an odd collection of tales about learning to do the impossible

Posts tagged ‘#BookReviews’

I Know When You’re Going To Die

My Review:

In the cleverly titled I know When You’re Going to Die, Michael J Bowler begins with a fascinating premise and delivers a taut and unpredictable tale. I raced through it.

What I liked best:

  1. The concept of needing to solve a murder before it happens is an interesting one. I’ve seen it elsewhere in science fiction, but the idea of having a “superpower” to know when others will die is unique, as far as I know, and the whole idea of solving a crime to prevent it is well executed here.
  2. The pacing is perfect. The suspense builds throughout the story and Bowler keeps the reader turning the pages without overloading or exhausting them.
  3. Leo, Bowler’s clinically shy good-guy protagonist, is a hero for all. Seriously, if you can’t cheer this guy on, consider seeking professional help.
  4. It’s a genre crime novel, so the reader knows the mystery will be solved just in time, but the ending is sufficiently convoluted and unexpected. It feels worth the wait.
  5. The underlying messages of friendship, tolerance and kindness are a refreshing bonus.

What I liked least:

I enjoyed this book a lot, and I think my minor issues with it stem from it being a young adult novel, one in which all of the protagonists are high school students. So, my recommendation comes with the caveat that the reader should not expect the story to go outside the scope of a young adult novel.

  1. I felt too many of the adult characters were not well-fleshed out. For example, the story included not one, but three moms who cared little about their teenage children. Hard for me to believe, but maybe not so hard for a teen-aged reader.
  2. The complicated relationship between close same-gender friends during the teen years and early sexual attraction and exploration is central to the story, and yet the author shies away from resolving issues. Again, I suspect the young age of the intended audience is the reason, so I gave him a pass on this one.
  3. The premise behind the plot brings up major philosophical questions about predetermination, death and even cause and effect. I’d have loved to see some of this stuff tackled … but again…..

I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good crime story, or a good superhero story. You absolutely have to read it if you enjoy both.

For more about this book, and the review tour this review was part of, see I Know When You’re Going To Die.

 

The Kronicles of Korthlundia

My Review:

In The Ghost in Exile, Jamie Marchant has written a book that is both character driven and action filled. It’s sure to delight fans of her The Kronicles of Korthlundia, and equally sure to please those who enjoy her genre.

This book is really two related stories told simultaneously. In one story, a kind and naive young man is taken advantage of and finally abused in so many ways that he is gradually lured into becoming one of the world’s great assassins.

In the second story, this same assassin is an older man who has said good-bye a daughter he only met recently. His heart is filled with sorrow, and he unexpectedly helps a foreign woman forced into prostitution. He decides to teach her to fight before he takes her back to her homeland.

What I liked best:

I much preferred the second story, although both are equally well told. In the second story, we meet Brigitta, the intelligent mother of two who is forced into prostitution and trained by the Ghost to fight. Yes, I have a great fondness for stories of women who rise far above the expectations of their society, and she joins the ranks of characters I truly enjoyed.

I also liked the back and forth approach between two related tales. In both stories, Marchant keeps her plot moving, and she keeps the interesting characters coming. I also appreciated that the hero known as the Ghost is, in his heart, a genuinely good guy, in spite of spending his adult life as a killer.

What I liked less:

I chose to review The Ghost in Exile, thinking it would be better to review a stand alone story  than one volume of a three book series. It wasn’t a great choice on my part, because I think this book would be best appreciated by those already introduced to The Kronicles. It’s a complicated world, here, and juggling two stories with strange places and names was daunting.

The tale of a kind boy turned into a killer by dire misfortune is a well-established and much beloved troupe, but it isn’t one of my favorites, because if the protagonist is truly good, then the events forcing him to behave in such a way have to be truly bad. Marchant delivers. The things that happen to this young man are every bit as horrific as they need to be, and while others may have an easier time reading such atrocities, I found myself tiring of the awfulness.

Also, this book felt more like background to a larger story. It lacks a grand sense of purpose (an giant evil to be stopped, a vexing problem to be solved) and seems like more of a biography on one hand, and a tale of a journey on the other.

That being said, they are both well done tales.

I do recommend this book to all fans of The Kronicles of Korthlundia, and to those who would appreciate following the adventures of an ambiguous hero trying to survive in a horrible world.

For more about this book, and the review tour this review was part of, see The Kronicles of Korthlundia.

Bulb

My Review:

In Bulb, Bradley Wind has created an unusual and thought-provoking look into the future. It poses plenty of relevant questions about today and about the choices we’re making.

What I liked best:

1. This is a genuine attempt to describe the future, not a story set in our own world with more rocket ships and robots in the background. The author makes the valid point that if you asked a human from ten thousand years ago to describe the year 2020 they wouldn’t have enough information to even imagine our society. Bradley Wind has tried to make this leap into an unimaginable future, and he has succeeded in creating a disturbing and unexpected world that seems normal and even inevitable to those living in it.

2. His writing packs a punch.

3. This could have been a one-good-idea book. The concept of the archives is so different, and so chilling, that it would carry a fine story. However, Wind is just getting started when he lays out the concept of everyone being able to view everything everyone else has ever done.

What I liked least:

1. The pacing is erratic. I do think the way the book is written has an overall artistic effect, but one has to get through it to appreciate the artistry, and this is not an easy book to finish.

2. Item three above is somewhat of a two-edged sword. This story throws so many radical ideas at the reader that overload is likely. Yes, you can have too much dessert, and too many things to think about in too short a time. I’d recommend reading this novel over a period of several days, if not more.

3. This last part is subjective and I always wonder whether personal preferences should be included. Yet, no matter how well done something is or isn’t, we all have own tastes and they effect our reading experience. So, I’ll be blunt. I didn’t enjoy reading this book.

I’m easily bothered by blood and gore, disturbing rape scenes, disgusting behavior, detailed descriptions of bodily functions, deformities, mutilations and you get the idea. I’m not a good date at a zombie movie and I don’t watch horror flicks. But … Bradley Wind can’t seem to stay off of these topics. His descriptions of the lives of two saints (people who voluntarily stay in a coma to keep the system running) were so over the top they nearly stopped me from finishing the story.

It’s important to note that I’ve read other novels I didn’t enjoy, and yet which I’m glad I read. (Did anyone actually enjoy reading 1984?) The truth is, we don’t only read for fun. We read to understand new points of view. We read to have our imaginations expanded and our empathy increased. We read to think more and to feel more and to grow.

So, I recommend this book to (1) people who enjoy dark and disturbing speculative fiction, and (2) to those willing to read such in order to be exposed to ideas they’re unlikely to encounter anywhere else. Trust me, this book is full of them.

For more about this book, and the review tour this review was part of, see https://dtothepowerof4.org/2020/02/03…

You Kill Me

My Review:

In You Kill Me, Holly LeRoy has written an exciting thriller with a wonderful protagonist, unexpected characters, and a page turner of an ending. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

What I liked best:

1. The writing is quite good. The pacing is flawless. The plot is exciting. I know that should be three different things, but I don’t want this list to get too long.

2. In particular, LeRoy takes several characters out of Central Casting and uses them in ways I didn’t expect (and you probably won’t either.) The annoying boss. The sleazy ex-partner. His stripper girlfriend. And more. The whole story is a wonderful reminder of how surprising people can be.

3. I often struggle with stories that mix a first person tale with additional third-person POVs. LeRoy not only makes it work, he makes it seem natural. Part way into the story, I stopped noticing it.

4. Ditto for his descriptions of people and surroundings. Over and over he gives just enough details to put you in the scene and never so much that you start to skip over it. Well done.

What I liked least:

1. It’s obvious I liked a lot about this book. However, I prefer to read on my Kindle and when the author didn’t offer Kindle formatted copies for review, I bought the book and was surprised by the number and kind of typos in the copy for sale. Every book has a few, but this not only had more than its share, many of them were things any good proofreader (or even spell check program) would have caught. This book is too good for those kinds of mistakes.

2. I like my endings (that is, the part after everyone is finally safe) to be longer than a page or two. I’ve come to care about these people and I want to know more after many of them barely make it out alive. Perhaps there is more tying up of loose ends in the next novel?

Well, whether there is or not, I’ll be seeking out more by Holly LeRoy, and wishing him and his detective Lt. Sharpe both long and healthy careers,

I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good story.

For the full blog post including more information about the book, its author, and the Goddess Fish promotional tour I originally wrote the review for, please see You Kill Me.

Gods of Merlin

My Review:

In Gods of Merlin, Priya Ardis has written an action-filled adventure likely to appeal to teenage fans of the fantasy genre.

What I liked best:

1. I’ve got a fond spot for females who get to be the chosen one (for once) and I found Eowlyn to be particularly likable. I rooted for her from the start.
2. I’m a life long fan of the many variations of the King Arthur tale and it was fun to see it given a new twist.

What I liked least:

1. I thought there were too many parallels to a certain famous story line with a likeable orphan who mysteriously ends up at a British school for magical kids where those with wizards’ blood look down on those who don’t have it.
2. I found some sections too grisly and others too confusing (particularly flashbacks of Eowlyn tangling with other main characters in other times.)

I would recommend this book to young people who enjoy fantasy and particularly to fans of Harry Potter or King Arthur who are looking for more of what they love.

For the full blog post including more information about the book, its author, and the Goddess Fish promotional tour I originally wrote the review for, please see Gods of Merlin

Once Upon a Time, Bitches

My Review:

In Once Upon a Time, Bitches, Branden LaNette has written a fast-paced, funny book so good you will hardly realize you’re being given advice to improve your life.

My own advice to you is to (1) read this book, (2) laugh while you do it and (3) wake up the next day with your life a little better on track. Then (4) buy a copy for someone you love.

Best things about this book:

1. It is solid advice told in funny and entertaining way.

2. There is just enough about the author to make you like and believe her and not so much that it becomes all about her, not you.

3. This should only be a 100 page book and guess what? It is.

4. Her humble I’m-no-better-than-you-are-at-this-shit approach is endearing and convincing.

The worst things I can say about this book:

1. The foul language is a shock. It reminded me of the musical “The Jersey Boys.” I spent the first minutes thinking wow, I didn’t know people could use the word fuck that many times in a sentence. Then I got used to it and loved the show. In a similar fashion, by about 10 pages into this book, I loved it, too. However, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I had to acclimate first.  

2. There is no giant revelation here, but that’s not the author’s fault. There really isn’t one to reveal. We know the secrets to a good life are the easy-to-say and hard-to-do things like take responsibility, forgive others, and love yourself. I struggle to do these things on a good day, so I certainly benefited from hearing them again, and appreciated them being stated so bluntly.

So, who would I recommend this book to?

Anyone who happens to be a human. Others need not bother.

For the full blog post including more information about the book, its author, and the Goddess Fish promotional tour I originally wrote the review for, please see Once Upon a Time, Bitches

 

 

Murder: Double or Nothing

My Review:

In Murder: Double or Nothing, Lida Sideris has improved on what she does well, and softened some of the rougher edges in her second novel. She has once again written a clever and funny story to entertain fans of light-hearted mysteries.

What I liked best:

  1. Once again, this is a witty, fast-paced book with enough unexpected twists to keep the reader engaged. As an added plus, who doesn’t like to read about Hollywood?
  2. The protagonist, Corrie Locke, not only has a new law degree, but she seems to be a more capable crime solver than before, and a little less inclined to break laws without consideration of the consequences. I liked this more mature and capable character.
  3. I liked what has happened with the other characters, too. Love interest Michael is more lovable, high-fashion mom is more likeable, and Corrie’s sidekick Veeda has become more of her own person (and far less a clone of Stephanie Plum’s sidekick Lula.)
  4. The author continues to do a noteworthy job of ending chapters so that the reader just has to keep going.
  5. Plus … both Sideris and her creation Corrie really take their game up a notch in the suspense filled ending. Corrie shows her best yet as both a fighter and as a detective, and Sideris delivers a taut page-turner of a finale.

What I liked least:

  1. I still struggled with not feeling up to speed on Corrie and her fascination with a competing love interest, Michael’s best friend James. Clearly, there is history here and it matters. I wish I knew what it was.
  2. Witty and fast-paced can be overdone, and in my opinion Lida Sideris’ style at times would benefit from more transitions to add flow to the story. While her dialog and plot developments are never quite as jarring as in the previous novel, in its worst spots this book becomes a series of actions scenes and flippant one-liners in need of more connection and motivation behind them.

However … as with the previous book, the power of what I liked absolutely exceeded what I didn’t. In fact, I enjoyed this book more than its predecessor and I’d recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys a fun mystery.

For the full blog post including my review of Lida Sideris’ second book Murder Gone Missing  as well as more information about the book, its author, and the Goddess Fish promotional tour I originally wrote the review for, please see Murder: Double or Nothing

Why do people review books?

Damned if I know.

For most of my life, the only time I’ve reviewed anything is when I really didn’t like it. In fact, I had to not like it so much that I felt it was my duty to steer people away. This didn’t happen often.

When I thought something was great, I was never motivated to suggest others buy, use or visit whatever it was. Not unless I was asked. Then, sometimes I wrote a positive review just to be nice.

Basically, this means I don’t understand reviews. Or reviewers.

Read more at Why do people review books?

Viable Hostage

Viable Hostage by Audrey J. Cole is a tidy, fast-paced medical crime novel sure to please fans of this genre. Unfortunately the book and I were not a good fit.

What I liked best:

  1. I love reading books in which the author knows her subject matter well. Ms. Cole clearly brings a lot of medical expertise to her writing, and a knowledge of the Seattle area to this novel.
  2. The book is well-paced. It moves seamlessly from crime to solution and delivers enough of the unexpected to be satisfying.
  3. There is a diverse and interesting cast of characters, and a quite likeable main character.
  4. Multiple points of view (particularly that of the killer) are done well, and provide suspense without giving away the ending.

What I struggled with:

  1. Some of this novel is downright grisly and I happen to be a reader who shies away from such things. In fact, I’m so squeamish I don’t even want to hear about medical details. So, while I admire Ms. Cole’s expertise, I’d steer those of my ilk away from this book.
  2. I felt the book would have benefited from more character development in general, and especially more depth surrounding the main character. She appears to be a fascinating young medical student, yet we learn almost nothing about her other than her devotion to her missing friend.

I do, however, recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys stories that live at the intersection of solving crimes and of performing medical research. I think this is a tough place to write with both accuracy and suspense, and Ms. Cole is to be commended for doing both.

A personal note:

Why did I pick this book to review? Well, my own book One of One is about a young woman who is taken hostage and rescued by women who care about her. I’m always looking for kindred spirits, writing-wise, and this seemed to be about something similar. Cool, I thought.

Even though the book didn’t quite turn out to be about what I thought, I do think it is good to get out of your comfort zone and read different types of things.

Also, I received a free electronic copy of this book, which would never be enough to make me write a better review for anyone.

For the full blog post giving more information about the book, its author, and the Goddess Fish promotional tour I originally wrote the review for, please see Viable Hostage.

The Calculating Stars

Hugo award winning author Mary Robinette Kowal doesn’t know anything about me …. so it’s not possible she understood that when she wrote “The Calculating Stars,” she was writing the one book I could not possibly resist reading.

Perhaps she was aware of the many women of my generation and older who can still remember the landing on the moon, and the fervor afterwards with which so many people wanted to go do that, too. Yet, some of us knew we couldn’t, and we thought that fact was terribly unfair.

Star Trek was exploring strange new worlds back then, and they had room aboard ship for my idol Lieutenant Uhura, and for whatever female ensign Captain Kirk had his eye on that week. Jane Fonda’s Barbarella struck me as more silly than admirable, but at least she was in outer space, too.

So, after after careful consideration, I bravely declared to my mother that I wished to become an astronaut. She looked at me curiously, like perhaps I possessed some troublesome quality she hadn’t been aware of.

“Find a more realistic ambition,” was all she said. I never brought it up again.

When I was little, my father flew small planes. Yet, he seemed every bit as puzzled as my mother once was, when years later I told him I had started to take flying lessons. I was out of college by then, making okay money as a technical writer. This is what I wanted to do with those earnings. I thought he’d be proud.

“Okay ….. ” was all he said. Before long, he sent me all his study manuals on flying, with a simple note. “If you’re going to be a pilot, be a good one.”

Learning to fly is expensive. Much as I loved it, I clearly was never going to be a commercial pilot, much less an astronaut. I moved on to other, more realistic dreams.

Then, decades later, along came this book.

It’s not just about women in space, it’s about women my mother’s age getting to go. Give me a break. How does this happen?

Oh. The blurb says a meteorite hits the earth and threatens to destroy all life. That’s what it takes to get women in the 1950’s into the space program? Maybe ….

Forgive the long preamble, but I felt I ought to explain why, by the time I was on about page 20, this had become my favorite book of all time.  A little context can be helpful.

Now, for a more objective look.

Pilot and mathematician Elma York is well qualified for the space program and she wants to join it. Author Kowal recognizes the difficulties of creating a character with a brilliant mind who is also a highly skilled aviator, is beautiful, is well liked by her family and friends, and who has a loving husband as talented as she is.

Kowal gives her an Achilles heel to balance out her many gifts and to make her goal of getting into space more difficult. On occasion I thought she took this “little problem” a bit further than was believable for a woman who had accomplished so much, but it did work to make the plot more interesting, and to make Elma a more believable human.

She also chose to give her an ethnicity (Jewish, right after WWII), which I thought was interesting but it was never really pertinent to the story. Perhaps it ties better into the previous short works, or it will tie more into the sequels?

Much of the beginning of the book has to do with the meteorite and it’s aftermath. This part is chilling, and incredibly well written. I could hardly put the book down.

The second part centers on the accelerated space program being developed to help save humanity. Here Elma York encounters the sexism of much of the military, but she also faces the ingrained, even almost silly sexism of the time period. (Astronettes? Really?) It rings true.

Luckily, she is surrounded and supported by a strong group of women, many of them fellow pilots and quite a few of them also women of color, who are facing a whole different set of unfortunate biases a well. All the women have a handful of male allies (including Elma’s husband) and, to no ones surprise, eventually they all prevail.

Kowal accepting the Hugo award

Kowal does try to bring in details about how her society reacts to the climate change brought on by the meteorite, and in doing so she obliquely addresses our own society’s struggles with abating climate change. She doesn’t hit you over the head with the comparison, and it adds a nice bit of social consciousness to the story.

The book is suspenseful in that the reader wants to see Elma go into space and wants to learn how she does it. However, it lacks any large plot twists or deep philosophical ideas. (Both of those are things I love in books.) So I have to admit this is more of “just a fun story” about talented and good people getting to do what they ought to be doing. It’s a cheer along book, but instead of being about a little league team or some such thing that doesn’t interest me, it’s about women getting to what I always wanted to do. So. I really enjoyed cheering along.

Read the introduction to this series of reviews at Reviews: Giving Them

The Maine Nemesis

The Maine Nemesis by R. Scott Wallis is a crime novel set in New England, seasoned with plenty of small town intrigue and a lot of great cooking. You’ll absolutely want to have lobster for dinner before you are done reading the book.

Things I especially liked:

  1. This is a well told story with a large cast of characters, all of whom have plausible and detailed pasts. The small town drama and the individual struggles ring true. Some of the back stories are pretty sad, actually, but they are realistic and they roll well into the greater plot.
  2. I always find it fun when two female friends team up to accomplish something. The friendship between Skylar and Brenda, her childhood-friend-turned-cooking-show-celebrity, is the centerpiece of this novel.
  3. The description of the food will put five pounds on you just reading it :). Seriously, it’s that good.

What did I struggled with?

One thing, basically, but it was a big thing. I tried, I really tried, to like the main character and her best friend, but while I appreciated their friendship, they seemed like two rich, spoiled, and shallow women inserting themselves into a local crime scene while complaining about how miserable it was to travel first class on a commercial airlines instead of by private jet.

I’m sure there are those who’d find Skylar and Brenda glamorous, and would enjoy their adventures all the more for their airs, but they didn’t work well for me.

None-the-less, I appreciate the author crafting a complex mystery and skillfully placing it in a setting that was fun to explore. I recommend the book to anyone who likes to read about amateur sleuths.

Find the full post, with more information about the author and the blog tour this review was originally part of, at The Maine Nemesis.

Read the introduction to this series of reviews at Reviews: Giving Them

Reviews: Giving Them

I’ve been doing more book reviews lately. It’s a fun way to get out of my own head for a while, see what others are doing, and hopefully help other writers as well. We all want reviews.

I do try to be both gentle and positive. Writing a book is hard work, and putting together an interesting and cohesive novel is a real accomplishment. I find it amazing how many people manage to do this every day. Who says our society is becoming illiterate? Some days I wonder if more people are writing books than are reading them.

So, kudos to all authors. This is not an easy thing you have done!

I don’t have much respect for reviewers who make rude remarks to get a laugh, particularly those who don’t write books themselves. I’m inclined to encourage all sincere attempts at creativity — be it musicians, fine artists, or writers.

Writers have a particular handicap, though. It takes far longer to read a book than to listen to a song or study a sketch. The reader will be investing some serious time, even if they give up on the book. So, it is reasonable for a potential reader to want to know if this story is really worth the hours they will likely spend with it.

That means it is important to for a review to be honest. I never like everything about a book and I’m sure you don’t either. Yet Amazon is full of reviews that make almost every book ever published sound perfect. Come on. We all know that isn’t true. Who writes these things?

The function of a review is to help another reader decide if they should read this particular novel. The most helpful thing a reviewer can do is point out what they enjoyed most about the book and what gave them the most heartburn. There’s no reason not to do it with kindness, but it still needs to be done. A review entirely lacking in criticism isn’t a review, it’s an advertisement.

Disagree with any of the above? Feel free to leave a comment. I’d love to discuss it with you.

A series of posts on the seven books I’ve reviewed recently will follow . Please enjoy, and if any of them sound like your cup or tea, please check them out.

Road to Reality

I’m back to reviewing books, and last week I tackled my first non-fiction book, an autobiography of one of the originators of “Survivor.” This is how the review starts:

This book is not an angry tirade, or a plea for sympathy, and it could so easily have been either. Rather it is story of a woman struggling to maintain relationships with her own divorced parents, with the two sons she loves deeply, and with a man whose idea of marriage seems to have been to largely roll her into his tumultuous world, until he didn’t want her there any more.

The book has its high and its low points, but all in all I found it interesting. Read the full review at Road to Reality.

Nice to be understood

I know I’ve loved books others don’t like, and missed the charm many found in popular books. Reading is an interaction between the author and the writer, and the two don’t always match up well, even when an intelligent reader comes across a well done story. We’re all different, right?

Read more about how refreshing it is to get a review from someone who happens to get you at Nice to be understood.

Learning to Juggle

Honestly, this is all too much to hold in my head at once. I keep checking my spreadsheet thinking I’m forgetting some essential component somewhere. There’s got to be something I’m forgetting.

Read more about being in various stages of revising five different books at once at Learning to Juggle.

It worked!

I’ve been holding my breath for months now (metaphorically) as I worked to release my first novel with a new title. I could hardly be blamed. The first title had an exponent in it. (Yes, as in the letter x raised to the power of zero.) If you’re not mathematically inclined, trust me it was clever, but no one could fault me for wanting a title that was easier to pronounce, market and search for.

Read the full story of how it went when I republished the old x0 under the new name One of One at It worked!

 

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