Tag Archives: book reviews

Traveler in the Dark, by Deidre Gould

Sixteen hundred years ago, they fled Earth. Now their long journey may finally be at an end. None of them have ever walked on soil, felt rain, or breathed unrecycled air. Their resources nearly spent, they sent a last exploratory mission to a new planet. It’s ideal… but they are not alone. In the struggle for survival, they must make a choice. Sacrifice another species or accept their own extinction. And time is running out.
 

I liked the concept of Deidre Gould’s Traveler in the Dark. I found the story engrossing, and it was hard to put down as life’s demands took away my precious reading time. I found the portrayal of the multi-generational surveyors and their initial reaction to the alien planet after a lifetime aboard a spacefaring habitat to be quite believable, and in line with expectations based on my studies of human behavior.

What I did find a little hard to swallow was the “villain.” In Traveler in the Dark, the villain is not really a person or a group of persons, but a thought. An idea. Albeit an extreme form of environmentalism, it’s presented in such a way that rings true to extremist behaviors. The reader is allowed an almost child-like naiveté through the actions of Issk’ath. The trope of an alien intelligence trying to understand humanity, and humanity’s distrust of that intelligence has been done many times, and I enjoyed Gould’s take on the subject.

The writing did suffer from a major issue though. The characters are briefly introduced by first and last name, referred to in dialog by other characters by first name (or nickname), and the author’s narration by last name. By the end of the book, I still had a hard time telling who was who. I found this handling of the names to be confusing, and not consistent with my experience as a sailor since most, if not all, space fiction is based on naval traditions and terms.

Considering my reviews in the past, I’d think that this book would be a four-star read, but for some reason, I just grokked this story. I’m eager to read more books in the series, but I’m afraid that they will pale in comparison. I’m not a fan of environmentalism novels—Ben Bova and Kim Stanley Robinson have both killed a story by being too heavy handed on the environmentalism. I’m gonna go ahead and award five stars. The story is not without its flaws, but I think it’s a solid read.

Deirdre Gould lives in Central Maine with her three children and husband. She’s also resided in northern Idaho, coastal Virginia and central Pennsylvania, but all of them just led her back home.The winters sure are cold, but that just means the zombies run slower. The area is isolated, but that just means the apocalyptic diseases don’t spread as quickly. And the storms are bad enough that no one thinks you’re crazy for “prepping.” It’s kind of ideal for a post-apocalypse writer when you think about it.

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Prime Meridian, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Amelia dreams of Mars. The Mars of the movies and the imagination, an endless bastion of opportunities for a colonist with some guts. But she’s trapped in Mexico City, enduring the drudgery of an unkind metropolis, working as a rent-a-friend, selling her blood to old folks with money who hope to rejuvenate themselves with it, enacting a fractured love story. And yet there’s Mars, at the edge of the silver screen, of life. It awaits her.
 

With Prime Meridian, I expected a space sci-fi, but ended up with a life drama. I liked the dystopian world that Amelia lives in. It’s so poignant and tells a story we’ve heard time and time again in real life. She was on track for a stable life, and then everything went sideways. The years rolled forward, and she finds herself in a situation many of us face every day. But she still dreams of Mars.

Sometimes, it’s hard to like Amelia, but as in life, no one is perfect, except on Facebook. The relationship between Amelia and Lucía is so wonderfully written, and so “real,” I wonder if it is the fictionalization of actual events. I applaud writers that can pack so much story into a novella, and Silvia Moreno-Garcia does just that. The division between the haves and the have nots is perfectly realized in this novella.

Prime Meridian is a powerful novella, and although the cover and description led me astray, I’m glad that I got to read this excellent novella. Definitely a four-star read.

Mexican by birth, Canadian by inclination. Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s debut novel, Signal to Noise, about music, magic and Mexico City, won a Copper Cylinder Award and was nominated for the British Fantasy, Locus, Aurora and Sunburst awards. Her second novel, Certain Dark Things, is a noir with Mexicans vampires. She co-edited the anthology She Walks in Shadows (winner of the World Fantasy Award) and is an editor at the magazine The Dark.
 

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The Burning Light, by Bradley P. Beaulieu

Disgraced government operative Colonel Chu is exiled to the flooded relic of New York City. Something called the Light has hit the streets like an epidemic, leavings its users strung out and disconnected from the mind-network humanity relies on. Chu has lost everything she cares about to the Light. She’ll end the threat or die trying. A former corporate pilot who controlled a thousand ships with her mind, Zola looks like just another Light-junkie living hand to mouth on the edge of society. She’s special though. As much as she needs the Light, the Light needs her too. But, Chu is getting close and Zola can’t hide forever.

The Burning Light, by Bradley P. Beaulieu has a lot of plusses on the balance sheet. The tale of Manhattan post-apocalypse is fleshed out in such a short story. The division of society we experience today continues in this futaure. Even the villain makes sense with a back story that makes her drive to eradicate Zola, and the Light believable. But, what the heck is the Light? Is it a drug? Is it some sort of AI gone rogue? Is it an ancient evil bent on enslaving humanity? Is it angelic grace from the TV show Supernatural? After reading, and ruminating on the story, I still have no idea what it was.

While the characters were written well, and they all passed the sniff test, they weren’t relatable. I wasn’t able to connect with any of them. I didn’t care if the light did whatever the light was trying to do. I didn’t care if Chu killed the junkies or Zola. The ending was a letdown. I’m not sure if the author intended the ending to be happy or sad, or what… I didn’t get it.

I’m glad that TOR is producing more novellas, and they seem to have a decent digital price point. I think The Burning Light shows just how difficult it is to create a deep story within the constraints of short fiction. Despite my complaints, I’d still recommend reading The Burning Light. I’d rate it at four stars, and I look forward to reading more novellas from TOR.

Bradley P. Beaulieu began writing his first fantasy novel in college, but life eventually intervened. As time went on, though, Brad realized that his love of writing and telling tales wasn’t going to just slink quietly into the night. The drive to write came back full force in the early 2000s, at which point Brad dedicated himself to the craft, writing and learning under the guidance of writers like Nancy Kress, Joe Haldeman, Tim Powers, Holly Black, and many more. Brad and his novels have garnered  many accolades including two Hotties—the Debut of the Year and Best New Voice—on Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist, a Gemmell Morningstar Award nomination for The Winds of Khalakovo.

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The Good Guys, by Steven Brust

Donovan was shot by a cop. For jaywalking, supposedly. Actually, for arguing with a cop while black. Four of the nine shots were lethal—or would have been, if their target had been anybody else. The Foundation picked him up, brought him back, and trained him further. “Lethal” turns out to be a relative term when magic is involved. When Marci was fifteen, she levitated a paperweight and threw it at a guy she didn’t like. The Foundation scooped her up for training too. “Hippie chick” Susan got well into her Foundation training before they told her about the magic, but she’s as powerful as Donovan and Marci now. They can teleport themselves thousands of miles, conjure shields that will stop bullets, and read information from the remnants of spells cast by others days before. They all work for the secretive Foundation…for minimum wage. Which is okay, because the Foundation are the good guys. Aren’t they?

So I feel it necessary to emphasize that I got an early copy via NetGalley. I think that perhaps the publisher should’ve waited until after another edit before making ARCs available. I must assume that the edited version to come out in March 2018 will have fixed many of the issues I encountered. And issues there were many. Including editing notations within the body of the text. Indies are universally panned for the slightest faux pas, and there is this feeling by both readers and publishers that indie publishers are somehow not good enough to get a traditional publishing contract. There are a lot of people who see self-publishing as garbage. While I’ve read some really wonderful indie books over the years, I’ve run into some real clunkers. Stories full of clichéd storytelling, bad formatting, and an overall inferior product. Those books don’t usually end up on this blog. For every 100 books I do read and review, there are probable 25 or so that I don’t finish.

The Good Guys may have well been one of those poorly published indie works that so many people poo-poo. The story premise wasn’t bad: A team of secret underpaid people track down rogue magic practitioners in modern America (and Europe) and give the smack-down to those that don’t come quietly. Yep, read that story time and again – and by better authors. I’ve been told that the author of The Good Guys, Steven Brust, is quite popular. I’ve never read any of his other works before. But The Good Guys was terrible. Not terrible enough to DNF, but it was a grind to finish reading. Many of my complaints were likely the result of some very poor formatting and/or editing. The POV seemed all over the place. I’m not sure if there was just some missing scene break art or what, but I found myself having to re-read to figure out whose POV I was reading. On top of that, of the many character POVs, one was in first person, while the rest were in third-person perspective. The singular first-person perspective makes sense at the very end of the book, but while reading it, it’s just annoying. I’d rather read the exact same story from Clara Coulson. A much more polished manuscript, and frankly, a better story – one not full of dated clichés, and views better left in the 1950s.

My suggestion is to skip the overpriced TOR ebook (I just looked, $13? What the fucking fuck, TOR?), and get all four City of Crows books by Clara Coulson. Coulson’s stories are better, and for only a dollar more, you get a much longer and more satisfying read. I would probably check out another book by Brust, but if it’s a stinking turd like this one, I’m out. I’m not just disappointed by this book; I’m offended that anyone would put it out there. Two stars is my rating, and unless the rest of this review is unclear about how I feel, don’t waste your money on The Good Guys.

Steven Karl Zoltán Brust (born November 23, 1955) is an American fantasy and science fiction author of Hungarian descent. He was a member of the writers’ group The Scribblies, which included Emma Bull, Pamela Dean, Will Shetterly, Nate Bucklin, Kara Dalkey, and Patricia Wrede, and also belongs to the Pre-Joycean Fellowship.

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Deadly Sweet, by Lola Dodge

Anise Wise loves three things: baking, potion making, and reading her spellbooks in blissful silence. She might not be the most powerful witch, but enchantment is a rare skill, and her ability to bake with magic is even rarer. Too bad one wants witchcraft on their campus. Anise’s dream of attending pastry school crumbles with rejection letter after rejection letter. Desperate to escape her dead-end future, Anise contacts the long-lost relative she’s not supposed to know about. Great Aunt Agatha owns the only magic bakery in the US, and she suddenly needs a new apprentice. Anise is so excited she books it to New Mexico without thinking to ask what happened to the last girl. The Spellwork Syndicate rules the local witches in Taos, but as “accidents” turn into full-out attacks on Anise’s life, their promises to keep her safe are less and less reassuring. Her cranky bodyguard is doing his best, but it’s hard to fight back when she has no idea who’s the enemy. Or why she became their target. If Anise can’t find and stop whoever wants her dead, she’ll be more toasted than a crème brûlée. Who knew baking cakes could be so life or death?

I’ve been a fan of Lola Dodge’s Shadow Ravens series, so when I saw a book about a kitchen witch by Dodge on netgalley, I immediately requested it. I prefer my fantasy stories to be light on the witchiness, and like it when magic is used in a utilitarian fashion, rather than grand use in epic battles, etc. The premise that each magic user is tied to a specific discipline is nothing new, but the concept of a witch whose powers are all about the baking with a specialty in desserts just makes me smile.

Because witchcraft is presented as a female-dominated skill, this story is full of badass ladies. The portrayal of Anise is pretty standard fare for a young adult novel. What really intrigued me was the history of the prominent witches in the story. Their relationship with Anise’s mother and her expulsion from Taos was sadly not explored in this first book. The sexism and misandry is almost nonexistent in Deadly Sweet, and I was just a little disapointed in the opportunity missed to compare the world of Taos to modern society. Science fiction and fantasy have a rather unique ability to criticize society without offending, and while not every novel needs to be a treatse into the flaws of our society, I feel that it would’ve been easily accomplished, especially since Anise was raised in the “normal” world.

From a socio-anthropological view, the ways that the closed tribe of witches interacts with each other, and the normies is another theme that is well done in Deadly Sweet. The ‘townie’ trope is commonplace, and I rather enjoyed Wynn’s uncomfortable encounters with tourists. Which brings me to a part of the story that disappointed me: Wynn. Written as a stoic hero trope – almost a reverse-gender La Femme Nikita, I found his antics to be off-putting. Plus the constant references to his contract, and shields in general, weren’t explained enough in this book. I understand that it’ll be a prominent theme in the second book, but the lack of knowledge made his character unnecessarily uninteresting. I hope in a future story, Dodge explores the issue of power and wealth, and perhaps even same-gender relationships.

Overall, Deadly Sweet is a fun read. I look forward to the next book later this year, and my expectations are pretty high. A solid four-star read. Lola Dodge is one of the few writers that I usually end up “over-reading,” because the story is just so engrossing, that I say to heck with my responsibilities and just keep reading. The book is out today, so let’s help Ms. Dodge have a grand start to this new series.

Lola-Dodge

Lola Dodge is nomadic and has lived in New Zealand, France, the Czech Republic, and Taiwan. Her current base is Chiang Mai, Thailand, where she spends her days eating excessive amounts of coconut and trying to avoid heat stroke. She grew up in Upstate NY (Salt potatoes! Apple cider donuts!), got a degree in English Lit and German at Stonehill College, and an MFA in writing popular fiction at Seton Hill University. She doesn’t like bacon, coffee, beer, the sun, or fireworks. Instead, give her tea, vodka drinks, air-conditioning, and anything sweet. She’s a proud part of the writing roster at Ink Monster publishing, where she collaborates on the Shadow Ravens and Alpha Girls series. Her other fiction is represented by Rebecca Strauss at DiFiore and Company Literary Agency. Some days she hates writing and some days she loves it, but she can’t imagine doing anything else (even though she works at the pace of a sloth on sleeping pills.)

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Books I’ve read in 2017

Another year, another hundred books. Well, 102 books for 2017. I was super busy as a writer this year, and I was concerned that I wouldn’t make it. I probably felt the same way at the end of 2016, but for some reason, I never blogged about it. The 2016 image is on the blog, but I never posted it. The 2015 list is here, and since I only started keeping track the summer of 2014, there wasn’t a complete list that year or before. I think 2017 resulted in about eleven or twelve DNFs, and at least one, is still on my reading list.

Highlights from 2017? I discovered Felix R. Savage in 2016, and read five of his books that year. I read four of his this year. Other stand-outs were Lola, by Melissa Scrivener; Paradox Bound, by Peter Clines; The Time Salvager Series, by Wesley Chu; The Factory, by Greg Dragon; Realm FM, by Tyrolin Puxty; More of Me, by Kathryn Evans; Mansions of Karma, by Ruth White; and The Shadow series, by Lila Bowen. There were a lot of five star reads in 2017, and to browse my list, check out my blog, or Goodreads.

About 20% of my reads featured LGBT themes or characters, 5% were superhero stories, 5% were not sci-fi, and less than 50% were written by straight white dudes. There were a handful that I wanted to read, but for some reason couldn’t. Most of those will be in my 2018 reading pile. So, here’s looking at another 100 books to read in the new year!
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Ice Kingdom, by Tiana Warner

The final adventure in the Mermaids of Eriana Kwai trilogy … Meela and Lysi have unleashed Sisiutl, legendary two-headed serpent of the Pacific Northwest. It was supposed to be an ally that would help them win the war. Instead, it has fallen under the control of King Adaro, ruler of the Pacific Ocean. If Meela and Lysi can’t stop him, Adaro will use the deadly serpent to rid the oceans of mankind. With the American military using catastrophic weapons of their own to retaliate, Meela and Lysi must make peace between humans and merpeople before one race destroys the other. The journey will risk their lives and put their relationship to the test—but the vengeance that has been consuming Meela’s thoughts, day and night, might prove even more dangerous.

I saw on Twitter that the third, and final Mermaids of Eriana Kwai book had released, so I asked the author for a copy to read and review. The quality of writing from the first two books continued in Ice Kingdom.

The Good: Meela really pushed the story. She made decisions, and she lived with the consequences. Ice Kingdom, like Ice Crypt, was so compelling, that I had to finish reading it in one sitting.

The Bad: When a totalitarian regime is portrayed in literature, we come to expect certain things. We want to know that those caught under the influence of the charismatic madman are still good people, they just go along out of fear. We want to easily identify those going along for personal gain. We want to cheer on the underground resistance, we want to despise those in it for personal gain. We have a resistance in Ice Kingdom, but they’re uninteresting. We don’t see minor acts of rebellion to let us know that the people want a better world.

The Beautiful: I mentioned in my review of Ice Crypt that I felt that book two was the best, and I continue to feel that way. Ice Kingdom is a fast-paced swim toward the inevitable conclusion that we want. Adaro’s motives finally make some sense, and he loses some of the clichéd snidely whiplash-ness. I still think he’s a sub-par villain, but at least there’s something.

The Final Word: Ice Kingdom returns to a four-star rating. The conclusion of the trilogy ends as you’d think it would. Overall, the series is a great read that should appeal to young readers. Other than the violence in Ice Massacre, there’s nothing in the series to be concerned with as far as young readers are concerned. The middle book is the shining jewel in the series, and overall, the series is a great read.

Tiana Warner

My grandma tells me I sold her my first story, The Sachmoe, for $2. I’m not sure if this makes me a born entrepreneur or just plain saucy, but my point is that I’ve been a writer for longer than I can remember. I wrote poems and short stories throughout elementary school (most of them about ponies), and wrote my first full-length novel in high school. I now spend my evenings writing about killer mermaids. I went to the University of British Columbia to study psychology and came out of it with a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science. I’m now a technical content creator for a software company, which means when I’m not writing about kick-ass mermaids I’m writing about kick-ass technology. I currently live in Langley, BC, and am an avid supporter of animal welfare. I have a quarter horse named Bailey, a pony sidekick named Strawberry, and an extremely naughty cat named Paisley.

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