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Monday, March 25, 2013

Basket of Book Reviews

Here's what I've been reading lately. No, I'm not paid to do reviews. I do it because I know how much it can mean to an author to get reviews. I also only review books I enjoyed enough to finish. I recently added a Kindle to my electronic gadget family, so most of these are freebies from Amazon.

The 10% Solution, Ken Rand

This is by far, the best self-editing book I've ever read. It's a short book, but if you're looking to improve your writing, read this book. It won't teach you grammar or style. It will help you shorten what you write by eliminating passive voice, unnecessary words, extra adjectives or adverbs, and other stumbling blocks. It's a writer's best friend whether you write advertising copy or high fantasy or anything in between.

Ken Rand passed away in 2009. He was a wonderful man and writer and is greatly missed by those of us lucky enough to meet him.

5 stars
G, except it might make you cry while editing, but it's a good thing. Trust me.

Unlikely (Kingdoms Gone), Frances Pauli

If you read this blog, you'll already know I'm a fan of Frances Pauli. But to be clear, I don't rave over all of her books, just most of them. This is one worth raving over.

If you like fantasy with elves and fairies and the sidhe and magic and all that jazz, but you're tired of Tolkien-esque worlds and stories, try this book. Satina, a goodwife, is on the run. She's trying to find somewhere she will fit in, somewhere where her magic won't turn her into a target of either the magic-hating humans or the magic-seeking gangs. What she'd really love is to be part of the Old Kingdoms where magic ruled. But all that is left are the pockets, pieces of the Old Kingdoms accessible by those with the right gifts of magic and sight.

I enjoyed the story. The settings were evocative and rich with hinted culture and stories yet to be told. The use of magic was balanced and believable. The characters were well-developed and some took surprising turns. I'm happy to say that book two is on its way and promises to be every bit as fun as Unlikely.

4.5 stars, PG for mild violence

The Catalyst (Targon Tales), Chris Reher

I have a basic, bottom-end Kindle. When I go browsing on it for new books, I don't get much of a cover view. I didn't realize this book was science fiction romance until I was well into it. Not that it's a bad thing, I don't mind a bit of romance in with my rocket ships and galactic empires. If I'd seen the cover, I would have known exactly what I was in for.

The Catalyst is a great tale of a space marine tangled up with the good-looking and good-at-heart bad boy who isn't really a bad-boy. I enjoyed the twists of plot. I've been reading SF for many many years now and it was refreshing to see a new angle on things. Nova Whiteside is supposed to be on a routine delivery mission - get the cargo to its destination safely without letting on she's a marine. A pirate attack destroys her cargo, leaves her injected with an alien poison and on the ship of her former boyfriend, Seth (the bad boy not-quite-a-pirate character). In the course of finding a way to cure the poison, they uncover lots of deep secrets and plots to destroy a distant planet's indigenous sapients.

The book was a little rough in spots, but overall it was a fun read. That's saying something. Most of the newer SF I've tried has been downright depressing and bleak. It's nice to find a book about a future that is hopeful and progressive. I loved the author's alien squid, very unique. I did skip several paragraphs in places, mostly because I really don't want the sexual plumbing lessons. There is a little profanity in this book that I found very jarring, mostly because it wasn't necessary and felt forced. The author also seems to have an addiction to exclamation points!!!

4 stars, PG-13 for intimate sex scenes, some mild violence, and a few f-bombs

The Hero Always Wins, Robert Eaton

This was not the story I was expecting when I started it. I was rooting for Darcy, the knightly hero. I wasn't sure what to think of Arabella when she was introduced. And Brianna? This book is full of weird twists and turns and reversals that I didn't see coming.

If you're expecting the usual D&D campaign crossed with something sort of like the Shannara books, you're going to be disappointed. If you're looking for something very different but still high fantasy, this is a great read. I don't want to say too much, because I hate when people spoil the surprises for me and I don't want to spoil it for you. Just take my word that this is a fun twist on the old stereotypes.

I found a lot of typos and misused words in my version, so if that really bothers you as a reader, don't read the book. The violence got more than a little graphic at times, but not in a gory way, it felt more like a superhero battle where even though they were destroying buildings and smashing mountains, no one really got hurt. The book also has a few detailed sex scenes, but they came across almost boring, mostly because the viewpoint character was bored. Her inner dialogue was almost funny in those scenes. I'm not sure if the author was writing a comedy or not. Either way, I really enjoyed the story, although I want to strangle him for the last scene. Is there a book two or not? (It's a little bit of a teaser.)

4.5 stars, PG-13 for violence and some sex

And, of course, my Kindle.

I picked this up off a clearance table at a local store. It's the bare bones version - no back light, no color screen, no speakers, nothing fancy. It connects with wifi to my home network. But I love it. It's lightweight, easy to hold and read. The screen doesn't give me eyestrain, which gets worse every year as my poor eyes get older. Yes, I have to have a light on in the room, but it's no worse than reading a paperback. It said somewhere in the miniscule instruction book that the Kindle was designed to get out of the way of the reading experience. And it does.

I only have three complaints. One, it isn't a touch screen and if I'd been thinking, I'd have known that. I'm just too used to my iPod Touch. But the little button thingies that let you navigate are very simple and easy to figure out. Two, the instruction manual is lacking in instructions. It took some poking around on Amazon's Kindle support page and some experimenting to figure things out, but since the device really only does one thing, display books, it wasn't too hard. Transferring files from my laptop to the Kindle was the trickiest bit and even that only took me maybe fifteen minutes to figure out.

And three, it isn't waterproof. I can't take it in the tub with me, which is where I really like to lounge and read my books. But I'm sure the tub-reader can't be too far in the future.

5 stars for a great product that does exactly what it promised

Unbound, Kayla Blackstone; Adriane Ceallaigh

Kayla Blackstone wasn't always a slave. At one time she was a highly sought after Bounty Hunter. She never questioned what she carried, never cared, so long as the pay check didn't bounce. But everything changes the night the Mage Hunters come, the night her entire life is stolen.

Now she's been given a second chance, a run for her freedom. Keaton offers her a deal--she delivers a package before midnight and he'll let her go free. Unfortunately for Kayla, nothing is ever as simple as it appears.

The writing and characterization are a bit uneven, but since this is a new author, I cut her slack for it. The story is engaging and the characters intriguing. The worlds she builds are fun to explore. I'm interested to find out where book 2 will be going with the story. The author leaves enough ends hanging loose to suggest a sequel.

4 stars, PG-13 for violence

Dreamspy, Jacqueline Lichtenberg

 I "met" Jacqueline Lichtenberg through the Twitter chat, #scifichat (Fridays at 2 pm EST, they're a lot of fun, you should join us). Her comments interested me enough to track down some of her novels to read. This one is my new favorite by her.

Kyllikki, a powerful telepath, has left her family and position behind in a quest to escape from her domineering cousin and her power games. She gets caught in the politics between the Empire she's left and the government she works for when her ship is attacked. With the help of Zuchmul, a luren (think alien bat-vampire type people but not really), and Idom, human but a genius with numbers, Kyllikki rescues Elias, a bonded Dreamer. It gets complicated from here. Dreamers help telepaths keep sane and also act as spies, reporting everything they do, say, and hear through their dreams. The story becomes a desperate race to end a war, thwart Kyllikki's blood-thirsty cousin, save Zuchmul from death and worse, save the space-time continuum, and uncover the real truth behind FTL drives.

This book kept me turning pages until long after my bedtime. Isn't that enough of a recommendation? My husband picked it up as soon as I finished. He couldn't stop reading, either.

4.5 stars, PG-13 for some suggestive scenes and for using sexual desire as the propulsion for space travel, but it's handled discreetly. It's a romance, you have to expect at least some of that kind of stuff.

Compass Reach, Mark W. Tiedemann

This is another author I met through a Twitter chat. His book sounded interesting enough I tracked it down.

Fargo is a Freerider, kind of like an interstellar ship-hopping hobo. He came across as an older teenager in the first few chapters. When he's described as middle-aged later, it was a bit of a shock to me. I was expecting a YA novel. This isn't one. Fargo gets pulled into negotiations between aliens and humans. Most humans, especially those of the Pan Humana, want nothing to do with aliens. They want them banned from human worlds and restricted from trade.

I finished this book over a month ago. For some reason, not much of the story stuck with me. I just never clicked with it. If you like science fiction, give the author a try. You might love this book.

3.5 stars, PG mostly for language and some sexual situations

The Tower at Stony Wood, Patricia McKillip

I love the way Patricia McKillip writes. It's lyrical, almost like poetry. Sometimes that fails, making the story so dense and understated that it's hard to follow. Not with this story. She weaves three towers and three separate storylines into a seamless whole. Melanthos sits in a tower watching a magic mirror and embroidering what she sees. Cyan Dag, a knight, rides to rescue the true lady of Skye and queen of Yves from a magic tower. Thayne Ysse wants revenge on the king of Yves for maiming his brother and father, and conquering the North Islands. It's a tale of magic, dragons, wants, wishes, and desires.

5 stars, PG for some violence