) But for us women of a certain age, it's worth the trouble.

***
Notes: Wyer is my fellow contributing author at indiesunlimited.com. Publication date is November 25, 2013. I received an ARC of this book in return for an honest review.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Mother of Wolves - Zoe Brooks

Mother of Wolves is a novel of magical realism that features a strong female protagonist in a native culture.

As the novel opens, Lupa is married to Toro, the king of their tribe, the Lords of the Earth. He has been offered a shipment of guns by the local guards, and he is readying a party of men to go to receive the shipment. Lupa has a bad feeling about the meeting -- and as it turns out, her fears are justified.

When Toro does not return home, Lupa goes to investigate. She uses superior tracking skills to determine that Toro's party was ambushed and her husband killed, leaving her with their children to raise alone. Her anger over his murder and her lust for vengeance fuel the rest of the story.

Time and again, men discount Lupa's intelligence and cunning. And time and again, it leads to their downfall. Lupa disguises herself and marries the commander of the guards responsible for Toro's death, and then bides her time until the day she can take her revenge. Later, sought for the commander's murder, she goes to ground in her people's territory, calling on the spirits of the land and her own ingenuity to evade those looking for her. And as the men of her tribe watch her carry out her plan, the Lords begin to examine their beliefs about Lupa -- as well as about the competence of women in general.

It's never quite clear where the novel takes place -- whether it's a specific location on earth or in a fantasy world. But it doesn't matter. The themes of the novel -- the treatment of native populations by their conquerors, and the treatment of women by men -- resonate no matter where the story takes place. I enjoyed Mother of Wolves and look forward to reading more of Brooks' work.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Stone's Ghost - Melissa Bowersock

I know, I know -- Halloween was last week. But November, too, tends to lend itself to dark and mysterious goings-on. So I offer you a ghost story that's less scary than introspective.

You may remember when the city of Lake Havasu, Arizona, bought the old London Bridge from the city of London, England (the one that crosses the Thames today is a new span), and rebuilt it over the Colorado River as a tourist attraction. The main character of Stone's Ghost, Matthew Stone, lives in Lake Havasu. His livelihood is due in part to the bridge -- he owns a jet ski rental place and is, by all accounts, a great guy to work for. He's dating a wonderful woman and is kind to his mother, who lives nearby.

And then one night, crossing the bridge, he nearly runs down someone. He returns to apologize, and discovers that she's a ghost.  Matt doesn't believe in ghosts, but he finds himself drawn to Janie. Bit by bit, he pulls her story out of her, and the more he learns about her, the more he is able to come to grips with some of the kinks in his own thinking. But will he be able to sort out his own head in time to keep from losing the best parts of his own life?

This isn't a horror novel, despite the "ghost" in the title. The reader can never quite decide whether Janie is real, or whether she's the manifestation of things Matt has kept himself from thinking through. And that's okay, because it's Matt's transformation that really matters.

Stone's Ghost is well-written and well-edited, and written in an engaging style. I heartily recommend it.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Shadows Deep (Shadows #2) - Cege Smith

Happy Halloween and a blessed Samhain! I decided I'd review a horror novel, in honor of the day.
I remember thinking as I read this book that Smith was hitting her stride.

The premise of the trilogy is this: Ellie has been numb ever since divorcing her husband Jake. Her friends encourage her attraction to David, the handsome new doctor in town, and indeed, he seems like the perfect man.  But then the two of them are trapped in a local mansion by a creepy entity.

In Shadows Deep, we learn more about the mansion and its role as a way station for the dead. Ellie meets a woman named Lucy, who provides her with companionship, as well as useful information about the demonic entity that has trapped them all. Ellie also learns she didn't meet David by chance -- and David learns he's not who he thought he was.

Turns out I reviewed this one on Goodreads! Here's what I had to say after I finished it last year:
Ellie is beginning to understand what she's gotten both herself and her boyfriend David into. Now, she must learn about her role in the shadow realm, relying on her new friend, Lucy, for guidance. But can Lucy be trusted? For that matter, can David be trusted? He doesn't always act like the man Ellie fell in love with....

I very much enjoyed Cege Smith's latest "Shadows" book and am looking forward to the next one.
Veiled Shadows is the name of the third and final book. Note to self: Pick this one up. I want to see how it all ends.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Perilous Light (The Afterglow Trilogy #2) - Alyssa Rose Ivy

Perilous Light is the second book in a YA series about a seemingly normal American family whose members are something a little more special in a parallel universe.

Charlotte and Kevin are siblings who live with their uncle Monty in the old family house. In the first book, Charlotte goes through a forbidden gate in the backyard and finds herself in Energo, a magic land. There, she meets Calvin, the love of her life -- it's literally painful for her to be parted from him -- and discovers she's a member of the ruling family.

As this book opens, a little over a year has passed. Charlotte and Kevin are both back in North Carolina; Kevin is playing college basketball and Charlotte is settling into high school, but she still misses Calvin terribly. Needless to say, another trip through the garden gate is in the offing, and this time the siblings and their friends find themselves in the midst of a battle for control of the kingdom. And it's entirely possible that Charlotte and Kevin's mother isn't dead, as they had been led to believe.

If you're the kind of reader who hates to start a series and then find out you have to wait for the ending, you'll be glad to know that the third book, Enduring Light, is also available.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Last Dark (Book 4, The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant) - Stephen R. Donaldson

I believe this is the first time since A Man Rides Through that the ending of a Donaldson novel has left me grinning from ear to ear.

First, a little background geekery: I am a huge, unabashed fan of Stephen R. Donaldson, and have been since 1980 or so -- ever since I discovered Lord Foul's Bane in my local library and remembered that a college friend had said it was a terrific book. (Thank you, Elizabeth, wherever you are.) I've read all of his published work, I think, and have met him in person several times. In addition, I've been an active member of the message boards at kevinswatch.com for more than ten years (ask me about the EZ Board days -- on second thought, don't) and I count many of the posters there as real-life friends. One of those friends loaned me an ARC of this book, and this review is based on that version, although I've got the final one on my Kindle right now.

The three novels that comprised the original Chronicles (over at the Watch, we call 'em the Chrons for short) were all published in the late 1970s. In the early 1980s, the Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant were released. And then there was a 20-year hiatus while the author got on with living his life, learning what he needed to know in order to write the Last Chronicles.

The setup for the series is this: Bestselling author Thomas Covenant contracts leprosy and his life falls apart. His wife leaves him, taking their infant son, and he becomes a pariah in his hometown. (Leprosy is still not a fun disease today, but it was scarier in the '70s, before there was a cure.) Covenant runs into a beggar who hands him a piece of paper that asks him about the necessity of freedom. Soon afterward, he finds himself translated to an alternate reality/parallel universe/place in his own head called the Land. There, he is cured of leprosy and revered for his white gold wedding band, as white gold is a conduit for a kind of power called wild magic. In addition, a bad guy named Lord Foul the Despiser claims anything Covenant does will play right into his hands. Covenant buys none of this; his life since his diagnosis has been harsh reality, and so he spends the first three books both doing and not doing stuff he regrets while he decides whether the Land is real -- and whether it even matters.

In the Second Chrons, Covenant's experiences in the Land have changed him, but he still has work to do. Enter Linden Avery, a doctor new to town, but with a horrific past. As a child, her father forced her to watch him commit suicide; as a teen, she suffocated her abusive mother. She, too, meets up with the beggar, who tells her there is also love in the world. She is present when Covenant swaps places with his ex-wife, Joan, as the sacrificial victim of a cult. Both Linden and Covenant are then transported to the Land, where Lord Foul is in the process of destroying the ecosystem. Linden, it turns out, has a magical health-sense that allows her to use Earthpower to heal. Of course, the power can also be misused, and she has her share of missteps along the way. And she and Covenant fall in love.

The Last Chrons open again in the real world, where Linden heads the local mental hospital in which Joan is a patient. She has also adopted Jeremiah, a boy whose hand was damaged in the same ritual in which Covenant was killed and who consequently suffers from dissociation disorder. This time, a whole bunch of people suffer fatal injuries in a gunfight before their translation to the Land -- Linden, Jeremiah, Joan, and Covenant's son, Roger. Roger has been turned by Lord Foul and is using his mad mother to trick Linden into bringing down the Arch of Time so Foul can escape the Land. Roger also kidnaps Jeremiah, and Linden will do almost anything to get the boy back -- including resurrecting Covenant.

There's a lot to wrap up in this final book of the ten-book series, and Donaldson does an admirable job. As the book opens, Linden is coming to terms with Jeremiah's recovery, while Covenant must find his way back from the edge of the Sunbirth Sea where Joan died. The Worm of the World's End is coming -- it's beginning to gobble up stars -- and the Elohim mistrust Jeremiah's solution for protecting them. Covenant's leprosy is back, courtesy of Kevin's Dirt, and Linden is still kicking herself for not apologizing to Covenant's lost daughter Elena. And there's every indication that this journey in the Land is going to end where the whole thing began: in the bowels of Mount Thunder.

The Last Dark has everything Donaldson fans love him for: big words, big ideas, and extreme peril; noble horses, Haruchai, and Giants; and Thomas Covenant. And in the end, as that beggar told Linden, there is also love in the world. I can't wait to read it again.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

In Search of Nectar - Kirkus MacGowan

Full disclosure: I haven't read any of MacGowan's other work. Turns out he usually writes thrillers; this was a one-off short story inspired by a writing prompt. I suspect I downloaded it because it was free. It's a cute story.

Wilburn G. Walsh is an accountant -- a normal guy who lives in a normal suburban home. But one Saturday, after mowing his normal suburban lawn, he's accosted by a garden gnome. The little fellow is some kind of gnome mucky-muck, as it turns out, and he is drafting Wilburn to procure for him an elixir that will save all gnomes everywhere. As you might expect, Wilburn's perfect Saturday gets complicated in a hurry.

It's a quick read -- about five thousand words -- and it's free right now (and maybe forever) on Amazon.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

How I Sold 30,000 eBooks on Amazon's Kindle - Martin Crosbie

The "how to sell a whole bunch of e-books and make a tidy profit" genre is ever-expanding. I've read a number of them, and many aren't worth the time of day. Often, they suggest slightly underhanded methods ("hire somebody to write ten pages of copy for you, publish it through Kindle Direct Publishing, and rake in the cash!!!") or base their money-making strategy on algorithms that Amazon used in January 2012 but has changed three or four times since then.

Crosbie's book is neither of these. Well, yes, he was lucky enough to get in on the Amazon free-book gravy train. And yes, he made $46,000 in one month on sales of one book, My Temporary Life (which deserves to be a Rursday in its own right, and no doubt will be, presently). And yes, Amazon featured him as a KDP Select success story (even as its programmers were tinkering with the system to make it harder to do). But Crosbie is also candid about his experience since then; he's working on understanding the constantly-evolving marketplace, just like the rest of us indie authors, and he's upfront about the mistakes he's made.

Along the way, he imparts a lot of solid information about how to launch your book and which sales strategies are working now. The list of places to advertise your free days alone is worth the price of admission.

If you're an indie author, or if you've been thinking about getting into indie publishing, this is a great resource for the way it is out there right now.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Sliding Past Vertical - Laurie Boris


Laurie Boris is rapidly becoming one of my favorite writers -- and I say that not just because we're both on the Indies Unlimited staff, but because she's so terrific at what she does.

Her new novel, Sliding Past Vertical, is the story of Sarah, a young woman who screws up everything she touches, and Emerson, her best friend. Em and Sarah met in college at Syracuse; they dated for awhile, then split up. Sarah moves on with her life: she graduates and moves to Boston, where she works at a print shop and makes spectacularly bad choices in men. Em stays in Syracuse, where he works as an orderly in a hospice, writes porn for men's magazines, and not-so-subtly carries a torch for Sarah. Sarah always turns to him when the latest jerk breaks her heart, and he is always there for her.

When the most recent jerk turns out to be selling drugs and the print shop burns down, Sarah decides to take her long-ago diving coach's advice, and rewind her life to where she began to slide past vertical -- the point right before things went bad. So she moves back to Syracuse, into Emerson's spare room in the rooming house where he's lived since college. Em and Rashid, who also lives in the rooming house, drive to Boston to help her move. Rashid's parents back in India have picked out a wife for him, and he is happy to have the decision taken out of his hands. Until he begins to spend time around Sarah.

And of course, the druggie boyfriend and his "pals" manage to track Sarah down.

I admit I had a lot of empathy for Emerson; I too have been known to invest too much time in hopeless relationships. I don't want to spoil anything for you, but I will say that Sliding Past Vertical ends on a better note than any of my hopeless relationships ever did. It's not necessarily a happy ending, but it's a hopeful -- and hopefully older and wiser -- one.

***
Note: This review is based on an Advance Reader Copy.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Seamstresses - Elle LaPraim

First: this is a short story. Amazon says the whole thing, front matter and all, is 18 pages. But it's only 99 cents. And it's an interesting and original fantasy.

The tale opens with Yin waking up after she has died. She finds herself in an afterlife that begins in her grandmother's sewing shop in San Francisco's Chinatown. Snow is always falling, and her older sister -- who is also dead -- is there. Yin starts out by following her sister around, and realizes that her work in the afterlife -- their work -- involves stitching together the relationships of the still-living when those relationships come apart.

Sometimes, the job involves not stitching together certain relationships, and Yin has to learn that, too.

I enjoyed LaPraim's writing style, and I'm thinking now that I need to find more of her work.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Dissolute Kinship: A 9/11 Road Trip - David Antrobus

I hope you're not sick and tired of 9/11 commemorations yet, because I had to mention this book.


One of these days, I might write my own memoir of where I was on September 11, 2001, and how it affected my family and me. (The Reader's Digest version: I was already at work when the plane hit the Pentagon, having switched from bus to Metro there maybe half an hour before. My kids, at school just a few miles away, heard the boom.) But I don't know that I have anything profound to say about it, other than "I remember that."

Antrobus, however, does. He conceived of the trip as a way to come to terms with some trauma in his own life; serendipitously, he picked 9/11 as the date to begin driving from Canada's Pacific coast, where he lives, to New York City.  So he was not in the city when the planes hit the World Trade Center, but he arrived a few days later. He was the quintessential stranger in a strange land, having spent the previous week not glued to his television as the rest of us were, but driving across North America with his own thoughts and observations for company. And when he arrived, he found himself amidst kindred souls who had suffered trauma of their own. And so he listened, and watched, and hoped even the quiet ones would find a way to process what they had lived through.

Antrobus is a gifted writer. I found the book to be tough going in some places, but that was because of the subject matter and my own 9/11 experience, not because of the prose. The story of his trip back home I found to be somewhat anticlimactic -- but then, this is real life, where the plot isn't always resolved in the penultimate chapter, and "aha!" moments can't be programmed to suit.

In all, I found Dissolute Kinship to be a well-written, worthwhile read. I'm grateful to Antrobus for giving us the opportunity to see this seminal event through his eyes.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Triple Dog Dare - K.S. Brooks and Stephen Hise

Full disclosure: I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book. Also, Brooks and Hise dole out the gruel, among other things, at Indies Unlimited. Neither of those facts affected my review.
The subtitle for Triple Dog Dare is, "Three dogs. A world of trouble." That just about sums it up.  The story is in the tradition of the old screwball comedies.  Beautiful Bianca, a former journalist, is living in California with Lars, a fashion photographer with a shady past, and Lo-Lou, her West Highland terrier and their meal ticket.  Bianca only wants to write stories that will help people; instead, Lars has her writing children's books featuring photos of Lo-Lou (as well as a generous helping of Bianca's cleavage -- for the dads, you understand).

On the other side of the country lives Stuart Hockersmith, the milquetoast heir to his family's fortune and head of a major show dog competition. Lo-Lou -- more formally, Lord Louis Hockersmith -- is from his family's litter of show dogs.  Stu, smitten with Bianca, gave her the dog, in clear violation of the competition protocol -- and Stu's worst enemy is trying to use that to get the Hockersmiths thrown out of the show dog association.

Bianca realizes Lars has been lying to her about a lot of things; she leaves him and takes Lo-Lou with her, and in the process, gets into an accidental partnership with a photographer and former co-worker, Terri, who secretly hates her. Lars, now short of the dog he needs to clinch a possible film deal, picks up a badly-behaved Westie from the pound. And Stu tries to stave off his troubles by engineering a swap with Bianca of Lo-Lou for his runty brother, Lord Robert -- a.k.a. Lo-Bob.

Hilarity, as they say, ensues.

Triple Dog Dare is a delightful romp, with enough complications to keep you guessing until the very end.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Wind from Miilark (Norothian Cycle #3) - M. Edward McNally

I think it's time for us to return to the Norothian cycle.  If I'm lucky, I'll get all five of these books reviewed by the time McNally publishes the sixth and final book.
And I got lucky again -- I reviewed this one on Goodreads. Go me!  Here's what I said about it:
McNally has once again provided readers with a crackling good time.

In the third installment of his Norothian Cycle, John Deskata goes home to Miilark to find his ancestral home being dismantled by Miilark's new ruling house. With help from allies -- including Rhianne, his foster sister and the love of his life -- he procures a pirate ship and embarks on a war against his new foes.

Despite some old friends turning up along the way, things don't go exactly according to plan.

And Rhianne must get to know this new, battle-hardened John, and decide whether he is still the man she once loved.
I would only add that if you like pirate stories, you'll like this book.  Also: dragons.  In case you like that sort of thing.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Dead Man's Cove (An Al Pennyback Mystery) - Charles Ray


Al Pennyback is an interesting character.  He's a former Army guy -- Special Forces, not that he divulges that bit of information willingly -- who loves to solve puzzles, particularly puzzles that involve people.  He has a smokin' hot girlfriend named Sandra, and a good friend named Quincy whose Washington, D.C., law firm keeps him on a $10,000-per-month retainer to solve puzzles for them.  Al, you see, is a private detective.

In this outing, Al and Sandra have been invited to Quincy's retreat for the weekend.  It's a small enclave of fancy homes on an island in the Chesapeake Bay.  The tiny community of four houses is called Dead Man's Cove, in honor of a local legend about a pirate who died there, and whose fortune is reputedly still on the island somewhere.  The homes are all owned by rich people, most of whom have known each other since college.  And when one of them turns up dead, Al gets a chance to do what he loves best -- solve a puzzle.

This is the first Al Pennyback novel I've read, although it's not the first in the series. But I don't think my reading experience suffered because of that.  Ray does a great job in the first chapter of introducing Al and filling in some of his backstory.  The mystery had me going, and the murderer was a bit of a surprise to me.  Although don't judge the plot by my experience; I'm not one of those readers who enjoys challenging herself to figure out whodunit.  Instead, I read for plot and characterization, and Ray has done a fine job with both of those here.

Dead Man's Cove is an entertaining way to while away a few hours. Let me know if you figure out whodunit before the big reveal.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Edge of Shadows (Shadows #1) - Cege Smith



Oh, goody!  Another book that I actually reviewed right after I read it!

Here's what I posted at Goodreads after I finished reading Edge of Shadows:
I love the premise of this book. Ellie is a Minneapolis coffee shop owner who is finding her way after divorcing Jake, a man she never loved. She's a little whiny and self-centered, and her friends do their best to pull her out of her funk. One of them, a socialite named Linda, even goes so far as to fix her up with David, a handsome hunk of a doctor who's new in town. Of course, almost nothing here is really as it seems....

The prose is a little clunky. And I wanted to know more about the shadowy entity Jake sees over Ellie's shoulder as she's leaving him. But in all, I enjoyed it.
I've since read (and will probably review eventually) the second book in the series, Shadows Deep, so I'm going to avoid saying too much more, in case I'm mixing up the books in my head.   Suffice it to say that if you're in the mood for a spooky story, Edge of Shadows might fit the bill for you.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Queen of Wands - John Ringo

As a Neopagan, I have to tell you that Queen of Wands annoyed the crap out of me.

This book was in my freebie bag from last year's World Fantasy Convention. Ringo is known as a decent writer, and the title is the name of a Tarot card, which I thought might mean the story was Pagan-friendly.  Alas, it's not.

In the America that Ringo has created for this series (this is book two), there's a more-or-less clandestine organization for people with paranormal abilities who are called upon to fight, y'know, The Big Evil -- demons and the like.  On the side of The Big Good is Barbara Everette, Christian soccer mom and martial arts whirlwind. When she fights, she channels the power of the White God and turns into this unstoppable force.

Yes, Jehovah's called the White God -- even by the Pagans, who admit that He's much more powerful than the gods they follow.  Forget, for a moment, that I've never met a Pagan who believed that; it's Ringo's universe, and he can make it as unrealistic as he wants to.

Anyway. The book is set up in three parts.  In part one, Barbara is called to Chattanooga, TN, to work with the FBI in a battle against some demons. She also learns that her assistant Janea (an exotic dancer who's also a Norse priestess who follows Freya, because only a stripper would follow a sexy goddess like Freya, right?) has slipped into a coma due to interacting with some nasties; in part two, a bunch of Janea's friends must travel to a Dragoncon on some astral plane to rescue her. And then in part three, Barbara and Janea work together against some really nasty critters that threaten to destroy America -- prompting the President of the United States to tell every American that we all have to believe in God, or The Big Evil will win and we'll all die.  So yeah, atheists are in deep trouble. But not for long! All it takes to get them to convert is one look at Barbara in action!

Oy.

Ringo writes a lot of military fantasy and it shows; the action scenes are well done. But I just can't buy his theology. And the whole Dragoncon sequence seemed to belong in another book entirely. I guess there's a "Warehouse 13" reference in the book, too, which I didn't get because I've never seen "Warehouse 13."

I guess I'm just not the audience for this book.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Flidderbugs - Jonathan Gould

Flidderbugs is a kids' book that's more than that.

Kriffle is a bug who lives with his family and their fellow Triplifers on one side of the Krephiloff Tree.  On the other side live the Quadrigons. Triplifers and Quadrigons are involved in a longstanding quarrel over how many points a Krephiloff Tree leaf has, and the quarrel has defined the political debate in the bugs' Fleedenhall.

Kriffle's father is unable to attend the latest debate in the Fleedenhall, so he sends Kriffle in his stead.  In the process, Kriffle learns many things -- about politics, about the number of points on a leaf, and about the dangers of holding an entrenched position about anything.

I liked Gould's Doodling, as you know, and so I figured I'd like Flidderbugs, as well.  And I did think this book was cute, but I found the political satire perhaps a touch heavy-handed.  But then, I'm an adult, and so I'm not really the intended age group for this book.  I think a child wouldn't have a problem with it, and would probably very much enjoy Flidderbugs.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Don't Tell Anyone - Laurie Boris

I was initially reluctant to read this book.  Not because of the subject matter -- I've read several books in which somebody has cancer, and it didn't put me off of those.  No, what worried me was that Don't Tell Anyone was going to turn into a borscht-belt comedy. Jewish humor has never been my thing.

As it turned out, I needn't have worried.  Laurie Boris wouldn't do that to me.  Not even with a crotchety, cancer-ridden 65-year-old Jewish mother at the center of the action.

Estelle Trager has been keeping her breast cancer a secret from her two sons and her daughter-in-law.  And she's been in denial, using that ol' magical thinking to justify it.  She watched as her mother and grandmother both died from the disease, and believes the treatment is worse than just dying from it already.  Not that she actually plans to die of cancer.  No, she's got a better idea. She wants her daughter-in-law, Liza -- who Estelle once described as "a godless hippie raised by wolves" -- to kill her.

A horrified Liza refuses, of course.  But then she keeps Estelle's request a secret, adding it to the pile of things she hasn't told Adam, her husband.  Among the other things in that pile are Liza's true feelings for Adam's brother, Charlie, with whom she does share Estelle's request.

There's more, of course, but I don't want to spoil it all for you.  Just don't let the subject matter scare you off -- Don't Tell Anyone is a wonderful book.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Death & Magic (The Barefoot Healer, Vol. 1) - Steven J. Pemberton

Looks like I reviewed this one on Goodreads awhile ago -- February 2012, to be precise.  Let's fire up the Wayback Machine and see what I said (oooh, four stars - I must've liked it!):

Apprentice wizard Adramal, daughter of a well-known wizard, is shipped off to a new magic academy, where her father won't hamper her magical growth. On her way, she finds herself involved in a murder investigation. The authorities believe a wizard has committed the murders -- something wizards are sworn against.

Part fantasy, part murder mystery, Death & Magic is an enjoyable read.

I remember saying something about this book to a friend who went, "Oh, magic student gets sent to a magical academy.  Must be a Hogwarts ripoff." And I remember thinking, well, no, not at all.  Adramal is adept enough that the authorities reluctantly bring her into their investigation, into a murder that happens in a nearby village.  The school is set up differently from Hogwarts. And Adramal herself is no goggle-eyed magical newbie.

So my verdict is that it's worth a look.  And hey, I see here that the author has written a sequel.  Guess I'll have to add it to the TBR pile.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Heather Skye Wilson Is the Psychic Warrior - T.D. McKinnon

This is kind of an odd book.  I would put it squarely in the sci-fi quadrant of the speculative fiction roundhouse, except for a "whoa!" twist at the very end that kind of made me wonder what McKinnon was on when he wrote it.  And I mean that in a good way.

Here's the setup: Heather Skye Wilson is the daughter of two diplomats for World Unity, an organization which seems to have superseded the United Nations since the world's three biggest monotheistic religions have more or less destroyed each other.  (You see why I was intrigued initially.)  So Heather is a well-traveled diplomatic brat.  But she's also got a highly-developed psychic ability that causes her to regress to past lifetimes.  When this happens, she is actually inside the head of the person she was, but she retains her modern-day knowledge. So she is able to influence the actions and decisions of these past selves, and makes life better for those around them.  At the same time, some of the people she visits in these past lives are adults, with adult experiences -- experiences that she lives right along with them.

When World Unity catches wind of how adept she is at this sort of thing, they pretty much beg her to join their peacekeeping force. One of her first missions is to rescue a friend (who might become more than a friend) from a cult centered around the birth of a new Messiah -- the sort of cult that World Unity believes will bring about a return of religious war and the eventual destruction of the planet.

McKinnon has written a ripping yarn.  I recommend it.  And when you get to the last few pages of the book and go, "whoa," let me know what genre you think it ought to go into.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Round House - Louise Erdrich

In honor of Independence Day weekend, you'd think I'd review another book by an independent author, wouldn't you?  Well, I'm not.  Instead, I've picked a book whose characters are perhaps not so glad that we beat the British.
The Round House won the National Book Award last year, and it's easy to see why.  Erdrich is at the top of her game, wrapping humor and pathos into a wonderful book that's part coming-of-age story and part whodunit.

Joe Coutts is a thirteen-year-old Ojibway boy who lives on a reservation in North Dakota with his father, a tribal judge, and his mother, whose job it is to evaluate applications for tribal membership.  One day, Joe's mother is sexually assaulted and nearly killed, near the round house of the book's title.  She retreats into despair, refusing to give anyone enough details about the crime to help them find her attacker.  So in the first part of the book, we watch the family torn apart as Joe and his father try to cope with both her reaction and their own grief and anger.

Eventually, the story comes out, and Joe becomes privy to details that perhaps he shouldn't, given his age.  He gets it into his head that it's going to be up to him to find the attacker, and he and his best friends -- Cappy, Angus and Zack -- go out looking for clues.  As it becomes increasingly clear that the perpetrator will walk, Joe decides it's up to him to see justice served.  And that's when the book becomes more than either a coming-of-age story or a whodunit and becomes something pretty amazing.

Much of the injustice in the story is due to the fact that the victim is Indian and doesn't know where the assault occurred. State, federal, tribal and private land all come together near the site, and the fact that state and federal authorities are unlikely to prosecute the crime is described as matter-of-factly as the fact that the whites who used to run the local grocery store would routinely charge their Indian customers more.

I've read a number of Erdrich's other books, but The Round House is definitely one of my favorites.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Through Kestrel's Eyes (Earth's Pendulum, Book II) - Yvonne Hertzberger

Sometimes the middle book (or books) of an epic fantasy series drags, or else it seems like an overly-long wind-up for the final volume. The good news is that Through Kestrel's Eyes avoids this dreaded middle-book syndrome.  Hertzberger has changed up enough elements in her tale to keep things fresh and the plot moving along.

This second volume of the Earth's Pendulum series is told by the main character, Liannis, in her own voice.  Liannis, the daughter of arch-spy Klast and his wife, Brensa, is a seer -- perhaps the most powerful of the age.  But her training is interrupted when her teacher dies.  Still, however unprepared she feels, the Earth calls her to take her white garments and assist King Gaelen with rooting out a coup at home, and treachery in neighboring kingdoms.

In the process, Earth is wounded -- and it becomes abundantly clear that Hertzberger's Earth is a sentient being that wants everything to be in balance.  If Mama Earth ain't happy, nobody's happy; famine, disease, and general chaos are the result. It's the job of Liannis to help Gaelen and his queen, Marja, fight to keep things on an even keel.

There's sadness in this book, as death rocks Liannis's world more than once.  But death, too, is part of the cycle of life -- part of the cycle of Earth.

I'm looking forward to reading the third book.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Summer of the Frogs - Tressa Green

Tomorrow's the first day of summer, so a seasonal read is in order.

This is one of the books I won in that grab-bag of indie titles a couple of Christmases ago, and I have to tell you: I would have liked this book better if I'd been able to read a blurb first.  Because the one on Goodreads says right upfront that the main character, Claire, is clinically psychotic. I read a fair amount of fantasy, as you know, and in any number of fantasies, the main character sees or hears stuff that makes other people think he or she is crazy.  So there was a pretty good chance, I thought, that the same thing was happening here.

Because if this book isn't a fantasy, then Claire really is crazy.  She's quite open about the fact that she's seeing a psychiatrist: "Sometimes I read my poetry to him.  Or just talk about what the flowers told me that day. He tries to get me to talk about how I got my scars, or about the fire or the accident or any of that kind of thing.  But I ignore him and talk about something else.  If I'm feeling agitated, I'll yell at him about how I don't want to talk about the stuff that I'm constantly trying to forget. The same stuff that insists on flashing like a picture show across my brain and makes me cry or try to kill myself."

So, yeah.  Pretty much crazy.  But I've read books in which trees and rocks speak to people -- so why not flowers?

The story is told in first person.  There's a real-world boy, another patient, who Claire goes out with a couple of times.  And there's a boy inside her head who alternately intrigues and frightens her, and who helps her to try to find her missing brother.

In the end, though, the show is Claire's, and I left it feeling unsatisfied, wishing I knew more of what was going on. 

Technicalities:  The book has some formatting issues -- in my .epub, for example, the text starts on the copyright page instead of on the next page -- and the punctuation and grammar need work.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Poppet and the Lune - Madeline Claire Franklin

I can't believe it.  I pulled up this book on Goodreads to steal the cover image, and discovered I'd reviewed it last year -- well before I started Rursday Reads.  So!  An easy week for me!

Here's what I wrote last year:
I really, really liked this book. All the children of a small village are killed at once; the village's witch takes pity on the parents and creates a new girl child from bits and pieces of all of their children. The poppet is brought to life, but the witch is killed, and the girl -- Elizabeth -- finds out years later that the witch was unable to finish her before she died.

The poppet strikes out on her own. In a magical forest, she meets a were-man -- a human man who has been turned into a wolf, except for the three days around each full moon when he becomes human again. His fondest wish is to end the curse so that he can go back to his own village and marry his sweetheart. The pair go through many adventures before they each find their happy ending.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Wool Omnibus -- Hugh Howey

Hugh Howey doesn't need a review from me, but I'm going to give him one anyway.

Chances are that if you like science fiction, you've heard of the Wool phenomenon by now.  Howey is an indie author who sold so many copies of this book that traditional publishers came knocking on his door, offering him a contract.  He finally got one to agree to buy just the print rights, keeping the very lucrative e-book rights for himself -- a deal that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.

Howey wrote and released these stories one at a time. The first is a novella; the following four books get progressively longer.  All of them tell the story of the inhabitants of an underground silo in post-apocalypse America.  The air outside is toxic, and no one ever goes outside -- except for certain people who, charged with egregious crimes against the silo government, are sentenced to clean the camera that provides the silo with a view of the outside world.  The criminals are sent out in a pressurized suit, and given steel wool with which to clean the camera lens.  Something always happens out there, and they never come back.

It would be a giant spoiler to explain why those sentenced to clean the camera actually follow through with it, and another giant spoiler to explain why they all die out there.  So I won't say any more, other than to say that if you haven't read Wool yet, I recommend that you do so at your earliest convenience.  I've also heard that the next volume, Shift, is just as good, and I've added it to my tottering TBR pile.  And I've pretty much forgiven Howey for beating me out for best sci-fi/fantasy novel in the Big Al's Books and Pals Reader's Choice Awards this year.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Driving to BelAir -- William G. Jones

This novella grew on me, the farther I got into it.

The main character is Dale, who has escaped the chaos of his upbringing in a motherless household in Indiana and now lives in New York with his girlfriend.  But when his father dies, he travels home for the funeral.  There he reunites with his older brother, who is hostile to him for abandoning them; his younger brother, who's stoned most of the time; and his former girlfriend, who clearly still carries a torch for him.

Things get really interesting when Dad's will is read.  The boys' father wants them to take his ashes to BelAir, Florida, and dump them in the ocean.  There's a catch, of course; the boys must drive there in Dad's 1950s-vintage Chevy.  And somehow, Dale's New York girlfriend and his old flame end up going along for the ride.

As you might expect, things don't go smoothly, but that's half the fun.  As this band of misfits lurches from one mishap to the next, Dale learns a lot about his brothers, his girlfriend, and himself.

Driving to BelAir is a pretty quick read -- 148 pages on my Nook.

***
I'm embarking on a road trip of my own next week, so Rursday Reads will take a short sabbatical.  See you back here on June 6th.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Diary of a Small Fish - Pete Morin

Things are looking pretty bleak for Paul Forte.  A former politician who's now chief counsel for a transportation authority in Boston, Forte lives the good life.  He has a great condo, he eats terrific food, and he plays a lot of golf -- often with lobbyists.  Of course, his personal life is falling apart; he's divorced from his wife, whom he still loves, and his parents are dead.  And now his penchant for golf has gotten him in trouble; a crusading prosecutor named Bernard Kilroy has convinced a grand jury to indict him on charges of taking kickbacks from those lobbyists he plays golf with.

While he's second-guessing his lobbying connections and wondering whether Kilroy has a vendetta against him, he finds himself falling for Shannon, a woman on the grand jury. Together they try to figure out Kilroy's angle, as well as where they themselves fit together.  But it's when Forte's former wife calls with heartrending news that Shannon really proves her worth.

The intrigue and courtroom scenes in this book are up to snuff; Morin knows his way around Massachusetts politics and the Boston legal community, and it shows.  But some of the best scenes in the book are those with Forte, Shannon, and ex-wife Kate.  The story line involving this trio could have easily tipped into the maudlin, but Morin handles them brilliantly.  I only wish he could have worked in some sort of epiphany for Forte that would tie these scenes in better with the rest of the book.

That said, if you're a fan of legal thrillers, Diary of a Small Fish is well worth your time.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Trucking in English - Carolyn Steele

Another book that's not a fantasy, sorry -- unless you count those "Someday I'm going to chuck it all and become a..." daydreams we all have.

Steele is British, transplanted to Ontario, Canada.  She has held a number of jobs in her life -- from psychologist to paramedic to B&B operator.  But as she hit middle age, she got the brilliant idea to go back to school and learn how to drive an eighteen-wheeler.  Trucking in English is a memoir of her days in trucking school and her short, but memorable, career as a long-haul trucker.

Much of the book comes from the blog she wrote while embarking on this crazy adventure.  But it doesn't feel like a bunch of blog posts strung together, which is all to the good.  Steele's writing style is engaging, and I learned a lot.  For example, I have a far better appreciation for the difficulties of driving -- and stopping -- one of these rigs, not to mention backing one up to a loading dock whose builders enlisted a madman to design.  I've also got a lot of respect for women who try to break into trucking, particularly if they're not teaming with a husband; let's just say male chauvinism is not yet dead in many parts of North America.  What's really scary, though, are her tales of operators gaming the system to get more hours behind the wheel -- never mind that they may not be alert enough, after the extra hours they gain, to avert a disaster.

Even if you've never dreamed of getting in the cab of a big rig and hitting the road, Trucking in English is an entertaining read.  You don't want to miss it -- no, you don't.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Death of a Kingdom (The Norothian Cycle Part II) - M. Edward McNally

It's been awhile since I reviewed the first Norothian Cycle novel here, so methinks it's time for another.

My 5-star review on Goodreads for this book was terse:
This series keeps getting better. I love the focus on Tilda's friends in this book, and Allison is the most kickass princess I've ever met. Looking forward to books 3 and 4!
All of which is true (and books 3, 4, and 5 are, in fact, terrific; we will get to them in time), but it requires some elaboration.

In Death of a Kingdom, our intrepid band of friends splits up.  Tilda Lanai, the hapless Zeb Baj Nif (who's also haplessly smitten with Tilda, and why not?), and lapsed Circle Wizard Phinneas Phoarty (I started to call him a renegade, but that's too swashbuckling an appellation for poor Phin) travel with Duchess Claudja back to her home in Chengdea.  Of course, it's more complicated than that; the kingdom of Daul, of which Chengdea is a part, is crumbling, and is at risk of being overrun by Ayzantium. Claudja and her father cook up a desperate plan to save Chengdea by forging an alliance with the Codian Empire, and Tilda, Zeb and Phin are enlisted to escort Claudja to Emperor Albert's castle at Laketon and home again.

Enter Allison, Princess of Beoshore and Albert's sister.  She makes her appearance in our tale dressed as a warrior -- which, in fact, she is, and quite a good one.  Allison and Claudja bond, and Allison returns with them all to Chengdea to help in the coming battle.

Nesha-tari, meanwhile, goes home -- and learns a surprising secret there.

The only one of the Sable City band who does not appear in this book is John Deskata.  But don't worry, he turns up again in the next book.

In all, Death of a Kingdom is a satisfying second book in this epic fantasy series.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Woodcutter - Kate Danley

I'm not sure what I was expecting when I picked up The Woodcutter:  a new kind of fairy tale, maybe; or maybe something more lyrical, similar to the work of Patricia McKillip or Robin McKinley.  What I got was something else entirely -- a sort of private-eye noir tale, set in the world of make-believe.

The Woodcutter of the title is the main character.  He is an enchanted being who is sort of the one-man detective force of fairyland.  If bad stuff happens, he's called in -- and he must leave his mortal wife for however long it takes to solve the case.  As the book opens, he hasn't been called into service for many years.  But now a young woman is found dead in the forest, and a glass slipper nearby is a giveaway to her identity. 

To help the Woodcutter find her killer, the River God gives him three magical axes, but he must complete the God's challenge in order to receive them.  If he cannot solve the case before he has used up all the axes, he is doomed never to solve it.  Eventually, he uncovers a surprisingly brisk trade in pixie dust (and the heartbreaking way it's being harvested), and it becomes clear that a power-mad faerie queen is at the heart of the trouble.  What will put everything right at last?  Oh, please; if you've seen "Sleeping Beauty," you know the answer.

I looked over some of this book's reviews at Goodreads to refresh my memory before starting this post.  Some of the critics didn't like the way Danley pulled so many fairy tales into the story.  Having a history of creating mythological mashups myself, I wasn't bothered by that.  No, what bothered me about the book was the voice.  A book peopled with fairy tale characters requires a bit of whimsy, I think, but there was nothing whimsical in Danley's just-the-facts-ma'am narration.  It seemed a little cold and off-putting for the setting.

Also, the scene with the River God wasn't set up at all.  Typically in fairy tales, either the main character makes some sort of statement about why he's pursuing X, or another character advises him that he needs X in order to accomplish Y.  Here, it became clear eventually that the Woodcutter needed the River God for something, but I had no idea what it was until after he obtained the axes.  A little bit of explanation up front would have helped me enjoy the scene more.

One other thing: The chapters were exceedingly short.  Chapter length is certainly the author's prerogative, but many of these chapters felt like scenes that could have been combined into a longer chapter.  A chapter break interrupts the narrative flow, and I found that to be a bit of a problem here.

As a mystery, The Woodcutter was somewhat entertaining.  Just don't expect a fairy tale.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Fezariu's Epiphany - David M. Brown

I guess that since I reviewed a book by one-half of the Tweedlers last week, I ought to review one by the other half.
If I gave stars for these reviews, I would give David Brown five stars out of five for world-building without a second thought.  He has spent more than ten years creating and embellishing the history of Elenchera, the fantasy world where his "Elencheran Chronicles" are set, and it shows.  Brown's land is rich with detail and robust with a sense of its own history.

In this book, we follow a man named Fezariu from a happy childhood, through the death of his mother, to his career in the Merelax Mercenaries.  A mission with the mercenaries brings him to his mother's hometown, where he discovers that she didn't die, after all.  Fezariu then must decide whether to take revenge on the man who stole his mother, and his childhood, from him.

The plot is interesting, the world-building is awesome...but.  You know by now, if you've read my other reviews, that I have a problem with third person omniscient point of view. I call it the "little did they know..." point of view, because it can tempt the author into telling more than showing.  Here's one example:  In my opinion, the book would have been stronger if the reader had learned of Fezariu's mother's past as Fezariu himself learned of it.  The way the novel is currently structured, by the time Fezariu gets to the brothel, the reader is not consumed with a desire to find out what happens next; instead, the reader is dreading Fezariu's reaction when he finds out where, and what, his mother has been all this time.  Plus we are robbed of the sense of discovery, of putting two-and-two together and getting that "aha!" moment that's part of the pleasure of reading.

Another problem with third person omniscient in epic fantasy is that the author can be tempted to throw in more details about the world than are strictly necessary to the story.  I saw some of that in this book.  Of course, third person limited can go the other way and not give the reader quite enough information to find his or her feet (*cough*Malazan*cough*).  But a good editor can help an author find the sweet spot between those two extremes.

I also think a capable editor could strengthen the narrative in Fezariu's Epiphany.  Probably one-third to one-half of the adjectives and adverbs could be cut, and stronger verbs used in their place.  But that might be a matter of taste.  You know me -- I loves me some action verbs.

To sum up, Fezariu's Epiphany is a first book that shows promise, but needs some work.  And I'm looking forward to returning to Elenchera in Brown's second book, A World Apart.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Double-Take Tales - Donna Brown

Donna Brown, for those of you who don't know it, is a champion of indie authors.  I got involved in the winter of 2011-2012 with her brainchild, which was then known as Adopt an Indie. Later, AAI morphed into The Indie Exchange, a website and blog featuring tips and advice for both indie authors and the book bloggers who unselfishly promote their work.

But even if you're aware of all that, you may not know that Donna dabbles in writing herself.  Double-take Tales is a collection of three short stories, each just long enough to read on the bus on the way to work, and each with a twist at the end that I, at least, didn't see coming.

My favorite of the three is probably the first one, "Round Trip," which follows the route of a five-pound note (Donna's British, okay?).  The other two stories are called "Poison," in which a woman realizes her husband's nut allergy could be the answer to her prayers; and "C'est la Vie," in which a murderer thinks she's gotten away with the perfect crime.  I wasn't wholly satisfied with the ending of "C'est la Vie," but I won't tell you why because it would give it all away.  And that would, of course, defeat the purpose of the book.

Double-Take Tales is a very short read -- just 16 pages on my Nook -- and I'd say it's worth its 99-cent price tag.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Benediction - Kent Haruf

(I originally posted this review at BarnesandNoble.com.)



Kent Haruf is one of my favorite authors.  His spare prose is perfect for the plain, small-town folks who people his novels, and their stories are compelling for all their simplicity.

It's giving nothing away to tell you that the main character in Benediction, Dad Lewis, is dying; he receives the diagnosis on the book's very first page.  His reaction, and that of his wife and daughter, make up much of the book.  But their friends' lives, and the lives of those with whom they come in contact, also come into play here.  And just like anyone else, Dad Lewis has regrets, and that's a theme of the novel as well.

Benediction is an unsentimental, yet very moving, depiction of the end of a good man's life.  I'd rank it right up there with Plainsong as one of Haruf's best books.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Doodling - Jonathan Gould

This is another of the books that I won as a prize at the end of 2011, but didn't get around to reading 'til last year.

Neville Lansdowne is our hapless Everyman.  The modern world simply moves too fast for him, so he lets go and falls off.  Really.  He literally lets go, and falls off into space. Pretty soon, he finds himself adrift in an asteroid field.  When he spots an asteroid with a flag planted on it, he lands on it -- and that's when his adventure really begins.

This is a very much a novella -- just 68 pages on my Nook -- so it's a quick read, but but it's fun.  It's absurd in the same way that Alice in Wonderland is absurd, and it's a send-up of modern life in the same way as The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.  I quite enjoyed Doodling -- it's a cute little book.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Upgrade - Stephen Hise

What's the one thing every guy wants?  To have beautiful women fall all over themselves to be with him, that's what.  And that's the subject of Stephen Hise's Upgrade.

Brent Schoenfeld is a brilliant businessman, extremely smart, and richer than Croesus, but he's a schlump -- an average-looking guy who no woman would look at twice if he wasn't sitting on a pile of cash.  Every day, Schoenfeld looks out the window of his office and drools over the women he sees on the sidewalk.  There's one woman in particular who takes his breath away every time he sees her.  But he knows she would have no reason to look twice at him, and the knowledge eats away at him.

Finally, he pays a doctor to perform an experimental procedure on his sex appeal.  It's hideously expensive, but he pays every penny.  And it works!  Suddenly women are falling all over him.  Instead of spending every night at the office, or watching TV at home, he's getting more action than he knows what to do with.  And he works hard to gain the notice of that hot woman he fell for while watching her from his office window.

From there, as you might expect, things get complicated in a hurry.  And the ending provides a nice twist that I didn't see coming.

There were a couple of spots when the point of view changed from third person limited (focused on Brent) to third person omniscient (what I like to call the "little did he know..." voice).  That took me out of the story a little.  But overall, Upgrade was great fun to read.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Blackbirch Woods - Meredith Anne DeVoe

Another genre I typically don't read is contemporary Christian (for somewhat obvious reasons).  But I picked up this one at the behest of the author, and I did find myself enjoying the story.

The main characters are Violet Aubrey, a young woman who lives in the present day, and Willis Wood, a man whose life began more than two hundred years before.  There's something spooky in the Blackbirch Woods, and it managed to trap Willis two centuries ago.  He can never die, but must only manifest during the hours of darkness.

Violet's family likes to camp in the Blackbirch Woods. The year that Violet is seven, she wanders away from her family's campsite in the dark; Willis finds her and takes her back.  They meet again several times over the course of her teenaged years, and he falls hard for her.  Then she goes off to college.  But instead of getting on with her life and forgetting Willis, she finds herself drawn back to the woods.  She knows now that she loves him.  The question is whether her love will be strong enough to bring him out of the darkness, once and for all.

The Christian theme wasn't too heavy-handed.  In my Smashwords review, I wrote, "The author has done a fine job at making the characters believable, and the creepy things are suitably creepy."  If you don't mind books with some God talk in them, give Blackbirch Woods a try.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Lust for Danger - K.S. Brooks

I'm not a huge fan of either books or movies where people make a habit of waving guns in the air and stuff blows up real good.  But I find myself liking Brooks' "Agent Night" books, and if you do like this sort of thing, you'll probably like them, too.

Lust for Danger is the first in what is currently a three-book series (and why didn't I know there was a third book 'til just now?  Note to self: Must speak to the author...).  The main character in each is Kathrin Night, a badass special agent who works for the Bureau of International Trauma Analysts, a secret United Nations agency.  She's been trained by both the FBI and U.S. Navy Intelligence, and she has the requisite nerves of steel, as well as the brains and physical training, to get herself out of just about any situation.  But make no mistake, Agent Night is all woman.  She appreciates the feel of silk and the taste of a good wine, and she's not above using her body to get what she wants.

As the book opens, Agent Night steps out of her New York apartment in her nightgown to buy milk for her breakfast, and casually foils an armed robbery at the convenience store in the process.  Not long afterward, B.I.T.A. sends her to Maine to check out an explosion that leveled a factory.  Her boss believes some terrorist group is responsible, but so far, none has come forward.  It's up to Kathrin to figure out what happened.  But soon enough, she begins to suspect that terrorists aren't involved at all, and that in fact the attack was politically motivated.  B.I.T.A. is immediately ordered off the case, so Kathrin -- suspecting a cover-up -- goes off the clock to find out what really happened.  Chasing her quarry across several continents, she discovers a far-reaching plot for mass murder, and nearly becomes a victim herself.

The book is fast-paced, of course, and both "lust" and "danger" are well-represented in its pages.  Thriller fans should love Lust for Danger.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Beckoning Light (The Afterglow Trilogy #1) - Alyssa Rose Ivy

I'm not sure if I've mentioned this before.  But a couple of Christmases ago, I won a whole bunch of indie e-books in a contest.  Last year, I talked myself into attacking the virtual stack with vigor -- which is why I have so many books to write reviews for. 

When I first glanced over the stack, I found, in general, a 50-50 split.  About half the books I won't review, either because I bailed due to lack of interest in the subject matter or due to the book not being up to par -- either the story had a major flaw or the book needed a thorough edit.  (To be fair, I've found a similar 50-50 split among the traditionally-published books I get in my World Fantasy Convention goodie bags: sometimes the writing is lame, sometimes I've read the basic story too many times, and sometimes the subject matter isn't to my taste.)

Beckoning Light was one of the books I won, and I liked it well enough that I sought out, and paid money for, the second book in the trilogy.

The book is a YA fantasy.  The main character is Charlotte, a teenaged girl who has been living in Alaska for the past several years, following her mother's death.  Now she and her older brother Kevin have moved back to South Carolina while their father pursues a job opportunity in the Arctic.  They're living back at the old homestead with their mother's brother, Monty.  Kevin picks up right where he left off, hanging out with his best friend Liam and making the basketball team.  But he's worried about Charlotte, who, he thinks, needs a more active social life.

Charlotte is more ambivalent about their homecoming.  For one thing, she had a crush on Liam before they left, and she wonders where that will lead now.  For another, on her first day of school, she meets an annoying kid named James who keeps turning up at odd moments, and who can't seem to stop staring at her.  And she's drawn inexplicably to a gate in the garden of the old house -- a gate their mother told both Kevin and her to never go through.

Of course, Charlotte goes through the gate, into another world, and immediately becomes emotionally attached to the first person she meets there -- a young man named Calvin.  He feels the same way about her.  Why is it so hard for the two of them to part? Why did Charlotte's mother want to keep her out of the world beyond the gate? And what if her mother didn't die, after all?

I thought Ivy did a good job in handling both the real world and the fantasy world she's created.  The characters are mostly well drawn and the plot seems fresh, even though it's a story that's been told many times before.  I liked Charlotte's spunk.  And as I said, I was interested enough to buy the sequel.  Now I'm hoping that the third Afterglow Trilogy book will be out soon.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Fool's Journey - Kristina Jackson


When I first picked up this book, I was kind of excited about it.  The title, after all, refers to the first card of the Major Arcana of a Tarot deck.  The Fool, which is usually numbered Key 0, is depicted (in Rider-Waite-style decks, anyway) as a youth who's starting off on a long journey.  He is happily striding forth, a pack slung over his shoulder and a small dog bounding by his side. And his next step will take him right off the edge of a cliff.

The Major Arcana are sometimes used as foci for guided meditation.  You can also use them in sequence, in a series of meditation sessions -- a process known as "The Fool's Journey."  So I knew I was stepping into Pagan territory.

The plot can be viewed as a Fool's Journey of sorts.  The main character is Moira, a woman determined to get out of the secretarial pool by any means necessary, including what might be termed consensual sex, but only just.  Several months into this new and better job, Moira looks out her office window and witnesses her boss beating up another former secretary -- and this one, she learns, is pregnant with the boss's child.  The beating is so severe that the woman dies.  At the same time, Moira's boss offers her a seat on the firm's board of directors, but only if she submits to more of the same violation.

While sorting out her feelings about all this, she stumbles across a psychic fair, where she has a Tarot card reading done.  It's spookily accurate, of course, and before you know it, she is following the cards' advice.  She dumps her horrible corporate job, moves to a haunted cottage in Wales, and learns how to use magic.

While I applaud many of the novel's messages -- for one thing, nobody should ever stand for the sort of treatment Moira's boss dishes out -- it all just seemed too easy.  Once Moira gets to Wales, nothing serious ever complicates her life again.  Does the hot guy next door like her? Of course he does!  But will her be okay with her being a witch?  No problem!  Need a new home? Here's the perfect place, and with Pagan neighbors, to boot!

Neither psychic journeys nor real life are ever that easy.  More tension in the plot, and a setback or two for Moira -- maybe even the edge of a Welsh cliff -- would have made this book a lot more interesting.

One more note:  The cover shows Kristina Jackson as the author, and that's how Amazon has the book listed, but the title page gives the author's name as "Kay Darling."

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Urban Shaman - C. E. Murphy

I did mention that I'd sneak in a trad-published novel every once in a while, didn't I?  Well, in honor of Valentine's Day, I give you a trad-pubbed urban fantasy.
I have a few favorite urban fantasy authors: Patricia Briggs (whose Mercy Thompson is a shapeshifter who fixes cars for a living and who loves the alpha of the local werewolf pack), Carrie Vaughn (whose Kitty books had me at "radio talk show host" and Denver, never mind the paranormal stuff), and C.E. Murphy.

Urban Shaman is the first book in the Walker Papers series.  The main character is Joanne Walker, who works as a mechanic for the Seattle Police Department (what is the deal with female mechanics in urban fantasy, anyway? No wonder I gave Naomi a white-collar job!).  Then, jet-lagged after her mother's funeral, she's dropped into a situation in which she believes she's witnessed a crime.  Somehow she talks a cabbie into driving her all over Seattle to track down the bad guy, only to plunge down a rabbit hole of weirdness.  Because, you see, Joanne Walker's birth name is Siobhan Walkingstick -- Irish fey mother, Cherokee shaman heritage on her father's side -- and she is, naturally, the most powerful shaman in North America, no matter how much she refuses to admit it.  But when the Celtic Wild Hunt shows up, she has no choice -- particularly when she manages to heal herself of a gut wound that should have been fatal.

It's not just her magical power that she's in denial over.  It's clear to everybody (here comes the romance!) that she has the hots for her boss, Capt. Michael Morrison.  But you know, the whole boss/employee thing, and, well.  We have lots of books to go.  Maybe they'll both figure it out eventually....

Every hero needs a sidekick, and Jo's is Gary, the cab driver who picks her up at the airport at the beginning of the book.  Gary is rock-solid and yet willing to go along on all of Jo's adventures; he says it's the most fun he's had since his wife died.  And he's right -- Jo's a lot of fun.  Her self-deprecating snark comes through loud and clear.

If you like urban fantasy, but you haven't read any of the Walker Papers books, give this one a try.  Happy Valentine's Day.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Dimension Researcher (The Second Internet Cafe, Part I) - Chris James

Here's the other indie novel I mentioned in my list for Book Junkies Journal of my six favorite reads of 2012.
Y'all can breathe now; this one is sci-fi. 

First, let me explain about dimension research. James has taken the process of making a decision and run headlong with it.  In the reality he has invented for his series, every decision you make spawns a series of new realities: one that follows the path you decided upon, and one or more others that follow the paths you didn't take.  Researchers in Europe have figured out how to move from one of these dimensions to another.  Now, a consortium of nations has built a facility called the Second Internet Cafe, from which teams are sent to parallel dimensions to find out what could have been -- for example, how our world would have been enriched if So-and-so hadn't died in the Holocaust.  Think Connie Willis's Doomsday Book crossed with Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials (but without the daimons). 

Lucas Hunter is a brand-new dimension researcher.  On his very first day on the job, not only does he manage to annoy his team leader, ace dimension researcher Jean Bauer, but he also discovers that another nation has figured out how to do dimension research.  All of this is happening at the same time that the Russian prime minister is supposed to tour the  Second Internet Cafe -- and if he doesn't like what he sees, Russia will pull out of the project and the facility will have to close.

There's intrigue involved, of course, and politics, and some less-than-ethical stuff going on.  Lucas brashly appoints himself to figure it all out.  The one thing he can't seem to figure out is that his friend Kasha is in love with him -- but hey, even in our dimension, geeks have that problem.

James has done a great job with the world-building, and his science had me convinced.  His visual of the decision tree has stuck with me in the months since I read the book.  All in all, a good read.