an odd collection of tales about learning to do the impossible

Archive for the ‘reviews’ Category

Harvest

My review:

Harvest by Olga Werby is an incredible book on many levels. The thought and research that has gone into this story is breathtaking. The descriptions of nanobots gone amok are chill-inducing. The affection between the father and daughter is heartwarming. And the plot moves at a pace that makes it almost impossible to put down. What more could you want?

I love stories that tackle big ideas. You know, the meaning of life, the universe and everything. This book has no shortage of grandiose themes. In fact, my only two complaints are both artifacts of this. One, the book touches on so many major themes that it has to simply let some of them drop. Two, with a scope this big, it is hard to find a satisfying end to the story. Heck, it’s hard to find any end to the story.

Without giving anything away, I’ll just say I was a little less than satisfied when it was over. Then again, I don’t know of another book of this cosmic sort that has managed to come to a better conclusion.

Did I like it anyway? You bet I did. I’d recommend this novel to almost anyone, and certainly to anyone who enjoys science fiction. This is hardcore sci-fi that is both well-written and emotionally solid, and that’s no small achievement. It will leave you thinking for days (maybe for weeks or months, I don’t know yet because it’s only been days since I finished it ….) And even if you’re a little bewildered or uneasy at the end, I believe you will have thoroughly enjoyed the journey.

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 Harvest.

Rich and Gone

Rich and Gone by W.F. Ranew starts off with a great title and it goes to on tell an interesting and complex who-dun-it story spiced with lots of genuine southern flavor and the occasional bit of big money intrigue.

Things I especially liked:

  1. All the financial sleuthing, and the impressive research behind it.
  2. An older protagonist who trusts his hunches, is tech savvy, and who is finally having a love affair with the woman he’s yearned for, for forty years.
  3. Great descriptions of Florida and Georgia, and even better descriptions of the food and drink of the south

Things I struggled with:

  1. Too much background information about minor characters, especially those introduced late in the story
  2. A graphic sex scene between two minor characters and a graphic murder showing the homophobia involved — both scenes seemed out of place and gratuitous, as they were unnecessary to plot or character development
  3. Several cases of the protagonist figuring something out, or his future self chiming in about finding useful information, and then not telling the reader what the tidbit is

Even though the story didn’t quite fire on all cylinders for me, it’s a well-crafted crime novel with plenty of complexity and surprises. I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys this genre.

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 Rich and Gone.

 

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

Dragon’s Revenge

By the time I finished Dragon’s Revenge by C.J. Shane, I loved it.

The author attempts something difficult, and that always intrigues me. She mixes an almost abrupt telling of a modern day detective story with a lyrical, sometimes even meandering, historical document from a century earlier. At first the combination is jarring, but before long it sort of becomes hot and sour soup, or fried ice cream if you prefer. However you think of it, it works well and the rich tale she has woven from the two very different pieces captivated me.

Nearly half the book is a love story between two immigrants, one Italian and one Chinese. It’s told beautifully through the eyes of her young son, and it is both touching and believable. The prejudice shown to so many ethnicities will make you want to scream, and will possibly force you to take a hard look at some of today’s behavior, too. (At least I hope it will.)

The other piece of the story involves PI Letty Valdez helping a friend solve a murder that occurs in a university library. Of course the investigation quickly becomes far more complicated, with Letty in danger, a few tantalizing red herrings emerging, and a tie-in to the century-old love story. Ultimately, there is a satisfying ending with more than one unsavory sort getting what unsavory sorts deserve.

Letty Valdez is a wonderful character, as are most of the people who populate her life. In fact, one of my few criticisms is that perhaps too many of them are a little too wonderful. A tad more nuance and the occasional trace of a fault here and there, would probably have made the story stronger. Yet, I much prefer the direction Shane errs in to the other alternative: a story filled with alleged heroes no one can like or root for. I plan to download more Letty Valdez mysteries to my Kindle.

I readily admit that a reading experience is a combination of the skill of the writer, and the interests of the reader. Author Shane tells an interesting tale, and she tells it well. Her story also happens to intersect well with me. I’ve done a fair amount of research on immigration laws for my own writing and practically jumped out of my seat when I read about the Chinese exclusion act. I share the author’s apparent passion for social justice and her love of desert sunsets. And I practice qi gong (a relative of gong fu referred to often in the book.) So, while this is a novel I think anyone could enjoy; it is fair to disclose this is one book I could hardly have kept from appreciating.

Find the full post, with more information about the author and the blog tour this review was originally part of, at Dragon’s Revenge

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

Justice Gone

Justice Gone by N. Lombardi Jr. is a powerful book. It is difficult to put down even when it is difficult to read.

I was most impressed by the author’s unflinching determination to tackle a complex and emotional topic. He does do without glossing over anything or anyone. The research is impressive, the pace is relentless, and so much of the book defies expectations and surprises the reader.

This novel tears into the problems facing vets returning from war, any war, and it offers no platitudes or easy solutions. Rather, it invites empathy for the many characters struggling to do their best. Even for those for whom Lombardi has little sympathy (members of the press, a DA striving to enhance his career) there is a sense that these people are merely playing their given role in society. The real evil, the real villain, is war itself, and the author doesn’t see an easy solution to that problem.

I did struggle with the gore. In fact, the violence at beginning almost kept me from reading on, but by the time I was halfway through I was so glad I hadn’t quit. The large cast of characters is daunting, and the changing points of view were sometimes difficult to follow, but otherwise this novel is nearly flawlessly executed.

While it is hardly an uplifting book, it’s not a depressing one either. There is nobility in the struggles of the various characters. The second half of the book, with its court room machinations, even has a little humor mixed in with its staccato-like legal proceedings. Finally, there is enough justice in the end to not leave the reader hopeless.

I like a book that teaches me things, and a book that lets me see the world through points of view I will never have. I like a book that makes me think. Justice Gone does all of these in a compelling way and I recommend it highly.

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

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.

Is Flickers the best book of the month?

5 Star Rating LASRI was delighted to get a 5 star review from the robust review site “Long and Short Reviews.” Then I found out this earned me chance to have Flickers of Fortune be book of the month. How cool. So here is my unabashed plea.

Please vote for Flickers of Fortune. Scroll down to find it. Any vote is greatly appreciated!

 

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.

What makes it a romance novel?

So. Let’s be blunt. I think sex is wonderful. I agree love is the greatest thing in the universe. I like it when people live happily ever after, or at least I’m allowed to think they will. However, romantic love (in all its trials and tribulations) doesn’t carry a plot for me.

I like action, intrigue, and surprises. I enjoy puzzles, and profound thoughts. So why do I end up reading so many romance novels and then complaining about it in the reviews?

Read more about my frustration with romance writers at What makes it a romance novel?

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.

Fresh Off the Starship

I’m back to doing the occasional review, and hope to do many more after I get my own book number six out there.

My latest is for a short, fun story called “Fresh Off the Starship” by Ann Crawford.

I intended to read this book over a few days, but laid it aside reluctantly on day one (company was coming) and zipped thru the rest on day two. I applaud (and thank) the author for creating a world that held me spellbound and happy for many hours.

Read all about what I liked a lot, and not so much, at Fresh Off the Starship.

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!

 

Review: The City and The City

Summary: I’m in awe of this book, and I like to think that I don’t awe easily. It has stuck with me since I finished it; the surest sign of an effective story. I give it a 4.8/5, the highest rating I’ve given since I started this decimal point thing.

Read more at Review: The City and The City.

Review: Little Computer People

Galen Surlak-Ramsey has written a book that is great fun to read, and certain to delight those with an understanding of computers. The overall tone of the book is fun, funny and self-deprecating. The narrator/main character has a shrewd self-awareness that keeps him from becoming obnoxious, even when he does outrageous things like compare himself to God.

Read my full review at Little Computer People

Our Own Kind of Porn

My average rating for women’s books is over a point lower than for those written by men (3 stars versus 4.25 out of five.) What is going on ? I’m a feminist! I’m a huge fan of women authors and a strong supporter of women anything! Am I secretly sexist? I took a closer look at the books.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read the full post at Our Own Kind of Porn.

 

Review: Murder Gone Missing

Why am I reviewing a crime novel like Murder Gone Missing? Well, even though y1 is a fantasy, it is also a murder mystery, and I have a soft spot for zany crime novels with an unusual premise. Murder Gone Missing begins when the dead body disappears and turns into a clever and funny story, well built to entertain fans of light-hearted mysteries…

Read the full review at Review: Murder Gone Missing

Review: Off Season

This is only partly a heartfelt tale about the effects of rape. It is just as much the story of an older lesbian woman seeking acceptance from her church after having spent years living with her partner but hiding the true nature of their relationship. Author E.S. Ruete tells a difficult story with compassion and bursts of eloquence.

Read my full review at Review: Off Season

Review: The Ancient Tripod of Peace

My Review Summary: This is a fun read that will keep you turning pages and have you googling Shakespeare and  Greek history… It’s full of ancient secrets hidden in plain sight and the reader is left wondering how much is true and how much has been made up to serve the plot. It’s a fun kind of confusion, and it kept me eagerly reading until the end.

Read more at Review: The Ancient Tripod of Peace. 

Review: Cloud Whispers

Sedona Hutton has written a well-constructed contemporary romance novel with interesting characters, complex subplots and a splash of metaphysical theory. This is a book that many will enjoy.

However, if you don’t like coffee, and I prepare you a well-made cup and then flavor it with French vanilla (which you love) you probably won’t like the beverage, no matter how well made it is or how much French vanilla I add. Right?

That’s the problem I have with this book.

Read my full review at Review: Cloud Whispers.

Review of Empty Promises by James Jackson

Review summary: Having not read any of the earlier Seamus McCree books, I began this one feeling somewhat disconnected from the main character. The plot was interesting, but the emotion was lacking. However, as the story progressed, the protagonist and his family came into better focus, while the action kept moving. By half way through the book I was fully engaged and by the end of the book I was ready to describe it as both entertaining and thought provoking, both heartfelt and action-filled.

Read my full review at Review: Empty Promises

Some book reviews are trickier than others

“Because the sex scenes make up so much of the book, I feel I cannot give it a rating. Rather, I will commend the author for the things she did well, mentioned above, and recommend the book to those whose tastes in this regard are different from mine.”

It didn’t take long for my resolution to review a book a month on my various blogs to land me in hot water. First Impressions was billed as an M/M romance and the premise of the two men’s lives sounded interesting. It was. But clearly I was way out of touch on just how steamy romances get these days.  I was traveling internationally while reading the book, and actually afraid if anyone saw what I was carrying, I might get detained for bringing pornographic material into the country.

Luckily, I arrived back in the US without incident. Read my attempts to handle the review with grace at at Review: First Impressions

Review: The Three-Body Problem

I loved the unexpected ideas, the unusual perspective and the way it made me think about issues large and small. I have a fond spot for stories that give me insights into other parts of the world, and for characters who plausibly behave in ways I cannot imagine myself doing. This book has all that and more.

…. this particular passage from the author sticks with me:

But I cannot escape and leave behind reality, just like I cannot leave behind my shadow. Reality brands each of us with its indelible mark. Every era puts invisible shackles on those who have lived through it, and I can only dance in my chains.

Read my full review at Review: The Three-Body Problem.

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